Sunday, August 30, 2009

Diabolical Plots is moving!

Grand Opening! Fabulous Prize! My interviews/reviews/con reports/editorials are moving to a new site, where I am joining forces with fellow writer Anthony Sullivan. The other site is much prettier, due to wonderful art contributed by illustrator Joey Jordan and Anthony's website know-how. And with more than one of us working on it, we will be able to put out more content and more consistently than I was able to on my own.

Newly posted: our interview with Joey Jordan, and with Writers of the Future coordinating judge KD Wentworth.

Upcoming interviews: Jordan Lapp, Charles Coleman Finlay, Nancy Kress, Tad Williams, and more!

I've also moved all my interviews and many of my other posts over there. Also, check out my bio page, which has a link to my bibliography, which will have links to all my publications. :)

I hope I don't lose any of you in the transition, but the blog will still be open over here so any stragglers will see this link. and I'll still get notifications if you leave a comment here.

And yes, there's a prize, so check it out, explore, leave a comment (alas, relatives of myself and Anthony not eligible). We look forward to having you around. :)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Upcoming: Joey Jordan interview

You readers may have noticed that I haven't posted as many interviews in recent weeks. Don't worry, they're all still in the works, and they'll all come out in due time. I'm experiencing some delays:
1. Some of the interviews haven't happened as fast as I'd hoped, real life intruding and all that.
2. I'm submitting my nonfiction to markets who haven't published me, such as IRoSF and ASIM, so the time waiting for their reading queues is delaying some of my interviews.

Anyway, on to today's news. Coming soon: an interview with artist and illustrator Joey Jordan Her illustration work has been printed in Jim Baen's Universe, and you can check her work out at She's a very talented artist who I've had the pleasure of collaborating with on more than one occasion.

If you have any questions for her, drop me a line and I'll try to work them in.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Inferno by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

Written by Frank Dutkiewicz.

Inferno is the modern day telling of Dantes 14th century epic poem. Even for those who have never read The Divine Comedy (such as myself), this tale of a trip to hell is familiar to many. The 1976 Hugo and Nebula nominated novel by Niven and Pournelle has had over twenty reprints over the years. The latest reprint is available on the shelves of bookstores in time for its long awaited sequel Escape from Hell.

The novel opens with Science Fiction writer Allen Carpentier dying in a stunt to impress fans. The agnostic Carpentier finds himself in an astral equivalent of solitary confinement. His world is a bronze haze. He can think, speak and move but cannot feel or see a thing. His very existence challenges Descartes statement I think therefore I am. In a fit of madness, he says the magic words that frees him from his prison (a djinn bottle), only to find himself in the Vestibule of Hell where he meets guide, Benito (a real person in history). Benito informs him where he is and claims to know the way out, through the nine circles of hell to its very center.

The ever-skeptical Carpentier chooses to believe he is elsewhere and theorizes he is in a futuristic amusement park he terms ‘Infernoland’. Allen and his guide travel through all the horrors of hell all while he meets people that he knew during his life and famous people throughout history.

Inferno is a visual masterpiece. Each layer of hell is laid out as maze of terror. The souls of the damned suffer as cruelly as the fire and brimstone preachers have claimed, and some, in this book. Carpentier and his companions suffer many of the punishments of the damned as they cross each circle. They endure such cruelty as a boiling lake of blood, a desert of burning sand with snowflakes of fire, and an industrial wasteland patrolled by driverless Corvettes that run down the wasters in life. However, Carpentier’s real struggle is with his own agnostic beliefs.

One of the foundations for an agnostic is why would an all powerful being create a supernatural torture chamber like hell? Allen, the Science fiction master prefers to believe he is another prop in a futuristic society than contemplate a possibility that Dante’s vision was real. He is constantly reevaluating his theories while witnessing many of the miracles and horrors of hell, such as; never being able to reach the short wall the circles hell, the judge of Hell, Minos, and his impossibly long tail, and the ability to heal despite suffering the worst of injuries.

Carpentier cannot understand the unending punishment souls are forced to face for eternity. The suffering that many endure seem out of balance for the sins they had committed in life. His conscience argues this point throughout the book while he tries to piece together the where and why he and others are there. The ability to make a universe does not presuppose moral superiority, he concludes at one point. By the end of the novel, Allen finds a reason on why god would have a place like hell, one that I found fitting.

As an amateur that writes as hobby, I recommend Inferno as a great template on how to build on a familiar theme (hell) and insert characters that are larger than a wonderful plot. One of the recommendations that many ‘How to’ books stress is to make your character change from the experience in your story. Allen Carpentier changes like few others that I have read before. Niven and Pournelle create a man who faces down demons and wades through boiling blood very believable to me.

