In Sputnik’s Orbit

A few thoughts to tide you over…

 

Meet the Winners: K.C. Norton

Next week, I join the rest of the 2013 Writers of the Future winners in Hollywood for a week long writing workshop and gala. I’m getting excited! But before I head out, join me in rounding out the dozen with second quarter winner, K. C. Norton.

Stuart: Welcome aboard. Tell me something surprising about yourself.

K.C.: I like to scuba dive. Apparently this surprises people – I guess they assume that when I’m not working, I’m curled up in a hole to write, which is true roughly 51 weeks out of the year. Open water diving is the closest I’m likely to get to space travel, and almost as alien.

Stuart: No, there aren’t many other activities where you get to hover upside down. What got you into writing?

K.C.: Reading, definitely! I read the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings when I was really young, and then fell in love with the world of Harry Potter. I loved exploring imaginary worlds. I spent a lot of time by myself as a kid, and my family didn’t have a TV, so I spent a lot of time telling myself stories. Writing was a natural progression from there.

 Stuart: I imagine so. And how’ve you evolved since?

K.C.: Well, I started writing stories with plots. I wrote my first stories when I was ten, and thank goodness most of them have vanished into the aether, but I have a few things that have stuck around in various files and binders. A lot of my early work was based on things I’d enjoyed reading. For example, I read ElfQuest, and then wrote a story about elves who ride dragons – not original, but a little different. The more I write, the weirder my stories get, and hopefully they’re more original now! That said, I do write a lot of retellings of older tales… my WOTF story, for example.

 Stuart: Are you a pantser or a plotter?

 K.C.: I cannot plot to save my life. I have to have a draft out before I go back to make it coherent. When I plot, everything sounds awful and wooden. When I just fly by the seat of my pants, I find myself including weird details that end up being important later. Occasionally I’ll have a whole story come into my head at once, but I don’t know all the details. Other times I’ll write a few pages and wait months and months until the story comes together. When people ask me about “process,” I cannot tell a lie – I don’t have one. I would like to have one. Plotting sounds very convenient. I envy people that can plot consciously in advance.

Stuart: Describe your writer’s cave.

K.C.: I mostly write in my bed. I have a writing desk set up in my living room, with a super comfy chair, but my dog complains when she can’t snuggle me, and when I lie in bed or sit on my oddly small couch she can squeeze herself in beside me. Otherwise she goes batty.

Stuart: Do you have any unusual talents or hobbies?

K.C.: Like, do I play the nose harp? Alas, no. I do occasionally fire breathe. And I studied archaeology in school. I can tell you more than you probably want to know about Greek and Egyptian mythology or random architectural features. Other than that, my hobbies are reasonably normal.

Stuart: Star Trek or Star Wars?

K.C.: Must I pick one? I love Star Wars, but in my heart there are only three movies, and there will only ever be three movies. (Han Solo was my first love.) And TNG is pretty good, but I’m a die-hard TOS girl. I do not acknowledge any captain more recent than Picard. My apologies to George Takei on this subject.

Stuart: Oh I don’t know. I thought Captain Janeway was pretty impressive. If you had a superpower, what would it be?

K.C.: Flying. No doubt about it. I would fly all the time.

Stuart: Everyone says flying, but no one considers the bugs in the teeth. 😉 Do you ever dream about writing?

K.C.: I dream about stories that I later write down. I don’t dream about the act of writing – when I dream about work, I dream that customers are in my apartment and I have to serve them drinks. I think I’d prefer to dream about writing.

Stuart: Ha ha. I remember when I was a kid, I worked at a burger joint. I used to have nightmares about all the beeping timers. What was your favorite toy, growing up?

K.C.: Oooh… well, I had a Gizmo doll, from Gremlins. I tortured that poor stuffed monster. That’s a close tie with my Littlest Petshop menagerie. I think I had every cat available. Come to think of it, I think I still have them. I would spread them out all over the living room and talk to myself for hours.

Stuart: So sweet! If you adopted a wardrobe tag, what would it be?

K.C.: I would probably wear a monocle. Or a dapper hat.

Stuart: I like the idea of a monocle, or maybe a nez perce. Do you have a quote that inspires or amuses you?

K.C.: I love Neil Gaiman. His books are crazy awesome, his comics are sweet, his screenplays are outrageous, and his reading of Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham is Oscar-worthy. It really changed how I read the book. But the best advice he ever gave me (and the rest of the world) was: “Cat exploded? Make good art.” It’s funny, but then on days when your cat actually does explode, and you don’t know what to do with yourself because your life is a wreck… well, now I knew where to go from there.

