Today you can read my latest story with Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Out of the Woods. Or, and for once I am keeping track of this appropriately, you can listen to the podcast of the same story, narrated by Folly Blaine.
This is my post-Robin Hood story that is informed by growing up with Astrid Lindgren’s Ronia the Robber’s Daughter. Go, read, enjoy!
My essay How Far Are We From Minneapolis? is live at Reckoning. This is very personal for me, talking about nature and disability. I hope you enjoy it.
I was also interviewed by another Reckoning author, Johannes Punkt, about this piece. The interview went live today, and you can read it here.
I have a story out in the Jan/Feb issue of Analog, my first short story of the year. It’s called “Drifting Like Leaves, Falling Like Acorns,” and it’s got companion frogs and genetically engineered flying squirrel people and much weirder stuff than I’ve had in Analog before.
Also it goes with “Uncle Flower’s Homecoming Waltz” and “The Ministry of Changes” and “Surfacing” and “The Dust Gate” and “The Salt Path,” all of those. The folder with those stories in it is called “postnuclear fantasy,” but that’s not really specific enough that other people will know which ones I mean. Anyone who has read them and has suggestions for a series title, setting title, group title, whatever, please comment or email me. I’d appreciate any help I could get on that front.
I have seen years before, and this was one. Yep.
I wrote seventeen stories this year. No complete novels but serious revisions on an earlier novel and serious progress toward the next one. My new agent (Kurestin Armada) and I found each other in January, and I have learned a lot about doing revisions from working with her–it’s shaping the new things I write, making them better pre-revision.
I’ve already sold nine of the seventeen stories; one of the unsold ones I just finished writing two days ago. I sold a total of thirteen stories this year, so one thing that I don’t notice when I’m in the middle of it is that my work is selling faster than it used to. Nor is this because editors are universally faster than they used to be, because several major publications have been quite slow this year. In any case, last year at the end of the year I had nothing in the “coming soon!” category, and this year is quite the opposite. Much of what I sold has not yet seen the light of day, which means there’s a great deal to look forward to in 2017.
I did two writing retreats, which were really great for me, both enjoyable and productive. That’s something new this year that I hope to continue whenever possible. I also did the big trip to Finland and Sweden, and the effects of that are still making themselves felt in the stories I’m writing–and not always in the ways I would have predicted, which is perfect, which is just what travel is supposed to do. I expected to get a lot of science fiction out of the trip, and I got a bit, but even more has been fantasy. Brains! Can’t beat ’em, might as well join ’em.
Here’s what did come out, in case you missed it:
The Dust Gate, The Sockdolager!, Fall 2016.
The Most Important Thing, Nature Futures, 20 October 2016.
Upside the Head, Science Fiction By Scientists, December 2016.
How Far Are We From Minneapolis? (essay), Reckoning Issue 1, winter Solstice 2016.
Some years I take a notion, and this is one of them.
I like the idea of giving fiction as a present, but I’m not embedded enough in the fanfiction community–or, let us be honest, committed or organized enough–to commit to doing Yuletide. Instead, some years I decide it’s time to give a story away for free for Christmas, to whoever wants to read it. Please don’t copy the text, but spread the link far and wide if you want to. This year Mikulas left Teddy Roosevelt in your shoe. Or rather–
The Elf WHo Thought He Was Teddy Roosevelt
And another new story available for you to read: The Sockdolager has published The Dust Gate. I really should come up with a name for the sequence of stories this is part of–they’ve been in Tor.com, Apex, Lightspeed. Soon Analog. Anyway, hope you enjoy!
I have a new story out in Nature, and you can go read it: The Most Important Thing. I also did a guest blog post for their blog, about how I wrote it, why, what for: here. It doesn’t actually pertain to Arlo Guthrie performing the pic. I just went on a minor autopilot for that part.
