Writers fill my screen, their faces showing intense concentration as we sit silently before our laptops, each in our individual rooms, plying our craft. Three months ago, I would never have dreamed of writing fiction this way. Heck, I was never terribly fond of writing in a coffee shop with others at nearby tables, let along with a group of my colleagues in the same room.
Then came the pandemic and all of my words fled. Every single last one. After struggling for weeks, in desperation I completely shook up my long-standing writing habits. I’ve always found accountability to others to be a useful tool, whether on a monthly, weekly, or even daily basis. So I gave group writer sprints a try, reasoning that the result could hardly be worse than zero words. To my great surprise, my words came back.
How does a writer sprint work, you ask? A bunch of writers assemble via Zoom at a prearranged time and begin by saying what we each intend to write. Sometimes we’ll take a “Twitter pledge” to stay off social media, that great distracting bane of many writers and destroyer of productivity. Someone will set a timer and we’ll spend thirty minutes or so of silently writing. Well OK maybe with an occasional comment in Chat. Then we’ll all unmute and go around with brief updates as to how we each acquitted ourselves.Those who accomplished their goal for the sprint get applause, cheers, thumbs up, etc. Lather, Rinse. Repeat.
I have no earthly idea why this radical overhaul of my method works. Maybe it has something to do with an occasional cat waving its tail at a webcam or a dog come to beg for treats. Anyway, I’m putting it out here NOT to say you must adopt this method, or any specific method whatsoever. My point, instead, is that if what you are doing no longer seems to work, try something else. Whatever helps during this terrible pandemic is good.
We are all different people with many and varied approaches to our creative processes. My friend Jason Sanford has written an insightful piece on how the pandemic has affected a number of writers. Some keep chugging steadily along. (Awesome!) Some have been unable to produce anything. Some have had to abandon works in progress and begin afresh. The approaches are as varied as the writers and their creative endeavors. My point is to simply suggest that this could be the time to try a fresh approach.
Every year, the readers of Analog and Asimov’s Science Fiction get to vote on the best stories and poems that appeared in these venerable fiction magazines. I remember the thrill when I got an email a few years back saying that my novelette, “Diamond Jim and the Dinosaurs,” was a finalist. I was deeply honored to be among such talented writers. This year, I am exceedingly pleased to see the list of winners for 2019!
Analog Science Fiction and Fact Analytical Laboratory Winners
Best Novella–The Gorilla in a Tutu Principle or, Pecan Pie at Minnie and Earl’s—Adam-Troy Castro (September/October 2019)
Best Novelette–Bonehunters—Harry Turtledove (May/June 2019)
Best Short Story–All Tomorrow’s Parties—Phoebe North (July/August 2019)
Best Fact Article–The Venus Sweet Spot: Floating Home—John J. Vester (May/June 2019)
Best Poem–Sequoias and Other Myths—Stanley Schmidt (September/October 2019)
Asimov’s Science Fiction Readers’ Award Winners
Best Novella–Waterlines—Suzanne Palmer (July/August 2019)
Best Novelette–In the Stillness Between the Stars—Mercurio D. Rivera (September/October 2019)
Best Short Story–Sacrificial Iron—Ted Kosmatka (May/June 2019)
Best Poem–A Street Away—Jane Yolen (January/February 2019)
Better yet, this year you can watch astute editors Trevor Quachri and Sheila Williams announce the winners and watch the finalists acceptance speeches and letters. What could be better? Well, reading these insightful and engaging works! You can do that too!
Check out all the Asimov’s finalists!
Check out all the Analog finalists!
There I was, chatting with writers, readers, editors spanning the globe: Vancouver, Virginia, Poland, New Hampshire, Kentucky, Thailand…the list goes on! I’m talking, of course, about the very first Amazing Con, brought to you by the terrific folks who write for, edit, and publish Amazing Stories.
What a kick! With the talented and enthusiastic Frank Wu, I got to update con-goers on new developments involving dinosaurs. Plus, like any author, I had a great time reading a soon-to-be-published short story involving…dinosaurs. Then I switched hats to moderate a panel of short-fiction and novel and game writers talking about world-building.
For everyone who thinks virtual events are but a pale imitation of the face-to-face gatherings those in our field prize, I assure you they are not! Despite the time differences, virtual conventions facilitate participation by people around the globe-literally. This includes
- those who don’t have the financial means to transportation and hotel rooms
- those who have physical conditions making such attendance difficult or impossible
- those whose time constraints and/or family situations preclude in-person events
The first Amazing Con was such a success that plans are already afoot for the second one next year. I hope everyone will check out the Amazing kickstarter to keep this esteemed publication going!
There’s still time to sign up for three fun days watching your favorite SF authors talk, sing, and read their works next weekend. There’s even an art show! Hope you’ll all come hang out with me (virtually) at Amazing Con. Find out more and register here.