There are very few writers in the industry that are able to work together and produce a publishable story, Niven and Pournelle make it look easy. The two accomplished authors have published several together, The Mote in God’s Eye, Lucifer’s Hammer, Footfall, are just a few. Inferno was their third collaborative novel together, and in my opinion, their best. I was hooked on the first page, followed their journey eagerly as they passed through each circle of hell, and found the ending moving.

Some may find Inferno theologically challenging. I believe it was written to be that way. As reader who loves Science Fiction and Fantasy, Inferno has remained in my top ten favorite stories of all time. I can’t recommend highly enough.


Frank Dutkiewicz is every bit as cute and cuddly as his picture suggests. He has nine stories that have been published. His first eight were all flash fiction then he got wise and rode Dave's coattails and sold one to the upcoming Shadows of the Emerald City anthology. The chicks dig Frank and can't keep their hands off him but hate his cold nose.

Frank's owner is a truck driver for a car hauling company. He travels all across the country and may have ran you off the road at one point. He has a lovely wife and two equally as lovely teenage daughters.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

SpoCon report by Anne Wilkes

This con report was originally printed on Ann Wilkes' blog:

Spocon Con report

Spocon Day one, Friday, July 31

I arrived at the con early enough to hit the dealers' room before opening ceremonies. I ran into Maggie Bonham (M H Bonham) before opening ceremonies and invited her to read with me at the Broad Universe Rapid Fire Reading in the morning. All the local Broads had other plans or were getting ready for WorldCon.

Last year, opening ceremonies was very entertaining, with Timothy Zahn and filking by Char MacKay. Of course, the bat flying around the auditorium was a nice touch, although no one could take credit for that but the bat.

This year was ... different. I should probably stop right there before I slam the poor con com. But now you're curious, aren't you? Well, when Dennis Gagaoin said that we were about to reap the benefits of the con com's months of fighting, that was clearly not a good sign. I'm not sure if the program they had originally planned fell through because someone bailed or they never truly spent time organizing the opening ceremonies. What followed was a lot of people standing up and pinch-hitting. It would have been better to just have one person apologize for the lack of any formal opening ceremonies and say, we have a great weekend planned for you filled with this, this and this. Now go have fun. But no one asked me. Luckily, I live two states away so I can't be tempted to sort them out.

Having taken two planes to get there, and having to read at 9AM, I begged off of further con fun for the evening.

Day two, Saturday, August 1

Only one person showed up at the 9AM reading, so the readers outnumbered the listeners. I read from a story that is set in Chelan, WA and begins with a tragedy that really happened there in the 40s. Our audience of one cried. Maggie read from her new novel, Lachlei. We traded books, so I get to read the rest. :)

I stayed with my writing buddy, Sue Bolich, who lives near Spokane. (Way better than the dorm experience of last year – don't get me started.) I had met Andrea Howe of Blue Falcon Editing last year. It wasn't long before the four of us were the four musketeers for the remainder of the weekend, beginning with a panel Saturday morning. When we weren't paneling, we were eating, talking and laughing our heads off.

My schedule of panels, as I said before, was a perfect fit for me. And my co-panelists were all marvelous, informative, polite and entertaining. My-Twit-Book, Sci-Fi and You Are you kidding me? What do I spend more time doing than writing? The artist guest of honor, John Picacio was on the panel and brought some pointed Twitter questions. I wasn't much help with those since I'm still ignoring the (bird) call to tweet. We did have a lively discussion about posting or tweeting etiquette and how to silence people who fill up our walls or phones with a constant barrage. I met John in the green room (which moved not just once, as it did last year, but twice!). He was asking about the table tents and if his was there. I didn't recognize him and said, "It would help if you told me your name." He's apparently forgiven me.

My next panel was in the same room ten minutes later. Another subject near and dear to my heart (and my writing): grammar. Andrea sat next to me on this one and after she made a Princess Bride and Firefly reference in asides to me, I knew: friends for life. Maggie, Sue and I had made lunch plans already. I invited Andrea and our little band of geeky, literary lasses was born.

I shared a signing with Patty Briggs. Her line was none-stop, a dozen people deep for the whole hour. I didn't get a chance to speak with her, but she has obviously made an impression on a good number of people. I hope I can get to know her at a future con. I signed one copy of Awesome Lavratt.

