Some great short spec fic of the last year or so

Back in 2012 I put together a year-end list of some of my favorite short speculative fiction of the year. I didn’t bother doing this in 2013, because I didn’t feel like I’d done nearly as good a job of keeping up with the field, but then some of my friends expressed disappointment, and told me they’d actually taken my recommendations to heart and tried out some stories they would not otherwise have known about. So even though I once again have only read a very small sampling of what’s out there, I figured I’d share some of the stories that had a big impact on me in the last year or so.

So once again, in no particular order*:

  • Sarah’s Child, by Susan Jane Bigelow
    I love stories that explore our understanding of gender. This story features a transwoman named Sarah who dreams of a biologically impossible son, Sheldon, only to discover that Sheldon is the real son of an alternate universe version of Sarah, a cis woman named June. I found this one of the most powerful stories I read this year.
  • 57 Reasons for the Slate Quarry Suicides, by Sam J. Miller
    If you follow short spec fic at all, then you’ve already heard of this story. It won the Shirley Jackson Award and had all kinds of buzz, which is the only reason I stumbled across it, because I usually stay away from horror. (I see now that this was actually published in 2013, but I didn’t read it until 2014, so, whatever.) This is a great exploration of bullying and revenge, with teenage characters. This is at its heart like the best of YA, like the kind of YA that draws me to the genre. In short fiction, things don’t tend to get labeled YA, because there isn’t really a YA short fiction scene, but this story reminds me of books like 13 Reasons Why, only with a speculative bent that makes it the perfect marriage of the two literary traditions I love.
  • Selfie, by Sandra McDonald
    This was such a sad and powerful story of . . . well, I won’t spoil it for you! Let me just say it was a nice bit of Matrix-style mind-screwing with a powerful story about grief and regret.
  • 21 Steps to Enlightenment (Minus One), by LaShawn M. Wanak
    Magic realism with a touch of the absurd. Many people get spiral staircases magically appearing in their lives at moments when they need enlightenment. Sometimes the enlightenment achieved is profound, sometimes it is banal. Sometimes the realization is that some people need to find enlightenment all on their own.
  • 31-E, by M. Elizabeth Castle
    This is the shortest story on this list–it won’t take you but five minutes to read it. So go check it out so you can be astonished at how much punch can be packed into a tiny bit of story.
  • Five Stages of Grief After the Alien Invasion, by Caroline Yoachim
    I’m less about spec-fic as the “literature of ideas,” and more into stories that take me on an emotional journey, in case it’s not obvious by now. This story focuses on some of the individual lives disrupted after an alien species, mistakenly believing Earth to be uninhabited, attempt to “terraform” Earth.
  • The Great Detective, by Sarah Brooks
    This is one of those stories where a young person sees an elderly relative’s supernatural claim as being silly, until realizing their elderly relative understood much more about life than the protagonist ever realized. It’s a narrative I’ve seen before, but it works just the same. If you’ve got a Grandma whose wisdom you miss, this story will make you feel all warm inside.
  • What Glistens Back, by Sunny Moraine
    This story hooked me instantly with what I saw as a very obvious (not in a bad way) question: what if you only had seconds to live? How would you face your goodbyes? Your regrets? Your life’s work?
  • Lines on a Pamphlet Found Near the Museum, by Siobham Carroll
    This is the trippiest of these stories. It’s not as emotional a story as I usually like, but this teased the other side of my personality, the math teacher in me. This was a Möbius strip of a narrative, where it’s hard to be sure what’s real or what’s possible. Imagine Night at the Museum if it were actually an intelligent story, and not a stupid Ben Stiller vehicle.
  • Never the Same, by Polenth Blake
    This story is told from the perspective of a psychopath, who has rules and checklists for approaching behavior others will find acceptable, but we quickly learn that the narrator is the trustworthy one, and that the characters this colony world respects are not necessarily good. On top of an exploration of morality and conformity, this story explores gender as well, with a protagonist that identifies as neither male nor female.
  • Palm Strike’s Last Case, by Charlie Jane Anders
    To the best of my knowledge, you can’t read this one for free. It’s in the July/August issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine. You can buy this issue for the Kindle–a subscription is actually quite cheap–and you *may* be able to find this story in the free Digest edition that includes some of the stories. This story features a Batman-style vigilante who leaves Earth for a new start on a colony world, only to awaken from cold sleep twenty years too late, after the colony is on the brink of starvation and suffering from a drug crime problem. This was an interesting mashup of a comic book style story with a more straightforward skiffy story about the scientist with a problem to solve. What made it appeal to me was the emotional throughline of father-child relationships: Palm Strike is a father who has lost his son, and on the colony world he befriends a girl who has lost her father. That really gave this story the extra dimension that made it powerful for me.

