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


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!

Brave Writers, Brave Readers: Exploring the Fantastic Realities of Imagination One Book at a Time

Nisi Shawl brought her Retro-Afrofuturist Steampunk novel set in the Belgian Congo to Austin’s own Malvern Books last Friday night and it was fantastic! Every copy of Everfair was snapped up, and it was standing room only for Nisi’s engaging reading. She even got us to sing a bit. If you don’t believe me you can see it for yourself.

After the reading she sat down with Fantastical Fictions host, Christopher Brown, to discuss how this book came about. It all started when she was asked to be on a panel about steampunk, a sub genre she didn’t particularly enjoy. Instead of saying no, she asked herself, why do I hate steampunk? Her answer was because it supported colonialism. Then she thought, it doesn’t have to be this way and set out to write a steampunk utopia set in King Leopold II’s Congo. Now that’s the kind of bravery that generates great writing. Instead of saying no thank you to a discussion about a subgenre she disliked, she interrogated her own opinions and came up with something completely original. 

Exploring other worlds, other voices and visions of reality is the heart of speculative fiction. Exploration is exhilarating and dangerous and sometimes frightening. Exploration inevitably leads to contact and raises questions about how we treat the Other, how we see the Other, and, of course, how we see ourselves. Brave writing requires brave readers who must be willing to question their own opinions and biases. For both readers and writers who can do this, the rewards are great.

When Brown asked her why a utopia (they both agreed, and I do too, that utopias are much more difficult to write than dystopias)? Shawl dropped some real wisdom:

“The world that we live in is based, in part, on the world we think we live in, and so if I can change how people think about the world — If I can change the world they think they live in, then they can take it to the next step.”

You can read a more about the book and Shawl process in her essay, Representing My Equals.

In other news, if you’re looking for something to do this Thursday, I’ll be among some great local writers opining about one of my favorite topics: the current state of speculative fiction!

Join the Writers’ League of Texas on BookPeople‘s third floor at 7:00 p.m. for this conversation with four science fiction/fantasy writers: P.J. HooverMarshall Ryan Maresca, Adam Soto, and  Rebecca Schwarz.

“We’ve all heard the statement, “It’s like something out of science fiction.” Changes in politics and technology often seem to resemble the invented worlds of writers like Philip K. Dick and Ursula K. Le Guin. But those novelists’ most famous books were written more than 40 years ago. What stories is this prescient genre creating today? What worlds do writers invent when reality seems so fantastic?”

Check out the Literary Landscape with The Review Review

As a reader, one of the things I love about literary magazines is that they are all so different, each with their own particular aesthetic and editorial style. Perusing the shelves at a bookstore or looking online, I’m always pleasantly surprised by the breadth and depth of different voices out there, and by all the different packages they come in.

As a writer, one of the things that is so daunting about literary magazines is that they present an ever shifting and varied landscape, where a writer with work to submit can easily get lost. Each magazine, with it’s own quirky voice is looking for a particular type of writing. But that’s no reason to be discouraged! You, dear writer, have your own unique voice.

Anyone would be hard pressed to keep up with the thousands of literary magazines out there. What writers (and readers) need is a kind of speed dating service where you can meet a whole bunch of them in order to find the ones you click with. One of the best resources for both readers who want to find their particular flavor of magazine, and writers who are looking to place their work is The Review Review, run by Becky Tuch.* I’ve been getting their newsletter and using their website for market research for a while, and now I’m reviewing for them.

In the about page Tuch says:

 “Here, writers can get a deeper sense of the journals by reading reviews of the latest issues. This is not intended as a substitute for the actual journals, but merely a way to guide writers toward the journals that most interest them.”

The site includes a listing of literary and creative nonfiction magazines (with brief descriptions for titles that don’t yet have reviews), a searchable database of reviews, informative interviews with editors from literary magazines, and publishing tips.

But it’s the newsletter that I find most useful. I peruse it and note one or two literary magazines that I want to investigate further, either to read or to put on one of my “submit to lists.”

