Izzy Crow wins the Writers’ League of Texas Manuscript Contest for SF/F!

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So this happened! My novel-in-progress, Izzy Crow, won in the Science Fiction/Fantasy category in the Writers’ League of Texas manuscript contest. 

This is why it is so important to not only work on craft but to put yourself out there and to be persistent. Behind this win are about a thousand rejections from all sorts of venues, dozens of also-rans, and a handful of honorable mentions.

I just started this novel in January and when the notice for this contest came along, I had the usual internal debate: is this piece ready? am I good enough? But then I decided to follow Wayne Gretzky’s advice, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” I’ve always said writing is a long game. Keep writing, keep working to improve, and keep putting yourself out there!

I’ll be at the Writers’ League of Texas Agents & Editors conference this weekend to talk with agents and editors and to moderate a panel. Stay tuned!

A Trove of Fabulous Short Stories over at Curious Fictions!

If you’re looking for short stories to read, be sure to check out Curious Fictions. This little known gem is a platform for short story reprints. The site will ask you for credit card information up front, but all the content is completely free, though tipping is encouraged. You can also subscribe to your favorite authors.

It is a great option for short story writers who too often see their previously published stories vanish into a kind of oblivion a few months after being published. I have uploaded a few stories there and like having a no fuss place to give these stories a second chance to be seen.

Most recently, you can find my story, Short Straw, on the site. It previously appeared in the Lost Worldsanthology by Flame Tree Press (print only). The link for Short Straw in the sidebar will now direct to Curious Fictions.

While I hope you’ll enjoy the stories I’ve posted there, I know you won’t be disappointed with the site: it is stuffed with amazing stories, easy to navigate, and easy to read on a variety of screens.

Here’s a little teaser for Short Straw:

“Don’t tell the trees your name,” the wild grasses whispered as they batted their bearded heads against the linen skirt wrapped around Nina’s thin hips. Her great grandparents, the first colonists, had brought rice and wheat, barley and rye, and crossed their seeds with the new-world plants. But the grains they produced were inedible. Still, they abandoned grasses persisted, and the wild meadow won a few more inches of ground every year.

She looked up, past the settlement to where the tallest branches of the forest canopy snared the sinking sun. “I have to go,” she said.

“If you must go, take us with you,” they whispered.

Nina closed her hands capturing two fistfuls of seed heads, pulled them off their stems, and shoved them into her skirt pockets. “There. Happy?”

“No.

Save the Date Writing Butterflies, This Year’s Armadillocon Writing Workshop is Friday, August 3!

 Crack your knuckles and warm up your keyboards, it’s time to polish up your short story or first chapter for the annual Armadillocon Writing Workshop!

 Submissions are DUE Friday June 15, 2018

This is an excellent, low-cost workshop for writers who want to:

 Work with professional writers and editors familiar with speculative fiction, science fiction, and fantasy. 

  • Learn how to give and receive critique in a small-group, face-to-face setting
  • Find out if workshops and in-person critique groups are useful to their writing progress
  • Find their tribe and make connections with others that will serve their writing year round.
  • Take their writing to the next level.

The workshop will be Friday, August 3, 2018 

We will spend the morning in panels on the craft and business of writing and doing a writing exercise or two. Then, lunch with the professional writers and fellow students in your breakout critique group. The afternoon will be spent in in-depth, collaborative critique sessions where you will be both giving and receiving critique. 

Just $90 gets you the full-day workshop and a full convention membership to attend all of the activities for the entire weekend. ArmadilloCon is an excellent regional literary convention, which means there will be lots of great panels about writing, reading, and the state of the genre (there are also panels about movies, tv shows, gaming, and everything geek). 

Sponsored seats for writers of color!

We are committed to promoting diversity and access for all workshop attendees. Writing in a genre centered on exploration and encountering the Other must include voices and visions from writers and readers of all kinds. The Workshop actively seeks to include students, faculty, visiting scholars, and volunteers from a variety of backgrounds including, but not limited to race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, economic status, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, and ability. 

To that purpose we are offering a limited number of sponsored seats to the workshop for writers of color. To apply for a seat, follow the link on the workshop page.