And I’ll throw in a shout out for another of my favorites from 2013, since I never did a recap last year:

So anyway, I could actually keep going, but this is getting too long already. I hope you find a few gems you didn’t know about in this recap. If nothing else, I did enjoy looking back and remembering some of my favorite short reads.

* I apologize in advance for any inaccuracies in my recaps. They’re all from memory, and so hopefully I’m not doing these stories any grave injustices.

Posted in link soup, lists | Leave a comment

Attack of the Pod People!

The good folks over at the Skiffy and Fanty Show were misguided enough to think I was worth interviewing, so we talked at length about writing, cultures, literature, and the immigrant experience. Give it a listen!

The Itchy and Scratchy . . . *ahem*

Click on the image to go to the podcast!

Posted in artist's life, blargety-blog, the latino thing, this I believe, writing | Leave a comment

“Why Flash?” Live on Penumbra Magazine Blog

I’ve got a blog post live on Penumbra Magazine’s blog today, not about the joys of trenchcoat-wearing, alas, but about reasons to write and read flash fiction: Why Flash?

Check it out!

Posted in uncategorized | Leave a comment

New story out today!

Loooooook into my eeeeeeeeeyyyees . . . I have a story in the new issue of Penumbra, just out today. It’s called “Extra Innings,” and it’s a tiny little sucker-punch of emotion, if I’m allowed to say so myself. I’m so pleased it’s found a good home here.

I haven’t read the other stories in this issue yet, but I look forward to finding some new favorites among them. If you feel like giving this issue a buy and reading my story, I’ll be most flattered. If you tell me about it, I’ll love you forever. ;)

Posted in writing | Leave a comment

That “Ten Books” Meme

W. S. Long challenged me on Facebook to list ten books that have “stayed with me in some way.” I’m a sucker for memes about reading and writing, so I was definitely game to play. Then it occurred to me that this post would really go better here, where I might possibly point some people in the direction of fantastic books they’d not yet read. So here goes (in no particular order):

American Gods by Neil Gaiman
Up the Down Staircase by Bel Kaufman
Mama Day by Gloria Naylor
The Lord of the Rings series–yeah, I’ll just throw all of them in as one
Ask the Passengers by A. S. King (Though I could just as easily throw Please Ignore Vera Dietz in instead)
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Speaker for the Dead, Ender’s Game, and Red Prophet by Orson Scott Card
Ordinary People by Judith Guest
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub

I’ll tag people on Facebook, but if you feel like playing along, feel free to make your own list and ping me, either here or on Facebook or Twitter!

-o-

Aside: I’m conflicted about the fact that there aren’t any books by Latinos on that list. There are books I’ve read by Latinos that I was tempted to put on there, but it would have felt dishonest, because they were not among the top ten (or so) that had the biggest effect on me (that I could think of at this moment). There also aren’t, to the best of my knowledge, books by any sexual minorities on my list. It is what it is, but maybe this list tells me that I need to cast my net wider when looking for reading material.

Posted in bookish life | Leave a comment

“My Writing Process” Blog Hop

YA writer and dear friend Marlana Antifit tagged me on the writing process blog hop that’s been going around, for which I’m so grateful—I genuinely love being tagged in things like this, and yet I seem somehow to be overlooked by a lot of my IRL writer friends, so thanks for thinking of me! Marlana writes cool YA and MG stories of all stripes, including a science fiction novel which was just breathtaking in scope. Her current project, a contemporary YA, sounds topical and from the heart and I can’t wait to read it! If you jumped over here from her blog, thanks for visiting! If you landed here some other way, then check out Marlana’s blog and/or follow her on twitter!

So the way this blog hop works is tagged authors answer four questions about their writing process, and then tag one or more authors themselves. Here goes!

1) What are you working on?