So, if you write stories that defy genre, or just want to check out the rich landscape of literary magazines, check out this great resource.

* For more about Tuch and her work, check out her interview over on Bustle.

Clarion West Write-a-thon!

I sure wish a little bird had told me such a thing as the Clarion West Workshop existed when I was devoutly pursuing my English major in college. Now that I’ve returned to writing and embraced genre I would love to go, but I don’t think the hubs, the girls, the dog, the chickens or the guppies would put up with me disappearing for six weeks to bask in writerly whatnot.

No matter, because they each year they host a Write-a-thon for the duration of the workshop. This year I’m going to participate and you can too!

There’s a lot to like about this Write-a-thon:

It’s longer than National Novel Writing Month, six weeks instead of four, and it’s in the summer so it doesn’t intersect with any major holidays (Thanksgiving, I’m looking at you).

Participants are tasked with setting their own goals. I wanted to challenge myself by just notching things up one tick. As I’ve blogged about before. I’m all about setting goals I can accomplish. Here’s what I wrote:

I’m looking to step up my productivity by writing more consistently. I am committing to writing 1,000 words a day -everyday- throughout the write-a-thon. Also, since I consider revising writing, it counts – but in the case of revising I would like to revise 2,000 words or 8 pages/day. So, one or the other or some combination of the two every day. I hope over the course of the write-a-thon to finish the two novelettes I have in progress and write at least two new stories.

It’s not just a Write-a-thon, it’s a Write-a-long. The other participants include many published and established authors! Check out their pages here, and sign up for a chance to rub virtual shoulders with some great writers.

It’s for a good cause: nurturing of great new genre writers, so that we’ll have more fantastic literature to read in the not-so-distant future! For the fundraising side of it, if you donate on my Clarion West Write-a-thon page, I will write a flash fiction story with your name (or a name of your choosing) as the title character.

So, what are you waiting for? Check out their Write-a-thon page and get yourself signed up for the fun!

You can check out my author page here.

Spring Break

It’s Spring Break week here, which means no school, no university classes, and here in Austin SXSW craziness. It’s all good. Except my husband and I, being grownups and all, still have to work. We’re splitting our days between jobs and childcare.

I’m still working on a certain story for a certain someone and keeping my word count up wherever I can fit it in, usually in 5 min/50 word increments. It’s not ideal but progress is being made. All this adds up to zero for today’s blog entry. Something’s gotta give. So, I’ll see y’all next week with a shiny new blog about the revision process, more specifically my revision process.

Reading About Writing: A SciFi/Fantasy Friendly Guide

I almost always have a book about writing going along with my other reading. I consider them my vocational devotionals. Over the years I’ve read most of the standard how-to-write books, but there’s always more out there. This past year as I’ve been writing more and more, learning the craft, and working to improve specific issues in my writing. So, I have sought out books with more specific advice. Here is a sampling of the best of what I read in 2011. Some are non-genre specific, others are written by people who have worked in Science Fiction and Fantasy and so have some useful insights that you won’t find in more general guides.

Characters, Emotion and Viewpoint
by Nancy Kress
I like the whole Write Great Fiction series because they split up the different elements of writing and story crafting. This means each individual book has room to take a deeper more complete look at the topic covered. I picked this one up because I have gotten story notes on my work saying that readers were having trouble connecting with my characters or knowing how they were feeling. This book really came through with some practical and specific ideas that I could immediately put into practice. Nancy Kress is a Hugo and Nebula award winning author of short stories and novels, her most famous is probably Beggars in Spain, a near future story dealing with the social ramifications of genetic modifications. Clearly Kress is an experienced teacher, and well read. She uses both genre and non-genre examples in her books. I liked her teaching style so well I went on to read Elements of Fiction Writing – Beginnings, Middles & Ends (mostly for the “middles” part).