Day 3, Sunday, 8/2

Sunday was yet another 9AM appearance. Good thing there was no drinking – or at least none that we bothered to find. The panel was on Worldbuilding. What could I possibly say sitting next to L E Modesitt, SpoCon's writer guest of honor? Sue, Maggie and I still managed to look half-way intelligent. I picked up a couple of good book recommendations along the way: Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies and Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, both by Jared Diamond, and A History of Food by Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat.

Three of the four musketeers (minus Andrea) had a nice conversation with Lee (Modesitt) in the hall after the panel. Very personable guy. And he redefines dapper. Mark Ferrari asked him how many vests he owns. His reply was something over 80! I had interesting chats with Mark in the (first) green room about publishing and writing. And I lugged Mark's hefty tome, The Book of Joby, up to Washington just to get his autograph.

Mark and I were on a panel last year in which we created a story for the audience on the spot. What fun! He read Awesome Lavratt during the con and praised my sense of humor during the panel – bless him! We've been pen pals ever since. He was the artist guest of honor at SpoCon last year.

Something new this year was a charity thing where people bought little matchboxes with slips of paper in them for a buck. The slips of paper had a name of a guest or pro and a greeting. They had to find the person and offer the greeting. Then they got a donated item from that person's goody bag. It was a nice idea, but will need some fine tuning for next year. I especially enjoyed signing one of my books (out of the goody bag) for an eleven-year-old girl.

My con report is rather limited. I didn't attend the masquerade, I don't game and I had to catch the flight back before the closing ceremonies. Still worse, thanks to the TSA (They searched my husband's luggage and it poofed.), I had no camera for the trip. I should have picked up a disposable. Anyway, I took one picture with my phone and had a passerby take another. They looked great when I peered at them at the time. Apparently, not so much...

Ann Wilkes' stories have appeared in magazines and print anthologies. Awesome Lavratt (2009, Unlimited Publishing) is a tongue-in-cheek space opera with mind control, passion and adventure. If her alien worlds don't hook you, her sense of humor will. Visit, for a full bio, her blog and links to online stories.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Sale #2!

More good news, I received another acceptance this morning from J.W. Schnarr who is editing the Shadows of the Emerald City anthology, a Wizard of Oz horror anthology. When I heard the theme, I knew I HAD to submit, and I'm glad I did. :)

The story is titled "The Utility of Love", and it's a retelling of The Wizard of Oz, but the Tin Man is 2 stories tall and... isn't such a nice guy.

A few stats in case people are interested:
Time since I started writing fiction: 2 years, 6 months
Time since I started writing short stories: 1 year, 2 months
Short story #: 19
Total responses before this sale: 128
Total rejections since last sale: ---2
Time since last sale: ---7 days
Total rejections of this story before this sale: 0
Total responses from Pseudopod before this sale: 0

Friday, July 31, 2009

New Article at Fantasy Magazine: Wicked: Novel vs. Musical

Fantasy Magazine has reprinted one of my reviews titled Wicked: Novel vs. Musical.

You can check it out here.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

My First Fiction Sale!

I have some exciting news today--my first sale! Yay!
Pseudopod has decided to buy my story The Disconnected to publish as a podcast. It will be available for free download on their site. I'll post a link when it's available.

One nice thing about this sale is that it is audio rights ONLY. That means that I can still try to sell first printing rights to a professional print market.

A few stats in case people are interested:
Time since I started writing fiction: 2 years, 5 months
Time since I started writing short stories: 1 year, 1 month
Total rejections before this sale: 124
Total rejections since last sale: ---(I'll fill this in for future sales)
Time since last sale: ---(I'll fill this in for future sales)
Total rejections of this story before this sale: 8
Total responses from Pseudopod before this sale: 1

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Just to let everyone know, there will be changes coming. What changes, you ask? Well, it's a surprise, and you'll just have to wait and see.

Don't worry, I'm still going to do the 2 interviews per month that I've been doing. :)

Found in Translation: Juliette Wade

Juliette Wade is a writer of speculative fiction whose story Let the Word Take Me was published in the July/August 2008 issue of Analog Science Fiction and Fact. Her second published story, Cold Words, will also appear in Analog, in the October issue, on newsstands at the time of this interview.

Her stories are unique in that they draw heavily on her background in anthropology and linguistics. So many science fiction stories avoid the topic of linguistics entirely, either by ignoring it, or by hand-waving with gadgets like universal translators. Juliette's two Analog stories are centered around establishing communications with alien cultures.

