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

For me, 2017 will be the Year of the Contest

trophies

A few of my writing trophies, layers of dust and all.

I’ve been writing professionally for thirty years, and I’ve tended to see entering contests and competitions as a chore. I’m not sure why, except that I’ve never liked competing against other people, preferring to compete against myself. I like to push myself on and on, to see if I can beat my last personal best. That said, I enjoy winning and the recognition that comes with it. I’ve won a few prizes and have a small shelf of trophies from my journalism days.

2007 was the last year I took home a trophy from a writing competition, when I won a local award for my book on the history of the schooner Wawona. Sometime in the distant past, maybe during the 1980s, I believe I won a short fiction competition based in Oregon, but I can’t find the documentation. I may have imagined it.

I started taking fiction seriously around 2008, when I began work on Carbon Run. I focused almost exclusively on finishing the novel and the subsequent novels, City of Ice and Dreams, and Restoration. I completed the latter manuscript a few weeks ago, and I’ve been focused on writing short stories set in the Carbon Run world, with an eye toward publication in sci-fi magazines as a way to get some visibility, should the novels ever be published.

I enjoy winning and the recognition that comes with it.

In the course of research magazine markets, I ran across fiction contests, both literary and genre-based. In a couple of cases, one or two of my Carbon Run stories seem a perfect fit. Contests these days are much easier to enter. Before email, you had to send in several printed copies of contest entries, which cost time and money. I no longer had the excuse of calling contests a chore, when all you have to do is send an email or upload the entry to a website after filling in an online form.

With my lame excuse gone, I put together a spreadsheet of likely contests and competitions, especially focused on Carbon Run. Many contests are free or have a relatively low submission fee, between $10 and $30. As long as I maintain spending discipline, I should be able to enter one paid contest a month and as many free contests as I can find.

If I’m lucky, 2017 will be the Year of the Contest for me. I could earn recognition, a small cash prize or two, and most importantly, some street credibility in the speculative fiction and publishing community. Perhaps a win or two might help me push through the wall of indifference among literary agents, or the disinterest (so far; I still have a couple of manuscripts out) of presses, big and small. I’m crossing my fingers. I have nothing to lose.

Have you entered a contest recently? Tell me about it in the comments.

Free Flash Fiction: Drizella, Cinderella’s Stepsister: My Story

Drizella and Anastaisa

Drizella, wearing pink, and her sister Anastasia gossip about Cinderella. Image courtesy Walt Disney Co.

Today’s post is free flash fiction by guest blogger Edith Follansbee.

I’m so infuriated by my mother. Why is she non-supportive of my feelings? I have told her so many times, I don’t want to go to the prince’s birthday party. I have made a fuss about the dress and the shoes and everything else that you MUST do to get ready. I hate the dress and the shoes. You can hardy call them shoes; I call them ankle breakers.

Edith Follansbee

Edith Follansbee

The constant criticism of my figure when I go to the dress makers. She is always making negative comments of my curves. What really bugs me is the clicking sound she makes with her mouth very time she has to let out a seam. I can’t help it if God gave me a slow metabolism. I tell her beauty is in the eye of the beholder and I have not found my beholder. Even the dressmaker is non-supportive of my feelings.

The only person that understands how much I abhor fancy dress parties at the castle is Cinderella. She is so kind to me. I know she wants to go so badly, but mother won’t let her. Mother has no feelings for Cinderella. Sometimes I think mother is too narcissistic to find another man that will please her. Her first husband died in mysteries circumstances and her second husband died of overwork. She has no feelings for anyone except herself. Continue reading

I must be crazy, because I’m a college student again

Last October, I wrote about my layoff from Grays Harbor Historical Seaport. Nearly three months later, my professional life has taken an unexpected turn: I’m a college student again.

My career path is much like the zig-zag of a UFO across the sky. I started out as a journalist, mostly because I wanted to write and earn a steady paycheck. The fact that I loved reading newspapers and later fell in love with radio was icing on the cake. It was relatively easy, however, for me to drop into the software industry when RealNetworks wanted me to write articles showcasing its audio software.

It was around that moment that the seeds for my decision were planted. Continue reading

Five Questions: Elizabeth Guizzetti, author of The Grove

Elizabeth Guizzetti author photo

Elizabeth Guizzetti is author of three sci-fi and fantasy novels, including Other Systems and The Grove.

I’m starting a new occasional feature on my blog called Five Questions. I’ll ask an author five interesting questions and post their answers. Check out the answer for the bonus question! My inaugural guest is Elizabeth Guizzetti, a personal friend whom I met through a sci-fi and fantasy writers group in Seattle. Elizabeth loves to write science fiction, horror and fantasy with a bit of social commentary mixed in, not always intentionally. Her 2012 debut novel, Other Systems, was a finalist for the 2016 Canopus Award. Her most recent novel, The Grove, is on sale now.

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

This wasn’t my first character, but the first character I remember was a ten or eleven-year-old girl trying to survive a werewolf apocalypse. I tried to write her tough, my mother said she was kind of rude to the two young men who she was with. (I think they were high schoolers, because at that age, high schoolers are super cool.)

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

My first published work was Faminelands: The Carp’s Eye which is a self-published graphic novel. It came out in print first and then we started the webcomic. It was (and always is) a roller coaster. It felt wonderful the first time I flipped through it, as well as terrifying. We were making changes up until it had been printing and I had a table at Emerald City Comicon 2008. It was crazy. Those feelings have been just as intense for every book that has gone through the publication process.

