In Sputnik’s Orbit

A few thoughts to tide you over…


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!


Megan really does make soap. You can learn more about that at, and follow Megan’s antics in general at

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:

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.

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 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.

Star Trek Continues

I’ve always been a bit befuddled by fan-produced TV shows–particularly Star Trek. I grew up loving the show, but i’ve never considered myself a “trekker” per se. I just love good sci fi, and for many years, Trek was as good as it got on the small screen.Happy Birthday, Scotty

But fan produced shows? Guys, the show is over. Usually, these fan things amounted to amateurish CGI and corpulent “officers” who spent an inordinate amount of screen time dialoging about, well, nothing.

Then I hear that Grant Imahara of Mythbusters fame is playing Sulu in a fan remake called “Star Trek Continues.” I respect Grant enough to check it out, and it turns out that as fan fiction goes, this show is through the roof. Scotty is played by James Doohan’s son. Kirk is an actual professional actor. The set is both authentic and complete, the effects and cinematography are too.

But it ain’t Star Trek…except…it sorta is. I keep waiting for the story to bog down into dialoging–it doesn’t. The first episode is a sequel to a TOS episode, and a rather good one, I must admit. The attention to detail is impressive. Oh, I’ve seen nice looking set pieces before, but these guys have the cadence,  the mannerisms, the timing and the pacing–all down right to the level of tension at each “commercial break”.

So, okay. “Continues” isn’t going to put J.J. Abrams or Chris Pine out of work, but I have to say, If you liked Star Trek the original series, you should check these guys out. It won’t be entirely just for nostalgia’s sake.

Meet the WotF Winners: Anaea Lay

This week, our interviews of 2013 Writers of the Future winners brings us to Wisconsin’s 1st quarter winner, Anaea Lay.

Stuart: Welcome, Anaea, and congratulations! Tell me something about you that those who know you might fiImagend surprising.

Anaea: My favorite color until I was eleven was pink. I have a visceral aversion to pink now, but it has more to do with getting burned out on the color because everything was pink for the first eleven years of my life than my distaste for “girly” things.

Stuart: Ha ha! I used to be that way about watermelon! What got you into writing?

Anaea: I was born. A few years later I’d developed enough fine motor skills to hold a pencil and manipulate it over a sheet of paper. There was no looking back from there.

Stuart: Lest anyone suspect you’re kidding, I can remember “writing a letter” by copying my mother’s hand movements and being very disappointed that she couldn’t read it. In what ways have you evolved creatively?

Anaea: From where I started? Developing literacy skills was a big step – the squiggles I started with were really raw, intense expressions of my inner life, but they were too opaque to make good literature.

Stuart: Caligraphic expressionism. I don’t know; that could be a thing.

Anaea: Lately I’ve been branching out by experimenting with characters who are actually more or less happy. Strangely, I’m less comfortable with the idea of my family reading the stories about happy people than my usual stuff which I didn’t expect.

Stuart: What? No “man’s inhumanity to man?” I’ll tell you a secret, most people I know like happy endings. Conflict, yes, but hopeful–you know? Are you a pantser or plotter?

Anaea: Pantser all the way. Half the fun of writing is trying to figure out how to resolve things when I’m done screwing them up for my characters.

Stuart: Yeah, I’m struggling to balance that discovery mode with productivity. I think that’s something we’ll be discussing in April. Tell me about your association with the podcast?

Anaea: I’m the Podcast Editor for Strange Horizons, which means I carry out my precepts of benevolent dictatorship by ruling over all things podcast with an iron fist. They publish three or four fiction stories a month and I read and produce podcasts for each of those. The week the fiction department takes off gets a podcast for all the poetry Strange Horizons publishes. We have a staff of two fabulous readers, and as of January of this year we’re hiring external voices for the poetry readings, too. It’s pretty nifty, and if you think you’re not interested in poetry, it’s a really great way to find out you’re wrong.

Stuart: Too late, I’ve already discovered Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy”. Hard not to love work that impressive. Where’s your writer’s cave ?

Anaea: I write pretty much whenever the mood strikes me unless there’s something else I have to be doing. Most of the time that means I’m either in my office at home, which takes multi-purpose to a whole new level (it’s also the guest bedroom, and my recording studio, and my indoor garden, and the cat’s third favorite lounging spot, and my third library annex and…) or at Jade Mountain, which is a Taiwanese tea shop here in Madison that stays in business by feeding my aggressive tapioca addiction with the best bubble tea I’ve ever had anywhere – and I’ve had a lot of bubble tea.

