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!

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

 

Writers of the Future – Meet Tim Napper

Continuing our “Meet the Winners” series, this week, meet Tim Napper, an aid worker, stay-at-home dad, and now Writers of the Future winner.

Stuart: Hi Tim, so how’d you get started writing?

Tim: Timing and opportunity. While I’d written non-fiction for some years, I was deeply committed to my profession as an aid worker, and as such the thought of pursuing a career outside of it never really occurred to me. What would I dream of other jobs when I was already working in what I felt was my calling?

But I took a break from the work two years ago, partly because I was exhausted by it, but mainly because my wife wanted to get back to her career after giving birth to our son – and I very much wanted to take care of him.

I’m a voracious reader, love science fiction and love writing, so I resolved try my hand at writing fiction and produce as much as I could while we lived in Vietnam where my wife has a job for three years.
Stuart: Describe your “writer’s cave” your preferred writing location.

Tim: I have a great cave. Some Vietnamese art on the walls, plus a large mineral map of Australia (which I’m using for a novel), plus my framed WotF prize money, a glowing review of one of my stories by Locus Magazine, plus two of the walls plastered with my short stories. I find the final edit of a story easier when it’s stuck up on a wall, perhaps because of seeing the spatial relationship between the various parts of the story; being able at a glance to see how it all fits together.
Stuart: That sounds amazing! How long have you been entering WotF. Is this your first contest win?

Tim: I entered WotF four times I think: 2 rejections, 1 Honourable Mention and then the win. The winning short story was the fifth I’d written ever, so no, no other wins. I’d had a couple of token sales beforehand, but that was it. To say I was surprised would be an understatement. I adamantly refused to believe I’d won, first arguing with Joni that she’d made a mistake, then for two or three months assuming that the organisers had made a terrible mistake and confused my story with another’s.
I’ve subsequently had two sales to Interzone, and one to an Australian publication (Grimdark) that pays pro rates. This has made me start to think that perhaps the WotF win wasn’t a huge administrative blunder after all.

Stuart: That’s great! Well congratulations! Okay, Star Trek or Star Wars?

Tim: Put it this way: I have a tailor-made Star Trek Deep Space Nine costume as does my 3 year old son. Sometimes we wear them around the house while mum is at work.
Stuart: Well why not? I mean, when ISN”T the right time for for cosplay? If you had a superpower, what would it be?

Tim: The power to make people believe in and respond constructively to scientific evidence, no matter what their ideology.

Stuart: You and I will work on that one.

Tim: Either that or Hulk-like strength.

Stuart: Tell us about your winning story

Tim: Near future noir set in Sydney’s criminal underbelly.

Stuart: Nice. Well that sounds very intriguing. I can’t wait to read it, and see you all up on stage in April.

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Learn more about Tim at http://www.nappertime.com. There’s a lot to learn. He’s done a lot and written a lot, not all of it science fiction.
While you’re poking around the Interwebs, be sure to check out  my subscription page and I’ll send you a signed e-edition of my winning story from last year.

Meet the Winners! Scott Parkin

Continuing our series with this year’s Writers of the Future winners, I’ve finally got hold of second quarter winner, Scott Parkin.

Stuart: Welcome Scot. Introduce yourself.

Scott: I’m a software technologist specializing in enterprise IT who’s decided to jump into this fiction thing with both feet after dabbling for twenty five years. I’m also a trained operatic bass, trombonist, and former electric bass player for an alternative rock band. I’m happily married for twenty four years and have six children (the oldest studying veterinary medicine in college).

I once read every book (including the dictionary and encyclopedias) in my grade school library; about 5000 titles. I think Tolkien is overrated .

Stuart: Wow! I know when I was a kid, I went through the juvenile section of the library in one summer, but I only read what interested me. You must have had real dedication! So what got you into writing?

Scott: Reading and the movie, The Dark Crystal. I taught myself to read at age five and have never looked back. My voracious curiosity led me to sample many different kinds of writing and I found the mythopoeic genres (science fiction, fantasy, horror, folklore) to be the most engaging, interesting, and informative. While I enjoy all reading, speculative fiction thrills me.