I’m super excited to be invited to be a guest star at Amazing Con June 12 – 14! Want to hear me talk about new developments in old dinosaurs? Or how to go about designing a fantasy or science fiction world? Or read a new story before it’s even published?
Come one, come all! Registration is free.
Check out all the Amazing Guest Stars.
What better time than Halloween weekend for the World Fantasy Convention in LA, with a fantasy noir theme! For me it was a memorable time renewing friendships with writers, editors, agents, and others in our science fiction and fantasy community. Plus, you never know who you will meet for the first time! Here I am with one of the Amazing Stories first readers, Rebecca Partridge. I loved that she had on hand a copy of the issue with my latest story, “Conservation of Mismatched Shoes.”
You can find her con report here.
New writers are often advised not to read reviews of their work. The theory goes that reviews are for readers, not for writers who can do nothing whatsoever to make amends for whatever glaring faults the reviewer finds in their work. Worse yet, a few bad reviews–or maybe only one or two–just might dishearten the newbie author to such an extent that they wreak havoc on further creative endeavors.
What this well-meaning advice neglects to address is how a new writer, or even a well-established author with numerous publications to their name, is supposed to resist the siren call of the review. In my own case, for the longest time, I wouldn’t even admit to reading reviews of my work because I thought it showed a character flaw. Over time, I came to see that a great many writers, maybe even most of us, do read published reviews of our work. I suppose we could justify doing so on the grounds that it’s nonsensical for us to be the only ones who have no idea what professional reviewers are saying about our body of work. A lot of us also read Amazon and Good Reads reviews written by readers. Again, it seems to make sense to find out what our fans, no matter how numerous or how sparse, think of our stories.
There’s another reason to read reviews. Writing is, inescapably, a solitary profession for long chunks of time. It can also seem frustratingly like casting one’s work into a black hole from which not a solitary ray of feedback escapes. Who wouldn’t want to hear something?
Besides, there are times when that feedback can be extraordinarily gratifying. Take for example, Rich Horton’s review of the my own story, “Conservation of Mismatched Shoes,” in the July 2019 issue of Locus. It’s his favorite story in the issue! Mark me down as thrilled. Thrilled, I tell you! This isn’t simply a matter of basking in his kind words. My reaction has everything to do with the fact that while writing this one, I really struggled to portray the teenage protagonist and her older brother. Rich Horton deemed it “[a]n honest story, convincingly characterized.”
I intend to keep on reading those reviews!
It’s the beginning of the month, which means my Patreon statement shows up today listing the wonderful writers, editors, and other creators whom I support via Patreon each month. Yeah, no doubt about it, I feel good each time this arrives and I can see how I’m helping, in my modest way, these terrific people to do marvelous work. But…
Here’s the thing: My Patreon list is nowhere near as inclusive of diverse and/or marginalized individuals as I wish it were. Oh sure, I buy lots of books, magazines, and other works created by folks from all sorts of backgrounds. But still. It’s time, maybe past time, for me to take a hard look right now at who I support and how much.
Fifty years ago today I thrilled at the Moon landing, which I watched on a a grainy black-and-white TV with my parents and brother. From that day forth, the kid who was me believed she could, one day, work on the Moon if she wanted to. After all, our later-reviled President, Richard Nixon, told us that “The sky is no longer the limit.” Oh how I could hardly wait to land my own job on the Moon!
Technology has come a long way in fifty years, which is how I was able to sit on the national Mall yesterday evening with thousands of others watching a projection of the Apollo 11 rocket onto the Washington Monument. This was part of a program in which NASA and the Smithsonian commemorated the momentous achievement of all the women and men who poured their passion into making Apollo 11 a reality. And there I sat on the grass remembering my own dream job on the Moon.
Actually, my trip down memory lane began on a rainy night at the ballpark some days earlier. There, I chanced upon a replica of Neil Armstrong’s space suit, which got me to musing about what happened to that kid who thought she could work on the Moon when she grew up. I’ll tell you, dear readers. That kid, who is as much me as she ever was, went on to get a job on the Moon! That is to say, I became a science fiction writer and found out that when I unleash my imagination, the sky is indeed no longer the limit.
Hope you can come see me and other talented writers at Balticon this weekend in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. Here’s my schedule. Also, I’ll be reading from “Conservation of Mismatched Shoes,” that just appeared in Amazing Stories.
Friday, May 24
6pm – 6:55pm
What are Literary Awards?
Friday May 24
9pm – 9:55pm
Readings: Burke, Cooley, Smith
St. George Room
Saturday, May 25
6pm – 6:55pm
Gender in Genre
Sunday, May 26 Friday
2pm – 2:55pm
Just How Many People Live in Your Fantasy City, Anyway?
Mount Washington Room
Monday, May 27
1pm – 1:55pm
Writing Interactive Fiction
Pride of Baltimore II Room