The Hook: Seriously Wicked by Tina Connolly

May 5, 2015

seriously-wicked

The Hook

I was mucking out the dragon’s garage when the witch’s text popped up on my phone.

BRING ME A BIRD

“Ugh,” I said to Moonfire. “Here we go again.”

Tina Connolly writes:

Seriously Wicked is a lighthearted YA novel about a girl who lives with a “seriously wicked” witch. Cam’s voice just popped into my head one day and the whole novel spilled out.

Now, there was lots of rewriting, of course! I wrote the first draft of this book before Ironskin. Seriously Wicked was my fifth completed novel, and the first what I thought of as a “really-truly” novel, a full-length novel I believed in and loved. Still, Seriously Wicked was my fifth novel, and Silverblind (my most recently-written novel, that came out Oct 2014) was my tenth. So, I like to think I’ve learned a little bit.

And one thing that happened with Seriously Wicked is that I rewrote the beginning. Again and again. Oh, right, and did I say again? Yes. Again. I kept coming back to this book between later novels and rewriting the whole novel, but particularly the beginning, because as we all know, your opening has to work very very hard to set the stage and tone and characters and hook the reader and everything else.

For fun, I thought I’d show you how much better the beginning got over time:

Draft 1. Book title: HOW I STOPPED THE WITCH WHO ATE MANHATTAN

Chapter One: Introduction To Me, aka CASH

Look. Say you’re a girl. And say someday you grow up and decide to be preggers. When you’re carrying around an innocent little baby with blue eyes and a kinda smooshed nose that everyone says someday she’ll grow into, then for the love of pete, do not under any circumstances say you just gotta have pickles dipped in chocolate.

Note: This is a terrible opening. I have no idea who CASH is. Also, as a reader, I don’t want to be accused of being A) a girl, B) preggers, and C) liking pickles and chocolate. The only thing good I can say about this opening is that putting these words down on the page made all the other words follow in a flood.

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Draft 2. Book title: WITCH GIRL HEARTS DEMON BOY

Chapter One: Hot Seat

If you think your life stinks because you have to take out the recycling or vacuum your room or something normal like that, then listen up.

Every morning before school I got to start by collecting the dragon’s milk and mucking out her living quarters. There aren’t many dragons left, if any, but there’s one for sure living out back in the detached RV garage, big and warm and smelling of regret. The witch says one girl dragon doesn’t make any more noise than a chicken, and those are legal in the city, so so far she’s gotten away with it.

Note: Significantly better, but the opening sentence is still a bit aggressive (READER LET ME MAKE ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT YOU), and then we talk about dragons for awhile and I’m starting to wonder how long this is going on. (Note: It goes on for PAGES. Cam tells you about EVERY SINGLE ONE OF HER MORNING CHORES.)

#

Draft 78 (approximately). Book title: SERIOUSLY WICKED

Chapter One: Girl on Fire

If you think your life stinks because your musical mom makes you practice violin three hours a day even though you’re tone deaf, or your athletic dad makes you stay on the high school diving team even though your best dive is a bellyflop, then listen up.

Here’s what it’s like to live with a witch.

Every morning at 4:55 AM I drag my weary butt out of bed and head straight for the choreboard. The choreboard is a shiny list of magical tasks the witch wants me to do to “understand true witchery” or something, and if I haven’t done every one by the time I leave for school, it magically slices my thumbs with papercuts.

Note: Not really better. Going backwards, I think. Ever heard the advice not to start with your character waking up? Okay then.

#

Draft 233 (approximately). Book title: SERIOUSLY WICKED

Chapter One: Girl on Fire

4:55 in the horrible, horrible A.M., and once again I was staring at a whiteboard framed in gilded wood carved with toothy serpents. A peeling office label on the bottom proclaimed: Chores by Which One Must Understand True Witchery.

The toothbrush dangled from my mouth while I pressed the label back down, picked up the dry-erase marker, and marked off, “Werewolf pup—feed and take outside” with a big red X.

Then yelped as the choreboard gave me a papercut on my thumb.

Note: I rather like this setting, but it brings up weird questions (how does a choreboard give you a papercut? It’s magical, okay? GO WITH IT) and you don’t want the reader having weird papercut-related questions on the first page. Also, she’s still basically just waking up and going through her chores. I do like the juxtaposition between the whiteboard/office labels and witchy things.

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And then finally (FINALLY!) we get to the real one. The final one.