Starve Better
by Nick Mamantas
These essays are entertaining in the shoot-from-the-hip style that comes from expanded blog material. There is practical advice for both writing (short stories in particular), and for navigating the writing life. Mamantas is best known for his horror and dark fiction, but has also been nominated for a World Fantasy Award and a Hugo. He spent some time as the co-fiction editor of Clarkesworld Magazine, a publication I would very much like to break into, so his insights into the editorial process there were especially interesting to me. Apparently, he stirred up some controversy a few years ago when he wrote about supporting himself by writing for a term paper mill, but I found chapter where he discussed it interesting and honest. It’s worth the paperback price. If you have a Kindle a copy is only $3.99.

Worlds of Wonder: How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy
by Gerrold David
David has won a Hugo and a Nebula. His other claim to fame is that he penned the classic Trouble With Tribbles episode from the original Star Trek series, which was enough for me to check out this book. It’s out of print, so I did have to literally check it out from my local library. The second half is a little padded out with some rather extensive examples from his own work, but the first half of the book is worth the price of admission. In the first chapters he discusses the difference between (writing) science fiction and fantasy. He explains that, “the first issue in science fiction is believability, because Science Fiction is rooted in science,” On the other hand: “Fantasy is not the abandonment of logic. It is the reinvention of it … the creation of an alternate structure of logic.” Those two statements are a jumping off point for a meaty discussion about the similarities and differences in these two genres, and they really helped me understand what I need to accomplish when writing one or the other.

The Art of Fiction
by John Gardner
Absolutely required reading. I read it in college and just reread it this year. This book manages to be  a primer, but also to go beyond basic advice and touch on what it means to elevate your writing to something approaching art. Some complain about Gardner’s idiosyncratic style. While I have to honestly say I’ve never really connected with Gardner’s fiction, his personal style in this guide book is one of the things that makes it such a pleasure to read. The exercises are also worth the time. I’ve had more than one grow into stories in their own right.

The Writer’s Portable Mentor
By Priscilla Long
I am still doing the exercises in this one. This book is not genre or even fiction specific but everything in it applies to anything you might be writing. In the section about working with language, she suggests gathering a lexicon specific to whatever piece of writing you’re working on. I now have lexicons running down the margins of all my drafts, and have found the practice of gathering words specific to a given project both practical and inspirational (NOTE: this is NOT about opening a Thesaurus and copying down all the synonyms). There is a set of exercises geared to hone your ability to capture observations both social and sensory. She goes on to cover several ways to structure a piece of writing, and has a section on the art of sentences and paragraphs that includes, but goes beyond, basic grammar. Another thing I especially like is that while the exercises useful in their own right,  she stresses that you use the exercises on your current project. Because the point isn’t to fill a journal (and your writing time) with endless exercises, but to create and polish a piece of writing that you can go on to sell.

How Not To Write a Novel
By Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman

“What do you think of my fiction book writing?” the aspiring novelist extorted.
“Darn,” the editor hectored, in turn. “I can not publish your novel! It is full of what we in the business call ‘really awful writing.'”
“But how shall I absolve this dilemma? I have already read every tome available on how to write well and get published!” The writer tossed his head about, wildly.
“It might help,” opined the blonde editor, helpfully, “to ponder how NOT to write a novel, so you might avoid the very thing!”

Some people find this sort of thing irritating. Not me. Nothing like seeing what NOT to do demonstrated so hilariously.

It’s time well spent reading any of these books as they’re all full of great advice and plenty of inspiration. Of course the magic dust of advice and inspiration only work if you’re actively writing, and wrestling with your stories to make them stronger.

Here are the next couple books the top of my 2012 pile. Here’s to another year of writing and of reading about writing.

Nascence: 17 Stories That Failed and What They Taught Me
By Tobias Bucknell

Since I am a writer’s group friendly kind of writer, I think this book may have something to teach me. I find the practice of critiquing other writers’ work (either in person, in a writer’s group, or in writing over the web) to be an excellent way to improve. While it’s important to be reading great short stories, but it is an entirely different experience to read a story that isn’t quite there yet, a story that is broken somehow, and to articulate — in a constructive and helpful way — exactly why it isn’t working (Kindle only).

How to write a Sentence: And How to Read One
By Stanley Fish
Because I enjoy reading Stanley Fish. And I love sentences.