Thursday, December 8, 2016

Talking with Robert Jackson Bennett


Hello again! I've been busy not blogging. Busy doing what you might ask? Well, talking with Robert Jackson Bennett for one. Here's the first half of our interview at Malvern Books for their Fantastical Fictions reading series. You can read a bit more about him and this event here. And, not to leave you hanging, here's the link to the second half of the interview.

It was great fun discussing what goes into crafting great stories and creating imaginary worlds. Having read some of Bennett's work I can vouch that he is excellent at both. 


His newest book, City of Miracles, is about to drop in May. It is the third book in his Divine Cities series (which means you have time to get up to speed with City of Stairs and City of Blades before spring). BTW, Malvern Books should still have some signed copies of City of Stairs and City of Blades.


If you're looking for something a little more literary in the great American horror tradition, consider picking up a copy of American Elsewhere. 


"Mad and humorous, gory and poignant, American Elsewhere is a sort of mid-20th-century retelling of the embodiment of Lovecraftian Elder Gods by way of Alamogordo's legendary atomic tests. It's not to be missed."  ―Seattle Times

Let's see, what else? You can also check out my review of Room Magazine over at The Review Review.


And on the home (fiction) front, I'll have a short story publication to announce soon. I have also finished a rather involved revision of a novella, which will be on it's way to some lucky editor before the year is out. Then it is on to/back to 'the novel.' More about that in the next post - next Thursday.


Tuesday, September 13, 2016

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?"

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Hey Toto, we're in Kansas! Readings and Panels at WorldCon!



It's been a crazy, busy summer with lots of travel and time with family. I've managed to do some writing. I thought I'd take a quick break from the novel by writing a short story, but the story grew (as my stories seem to do nowadays) into a novella. I'll finish revising it and return to the novel just as soon as I get back from WorldCon!


I have an early flight tomorrow, which is a good thing as I have a busy day coming up.

I'll be reading at 1:30 in room 2202
I can't wait to share a story or two live and in person.

From 5:00 - 6:00 I'll be moderating "Knock on Wood: From Squirrel Girl to Lumberjanes" (room 2207) with fellow panelists Jason Stanford, Catherine Lundoff, Adam Rakunas, and Tom Galloway.
"What the junk?! In the last couple of years we've seen the growth of comics that might superficially appear to be aimed at a YA audience, however these titles are hitting the mainstream with a vengeance. Marvel are leading the pack with Squirrel Girl, Ms Marvel and Captain Marvel, but there's also a vast amount of Indie work coming through such as Lumberjanes, Space Dumplins, Khaos Komix and Footloose. Our panel discuss why these titles are so popular, and what they have to offer both new and established audiences." 
From 6:00 - 7:00 you can find me participating in "Cleaning Up Your Prose" (room 3501B) with C.C. Finlay(!), Randy Henderson, Rob Chilson, moderated by Alan Smale.
My love of revision is no secret. I'm looking forward to a lively discussion about how writers go about improving their work once the first draft is finished!

Then on Saturday from 4:00 - 5:00 back in room 2202, I'm thrilled to participate in Flash Fiction Online's group reading. This one is going to be tons of fun. Hosted by Anna Yeatts and Chris Phillips, come by to hear stories from Sunil Patel, Kelly Sandoval, Laura Pearlman, Beth Cato, and yours truly!

You can check out my schedule and more here. Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

"Write What You Know" v. Writing to Know



Write what you know, is a writing aphorism that is hard to escape, but what does it really mean? It’s always made me uncomfortable because far too often it is taken literally, but if you don’t take it literally then it becomes a bit of a puzzler. Once you move away from technical manuals and autobiography, what we know doesn’t amount to much. I mean how does this advice help the novelist writing a space opera, a short story writer writing surreal animal stories, a poet?

Writing what you know isn’t about limiting yourself to a narrow area of expertise or a specific collection of experiences. Maybe it would be better so say “Write what you know in your heart,” or maybe simply, “know your heart.” Be present in the moment; build rich memories, live a vivid imaginative life as well. It’s your memories, your imagination, what you feel and what you believe that are your cache of “what you know,” and they provide infinite possibilities for discovering truth in the world.
I highly recommend this one
“The key is to move steadily from what you know, be it ever so little.”
- Stephen Koch
The truth of the story isn’t always apparent right away. Writing is an act of discovery. Begin by creating a world – a small one in a kitchen or suburban home, or a vast one spanning galaxies; populate it with some characters, and set them in motion around a small collection of things you know. Be brave and honest and go where the story takes you. Who knows what you’ll discover.
“I write to find out what I didn’t know I knew.”
- Robert Frost



My story, “Fairview 619,” is available to read over at the Metaphysical Circus Press. If you like that, consider picking up the entire issue, See the Elephant Magazine, issue two: Love & War in the Slipstream.