Today I sold my third short story this week. I also had a revision request from an editor I work well with and have done revisions with in the past; while a sale is never guaranteed in those circumstances, it’s certainly better than a rejection. Two of the stories I’ve sold, I wrote this summer; the third I co-wrote with Alec Austin in early 2013. I mentioned this on social media, and my kind friends are congratulating me. That’s really nice of them, and I do feel proud of the work I’m doing.
Here’s the thing: before this month, the last time I sold a story was April. And before that January. One of the most important things that would-be writers should know is that this business is completely sporadic–but even people who know that can I think have difficulty with the phenomenon of comparing other people’s highlight reels to their own uncut footage. This week I am the superstar who sold three stories in a week. Last week I was in a drought lasting a third of a year. Same writer, same writing.
So you hear wry quotes about how intermittent reinforcement drives lab rats crazy. I have a solution to that. Do not let sales be your main positive reinforcement. Don’t get me wrong–selling stories is great. If I didn’t want to sell stories, I would write them and throw them in a drawer; it’s not like attaching files to emails and web forms and keeping track of who has seen what is deeply entertaining. But if I was relying on sales to be the reason I love this work, I would be miserable.
The work is the work. The work is its own reward. And if you’re finding that the creative work you’re doing is not its own reward–whether you’re a person who likes to write or likes to have written–then it may be time to assess what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. You cannot sell something every day, or even every week–even the most prolific writer just does not have that consistency of response. (Or probably that many markets, unless they’re writing a huge variety as well as a huge amount of fiction.) The editor who is going to love this particular piece might be on vacation this week. They might have a family emergency. They might, God forbid, have left the magazine. Or there might not even be an editor working yet who will like this particular piece–you might have to keep sending it around and being patient.
Look: a friend with a geology degree posted to Facebook a meme claiming that a career in geology sounds so much cooler if you talk about it like a six-year-old. It’s true. But: there is approximately no way to talk about my work and sound any older than that. “I make up stories about magic and the future and different worlds.” How cool is that.
So yes, we get happy about sales. We celebrate the sales. But it’s far easier to avoid getting anxious and wrung out if the main enjoyment is in making the thing you wanted to make. People are saying things to me like, “You’re on a roll!” And in fact I am. But not just for the reasons they’re thinking. I’m on a roll doing the things that will make another week like this next month or next year. Doing the things that will sit for weeks, months, without any thought of being published. It’s a good writing time for me. It’s really nice that it’s a good sale time, too. But if I attached too much to that, it would interfere with the good writing time. And we can’t have that.
A lot of work stuff going on here. Some of it is in the category of “secret projects, cannot discuss.” Some of it has just departed from that category! So! I will tell you now!
1) I have signed the final paperwork and can now say that I am very pleased to have my long-form work represented by Kurestin Armada of PS Literary. If you have a fabulous book deal you have been waiting to fling at me and were not sure where to fling that offer, the answer is: Kurestin Armada, PS Literary. More seriously, I am looking forward to working with Kurestin. It really feels like the right fit for both of us.
(Kids, don’t ever let anyone make you feel like this goes only one direction. You and your agent are choosing each other, not just them choosing you.)
2) I sold “Drifting Like Leaves, Falling Like Acorns” to Analog. This is a story in the same mosaic as several previous stories, and it is the weirdest thing I have ever sold to Analog. Trevor seems to agree, calling it an “odd duck”–yep–quack!–but when they say “odd duck” in an acceptance letter, you say “thank you!” See, we can all do our part in keeping science fiction weird.
3) Strange Horizons did a reader poll for 2015, and my story It Brought Us All Together came in fourth. I’m not sure why I included the link there, since apparently enough of you liked it to vote it fourth out of all the year’s stories! Thanks, readers! Mycogeneticist origin stories are more popular than I ever knew, which is great, because I’m writing another, completely different one. And then the two mycogeneticists can get together and fight crime…er, actually just fungal plagues…but I get ahead of myself.
I do that a lot.