Stuart: Thanks, K.C. See you next week!

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 Learn more about K.C. at www.facebook.com/greekpunk

Meet the Winners: Terry Madden

As the Writers of the Future workshop draws near, Californian and 1st quarter winner, Terry Madden drops in on our interview series.

Stuart: Welcome, Terry, and once again, congratulations! To start of, what’s something that those who know you might find Imagesurprising?
Terry: I teach high school chemistry, and most of my students are surprised that I have Metallica listed on my Pandora channels right next to Anuna. I would say my taste in music crosses all kinds of lines.
Stuart: Eclectic is good. I lean toward Louis Armstrong, but I stick to acoustic when I’m writing. How about you? How’d you get started?
Terry: When I quit my job as a research tech in a genetics lab to stay home with my two small children, I had characters talking and acting out scenes in my head. My sister-in-law was into writing and had taken some workshops. She encouraged me to start writing scenes as they came to me and worry about figuring out the story later. I had never even read a book on writing, so I just started stringing things together. After ten years and a few writing workshops and conferences, I had a historical novel set in 12th century Ireland. Of course, as a first novel, it was a training ground and remains in a box in the basement.
Stuart: How’ve you evolved since?
Terry: I like this question a lot. I feel that writing is a means of exploring your own soul, at least, that’s how it’s felt for me. I started writing historical fiction because it was what I was reading at the time; it was what interested me (and still does.) But as you grow as a writer, new experiences and insights open new inroads into who you are and what your place in the world might be. A writing instructor encouraged me to try my hand at screenwriting, which I did and placed very well in some script competitions. I optioned a script to producer, Michael Phillips, who did “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, “Taxi Driver”, “The Sting.” I learned immeasurable skills from story meetings with him and his junior producers, but the story never got off the ground because I had not yet found the key to it. Now that story, in a very different incarnation, will be in volume 30 of the Writers of the Future Anthology.
Stuart: Suuweet!
Terry: However, at the turn of the century (it’s kind of fun to say that), I had some challenges in my personal life which included the death of my brother and my house burning down.
Stuart: Oh no!
Terry: All of my writing (including the backup disks which sat next to the computer) burned. Whatever I had in hard copy in the basement survived, which was one piece–my first novel. I gave up writing and went back to work teaching; it was a redefining time for me. I didn’t write for 13 years until one of my students started pestering me about a story idea he and I had cooked up in a discussion during an astronomy class. I started sketching an outline, and ultimately writing a fantasy novel, Three Wells of the Sea, which should be coming out this summer.
Stuart: Awesome! Well better late than never, right?
Terry: Were those 13 years wasted? I would like to say no, because without the relationships and experiences I had during those years, I wouldn’t be writing the things I’m writing now.
Stuart: Sure. Some things you just can’t plan. Which leads me to my next question. Are you a pantser or plotter?
Terry: I would have to say pantser, though I try desperately to impose some kind of order to my notes and outlines. I agree with Stephen King who said, “I distrust plot for two reasons: first, because our lives are largely plotless, even when you add in all our reasonable precautions and careful planning; and second, because I believe plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren’t compatible…” Excessive plotting can kill the realism and the growth of characters; it can come off as mechanistic rather than organic. Some people handle that very well. Just not me.
Stuart: I agree, but a writer also has to produce, right?
Terry: That’s not to say I don’t sketch my acts and turning points. I have used three act structure for so long, it enables me to impose over-arching goals. Since I am now primarily a novelist, I set the turning points as targets and allow characters to find a way to get there. I’ve always been in awe of people who color code their scenes and create intense time lines with every story beat incorporated. I just can’t do it. I have a vague idea of where I want my characters to be at the end of a story, but I don’t really know until I get them there.
Stuart: That sounds about right. So where do you do your writing?
Terry: I write in a spare bedroom on a big oak desk that looks out over a beautiful valley. It can be distracting because there’s always something to watch out there. My desk is about 8 inches deep in notes in the form of notebooks, receipts, scraps of paper and random newspaper clippings. It’s a pile. Like my brain.
Stuart: Ha ha. Star Trek or Star Wars?
Terry: I would have to say Battlestar Galactica and Firefly. Sorry. Star Trek and Star Wars are about equal on my Scifi meter.
Stuart: I agree. If you had a superpower, what would it be?
Terry: Whatever it is, flying would have to be involved. I think transforming into a badass dragon would work for me.
Stuart: Good answer. Do you dream about writing?
Terry: The idea for my winning story for Writers of the Future came to me in that fog just before you fall sound asleep. Dreams often give me some deeper understanding of my work, and great imagery.
Stuart: When you were a kid, what was your favorite toy?
Terry: Breyer horses and matchbox cars, often interacting in vast melodramas. I used to build roads and little stick houses and the matchbox cars would drive all over.
Stuart: Jordie had his visor, Sherlock his deerstalker. If you adopted a wardrobe tag, what would it be?
Terry: I think I would want a leather vest with wings on the back like Darrel in The Walking Dead.
Stuart: Ha ha! Did you bring along a favorite quotation?
Terry: Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks’ character) in “A League of their Own” says, “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.”
Stuart: Truer words, never spoken. Well thanks Terry. See you in LA!