Wednesday, June 1, 2016

"Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast" or Alice Gets Very Very Small



I'm delighted to make my second appearance at NewMyths.com with my story, "Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast," inspired in part by Alice in Wonderland.



I have to confess, I could never get into Lewis Carroll when I was younger. All that changed when I read Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass to my daughters. I found both books delightful and challenging (and a real joy to read aloud). 

Fantasy distinguishes itself from other forms of fiction by bending the rules that define our experience of reality. Most fantasy plays with the rules of how our world works rather narrowly. For example, vampires or magicians tend to move in a world that, while it may not be of our time, is otherwise mundane and predictable. Their special powers are defined and are bounded specific limits. Carroll's Wonderland is a limitless and constantly mutable place. There is no solid footing for Alice or the reader. 

For all that we know about reality, how our universe actually works is a mystery so deep as to have that same disorienting effect of absolute fantasy, which is why I decided to send my Alice down a rabbit hole to discover a world as strange as anything in Carroll's Wonderland.



And for something completely different, my review of Iron Horse Literary Review is up over at The Review Review.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Map is Not the Territory: Navigating Through the First Draft


Plotting, shaping the narrative – whatever you want to call it – is not my strong point, so it's the thing I am most consciously working to improve right now. One of the tools I use to develop and manage plot is an outline. Though I’m the first to say you don’t have to.

For some creating an outline kills any spark the story holds. But for me, if I don't create a map of the way the events and characters will interact; my story will just somehow slowly fail – like it's wandering some desert wasteland with no oasis in sight. It starts out trotting along all optimistically, then slows to a walk, begins to stagger, falls to its knees and crawls the last few yards before expiring with the final scenes and denouement still somewhere beyond the horizon. Okay, maybe that’s a bit dramatic, but for anything longer than a couple thousand words, I simply cannot write "by the seat of my pants."

Conversely, I find outlining intensely creative. The process is a way for me to discover the heart of the story and to get to know the characters. First, I brainstorm a variety of scenarios and put the characters in play, I generate lots of ideas and random thematic details that might or might not go into the draft. As I begin to narrow the options, I can recognize and address logic flaws – before I start drafting. The outline is a place where I can try out ideas without the time-sink of writing through tangents and into dead ends. An outline is a map of the territory – of the story. Since I’m literally inventing the landscape, my outlines are never set in stone. I often tweak and change them once I begin writing. Even if my outline totally changes as I draft, it remains an essential step for me.

But, as much as I love a good outline, sometimes they are daunting. For writers who are natural storytellers in terms of plotting and conflict, maybe an outline feels like a terminal document. The story has been described and therefore all the magic has been drained from it. For me, a solid outline does not feel final, but it does have a self-contained completeness. There have been times when I’ve looked at my outline and thought, okay now how do I get into this story? How – or where – do I begin. That’s when I remind myself that

The map is not the territory.

I’ve done some backcountry hiking with trail maps and a compass, and I can tell you that those folded paper representations of the ground under your feet are an essential guide. But they are also abstractions, which don’t carry any information about what I might encounter on my journey. A map doesn't include the smell of pine needles warmed by the afternoon sun or the black bear, deer, and countless birds and butterflies I'll see as I walk. The elevation lines that crowd together indicate a ridge, but not the puffs of fine trail dust my boots raise or the ache in my legs, the sweat rolling down my neck, as I ascend.

An outline is an abstraction, a map, and it is only useful if I acknowledge that it is limited to describing the structure of the area of the story and can tell me nothing about what I will encounter on my journey though. As I begin writing, stringing one word after the other, I’m hiking on a narrow trail under the canopy of a thousand individual trees that are simply indicated by a wash of solid green on the map. Even with an outline, what I witness once I’m inside a story is always unpredictable and brand new.


Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Listen to Hands of Burnished Bronze at PodCastle!

Bronze hands by Rodin
My story, Hands of Burnished Bronze, is now live at PodCastle! It's read by the amazing Cheyenne Wright a freelance illustrator who just happens to have a voice made for invoking fantasy worlds. I love the extra dimension that his reading gives this story. 

As I mentioned before, I have been a long time PodCastle listener, so I'm delighted to hear one of my very own stories on this podcast. Do be sure to check out the many other wonderful stories on this site. There is plenty of fantastic fantasy ear candy to help you get through a long commute or whatever tedious chores await you.