I want a 4) and a 5) in honor of the late great Rise/wilfulcait (for those of you who are late to this party, she was the source of “five things make a post,” breast cancer stole my friend away years and years ago now, and I still think of her whenever I do a post like that), but I don’t think I have two more bits of thematic news. Ah well. She would understand.
Today I’ve got an interview with Lawrence Schoen, author of Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard (not to mention tons of short stories over the years). If you missed my review post, it’s over here.
Interview with Lawrence M. Schoen
Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard features dozens of anthropomorphic species. Was there any species you wanted to fit in but just couldn’t?
The original draft of the novel had the protagonist visiting several worlds of the Alliance, and along the way he met representatives from a number of additional races. Some of these were lost (not from the galaxy, just from the portion we see of it) when the action was scaled back to take place just on one planet and a space station.
It’s strongly implied that all of the races in the Alliance are mammalian, and while it’s impossible to “prove a negative,” I can tell you that the reason we haven’t seen any primates is because there aren’t any, which is a point I hope to come back to in a future book.
In my notes, I have references to Cats and Foxes and Sheep and at least a dozen more. Some will surely show up in future stories. I am sorry that I couldn’t work in a Tapir. That would have been fun. [Me: and popular in my house!]
Have you always been interested in elephants? If not, what sparked the central race of this book?
I’ve always liked elephants. They’re unlike any other land animal, so much so that the two species that we have get lumped together because while they differ from one another in some pretty significant ways, they’re still more similar than either is to anything else.
And the more you discover about them, the more fascinating they become. When I learned that they had infrasonics I squealed with delight! And did you know that some historians believe the Greek myth of the cyclops, that one-eyed giant, has its basis in encountering an elephant skull? What’s not to like?
The social structure of the female Fants didn’t get much time in Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard. Any plans to return to them?
That social structure is hinted at, both in the mainstream when Jorl visits his sister (and communal home made up of mothers, aunts, sisters, female cousins, and children of both sexes) and in terms of outliers when we glimpse how Tolta lives, but yes, we’ve seen little thus far. That’s an unfortunate function of running with a male protagonist in society where the men and women have rather limited access to the lives and lifestyles of the other side.
That said, there are proposals for two sequels sitting on my editor’s desk. If I get to write them, I have plans to show much more of Barsk culture from its women’s perspective. And too, we’ll see some more glimpses of other races and their societies, both overall and from the differing perspectives of the male and female characters inhabiting them.
There’s so much to write. I worry that I’ll have time and opportunity to tell it all.
The linguistics were buried pretty deep here, and I know that’s where your training is. Is that where you started? or could you just not resist figuring out the linguistic aspects of this universe?
One of the things that pisses me off in a lot of science fiction where we’re encountering non-humans is the way that language is handled, or rather not handled. If we’re able to understand the aliens (or in the case of Barsk, the raised mammals that make up the many different races of the Alliance), then there damn well better be an explanation, and if you hold up a universal translator, attempt to shove a babel fish in my ear, or try to sell me some other bit of hand-wavium, I’m going to be very, very unhappy.
It’s not much of a spoiler to say that the Fant are raised mammals who are descended from elephants (both African and Asian) on Earth tens of thousands of years in the past. And yet, it’s pretty clear they’re speaking English. Not just English, but English with slang and colloquialisms. (I had to fight with my editor to keep the word “ginormous” in the book).
Any solution that I came up with not only had to make sense — not just in terms of the plot, but also linguistically — but it had to serve the story, and not simply my need as the author. Or more simply, it had to make sense in the context of everything else we learn as the book unfolds. I think I managed all of that pretty well, and I’m looking forward to the response from the more language savvy members of my readership.
And one other fun bit, that I did because I’m me and I could, as part of the world building I invented a writing system for the Fant. To my delight, my publisher even used some of it in the book.
While we’ve seen something of a renaissance in space opera in the last decade or so, it’s been awhile since I’ve read a book that dared to go *this* far into the future. What were some of the challenges of ultra-far-future SF compared to something closer to our own backyards?