Stuart: (“Bubble tea” for those who don’t know, is that milky, colorful drink sold in a thousands variations in many Tai restaurants and food courts, usually in a clear plastic cup with a large straw and tapioca balls at the bottom). Do you have any unusual talents or hobbies, Anaea?

Anaea: My friends accuse me of collecting jobs as a hobby – and I do have a tendency to accumulate jobs without really meaning to – but I think that’s probably a symptom of a psychological condition more than a hobby.

Stuart: I don’t know, that could be a valuable form of research.

Anaea: Does writing irreverent business plans count as a hobby?

Stuart: Umm…I’m going to say, Yes? 😉 Moving on…If you had a superpower, what would it be?

Anaea: Telekinesis.

Stuart: In Larry Niven’s, Flatlanders, the main character has a telekinetic “imaginary arm” he uses to perform the “floating cigarette trick” and pick up girls. I wish I had though of that when I was singe–and lived in a universe where such things are possible. When you were a kid, what was your favorite toy?

Anaea: My Dad’s computer. I learned to touch type when I was eight and there was no looking back.

Stuart: Early adopter, eh? I actually learned to type just to avoid being kicked out of typing class–where all the school’s computers were, and where I spent my days programming games. If, like Doctor Who, you adopted a unique wardrobe tag (scarves, fezzes, bow-ties), what would it be?

Anaea: I already have one – cargo pants. Generally men’s cargo pants, with pockets big enough for my phone, wallet, and a mass market paperback. They’re getting hard to find, though, so I may have to learn to sew so I can start making them for myself. Given the effect I have on sewing machines when I get near them (they seize up in fear and stop functioning) this may not end well.

Stuart: Aren’t those retro sheik yet? May something in a military flight suit? Well thanks Anaea. It’s been a pleasure, and I can’t wait to see your wardrobe in person at the workshop in LA.


Anaea Lay lives in Madison, Wisconsin where she writes, cooks, plays board games, spoils her cat, runs the Strange Horizons podcast, and plots to take over the world. More at

Meet the Winners! Oleg Kazantsev

This week, our interviews with 2013 Writers of the Future winners veer back into the international arena with fellow fourth quarter winner Oleg Kazantsev.

Stuart: Welcome, Oleg, and again, Congratulations! Tell me who you are, good sir.Image

Oleg: I was born and grew up in Eastern Siberia, in the city of Khabarovsk, just several miles away from the Chinese border. Life there taught me a lot of things – some more and some less useful – such as: boxing, ballroom dancing, potato farming, Calculus III, and video game journalism. After I got my first degree in Computer Science, I decided I wanted to try something new in my life, so I went to Columbia College Chicago to study fiction writing in English. Two and a half years later I was tutoring college students and teaching classroom in an intermediate school in South Chicago. Great experience as it was, teaching writing (unlike the actual writing) wasn’t what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, so my next step after graduation was to zigzag back to IT consulting, to free up some time for my passion. That’s where I am right now, but there’s no guarantee that in a year or two my life won’t change completely yet again.

Stuart: What stirred this writing passion?

Oleg: Sublimation.

But jokes aside, I think my desire to write first took its shape when my dad suddenly started reading A Hero of Our Time by Mikhail Lermontov to me. This cold and brilliant piece of classical literature turned out to be such a great bonding experience for us that I couldn’t help but try to replicate this bonding, this soul-mate hunt in my own naïve, awkward teenage writing. Finally, writing became a habit, and at some point, as Hegel has it, quantity transformed into quality.

Stuart: I like that. I believe it too. So in what ways have you evolved since?

Oleg: I’m an author and illustrator of my own stand-alone comic book, called With You (look it up on Amazon, it’s a fun read). I still have a lot to learn as an illustrator, mostly because I really didn’t have as much academic experience in drawing as I wish, but with my love for sequential art I’m sure I won’t let this skill grow rusty.

Poetry is another skill I try to sharpen. To be completely honest, I don’t write often enough to claim to be a poet, so I just let my characters steal my poems complete with all potential credits and criticism. Switching from Russian to English was quite a challenge, but the rare poetic attempts that I made turned out to be surprisingly legible.

Stuart: I can see how that might actually be an advantage, a unique angle, if you will. Pantser or plotter?