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Learn more about Terry at www.threewellsofthesea.com

Meet fellow Writers of the Future Winner, Shauna O’Meara

This week, a hearty welcome to fellow Writers of the Future winner, Shauna O’Meara.Image

Stuart: Thanks for dropping by, Shauna, and congratulations! Introduce yourself. What can you tell us that might surprise your friends?

Shauna: I come from country Australia. I adore spiders, insects (especially native bees), molluscs and plants and, in another life, might have been an entomologist or botanist. I also have a longstanding fascination with parasitic diseases, though strictly-speaking, my friends do know about this since most of them have been subjected to my specimen jars of ‘worms’.

I’m worried about the deteriorating condition of the natural environment and am concerned about some of the futures that might emerge from climate change, human overpopulation, resource shortages, genetic patenting, economic crises, world bee decline and technologies like genetic engineering (especially of infectious diseases and crops), coal-seam gas mining, bionic implants, internet dominance and virtual reality. As such – if only to get my own head around the big questions – these are the territories I tend to explore in my writing.

Stuart: Wow. That’s a lot to think about. Is that what got you into writing?

Shauna: I have always been into ‘story’ and ‘politics’ and why characters act and interact in the complex ways they do, from my earliest memories of the ‘adult’ story lines present in “Astro Boy” (1980s), “The Animals of Farthing Wood” and the “Animated Adventures of Batman”, but the book that really captivated me and made me want to create worlds of my own was Richard Adam’s: “Watership Down.” The way he presented his rabbits as creatures that could be depicted as having personalities and a ‘culture’, whilst still being essentially rabbits and not just rabbit-shaped humans, made me want to emulate his skill with my own characters.

Stuart: Very astute. And how have you evolved since?

Shauna: I hang out, online and in-person, with a super-generous group of speculative fiction writers (several of whom are past Writers of the Future winners and several of whom have even managed to make a living out of this passion called writing) and have been getting my work critiqued by them for a while now. Their feedback has helped me improve in the show-don’t-tell department and to choose my descriptions more precisely and succinctly so as to avoid great swathes of descriptive waffle and exposition. They have also helped me better understand how to achieve suspension of disbelief and characters whose motives and decisions make sense.

I have also become broader in my reading and, consequently, more daring in my writing and the topics I tackle. I have discovered that, while I always thought I would write fantasy, having read mostly fantasy in my formative years, it’s been near-future science fiction and imagined-future politics and the societal and ethical dilemmas thrown up by technology, population and climate change that I am finding most interesting to both read and write about.

Stuart: I agree. Reading outside your genre is important. As is standing ideas on end. My first novel started from the thought “What if global warming was saving us from something worse–the next ice age?” And I fooled around with that idea for far too long to mold it into a story. How about you. Are you a pantser or plotter?

Shauna: I am a plotter when it comes to character and spend a lot of time working out exactly ‘who’ each character is from the outset so that I know in advance the kinds of things they will do and say in any given situation.

Stuart: That’s very interesting. I’m just the opposite. My characters mostly pop up fully formed. I just know them. But I have to plot out the world I’m going to send them through.

Shauna: I am also a plotter when it comes to world-building and the rules of the world – because I feel you need to know what the limits and challenges of your world are first and where a good story might occur in the midst of all that world-building before you can then plunge your characters head-first into it.

I try to plan the major plot-points my characters are heading for (a brief outline), but then I usually leave the stuff in the middle up to a bit of pantsing. I need some pantsing to make me excited about ‘what happens next’ and keep me writing.

Stuart: I understand. Where’s your writer’s cave?