But I had never considered actually writing fiction until I saw the Jim Henson film, The Dark Crystal. It was visually beautiful, but featured a story that I found hopelessly cliché and trivial, so I sat down to write the story it should have told (for the record, I did a lousy job—this fiction stuff is hard). I’ve been hooked ever since.

Stuart: I think we’ve all been there, at least for a little while. Describe your “writer’s cave”:

Scott: I surround myself with technology and books—a full-wall bookshelf; computer table with my domain controller, central media library (audio and video), and laptops; and a desk, a heavy steel government surplus jobbie from the 1950s, with my PC and audio system. The closet is stuffed with computer parts.

Music remains one of the joys of my life, so I have a full home theater system hooked up to my computer and floor-standing main speakers and center channel sitting on my desk behind my two oversized monitors. None of these silly, palm-sized computer speakers for me. I knock dishes off the counter upstairs when I crank it up.

Stuart: Ha ha! When I was a kid, I used to do that with Bach organ music on chrome tape. Now-a-days I use isolation headphones. How about talents or hobbies?

Scott: I’m an occasional woodworker and DIY guy. The operatic bass thing is a little unusual, I guess, though I’m way out of shape from when I actually studied thirty years ago; I still have a better than two octave range and can hit the pedal b-flat with consistency, if not thundering power.

Stuart: Impressive! I used to have a two octave range from choir, but it’s depressing how it fads if you don’t use it. So how long have you been entering WotF? Is this your first contest win?

Scott: I first entered back when Algis Budry was the coordinating judge–contest year 4 or 5. I’ve ended up with something like a couple of dozen honorable mentions, semi-finalists and finalists.

So far I’ve actually made more money from mainstream fiction than sf (though with the WotF antho that might finally turn around).

Stuart: Star Trek or Star Wars?

Scott: Yes. And Firefly, Babylon 5, and Farscape as well (though not so much Stargate or either Battlestar Galactica). If I have to pick one, I’ll go with Star Trek.

Stuart: Good answer. I’ve never understood the animus in some quarters. I like them all, and I’d through in Warehouse 13 and Eureka as well. Pantser or Plotter?

Scott: Research-buoyed pantser. I always start with a core character or situation and a target endpoint. Then I fly completely by the seat of the pants through story ideation in the first draft. I think the truest, most vital stories emerge from the subconscious and my job is to grease the skids then let the story reveal itself as I go; structuring and deepening are part of the rewrite. Which is odd, because my day job for more than twenty years was to plan out every detail of a software project in advance.

Stuart: Coming from the same background, I found the same thing. It’s a very different approach, this artistic creation gig. What’s the nuttiest thing that ever happened to you?

Scott: For some reason I keep getting mistaken for famous people. At different times I’ve been accused of being Steven King, George Lucas, and Orson Scott Card. At a local convention many years ago one fan refused to believe I wasn’t Card (big guy with a moustache named Scott—had to be Card, right?), and kept pestering me for an autograph. So I finally obliged. Somewhere out in the weird wide world there’s a copy of Ender’s Game with my signature (Scott R. Parkin) inside a giant O opposite its title page.

Stuart: Ha ha! You know, I got to meet Scot Card last year. He was the honoree at our awards gala. I know he’d have howled at that! If you had a superpower, what would it be?

Scott: Speed (think Flash). It’s the one superpower than can functionally duplicate many others (flight, teleportation, invisibility). Since super-speed requires commensurate brain processing, you can even simulate super-intelligence through brute force processing power and trial-and-error effort.

Stuart: Ah, the mind of the scifi author at work. You and I should hang out. When you were a kid, what was your favorite toy?

Scott: When I was six I had a metal, battery-power robot that would walk, then open its chest and fire two laser guns. I thought that was the coolest thing ever, and I would run it until the batteries died, over and over again. The other thing was any metal spike (nail, bolt, whatever), a coil of wire, and a battery.

Stuart: Oh yeah! The big honking lantern batteries, and the wire would get hot!

Scott: I was fascinated by electromagnets from the age of seven, and built increasingly powerful versions for years before moving on to electronics and disassembling things to see how they worked. I used to trawl gar(b)age sales for all kinds of devices.

Stuart: Me too! I miss those days of junk drawers and a permanent solder station. If I’d had an adult to guide me, I might be an engineer now. Okay, so if you adopted a unique wardrobe tag (ala Dr. Who’s scarf/bowtie etc.), what might it be?

