Thursday, January 31, 2013

Thumbnail Thursday with Jake Kerr

Today I'd like to welcome Jake Kerr to the blog. Read on to find out more about him and how researching for a story can bring greater understanding.

What are you working on right now?

I’m working on my first novel. It’s a contemplation of memory and how people’s memories are such powerful and yet inconstant things. What if a good memory is a false representation of a moment that was actually bad? Does one’s memory of the best moment of his or her life actually deserve that designation?  By having my characters experience these things directly via an SF mechanism, I hope to address these and similar questions.

What's your pre-writing ritual?

You know, this is something that I would love to have. I love the calming power of ritual, and even something as simple as making tea, arranging a desk, and then closing my eyes for 60 seconds before writing would be a wonderful thing. Unfortunately, with the chaos in my life, I tend to just open the laptop and start typing. Even finding a quiet location is often a challenge. So my ritual is that I don’t have a ritual. I open the laptop, read the previous few pages I wrote before, and then continue.

What is one of the most surprising/interesting things you've discovered while doing research for a story?

It was perhaps not surprising so much as powerful and illuminating. I was researching a novel that would feature an emotionally abused woman, and as I read books on emotional abuse I saw things that were familiar in friends and learned the profoundly sad nature of women trapped in such a relationship. It was so painful that I ended up scrapping the novel. I just couldn’t do the character justice.

Tell me about your favorite story that you've published. What inspired it, and what does it mean to you?

My favorite story is probably the one that Lightspeed just purchased. It will be released in March. It’s titled “Biographical Fragments of the Life of Julian Prince,” and it was inspired by a story in a contest that I read. That story partially used an indirect story-telling method—a eulogy—to illustrate a character. I loved the idea of indirectly telling a story and doing it on both the personal level and the global level. In short, could I tell a story about a person’s life without any straight narrative really involving him at all, and—at the same time—tell the story of a global catastrophe that never actually addresses the catastrophe? In short, we are being given external fragments of a person’s life, and it is entirely about HIM, but by learning about him we learn about this global catastrophe. I’m very happy with the result.

You can have lunch with any writer, living or dead. Who would it be, and why?

I don’t know why, but I find this question really hard to answer. My first thought was Charles Dickens. I absolutely loved his characters and his novels are still some of my favorites. Then I thought Ray Bradbury, because I really aspire to be the writer he was. Then I considered maybe Cormac McCarthy, because I am in awe of his ability to carve a novel down to its essence. But wait! What about Stephen King? Or Edgar Rice Burroughs? So, in the end, I have to just say that I can’t answer this question as there are so many writers I would love to spend time with, I can’t just pick one.

What's one of the best novels and/or short stories you've read recently?

I am in awe of both “A Visit From the Goon Squad” by Jennifer Egan and “The Fault in Our Stars” by John Green. Both of which I’ve read in the past month.

On the short story side, “The Waves” by Ken Liu is extraordinary. It was in the December Asimov’s, and there are so many things going on in that story. At a high level, his ability to use science fiction to examine the nature of creation and the nature of God is breathtaking, but then you look at what he actually DID in a novelette, and it shouldn’t really be possible. To take a personal story about a woman and her family and then extend that out to the distant distant future on a cosmic scale, and he pulls it off in a short story. Beyond that: The way he plays with point-of-view. It’s something a reader may not even notice, but his characters speak via a telepathic type device, and as a result the points-of-view move from character to character. Everyone is in everyone else’s head. But then when the protagonist decides to isolate herself, her interactions with everyone else are all from her point-of-view. It’s that rare story that is truly epic and yet thoroughly personal and executed with genius. Go out and read it.

Writing is a sedentary endeavor. What do you do to stay healthy and active?

Unfortunately, this is something I need to work on. About the most exercise I get is walking my dogs, which, while certainly not to be laughed at, is a far cry from a three mile jog.


You can find out more about Jake here.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Restless Under the Full Moon

I tried several blog topics for today and rejected all of them. I think I'm going through one of my 'picky' phases, probably because I'm in full-on editing mode and doing very little in the way of writing new material at this time. By the time I finish polishing and submitting all of the short stories clamoring at me, I will have inundated the market with more short fiction than I ever have before. Ha, quiver in fear, all ye editors!