Shauna: I currently rent a fully self-contained bedsit, not much bigger than a hotel room, with a circular wooden table covered in chipped blue paint for my laptop, an alcove for my TV and another alcove for my scanner, camera and graphic design stuff. It’s close-living, but homely, with great views over the Brindabellas (our local mountain range) and a flourishing herb garden by the front door that perfumes the house when it rains.

Stuart: Sounds nice. For readers in the US who might not know, a bedsit is a rented private room or suite with shared kitchen, bath, etc. It’s a sensible, economical way to sublet a pre-existing structure, but is less popular in the states where we’re all “rugged individualist” about everything. I like the idea. Writerly recluse I may be, but we American’s don’t have enough community these days. Do you have any unusual talents or hobbies, Shauna?

Shauna: I would have said drawing, but you said ‘unusual,’ so I’m going to say that I can warble like an Australian Magpie – to the point I’ve even had birds call back to me. I’ve won wine before with that trick.

Stuart: Sweet! I’ll nag you to do that when we’re walking down Hollywood Boulevard. You can be the magpire. Tina Gower can drop by with her monkey call. Star Trek or Star Wars?

Shauna: Farscape and Planetes.

Stuart: Good answer! Farscape I know. Planetes, I had to look up. I’ll have to find that for my daughters. They adore Manga and K-pop. If you had a superpower, what would it be?

Shauna: Aww…just one?

Stuart: Yes. Sorry. I don’t make the rules. Well, yes, I guess I did actually ;-).

Shauna: Travelling long distances sometimes bugs me because it feels like I am wasting valuable time ‘getting there’ – so the ability to teleport would be high on the list. I would also like to be able to go completely without sleep so I could put that unproductive third of my life to good use creating.

Stuart: Life is too short for dawdling. I’d like to have that on a suction cup projectile I can fire at other cars while driving. Do you dream about writing?

Shauna: While I’m awake, all my dreams are about writing, but when I actually dream, I have crazy adventures I can seldom remember in the morning, interspersed with those horrible dreams you get about being back at uni and confronted by an exam paper you can’t quite make out, but that you know for sure you haven’t studied for.

Stuart: Yes well, in my case, I call that last category “memories.” Moving on… When you were a kid, what was your favorite toy?

Shauna: A collection of My Little Ponies, who I used to recast as the various rabbits from Watership Down (don’t ask … My-Little-Ponyrabbit fan-fiction is complicated).

Stuart: Yeah, toys used to be more open-ended (and they should be). But even growing up, we never used anything the way it was intended, and our lives were richer for it. I’d have strapped bottle rockets to the ponies and my then astro-ponies, but your thing’s good too.

Shauna: Being a pub-kid, I also, at one time, had full access to an original 1980s Donkey Kong game table, making it, by default, mine. My dad used to take bets that no-one could beat me on the machine. I’m still waiting for my cut…

Stuart: Neat. I remember those. When I was little, there used to be Mrs. Pack-man tables at the pizza places. It was terrific because anyone could learn the game in a second and groups could play together while waiting for the food. If you adopted a unique wardrobe tag, what would it be?

Shauna: Being Australian, probably an Akubra (the rabbit-felt hat in my photo) and a caped, oilskin Driza-Bone greatcoat with lots of brass buttons.

Stuart: Nothing beats the classics! And capes are definitely cool. Would you like to share a quote?

Shauna: I have always lived by the Confucian saying, “Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.” It has long governed the way I think about work and ambition and what I want to do with my life. I love what I do now for work, but I think that, if I can achieve my next goal – to make enough from writing and art that they can become my full-time pursuits – I will finally have achieved the very essence of that quote.

Stuart: Very wise indeed. Well thanks Shauna . It’s been a pleasure, and I can’t wait to see your wardrobe in person at the workshop in LA.

Shauna: I am really looking forward to meeting you and all the other winners of Writers and Illustrators of the Future, as well as all the writing mentors and teachers and staff at WotF and Galaxy Press. I am hoping to learn a lot and have some fun and make some great new friends.

Cheers

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You can check out Shauna on the web at theshaunacorner.wordpress.com and on Facebook and Flickr.

Meet the Winners: Paul Eckheart

This week, third quarter 2013 Writers of the Future winner, Paul Eckheart is in the hot seat.

Stuart: Welcome, Paul, and again, congratulations. Tell me something those who know you might find surprising.

Paul: As a teenager I spent two summers teaching swimming and lifesaving at an ice-cold mountain lake. The kids I taught could only stay in the water for 15-20 minutes at a time to make sure they didn’t catch hypothermia. I, on the other hand, “got to” spend as much time in the water as I wanted–or as long as was needed to let all the kids do the rescuing and whatnot.