Scott: Dragons, preferably as either a shirt or a vest, though I’m not opposed to jewelry. Asian dragons, by the way. The serpentine kind with no wings (dragons fly because they’re magical, not because they’re aerofoils). I’m not a big fan of hats.

Stuart: Thank you. Look at a dragons wings. Look at a pterodactyl. Discuss. So tell us about your winning story.

Scott: An experiment in form composed entirely of five-word sentences (and some other five-count Easter eggs that I’ll save until it’s published). I was working on the idea of “character is setting” and trying to internalize what that meant, so I chose an artificial hedge that would force me deeper into POV’s unique mindspace and demand that I stretch myself beyond comfortable limits to express his reality.

Stuart: Whoa! Well that will be an interesting read!

Scott: The ideas of constructed beings and organic limitations on thought and perception have fascinated me for years (think Oliver Sacks and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat). My original concept was an AI with control over powerful weapons technology that was programatically limited to five-word memes to keep it from turning on Humanity—full creative and decision-making capacity, but fundamentally limited scope.

Stuart: Kind of like people.

Scott: A fail-safe of sorts to keep human commanders on-mission, to narrow its ability to be swayed by external argument during negotiations. As I sat down to write, though, the story changed entirely and became an extended metaphor and existential exploration that tied a half-dozen other stories I’d written into a coherent universe. It’s a tale of a meme-limited organic being created by Earth scientists to negotiate a peace with an unknown alien race capable of genetic manipulation and elemental deconstruction with alarming ease—his own body an organic firewall against that terrifying capacity; give up as little data as possible by streamlining his DNA to the minimum necessary footprint. They then strand him in deep space on a mission to keep the aliens at bay for as long as possible.

A prime example of why I’m a pantser—where I started and where I ended were entirely different places, though the core ideas remained consistent.

Stuart: Fun stuff! Well I can’t wait to read it, and meet you in person one of these days.

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Watch Scott accept his award on the Writers of the Future website, Sunday, April 12th.

If you haven’t already done so, visit my subscription page and I’ll send you a signed e-edition of my winning story from last year.

Meet the Winners – Martin L Shoemaker

When I won Writers of the Future last year, I burned off some of the anticipatory energy leading up to the workshop by interviewing my fellow winners. It was so much fun, I decided to do it again. This week, meet a name already familiar to some of you, Martin L Shoemaker.

Stuart: Howdy Martin, can I call you Martin? Of course I can, that’s your name. Tell everyone who doesn’t know, who you are.

Martin: I am a writer with a lucrative programming hobby. I’m not a full-time writer yet, and I thoroughly enjoy programming; but I would love to someday do programming on the side, rather than writing on the side. I’m not afraid to tell the world that two of my favorite movies are “Hudson Hawk” and “Howard the Duck”. Once you’ve admitted that in public, there’s not much left that can shock people. Speaking of “Hudson Hawk,” I can’t watch that film without singing along to “Swinging on a Star” and “Side by Side”. That ought to surprise somebody! (And terrify them, if they know my singing voice…)

Stuart: Hah! So no forlorn dreams of a singing career then. What got you into writing?

Martin: I have absolutely no idea. I have told stories for as long as I can remember. I had imaginary friends, and my mom tells me I made up stories about them. When I was 5 or 6, my brother got a typewriter and I was fascinated: That machine could put words on paper, and they would be just like A REAL BOOK!!!!!

When I was a teenager, I submitted a few stories, got a few rejections, and got discouraged. Meanwhile, I was learning to program, and I was a natural at it. So I veered in that direction, and I satisfied my storytelling urge through role-playing games, mostly as a gamemaster.

I never REALLY gave up writing, I just gave up believing I could do anything with my writing. I was sure it was a pipe dream, but I kept writing anyway. And one day I had a first chapter that I thought might become a book, and I shared it with my gaming group. Among them is my brother-in-law, Mark “Buck” Buckowing. Mark is one of the most voracious readers I know. He looked at my chapter and said, “Write THE END on it, and send it out. That’s not a chapter, that’s a great story.”

Stuart: Awesome!