Or perhaps it's the weather. New Mexico isn't known for cloudy days, but we've had a couple of Seattle-esque days in a row. It puts me in mind of that line from Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle In Time  in which Mrs. Whatsit says, "Wild nights are my glory!" The rain we got the other day was far from wild, but in this part of the country, it's certainly rare. Add to that a full moon, and maybe my inner wolf is restless.

Perhaps by next week my thoughts will have calmed down and I can find something coherent to talk about.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Thumbnail Thursday with David Walton

I'd like to welcome David Walton to the blog. Read on to find out why I'm convinced he must have a time machine or a clone stashed somewhere in order to accomplish so much.

What are you working on right now?

My second novel, Quintessence, is coming out from Tor this March.  I'm about 70% through writing the sequel, which is provisionally titled Quintessence Star.  I’m pleased by the way it’s coming together.  I think fans of Quintessence will find it enough like the original to feel like they’re returning to the same world, but there are a lot of new mysteries and plot elements that make it a fresh new book, not just a reboot of the first one.  I’ve also recently finished a new science fiction novel called Superposition, a quantum physics murder mystery with a lot of fun plot twists along the lines of movies like Inception and The Prestige.

What's your pre-writing ritual?

Besides a full-time job writing software, I have six children and a seventh on the way.  I don't have time for ritual!  My writing opportunities come in small increments, and I never know when they'll be interrupted by a crying baby, a young child who needs help getting a snack, or an older child asking about homework.  I've learned to take what I can get and make the most use of the time available for putting words to the page.  Before I had kids, I had a LOT of time to write, but I was much less productive with it.  Now I have less time, but I feel like I'm a better writer.

 What is one of the most surprising/interesting things you've discovered while doing research for a story?

I discovered that, contrary to popular myth, few people in Columbus's day actually thought the Earth was flat.  In Quintessence, therefore, I turned the truth upside-down: in the novel, although the traditional belief is in a round Earth, the Earth is truly flat, and it is quite possible to sail off the end of it.  At the very edge of this flat Earth, where the sky reaches so low to nearly touch the ground, the influence of the stars is so great that the normal rules of nature no longer apply...

Tell me about your favorite story that you've published. What inspired it, and what does it mean to you?

I tend to be most pleased with what I've written recently.  Those stories are, after all, inspired by my most recent thoughts and experiences.  I've published around 20 short stories, but it's been a few years since I've written any, since I've been focusing on novels.  So I'd have to say my favorite of my published stories is Quintessence (at least, it's very nearly published).  Quintessence was partly born from my own struggles reconciling my religious upbringing with my love of science.  The characters in the novel live in the sixteenth century, when religion was still a central part of life and culture, but an experimental approach to science was just beginning.  They encounter a very different science than exists in our world, but the challenges to their core beliefs are just as unsettling.

You can have lunch with any writer, living or dead. Who would it be, and why?

Orson Scott Card.  He's still alive, so it's possible, right?  His writing was one of the first reasons I became a writer myself, and I've benefitted greatly from his books on writing.  He was a judge in a contest that led to my first professionally-published story ("All The Rage This Year", on which the world of my first novel, Terminal Mind, was based).  I only met him once, briefly, at a book signing.  I still enjoy his fiction; I'm currently reading Ruins.

What's one of the best novels and/or short stories you've read recently?

Children of the Sky, by Vernor Vinge, and its predecessor, The Fire in the Deep, which include one of the most fascinating alien species I've ever encountered.

Writing is a sedentary endeavor. What do you do to stay healthy and active?

Not as much as I probably should.  My day job is a sedentary one, too, which makes it worse.  We do like taking five mile walks as a family, when the weather is nice, but in the winter, we get very little exercise.


David is the author of the Philip K. Dick award-winning novel Terminal Mind.  He lives near Philadelphia with his wife and six children, where he works as a software engineer for Lockheed Martin.  He also plays jazz piano and invents puzzles and brain teasers. If you want to know more, you can visit his website at .

Monday, January 21, 2013

A Flash in the Pan

Right now I'm in the middle of a flash fiction contest running on an online writing group I belong to. Flash fiction is the term for a short-short story. Some people define it as anything less than 1,000 words, others say less than 750. Some publications want stories that are exactly 100 words long, or no longer than 500, or exactly 666 (muahaha!), and on and on and on. However a person defines flash, it's gotta be short.

