Meet the Winners — David VonAllmen!

Greetings readers! You may or may not know that frequently, one or two of Writers of the Future contest finalists are selected to appear in the anthology even through the didn’t win, per se. It’s a high honor, because it basically means the contest judges thought they were pro quality, even if another story edged them out, and they still get to attend the prestigious week long workshop in LA.This year, the published finalist is my good friend, David VonAllmen.

Stuart: David, welcome. Thanks for dropping by. Why don’t you start by telling my readers a little about yourself.

David: Okay. I live in St. Louis with my wife and two kids, and I am the only person ever to be Collegiate National Cycling Champion in all three disciplines: road, track, and mountain bike.

Stuart: Wow! That’s amazing!

David: Two of my former teammates rode on Lance Armstrong’s team in the Tour de France, and yes, one of them got suspended for performance enhancing drugs after winning an Olympic gold medal.

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I’m In History’s Most Enduring Scifi Mag!

 

It’s here! It’s here!

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Analog Science Fiction and Fact is the oldest scifi magazine in the world, the one I used to visit B’Dalton’s Booksellers in the mall for as a kid.

Am I excited that my story, “Dreams of the Rocket Men,” appears on page 83? A tad. Am I proud to appear in a magazine that has published literally every great author I admired growing up?  The magazine my father-in-law knew as Astounding? The magazine that hit 1,000 issues and just kept going? The magazine that made John W. Campbell and Orson Scott Card famous? A smidge. Yeah.

I waited 8 months to hear back on my query, a year to see this cover, and now there’s just one thing left to do. Go write more stories.

Dreams of the Rocket Men is a Jim Baen Award finalist about a boy whose efforts to help a neighbor leads his life in new directions. Fellow Writers of the Future winner, Martin L. Shoemaker says of this story:

This story really reached me. It lives in the zone somewhere between Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine, Hickam’s Rocket Boys, and Heinlein’s Requiem… I felt myself pulled through time as a story that could have been set back in the 50s or 60s slowly moved forward… The effect was like the world expanding, and also growing brighter and less sepia…

EDIT: Check it out! This story is building some buzz. The issue was still hitting mailboxes when SFRevu declared it “Hugo worthy,” “Classic science fiction,” “Beautifully told.”

Check it out on newsstands everywhere (and leave your in-the-wild photos in comments!) If you like it, hey, let the Sturgeon award people hear from you, or nominate it for an Analog reader award, why not? And don’t forget to share this post using the social media links below!

Meet the Winners — Samantha Murray

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

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

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

Stuart: And what got you into writing?

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

Stuart: Oh no!

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

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

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

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

Stuart: I think we all can identify.

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

Stuart: Hurray!

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

Or perhaps I had just grown up.

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

Describe your “writer’s cave.”

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

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

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

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

Do you have any unusual talents or hobbies?

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

Stuart: How long have you been entering WotF?

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

Stuart: Well there you go.

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

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

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

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

Are you a pantser or Plotter?

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

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

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

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

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

If you had a superpower, what would it be?

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

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

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

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

Tell us about your winning story.

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

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

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Follow Samantha at http://mailbysea.wordpress.com

 

Meet The Winners – Steve Pantazis

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

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

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

Stuart: And when you aren’t writing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stuart: And where do you feed the habit?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So tell me something nutty that you did.

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

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

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

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

Tell us about your winning story

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

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

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

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

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

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Steve blogs at http://stevepantazis.com/wordpress and you can follow his publishing news at http://www.stevepantazis.com or on Twitter at @pantazis.

Meet The Winners – Michael T. Banker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are you a pantser or a plotter?

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

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

If you had a superpower, what would it be?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tell us about your winning story

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

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

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

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

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

Meet the Winners – Sharon Joss

Scifi for the WIN!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Follow Sharon at www.sharonjoss.com or on Twitter at @josswrites

 

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 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.

Encouragement

I got a letter yesterday from Tim Powers, the man who wrote “On Stranger Tides,” who’s sold options to Disney, who in his youth, used to chauffeur Phillip K Dick around Southern California.Issue03_powers_241x303

I had posted him a note, so he posted me back, just a little line of encouragement.

Deep down inside, I must be a Lutheran. You know, the deep-in-the-pores, Lake Wobegon sort who knows the world is nothing but other shoes just waiting to fall. I can’t tell you why I write – you probably wouldn’t want to know – but it isn’t for money or fame. I’m not that naïve. And so for the first part of my journey, I could tell myself it was just a hobby, like sight-reading chords in Chopin’s preludes or puttering around with the house’s plumbing. Then I win Writers of the Future. I meet all these souls who have dreams a lot like mine, some of whom are just starting out, some of whom have trudged the trenches and written the guidebooks.

And that’s what it’s all about, really. When Tim Powers tells you you can do it, that he’s pulling for you, that he looks forward to being able to brag on having taught you, what can you say?

Yes sir, Mr. Powers…Tim…I’m on it.