Martin: So I was hooked all over again. I started writing a lot more. I started submitting, and not letting rejections slow me down this time. I started studying. And four years later, I have Third Place in Writers of the Future. I have four sales to Analog: two already published, and two coming out in 2015. I have two sales to Galaxy’s Edge and two to the Digital Science Fiction anthology (now defunct). I have one story in “The Gruff Variations: Writing for Charity Volume 1”, and one in “The Glass Parachute” anthology. And the most stunning to me of all: my Analog novella, “Murder on the Aldrin Express” was reprinted in The Year’s Best Science Fiction 31st Annual Edition, and also in audio and eBook in Year’s Top Short SF Novels Vol. 4. All because I stopped letting rejection stop me, and all because my brother-in-law gave me a shove in the right direction. Thanks, Buck!

Oh, and that story he told me to send out? It won 2nd Place in the Baen Memorial Writing Contest. Rich Johnson won 1st, but couldn’t make the trip from Australia, so I attended the awards in his place. I had dinner with Ben Bova, and lunch with BUZZ ALDRIN! Thanks, Rich! And thanks, Buck!

Stuart: I’ve always said, it’s impossible for any writer to over appreciate his or her beta readers. Describe your “writer’s cave” your preferred writing location.

Martin: My most pleasant writing experiences have been in unexpected places where the right confluence of events gave me time to kill and just the right mood. I wrote half a novella in an airport one time when there was a flight delay. I wrote nearly 10,000 words on New Year’s Eve two years ago, half in a gyros shop and half in a Starbucks. I had a party that night but no place to go for most of the day, so I just sat and wrote. So often I crave this sort of writing spot: a restaurant, café, park, or museum where I can escape for a few hours. I’d love to live near a good space museum that I could turn into a regular writing haunt.

Stuart: How long have you been entering Writers of the Future?

Martin: I first entered in 2011 and stumbled in as Finalist. To make a long story short, I entered every quarter from then until my win. In all, I had 1 win, 2 Finalists, 1 Semi-Finalist, and 8 Honorable Mentions. Plus 1 Rejection, but I didn’t let it get me down!

Stuart: Very wise. Star Trek or Star Wars?

Martin: When you can have both, why choose? But I will say, when it comes to Star Wars, I fell asleep halfway through Episode II and slept almost completely through III. When it comes to Star Trek, I have watched the Original Series more times than I can possibly count. I’ve watched the Animated Series at least half a dozen times. I’ve watched Next Gen probably three or four times at least. I’ve watched most of DS9, maybe a third of Voyager, and all of Enterprise. I’m not a huge Star Trek reader, but I’ve read at least 30 titles. And long, long ago, I wrote a couple of pieces of Star Trek fanfic. So I’m far, far, FAR more familiar with Star Trek.

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

Martin: Patience and its dark side: Stubbornness. And I DO have it! I pride myself on my patience. Sometimes I even make a game out of it, trying to determine just how long I’ll have to wait for something. I once pulled into a drive-through lane and ordered one thing: a butterscotch shake. I got up to the window and waited. I saw someone bring the shake up to the window, set it down, and walk away. I saw somebody else come up to the window register briefly and then walk away. And so I waited. There was no one else in the drive-through lane behind me, so I waited some more. After a few minutes, my brain shifted into The Patience Game: How long can they go before somebody realizes what’s going on? So I waited some more. And the insidious side of The Patience Game is that the more time I invest in waiting, the more reluctant I am to give up. So I waited. And I waited. And eventually the manager came to the window and asked what I needed. When he learned that I had been in line for FORTY-FIVE MINUTES… Well, there was some shouting that came clear through the glass of the drive-through window.

Stuart: Ha ha! Great one! Tell me, when you were a kid, what was your favorite toy?

Martin: So many choices! Let’s call it a tie: a little plastic triceratops I called Trixie and Major Matt Mason, the astronaut figure. Rumor has it Tom Hanks wants to make a Major Matt Mason movie. If he does, I will be first in line for tickets!

Stuart: Sweet! For those who may not be familier with Major Matt Mason, here’s the here’s the Wikipedia link. When I won Writers of the Future, I had originally written my story for another market. How about you?

