Where You Can Find Me at Bubonicon 2014

I’m very excited to be a part of my local convention, Bubonicon, in Albuquerque, New Mexico this year. New Mexico has an amazing group of speculative writers writing across many different sub-genres of the field, and they’ll all be in one place! If you find yourself in the Land of Enchantment for the first weekend of August, be sure to check it out.


Here’s where you’ll find me:

To be successful in SF, a writer must keep up with the technology, the competition and the field. Why are those all so necessary? How do the panelists do that? How does one balance the writing needs with mundane life? What happens if a writer doesn’t keep up? Are the panelists worried about being left behind?

Why I’m excited: Because I get to geek out about research and how my time in grad school and academia shaped the writer I am today!

An anthology based on SM Stirling’s “Change” series will be released in 2015. Contributors to the anthology (including me!) talk about their stories, what inspired them, what part Stirling played in their creations, the rules to playing in one person’s sandbox without contradicting each other, etc.

Why I’m excited: I get to talk all about my forthcoming story in the anthology along with both the editor and some of the other contributors—a unique opportunity to see how other authors tackled their stories for the anthology.

Why are dystopian futures so popular in the YA market? Are they analogies for how teenaged youths feel about high school? What are some of the good YA dystopian works beyond The Hunger Games and Divergent? Is this sub-genre just a fad or is it here to stay? What might replace it? What’s being done that’s new and different? Has the dystopian theme become a crutch for writers and publishers?

Why I’m excited: Well, it’s no secret that at least half of my published short stories are YA in nature. I’m a big fan of speculative fiction for young adults and look forward to hearing my fellow panelists’ take on the genre.

So mark your calendars and be sure to say hi!

Bubonicon 46
The Albuquerque Marriott Uptown
2101 Louisiana Blvd NE (Louisiana & I-40)
Albuquerque, NM 87110

Guests of Honor: John G. Hemry and Cherie Priest
Toastmaster: Steven Gould
Guest Artist: Darla Hallmark



The Story Behind The Story: Forge and Fledge

Yesterday, the Runaway issue of Crossed Genres Magazine went live, which includes stories by Rachael Acks, Angela Rega, and yours truly!


If you haven’t yet, you should go read “Forge and Fledge,” a young adult science fiction story about an orphan of Titan desperate to escape life on a hydrocarbon mining rig. No worries, I’ll wait.

I’m so thankful to publishers Kay T. Holt and Bart Leib, as well as editor Kelly Jennings, for selecting my story for inclusion in the issue. Recently, Crossed Genres became a SFWA-qualifying market, and they are running a Kickstarter to keep publishing diverse stories and paying pro rates. If you love speculative fiction that bucks the norm, consider subscribing to the magazine and/or donating to the campaign.

Story spoilers follow:

A while back, I started researching Titan, a moon of Saturn, thinking it would be a great story setting. Originally, I wanted to use it for a novel, but the unique characteristics of Titan, that it’s mostly ice and covered in hydrocarbons, made it difficult to write the story I had already plotted out in my head. I eventually turned to Mars and wrote my novel, but in the back of my mind I kept thinking about Titan.

It’s considered a candidate for human colonization, but there are a lot of technical hurdles to overcome, not least of which is just getting there. Subzero temperatures, a thick atmosphere that exerts a pressure one and a half times that of Earth, and a gravity that’s slightly less that of the Moon’s. But it has plenty of water, nitrogen, and methane, so, as long as you get the engineering right, people could theoretically live there. (This is essentially the TL;DR version of the Wikipedia article: Colonization of Titan.)

And what would be the attraction to colonizing Titan? Why the hydrocarbons, of course (or perhaps the water depending on which post-apocalyptic future scenario you subscribe to). But even if it were possible, I couldn’t see people jumping up and down to live on a frozen iceball. Hence the corporate mining facility and the penal labor force in my story. And my main character Zhen wants nothing more than to get away by any means possible.

Remember the low grav and high atmospheric pressure? Well, it’s been theorized that humans could strap on wings and fly on Titan so long as they didn’t freeze to death first. In fact, this concept was recently featured on io9—propulsion is still an issue, but Zhen’s dive off the rig’s platform, where it hovers over Titan’s surface, would hopefully provide enough momentum for flight. At least that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.


Image courtesy of stans_pat_pix of Flickr

 As to submission stats, I only sent this to three markets and lucked out on the third one. I’m so happy it found a home. I hope you enjoy it as well!



Know Your Genre – Speculative Fiction

How many times have you heard that? If we are to ever write something worth publishing, we must know how our book differs from all that has come before. This is essential in marketing your book to agents, editors, and ultimately readers. As agents are fond of saying, your book’s genre is where it gets shelved in a brick-and-mortar bookstore.