SERIOUSLY WICKED

Chapter One: TRUE WITCHERY

I was mucking out the dragon’s garage when the witch’s text popped up on my phone.

BRING ME A BIRD

“Ugh,” I said to Moonfire. “Here we go again.”

Note: I kept the most important chore (mucking out the dragon’s RV garage) and then we jump RIGHT TO THE CONFLICT WITH THE WITCH. No detailed explanation of every single one of Cam’s magical chores. No weird musings about papercuts or pickles. It still establishes the humor in the story, which partly comes from the juxtaposition of magic and mundanity: dragons living in garages, a wicked witch who sends her demands by text (the witch is a big texter.) It still establishes that Cam has to work. A lot. And then: Cam brings the witch a bird and the witch tells her she’s planning to take over the world. Just a normal Tuesday.

Buy Seriously Wicked on Amazon

About the author:

Tina Connolly is the Nebula-nominated author of the Ironskin trilogy from Tor Books. Her next book, Seriously Wicked, comes out May 5th from Tor Teen. Her stories have appeared in Women Destroy SF, Lightspeed, Tor.com, Strange Horizons, UFO 3, and many more. Her narrations have appeared in podcasts including Podcastle, Pseudopod, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and she recently recorded the audiobook for Alex Shvartsman’s Explaining Cthulhu to Grandma, which is available on Amazon. She runs the Parsec-winning flash fiction podcast Toasted Cake.

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The Hook: Children of Arkadia by Darusha Wehm

April 28, 2015
Children-of-Arkadia-cover-1000

The Hook

Raj Patel pressed his face against the porthole, his fingers locked tight around the nearby handhold. His stomach lurched and rolled, only partly because he was still unused to weightlessness. Mostly it was the emotional stew created by the sight of the massive planet appearing before him, its almost inconceivable bulk entirely obscuring the four wheel-shaped habitats he knew were there, orbiting Jupiter. Sat Yuga, Fiddler’s Green, Eden and Arkadia.

He rolled the word around in his mind. Arkadia. His new home.

Darusha Wehm writes:

Children of Arkadia is high-tech science fiction (space stations! artificial general intelligences! smart drugs!) with a pastoral, agrarian sensibility (farming! water wheels! goats!). Arkadia is built by a group of political dissidents, economic refugees and disgruntled AIs fleeing a war-torn Earth to create a new society in space. But creating a new world, with new systems — both political and technological — is challenging, even when everyone is working toward a common goal. After all, just because I treat you the way I want to be treated, there’s no reason to believe that you’re being treated the way you want.

Originally the story opened on Earth, setting the scene for why the characters leave in the first place. But this isn’t a story about Earth and what happens there. It’s a story about making something new, about leaving behind preconceptions and prejudices (or not), and how to build something better.

I realized that I wanted the reader to have that same sense of excitement and trepidation the characters had when the full understanding of what a one way trip to space entails came to them. I wanted to capture that sense of wonder I feel every time I see visions of the cosmos, the desperate desire to be out there and see it for myself, right along with the terror of making an irreversible decision.

Raj is uncomfortable, physically but also emotionally. He’s leaving behind everything he knows to do something that, on the face of it, is absolutely crazy. There’s no going back and that’s terrifying, even if the place he’s going to is meant to become a paradise. The story is all about transition from one kind of society to another, a home of birth to a home of intention. Change is frightening, even when it’s a change for the better. Opening with a visual marker of change not only sets the tone for the whole novel, but also clues the readers to some of the upcoming struggles the characters will face.

Besides, if you have the opportunity to open with the image of Jupiter heaving into view from the port of a spaceship, why would you not do that?

Buy Children of Arkadia on Amazon

About the author:

Darusha Wehm is the three-time Parsec Award shortlisted author of the novels Beautiful Red, Self Made, Act of Will and The Beauty of Our Weapons. Her next novel, Children of Arkadia (Bundoran Press), will be released on April 28, 2015. Her short fiction has appeared in many venues, including Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, Toasted Cake and Escape Pod. She is the editor of the crime and mystery magazine Plan B.

She is from Canada, but currently lives in Wellington, New Zealand after spending the past several years traveling at sea on her sailboat. For more information, visit http://darusha.ca.