Unlike a lot of SF writers, I don’t tend to worry too much about the “hard science” details. In part this is because my doctorate is in cognitive psychology, not physics or chemistry or biology, but it’s also because my protagonist doesn’t have training in those fields either. As such, he’s not going to be distracted by how a spacecraft gets him from place to place, no more than you or I need to know the workings of an internal combustion engine in order to drive a car to the grocery store.
That freed me up a lot. We see things that imply a level of technology that’s superior to our own — a galaxy-spanning Alliance, interstellar ships, space stations — but they’re all taken for granted, yesterday’s news. The story here isn’t about how different or similar their science and engineering is to our own, rather all the technology is there mainly as props and cues that this is a science fiction story. Hard SF fans will probably be disappointed that, except for one section where I have a scientist (Jorl’s dead friend, Arlo) actually explain some theory and application of science that’s beyond what we have today, all the other trappings work in the background like magic. You know, kind of like the way most of us go through life today.
The drug koph allows the Fant (and other races) to talk to the dead. Of our recent dead, who do you think would get most tired of being called up this way?
There are probably a handful of celebrities who would be hounded (no pun intended) in death much like they were in life. Marilyn Monroe immediately comes to mind. And then there are the mysteries that are a part of popular culture that have never been solved like where is Jimmy Hoffa buried, and who really kidnapped the Lindbergh baby? And then of course there’d be the ironic uses, like chatting with Erik Weisz.
Personally, I’d be embarrassed by most of these applications, and I’m hoping my raised mammals do a better job at it than I suspect we primates would. I can think of scientists and authors I’d like to chat with, and perhaps arrange for Speakers to serve as conduits to get Einstein’s thoughts on the current state of physics or a new novel from Octavia Butler or Jay Lake. There would probably be reams of commentary about the complications of intellectual property in such situations, but I’m not going to be the one to write them.
Lawrence M. Schoen holds a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology and psycholinguistics. He’s also one of the world’s foremost authorities on the Klingon language, and the publisher of a speculative fiction small press, Paper Golem. He’s been a finalist for the John W. Campbell Award, the Hugo Award, and the Nebula Award. Lawrence lives near Philadelphia. You can find him online at LawrenceMSchoen.com and @KlingonGuy.
If for some weird reason you’re feeling extrospective–that’s like me feeling introspective but you’re feeling it about me, right?–my bibliography page is always there. Right now it’s just reverse chronological order. One of the things that is on my to-do list is to get it sortable by story series, story type, etc. so that if you want to read all the stories in one universe, all the fantasy stories, all the stories that play with memory as a trope, whatever, you can do that. But that’s pretty low on my to-do list compared to, like, writing new stories, revising the ones I’ve written, sending them out, crazy stuff like that. (It also tends to get put below “read on couch with dog” so far. One of these days, though. Really.)
So 2015. I don’t want to talk about it publicly on the health front–if you’re a good enough friend that this rings alarm bells, by all means email me, but it is very hard to be both succinct and polite about how 2015 was for me health-wise. Ah, I have the word: disappointing. There we are. But on the writing front: great stuff. I mainly wrote long things–five short stories compared to twenty-two in 2014–but I’m really happy with the long stuff I wrote. Next year should be an interesting mix. I went to the Starry Coast workshop in September, a first for me and a really great experience. And here’s what I published:
“The Hanged Woman’s Portion,” Not Our Kind, Alliteration Ink Publishing, January 2015.
“Blue Ribbon,” Analog, March 2015.
“Empty Monuments,” co-written with Alec Austin. Insert Title Here [anthology], Fablecroft Publishing, April 2015.
“Out of the Rose Hills,” Beneath Ceaseless Skies, May 2015 (Issue #173).
“It Brought Us All Together,” Strange Horizons, 13 July 2015.
“Draft Letter on Research Potential Suggested by Recent Findings in Gnome Genomics,” Evil Girlfriend Media shorts, 13 July 2015.
