Writers of the Future Story Sample: “Twelve Minutes to Vinh Quang”

The Writers of the Future Volume 31 Anthology releases a week from today (May the 4th! Star Wars day! How appropriate!). In that antho, you will find my story, but you will also find stories from a number of extremely talented new writers as well as stories and essays from the likes of Larry Niven, Kevin J Anderson, Rebecca Moesta, and Orson Scott Card.

One of my fellow winners is the talented Tim Napper (or TR Napper, which I think is his preferred nom de plume). Tim writes what he calls “neo noir,” but might also be called cyberpunk. In any event, what he writes is breathlessly cool and edgy near-future scifi set mostly in Australia, Vietnam, and the Pacific region. You will all dig it, I promise. Treat yourself below to a dramatic reading of the first few paragraphs of his award-winning story, “Twelve Minutes to Vinh Quang.”

Book Signing: May 9th at the Barnes and Noble Prudential Center

Can't wait? Why, you can pre-order today!

Can’t wait? Why, you can pre-order today!

I just received word that I’ll be giving my first public book signing on Saturday, May 9th, in the Barnes and Nobel Prudential from 2pm to 4pm. I will be signing copies of the Writers of the Future Volume 31, which is a fabulous collection of short stories by some very talented people…and also myself. I’d love for all of you to come down, enjoy scenic and historic Boston, and then come get your book signed by me, your new favorite author. It’ll be grand!

See you all there!

Seriously, though, you all have to go. I mean it. If you don’t, I might end up sitting there, all alone at a folding table, stacks of books around me, and people will be walking by me and staring and muttering to each other about who that weirdo is and why he keeps trying to make eye contact and “I thought L Ron Hubbard would be older” and it will be super, super awkward. And then, you know, after I’ve been sitting there for an hour or so and the manager of the bookstore has decided I’m some kind of hack, some well-meaning old lady will walk up and ask if I’m lost or something and I’ll only just manage to strong-arm her into buying a book because she’s got a grandson who likes comic books and yes, yes old woman, this is exactly the same thing and your grandson will love it just please for the love of God let me scribble on this book to validate my existence!

So you see there’s a lot at stake here. I’m counting on you all. I’m holding you all personally responsible for my emotional well-being. Hell, if you don’t want me writing on your book, that’s cool – I can just pretend! I won’t take the cap off my pen and you can sit there and nod and pretend like something awesome is happening (even though you obviously will forget my name, face, and species the moment you turn around) and I, meanwhile, will twiddle my un-pen about on some random page and say something gregarious and encouraging and then, collectively, the two of us will turn away from each other and politely decide to delete this from both of our memories forever, as it lessens us both. Not too much to ask, right? Then you can stroll off and browse the food court, which is pretty snazzy by mall-food-court standards, I must say. It’ll be worth the trip.

That is KEVIN J ANDERSON signing my book. Yes, you read that right.

That is KEVIN J ANDERSON and I’m signing his copy of MY STORY. Yes, you read that right.

What if I dress in costume? I could put a fishbowl on my head and pretend to be a spaceman! And elf ears! What I’m saying is that I really need you there, understand? This is my first time doing this in the wild, okay? Last time it was after an awards show where a whole lot of really awesome people came and applauded for me and my fellow winners and some very impressive writers explained how great we were. So, you know, after they did all that, they kinda had to walk around and let us sign their books, right? I mean, it would be rude to do otherwise, not to mention undercutting all the nice things they just said about us and all that clapping they went through. That’s not quite the same thing as me sitting in a Samsonite chair in a mall bookstore on a Saturday afternoon. Nobody owes me crap there. I won’t even be wearing that killer vest.

Anyway, you get the point: May 9th, Barnes and Nobel Prudential Center, 2pm-4pm. Be there, or be a rhombus.

And thanks!

The Power of the Good

Go and read this.

Go and read this.

I’m in the middle of reading The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison. Not quite done with it yet, but I will be soon, and I’d like to talk about it.