Martin: Well, ‘Unrefined” started as another Baen Memorial entry–the PERFECT Baen Memorial story, by my calculations. So it didn’t even place. Now the thing about Baen Memorial stories is they’re excellent Analog stories. This one was the PERFECT Analog story. So naturally, Trevor gave it a pass. So I sent it to WotF, right on the heels of a rejection. And I was absolutely sure that Dave would hate this story. So naturally… Authors, don’t try to predict the markets. They’ll always surprise you.

But the first idea? It centered around a team/quasi-family of asteroid miners who have to deliver a load or default on a contract. Only there’s one problem: I grew up reading Jerry Pournelle’s “Those Pesky Belters and Their Torch Ships”. The nuts-and-bolts are too much for this interview, but basically the essay proves that asteroid belt societies just make no sense. he problem is that the asteroids are so far apart, any ship with enough energy to land on these asteroids has more than enough energy to land on and launch from Earth. Pournelle smashed the concept of Belter civilization. Now that hasn’t stopped people from writing Belter civilization stories, but I can’t believe in them. And if I can’t believe in them, I can’t write them.

But Pournelle also gave us an alternative, one that I was not at all ashamed to adopt. An asteroid is hard to catch, but a planet’s gravity makes it easy to catch. And a massive planet like Jupiter is even easier! Plus Jupiter’s gravity has swept up millions of asteroids over the eons, capturing them as moonlets. And once your spacecraft is in Jupiter orbit, it’s relatively easy to rendezvous with these moonlets, since the difference between your velocity and theirs is low. Pournelle predicted a mining colony or colonies in Jupiter orbit. In “Unrefined”, I called these the Pournelle Settlements, and included a much-abbreviated version of this explanation.

That choice changed my initial concept. Instead of a small mining ship, the focus shifted to a settlement. I added an initial scene of the husband’s death, and the story expanded to explore how the colony could survive physical and economic sabotage and fulfill the dead man’s dream. I like to think it’s about a lot more than that: intrigue, leadership, grief, trust, and love.

Stuart: Well I can’t wait to read in in WotF 31! Good luck Martin, and enjoy Hollywood!

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Martin’s work has appeared in Analog Science Fiction & Fact, Galaxy’s Edge, and elsewhere. More at martinlshoemaker.com.

Meet the Winners Returns – Jordan Ellinger

Last year I ran a series of interviews with my fellow Writers of the Future winners, and it was so much fun, I decided to do it again! As with last year, I decided to start off the series with a former winner, so this time, 2008 Winner Jordan Ellinger has kindly dropped by for the kick off.jordan

Stuart: Hi Jordan, thanks for starting us off this year!

Jordan: My pleasure!

Stuart: You were in WotF 25, so you’ve had a few years to put the experience in context. How would you sum up the effect it’s had on your writing career?

Jordan: I wasn’t one of those writers who immediately breaks out right after the workshop and takes the world by storm. I still needed to keep at it for a year or two before I started selling professionally. By far the biggest benefit I reaped and have continued to reap, since winning the contest, is the wealth of contacts that I’ve made since the event. Remember that WotF isn’t like Clarion West (which I also attended in ’09) or Writing Superstars, or virtually any other workshop. Everyone there is basically at the same place in their writing careers–pros by virtue of winning the contest, but still a year or two away from breaking out. You can grow together. I’ve been blessed enough to attend the workshop at ASI’s invitation for over 5 years now and every year I’ve made new friends with some amazingly talented writers. And of course there are the judges.

Stuart: And what are you working on now?

Jordan: I do more editing than writing right now (having just launched Urban Fantasy Magazine and I’ve been able to lean on some of those judges for stories. Additionally, I was lucky enough to collaborate with Mike Resnick, whom I met at the workshop, on a story and that’s been a big resume booster.

Stuart: When I won, you were kind enough to come hang out with us newbies, and I wanted to thank you for that. I know that you have done a lot of work on the Warhammer books, and you shared some thoughts on the tradeoffs of tie-ins, perhaps you’d like to comment on that here?

Jordan: I have sworn off tie-in writing for the moment, except for Star Citizen and Iron Kingdoms (if my schedule opens up). The problem with tie-in writing is that you aren’t creating assets for yourself. You’re working for a paycheck. An agent asked me last year to put together a collection that he could use to generate some buzz about my writing and I couldn’t. I don’t own anything that I’ve written for the past 3 years or so.