I haven’t been swimming since.

Stuart: Ooooch! They should at least have given you a shorty suit! Cold water is B.A.D.! So, I guess writing was really just a way to stay warm? What got you started?

Paul: I’ve asked myself that question many times and the most satisfying answer I can come up with is: This is what I’m supposed to do.

Stuart: I hear you, Paul. Even after our win, it still seems a daunting path. And yet, it’s the path. So, where’s it carried you? How have you evolved?

Paul: I used to think The Big Surprise was the reason to tell stories. I grew up watching reruns of The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits–so many of those episodes have that moment of revelation at the end that brings clarity to all that came before it. While I still enjoy it when those moments come in my own work, I no longer look at The Twist as the be-all-end-all of storytelling. I’m a lot more about the full emotional journey beneath the story these days.

Stuart: Good answer. Yeah, the twist is still good, but it’s only one of many good ways to bring it home. What’s your writer’s cave like?

Paul: I invested in a very nice office chair several years ago. Even though it was more money than I ever imagined paying for a chair, I have never regretted it. My desk has telescoping legs that I’ve expanded so that my monitor is perfectly at my eye-level. Then I use a lap-desk for my keyboard and a trackpad. I like writing in the dark where it’s just me and the monitor–and maybe some orchestral music for mood setting.

Stuart: Do you have any unusual talents or hobbies?

Paul: I make my own bread. I have part of a sourdough yeast culture that was started in the late 1700s. Once a week I pull it out and feed it fresh flour to make sure it’s still alive and kicking.

Stuart: Sweet! You know I have a really old…um…no, I got nothin. How about a short excerpt?

Paul: This is from the first draft of my current work in progress:

Bad things came in threes. That’s what Gareth’s mother had always said, but he didn’t believe it. Not entirely. If life had taught him anything, it’s that bad things did cluster together. But “three” was arbitrary. Fours. Fives. Sixes. Didn’t matter. When the fates decided to smite you, you were screwed.
He perched on the edge of his old man’s wooden Adirondack chair letting the hard edge of the angled seat press his Levi’s into the back of his leg and pulled on his lower lip. The air was thick with the smells of harvest–crop dust kicked up by the threshers, a touch of diesel smoke from the trucks and machinery. He could hear them in the distance.
At the side of his folk’s old two-story farm house Gareth’s rusty 1978 Ford F-100 waited. The air rippled above its open hood in the smothering heat of the Indian summer.
No way in the world he could afford a new transmission. Not with the collection agencies already after him for his outstanding student loans. Nobody wanted to hire sociology majors. Someone should have told him that five years ago.
The piercing rays of the sun found a gap in the foliage of the cherry tree Gareth’d taken refuge beneath, and as he stood to move the chair he noticed, out over the corn fields beyond the edge of the unkempt lawn, birds circling overhead. Hawks? No. Not black enough. Wrong size, too.
He squinted and shaded his eyes. Crows. Scavengers. Carrion feeders. Something out there was dead. Or dying.
And then, in the rows of corn directly in front of him, something moved.

Stuart: Very nice! Next,  Star Trek or Star Wars? Windows or Linux?

Paul: Wow Stuart, are you out to start a Holy War between the workshop attendees?  🙂  Next you’ll be asking if–

Stuart: Pantser or plotter?

Paul: See?! SEE??!!

Stuart: Ha ha. You ever dream about writing, Paul?

Paul: Writing? No. Stories? Yes. I’ve worked out plot problems in my sleep before–but that’s always been with works in progress. With very few exceptions, the things that *start* as dreams don’t translate to the page very well. Or, at least, the people I’ve shown them to don’t find my paper-captured dreams nearly as amusing as I do.

Stuart: You know, I once had a dream with commercials and credits. I feel that should’ve have told me something… When you were a kid, what was your favorite toy?

Paul: I collected Folkmanis hand puppets. One in particular, a black and white cat, seemed to follow me around. Think Calvin and Hobbes, but without the orange tiger stripes.

Stuart: Ha! I’ll bet that kitty told some stories! Okay, if you had a wardrobe tag like Doctor Who what would it be?

Paul: I occasionally pull out a paperboy cap for workshops and conventions. It used to be a Pendleton Mills wool hat, but after that wore out I started wearing a Kangol 504.

Stuart: Wow! A man who knows his hats! And, do you have a quotation for us?

