My Year in Review – 2016

I like to post my Lessons Learned on the anniversary of my return to fiction (July 4). But friends tell me I should also do a year-end review post. So here it is.

Today I Am Paul (5,000 words, reprint)

This little story is my 800-pound gorilla, dominating the rest of the year’s news. Besides winning the Washington Science Fiction Association Small Press Award and being nominated for the Nebula Award, the story was reprinted in the following venues:  

·       The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-Third Annual Collection, edited by Gardner Dozois

·       The Best Science Fiction of the Year, edited by Neil Clarke

·       The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2016 Edition, edited by Rich Horton

·       The Year’s Top Ten Tales of Science Fiction 8, edited by Allan Kaster

·       The Long List Anthology Volume 2: More Stories From the Hugo Award Nomination List, edited by David Steffen

·       VISIONARIUM präsentiert: Arcanum. Geschichten aus der Zukunft (German translation)

·       Bli Panika (Hebrew translation)

·       XB-1 (Czech translation)

·       Angle Mort (French translation)

·       Quasar (Italian translation)

·       Nowa Fantastyka (Polish translation)

·       Science Fiction World (Chinese translation)

Today I Am Santa Claus (5,000 words, December)

If you liked the Caretaker and its family from “Today I Am Paul”, you can read the next story of their lives in Christmas Caring II: A Christmas Charity Anthology, edited by DawnRay Ammon. This anthology, full of fun Christmas short stories by bestselling writers and new-comers alike, is bound to get you into the Christmas spirit. All proceeds will be donated to Legacy Initiative of Utah.

Bookmarked (2,400 words, September)

Of everything I wrote in 2016, this is the one I’m most proud of (Though “Today I Am Santa Claus” runs a very close second). It’s a tale of love beyond death, written as a tribute to Dr. Philip Edward Kaldon, a great man and educator whom we lost this year. It appeared in Galaxy’s Edge Magazine: Issue 22, September 2016, edited by Mike Resnick.

The Vampire’s New Clothes (5,000 words, July)

This was my other Galaxy’s Edge story for the year, appearing in Galaxy’s Edge Magazine: Issue 21, July 2016, edited by Mike Resnick. This story was inspired by Mike’s novel Stalking the Vampire, and is my way of answering a question raised by that book.

Black Orbit (10,000 words, December)

Inspector Park Yerim must find the secret message from a dead agent, hidden on an incoming mining load. Appearing in Analog Science Fiction, December 2016, edited by Trevor Quachri.

Visits (with a Stranger) (5,800 words, November)

A time travel story of redemption. But whose? Appearing in Time Travel Tales, edited by Zach Chapman.

Green Girl Blues (6,000 words, October)

The gene modder Niko gets involved with a young girl who wants to escape her world. Niko tries to help her without revealing his secrets… or hers. Appearing in Humanity 2.0, edited by Alex Shvartsman.

Early Warning (3,500 words, April)

A man visits his past self to try to set things right… and drink cheap beer. Appearing in Analog Science Fiction and Fact, April 2016, edited by Trevor Quachri.

Pallbearers (5,400 words, reprint, April)

A soldier on a distant world is trapped in his own powered armor. Appearing in Ctrl Alt Delight: Digital Science Fiction Anthology, edited by Michael Wills.

The Troll Under the Fridge (760 words, reprint, April)

It’s the Big Game, and the billy goats want to get snacks. The troll has other ideas. Appearing in Quickfic Anthology 1: Shorter-Short Speculative Fiction, edited by Michael Wills.

In its Shadow (8,700 words, April)

Throughout their history, the Afim have wondered about the strange Sphere in their midst. Now one determined scientist will find the truth. Appearing in Trajectories, edited by Dave Creek.

Murder on the Aldrin Express (19,000 words, reprint, February)

The original Carver and Aames story. Appearing in Forever Magazine Issue 11.

Summary

·       23 publications.

·       8 original works.

·       15 reprints.

·       4 year’s best reprints.

·       7 international translations.

·       1 Nebula nomination.

·       1 SPA award.

You know, I may be doing something right here…

Now for next year! Back to work on that novel about a certain android and a certain family…

What I’ve Learned (2015 Edition)

The Mammoth Book of Best New SF 27

The Mammoth Book of Best New SF 27

Five years ago today, I sent my first story to a professional science fiction market.

No, that’s a lie. As Dean Wesley Smith says, never trust a writer. We lie for a living. Some of us get good at it.

My first submission was 38 years ago, give or take. I don’t recall the precise date. It was a bad pun story, embarrassingly bad, and George Scithers from Asimov’s Science Fiction sent me a nice personal rejection.

I gave up. I figured I didn’t have what it takes. (And that’s how new I was: I didn’t realize that a personal rejection was supposed to be encouraging.)

My second submission was a few years later, a maudlin little story about an astronaut who wakes up in a world so obsessed with safety that they never do anything. That one got a form rejection.

I gave up.

My third submission was a couple years after that. TSR (the D&D company) had bought Amazing Stories, and I had a humorous adventure story steeped in D&D lore, so I figured it was a good fit. The editor (coincidentally, George Scithers again) sent me a very nice note that said it was a fun story, but he just couldn’t use it.

I gave up. For over two decades. I still wrote – I even sold a software design book – but I just couldn’t bring myself to submit any fiction.