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Edmund Schubert Withdraws From the Hugo Award Consideration

April 27, 2015

the-golem-of-deneb-seven

Edmund Schubert, a long-time editor-in-chief of InterGalactic Medicine Show announced today that he is withdrawing from consideration for the Best Editor – Short Form Hugo Award. In addition, he has created a sampler of stories which he would have used as his Hugo sampler and (with authors’ permission) made them available for everyone to read free of charge.

You can read the sampler (including my story, “The Golem of Deneb Seven” here.

With his kind permission, I’m re-posting his withdrawal letter.

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My name is Edmund R. Schubert, and I am announcing my withdrawal from the Hugo category of Best Editor (Short Form). My withdrawal comes with complications, but if you’ll bear with me, I’ll do my best to explain.

I am withdrawing because:

  1. I believe that while the Sad Puppies’ stated goal of bringing attention to under-recognized work may have been well-intentioned, their tactics were seriously flawed. While I find it challenging that some people won’t read IGMS because they disagree with the publisher’s perceived politics (which have nothing whatsoever to do with what goes into the magazine), I can’t in good conscience complain about the deck being stacked against me, and then feel good about being nominated for an award when the deck gets stacked in my favor. That would make me a hypocrite. The Sad Puppies slate looks too much to me like a stacked deck, and I can’t be part of that and still maintain my integrity.
  2. Vox Day/Theodore Beale/Rabid Puppies. Good grief. While I firmly believe that free speech is only truly free if everyone is allowed to speak their mind, I believe equally strongly that defending people’s right to free speech comes with responsibilities: in this case, the responsibility to call out unproductive, mean-spirited, inflammatory, and downright hateful speech. I believe that far too many of Vox’s words fall into those categories—and a stand has to be made against it.
  3. Ping pong. (Yes, really.) A ping pong ball only ever gets used by people who need something to hit as a way to score points, and I am through being treated like a political ping pong ball—by all sorts of people across the entire spectrum. Done.

Regrettably this situation is complicated by the fact that when I came to this decision, the WorldCon organizers told me the ballot was ‘frozen.’ This is a pity, because in addition to wanting ‘out’ of the ping pong match, I would very much have liked to see someone else who had earned it on their own (without the benefit of a slate) get on the ballot in my place. But the ballots had already been sent off to the printers. Unfortunately this may reduce my actions to a symbolic gesture, but I can’t let that prevent me from following my conscience.

So it seems that the best I can do at this stage is ask everyone with a Hugo ballot to pretend I’m not there. Ignore my name, because if they call my name at the award ceremony, I won’t accept the chrome rocketship. My name may be on that ballot, but it’s not there the way I’d have preferred.

I will not, however, advocate for an across-the-board No Award vote. That penalizes people who are innocent, for the sake of making a political point. Vox Day chose to put himself and his publishing company, Castalia House, in the crosshairs, which makes him fair game—but not everybody, not unilaterally. I can’t support that.

Here’s what I do want to do, though, to address where I think the Sad Puppies were off-target: I don’t think storming the gates of WorldCon was the right way to bring attention to worthy stories. Whether or not you take the Puppies at their word is beside the matter; it’s what they said they wanted, and I think bringing attention to under-represented work is an excellent idea.

So I want to expand the reading pool.

Of course, I always think more reading is a good thing. Reading is awesome. Reading—fiction, specifically—has been proven to make people more empathetic, and God knows we need as much empathy as we can possibly get these days. I also believe that when readers give new works by new authors an honest chance, they’ll find things they appreciate and enjoy.

In that spirit, I am taking the material that would have comprised my part of the Hugo Voters Packet and making it available to everyone, everywhere, for free, whether they have a WorldCon membership or not. Take it. Read it. Share it. It’s yours to do with as you will.

The only thing I ask is that whatever you do, do it honestly.

Don’t like some of these stories? That’s cool; at least I’ll know you don’t like them because you read them, not because you disagree with political ideologies that have nothing to do with the stories.

You do like them? Great; share them with a friend. Come and get some more.

But whatever you decide, decide it honestly, not to score a point.

And let me be clear about this: While I strongly disagree with the way Sad Puppies went about it… when the Puppies say they feel shut out because of their politics, it’s hard for me to not empathize because I’ve seen IGMS’s authors chastised for selling their story to us, simply because of people’s perceptions about the publisher’s personal views. I’ve also seen people refuse to read any of the stories published in IGMS for the same reason.