It’s a beautiful book for many reasons, but primary among these is that Maia is a beautiful person, and I think we need to pause and appreciate that for a moment. How often is it, these days, that we get to read a story about a main character who is, at their deepest level, a good, kind, wise, and wonderful individual? I can tell you that it isn’t often. Not often enough, anyway. In particular, so much of fantasy is grim, dark, or grimdark. This isn’t even a recent thing, necessarily – Tolkien was pretty dismal himself, as of course was Howard, and that legacy has remained to the present day, more or less. Even in our more heroic tales, fantasy protagonists often find themselves doing cruel things (even if they regret it) or compromising on some keenly held value or other. They’re still good people, ultimately, but they aren’t wonderful people anymore.

Maia, though, is the genuine article. He is kind without effort. He is good without thinking. He is the kind of person we wish more people were like – that we wish we were like. When you watch Maia, unsure of himself and concerned for others, thwart his enemies by simply being nice when they do not expect it, you find yourself smiling from ear-to-ear. A warm feeling fills your guts – here is one of the good ones, and by God may he not be the only one. Not a warrior, certainly, not a talented thief or a clever schemer, no wielder of great magic – just a kind and genuine person. No less a hero, though. No less a leader. No less a person to aspire to be.

Too often we forget the power of a person like this. What wouldn’t you do for them? Who couldn’t love them? We spend our days reading stories about tortured souls and twisted genius, and we kinda forget that sometimes, just sometimes the best person for the job is the one that gives you a hug when you need it. Even writing this makes it sound corny, but I suppose that says something about me and, probably, about all of us. What a pack of cynics we can be.

I’m a sucker for redemption stories, and here Addison gives us one that breaks the mold: Maia is redeemed not because he finds the good in himself, but because everybody else finally notices what has been there the whole time. That payoff is just as immense, let me tell you. You should read it.

For some reason, Maia’s struggle reminds me of this scene in O Brother, Where Art Thou, where Everett and his friends reminisce of what they might do with the treasure they seek. Pete’s story strikes me as particularly poignant each time I see it. Here is a man who is, deep down, a good person, but set upon by circumstance. He has every right to be bitter and angry, but even in his wildest dreams, all he wants is to be respected, to eat well, and to wear a bow tie. He wants to be seen as a man, not a creature – a humble and yet heartfelt goal. Just like Maia’s desire to have something so simple as a friend, the good person’s dreams are no less selfish, on some level, but they possess a kind of purity that is beautiful. I find it so, anyway. Maybe you do, too.

We need more stories like this, I think.

The Solo Paradigm


Upon the advent of the latest Star Wars Trailer, I feel this is apropos.

Originally posted on Auston Habershaw:

Tell me you don't miss him. I dare you. Tell me you don’t miss him. I dare you.

There’s that moment when you’re watching Empire Strikes Back, right near the beginning, when you hear the hum and roar of the Echo Base hangar and watch Han cuss out Chewie for taking something apart he just tried to fix, when you realize: I love these guys. And you do. You want to live with them; you want to sling up a hammock in the Falcon and ride along for their adventures, no matter where they lead, because Han is awesome and Chewie is like the best friend you never had and you want to know what the inside of that ship smells like or how the air on Hoth feels against your cheeks. It is at that moment that, against all reason, the world of Star Wars has you. Your heart is in your throat for the rest…

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Words of Wisdom From the Greats

Pictured (closest to furthest): TR Napper, me, Kary English, Steve Pantazis, Zach Chapman, Daniel J Davis

Pictured (closest to furthest): TR Napper, me, Kary English, Steve Pantazis, Zach Chapman, Daniel J Davis

This past week I have been in LA at the Writers of the Future Workshop. I have heard from a dozen different luminaries in the fields of Scifi/Fantasy all about a wide range of topics. Each and every one of them provided deep and useful advice for furthering my career and the careers of my fellow winners. While I couldn’t possibly recap what I learned entirely, I can provide you with some highlights. Note that most of these statements are paraphrased from my notes, so they aren’t direct quotes. Enjoy!

