Five Questions: Sherry Decker, author of A Summer with the Dead

A Summer with the Dead cover image

Sherry Decker’s A Summer with the Dead is scheduled for release May 1.

I heard author Sherry Decker read from her upcoming novel A Summer with the Dead at Two-Hour Transport, a monthly open mic and guest reading series at the famed Cafe Racer in the city’s Roosevelt neighborhood. I’m not normally a fan of horror, but her reading was so compelling, that I thought she was perfect for my Five Questions project. From her novel’s blurb:

“On the run from her abusive husband, Maya Pederson takes refuge with her Aunt Elly on her farm. Her first night there, Maya is wakened by a whisper. ‘Help me,’ someone begs. ‘Don’t leave me here.’ Thus begins a string of nightmarish events in Maya’s already stressful life. Disturbing dreams that seem far too real, dreams about the farm’s history, dreams about murder and blood and bodies buried under the house.”

Sounds pretty cool!

Do you remember the first character you created?
That would have been in fourth grade. The protagonist’s name escapes me, but it was about a little Native American girl who wanted to do something important, but was sickly and smaller than all the other kids. All I remember is that someone shot at her with an arrow. The arrow went through one of her long braids and she was carried up into the sky where she became a bright star.

Sherry Decker

Sherry Decker

How did you feel when you saw your work in print for the first time?
That was a short story was titled The Lender. It appeared in local writer/editor Lisa Jean Bothell’s magazine Heliocentric Net in 1994. I recall standing in my kitchen, holding the publication, heart pounding, staring at the story and my name in print, thinking . . . wow! It was a surreal feeling, something I had tried to picture since second grade. Even now it’s a miraculous feeling. I always feel honored and confused both. It’s amazing that other people not only want to read what I write, they apparently like it and will actually pay me for it.

What is your favorite piece of advice for new writers?
Persevere! Don’t give up! Don’t write what you know; write what you love! Also, read everything: advertisements, comic books, classics, experimental, fiction, nonfiction, movie reviews, books reviews, anthologies, collections . . . everything! Writers have their favorite parts regarding writing. Some love the imagination-creative process where we “open that vein and spill our blood all over the paper” and some love the editing process where we perfect our work. I’ve gone from one to the other and back again.

I also love marketing and communicating with editors and publishers. I pay close attention the writer’s guidelines provided by most editors and advise beginning writers to do the same. You can seriously irritate an editor by ignoring those guidelines.

This is usually ignored by most beginning writers: avoid adverbs! Seriously. Not in dialogue, of course, because people use adverbs when they talk, but you’ll be way ahead of other beginners if you refuse to use adverbs in your narrative. Instead, go to the effort and agony (I went through verbal gymnastics) to find a powerful verb instead. Dig for your verbs. And, attend conventions. Take a big breath and approach those editors, publishers and other authors. Continue reading

Two-Hour Transport: A journey into Seattle’s sci-fi and fantasy community

Two-Hour Transport

Podcaster Anaea Lay of Strange Horizons reads her work at Two-Hour Transport in Seattle.

Seattle’s reputation as a literary town includes an enormous presence in the science fiction and fantasy universe. The great Octavia Butler, author of the Parable of the Sower, penned her works in the shadow of the Space Needle, the city’s iconic landmark. Other authors include Don McQuinn, Cat Rambo, and Shawn Speakman. Lesser known and budding writers are nurtured by a vibrant writing community, and recently a new series of events is encouraging fresh voices to speak up.

Theresa Barker, Nicole Bade, and other writers are producing “Two-Hour Transport,” a monthly series featuring readings by established sci-fi, fantasy, and horror authors. These invited readers share published work or test out new work on an audience at Cafe Racer, a funky, arts-oriented watering hole in Seattle a few blocks from the University of Washington. The most recent THT I attended was on March 22, and it featured horror writer Sherry Decker, reading from her upcoming novel A Summer With the Dead, and Anaea Lay, the fiction podcast editor for Strange Horizons magazine.

In a new group called “Brag-a-Thon,” participants win a sticker when rejected by an agent or publisher.

The quirkiest segment of the THT program is the open mic, when up to ten writers ranging from pure novices to experienced pros take five minutes to share something and build up their presentation chops. Almost anything goes, from poetry in the style of Lewis Carroll to excerpts of full-length science fiction novels in progress. I’ve had great fun presenting my own work a few times, and the audience is always friendly and appreciative, no matter the skill level. It helps that everyone sips a beer or a glass of wine to support a neighborhood business.

