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

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.

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

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

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

Ted Chiang’s sci-fi genius arrives with laser-like precision

cover art for Stories of Your Life and Others

Stories of Your Life and Others, by Ted Chiang

Possible spoilers ahead if you haven’t seen Arrival.

The release of the movie Arrival last month prompted my interest in Seattle science fiction writer Ted Chiang. He has published only 15 short stories, novelettes, and novellas in print, including “Story of Your Life,” the inspiration for Arrival. He’s won Nebulas, Hugos, and host of other awards, far out of proportion to his published output, judging by most other writers I know. As a writer who’s only published one short story (not counting self-publishing), I had to read more by this man.

Penguin Random House has collected eight of his stories in Stories of Your Life And Others, including “Story,” most of them the award winners. It’s a remarkable collection that may become part of the core canon of science fiction and speculative fiction in general. None of the the stories hits a weak note, though I have favorites among them.

If there’s a single word that describes them all, it’s “precise,” demonstrating Chiang’s penchant for picking only the right words and phrases, and crafting every sentence as if his writing life depended on it. Chiang’s style may reflect his training in computer science; every line of “code,” if you will, is elegant and purposeful, and the result is often mesmerizing. Continue reading

Hey, Tacoma. I’m making a rare appearance at Foss Waterway Seaport!

Lighthouse Guide cover image

I’ll be talking about the Fyddeye Guide to America’s Lighthouses and its companion guide Dec. 10, 2016 at Foss Waterway Seaport in Tacoma.

It’s been years since I’ve made a public appearance, but my friend Wes Wenhardt, the executive director of Foss Waterway Seaport in Tacoma, asked me to give a talk. I’ll be at FWS 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday, December 10. I’ll be speaking about some of my favorite Puget Sound maritime heritage attractions listed in my books.

I’ve published two maritime history guidebooks, The Fyddeye Guide to America’s Maritime History, and The Fyddeye Guide to America’s Lighthouses. I published the books in 2010 and 2012 respectively because no comprehensive, single-volume travel guides existed for U.S. maritime heritage attractions, including maritime museums, tall ships, and lighthouses.

Copies of my books will be available for sale at the presentation. Foss Waterway Seaport’s address is 705 Dock Street in Tacoma. Hope to see you there!

Have you visited Foss Waterway Seaport in Tacoma?

Why writers should stop using ‘redneck’ as an ethnic slur, and probably won’t.

Redneck meme

“Redneck” is a staple of internet memes, but it’s old and tired.

Science fiction is awash with discussion about diversity. Almost since its inception, the genre has been dominated by Anglo-European men. (Oddly enough, modern sci-fi was invented by a woman, Mary Shelley, with her novel, Frankenstein.) In the past few decades, however, more women and some African-Americans, e.g., Octavia Butler, Samuel R. Delany, and N.K. Jemisin, have added their voices to the chorus. Recently, writers from China, notably Hugo Award winner Liu Cixin, have earned attention.

The emergence of female and minority voices, as well as LGBTQ writers, perplexes many and irks a few traditionalists, who decry stories that veer from the dominant tropes of sci-fi—ray guns, space ships, alien invasions, and so on—and take on social issues that reflect life as it’s lived in their communities. Reactionaries, such as the SadPuppies and RabidPuppies, resort to name-calling and worse to tamp down a trend unlikely to go away.

One facet of the trend toward diversity is pressure to avoid racial or ethnic slurs. Of course, if a word you’d never use in polite company is necessary for characterization or to move the plot forward, it should be available, like any other word. Too often, however, these words are used thoughtlessly or for shock value. More often than not, they’re unnecessary. However, ignorant storytellers label this reticence self-censorship or political correctness, meaning avoidance for fear of offending some group or individual. Well, duh! Using a word simply to offend is offensive. What would your grandma think?

However, there’s one word that has not, as yet, entered the lexicon of slurs that include n—, c—, or s—. The word is “redneck.” This fact was brought home to me in an interview of Charles Murray, a conservative thinker at the DC-based American Enterprise Institute. “Try to think of any kind of ethnic slur that you can get away with at a dinner party you attend without getting immediate pushback,” Murray says. He referred to a friend who had recently moved to West Virginia. The friend’s urbane social circle thought his new neighbors “would be dumb, illiterate, [and] have missing teeth.” Continue reading

Review: Augments of Change salient in a time of racial tension

Augments of Change cover

Augments of Change

America is going through another paroxysm of racially tinged violence, reminding everyone of our failure to reconcile our history with our ideals. In my own lifetime, the country has experienced urban riots (e.g, Watts in Los Angeles), violence after the Rodney King verdict, and last week, two more in a long string of deaths of black men at the hands of police, followed by the mass murder of five Dallas policemen by a African-American assailant with a military-style assault rifle. It’s as if a murderous virus is spreading through the culture.

The news has left the country morose and pessimistic. People feel that the issues of race, as well as related issues of immigration and income inequality, will never be resolved or mitigated. As citizens of a democracy, we’ve entered a time of madness when everyone whom we don’t know and don’t agree with is The Other. We’ve lost the ability to listen to and respect other views. Demagogues such as Donald Trump say out loud what many people feel, forgetting that civilized behavior in the public sphere requires a certain suppression of thought and feeling in order to get along without fearing someone will strike back in anger. Respect and tolerance are out of style.

Speculative fiction writers have long tried to tell stories of race. In an genre dominated until recently by white men, only a few black voices have stood out, among them Octavia Butler, Samuel R. Delaney, and N.K. Jemisin. Less well-known in the sci-fi mainstream is Kelvin Christopher James, whose most recent novel, Augments of Change, takes the myth of race, as well as it taboos and tropes, and turns it on its head. His unique voice brings a new clarity to race as an illusion that influences daily thought. Continue reading