Dave Farland

On concept:

Every idea for a science fiction or fantasy short story sounds stupid when you explain it to someone. Learn to embrace the stupid. The trick is how to make the stupid idea work.

On setting:

Setting comes first. A sense of transport is key. Character derives from setting, so describe it! Use all the senses! Stick in your POV!

On character:

There are two basic ways to make a character likeable: Put them in pain or show that they care about others. You can also make a character fascinating in addition to/instead of likeable. Fascinating characters have some kind of unique power and ability.

Tim Powers

On minor characters:

I ask myself three questions: when did this character last sleep, when did this character last eat (and what was it), and when did this character last change their clothes. That gives me a lot of information about that character that I can use.

On protagonists:

I think it’s interesting to determine what they are *really* good at but resolved never to do again.

On antagonists:

Your villain never thinks of himself as the bad guy.

On Agents

Getting an agent is like getting married: a good one is going to do wonderful things while a bad one can ruin your life.

Doug Beason

On Hard Scifi ideas:

If you want great story ideas, read phys.org.

On Being Authentic in Hard Scifi:

Get your story verified by a scientist. Stay away from new discoveries in narrow fields – they can change overnight. Limit yourself to 1 impossible idea per story, but you can have plenty of implausible ones.

The Best Way to do Hard Scifi:

Write by combining several fields/discoveries in interesting ways. This will dodge the pack of writers who are all writing about the thing in last month’s issue of Scientific American.

Tom Doherty (!)

On the Challenge modern publishers face:

The Challenge is discovery. The internet is great if you know what you’re looking for. However, with 4000 bookstores going out of business, getting somebody to make an impulse buy on a new book or author they’ve never heard of is much harder.

On what to write to get published:

Write from your heart. Don’t follow trends.

Mike Resnick

Slush pile complaints:

Learn to punctuate. Don’t underline (instead of italics, for instance). No thinly-veiled Star Wars/Star Trek.

On story sales:

Learn to sell internationally. Get an agent with a good foreign desk. Resell your work to reprints.

Robert J Sawyer

Scifi, defined:

Science Fiction is the genre of intriguing juxtapositions.

How do you distinguish yourself?

Try to be both socially relevant and entertaining.

Is it worth it to go to conventions?

The cost of entry into the writing profession is tiny compared to other professions. WorldCon is a networking event. This is a community industry and WorldCon is our annual party.

Orson Scott Card

On writer’s block:

Writer’s block is your unconscious mind telling you that what you just wrote is something you don’t believe in.

On where to start:

If you need a flashback to tell a story, you probably started it in the wrong place.

On character motivations:

No character ever has just one motivation. You need to assign motive or your audience will do it for you.

Nancy Kress

How to think of a story’s structure:

Think in terms of scenes. Have two things going on at the same time; have them come together and solve each other by the end.

On world building:

Start with economics – who has the money? Who has the power? What is a crime in this society? Make it consistent with available technology.

On the payoff:

   Some writers seem to think that leaving the story open and letting the audience decide what happens is a good idea. The thing is, the audience doesn’t want to do that.

Kevin J Anderson and Rebecca Moesta

On Professionalism:

 Be friendly and nice. Don’t engage in politics. Don’t review fellow writers. Don’t whine.

On Editors Guidelines:

  Meet your deadlines. Write according to the guidelines. Obey the word count limits.

On Selling yourself:

Publicity is cheap, advertising is expensive. Get interviews, make connections. Don’t pay for ads.

Eric Flint

On breaking in:

Expect frustration for several years. Editors tend towards established authors for financial reasons. Persevere.

The Deadly Trap:

“You must promote your work.” All promotion costs money or time. Often both. The more you promote, the less you write. Be wary. Write more books.

Short Stories or Novels?

Know your own personality. If you feel more comfortable writing short fiction, write short fiction. If you feel more comfortable writing novels, write novels.

Liza Groen Trombi

On Writing Groups

Find the group where you will be the worst author in the group.