 If are interested in sponsoring a seat for a writer of color, contact me at armadilloconwritersworkshop@gmail.com

The Exquisite Corpse at the ArmadilloCon Writing Workshop


It’s officially fall, the kids are back in school, summer and ArmadilloCon are quickly receding on the horizon as we zoom toward the winter solstice. I meant to blog about the Writing Workshop looong before this, but life, as usual, got in the way. I have so many thoughts about the con and Writing Workshop, which I will get to in later posts. The first order of business is to talk about the writing exercise.


The morning of the workshop consists of two panels covering broad topics in writing and publishing broken up by a writing exercise. The panels, while informative, require a lot of sitting and focused attention, so my goal for the exercise was not only to get people writing and thinking about the creative process, but to also get us all out of our chairs and moving around a bit. What I came up with a classic exquisite corpse exercise paired with some guided freewriting.

People really enjoyed this exercise, so for any of you who might be in a writing group and interested in doing it, read on for instructions. I’ve also posted a sampling of the results. I think this would work for almost any size group, just be sure to build in time for all the moving around and passing pages!

  • First, create exquisite corpse drawings. I confess I was a studio art major for a couple years before switching to English, so the idea of doing a quick sketch was appealing to me. That said, I know even the thought of drawing can make people nervous. The great thing about this exercise’s roots in surrealism is that there is really no such thing as a bad drawing – nothing can be too weird for the purposes of this exercise. 
  • Have everyone fold their paper into thirds. Start by drawing the top of something on the top portion. Instruct people to extend their “top” drawings just a bit below the folded line so that the next person has something to connect their drawing up to. After a few minutes (I used a timer set to 3 minutes) have everyone fold the paper in a way that hides their portion of the drawing and have them pass it on to someone else, who will draw the middle without looking at the previous drawing (again extending the bottom of their drawing just a bit past the last fold).
  • Repeat for the bottom of the drawing.
  • The complete drawings are passed one more time to someone new. During any of these stages (drawing or writing), it doesn’t matter who they pass their drawings to, though I encouraged everyone to try to pass whatever they had to someone new.
Now that everyone has a delightfully weird character in hand it’s time to write. I kept exquisite corpse structure for this part too. I used 5×8 index cards for the writing in order to encourage everyone to keep things concise. 

  • Card #1 (write 1 in the top corner of the card). Look at your drawing this is your main character. In just two or three sentences write the opening of a story. A little bit about the world, a bit about the character and that character’s desire. (as Vonnegut says, your character should want something, even if it’s a glass of water). Think “Once upon a time.” This is the Regular World of the story. (I gave people 5 minutes to write each section.)
  • Hand card #1 off to someone new (along with the drawing) – this time it’s not a secret. Read what you get. Write #2 on a new card. Time to write Act Two. Think, “And then…” This is the character, in pursuit of their desire, leaves the normal world and/or encounters a new element. It could be negative, i.e. the wolf shows up on Red Riding Hood’s trail, or positive, i.e. Charlie Bucket getting one of Willy Wonka’s Golden Tickets.
  • Hand both cards and the drawing off to someone new, read over what you have so far. Write #3 on the last card. Time to write the ending. Think, “Until one day.” This isn’t easy but we’re just having fun here. It’s time for the character to commit to a course of action. The character can be forced to change or the character’s perception of the world can change. The world can be not what it seems (the character’s realization and/or the reader’s realization)
After everyone finished with their last card, I invited people to read what they had. Unfortunately, we didn’t have nearly enough time for this part. With the getting up and trading drawings and cards around. If I repeat this exercise, I will definitely block out more time for people to simply enjoy checking out the drawings and for everyone to get up, move around, and get resettled in between each stage.

All this mixing and matching isn’t meant to create a beautiful story, but to illustrate how considering at wildly different scenarios, images, ideas can lead to innovative narrative solutions. Also, I hope that it can give some confidence in our ability to come up with fun narrative solutions on the fly. 

Another thing that I really liked about this exercise is that since everyone is encouraged to pass want they’ve got to someone new at each stage, everyone gets to mingle just a bit without it being super awkward. Since the afternoon is spent in small group critique with people that workshoppers have often only just met, this exercise serves as a bit of an icebreaker. 

