Interview and New Story!

Last month I was fortunate enough to get to present at a couple of different Cons–Spec Fic South East in Orlando and Necronomicon in Tampa. While I’ve done a number of presentations at libraries and writing groups around town, this was my first time on programming at a Con. I was surprised by how comfortable I felt, and I had a terrific time. I very much look forward to doing it again!

While I was an Necronomicon, I had the good fortune to be interviewed by G.W. Pomichter for his “Hangin’ With . . .” web series. We talked about short stories in general and my weird corner of genre, and I plugged some of my short stories, most notably “Cupid and Psyche . . . ” We had some good laughs over how ridiculously long that title is. (I do feel like pointing out that I don’t only write short stories. You sell a few shorts and suddenly people think that’s all you do!)

Anyway, you can watch the interview here:

In other news, I sold another story and it was published! Already! My short story, “The Flood” (short title this time!) is in the November issue of Grantville Gazette. I thought each issue was free-to-read the month when it came out, but alas, that’s no longer the case. If you’re a subscriber, you can read it here; if you want to buy the individual issue, the cheapest place to do so appears to be here.

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New story: Cupid and Psyche at the Caffé Sol y Mar

My flash story “Cupid and Psyche at the Caffé Sol y Mar” is up at Fireside Fiction today!

It was inspired by thinking about the myth of Cupid and Psyche, which forms the basis of many children’s stories told, often to little girls, to exemplify a beautiful fairy-tale romance. (In fact, you can see echoes of it in many Disney-esque stories, including Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, and The Little Mermaid.) Except if you really think about it, it’s a horrible example of a romantic relationship. Psyche doesn’t really get a say in marrying Cupid, she is held to unreasonable rules in his palace, and then she is forced to carry out horrifying tasks when she fails to follow those rules–but at no point does Cupid really have to prove himself worthy of her.

So I set about imagining what an immortal Psyche would have to say about her treatment, thousands of years later, if she developed into a modern woman. This story is what resulted. If that sounds interesting to you, read it here!

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New Pub Plus Half-Year In Review

Cover image for "Message from Beyond"I’ve had two more sales since the last time I updated, and one of them came out yesterday! “Message from Beyond” is a bit less heavy than a lot of my stories, more of a funnish ghost story, so if that sounds like your sort of thing, go check it out!

This is my first time selling again to a market I’ve previously sold to, which is a cool kind of landmark.

So I’ve got six sales now, five of them at professional rates. I’ve also got three sales so far in 2015, which makes this my most successful year to date by most measures. Beyond that, though, it feels like in the last month or two I’ve started to get a handle on what I’m doing.

When I’ve written a salable story before, luck has been a large element, because I’m trying to figure this process out as I go. For most of my writing life, I have found writing very difficult. I’ll sit for hours some times to produce very small wordcounts, and only occasionally have productive bursts. It hasn’t kept me from writing because on some level I’ve never felt like I had a choice.Writing is cathartic for me, and having written is immensely satisfying. I write not because it’s fun, but because I have things I desperately need to get out, and this is my way.

Recently, though, I feel like I’ve figured out what my process is. I can consistently sit down to write and churn out words, and what’s more, I actually pretty much like them—or when I don’t, I have confidence in my revision process, that I’ll be able to polish them into something I will like. (Of course, as soon as I feel like I’ve leveled up, I always seem to try to stretch in some new direction, so I can feel lost again.)

It’s a very exciting time for me–and a very frustrating time, because any stories I write right now will take weeks if not months to shop around, and then further weeks or months to see publication, so I’m in a position where I feel like I’ve hit a new threshold, but there is no evidence of this that I can point to.

So, hey! Watch this space!

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New story out!

My short story, “Weight of the World,” has just gone live at Fantastic Stories of the Imagination. And let me say I adore the artwork they attached to the story!

I can’t wait to read my TOC-mates in this issue! 🙂

Anyway, I hope you’ll give it a read, and if you do check it out, I hope you like it!

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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 trans woman 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.

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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!

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“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!

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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. 😉

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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!


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.

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“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!




* 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