On Self-publishing

Remember: if you self-publish on Amazon, Amazon is your publisher. You will pretty much never be able to renegotiate terms with them, either. Be aware of this.

How to get Reviewed

Send hard-copies to editors 3 months in advance. Don’t bother with book trailers – they are passé.


Well, that’s much of it – though not anywhere near everything. I don’t think I’d be able to relate everything that I learned. I can say this, though: this workshop changes how you think of yourself as a professional, exposes you to the challenges of the marketplace with unflinching honesty, and lets you learn from the best of the best. It has been the most profound professional experience of my life, and I am deeply grateful for it.

I’m Off to LA!

Hello, loyal readers!

(cue theme song to The Great American Hero)

(cue theme song to The Great American Hero)

Just dropping a brief note for you folks here: tomorrow morning, bright and early, I’m off to the City of Angels for the Writers of the Future Workshop and Gala!

What does this mean for me? Well, I’m going to be hob-nobbing with the scifi and fantasy elite and getting an award for being awesome.

What does this mean for you? Well, no blog posts for the next eight days, at least. In the meantime, busy yourself by purchasing Book 2 of the Saga of the Redeemed, BLOOD AND IRON, on pre-order. Also, do it now – it seems that Harper Collins (my publisher) and Amazon are about to get in a bit of a squabble, so best buy while the buyin’ is good!

Anyway, wish me luck! I’m off to meet my destiny!

COVER REVEAL: Iron and Blood, Part 2 of the Saga of the Redeemed

I’ve just gotten the cover art for IRON AND BLOOD, part 2 of the Saga of the Redeemed, to be released on June 2nd.

Check it out:

Sweet, no?

Sweet, no?

Now, no doubt some keen-eyed readers have noted that it says “part I” up there. Yes, yes – very good, Poirot, have a cookie. I assure you that they have fixed that.

Besides, technically this is just the conclusion to THE IRON RING, which kinda, you know, ended in the middle of things (you noticed that, right? Because I’ve been hearing a lot about that, let me tell you.). Anyway, I’ll let the back cover of Book 2 here do the explaining:

Part II of the Saga of the Redeemed picks up right where The Iron Ring left off …

After Tyvian Reldamar gets double-crossed by his business partner, he is affixed with an iron ring that prevents the wearer from any evildoing. Not one to be deterred by this set-back, he quickly puts into motion a plan for revenge—one that will use every dirty trick in the book.

But things are never simple for mastermind Tyvian, especially not after he uncovers a sinister plot: evil wizard Banric Sahand is planning to decimate the city of Freegate. Now Tyvian must learn to work with—and rely on—his motley crew of accomplices including an adolescent pickpocket, an obese secret-monger, a fearsome gnoll, and a Mage Defender…who is also trying to get him arrested. Time is running out for Tyvian’s plan for revenge—while the fate of the city hangs in the balance.

Release day is June 2nd. Preorders are already available. Get excited, people!

Doing Star Wars Right

It should come as no surprise to any of you that I love Star Wars. It has shaped me as much as any other work of art or literature I can name and viewing its films (specifically episodes 4-6) count among my oldest and fondest memories. Which is why I want you to listen very carefully to what I’m about to say to you:

90% of modern Star Wars franchises are no good.

This was a seriously great season finale. So much fun.

This was a seriously great season finale. So much fun.

Yes, yes, yes–there are notable exceptions, and I can’t claim to have read all or even most of them. That said, since Return of the Jedi, though, I have only seen/read a tiny handful that do true and honest justice to the original. Of those, the best I’ve seen is a current Saturday morning cartoon on the Disney Channel called Star Wars Rebels.

What does it do right, exactly? Well, to do that, perhaps it is easiest to explain what I think everything else has done wrong.

Misconception #1: The Star Wars Universe is Inherently Fascinating

Incorrect. Sorry guys, but it just isn’t. One of the errors made by most of the Expanded Universe and by all the prequels is the presumption that we actually care that much about the continuity and complexity of the Star Wars Galaxy. Folks, there really isn’t much there to be fascinated with.

