Aug 22 2009

What the WOTF?

So what is Writers of the Future? Aka WOTF? Easy answer is to head to their page or wiki it.

But here’s my short response. It’s a writing contest, for speculative fiction works. And it’s cool. Why? Because it’s been around for twenty-five years, it pays well, and it involves some of the best names in sci-fi and fantasy as judges and workshop instructors. And speaking of workshops…

That’s probably been my biggest interest in the contest. The money is nice, the pro sale is nice, and getting your story into an anthology that’s sold world-wide is fantastic. But on top of all that, you get to go to the workshop.

The week before the award ceremony (yeah, they have a fancy ceremony where you get dressed up and people clap and you get treated way better than you probably ever will be again as a writer) you spend a week at a workshop. Provided by the contest, usually with some cool pro like Tim Powers. And that kicks all sorts of ass.

Plus, you do it with all the other winners for the year. Like summer camp. But with laptops instead of S’mores.

Aug 15 2009

My Summer Vacation

When I was fourteen, I took my first stab at getting published.

I’m not one of these people that started compulsively writing when I was a kid. I made up stories all the time, but I was fairly content to let them play out in my head, a much more flexible space than the grammar cage of print on page. But I played with writing sometimes, and the idea of being an author (pronounced auteur) did wander through my career options tree at times. Along with president, astronaut, and ninja.

But in my early teens I came across a book that tempted me to try to actually take an idea, write it down, and send it in to a market. That book was the first volume of the Writers of the Future contest. A contest for beginning writers, and here they were, people who had written in and had their stories printed. And they got money, too. So I wrote something out, and sent it in.

My first rejection came a few months later. Very pretty, a certificate with the name of my story on it in calligraphy. Yeah, calligraphy. It was like one of those ribbons you got for losing the three legged race in play day at school. Sweet. So I sent in another, and got another certificate. Not to surprising really– even at that age, I had a pretty good idea that my stories were not, let us say, good. At all.

I didn’t write for a while after that. No crushing disappointment about my inadequacies, just busy with other things. My storytelling jones got fixed with gaming, and life went on. Then I became a stay at home dad.

Being trapped in a house with a two year old, alone, out in the country, and you start thinking. Thoughts about how you better find something to do with your brain, or it’s going to melt out of your head and all over the kitchen floor. Where you’ll have to clean it up, along with the spilled apple sauce and cat puke. So I started writing again.

After I knocked out a few short stories, I looked to see if the contest still existed. I checked online, didn’t find it and wasn’t surprised. It had been twenty years, after all. Then at a bookstore, I saw it, Writers of the Future Anthology 23, in the new book section. How the hell I had missed it on google I still don’t know, but when I checked online again, there it was. So I started sending things in.

Story one, a fantasy, bounced with an honorable mention. Which means they actually bothered to read it all the way through, and I got my name on their blog. Not calligraphy, but encouraging. Story two, sci-fi, made it to the critique round. Which means it almost got passed along to the final judges, but just missed. So as a consolation prize, I got a critique of the story. So I changed it around, posted it on Baen’s and changed it some more, and that one got bought. Meanwhile, story three was sent in. I was feeling good about this one. It was a good story, and I had progressed up a level with each earlier submission. Surely this one would make it in. And then I got the call.

I was a finalist. Fantastic. I remember talking on the phone, trying to figure out where I had placed. Then I realized I wasn’t done yet. Finalist just means that my story, and seven others, were going to the judges. Three stories from my group would be picked. I’d find out in a month. I gave my thanks, and that was the call. Then, the waiting began. Oh, the waiting.

When the month deadline hit, we were on vacation in a cabin in north Georgia (the state). I had actually bothered learning how to get messages off our answering machine remotely, just in case. I called the machine the day one month had passed. Hoping, hoping, hoping… first place, second, third, I didn’t care. I just wanted to be done with this, to have placed. And crap, there was a message, and I had won second. I called the number back, figuring no one would be there (late evening on a Sunday night) but there was, and I confirmed the details. I’d won! I was in! Second? Oh screw that, yeah!

So anyway, my first sale, and a check in the mail, and something to put on my cover letters. And a trip to California for a fancy ceremony, a chance to meet some great authors, and a workshop with the other winners from the year. Very excited. But… See, I had one the first quarter. Of the year. Which meant the workshop was, roughly a year and a half away. So, waiting, again.