Flash is the hardest length to write, in my opinion. A short story has much more leeway, a novella even more, and in a novel you can explore characters and setting and plot to your heart's content. Is your magnum opus running over 150,000 words and still showing no signs of ending any time soon? No problem! Make it a series!

But flash is short. It has to fit character and plot and setting into a page or two. I've written a lot of flash, but only published three stories at that length. A lot of times it ends up coming across as a vignette, or the beginning of a longer story, or I try to cram too much into too little of a space. It's like somebody handing you a lunchbox and telling you to pack everything you need in it for a month's vacation in Europe.

While it's difficult to do well, flash can also be fun. It's the perfect length to experiment with. A structure or premise that would get annoying if it were longer than 500 or 700 words can work as a short-short. And when flash is done well, it stays with you for a long time. Some stories that stand out for me include Todd Vandemarks's "Let Slip the Dogs," Desmond Warzel's "Wikihistory," and Annie Bellet's "Lists." Bruce Holland Rogers is quite prolific when it comes to writing short fiction, and he has an excellent series of posts on writing flash at Flash Fiction Online.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Thumbnail Thursday with Catherine Schaff-Stump

I'd like to welcome Catherine Schaff-Stump to the blog! Read on to find out more about her and one of her characters, a gnome inspired by her mechanics' shop.

What are you working on right now? 

I am finishing up a Gothic Werewolf novella set in Southern Iowa. I have just finished a middle-grade book about young monster hunters called Abigail Rath Versus Blood-Sucking Fiends. I have just begun researching and writing a book about demon binders in the 1840s, which requires a lot of research.

What's your pre-writing ritual? 

I’m afraid like many writers, I goof around on the Internet. I usually do a little research, and then I open up Scrivener, and I start in.

What is one of the most surprising/interesting things you've discovered while doing research for a story?

Just this weekend, I discovered that Venice was part of Austria for a long time.  This means I have to rethink Venice during the time my characters visit.

Tell me about your favorite story that you've published. What inspired it, and what does it mean to you?

So far, my favorite published story is a piece called The Love Song of Oliver Toddle.  My husband and I use these wonderful mechanics who have a shop that is constantly humming. It’s a shop that is a chain, however, and they keep it clean and neat. I thought, how might that happen? Oliver Toddle became the house gnome character who lived in the garage and cleaned it. In order to pass the time, because gnomes never leave their home, he reads poetry on the Internet. And then he and a female mechanic start leaving poems for each other. They become love poems.  And the story goes from there.

You can have lunch with any writer, living or dead. Who would it be, and why?

I would really like to sit down with Alexandre Dumas. I know he was a colorful story teller, and I would like to ask him not only about his elaborate plotting skills, but also about his vivid characterizations and integration of history.  I also know he was very good at planning elaborate entertainments, so I couldn’t lose.

What's one of the best novels and/or short stories you've read recently?

This is a hard choice, but recently the best novel I’ve finished is Beth Bernobich’s Passion Play, which is a story about loss and redemption, love and the past. It’s very good.

Writing is a sedentary endeavor. What do you do to stay healthy and active?

That’s an excellent question! I have just recently developed osteoarthritis from an old running injury, so my diet is undergoing a complete makeover. I would say I could support a small family garden now given the amount of produce I eat. I walk mostly, and I do tai chi. I am hoping for more yoga and weight training as my knee becomes better at adapting to its new condition.


To find out more about Catherine, what she's written, and what she does when she's not writing, visit her website.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Glass is Half Full

I'm not big on New Year's resolutions. I feel that any time of year is a good time for making a positive change, so I don't hold myself to attempting them annually. But this year was different. I decided to try a year of positive thinking. Remember Stuart Smalley from SNL?

Seriously, though, I wanted to lower my blood pressure and ease my stress. What better way than taking some time each day to think about the things I was grateful for? Sunshine, a walk in the park with my son, chocolate, cuddly dogs and cat, a thoughtful husband, friends, coffee. Sometimes it's easy to focus on the negative rather than the positive. So I started a gratitude jar (or vase, in this case).