With regard to that, I want to repeat something I’ve said previously: while Orson Scott Card and I disagree on several social and political subjects, we respect each other and don’t let it get in the way of IGMS’s true goal: supporting writers and artists of all backgrounds and preferences. The truth is that Card is neither devil nor saint; he’s just a man who wants to support writers and artists—and he doesn’t let anything stand in the way of that.

As editor of IGMS, I can, and have, and will continue to be—with the full support of publisher Orson Scott Card—open to publishing stories by and about gay authors and gay characters, stories by and about female authors and female characters, stories by authors and about characters of any and every racial, political, or religious affiliation—as long as I feel like those authors 1) have a story to tell, not a point to score, and 2) tell that story well. And you know what? Orson is happy to have me do so. Because the raison d’etre of IGMS is to support writers and artists. Period.

IGMS—Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show—is open to everyone. All the way. Always has been, always will be. All I ask, all I have ever asked, is that people’s minds operate in the same fashion.

Consider this the beginning then of the larger reading campaign that should have been. To kick it off, I offer you this sampling from IGMS, which represents the essence of how I see the magazine—a reflection of the kind of stories I want to fill IGMS with, that will help make it the kind of magazine I want IGMS to be—and that I believe it can be if readers and writers alike will give it a fair chance.

If you have reading suggestions of your own, I heartily encourage you help me build and distribute a list.

(Yes, I know, there are already plenty of reading lists out there. But you will never convince me that there is such a thing as too much reading. Never.)

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I, for one, am sad about Edmund’s decision. He was on my nominating ballot (and I had no association nor even knowledge of what was on the Puppy slates). I know of at least several other fans who nominated him as well. I hope to see him back on a future ballot sooner, rather than later.

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The Hook: Disciple of the Wind by Steve Bein

April 17, 2015

disciple

The Hook:

Mariko would never forget where she was when she heard the news.

Steve Bein writes:

There are those events in life that make such a deep impression that you’ll never forget where you were when they happened. Some are personal (my memory of the moment I learned about my first published story is nearly perfect, all the way down to how cloudy it was and how much sunlight was in the room), while some are so large that they define the experience of a generation.

It’s too bad that those generation-shaping moments are often tragic. Everyone of my parents’ generation can tell you exactly where they were when they heard about the assassination of JFK. Everyone of my generation can tell you where they were when the Challenger exploded. Everyone older than ten can tell you where they were on 9/11.

The first sentence of Disciple of the Wind was born out of a conversation I had with my brother the day after 9/11. I was living in Honolulu at the time, so because of the time difference, by the time I got out of bed all four planes had crashed. I’d gone to sleep in a nation at peace and I woke up in a nation under attack. My brother was living in Chicago, and heard all the events unfold one by one. There was a terrible aviation accident in Manhattan. No, not an accident; another plane went down. Then a third. Then a fourth. No one knew how many more there would be.

What my brother and I talked about was whose experience was worse? I don’t know that we ever came to an answer; the two experiences were so different. Reflecting on it now, I find it strange that I can remember the conversation so clearly, yet I can’t remember what conclusion we came to. But the fact that it stuck with me all these years is what inspired the opening pages of Disciple of the Wind.

No spoiler here: right from the first chapter, Tokyo is under assault. One explosion could have been an accident; the second one makes it a pattern. Mariko Oshiro, the only female detective in Tokyo’s top police unit, knows exactly who carried out the attack. She’s arrested him before: Jōko Daishi, leader of the Divine Wind. His cult has attempted terrorist attacks before; this time, Mariko failed to stop them.

She knows more about Jōko Daishi than any other cop in the city, but she’s never been able to watch her tongue. When she pisses off her commanding officer, she loses her badge. Now she faces an awful choice: her surest bet for stopping the Divine Wind is to abandon all the values she holds dear, join forces with a criminal syndicate, and become a killer herself.

From there I’ll just say things get a lot worse for her—and for Tokyo—before they get better. If you like police thrillers, I think this book is for you. If you like to see characters push the boundaries of their own morality, and venture into gray areas where you might be able to keep track of right and wrong, then this book is definitely for you.

Buy Disciple of the Wind on Amazon

About the author:

Steve Bein (pronounced “Bine”) is a philosopher, photographer, traveler, translator, martial artist, and award-winning author of science fiction and fantasy. His short fiction has appeared in Asimov’sInterzoneWriters of the Future, and in international translation. His first novel, Daughter of the Sword, was met with critical acclaim, and his second novel, Year of the Demon, was named one of the top five fantasy novels of 2013 by Library Journal. Steve’s newest book, Disciple of the Wind is in stores now, and his new novella, Streaming Dawn, is available now for your e-reader. You can find his work at Powell’s, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and Audible.