Oleg: Definitely a plotter. I respect people who can just let a story tell itself to the page, but I’m not one of them. Before I start writing, I always have a plan of a chapter or a story or a scene – sometimes mental, sometimes written, sometimes a diagram. Sure, I let some details or characters surprise me, but, in my mind, surprise in writing is just like a proof of a theorem in math: it helps you discover what already is and has always been in the story, it just wasn’t obvious for you the writer and you the reader.

Stuart: I don’t believe anyone really can do without the plotting, there are just more and less efficient ways of going about it. And where do you write?

Oleg: Late night in any room with a laptop. As long as it’s quiet, dark, and I can drink hot tea, the place and surroundings do not matter. Also, I can’t stand writing on paper. I can if I have to, but it seems so slow and ineffective…

Stuart: Can you imagine Tolstoy sitting in red square with his pencil? Do you have any unusual talents or hobbies?

Oleg: I think I’ve already mentioned some of them. I do boxing, even though I gave up on pursuing any sort of career in sports. I used to do video game journalism, but stopped following the video game industry as soon as I moved to the States.

Stuart: If you had a superpower, what would it be?

Oleg: Always liked being able to see into the future. Like that cup of tea that I knew I was going to drop from my… arghhh, goddamit…

Stuart: Do you dream about writing?

Oleg: No, not even in the most erotic of my dreams.

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

Oleg: Illustrated books about cars. Including catalogs. I imagined car chases, dubbed them with sound effects and cheesy quotes from action movie stars.

Stuart: Interesting. You know I think I did sonething like that, myself. Is there a quotation you’d like to share?

Oleg: Genius is an African who dreams up snow. – Vladimir Nabokov

Stuart: Brilliant! I love it. How about we end with a short sample of your writing?


“And so the marine says to the Captain,” Mishka Karasenko is chortling with his shrill laughter. “This music is called bloos and in our country only black negroes play it, black as devils in hell!”

The gray overcoats listen to him, giggling in their collars and giving me quick glances.

“What does this bloos mean? the Captain asks. And the American answers: Bloos is when a good man feels bad.”

The trench exploded with laughter like a land mine.

“Is that so, sir?“ One of the gray overcoats asks me. “Is that what the American said? When a good man feels bad?”

“Blues…” A cloud burst from my mouth and swam up to the dim sun, like a bubble to an ice-hole. “Blues is when good people run out of ammo.”

We stopped talking. Frost crackled in the silence.

This is a piece from a historical novel set in early 1920s, during the Russian Civil War. What intrigues me is that in this scene two worlds come together. A world of an American Marine talking to the Russian White Army officer about blues, and the world of the officer interpreting his words for common soldiers, a cannon fodder of every war.

Stuart: Very compelling. Well thanks Oleg, I can’t wait to meet you in person in LA!


You can read one of Oleg’s short stories at Oleg or check out his book “With You” on

Meet The Winners: Amanda Forrest

This week, we continue meeting our 2013 Writers of the Future winners with Amanda Forrest.

ImageStuart: Welcome, Amanda, and Congratulations! Why don’t you start by telling us a little about yourself.

Amanda: I’m claustrophobic, afraid of failure, scared of heights, and a rabid hypochondriac, but by far my most satisfying accomplishments were those that scared me the most.

Stuart: That’s half the battle, isn’t it? Just putting yourself out there. What got you into writing?

Amanda: Many writers say that they’ve “always written”. I’m not one of them. In the third grade, I started a SF novel called Venture to Venus, but I gave up on it after a few days and (as far as I can remember) wrote no other fiction for decades.

But while I haven’t always been a writer, I am and always have been an obsessive, insatiable reader. Sometime in my twenties, I started dabbling with writing. I joined an online critique group, and once every month or so wrote a snippet. My first writing was rarely formed enough to be called a story, and I didn’t put much thought to submitting or being published.

Despite my haphazard and rather unfocused approach, I did improve. When my daughter was born, I put my career in software engineering for video games on indefinite hold so that I could stay home with her. The choice was the right one, undeniably, but it left me without an intellectual outlet, and so I started writing more. And discovered that I loved it.

As for the moment that I knew that I wanted to pursue writing as more than a hobby—that I’d found the undertaking that will shape my life from here on out . . . that’s very clear in my mind. I was sitting on the porch while my daughter napped, working through the final scene in a longer short story. She woke up, and though I put the story aside for the day, it didn’t leave me. I tried to read that night and the experience felt flat. Two-dimensional. Grayscale compared to the immersion I felt in my own creation.