Isn't it cute? Next I channeled my inner kindergartener and cut up construction paper into small strips. Every evening, I've jotted down a couple of things that made the day pleasant and tossed the paper into the vase. It brings a smile to my face, which is nice, but here's the surprising thing... I find myself thinking about little moments during the day and saying to myself, "Hey, I should add this to the vase later." I've been focusing more on the positive. Holy cow, this works!

I've been doing this for a mere couple of weeks. I'm curious about the long-term effects. I'll be sure to give updates on the experiment from time to time as the habit becomes more ingrained in my everyday life.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Thumbnail Thursday with CL Holland

Welcome to another edition of Thumbnail Thursday. Today I'd like to introduce CL Holland. Read on to find out a little bit more about her.

 What are you working on right now?

At the moment I'm writing poetry, which I do to give my mind a rest from fiction, and some fantasy stories. I'm participating in Write 1 Sub 1 this year, so I need to write at least a short story or a couple of flash stories each month.

 What's your pre-writing ritual?

There has to be a cup of coffee ready for when I start, and I have to know where my fingerless gloves are in case it gets cold. If I'm writing by hand, my notebooks have to be attractive, and at the moment I've got a thing for sunny-coloured inks.

 What is one of the most surprising/interesting things you've discovered while doing research for a story?

Some of my stories have involved historical research, which I always find interesting. But the most bizarre thing was when I looked into numbers stations for "The Noise" - the trigger at Kazka Press was the Russian station UZB-76.  They broadcast seemingly random things like numbers and strings of words, and are very odd indeed.

Tell me about your favorite story that you've published. What inspired it, and what does it mean to you?

It would probably have to be "The Reflection of Memory", which was published in Writers of the Future Volume 25. Not only was it my first major sale, but two of the characters, Yaphen and Kestrin, had been waiting for years to be written. I don't remember where they came from, but the story came from the moment I realised they actually belonged in the same story. I had Kestrin find a stranger in the snow and waited to see what happened.

You can have lunch with any writer, living or dead. Who would it be, and why?

Probably Tim Powers. I had lunch with him once at Writers of the Future, but I was so overwhelmed and jetlagged that I don't really remember much. Plus he knows where to get the best hamburgers in Hollywood.

What's one of the best novels and/or short stories you've read recently?

The best novel I've read recently is Patricia McKillip's The Bards of Bone Plain. I love the worlds she creates, the language she uses, and the way she doesn't feel the need to explain every little thing. Sometimes things just are, but they always make sense within the rules of the novel.

The best short story was "Blue Lace Agate" by Sarah Monette, at Lightspeed magazine. I loved her previous stories about Jamie Keller and Mick Sharpton at the Bureau of Paranormal Investigation, so to get something new about them was a fantastic surprise.

 Writing is a sedentary endeavor. What do you do to stay healthy and active?

I have an office job four days a week, and I try to fit in a walk at lunchtimes if the weather's not too bad. Since we get 260 days of rain a year it's sometimes difficult to fit in.


C.L. Holland is a British fantasy writer and sometimes poet. She was a winner of Writers of the Future in 2008 and her story "The Reflection of Memory" is now available as an eBook. Many of her works can be found online: a full bibliography and links can be found on her website Conversations with Dragons. When she is finally able to give up the day job she intends to dye her hair purple to celebrate.

Monday, January 7, 2013

From Another Point of View

My two year old recently discovered the joy of photography. He's been carrying his father's camera around and snapping hundreds of photos. In fact, when I looked at the total this morning, he was well over 600. Thank goodness for digital, is all I can say. All of the super blurry, dark pictures could be deleted, and I was left with a handful of really interesting and impressive photos. Do you recall what the world looked like when you were three feet tall?

That's the top of our Christmas tree. The ceiling here is about 17 feet tall. It looks absolutely ginormous.

But then, we have a different perspective:

Now the two year old looks more like Godzilla when compared to one of his toy cars!

Here's one of our dogs, Frankie:

He's right at toddler level. In fact, we often find ourselves saying, "Don't ride the dog like a pony!" It's rather tempting for a two year old. See how Frankie looks a little concerned in this photo?

I remember being small. I remember when the kitchen counter was at eye level, and everybody was so much bigger than me, even my 5' tall mother. I remember the furniture being too big, and booster seats at restaurants. I remember feeling out of place sometimes because the world is built around adults.