No, I mean it! What’s the one thing that everybody complains about in Episode1? It’s that the primary conflict is over a trade dispute. “Trade Dispute?” we scoff, “how boring is that?” Well, you know why it’s boring? Because we don’t give a crap about the Star Wars Universe. We. Don’t. Care. If we did – if we actually found the Star Wars Universe interesting all by itself – we would be riveted by a tale about a trade dispute. We would be aghast at the predations of the Trade Federation and proud of the noble people of Naboo. However, since we don’t know these people from Adam, we don’t give a shit.

The world of Star Wars has always been one of larger-than-life stories and over-the-top settings that really require no practical explanation. It’s a city in the clouds – that’s all that really matters! The world is just a colorful, exciting backdrop to what happens with the characters, which is really where it’s at. The good Star Wars out there knows this.

In this regard, Star Wars Rebels does a great job – it gives us fun and engaging characters with just enough backstory to make us love them and keep us watching. The world exists only as backdrop, not as main show. You don’t need to know much of anything about Star Wars to enjoy it, and those things it does reference are only relevant to the characters themselves.

This. Always more of this, please.

This. Always more of this, please.

Misconception #2: The Rebellion Against the Empire is So Done.

No, no it is not. Star Wars was made great by telling the story about a team of underdogs who took down a big evil Empire. Every other story that has tried to tell something else has been missing something essential. This is related to misconception #1: we thought the Star Wars universe has other, better stories in it, but it doesn’t, or not really, anyway. It always, always comes down to stormtroopers bearing down on our heroes as they try to find some desperate avenue of escape. The Jedi of the Old Republic? Boring. The Clone Wars? Boring. The New Republic and its flavor-of-the-month villains? Boring!

Every one of those stories is trying to recapture that lightning in the bottle when it was Han and Chewy and Leia and the droids against the whole Imperial Fleet, and it never quite works. Star Wars Rebels simply shows us the rebellion again, except from an earlier point in its history and with a different group of freedom fighters. It works, because it is doing what we originally loved all over again.

Misconception #3: Lightsaber Battles are Inherently Interesting

I sometimes wonder if people who say this actually watched Episode 2 at all. There were about a billion lightsaber duels in that movie and they were all spectacularly dull. The reason? You need context for battles to be interesting. Just fighting some random guy for the heck of it is not interesting. Darth Maul? Who is that guy, anyway, and why do we care that they’re fighting with him? We don’t.

Go back and watch the lightsaber duel between Vader and Luke in Empire. It wholly lacks the kung fu acrobatics of the modern lightsaber fight, but it is twenty times more riveting than any other. Why? Because we desperately care about Luke and we are actively terrified of what Vader has planned. Without that context, we just don’t care.

Again, Star Wars Rebels does this well. We come to care about the characters before they go into deadly duels with the villains (whom we also know and despise).

All this, coupled with solid characters and fun action sequences and broad, larger-than-life storytelling makes Star Wars Rebels my favorite Star Wars franchise in ages, despite the occasionally clunky dialogue and mid-level CGI animation. It’s fun, and that’s what Star Wars is supposed to be: fun and fast and painted in broad strokes.

You know, just like a Saturday morning cartoon.

Interview by the Dorchester Reporter

Hey, folks!

I’m in my local newspaper.

Look! A bunch of real dead and reprocessed trees bears print speaking my name!

Look! A bunch of real dead and reprocessed trees bears print speaking my name!

This is especially cool because it is a newspaper actually printed on paper and stuff. This makes it likely my mother will read it because, to her, it will be a real thing. Everything online is imaginary, you see.

(just kidding, Mom.)

In all seriousness, the interview was great and this is a wonderful piece. Go and check it out!