Well, now it’s just about done. I’m getting ready to go to Hollywood– really, that’s where it is. So now I finally have some blogging material. I’ll talk more about the contest over the next few days. Then, after I’m done, I’ll talk about the workshop. If I survive…

(That’s just a dramatic hook. Yeah, I’m flying American, but I have that covered– I’ll bring my own lunch.)

Jul 31 2009

The List

Enough with the short stories. For a while at least. It’s time to move on to book two.

Not the sequel to the first novel I wrote- though I have a rough start on that and a decent outline, I’m leaving it alone. I like the idea, but it’s putting too many eggs in one basket when I have no offers on book one. So I’m moving on to something completely different.

As for the short’s, well I have thirteen different stories on the send list right now. Six sci-fi, four fantasy, and three horror. I’ll just keep bouncing them from market to market, hoping that one will hit hard enough to stick. Which should happen. Real soon.


Jul 17 2009

It’s in the mail

Recently,  John Scalzi went after the big threes (F&SF, Asimov’s, Analog) no e-subs policy.  Read it here.

He has some good points, and I agree with a lot of them.  In fact I think it’s relatively certain that they will, at some point, change.  But the fact that they haven’t yet doesn’t really bug me.

Mailing in a story is a pain.  You buy your envelopes and stamps and binders, drive in to the post office, pay for that, all so you can wait around for a form letter telling you no thanks.  All annoying.  But the most annoying thing to me about the whole submission process is not the mechanics of sending out the story.  It’s the waiting.

I have stories that have been sitting at markets for over a year.  Other markets, markets that I love, reliably take three months to return a verdict.  I have stories that have been in circulation for two to three years now, and they haven’t actually been to all that many places.  The entire process is glacially slow.

But some markets are fast.  F&SF sends me its rejections usually in ten days.  Fourteen at the longest.  And that’s with the transit time.  Asimov’s and Analog aren’t that fast, but their pretty reliable about getting something back in a month.  They take longer if their mulling it, but that’s not so bad, at least their considering buying the thing and it’s not a six month wait for a simple rejection.  So while I’m not thrilled with doing the whole snail mail thing, F&SF almost always get’s the first crack at my stories.  Cause I know I’ll get my rejection quick, and I can move on.

Of course, some of the online places are starting to do even better.   Clarkesworld and Fantasy magazine are great- they have a slick e-sub system that takes your story, let’s you track where it is in the process, and keeps tabs on what you’ve already sent them.  And they turn stuff around fast.

Which means I’ll be sending to them first, when I have somthing that fits their guidelines.  And my guess is that so will a lot of other people, which will give those markets first crack at the wonderful gems that are buried in the slush pile (The slush is full of gems!  Really!).  And so their quality goes up, and more people will read them.  Which will put pressure on the other markets, including the big three, to set up similar systems.

At least, that’s what I’m hoping.

Jul 9 2009

Yeah me

One of the editors from Baen’s let me know that ‘Adam, Unwilling’ had gotten reviewed at the Internet Review of Science Fiction. And it’s a good review, which is of course why I’m mentioning it. So yeah me. I’m gonna get myself a cupcake.

For bad reviews, I’ll get a consolation cupcake. Of course.

Jul 2 2009

There’s nothing new here…

An idea of mine has been stolen!  Stolen I say!

One of the previews before Star Trek was for the film Surrogates.  It’s a Bruce Willis movie coming out in September.  Basic plot- no one leaves their homes anymore, instead they use robotic surrogates (that look like prettier versions of themselves, naturally) to go out and experience the big, wild world.  And of course things go horribly wrong, and Bruce will get beat up and then beat other people up and the world will be saved.  It looks like fun.

But robot surrogates?  Why, that’s exactly the idea behind my story ‘The Farthest Born’ which will be in the Writers of the Future.  Okay, that story was set (mostly) on an alien world, but still the surrogates were an important part of it.  I called them golems though, ’cause that’s cooler.  Anyway, they obviously stole my idea.

And not just them. There’s another movie coming out, Sleep Dealer, which I heard about on Science Friday.  Also about people jacking in to run robots in distant locations.  So they stole my idea too.

Except this idea appears in a story that hasn’t been published yet.  And Surrogates is based on a graphic novel that was published in 2005, which is before I wrote the story.  (Which I will now emphatically state that I never read, since I would hate to have someone accuse me of stealing an idea…)  And I’m not sure when they started making Sleep Dealer, but since movies usually take at least year to make, and this one was at Sundance and…  Okay, so maybe, just maybe, they didn’t steal my idea.