Two-Hour Transport is part of a larger ad hoc collection of meetups under the banner of the North Seattle SciFi and Fantasy Writers, which started out several years ago as reading groups meeting in local cafes. The meetups include a regular Sunday critique group at Wayward Cafe in Seattle’s Roosevelt neighborhood, and a new group, a monthly “Brag-a-Thon,” in which participants win a sticker for having a story rejected by an agent or a publisher. It’s all intended to build solidarity in a traditional publishing business growing less and less welcoming of writers, ironically, particularly new writers, if they don’t fit into a pre-existing pigeonhole.

I’ve enjoyed every moment of my participation in these groups. It puts the lie to the image of the lonely scribbler at his or her word processor pounding out the next great American sci-fi novel. Though a writer can isolate himself, writing is a social act that depends on support from friends, feedback from colleagues, and if you’re very lucky, help from a publisher. Here’s to a long run for Two-Hour Transport and her sister activities.

The next Two-Hour Transport is Wednesday, April 26, at at Cafe Racer, 5828 Roosevelt Way NE, Seattle. To participate in the open mic, place your name in the hat near the stage.

Have you attended a Two-Hour Transport reading? What did you think?

Five Questions: D.F. Lovett, author of The Moonborn

The Moonborn cover

The Moonborn is the debut novel by D.F. Lovett.

I’m excited to welcome to Five Questions Minneapolis-based author D.F. Lovett, who released his debut sci-fi novel, The Moonborn, in 2016. David the head editor and writer for the blog What Would Bale Do, and he writes the acclaimed Reddit novelty account /u/DiscussionQuestions. He has also collaborated on several film projects with the production studio Corridor Digital.

The Moonborn is the story of Ishmael, who lands on the Moon to ghostwrite the autobiography of Adam Moonborn, first man born on the Moon. Ishmael soon learns the job is not as straightforward as it seems. In an adventure tale inspired by Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, they embark on a mission to destroy all of the Moon’s rogue robots, whom Adam Moonborn holds responsible for the death of his family and the impending downfall of civilization.

Here are the author’s answers to my Five Questions.

Do you remember the first character you created? Tell me about him/her/it. Not specifically, but it would probably be the personality assigned to one of my action figures. For most of my childhood, a lot of the writing I did was inspired by stories that my brother and I first invented with Star Wars and G. I. Joe action figures. I know this isn’t very specific, but a lot of those characters blended together or would evolve over time.

D.F. Lovett

D.F. Lovett

How did you feel when you saw your work in print / electronic form for the first time? The same way I feel now: a mixture of pride, excitement, and self-consciousness. I wrote for the junior high newspaper in seventh grade, which was the first time I encountered the frustration of an editor changing my words. I remember specifically some negative criticism I got from a classmate over a review I wrote of The Phantom Menace where I referred to Jar Jar Binks as an “alien.” My classmate told me that was incorrect, as most of the movie takes place on his home planet, so he’s not an alien. I guess that got me started early at learning how to respond to criticism, although it frustrated me at the time. I think I have a thicker skin now because of it. Continue reading

How would King Arthur’s knights cope with a climate-changed world?

King Arthur painting

James Archer painted The Death of Arthur in 1861. King Arthur lays mortally wounded after his final battle. He waits for a ship to take him to the Isle of Avalon.

My wife and I drove from Seattle to Powell’s Books in Portland a couple of weeks ago to satisfy an itch. At this point, I’ve written three novels and eight shorts in the world of Carbon Run, but the project has run its course. Is there another way to explore the idea of a post-global warming world in which protecting the environment is the society’s single most important value?

For a variety of reasons, my mind turned to fantasy, which is odd, because I’ve never been attracted to epic fantasy, or high fantasy. I found Tolkien too dense and I shrugged at most other dragons-and-magic stories. Having said that, I enjoyed the early novels in George RR Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series (HBO’s “Game of Thrones”). He plays down the wand-waving and flying lizards shtick in favor of character development and relationships.

This led to a realization: I do enjoy at least one fantasy tradition: the Arthurian legends. It’s easy to forget that these romances were the literary fiction of the High Middle Ages, and they’re full of magic objects, fabulous beasts, and so on. The stories of King Arthur are as much about greed, lust, pride, loyalty, bravery, and family drama as they are about enchantments and floating castles. Merlin, as an archetype, gets a lot of play in modern fantasy, but his role is relatively limited, though important, in the Arthurian stories. I like that. Continue reading

Five Questions: Sabrina Chase, author of the Argonauts of Space series

One Blood cover

Cover image for One Blood, the second book of the Argonauts of Space series.