“Ten Stamps Viewed Under Water,” F&SF, Sep/Oct 2015.
“The Many Media Hypothesis,” Nature Futures, 7 October 2015.
“Human Trials,” co-written with Alec Austin. Abyss and Apex, October 2015.
“Points of Origin,” Tor.com, 4 November 2015.
That’s seven science fiction stories, three fantasy. Two anthologies, eight magazines. A mix of longer and shorter, within the short story category. Obviously two with Alec and the rest solo. Some of it just romps along, some of it was intensely personal, and you can’t always tell which by the tone. And honestly I’m glad to do both. One of the ways I describe my job is that I make nerds laugh, and I am proud to do that. But I do other things, too, and I’m glad to do them. Even when they make me spend the day the story goes public climbing the walls about how particular people in my life are going to respond.
I started describing some of the stories I’m doing as finding an interesting cliff to jump off and hoping there’s water at the bottom. So far there’s been water. Some of you have been that water for me. Thanks for that. Of course, it encourages me to do more of the same in the year to come, but that’s all right, I think. At least it won’t be boring. It’s never that.
Last year for Christmas I wrote my mom a story that included all these elements. This year I decided to put it on my website for free to share with all of you. Here it is: How to Wrap a Roc’s Egg. It was inspired by a pair of earrings made by Elise Matthesen, by the work of the great taxonomist and general all-around eccentric Carl Linnaeus, and of course tea. Happy Solstice, merry Christmas, and on through all the rest of the holidays ahead. Enjoy.
Today’s new story is on Tor.com: Points of Origin. For those of you who managed to find the copy of Analog that had “Blue Ribbon” in it, it’s the same universe, but none of the same characters, so there’s no requirement of reading one for the other or vice versa. And it’s got grandparents and ice skating and rocks. Oh, and Mars. And the Oort Cloud. And stuff.
Go, read, enjoy!
One of my besetting sins as an author–not as a writer, that’s different–is that I have a tendency to leave things too much in the rearview. It takes some effort not to regard something I wrote last week with a baffled air of, “That? But that was last week, let me tell you what I’m working on now.” Since what I’m working on now is, by definition, not something that is finished and visible, this is not a functional approach to sharing one’s work with the outside world.
Short story collections are even less functional if you’re not able to talk about things you used to be doing. They have to pile up! And while they are piling you are doing something different.
In this case, my ebook collection of children’s stories from Tired Tapir Press is now a shiny new paper edition. It’s called Dragon Brother, and it’s got a shiny new cover by a local young artist with a comics specialty whose style is perfect for the youth content of the stories. So…yay new edition, yay new cover, yay book!
Here’s my new short story in Nature, The Many Media Hypothesis. And here’s the blog post I wrote about the story behind the story.
The formatting they use makes it really easy to see that this is my ninth Nature story. Huh. The time does fly when you’re having fun entertaining the other nerds. I love my job.
I sent Max Gladstone a list of interview questions a little over a month ago for his blog tour. Now here we are with his answers!
First: Happy Birthday!!!
Hey, thanks, Max! It’s a pretty good way to celebrate.
1. How do you like to balance secondary world inventions with historical cultural references in your worldbuilding?
Cirque de Soliel style, that is, on the shoulders of a broad buff dude who’s himself standing on a board on top of a piece of PVP pipe on top of a beach ball.
Seriously though, I try to be honest with myself about how much my conceptual apparatus draws off history and text. If characters in my books use something like scientific reasoning, something like science probably exists in their world; modern writers tend to assume people have used the scientific method from time immemorial, and it just ain’t necessarily so. If one of my characters discusses Proustian memory, madelines and such, someone like Proust probably worked in the world of the books. I don’t tend to make a big deal of these textual references, but I try to flag them in passing, enough that someone who catches the reference will know the easter egg was planted intentionally.
The larger cultural-structure stuff balances in other ways. In research I lean into mythology, religion, and ritual, and try to envision how different material conditions would affect the myths, and vice versa.