Paul: “if you can see that your story is getting boring, have a clown on stilts rush through the scene with his hair on fire.” — Tim Powers

Stuart: Ha ha! Or an undead pirate king, no doubt! Thank’s Paul, and I can’t wait to meet you in person!

Paul: Thanks, Stuart. You’re welcome. Pleased to be part of it and I look forward to meeting you in April.

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Paul actually does have an answer to the Pantser vs. Plotter question, and plans to blog about it in coming days at www.pauleckheart.com.

Meet the Writers Of The Future: Megan O’Keefe

1920150_10152348256692784_1690170925_nCome in for a moment and meet my fellow, fourth quarter 2013 Writers of the Future winner, Megan O’Keefe.

Stuart: Welcome, Megan, and thanks for dropping by. Let’s start right off with something those who know you might find surprising.

Megan: I was once a cheerleader. We shall not speak of this again.

Stuart: Ah, well you know, there are many paths to greatness. It was cheerleading that gave my youngest the internal motivation she needed to get through her GT classes, and quite a few former presidents have been cheerleaders, so no points off there. What got you into writing?

Megan: My mom was a journalist-turned-English teacher, so writing was always a part of my life. However, what really kicked off my interest in SciFi and Fantasy was one glorious day when my dear friend Arwen introduced me to AD&D. So, really, this is all her fault.

Stuart: Arwen, eh? That sounds like a D&D character right there. So, that got you started. How have you evolved?

Megan: I’ve challenged myself to be sure I read at least one non-fiction book a month. The real world expands my imagination in all sorts of crazy ways.

Stuart: Ha ha! Convergent paths. When I was little, I wanted to learn everything, so I only read non-fiction. Now we’re reversed and I’m catching up on fiction. Where do you do your writing?

Megan: Wherever I’m most comfortable in the moment. Preferably that’s at my desk, listening to the sweet, sweet clickity-clack of my mechanical keyboard. In truth I end up all over the place. Writer: have laptop, will travel.

Stuart: Keyboards are important. I despise the flat keys on today’s Ultrbooks. Do you have any unusual talents or hobbies, Megan?

Megan: I am a professional soap maker. No, no, it’s not like Fight Club. Well, okay, maybe a little. I also tinker a little with robots, right now I’m really into the arduino.

Stuart: If I weren’t writing, I’d be into arduino too. The whole idea is stamped out of 100% pure titanium nerd-cool. If you had a superpower, what would it be?

Megan: Time-travel would be peachy. I’m vastly annoyed by my mortality and subsequent inability to see all the cool stuff that the far-future will hold.

Stuart: A common malady among we scifiers, I think. Do you ever dream about writing?

Megan: The only dream I remember clearly was from when I was a kid. Clifford the Big Red Dog chased me down a dark alley, and Oscar the Grouch was no help at all. So… I guess what I’m saying is, no, I don’t dream about writing.

Stuart: Ha ha. That reminds me of nightmares I had when I was little, where I’d remember them later and think, “Huh? What was so scary about that?” When you were a kid, what was your favorite toy?

Megan: Without a doubt my tree-house. It was cobbled together with old plywood, orange construction net, and a rope. It was glorious, and I only broke my tailbone once.

Stuart: Suuuweet! I’m so jealous! Okay, if you adopted a unique wardrobe tag like Doctor Who (scarves, fezzes, bow-ties), what would it be?

Megan: Dresses. They’re perfect–you only have to pick out one article of clothing, and you look put together. As long as you can remember to get your shoes to match each other, that is.

Stuart: Suprising answer. Dresses got a bad rap during the ’70s, but they definitely have practical advantages. Think how cool it would be if we all wore unisex togas–updated with pockets for our gizmos and googaws of course–and just judges each other by the level of our individual coolness? On second thought, we should all wear spacesuits. Yeah (stares dreamily). And finally, do you have a quotation you’d like to share?

Megan: “An original idea. That can’t be too hard. The library must be full of them.” — Stephen Fry

Stuart: Excellent! Okay, everybody, mandatory kudos for Megan all-around, just for quoting the versatile Stephen Fry, who has made us laugh and think for so many years from BBC land.

Thank’s Megan, and I can’t wait to meet you in person!

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Megan really does make soap. You can learn more about that at meganokeefe.com/blushie-bath-body, and follow Megan’s antics in general at twitter.com/MeganofBlushie.

Check it out!

My story, “Rainbows For Other Days,” is about a cyborg ranger torn between his humanity and his programming–and the hauntingly simple way in which he copes. It will appear in volume 30 of the L Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future anthology.