The Right to Make You Feel Icky

I quote from Nietzsche’s Twilight of the Idols:

Let us finally consider how naïve it is altogether to say: “Man ought to be such and such!” Reality shows us an enchanting wealth of types, the abundance of a lavish play and change of forms – and some wretched loafer of a moralist comments: “No! Man ought to be different.” He even knows what man should be like, this wretched bigot and prig: he paints himself on the wall and comments, “Ecce homo!” But even when the moralist addresses himself only to the single human being and says to him, “You ought to be such and such!” he does not cease to make himself ridiculous.”

Today’s news has brought to my attention two things of which I feel you lot ought to be aware. First, there is Indiana’s terrible, terrible law just passed by the state legislature, known as SB101, which would basically allow establishments to discriminate based off of sexual orientation or religion. Second is this app called CleanReader, which is an app that would censor out naughty words from books.

I’m going to be frank: if neither of those things bother or offend you in any way, it is very unlikely we can be friends. Sorry.

Fortunately, the writing and geek community at large is with me on this one. GenCon is threatening to leave Indiana if SB101 is passed into law, while Joanne Harris and Chuck Wendig have some very pointed words for the creators of CleanReader. As you can imagine, Wendig’s argument is rather…vivid.

But so what, though? So what if Wendig says “fuck” a million times? They are his words and he gets to say them and that, so far as I’m concerned, is the end of the conversation. This extends to Indiana: so what if somebody likes to have sex with their same sex? So what? What, it makes you uncomfortable? Who gives a shit if you’re uncomfortable? You know what? People who sneer at gay people make me uncomfortable, yet you don’t see me parading laws through Congress to make pricks like Jerry Falwell inadmissible to Pizza Hut. If I own a restaurant and some little shit comes in spouting racist bullshit and makes distasteful jokes about gay people to his buddies, he still gets to buy food there. Yeah, he makes me uncomfortable and I don’t like him, but it’s a free country. So long as he does no actual harm (like harasses other patrons) and commits no crimes, he gets to stay.

I try not to wax political on this blog – not my purpose – but some discussion of morality is apropos to my book (The Iron Ring – see sidebar), so I’m going to wax moralistic for a spell.

Bear with me. Nietzsche, I feel, has a good argument (up to a point): Who the hell appointed (insert group here) as supreme arbiters of what is right and wrong? Now, both sides of our political and moral landscape are operating under the assumption that the other is the group inside those parentheses. Liberal secularists think that Christian conservatives are trying to dictate our behavior and vice versa. The thing is, though, that the things each side are trying to control are different. Speaking broadly, liberal secularists wish to make it illegal for people to inflict harm on others in the form of prejudice, discrimination, and mistreatment. Conservative Christians wish to make it illegal for people to act or behave outside the bounds of what they consider to be proper. Yes, there is some variation there – neither side is like that on 100% of the issues – but the characterization, I feel, is generally fair.

Here is the operative difference between those two positions and why, for the most part, I take the side of the liberal secularists: One is defending people against actual harm, and the others are defending themselves against feeling icky. The first category is what I would categorize as legitimately moral and the second I characterize as illegitimate morality. Seeing two dudes making out does you no harm – none, zippo, nada. Letting those two dudes file taxes jointly and letting them inherit each other’s property and letting them adopt children also does no one any harm (seriously – zero evidence to the contrary). So, other than the fact that certain people behave in a way that irritates your virginal sensibilities and contradicts some words you got written down in some book you think is from a god, we aren’t actually talking about anything important. Sure, you can still believe these things (and maybe make me feel uncomfortable about it), but you can’t force everybody else to stop making you feel icky. No.

What you can do, however, is prohibit people from harming others. What constitutes harm? Well, harassment, social discrimination, prejudice, and abuse based upon sex, creed, race, or orientation. Censorship of an author’s work without consent. Curtailment of public discourse. Physical incarceration or financial penalties on the basis of the above. That is not okay. You do not get to make me into a criminal or pariah just because I make you feel icky or uncomfortable. Nobody is saying you have to buy my books, but if you do, you are going to have to read about all the gay sex and profanity I feel is appropriate to the story. Suck it up, cupcakes. You don’t like it, then I guess that’s fine – don’t read my stuff. It’s a free country.

For now, anyway.  


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