Some day the kid will be six feet tall (more or less). I wonder what his photos--and his perspective--will be like then.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Thumbnail Thursday with Alex Shvartsman

It's the very first installment of Thumbnail Thursday! I'm happy to welcome Alex Shvartsman to the blog.

1)   What are you working on right now?

I’m in the process of writing a steampunk story set in 1886 St. Petersburg, where a British secret agent H.G. Wells teams up with Anton Chekhov to foil an assassination plot against Prince Nicholas Romanov.

2)   What's your pre-writing ritual?

Medium French Vanilla. Skim milk. One sugar.

Seriously, coffee should get a co-writing credit on most of my stories.  I never used to drink much coffee before I began to write. Now it’s fuel necessary, for producing new words.

3)   What is one of the most surprising/interesting things you've discovered while doing research for a story?

Truth is stranger than fiction. Almost every time I set out to hunt down some minor fact I need for a story, I tumble down the rabbit hole of links upon links of fascinating material. My favorite gem was when I needed a very old and venerable European bank for a sub-plot I was working on, and discovered this:

There are several stories worth of plots on that page alone, for anything from action/adventure to historical fantasy to humor. And that’s before you click through to any of the links!

4)   Tell me about your favorite story that you've published. What inspired it, and what does it mean to you?

Isn’t that a bit like choosing a favorite child? My favorite story is always the one I’m writing at that time. I think that’s probably true of most writers.

And if I absolutely had to choose from among the stories that have already been published, I’d have to go with “A Shard Glows in Brooklyn.”  It’s an urban fantasy/noir/humor mashup which introduces Conrad Brent, a character I am continuing to write stories about. The second Brent story is forthcoming at Mike Resnick’s Galaxy’s Edge magazine in a few months.

I don’t know that “Shard” is my best published story, but it is exactly the sort of thing I want to write and be known for – a fun, action-packed read with an incredibly sarcastic protagonist.

5)   You can have lunch with any writer, living or dead. Who would it be, and why?

It’d have to be Mikhail Bulgakov, my favorite Russian-language author. His body of work isn’t very well-known in the West, except for “The Master and Margarita,” but Bulgakov, who died young in 1940, was a writer far ahead of his time.

Bulgakov was writing magical realism nearly twenty years before the term came to be defined. His “Heard of a Dog” is a grittier version of “Flowers for Algernon,” written two years before Daniel Keyes was born.  His works, usually written as scathing satirical indictments of the early Soviet Union, nevertheless manage to remain relevant and interesting today, long after the regime he despised had fallen.

6)   What's one of the best novels and/or short stories you've read recently?

“The Waves” by Ken Liu is my favorite piece of fiction read this year. It’s a novelette that was published in Asimov’s recently and I hope it gets some award consideration.

7)   Writing is a sedentary endeavor. What do you do to stay healthy and active?

I don’t drink or smoke, and my eating habits are reasonably healthy, but I’m absolutely terrible at the whole exercise thing. I’d make a New Year’s resolution to change that, but unless somebody builds a gym in my living room, that’s not likely to happen.

8)   What other writing projects have you been involved in this year?

I edited and published Unidentified Funny Objects, an anthology of humorous science fiction and fantasy. It was a time-consuming project, but it taught me a lot about the world of publishing and offered me an opportunity to work with writers whom I greatly admire, such as Mike Resnick and Sergey Lukyanenko.

UFO features 29 stories and is the only speculative humor anthology I’m aware of to be published in recent years. Please consider picking up a physical copy or an e-book for your favorite type of e-reader here:

I’m hoping to make this an annual anthology, but need to sell enough copies to justify moving forward with UFO 2 in 2013.


Alex Shvartsman is a writer and game designer. He traveled to over 30 countries, played a card game for a living, and built a successful business. Alex resides in Brooklyn, NY with his wife and son.

Alex is a member of SFWA, Codex Writers, and a graduate of Viable Paradise workshop. He had nearly 40 original short stories published since 2010. His stories appeared in Nature Magazine, Daily Science Fiction, Penumbra, Buzzy Magazine and many other venues. He is the editor of Unidentified Funny Objects, a collection of humorous SF/F short stories.

Alex’s short stories are linked from his blog at