2. What are some of your favorite inspirations outside the field of speculative fiction? Nonfiction, other art forms, etc.?
Nonfiction, definitely—I love academic writing for its power to dig beneath gross generalizations, though sometimes it ends up building other gross generalizations along the way. Sociology and anthropology, especially, have been vital resources, opening new conceptual directions; James C Scott’s Seeing Like a State (I love James C Scott–M) and Michael Taussig’s The Devil and Commodity Fetishism in South America have been particularly important, though I also draw heavily off primary source reading. In terms of just raw linguistic inspiration I find poetry invaluable.
Outside of that, I draw a lot of inspiration from movement—I have a martial arts background, so I connect with that approach to tempo, distance, and power more immediately than I do with the approach of, say, choreographed dance, but in recent years I’ve become more interested in dance through fight choreography, which really is a form of dance, and through partner dancing, which uses many of the same principles as sparring from another direction. In general, there are few more breathtaking and inspiring experiences than watching a master move, whether she’s climbing a wall or running a mile or lunging an epee or kicking somebody in the face. Or lofting a ball over a goalie’s head from the half line to score a hat trick in the first fifteen minutes of a Women’s World Cup final. For example.
3. As of writing these questions, I haven’t gotten a chance to read Last First Snow (hint hint, Tor Publicity) (later note: as you all now know, they came through! yay!). I know from the blurb that it features characters from earlier books but is set earlier in the world’s chronology than anything else. What were some of the pitfalls and opportunities in writing characters as their younger selves?
The potential pitfall of dramatizing backstory, I think, is that I, the writer, will embrace the sense of inevitability the character’s memory lends to their own traumas and bad decisions. If your readers think, well, of course, it had to be this way—there was no other option—then what use is the story? Where’s the drama?
But that pitfall is also an enormous opportunity! I wanted to revisit some of my favorite characters earlier in their lives and break them open. When we meet Elayne Kevarian in Three Parts Dead, or Temoc in Two Serpents Rise, for example, they’ve made a lot of hard choices, and in order to live with themselves, they’ve constructed narratives that lead inevitably to those hard choices. In memory, we seldom force ourselves to consider that our lives could have gone differently. Writing this book gave me a chance to belie that—to show the choice structures and turning points, the moments of akrasia and revelation that set characters on their paths.
4. Was there anything in writing _Last First Snow_ that made you ridiculous with excitement, or was it a pretty even-keel book for you?
Everything about this book was exciting. Seeing Elayne! Seeing the King in Red! Seeing Elayne argue with the King in Red about negotiation practices! Temoc! Temoc and Caleb! Actually meeting Mina, Caleb’s mother, who’s been off camera thus far! Discovering the Skittersill Rising, and digging into how it was misrepresented by orthodox Dresediel Lex history! And then, god, the ending, when [REDACTED]! That was the most exciting of all.
My synopsis for this book would contain a lot of exclamation marks.
5. You’re answering these questions before your epic book tour with James Cambias, Elizabeth Bear, and Brian Stavely. Do you have some predictions for that tour, which wraps up today? Whose Pathfinder character will leave the largest swath of destruction behind them? Who will find the best maple-syrup-related food product in Vermont? Who will have the snappiest tag line for signing their book?
Pathfinder Destruction Swath: Bear. No question.
Best Maple Syrup Food Product: Jim will put in a strong initial showing with his discovery of Maple Nachos, but I think Brian will clinch this one with his discovery of Maple Irish Lace. Oh. You said food product. Jim, then. Maple Irish Lace, I mean, you could eat it, but you’d waste all that knitting! It’s hard to spin maple into yarn. Marissa. Hard!
Most likely to club a moose over the head: Probably Brian.
Snappiest tag line: Definitely not me! I tend to freeze up, look at people with deer-in-headlights expressions, and then scribble “Thank you for reading” and my name. Novelists are probably not the best people to seek out for on-the-spot wit. This novelist, anyway.