With the recent cold snap and pandemic seemingly everywhere, I’ve been huddling indoors making plans for all the places I maybe could visit when warmer weather hits. I’m mostly planning trips around science fiction and fantasy conventions, so my first task is looking at where I might be going: LA, Chicago, Atlanta, and New Orleans, if the universe cooperates. This led to updating my bio, which means figuring out who I am as a writer.
Don’t worry, the dinosaurs will always tromp through a fair number of my stories and essays. Nonetheless, I am branching out. Recently, I took a stab (pun intended) at writing a murder mystery as well as a screenplay. Sure didn’t see either of those coming. I’m also looking into a collection of my short fiction, some of which is out of print. Stay tuned!
I’m pleased to announce that I had a couple of stories and several articles published in 2021:
- The Next Frontier: an alternate-history novelette about the 1960s space race in the July/August issue of Analog (link is to current issue, not previous one)
- The Holy Wars of Mathematics: A Secret History of the Calculus of Chicanery appeared in 99 Tiny Terrors. It’s my first published flash fiction (under 1000 words).
- Monumental Thinking was in the January/February 2021 issue of Analog, is my take on suitable replacements for statues being torn down these days. (Link is to current issue, not previous one)
- Astounding Analog Companion: Q & A in which I talk about writing alternate history
- My first SFWA blog post: Reasons to Publicize Your Award-Eligible Works
My Virtual Appearances:
- World Fantasy Convention panel on dreams and nightmares in fantasy and horror
- Go Indie Now panel on alternate history
- Go Indie Now panel on writing short stories
Most Enjoyable New Novels I Read:
- Velvet Was the Night by Silvia Garcia Moreno
- Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
- Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse
- The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin
Most Unexpected Pleasure:
- Being solicited for a hot new anthology to be assembled next year. I can’t tell you or they’d have to shoot me. (Wait…is this how that sentence is supposed to end?)
- June excursion to the Big Island of Hawaii in June. Have a look at some of my photos from it.
- August runner-up: time spent at a lake in the Adirondacks
Best Educational Opportunities:
- Virtual Humans to Mars conference: three days of inspiring, uplifting presentations by remarkably clever humans from all over the world. You can attend in 2022 and find out how these people from around the globe are making future trips to Mars a real thing!
- Close Runner-up: The Rambo Academy classes for writers at all skill levels featuring many different aspects of our craft. They even have gift certificates if you are stumped by what to give the writer in your life.
Best Pandemic Antidote:
- Occasional flower deliveries for creating beautiful arrangements via ReVased.com. Have a look at some of my creations here and on Instagram.
Most Fun New Series:
- Tie: WandaVison, For All Mankind (season 2)
Things to come in 2022: Watch this space for new announcements:
- Etruscan Afterlife is a short story appearing next year in The Reinvented Heart, edited by Cat Rambo and Jenn Brozek (preorder now!)
- Branching out into two new projects I can’t disclose yet!
- Moar dinosaurs!
What were some of your favorites in 2021?
2021 was a tough year for readers seeking signs of a return to normalcy and solace in a distraction from reality. It was also a challenging year for writers trying to string words together. Too often, our work that did find its way into print or on line got overshadowed by seemingly everything. Now is the time to remedy this! Writers: your readers, both new and old, need to reconnect with your insights. Please put out on social media your 2021 year-end retrospective. Oh, I see a lot of you cringing at the prospect of self-promotion. Here’s a bit of advice I wrote on SFWA’s blog as to how you might go about this without coming across as egotistical or grubbing for award nominations.
I’m beginning to think new story ideas are a way to procrastinate on other works in progress. This is the second time in two months that getting bogged down in a complicated, research-intensive piece has led me to start work on something shorter and seemingly easier. Of course, the ease or difficulty when I set out to write a new story can be awfully misleading. This one, however, takes place in a setting I’ve used before with an antagonist I’ve also spent a good deal of time contemplating. Wish me luck!
Also, I will go back to that other work in progress. Those characters are getting impatient!
There’s nothing better than a short, sharp slice of flash fiction to get the mind working. 99 Tiny Terrors is an anthology that the reader can dip into for something deliciously dangerous in a short amount of time or spend an afternoon trolling through blood soaked stories from all over the world including Canada, England, Germany, Greece, Ireland, India, Japan, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, the United States, and Wales.