I’m not good at multitasking (who is?) and yet that’s what I seem to be doing right now. On the front burner, I’m working on a short story for Quarter Three of the Writers of the Future competition, due by the end of June. The story that my muse gifted me with is science fiction, and my writing muscles are much more at home with magic realism and maybe fantasy, so this story is kicking my butt every night.

What I probably should be more focused on is revisions on my novel manuscript, Goodbye My Exile. Revisions have been a bit of a slog, but if this book gets rejected, I really need to be able to say to myself that it was the best I could make it, that I gave it my all. GME explores themes that are near and dear to my heart about growing up in the Venn-Diagram-overlap between two cultures, and sometimes feeling like each one is looking at you with suspicion and questioning your credentials. I really want this book to find a home.

2) How does your work differ from others of its genre?

GME is basically a YA contemporary, but my reading roots go deep into fantasy and science fiction, and so, as with much of my fiction, there is a healthy undercurrent of magic realism. My protagonist believes that she is in contact with her deceased father, and that he’s guiding her in certain directions, and ultimately she needs to decide how much overlap there is between pleasing her vision of her father and being true to herself. Whether she really is hearing from her father or not is largely left up to the reader to decide.

Also GME is different because of its focus on characters of color, in a genre where a shameful lack of diversity is quite well documented.

3) Why do you write what you do?

Such a deceptively simple question, but there’s a lot to unpack in it.

I write young adult books about teenagers experiencing and thriving through emotional upheaval because at a time in my life when I was in a great deal of pain and didn’t know how to reach out to anybody or how to get help, I stumbled across Judith Guest’s Ordinary People. This novel was the right emotional experience at the right time for me, and I sincerely believe it saved my life. Since then I’ve read other stories that have brought me to tears, or made me feel not alone, or made me want to be a better person. If I could do that for somebody else . . . well I can’t think of anything at all better than that.

I write magic realism because stories rooted in the real world speak to me more than purely fantasy and science fiction stories do, but I really want to believe in a world where there is more somewhere, just hiding beneath the surface. It’s a big, barely explored world, and those hidden mysteries are where all the fun and magic lie.

I write about latin@ characters, and about other minority characters, because I was shocked a few years ago to discover that virtually all my stories were about Anglos. Wondering why I didn’t write more about my experience, I set to looking at, well, damn near everything I’d ever read, and with a few notable exceptions, white people—and primarily white men—were the protagonists of most of the books life had thrown my way. And I realized that somewhere along the line, without really thinking about it, I’d internalized the notion that “protagonist” meant a lot of things, but that included among them were “white,” “male,” “straight,” “cissexual,” and “Anglo.” And it’s kind of messed up when a Latino kid internalizes the idea that heroes are not people like him, so I began to deliberately change that in my own writing. I do occasionally write about majority characters, but I’ve worked to question whether it should be the default in a story. I want young people who read my books and stories to see more than one kind of hero.

4) How does your writing process work?

Wow—this blog post was already too long before I even got to the meat of the question!

My writing process on GME was different from my writing process on other novels, so this isn’t so much My Writing Process as it is My Writing Process on This One Book. Like most writers, I wrote a ton of half-finished (or less) novel manuscripts before I finally completed one. What made the difference for me on that first, mercifully forgotten trunk novel, was it was the first one I plotted, instead of writing by the seat of the pants. So in the age-old war (it seems) between the plotters and the pantsers, I am a confirmed plotter. With this novel, though, I struggled to “see” the whole story. Plotting and outlining stories, rather than the actual nitty gritty of writing, are usually the most fun for me—usually the only part of writing that’s actually fun for me—but for the first time, I felt like I was suffering from writers’ block on the outline itself. I had some major plot points I knew I wanted to get to at particular points in the book, but trying to get all the plot points down was bogging me down and I felt like I was losing my enthusiasm for the project. So what I ended up doing was plotting out the first quarter of the book in detail, then writing that portion of the draft, then plotting out the second quarter, then writing it, and so on all the way through.