Steve lives in Austin, Texas. Please keep up with him on Facebook at facebook/philosofiction and on Twitter @AllBeinMyself. Appearances, publishing news, photos, links, and more can all be found at http://www.philosofiction.com.

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Funny Podcasts

April 15, 2015

My humorous flash story “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Monsters” has been podcasted, rather brilliantly, at Far-Fetched Fables. You can listen to it there, or read the original at DSF.

And speaking of funny stories, there’s no more appropriate listening on April 15 than “Carla at the Off-Planet Tax Return Helpline” by Caroline M. Yoachim. It was originally published in UFO3, and is now live at Toasted Cake. Listen to it here.

 

 

 


The Hook: Superposition by David Walton

April 10, 2015

Superposition cover

The Hook:

I should have known better than to let him in.  Brian Vanderhall showed up on my doorstep in the falling snow wearing flip-flops, track shorts, and an old MIT T-shirt, the breath steaming from his mouth in little white gusts.  It would have saved me a lot of trouble if I had slammed the door in his face, never mind the cold.  Instead, like a fool, I stepped aside.

David Walton writes:

Some stories start with a bang: an explosion, a death, a fire, or an arrest.  Others start more subtly, perhaps even with an event the character himself doesn’t realize will be momentous.  Either way, a story almost always begins with the moment everything changes for the main character.  It’s the spark that kicks off all the action and danger in the rest of the book.  The point when, whether the characters recognize it or not, their problems begin, and there’s no going back.

In Superposition, it’s the moment Jacob Kelley opens the door.  Before an hour is past, the man he lets in will have demonstrated an unsettling new technology and fired a gun at Jacob’s wife.  But although he doesn’t know it, it’s the moment he opens the door and steps aside that turns his life upside-down forever.

That’s why I think this first paragraph works as a hook, despite its relative simplicity.  A man comes to the house; his friend lets him in.  Not much to it, on the surface.  But there are clues to the reader that something more sinister is afoot.  For example, Vanderhall is badly dressed for the weather, as if he ran out into the snow with no time to throw on shoes or a coat.  Why?  Was he afraid?  Of what?  Also, the narrator says that he regrets letting him in (“like a fool, I stepped aside”), implying that there is trouble coming.  There’s also the suggestion that Vanderhall has been trouble in the past (“I should have known better”).

These clues work together to give the reader a sense of unease, of unsolved mystery, of trouble to come.  That trouble won’t take long to materialize–before the day is over, Vanderhall turns up dead and Jacob is arrested for his murder, and a relentless quantum intelligence attacks Jacob’s family.  I hope you’ll consider picking up a copy, and reading what happens next!

Buy Superposition on Amazon

About the author:

David Walton is the author of the newly released novel Superposition, a quantum physics murder mystery with the same mind-bending, breathless action as films like Inception and Minority Report.  His other works include the Philip K. Dick Award-winning Terminal Mind, the historical fantasy Quintessence (Tor, 2013) and its sequel, Quintessence Sky.  You can read about his books and life at http://www.davidwaltonfiction.com/.

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UFO4 Slush Update

April 10, 2015

First, I’d like to thank our Kickstarter backers. UFO4 raised nearly $8500 during its campaign, enough to buy full slate of stories. interior illustration, and some exciting initiatives to be announced soon.

To date we’ve received nearly 200 submissions. Approximately 150 of them have already been responded to.  We’re still considering a handful of stories from the first week of submissions and several have been advanced into the hold pile, to be decided on at the end of the submissions window. I post fairly regular updates on Twitter as to the status of the slush pile, so folks could query if the response has gone awry. Most authors should hear within 1-3 days.

If you haven’t submitted yet, please keep sending your stories! Don’t wait til the last minute. We always see a huge upswell of submissions in the last day and that’s fine, but consider this: if a story is pretty close but needs a rewrite, we’re more likely to ask for one if there’s time for the author to deliver. If we’re at the very end of the reading period and are on the fence about the story, there may not be enough time to ask for a rewrite. Of course, if a story truly wins us over, that won’t be an issue at all — but submitting earlier is good strategy in this case.

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