I’d like to introduce you to Sabrina Chase, a Seattle author whom I met through one of my writers groups. She gave a fascinating talk about how to successfully publish as an independent. It can be very rewarding, but it’s a lot of work, she says. Sabrina is the author of the Argonauts of Space series, including The Scent of Metal, One Blood, and the upcoming Soul Code.

Do you remember the first character you created? Tell me about him/her/it.
I’ve been writing since I was 13, so I’m afraid I don’t remember.

Sabrina Chase

Sabrina Chase

How did you feel when you saw your work in print / electronic form for the first time?
One thing about being an indie writer is you are elbow-deep in the sausage making from the beginning to the end, so it was more of a “oh good, that step is finished” rather than a shock of revelation. It wasn’t “real” to me until I got my first non-family reviews…

What is your favorite piece of advice for new writers?
There is no royal road, no matter how talented you are (or aren’t) and areas of talent vary. Every successful person had to work hard at *something.* Don’t envy the “overnight successes;” they often have twenty years of hard work before that success that aren’t mentioned in the press release.

One thing about being an indie writer is you are elbow-deep in the sausage making.

If you were queen, what would you change about the publishing world?
I would really like to have translation exchanges so I could get my books out in different languages. (Indie already has changed the publishing world!)

What is your next project? Timeline?
I am currently writing Soul Code, the third and final book in the Argonauts of Space series. I hope to have it published by the end of 2017.

Bonus question: If you could reincarnate as another writer, living or dead, who would it be?
Terry Pratchett, a wonderful, funny writer who left us too soon. The beard would take a little getting used to, though.

I’m welcoming more authors to my Five Questions series. To learn more, check out my Promote Your Book page.

Author Mem Fox and Donald Trump’s chilling of America

Mem Fox reads to kids

Author Mem Fox reads to her audience. Image courtesy Adelaide Advertiser.

The recent mistreatment of Australian author Mem Fox by US Customs and Border Patrol heralds a little-discussed effect of President Trump’s plan to shut the door on immigration. Her detention by CBP could have a chilling effect on the cross-fertilization of ideas that makes open societies so powerful. As Trump attacks illegal immigration, he is sending a message that any visitor is suspect, and Fox’s experience underlines the argument.

In February, Fox was en route to Milwaukee to attend a conference on literacy, tolerance, and inclusion. Fox is the author of numerous children’s books, including Ten Little Fingers, Ten Little Toes, and Possum Magic. At the airport, she was detained for two hours by CBP on a visa problem, which turned out to be the CBP’s error. She has visited the US 117 times.

“In that moment I loathed America,” she says. “This is not the way to win friends.”

America is proud of its history of openness to new ideas from the outside. That’s part of our heritage of welcoming immigrants, because they bring new energy and approaches that enrich us, figuratively and literally. The country also welcomes visiting artists and writers for the same reason, in hopes that cross-cultural fertilization raises everyone up. During the Cold War, despite the hostility, the Soviet Union and the U.S. each sent ambassadors in the form of writers, symphonies, dance companies, and visual artists in the interests of peace. It took the edge off the mutual suspicion.

If I were stopped at the border, how I would prove I was a writer? Compose a sequel to War and Peace?

Which artists and writers will now think twice about visiting, given Fox’s experience, and the Trump Administration’s tone? Engineers may already be thinking about staying away. A Nigerian engineer was stopped at the border and told to prove his expertise by taking a test. If I were stopped, how I would prove I was a writer? Compose a sequel to War and Peace?

In effect, every visitor is an ambassador, and there are signs they are going elsewhere. According to travel industry figures, searches for on flights to major US tourist attractions are down by nearly half. Not only does the country suffer intellectually, these drops have a major economic impact on tourism-dependent communities. The industry says the “Trump slump” has cost $185 million in business.

America is in danger of losing its reputation as a welcoming light to all peoples, whether to stay or to visit. Some want us to close our doors to the stranger. If they win, we’ll all be the poorer.

What do you think? How will we maintain our reputation for openness?

Five Questions: Aaron Ward, author of Upriver, Downriver

Upriver, Downriver cover

Upriver, Downriver, by Aaron Ward

I’d like to introduce Aaron Ward, a debut author who has independently published Upriver, Downriver, described by one Amazon reviewer like this: “The phrase ‘coming of age’ is slapped onto so many lukewarm portrayals of growing up these days, but this story nails it.” Aaron kindly answered all of my “Five Questions,” which is a series of interviews with self-published and traditionally published science fiction and fantasy authors. If you’re a published author, and you’d like to participate, learn the details on my blog’s Promote Your Book page.