In 2010, my brother-in-law read what I thought was the first chapter of a novel. He said, “That’s not a chapter, that’s a story. Send it in.” So I did. And it got a form rejection.

I sent it to another market. I wrote more stories. I sent those out. I got more rejections.

I gave up. I sent out one last story, and then I gave up.

Then in March of 2011, that last submission became a Finalist in Writers of the Future. It didn’t win, but it did something more important: it got me to stop giving up. Rejection wasn’t stopping me, I was stopping me.

In April 2011 – not even a year from what I’ll call my first modern submission – I sold “The Night We Flushed the Old Town” to Digital Science Fiction, my first pro-rates sale. In July, I sold them “Father-Daughter Outing”. After that, sadly, Digital suspended publication of their anthology (though they’re still selling other books); but I’ll always be grateful to them for believing in me.

In March of 2012, I had an acceptance – but not a sale, this was for charity – in The Gruff Variations: Writing for Charity, Vol. 1. It might not have been a sale, but my story “Gruff Riders” appeared alongside stories from Hugo and Nebula winners and nominees plus dozens of other great writers. I was proud to have a story there, and I would be proud to do it again.

Then in September 2012, Analog bought my novelette “Not Close Enough”. In February 2013, they bought “Murder on the Aldrin Express”. In 2014, they bought “Brigas Nunca Mais” and “Racing to Mars”. This year they bought “Early Warning”. Meanwhile, in 2013, Galaxy’s Edge bought “Il Gran Cavallo” and “Pallbearers”.

And… Gardner Dozois selected “Murder on the Aldrin Express” for Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-First Annual Collection, which was reprinted in the UK as The Mammoth Book of Best New SF 27. Allan Kaster also selected it for Year’s Top Short SF Novels 4, an audiobook/ebook anthology. And coming full circle, in 2014 “Unrefined” was awarded third place in Writers of the Future Volume 31.

So an anniversary is a time to reflect. What have I learned?

The most important thing is simple, and at the same time the hardest lesson of all: Stop giving up. Or as Galaxy Quest taught us, “Never give up, never surrender!” My number one advice to new writers, especially young writers, is “Don’t be like me. Don’t give up.”

Does not giving up guarantee sales? Of course not! That’s why this advice is so hard to follow: not giving up means facing rejection after rejection, never knowing if you’ll ever see a sale. Or a second after your first. Or…

So the other thing I learned is to keep learning, keep getting better. And this advice scares me. See, I don’t do a lot of conscious learning. Oh, I read writer blogs and books, I attend workshops, and I talk with other writers. Those are all good things to do, and I recommend them. But I’m not good at thinking about the lessons I learn. I read, I listen, and I try to absorb, but I don’t consciously apply the lessons. I just write, and I hope. I worry that if I don’t work harder at this, I may hit a plateau and not know how to climb off it.

So I’m working on this; but at the same time I worry about the story of the centipede. He walked all around, just fine, until somebody asked him how he kept all those feet coordinated. He started thinking about it, he couldn’t figure out, and he could never walk again without tripping over his own feet. I worry that if I try to consciously change, I may lose whatever it is that I’m doing right. And I don’t know what that is.

I don’t know what that is! And that, my friends, is scary! I’m flying blind.

And that, again, brings us full circle. I can tell you a hundred little things that I’ve learned along the way; but I still know nothing, not really. I can tell you what worked for me in particular cases, but I can’t tell you what will work for you. I can’t tell me what will work for me next time.

And anyone who says they can tell you: they’re a writer, they lie for a living. Don’t trust them. Even when they believe their lies, they’re really just telling you what worked for them in some cases. As long-time Writers of the Future judge Algis Budrys said, there is seldom only one right way of doing anything. If someone tries to tell you The Way, remember that it’s only A Way. One among countless. Learn what they’re teaching, but think of it as a tool in your toolbox, not a rule you must follow. Try it out, see how it works for you. It’s not The Way, but it might be useful.

But this is no lie: there is a way, a way that significantly improves your chances. I’ve already laid it out above, but let me put it together here. Don’t stop learning, and don’t stop trying.

WRITE! WRITE! WRITE! WRITE! WRITE!

(Speaking of which, there’s a novel calling to me… Get back to work!)

Professional status!

I just read the news: Galaxy’s Edge has been accepted by SFWA as a pro-qualifying market. Therefore my two sales there, “Il Gran Cavallo” and “Pallbearers”, are my third and fourth official pro sales. (They’re my fifth and sixth at pro rates, but Digital Science Fiction didn’t last long enough to qualify as a pro market.)

So the good news is: I am now officially eligible to join Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Thank you Mike Resnick, Laura Somerville, and Shahid Mahmud for producing such a great magazine and making this possible.

The bad news is: I am now officially ineligible to enter Writers of the Future. My current entry for Q1 is my final eligible entry. I have now “pro’ed out”, putting me in the great company of authors like Annie Bellet and Kevin J. Anderson. Thank you, Joni Labaqui, David Farland, and the crew at Author Services, Inc. for an amazing three years with the contest. And thank you to all my fellow members of the WotF forum for all your support and encouragement.

And Another Sale!

I’m a little late with this news, due to massive deadlines at work; but I’m proud to announce that Mike Resnick is also buying my story “Pallbearers” for another issue of Galaxy’s Edge. I believe that will give me stories back to back in issues 6 and 7.

This one’s a little different: a hard science fiction zombie story. Or at least that’s how I think of it…