Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Fantastical Fictions Book Club!


 There are so many wonderful examples of fantastic literature just waiting to be discovered, and Malvern Books glitters with a wealth of rare and hard to find literary gems. So, after a successful year hosting a variety of authors and their fabulous books, we've decided to expand the Fantastical Fictions series to include a book club.

On Thursday March 23 at 7:00 p.m., we'll be discussing John Wyndham's final novel Chocky. Completed in 1968, this story originally appeared as a novelette in Amazing Stories in 1963

From the back cover:
"It's not terribly unusual for a boy to have an imaginary friend, but Matthew's parents have to agree that his--nicknamed Chocky--is anything but ordinary. Why, Chicky demands to know, are there twenty-four hours in a day? Why are there two sexes? Why can't Matthew solve his math homework using a logical System like binary code?"

"Chocky, ...is a playful investigation of what being human is all about, delving into such matters as child-rearing, marriage, learning, artistic inspiration--and ending with a surprising and impassioned plea for better human stewardship of the earth."
Even if you haven't heard of John Wyndham, it's a good bet that you've heard of his work. As a writer he hit his stride after World War Two and, much like Philip K. Dick who came after, tapped into the zeitgeist of the times. Like PKD many of his works where transformed over and over into radio plays, movies and TV shows.


His novel, The Midwich Cuckoos, came to the big screen (more than once) as the Village of the Damned. Perhaps even more famous is the screen adaptation of his tale of vegetable monsters, The Day of the Triffids.

In 1984 the BBC adapted Chocky into a television series for children, which would seem to suit gentle, but no less fascinating story. 


Malvern is stocked with extra copies of this brief novel, and there's plenty of time to read it before the meeting, but since this isn't school, there'll be no quiz! No worries if you haven't read it, or have no intention to. If you enjoy discussing books--especially the type that don't concern themselves too much with the rules of reality the rest of us have to live by, then come and spend an hour with us.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Pick up your pens, it’s time to start thinking about the ArmadilloCon Writers’ Workshop!


When I told a writer friend that I would be coordinating the ArmadilloCon Writers’ Workshop this year, he asked me if I’d lost a bet? I laughed and said, no. I’m thrilled to have an opportunity to give back to a workshop that has given me so much! Excited and a little nervous. Lucky for me I have the support of the previous coordinators Marshall Ryan Maresca and Stina Leicht. With their help I’m looking forward to making this year’s workshop the best experience it can be!

When I returned to writing fiction after my children were born, I did not have the option either financially or time-wise to travel to the big name workshops like Clarion, Odyssey, or Viable Paradise. When my kids were small, even the idea of jetting out of town for a weekend seemed financially onerous and physically exhausting. There are a lot of great online workshops, but many of them are also costly. What I really needed at the beginning, was to find out if workshopping was going to be useful to me. Looking at where I am now, it’s clear that a good writing workshop is a valuable asset. As a student of the ArmadilloCon Writers’ Workshop I received one-on-one input on my work from amazing writers and editors including Paolo Bacigalupi, Lou Anders, Cat Rambo, and Liz Gorinsky. I moved on to volunteering for the workshop as both a first reader and instructor, and it's been no less inspiring to be on the other side of the table teaching with hard-working talent such as Ken Liu, Jacob Weisman of Tachyon publications, James Morrow and Timmel Duchamp of Aqueduct Press.

Just $90 gets you the full-day workshop and a convention membership to attend all of the activities for the entire weekend. ArmadilloCon is known as 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). This is a great gateway workshop. If you think you might enjoy writing in general and genre in particular, this is a great low cost way to check out a workshop. This is the place to learn how to give and receive critique and to get instruction that will help take your writing to the next level. At least as important, is that the workshop and weekend are an opportunity to meet other writers. To find your tribe and make connections that will serve your writing year round. 

I’ll finish by saying that 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, readers and thinkers 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. 

As far as instructors, so far we have: 

Nisi Shawl (Guest of Honor)  
Trevor Quachri  (Editor Guest) 
Martha Wells 
Don Webb (Toastmaster) 
Nicky Drayden 
D. L. Young 

I will be booking instructors throughout the spring, so check the workshop page for updates. 

Check back here for posts about workshopping in general and how to prepare for the ArmadilloCon’s workshop in particular. 

Now it’s your turn: The first order of business is to start writing, so fire up your laptops, grab your pens and let’s get started!

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Current Conditions: The Writerly Edition


Here we are: a new year, a new day. It has been an eventful few months with the U.S. election, and the new administration settling in. Sometimes it feels like there is nothing that we, collectively, can agree on except that we are all living in a time of great change.

Change. I find that people generally love the idea – but hate the reality. Yet, change isn’t only necessary, it’s inevitable and constant. We have always lived in an ever-changing world. And it’s this belief that brings me back to the page, to the stories that will show us the world as it is, and the world as it might become.

When I think about what it means to be a writer in America today, about ways to create something meaningful in these current conditions, I realize that in the face of such monumental, wrenching change, it falls to the writers and artists to look at the confusing welter of reality and to report back. Our work is to tell the stories of our future survival, even when the shape of the world eludes our grasp.

How impossible. 

I make peace with this by telling myself that it is not my job to succeed only to #persist.


So again this year, like that most persistent man from La Mancha, I will tilt at the great American novel. What I thought I wanted to write before November 8 no longer feels relevant, so I am sifting through the ashes of half-finished projects. I’m working ideas, playing with characters, settings, and stakes. I’m gathering tinder and striking the flint on the rock and watching for sparks.


In the meantime, I have a new flash fiction out. You can read, “An Accounting of the Sky,” in the latest issue of The Colored Lens.


And my review of the Nottingham Review on The Review Review.


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.