On a less macro level, I believe I experience an undiagnosed case of ADD. I find it very difficult to complete large tasks without, like, stepping stones along the way. When I grade a stack of papers, I put bookmarks at halfway through the stack, three quarters of the way, 7/8ths of the way, and so on, so I can keep my motivation by feeling like I’m getting closer to the end. When I draft, I am fairly crippled by a blank screen or page. So with this novel, I discovered/invented/whatever what I call a “zero draft” process. For each scene, I wrote a very bare bones draft that told what happened, along with my protagonist’s emotional and physical reactions to whatever happened, but had no pretty writing, no voice, just the facts, ma’am. I’ll show you an example within spoiler tags, so if you want to move on you can easily ignore it.

Here is my favorite scene from the book. In it, my protagonist, Alejandra Espinosa, sees a drowning man in the water while on a boating trip. But she’s got some, ah, credibility issues, and so nobody believes her

Spoiler SelectShow

Here is the zero draft of the same scene—the version I wrote before I wrote the above:

Spoiler SelectShow

It’s a lot shorter and more sparse, but the main thing is that’s the most effective way I have of doing that shutting-up-the-internal-critic thing that everybody seems to talk about. And boiled down to the bare bones of the scene, it allows me to check on something I’ve come to think is important for effective prose: a string of stimulus and response pulling you through the events of the scene. This is what Trey Parker and Matt Stone were talking about in that writing video that went viral a few years ago*—”therefore” and “but” are what pull you through a scene, not “and then.” (Or at least, this is my attempt to put it into practice, such as it is.)

So anyway, that’s way more than anybody really wants to know about my writing process—those four questions could easily have been four blog posts!—so I’ll move on to the next part of this blog hop and tag some people who are way cooler and more accomplished than I am, so you can see how they do it!

Up Next

The face of someone who's too clever for his own good . . . Michael R. Underwood is the author of the Ree Reyes series (GEEKOMANCY, CELEBROMANCY, ATTACK THE GEEK), superhero fantasy SHIELD AND CROCUS, and forthcoming THE YOUNGER GODS. By day, he’s the North American Sales & Marketing Manager for Angry Robot Books. Mike grew up devouring stories in all forms, from comics to video games, tabletop RPGs, movies, and books. Always books.

Mike lives in Baltimore with his fiance, an ever-growing library, and a super-team of dinosaur figurines & stuffed animals. In his rapidly-vanishing free time, he studies historical martial arts and makes pizzas from scratch. He is a co-host on the Hugo-nominated Skiffy and Fanty Show.

Visit his website here!

One of these has plans for world domination. One of these is a writer. BUT WHICH IS WHICH???Erica L. Satifka is a writer of short speculative fiction who has over a dozen short fiction sales to prestigious markets including Clarkesworld Magazine, Daily Science Fiction, and PodCastle. She also runs a very reasonably priced editing service.

Visit her website here!

Don't ask what he wears under the kilt. Just . . . don't.John A. Pitts is an agent sibling of mine and the author of the outstanding Sarah Beauhall series of urban fantasy novels: BLACK BLADE BLUES, HONEYED WORDS, and FORGED IN FIRE. He is also author of the short story collection BRAVADO’S HOUSE OF BLUES.

Pitts is a graduate of the Oregon Coast Writers Workshops with Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith. When he’s not writing, you can find him practicing martial arts with his children or spending time with his lovely wife.

Visit his website here!

 

 

-o-

* The real gold in this video, for my money, comes about four minutes in.

Posted in artist's life, bookish life, close to home, rants, storytelling, teen issues, the latino thing, writing | 6 Comments

Why I won’t read your blog post

. . . because I do much if not most of my surfing on my phone, and when I click on your link, this is what I see:

TumblrYeah, no. I shouldn’t need to download an app to read your content.

Posted in first world problems, tech geek | Leave a comment

My first vlog!

The last week of school before finals, Lucienne Diver and Amy Christine Parker came out to Lisa’s school to talk to her students about all things authorial, and I got to hang out, help out, and just enjoy the company of other writers!

During a break in the action, Amy and Lucienne filmed an episode of the group vlog they participate in, the YA Rebels. We talked about what young people are looking for in books, as well as writing to trends. Check it out!

 

I pretty much cringe when I’m forced to look at a picture of myself, and that was tripled for seeing myself in video—How fat do I look? How monotonous is my voice? How many chins do I have? Did I say anything totally stupid? How huge is my bald spot?!—but I saw nothing I couldn’t live with here. ;)

I will also be in an upcoming episode of the Skiffy and Fanty show—unless they’ve decided to throw my interview away and stick to more articulate guests with more interesting stuff to talk about!—but this one went up first, and so I get to check “be a guest on a webshow” off on my Author Bingo card!