1. Do you remember the first character you created? Tell me about him/her/it.

Aaron Ward

Aaron Ward

I don’t know if it was my first, but I remember writing a short story in high school, and I believe the main character’s name was ‘Dan Hauser.’ Dan was a cop, and the story involved him coming home and being attacked by a monster of some kind. It was a big hit at the time.

2. How did you feel when you saw your work in print / electronic form for the first time?

I don’t think I felt anything too extreme. I was a little excited and a little nervous. It was self-publishing and I didn’t know much about marketing, so I knew I would be flinging the book out into the void more than anything. Continue reading

Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers and the veneration of veterans

Starship Troopers still image

Starship Troopers elevates military veterans to demi-god status.

The election and inauguration of Donald Trump has left-leaning book lovers scrambling for analogous stories in fiction. Most have cited George Orwell’s 1984 or Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, both dystopian novels. A few have pointed to Robert A. Heinlein’s science fiction novel Starship Troopers, because of long-standing criticisms of what some believe is its fascist politics.

The 1959 novel, which won the prestigious Hugo Award and made into a 1997 movie, tells the story of Juan “Johnnie” Rico, a ne’er-do-well teenager who finds meaning and belonging in the “Mobile Infantry.” He goes off to fight in an interstellar war against the Arachnid creatures from the planet Klendathu. Rico goes from raw recruit to experienced sergeant to field-tested officer participating in a crucial battle to defeat the “bugs” and save Earth.

In Heinlein’s world, the combat veteran is the civic god incarnate.

The charges of fascism relate to the dominance of earth by a militarized government that places enormous prestige and civil power in the hands of military veterans. In Heinlein’s world, the combat veteran is the civic god incarnate. Only people who fought and bled understand the true meaning of freedom and the necessity of the voting franchise to sustain the public good, not just private interest. Continue reading

Five Questions: Kevin D. Aslan, author of Encore

Encore cover image

Author Kevin D. Aslan is serializing his first novel, Encore.

I’d like to introduce Kevin D. Aslan, a debut author who is self-publishing his fantasy novel Encore as a serial. Encore follows Leo Melikian, a smart but naïve 25-year old in the south of France who discovers he’s suddenly living each day twice: Monday followed by Monday, Tuesday by Tuesday, and so on. Kevin agreed to participate in my occasional series of posts under the heading “Five Questions.” Thank you, Kevin! If you have any extra questions for Kevin, post them in the comments section below.

Do you remember the first character you created? Tell me about him/her/it.

It was a dueling squirrel called Keil, who was leading a rag-tag group defending their land against an army of beetles. I was 10 and heavily influenced by the Redwall series. I never did finish that book, although I wrote over a hundred (mostly unreadable) pages. But I ended up connecting with him so much that I used his name as my online handle for years afterwards. Continue reading

Overheated: A weak narrative undercuts the urgency of climate change

Overheated cover

Overheated: The Human Cost of Climate Change

Climate change is one of the most difficult subjects to tackle, and I admire any writer who attempts it. Though the reality of climate change is not in doubt—repeat, NOT in doubt—so much of its impact is speculative. Scientists can predict the rise of sea levels, the melting of Arctic and Antarctic ice, more powerful hurricanes, and so on, but no one can say with certainty how these will affect humanity in any detail.

In Overheated: The Human Cost of Climate Change, Andrew Guzman takes his best shot. The University of California, Berkeley law professor tries to show how global warming will change the lives of practically everyone on the planet. Clearly worried about the power of denialists, led by President Donald Trump (though the book was written before his election), he answers each of the counter-arguments with unassailable rigor. If this were an argument before a judge and jury, he’d win going away.

Unfortunately, that’s the problem with this 2013 book, and many books like it. With a couple of notable exceptions, he offers few anecdotes or detailed speculations on climate change effects you and I might experience. The best story concerns the Chacaltaya Glacier, which disappeared from a Bolivian mountain in 2009. He also offers an alarming scenario involving disputes over water between two nuclear powers: India and Pakistan. Beyond these, however, much of the future impact of warming is theoretical. Writing about the potential for water wars, he says, “[C]limate change threatens to magnify existing risks, perhaps making the difference between an uncomfortable peace and a shooting war.” It’s hard for average folks to get excited about these unseen margins. Continue reading