Stuart: But you do get the paycheck, and you build up your resume and skillset, right?

Jordan: After writing tie-ins for so long, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are three kinds of people who should be writing tie-ins:

  1. People who love a particular property, and then they should write only for that property.
  2. Failed novelists who are looking to relaunch their careers.
  3. People who want to get paid to write their million words of crap. Even, then, they should probably just write their own thing.

And except for the second group, everyone should write under a pseudonym. You mention that it’s good resume and skill building. Well, many people think that it can HURT your resume, since the tie-in market is still viewed as a writing ghetto. It doesn’t help when larger franchises get staff members to write books, despite them not having developed their craft enough to pull it off. You certainly can build your skillset writing tie-ins, but why not do it by creating properties that you actually own?

Stuart: What advice do you have for this year’s winners as they head to Hollywood, and as they move on, awards in hand?

Jordan: Network, network, network. Tell your loved ones that you’re not going to be available when you’re down there. The judges are all masters of their craft–and they can open the right doors for you if they choose. It was Kevin J Anderson who got Patrick Rothfuss’ book in front of the agent who eventually landed him his big book deal, and Mike has been known to collaborate with one or two winners every year.

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

Jordan: I was mugged in the red-light district in Amsterdam. I’m no giant, but Europeans are generally shorter than Canadians and because of that, and the fact that I was a little drunk, I was feeling pretty invincible. I smoked at the time and asked a very unsavory gentleman for a light. When he threatened to stab me with a needle for full of AIDS I yelled a warning to my friend and took off. About a block later I realize that my buddy wasn’t with me. I turned around and there he was standing right next to my mugger wondering what the heck was happening (there are substances other than alcohol that you can indulge in in Amsterdam and he’d liberally partaken of one of these). I wasn’t going to leave him there, so I began to run back towards them. Luckily, he clued in just before the mugger’s friends descended on us and we were able to make our escape together.

Stuart: Holy Geez! Personally, I’d say the single biggest short-term effect my win has had is credibility. It made me an instant mini-celebrity in the local writing guild, and I now get more support and understanding in my personal life where before, writing was seen as a very time-consuming hobby. Did you find that to be true as well, and what other effects have appeared down the road?

Jordan: Yes and no. I did feel a sense of validation when I won, and people who know about the contest took me seriously, but it can also hurt a writer’s career. Sometimes there’s a sense of pressure; now that they’ve won this big award, every story they write needs to be the best story ever, and that just doesn’t happen. I know a few writers who are blocked right now for that very reason.

Stuart: Sure, I can understand that. “Write the shitty draft” as Anne Lamott says. Do you have any unusual talents or hobbies?

Jordan: My hobby is Urban Fantasy Magazine. It’s one thing to run a magazine in your spare time, but it’s quite another to invest a pile of money in one and then desperately scramble to build something that’ll recoup that investment. Things are looking great for UFM and we’re ahead of our goal in terms of subscribers, but we’re still bleeding red ink and since the money is coming out of my pocket (and I’m not rich) I need to focus on getting it to at least break even.

Stuart: I usually ask newer writers whether they are “pantsers or plotters,” but in your case, let’s focus that. How do you address productivity in general, and meeting deadlines in particular? Do you see any conflict between creative force and the demands for timely production, and if so, how do you manage that?

Jordan: Part of the reason I got into tie-ins is that I’m unable to finish anything unless I am forced to do so. The contest forced me to finish short stories, and tie-in contracts force me to finish longer works. In terms of creativity, no, I don’t see a conflict. Writing is a muscle and you can train yourself to write quickly. Don’t believe writers who tell you that you have to spend months on a work to have it turn out great…they just haven’t developed the skill of writing to a deadline.

Stuart: Well thanks Jordan. It’s great to get your perspectives, and best of luck with UFM!

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Jordan Ellinger’s story “After the Final Sunset” was a first place winner in the 2008 L Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future contest, and appears (as Jordan Lapp) in vol 25 of the anthology. He’s also been featured in AE – The Canadian Science Fiction Review, and various anthologies. He co-founded Every Day Fiction, the once-a-day Flash Fiction magazine, and is Managing Editor of Urban Fantasy Magazine. More information at www.jordanellinger.com.

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.