A reader lives many lives through the books they read. A writer lives them in high-definition.

Stuart: I know that feeling exactly. I know I try to be careful to make sure I’m bringing the reader in at the right “definition”. So you made the jump, and how have you evolved since?

Amanda: I came from a software background, and I think that difficult problem solving in any discipline demands a lot of creativity and activation of mental processes beneath the conscious mind. (Such as sleeping on a difficult math problem only to wake up with the answer).

Stuart: Yeah, I once dreamed that I’d transposed a hexadecimal number on the thirteenth page of a machine-code listing–and I had!

Amanda:With writing, however, I’ve had to learn to let the outlandish notions blossom, whereas an oddball idea for an algorithm might have gotten the chop early on due to implausibility. It’s a challenge to follow the strangeness, but my best stories seem to come from just letting my subconscious cough up whatever it likes and editing it later.

At first, I found it much easier to do this with fantasy, letting go of the constraints, but I’m now turning this to near-future science fiction, something that really calls me. I still get stopped in my tracks sometimes, too afraid to follow an idea due to concerns of correctness, but I’m learning. It’s okay to be wrong in a first draft, and some of my best work comes from revisiting my foundational ideas and applying actual research to correct and strengthen the story. And heck, as for the extrapolation portion . . . we’re all just guessing, right?

Stuart: Right. Anne Lamott warns not to fear the “shitty first draft”. Are you a pantser or a plotter?

Amanda: Over the last year, I’ve landed upon the highly inefficient process of writing a first draft with no plan until I get stuck. Then I go back and construct a high-level outline, rethinking that opening as necessary. Then I rewrite the opening and finish the story. Unless I get stuck again, which probably means my outline sucks and I need a new one. (repeating as necessary, which is rather slow for a novel)

I’d like to convince my ideas to arrive *before* I begin, but for now they don’t seem to come until I sit down and start churning out paragraphs.

Stuart: You can sit next to me at the workshop. On the one hand, I know the outline-first method is the only way to be productive. Inside, though, I hold on to the idea that the iterative plan-write-plan-write is the only way. Perhaps we just need to find the right balance.Where do you do your writing?

Amanda: Anywhere that I don’t have my (beloved) four year old demanding something.

Stuart: Do you have any unusual talents or hobbies?

Amanda:Unusual, I dunno. No interest in cat orthodontics or anything. I love outdoor adventure sports. Long ago, I was the first woman to do a few things in the big wall rock climbing world. These days, rather than heading out alone for a multi-day rock climb, I feel blessed to get out with my family on a thirty foot cliff that a preschooler can get up or pulling my daughter in a bike trailer around on our beautiful Colorado roads and trails.

Stuart: Star Trek or Star Wars?

Amanda: All of the above

Stuart:Windows or Linux?

Amanda: In prehistoric times, I dual booted and worked on both platforms. Somewhere down inside, I still have a soft spot for Linux, but it’s been years and years. Anyway, about all I do on my computer now is word process and browse the web. My fear is that I’m one step away from becoming a mac user.

Stuart: Oooh, Burn! Yeah, I’ve pulled my netbook apart about twenty times. I understand the appeal of the monolith, though. If you had a superpower, what would it be?

Amanda: I would manufacture time. I only do about a tenth of the things I’d like on any given day.

Stuart: Excuse me a second. I have to go write a short story, er…novel. Okay, I’m back. Do you dream about writing?

Amanda: I do. I dream in narrative now. I read Gone with the Wind last year and had the weirdest dream that put almost the whole story into a science fictional framework. It was probably terrible, so I’m glad I’ve forgotten the details.

Stuart: Well, at least it wasn’t an algorythm you were rendering in narrative (yeah – I have – and I think it scorches the brain). When you were a kid, what was your favorite toy?

Amanda: Math workbooks. Yup.

Stuart: Fair enough. “Algebra is the mind of God” — so said Johannes Kepler. If you had a wardrobe tag like Doctor Who, what would it be?

Amanda: I do like aviator goggles. Plus I have sensitive eyes, exacerbated by living at high altitude in a very sunny place. So maybe I should think about it.

Stuart: Hey, that’s not bad. You could get some jodhpurs and do the whole Emilia Earhart look from Night At The Smithsonian. How about a quote you like?