It features stories from the devious minds of Seanan McGuire, Ruthanna Emrys, Meg Elison, Wendy N.Wagner, Scott Edelman, Cat Rambo, Tim Waggoner, and more. Oh and I’ll be in it with a piece that has the longest title I ever wrote: The Holy Wars of Mathematics: A Secret History of the Calculus of Chicanery.
Check out the kickstarter!
October 13 is National Fossil Day, according to the U.S. National Park Service. It’s an under-celebrated event, IMO. Want to join the fun? Here’s how:
- Put together a dinosaur Halloween costume. I mean really, who doesn’t want to be a T. rex? Don’t forget to wave your hands and practice your roar.
- Go local with this interactive database and map to find out what ancient creatures lived near you. I bet it’s something totally cool.
- Take a for-real or virtual trip to a natural history museum or other attraction. Here’s a few.
- Gawk at sketches of fabulous discoveries like:
- Carnotaurus: a horned relative of T. rex that hung out in Patagonia.
- Australotitan cooperensis, the biggest dinosaur ever found in…well, I think you figured out where.
- Everybody’s favorite armored ankylosaurs including this “newcomer” from prehistoric Morocco.
- Do some bird watching. Yes, birds are avian theropods and thus the descendants of one line of dinosaurs.
- Find still more fun ways to celebrate the day with paleontologists, educators and students.
- Bonus idea: Read about the hunt for dinosaur DNA remnants in wonderfully preserved fossils from China dating to 125 million years ago.
Ideas for stories come easily to me. However, not all writers and would-be writers can say the same. If you struggle to come up with ideas, or perhaps ideas you think are good enough to sustain an entire story that people will want to read from beginning to end, let me assure you it’s not an impossible feat. In fact, it just might be easier than it seems.
Here’s how a new story came to me a couple of weeks ago: I was staying with a long-time friend at a cabin near a lake. Naturally, as you might expect, we got to talking about mutual friends and acquaintances. A couple of those people had done things that I could very loosely use in a story. Next, since my friend and I are both kayakers, we went out on the lake. Since she knows the waterways quite well, she led me through a series of channels when the water was unusually high for August. Still, there were challenges like getting around a beaver dam and one narrow, brisk channel where we wanted to go upstream. We finally reached a calm, lovely pool. Some days earlier, we had visited the house where John Brown once lived and is buried, now a historic site. I had had no idea he even lived there! I did know that several forts in the region played key roles in the French and Indian War.
I put these disparate elements together into a new story, one I had no notion of writing before my visit. Notice how I’ve shifted from talking about story ideas to story elements—setting, backstory, characters, events. That’s how I cobble together a bunch of my stories. It’s nothing like starting off with a killer idea.
Now here’s my challenge if you are struggling: What events—be they historic or simply fascinating incidents—happened near where you live now or once lived? What about them intrigues you? What have you seen, done, and experienced in these places? Who else was with you? What else can you throw into the mix, especially an obstacle or two? I hope that before you know it, you’ll be in the middle of a fine story that only you can tell.
I woke up this morning to find a Bookbub ad in my inbox for The Reinvented Heart. This fabulous anthology featuring Seanan McGuire, Jane Yolen, Naomi Kritzer and others including me (still hard to believe!) will be on sale for $6.99 until it is released next February. But chances are a lot of you will forget all about it between now and February, so order it now. My never-before-published “Etruscan Afterlife,” plus other stories, will be a big batch of sweet surprises when the book shows up on your electronic To Be Read pile, I promise you.
On the day after Wally Funk successfully completed her flight on the Blue Origins rocket ship, what could be more appropriate than some thoughts about how the 1960s space program could have really included at least one woman astronaut? My Analog story, “The Next Frontier,” explores this possibility. For readers and writers, here’s how I took my initial idea all the way to the completed story, which I hope you will read, too!
Hey, you can watch my second appearance on Joe Compton’s Go Indie Now. Our panel of all women had a great time discussing what draws us to alternate historical events and how we go about turning these “what ifs” into stories. We look at how we weave together real events and historical figures with made up ones. Turns out, we’re all quite willing to discard some of what historians tell us when it gets in the way of a good story. Joe asked a bunch of insightful questions of Madeleine Holly-Rosing, A.F. Stewart, Nikki Nelson-Hicks, Jenn Thompson and me. Check us out!
In case you missed my alternate history of space exploration during the 1960s, it’s available in the July/August 2021 issue of Analog Science Fiction.