With the rise of e-books and self-publishing along with the current trend of postmodern genre mash-ups, the importance of genre may be slightly decreasing, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t know your stuff. Consider it another part of the research process.

That’s why I’m so freaked out about attending Taos Toolbox next month, a two-week science fiction and fantasy novel writing workshop. I write speculative fiction, of course, but I know I’m not as well versed as I should be in the field.

Sure I’ve read Tolkien and Lewis; Le Guin, L’Engle, Bradbury, and McKinley; Susan Cooper and Lloyd Alexander; and later Phillip Pullman and Garth Nix. I also read my fair share of Piers Anthony and too many Star Wars novels to count. But current stuff? No so much. You’ll also note how much of the authors above trend toward more young adult stories.

So of course I started hunting around on the interwebs to see what was considered required reading for speculative fiction.

io9 provides a wonderful overview of the genre with their Syllabus and Book List for Novice Students of Science Fiction Literature. The list is described thusly:

It is not comprehensive. It is intended to introduce the novice student of SF literature to the major themes in the genre, as well as books and authors who are representative of different eras in SF lit (including the present day).

And I’ve read just 7 of the 24 titles listed. Yikes.

Last year, NPR ran a poll for the 100 best books in science fiction and fantasy. I fared better here, having read 29 of the top 50 books (and another 14 of books 51-100). But still, there are plenty of gaps in my reading.

Earlier this month, Kirkus Review ran a series on Social Science Fiction (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3). And while I haven’t read all of the books they mentioned, it’s clear that social science fiction is one of the areas I’m better versed in. That and young adult SFF up until two years ago (when I essentially stopped pleasure reading and started writing more).

This is good since I tend to write more socio-cultural speculative fiction stories in addition to YA. There’s still more work to do, but at least I’m not a complete slouch in the sub-genres I’m writing in.

What about you?

For more recommendations:

Adult SFF: David Brin’s List of “Greatest Science Fiction and Fantasy Tales”
SFF Short Stories: Bibliophile Stalker’s Short Story Collections for the Aspiring Speculative Fiction Writer
YA SFF: Book Review Blog Charlotte’s Libraryvar gaJsHost = ((“https:” == document.location.protocol) ? “https://ssl.” : “http://www.”); document.write(unescape(“%3Cscript src='” + gaJsHost + “google-analytics.com/ga.js’ type=’text/javascript’%3E%3C/script%3E”)); try { var pageTracker = _gat._getTracker(“UA-15029142-1”); pageTracker._trackPageview(); } catch(err) {}

Transitioning into a Second Draft

I discovered the short story I had a sneaking suspicion was actually a novel last fall is, in fact, a novel. And I’m 90% done drafting it. I have the last section roughly outlined, and should finish up the first draft by the end of the month if not sooner.

And it needs to get done by then. So I can revise it, and expand it, and send it to my CPs, all in time before Taos Toolbox come June when I plan on sharing the novel with the other participants. It’s overwhelming when I look at all those goals smooshed into a single sentence, but the terror is keeping me going, keeping me productive, as I pound out ~2k a day to get there.

But even though the first draft isn’t completed yet, I’m already thinking about what I’ll need to do to prepare for the second pass. I don’t have the time to set the story aside for a couple of months – even though I am planning on a break here and there for writing short stories.

So I need to be focused and smart in terms of how I proceed.


I’ve been doing a lot of research on an as-needed basis as I’ve been drafting, but there’s still a lot more to be done to really make the story come alive. Aspects of the world I’ve created need to be fleshed out and tied more firmly to plot elements. Parts of the story take place where I live currently, so field trips to area attractions and museums and the like are good too for getting at those concrete sensory details to anchor the story action and make it as authentic as possible. Geography, language, history, science, politics…I’m drawing on it all and want it represented as accurately as I’m capable of doing in this second draft.


This is one of those things I have to consciously incorporate when I write. I usually get so caught up in action and dialogue that description usually falls by the wayside. So in my second draft, I know I’ll need to really pay attention for opportunities to describe my world and my characters. I’ll be drawing on my research for one, but now that I’ll have a completed draft, it’ll be easier for me to go back and accurately depict my characters as well. Usually, I don’t really have a good sense of my characters until I finish the first draft, where I can then chart their character arc over the whole story. So on this second pass, I’ll be taking a hard look at how I describe and characterize the story players throughout the book.