Posted in blargety-blog, writing | Leave a comment

To be fair, I WAS warned

Aaaaaaand we’re back!

If you’re wondering why this site went four months without a post, it’s not (only) because I’m lazy and a terrible blogger. It’s been broken from the back end and I haven’t had the time or inclination to wade through figuring out how to fix it.

Near as I can figure, this disruption was caused by BlueHost’s upgrading from PHP5.2 to PHP5.4 back in December. Around then, while the site remained readable and visitable, I stopped being able to add posts, edit posts, update WordPress, or anything. And to be perfectly fair to BlueHost, they did warn me that the update was coming and that it might disrupt some parts of my installation:

Should you experience any issues as a result of this transition, please contact a web developer or the developer of the errant software for assistance.

Um . . . okay. I’ve got web developers on speed-dial, dontcha know.

Then today I got it into my head to re-install WordPress en toto, which I’d been kicking around as a possible solution but afraid to try for fear of losing all my existing data. But I convinced myself that losing all my posts was no big deal because at this point the blog was dead anyway . . . So I installed from the BlueHost control panel, and that’s exactly what happened–I lost everything.  Once that happened, I felt an almost-visceral pain from the loss, and I realized those old posts were more valuable to me than I had realized.

That’s when I discovered that the backup plugin I’d been using was worthless.

Luckily, BlueHost had a backup option of its own, and it did work. By now I felt committed to fixing this problem today, though, so I went ahead and figured out which specific files to replace while leaving others alone. And Voila! Here we are. This will never be a blog I update daily or anything like that, but at least now I can update it from time to time.

Posted in tech geek | 1 Comment

Published at Last!

Christmas morning ain’t got nothing on the day I’ve had today. Within the last 24 hours, my first and my second fiction sales have gone live.

First came “Cabrón,” in Stupefying Stories‘s second annual horror anthology, Two. (Amazon link) (Barnes and Noble link)

Check out this amazing cover!

Cover Image for TWOIt will forever amuse me that this science fiction/fantasy/young adult/middle grade writer’s debut sale will go down as a horror story.

Anyway, the story I have in this anthology is a YA horror story, if that’s your thing. You can download a bunch of stories from some great writers–and also my story–for just four bucks!

Here’s what editor Bruce Bethke had to say about my story in the introduction:

“Do I rave about José Iriarte’s stunning debut, ‘Cabrón,’ and tell you to keep you eye on him because he’s going to be a writer to watch?”

And okay, he’s the editor, so he’s supposed to tell you the book is full of awesome stories, and okay, technically he never actually answers that question SHUT UP! IT’S STILL PRETTY AWESOME!

Ahem . . .

So I’m not gonna lie and say that my eyes didn’t fill with tears when I downloaded the anthology and cracked it open. Most writers either give up or succeed by now . . . it’s been close to thirty years since I got my first rejection, and I finally feel like I’ve figured out how to write salable fiction. For better or for worse, I’ve crossed a line: I’m a published author. There is so much more I want to accomplish as a writer, but this is something nobody can take away from me. Yesterday I was an unpublished aspiring writer, and today I’m an author. My friends outside of writing really can’t get how big that is to me, but most of my writer friends will know.

BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE!!!

Less than twelve hours after my debut publication, my SECOND fiction publication went live. You can read my first SFWA-pro fiction sale, “Yuca and Dominoes,” at Strange Horizons Magazine here. And holy crap, I even have a podcast of my story! If horror isn’t your thing (don’t worry–it’s not mine either!) this piece is a bit more understated. It’s magic realism, and about the most carefully crafted thing I’ve ever written. And ohmygod, did I mention there was a PODCAST?! I can’t do justice to the experience of hearing my words read back to me in a professional recording. Anaea Lay’s rendition of drunk Carmencita Peña is worth the download all by itself!

So, yeah . . . I’ve been thinking about what to compare the day I’ve had to, and the closest analogy I can think of is Christmas morning to an eight-year-old. Honestly, I don’t know that I ever had a Christmas as awesome as today was!

Posted in artist's life, blargety-blog, writing | 1 Comment