I don’t know if I can top this exercise next year, but I am going to try. 

After the workshop, lots of students wanted to see more of the collective stories and drawings. In hindsight I would have created a better way for everyone to share the results of this collective exercise. I did manage to collect some of the results from students over the weekend. Scroll down to see them.*

If you were at the workshop and would like your exercise posted, ping me in the comments and I’ll add it to the roll.

* Apologies if the resolution isn’t great. I’m no expert in the finer points of web formatting.

























Fantastical Fictions Bookclub: The Door to Lost Pages by Claude Lalumière


It seems fitting that we’ll be meeting at one of Austin’s most unusual bookshops, Malvern Books, to discuss lovely mosaic novella centered around an idiosyncratic bookstore. Although, Malvern has 100% less dogs than the bookstore featured in Claude Lalumière’s The Door to Lost Pages, it has some of the magic.

But don’t take my word for it, swing by the store to pick up a copy of this lovely little book, and then come back on Wednesday, July 12 at 7:00 p.m. to discuss The Door toLost Pages.

“Lost Pages wasn’t the only bookshop I frequented, but the books I found on its shelves were… unique. I never saw any of these books anywhere else. Bizarre Bestiaries. Dictionaries of dead, obscure languages. Maps to lands that may never have been. Essays on religions with unfamiliar names. Obscure mythologies. Accounts of wars no history teacher had ever mentioned. Such were the wares of the bookshop that fed my teenage dreams.”

More magical realism than straight up fantasy, this book combines elements of urban fantasy with lonely childhoods and difficult family relationships that are rendered with gritty realism. There are also winged skeleton creatures, dark gods, tentacles  and a shifting pack of friendly dogs. It’s a homey multiverse of myth, folktale, dreams and nightmares. Be warned, the erotic and sexual elements that are often latent in fairy tales are more overt here as the characters wrestle with desires and both visceral and ethereal.

In the true Austin tradition, this is an author that knows how to keep it weird. If you enjoy The Door to Lost Pages, Claude Lalumière will be in Austin for the ArmadilloConConvention on August 4 – 6, and back at Malvern Books to read from his latest book Venera Dreams on August 9 at 7:00 p.m.

ArmadilloCon Writing Workshop T-Minus 36 Hours: Letting Go

The aphorism, “A good conversation never ends, it’s only interrupted” comes to mind. I feel the same about the stories I write. Creators, artists, and writers are always striving to improve their craft. Reaching for perfection, always falling a few inches short. This is why it can be hard to determine when to call a piece you’ve struggled over finished. For me, it’s more about knowing when to let it go.
Creating something is its own reward and its own punishment. Every story starts with some nugget of inspiration, a character, a mood I want to capture, a moment I want to bring to life. It’s this vision that compels me to create the first draft. Invariably, after writing it out, and working through however many revisions, what I end up with is NEVER what I originally imagined. I won’t say it’s better or worse, but it is different. Even when I am happy with the final result, there is always a tiny nagging feeling of missing the mark.  
If you keep writing and working to improve, you will look back at old stories, even the ones that are published and see ways that they might be improved. I remind myself that that was the best story I could produce last week or last year or three years ago. M. Rickert says her old stories are like snapshots of the writer she was at the time she wrote them.
It’s important to strive for excellence, at the same time once you feel you’ve made a story the best you can – let it go. It may be flawed, have some element that you wish you could manage more astutely, but if it’s viable (i.e. has a plot with a beginning middle and end, a character who changes or comes to a realization, etc.), then it’s time to let it go (today, that might mean sending it to the ArmadilloCon Writing Workshop). Submit somewhere for publication and move on to the next story with the goal to make that one better.
Whether I see you at the ArmadilloCon Writers Workshop or not – I hope you go forth and write story after story. I look forward to reading all of them out in the wild! 