And I didn’t steal there’s.  This happens all the time in media.  Because ideas are almost never completely new.  Modern media surrounds us like a vast bloom of informational krill, and we’re all sucking it down like starving whales.  We pull it in, so much at once that most of it is forgotten even as we swallow.  But bits stick, things we want to keep in mind and things that just cling like tarter, and our busy little brains use it to beaver together our ‘new’ ideas.  Which is why variations of the same new idea tend to pop out all over at around the same time.  Just the old stuff, processed, digested and spit back out in another form.

So we can all admire it’s shiny newness.

Jun 7 2009

Adam, Online


‘Adam, Unwilling’ is now online.  This was the second story I sold, but it’s the first that will be going out to the world.  It’s really weird, seeing my name on a cover, but in a definite good way.

One hazard of appearing in an online publication has now occurred to me.  I feel highly tempted to go out and get an Iphone or a Kindle, just for the opportunity of brandishing this image in the face of anyone who asks me, ‘so what have you written?’

May 27 2009

Return from Dairyland



Just got back from Wisconsin, where we spent our Memorial Day weekend.  Three days, children free (thanks, parental units!) in lovely Madison.  Just me, the Genius Wife, and a hotel chock full of fannish goodness.

WisCon is, as their website proudly proclaims, the worlds leading feminist science fiction convention.  I started going last year, with the GW, on the advice of Lyda Morehouse.  She was teaching a course on writing speculative fiction that I was taking at the Loft, and she told us that it was a great convention for writers.  Since it was close (relatively) we went, and had a great time. A writers workshop, lots of good panels, and we got to meet some cool people.

This year was even better.  We both volunteered to be on a few panels this time, and while it was a bit nervous-making, it ended up being a lot of fun and an excellent way to meet more people.  So there was less of the standing around awkwardly at parties, trying to figure out who to talk to, and a lot more socialization.

So bunches of fun, and we both recommend the con.

And for any writer types who might be reading, especially the guys who might see ‘leading feminist science fiction convention’ and wonder if they should go- yes.  For many excellent reasons, but here’s one that’s short and extremely practical.  Women make up the majority of the readership in spec-fic.  If you want to write in the genre, your going to be interacting with them a lot.  So cons where the majority of the attendees are female- that’s a feature, not a bug.  Take advantage of it.

Apr 3 2009


I finished my edits on ‘A Legion Blade’ last night (5,998 lovely words), and sent it off to Fantasy Magazine this morning.  It’s been awhile since I submitted something to them, which is unfortunate.  The last story I sent bounced, but it got a nice ‘please send more’ rejection.  And I would have loved to, but I’ve been mostly doing sci-fi lately and the fantasy stories I did have were way outside their word count.

So since then, they’ve gone from being a semi-pro market to a pro one, upping their pay rates and getting a very pretty website.  They also implemented a new submission system, which is very slick.

Stories are submitted through a web form, which asks for the basic info and gives you space for a brief cover letter (Hey! Hey!  Somebody else once bought my stuff!  You could do worse!).  Then you attach the story and send it off.  They spit back a ‘received’ email that has a tracking number with it.  You can use that to see where your story is in the queue.  Their response time is suppose to be within  72 hours.  Which is hella fast.

I wonder if they’re using a tiered system, where they bounce most stories fast, then throw the maybes in a bin for a longer mull.  Hopefully, I’ll get to find out.

Postscript:  72 hours?  That was less than 12.  And a bounce, so I guess I won’t find out if it is a tiered system.  Well, I applaud their efficiency, though it’s a bit unsettling to get rejected that fast.  Maybe I should have left in those last two words…

Apr 2 2009

700 Words

My short stories have a distressing tendency to be not-so-short.  What’s the problem with that?  Most places pay by the word, right?  Yeah, but most places have word count limits too.  4000, 6000, 9000… sounds like a lot, but my not-really-shorts sometimes sprawl past even the 9000, drifting from novelette out towards novella.  Which means that sometimes, in order to make a story ready for submission to a certain market, I have to get out the cleaver and go chasing words.

Early this week I took a story called ‘Changeling Fall’ from 9500 words to 9000, so that I could send it out to Strange Horizons.  Tonight, ‘A Legion Blade’ is under the knife, so that it can go to Fantasy.  6700 words going to 6000.  It’s painful, but good exercise.  It forces me to justify every word, which is important in a short story.

And not a bad idea in a novel, either.  I mean, does every fantasy book have to be over 500 pages?  Books are for reading, not for killing marmots.