I made a video about I feel when holding my book for the first time if anyone wants to check it out on my YouTube Channel. Continue reading

Star Wars: Rogue One has a peculiar relationship with death

Grand Moff Tarkin - Peter Cushing

Star Wars: Rogue One created a digital Peter Cushing to reprise his role at Grand Moff Tarkin.

Warning: Lots of spoilers.

The movie Star Wars: Rogue One is a fun way to pass a couple of hours on a Saturday afternoon, especially if you’re a kid without much exposure to the Star Wars franchise. For anyone who has a bit more experience with the series, or who thinks much about storytelling, the movie can leave you scratching your head.

For one thing, viewers who know the characters and the plots starting with the original Star Wars (now called A New Hope) release in 1977 will spend much of their time puzzling out the way in which the plot line of Rogue One fits with the series arc. The screenplay by a multitude of writers does a good job of meshing with the rest of the Star Wars’ canon.

You can also spend a lot of cycles looking for the two dozen or so nuggets from other Star Wars films. In the process, you might lose a line of pithy dialog or miss a well-photographed shot. These “Where’s Waldo?” moments can be fun, or they can take you out of the total immersion that makes good storytelling an almost out-of-body experience. Continue reading

Despite Trump’s denialism, 2017 could be a bright spot in the fight for planet Earth

global warming illustration

2017 may be a bad year for climate change policy. Or maybe not. Image courtesy Earth.com.

I’ve taken inspiration from climate change. As a writer who loves speculative fiction, everything from Star Trek’s optimism to Margaret Atwood’s dark literary visions, I see global warming as fertile ground for storytelling. You might even say I’m taking advantage of the worst crisis to hit planet Earth in three million years.

That only counts in fiction.

When it comes to real life, it’s hard to be optimistic about the fight to fix the crisis, especially after the election of Donald Trump to the presidency. He is a denialist of the first order, calling climate change a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. The claim is ludicrous, resembling a post-truth, fake news story.

Virtually all his major picks for high-level posts in his administration reflect a similar view. Scott Pruitt, tapped to head the EPA, uses the three percent of scientists who question climate science as a reason to ignore the 97 percent who know it’s human-caused. Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State designate, while acknowledging increasing CO2 in the atmosphere, says its impact is “very hard for anyone to predict,” despite the solid record of predictions going back decades. Of all Trump’s selections, Rick Perry is the worst. “I think there are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects,” he said. That’s simply a lie.

As president, Trump will have a powerful voice. Thankfully, because of America’s diffused political structure, he’s not the only voice.

As president, Trump will have a powerful voice. Thankfully, because of America’s diffused political structure, he’s not the only voice. When you look at what states and localities are doing, I come away with hope that all is not lost. Continue reading

I’ll remember this Black Mirror episode until I’m dead and buried.

Black Mirror still

Alex Lawther as Kenny in Black Mirror’s “Shut Up and Dance.”

Warning: Black Mirror: Season 3 spoilers ahead.

How do you measure greatness in science fiction television? Quantitative measures such as the number of positive critical reviews or the “star” ratings by viewers can set a series or individual episodes apart, but a fan can also measure quality with his or her memory. What image or scene sticks in your mind long after you’ve switched to another show? Is it the broken eyeglasses in the Twilight Zone’s “Time Enough to Last?” Is it the god-like voice of the time machine in Star Trek’s “The City on the Edge of Forever?”

Does Black Mirror have such an image or scene? The Charlie Brooker-produced series has already achieved acclaim on par with Outer Limits, Battlestar Gallactica, and others, but for a series to have historical legs, something has to stick in the collective memory. It’s a shot, a bit of dialog, a premise, or a twist ending that’s talked about twenty years later, or that writers borrow or imitate for another generation of viewers, or that makes you wake up in a cold sweat.

Season 3 of Black Mirror, available on Netflix, has several of these moments. As someone who pays attention to sound effects, the dribbling pitch of the protagonist’s falling rating in “Nosedive” is comic and heartbreaking. The benign, and ultimately murderous robot bees in “Hated in the Nation” bring to mind the moral and practical costs of environmental loss. Continue reading

Aliens, linguistics, and disruptive storytelling make Arrival must-see sci-fi

Arrival movie poster

Arrival uses disruptive storytelling techniques effectively.

We rarely think about our relationship with time. Life is just one damned thing after another. One word follows another. Cause and effect follow the arrow of history. What if you had a different relationship with time, one in which you perceived past, present and future happening at once, so that you know the future in the same instant you know the present and the past?

Science fiction writer Ted Chiang explores the idea in a 1999 short story, “Story of Your Life.” In 2016, Canadian Director Denis Villeneuve adapted the story for the motion picture Arrival, which arrived in theaters November 11. Both stories are told through the eyes of Dr. Louise Banks, a linguist brought in by the military to translate the language of aliens visiting the earth. The film builds on the short story, adding some Hollywood pizzazz and a different ending. Fortunately, the additions don’t obscure the main point; our daily experience of time is only one of many possibilities.

In both narratives, a new kind of language “rewires” Banks’ brain, and the writer and director use non-linear storytelling as a way to demonstrate Banks’ transformative encounter. Non-linear stories don’t follow most people’s experience of events in time, that is, one thing following another as you walk a path through life. Sometimes called “disruptive narratives,” these stories jump around in time, as in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five or Joseph Heller’s Catch-22. If handled poorly, non-linear stories leave readers confused and disoriented. Handled well, they seem more like paintings, best encountered as a whole. Continue reading