Release is in April. You can pre-order here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1619862654/ref=as_li_qf_sp_asin_il_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=1619862654&linkCode=as2&tag=nothingun-20

If you haven’t read the Writers of the Future anthology before, check it out. The stories are the winners in the most prestigious short story competition in speculative fiction, and there’s always something for everyone.

Meet Writers of the Future winner: Randy Henderson

Meet fellow Writers of the Future winner, 2013’s second quarter 1st place: Randy Henderson.

Stuart: Hi Randy. Congratulations and thanks for dropping by. Why don’t you start by telling me what made you want to be a writer?

Randy: It’s what all the cool kids were doing.

Stuart: Ha ha. Must have been an interesting school! So, in what ways have you evolved creatively?

Randy: I used to have adverbial gills and a passive vestigial tail. Now, I can cast power sentences. If I gain three more publishing victories, I will evolve into an Authorion Prime, and then I’ll really kick writing butt.

Stuart: I think I have prepositional gills.

Randy: I actually have a presentation I give on the evolutionary stages of writers that reflects the stages I’ve gone through and continue to work through, which includes:

  • Not mistaking events, preaching, or a series of transgressive acts as being a story (i.e. writing dramatic stories with plots).
  • Learning the fundamentals of written gooder, he exploded explodingly.
  • Realizing that writing, editing, and submitting are work, and doing that work consistently and effectively.
  • Learning and using deeper plot and character techniques like integrating plot and character arcs, backwards plotting, etc.
  • Finding one’s voice and style.
  • And of course, getting published professionally, and everything that comes with and after that.

Stuart: Of course. Are you a pantser or a plotter?

Randy: Having been shunned as a child, I do not condone pantsing anyone else, only yourself, let’s make that clear up front. However, I do think honestly most writers are a blend of both, particularly on longer projects. It is not so much one or the other but, from writer to writer and project to project it is a graduated scale, like the spiciness of salsa, or one’s sexual identity, or the quality of Start Trek movies.

Stuart: Describe your writer’s lair.

Randy: Well, for the best view, why don’t you stand there above the shark tank and–

Stuart: Umm…Randy, that’s Stromberg’s Shark Tank. You remember what happened to Stromberg, right?

Randy: Oh, fine. Well, one thing of note is, I started using a standing desk and it is awesome.

Stuart: Hey me too! I liked it so much, I built myself a treadmill desk…

Randy: Reduces back and neck strain, allows you to dance as you write, is better for your circulation, helps burn calories, and even cuts through cans.

Stuart: “It can even cut a cow in half!”

Randy: And alas, no, I don’t get 10% commission if you mention I sent you.

Stuart: Star Trek or Star Wars, sir?

Randy: Each has a special place in my heart for different reasons. I feel, generationally, a more relevant question today might be Halo or Mass Effect? Video games have reached a point where they can offer the kind of rich storyline, characters, awesome experiences, and most importantly, action figures, that we once took from movies and television.

Stuart: Action figures, yes. My favorite is The Great and Powerful Yogurt, from Space Balls. Windows or Linux?

Randy: Commodore 64.

Stuart: Good answer. I actually used to know a guy who wrote and sold software for the those. He was, umm, a nice guy? You ever dream about writing?

Randy: Indeed. I hope to some day. But until then, I’ll probably just write about dreaming.

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

Randy: Anyone who knows me knows this question makes the terrible assumption that A) I grew up and B ) I would have only one fave. But I do remember fondly from my childhood (to date myself) my Six Million Dollar Man toys, my Evel Knievel toys, models of Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica ships, and of course video games.

Stuart: I remember Lee Majors. You know, for an astronaut and all, he spent an awful lot of his time solving crime. If, like Doctor Who, you adopted a unique wardrobe tag (scarves, fezzes, bow-ties), what would it be?

Randy: I don’t believe in popping tags. You will however frequently see me in a tie shirt (a shirt with a tie imprinted on it). But if I had my way, I suppose it would be Doc Ocs arms. I mean, come on, I could write 4 novels at a time! Suh-weet!

Stuart: Or maybe a T-shirt reading “You’d have to be crazy to become a writer.” Any last thoughts?

Randy: Why, did you poison me with iocane powder?

Stuart: You ate Stromberg’s fries??? You KNOW what happened to Stromberg, right? And it wasn’t iocane power, it was powdered nightlock berries. But it’s cool, since we are inventing this universe, we can just invent a logically consistent anti-toxin. Meanwhile, remain calm and rest here while I tell the nice folks how to find out more about you, you know, in case you make it.