Partly because of the way I’ve chosen to structure this book (for now) and partly because I’ve been so focused on getting to the end of the first draft, stakes aren’t as fully explored as they’ll need to be if I want to attempt to publish this story. In my second draft, I’ll be taking a hard look at each chapter, each section of the story, to determine ways to consistently raise the stakes and ratchet up the tension as the story progresses. It’s close now, but it needs to be even more pronounced to achieve that page-turning quality in what’s turned out to be a more character-driven sci-fi adventure (I know, I’m still wondering how that happened too).

Plot Expansion

Because I’ve been flying through my initial draft (for me at least), there are some huge gaps where I’ve left out entire scenes or have only provided the barest skeleton of story action. All of those areas will need to be fleshed out and expanded. There’s a good chance what I discover in writing these new scenes will need to be incorporated elsewhere in the story as well so everything fits together naturally – I don’t want things shoehorned or appended onto the story at this stage. Things should hang together at this point. And if they don’t, I know I have more work to do.


This probably goes without saying, but when I’m drafting I don’t always have my most beautiful prose flowing. I’m trying to get from point A to point Z as fast as possible, and if the right word or phrase isn’t readily available, I skip it and move on. On the second pass, I need to root out every instance of lazy writing, cut clichés and awkward phrasing, and instead create laser-sharp prose chock full of precise details. Intentional writing, made a heck of a lot easier once I have my first draft done and understand the shape of the story.

Keep your fingers crossed for me as I finish up my first draft and decide what to do with it.

What do you look for improving on a second pass? How do you prepare to revise a first draft?
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And Now for Something Completely Different

That’s what I did this weekend: Something different.

The husband of a friend of mine was asked to teach a self-defense class at the local Y, aimed at women starting their first year of college. Since he never taught this type of class before, he asked me, his sister, his wife, and a couple of her friends to come over to their house to practice the class. He’d get a chance to troubleshoot the material while we learned how to defend ourselves.

Now, I have never taken a self-defense course in my life. I’m at the taller end of the spectrum and athletic in the sense that I played sports in high school and still do stuff to stay in shape. I’d like to think I’m not an easy target, which is probably why I’ve never been in a situation where I’ve needed to “defend” myself.

But it just so happens that I put a lot of my female characters in situations where they need to defend themselves, and until this weekend, I only had my imagination to guide me in crafting those scenes.

The class had a presentation component and then a hands-on part where we practiced kicks, punches, and techniques to maim opponents. It was surprisingly fun and hugely informative – especially for that writing part of my brain.

For example, personal attacks are usually power-based crimes, where the offender is seeking control over another person (sex is only part of the equation). And it is essential that they win the confrontation. In the attacker’s frame of mind, they must be justified in attacking, there must be no other alternatives, the benefits of the attack outweigh any consequences, and they must have the ability to attack. Without all these factors, they will choose another victim or opportunity to strike.

There are certain behaviors that can signal trouble:

Forced teaming – where the attacker will align themselves with you in a certain situation to gain trust and receive preferential treatment.

Charm – a learned social skill directed at you to receive preferential treatment

Too many details – the attacker creates a story to gain your trust but includes too many details to create illusion of authenticity

Typecasting – the attacker fits you into a social group you don’t want to be a part of so that you react against it and behave in the manner the attacker wants.

Loansharking – the attacker gives you something you didn’t ask for so you feel indebted to them

Unsolicited promise – The attacker says, “I’m just going to do x, and that’s it. I promise.” You believe them and let down your guard.

People who discount the word “No” – You say no. The attacker presses the issue, and you say, “Well, ok.” Cycle continues, chipping away at your consistency so that when you say no and mean it, the attacker disbelieves you.

Many of these behaviors are also found during the courtship and seduction of characters in romance novels as well. I’m not sure what the lesson there is, but it’s something to think about…

I also got a review of flight-or-fight behaviors:

  • Tunnel vision
  • Acceleration of heart and lungs
  • Constriction of blood vessels to unneeded parts of the body
  • Dilation of blood vessels to muscles
  • Shakiness
  • Degradation of fine muscle control

Some of these behaviors show up in my actions scenes, and some of them I’ll be sure to include for that extra punch of authenticity.

Also – and I can’t stress this enough – doing the actual punches and kicks and whatnot opened up a whole mess of sensory impressions I can use in my fight scenes. Before, I would envision a scene and write it down, relying primarily on visual impressions. I thought that was enough. I was wrong.

Now I know the proper techniques of some moves and can better explain them. I know what it feels like to be that close to another person with your hand on their windpipe or your knuckles knotted in their hair. It makes a huge difference, and if you can add those details to your story, it will certainly kick things up a notch.

Have you ever done something on a lark and had the experience enrich your writing abilities?
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