Amanda: Do or do not. There is no try.

Stuart: Ah, Yoda. Good one. Well thanks, Amanda, I look forward to meeting you in April.

Amanda: Thanks so much for hosting me! Happy writing and reading everyone!


Find out more about Amanda, including the latest news that I’m not quite sure I’m allowed to tell you just yet, at

Meet The Winners: Leena Likitalo!

Continuing our interviews with 2013’s Writers of the Future winners, this week we have third quarter winner, Leena Likitalo.

Stuart:  Welcome, Leena, and again, Congratulations! Why don’t you start off by telling us a little about yourself.

Leena:  Well, hello there! I hail from Finland, the land of thousands of lakes and at least as many untold tales. I have a delightfully twisted imagination and a real talent for breaking things – I earn my living by doing quality assurance for computer games.

Stuart:  And how did you get writing?

Leena:  I think I skipped the phase where one is supposed to stop listening to the chattering of one’s imagination – stories come to me and demand to be told. I started writing “seriously” only about four years ago. That is, I decided that I really, really want to see my work published one day. Now I’m addicted and there’s no turning back.

Stuart:  So how have you evolved along the way?

Leena:  First there was no patience, only persistence. I used to think grammar and correct spelling happened to other people, not me. Through piles and piles of rejection letters, I’ve come to realize that I have to nail both, lest my super-awesome stories remain unread.

Stuart:  Do you plan out those stories or go the organic route?

Leena:  After an epic fantasy novel that after 800 pages still wasn’t ready, I realized that I should try to control the creative chaos. I’ve learned from my days in the software industry that agile methodologies work quite nicely. These days, I create a detailed outline for both novels and short stories and then divide the work into tasks. I also set myself achievable deadlines.

Stuart: Tell me a little more about  that.

Leena:  Oh my, how to explain all this without resorting to a plenitude of buzzwords…

Basically, it’s all about managing my writing time and maximizing my productivity. I build iteratively around an existing outline. This helps me to concentrate on one part of the story at the time. It’s so much easier, so much faster, to polish one chapter than a whole novel. And this way, I know how much I still have to go before a story is ready for submission!

To begin with, I try and plan how I use my writing time. Then, I chop my work-in-progress into pieces of manageable size (chapter, section, paragraph) to see what I can get ready in the given time frame.

All my chunks go through three passes: design=outline/plot, implementation=writing, qa=poke holes into the stories, check spelling, etc. I repeat the cycle as many times as necessary to make the chunk shine.

Stuart: I see. Just like software. And where do you apply these principles? Where do you do your writing?

Leena:  I can write practically anywhere. Me and my darling dear husband live in a rather tiny, positively crammed apartment where table surface is scarce. We had a party at New Year’s Eve and we haven’t quite got around to properly cleaning afterwards. As a result, my sacred writing spot at the kitchen table is occupied. Right now, I’m writing in the kitchen with my laptop propped atop of a box of champagne glasses!

Stuart:  Ha ha. Kind of appropriate! Do you have any unusual hobbies?

Leena:  For some reason, I always end up picking up the strangest hobbies – at the moment, my favorite sports are underwater rugby and polocrosse.

Stuart Underwater rugby? That sounds like a scene from a James Bond film!

Leena:  Ha ha haa! Underwater rugby is a lovely team sport played at the deep end of the pool. The objective is to take the ball to the opponent’s basket at the bottom of the pool. The ball sinks slowly and the opposing team will do their best to stop you. We wear fins, masks, and snorkels. And swimsuits of course. And yes, you have to hold your breath. And no, I’m not a terribly fast or good swimmer! I love the sport nevertheless!

Stuart:  Sounds like fun. If you had a superpower, what would it be?

Leena:  Who says I don’t have one already? It’s been whispered behind my back that I have a destructive Midas touch.

Stuart:  Ha ha. If, like Doctor Who, you adopted a unique wardrobe tag (scarves, fezzes, bow-ties), what would it be?

Leena:  Give me a set of merino wool garments, waterproof boots, and a jacket that keeps me warm and I’m good to go anywhere! Also, pen and paper would be nice.

Stuart:  Practical wins every time, in my book! Any closing thoughts?

Leena:  Thank you for the interview, Stuart!

Stuart:  Thanks for being here, and I look forward to seeing more of your work.


You can learn more about Leena and read some of her work at