ArmadilloCon Writing Workshop Boot Camp Week 6: Time for a Spit Shine


We’re two weeks from the June 11 deadline to submit a short story or the first chapter of a novel and sign up for the ArmadilloCon Writing Workshop. Believe it or not, two weeks is plenty of time to create a brand spanking new piece for a writing workshop. If you’re diving in from scratch, clear some time in your schedule, buy some extra coffee beans, and peruse the earlier boot camp posts in this series. Take what you need and write like the wind!
Regardless of when you start writing, we’re not talking about a shining piece of perfection here. What you want to bring is something in decent shape that will give the pros and your fellow critique partners an idea of where you are as a writer. In my opinion perfection is overrated. Strive for it, sure. We all do, and we’re all destined to fall just short – welcome to the creative life. I know it’s scary to turn in something that you can see is flawed or has some issue you just can’t resolve, but the worst that will happen is that your critique partners will point it out. If you’re lucky, you will also receive useful solutions for your story in particular and gain new skills for your writing in general.
If you’ve been following along with my (patented) boot camp schedule you should have a middle revision of a story that, while it still might have some rough edges, has all the necessary parts and culminates in some kind of climactic moment. Either your protagonist DOES something or s/he DECIDES something, and this action or decision carries an actual and/or emotional consequence – preferably both.
Honestly, with two weeks to go there is plenty of time to cycle through middle revision territory a couple more times until you are really happy with the shape and emotional impact of your story or chapter, but I know how good it can be to finish ahead of schedule so let’s talk about the final proofing and polishing.
A few words about grammar.
Grammar isn’t really a final revision task as your grasp of grammar affects every stage of the writing process, but this read though is a good time to really attend to word choice and sentence structure.
Don’t feel bad if you find grammar intimidating. I did for years. Really, if I can get a working mastery of grammar, anyone can! I didn’t get great grammar instruction in middle school, and after that I was on my own. Only after returning to writing as an adult did I take my grammar education into my OWN hands. Now grammar is no longer a nebulous topic where I worry that I’m going to somehow screw up every sentence I write. Once I got a toehold, I have found grammar to be an enduring source of fascination. Like clay to the sculptor, exotic musical keys to the pianist, words and sentences are a writer’s medium.
That said, if you think you know everything there is to know about grammar – check yourself. The English language is constantly evolving – including grammar. Being completely prescriptive about grammatical rules (current or past) will limit your writing, too.
There are many wonderful sources for learning grammar out there, and Strunk & White isn’t one of them. For me its twee style, brevity, confusing advice, and contradictory examples were just more of the same ineffective instruction that got me so deep in the hole during my school years. Here’s a far more eloquent and thorough take down of S&W.

“The book’s toxic mix of purism, atavism, and personal eccentricity is not underpinned by a proper grounding in English grammar. It is often so misguided that the authors appear not to notice their own egregious flouting of its own rules. They can’t help it, because they don’t know how to identify what they condemn…. They know a few terms, like “subject” and “verb” and “phrase,” but they do not control them well enough to monitor and analyze the structure of what they write.”

If you feel you need a grammar refresher, here are some resources. Start small, commit to spending 10 or 15 minutes a day, and focus on one element at a time.
For specific questions, check out the Perdue Owl grammar site
Put the Grammar App or the Grammar Up app on your phone,
Listen to The Grammar Girl or the the BBC’s 6 Minute Grammar podcasts.
As you go over your writing, just remember it’s all about Clarity: 
  • Think about the essential meaning of each sentence.
  • In description, use specific, telling details.
  • Focus on precision of language.
  • Check the usage of any tricky words and make sure you’re using them correctly.
  • For style, try to replace linking and helping verbs with action verbs. 

Look for common errors like their/there/they’re or it’s/its. I read my draft aloud again, “un-contracting” every contraction, and I almost always find one or two slip-ups.

There. All polished up and ready to go. Right? Next week I’ll talk about knowing when a piece is finished. Seems a simple enough question, but when your trying to become a better writer, it can be hard to know when to stop trying to improve a piece and let it go.


NOTICE: Diverse writers welcomed here!

Diversity is vital to speculative fiction. A genre centered on exploration and encountering the Other must include voices and visions from writers, readers and thinkers of all kinds.

This year the Armadillocon Writing Workshop has sponsored seats for writers of color! Visit the workshop page for more information and to fill out the sponsorship request form!