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Randy Henderson’s fiction can be spotted frolicking in places like Penumbra, Escape Pod, Realms of Fantasy, Every Day Fiction, and anthologies. He is a 1st Place winner of Writers of the Future, a Clarion West graduate, a relapsed sarcasm addict, and a milkshake connoisseur who transmits suspiciously delicious words into the ether from his secret lair in Kingston, Washington.

The first novel of Randy’s humorous urban fantasy series, titled FINN FANCY NECROMANCY, is forthcoming from TOR in early 2015. Learn more at www.randy-henderson.com. Stay connected on Facebook (/randyhenderson) and Twitter (/quantumage).

Setting Pitons

My certificate from UC Berkeley arrived today. With this and two bucks, I can get a nice cup of joe. It was worth it, though. I enrolled in the program when I knew I wanted to write better than I knew how. I read a lot of novels I’d forgotten existed or would never have given the time of day. I picked. I pondered. I asked. I studied. I wrote.

David Rompf’s class was awesome. And Mary Anne Koory’s and Margaret Steen’s. And the venerable Gary Tombleson who found my approach to essay (by god if nothing else, don’t bore yourself!) so refreshing. And the others…except for the execrable “novel writer’s workshop” which shall never be mentioned again. And now I write real good 😉 .

Well, I write better. I’m published and I’m an L Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future winner! Wow. That still feels like I should look behind me to see who we’re talking about. It’s hard to believe how far I’ve come, and yet…

I feel like the little boy who dreams of the distant mountain. Everyone says, be sensible, mountain climbing is for heroes or saints or the strapping lads from better towns where it’s taught as intramural sport and men wear climbing gear to clean out their gutters. Or else they say, “it’s no great thing. I’ve been there myself, see?” And as proof they tell improbable tales or flash hand-drawn sketches pinched in lily-skinned hands that have never known a callous.

So he packs up one day and sets off to see for himself. Along the way, he learns all he can. He practices and soaks up whatever advice seems reasonable. He builds his body and his toolkit and keeps climbing, ever deeper into hills that had been invisible at the start. One day, he heaves himself up onto a good-sized boulder and pauses to see where he’s standing. He realizes he’s been climbing for months–really climbing–up steeper and steeper slopes, and he’s left the naysayers behind. As he stands in the warming light, he hears encouraging voices echoing in on the wind. He smiles at the memory of the many gifts he’s collected, and a few of the strains and the bruises. He strokes his beard with sun-hardened fingers, and turns to take stock of the mountain.

Here it is at last, the gleaming tower of black stone and white snow and icy gold in the sunlight. He could never have reached this spot as a boy, could never have known this grandeur. But he stands here now a man. He looks out over the crevasses, the inclines pregnant with snow, the shear walls of shadow and dangers he cannot imagine. He’s come so far, seen so much, and the summit–that gleaming paragon in the clouds–is more remote, more inviting, than ever. All this, this life, has been but the first halting step.

And what can he do, our hero? He rosins up his fingers, pulls away a crumbling bit of chaff, and swings himself up to the next ledge.

So goodbye Berkeley. The is much yet to learn, and I’m looking forward to the workshop in April. I trust they’ll be handing out ice axes. I’ll file mine as sharp as I can.

And now off to the next chapter.

 

New Earths?

Last year, scientists reviewing the data from NASA’s Kepler satellite revised their extrapolation from the probe’s first tentative look at one tiny swath of our galaxy. They now estimate that the Milky Way may contain 17 billion earth-sized planets. Between half a billion and a billion of these may be “Earth-like.”

Kepler-62f_with_62e_as_Morning_StarThe candidates are already appearing. Kepler-62f and e are two newly discovered planets orbiting inside the habitable zone of a star smaller and cooler than the sun. They are both less than twice the size of the earth and one is inferred to have a rocky composition like the inner planets here. A third planet, Kepler-69c, is 70 percent larger than Earth and orbits in the habitable zone of a star similar to our sun. These star systems are both over a thousand lights years away, but other habitable planets will likely be nearer.

The hunt is on, and it is perhaps not to soon to dream of high-speed interstellar probes, but what do you think? Would finding forests and fisheries on other worlds rock your view of the universe? If you had the chance, would you go and visit such a world? Leave a comment and let me know.

​Celebrate!

50 Years Since Apollo

​​Uplifting space adventure with a

foreword by Astronaut Stanley G. Love