Besides her successful fiction career, she also maintains a blog focused on discussions of linguistics and anthropology of both the real world and fictional locations. Her blog is particularly interesting because she makes it so interactive. You can raise questions there and she also periodically runs worldbuilding workshops, about which I've heard very good things. Check out her blog at

Juliette, thanks for agreeing to this interview.

David Steffen: In your own words, could you tell us a little bit about Cold Words to pique our interest?

Juliette Wade: The thing I love most about Cold Words is that it takes what seems like a pretty simple spaceport deal and turns it into something really exciting by putting it in the point of view of a 6'4'' drug-addicted wolflike alien with ulterior motives. Boy, did that add stakes and complications!

David: Cold Words is told from the point of view of a character who is not human. What particular challenges did this provide? Any advice for writers who would like to write from a non-human point of view?

Juliette: Creating Rulii and his voice was the biggest single investment of time and effort that went into the creation of the story. I actually started with the characteristics of his language, picked a species that would match well with status language issues, then designed the sounds and structure of his language. After that I figured out how I was going to reflect the structure of his language in English, and developed the prose. The step that followed was figuring out what kinds of metaphors he would use to describe his life, and the details of how he would live in the environment of his planet. I kept finding new places, like architecture, where the Aurrel species and their environment would require unique details. My advice to writers who want to write from a non-human point of view is to be systematic, and make sure you're grounded in what the character knows based on his or her environment and experience, so you can use only those things to express the character's judgment of people and events. Otherwise the human viewpoint will start to intrude.

David: You managed to get your very first fiction publication in Analog--which is on the top of many speculative writers' "wish list". Can you tell us a little bit about how this transpired? How long had you been writing before this sale?

Juliette: The Analog connection was very fortuitous, really the result of networking. I'd met Deborah J. Ross when we shared a panel at BayCon in Spring 2007, and having heard about my interest in Linguistics, she introduced me to Sheila Finch, author of The Guild of Xenolinguists, at Westercon a month later. Sheila was the one who told me that Analog's editor, Dr. Stanley Schmidt, enjoyed stories about linguistics. Because of Analog's known interest in hard science fiction, I'd never before considered sending anything to them, but after her recommendation I gave it a try. And it worked!

David: What was your first reaction when you first heard of the story's acceptance? How did you celebrate?

Juliette: I got the letter as I was running out the door to take my kids to gym, and could barely drive. When I opened it I found the first words were "I like 'Let the Word Take Me'." My heart was pounding. It was actually a conditional acceptance, because Dr. Schmidt wanted me to change some of the harder science aspects of the story, like whether the gecko aliens could stick to walls (they were too large to do so, according to the laws of physics). I knew this was my chance, so I changed those aspects of the story and sent it back. I agonized until I got confirmation that the story would be published. Then I did a happy dance!

David: How did your reaction to the second sale differ from the first?

Juliette: I was thrilled, actually, because this time it wasn't a conditional acceptance, and Dr. Schmidt said very nice things about the story. Also, on some level, I was really relieved because I could now be sure the first acceptance hadn't been a fluke. The first one was an idea I'd had for a long time and it happened to land, but Cold Words I designed expressly for Analog.

David: Has being published in Analog helped her with other pro markets? Sales? Personal rejections?

Juliette: I couldn't say. I don't think so; I'd been getting personal rejections for some time before the Analog sale. Also, since I designed Cold Words for them, I never sent it anywhere else. My other current stories are fantasy, so I don't really think there's much cross-influence.

David: Can you explain a little bit about how your world-building workshops work? Who is eligible to join? How do people join?

Juliette: Sure! The workshops are pretty informal and unscheduled. When I think I'll have time to hold one, I post a poll on the blog asking for expressions of interest, and if I get enough, I schedule one. I get people to submit 500-word excerpts from the start of a story, and I pick five participants based on how helpful I think I can be to them. Anyone can submit - there's no requirement that the story be *about* linguistics or anthropology issues - but because of my interests I particularly enjoy working with people who care about the worlds they're building and take interest in strengthening those aspects of their stories. In the last few months I've been too busy to propose a workshop, but I hope to have time for a third one later this year.

David: If we found intelligent extraterrestrial life, how difficult do you think it would be to establish communication? Would it even be possible?

Juliette: In fact, I think it would be extremely difficult and maybe impossible, particularly if we were trying to accomplish it at a distance with no context of alien physiology or environment. There are Earthly scripts we still can't decipher, and we certainly have difficulty with the more complex communications systems of animals on Earth, like dolphins and whales, for example. Languages are fitted to the transmission and reception systems possessed by their speakers, and we could find some things out there that would be beyond our ability to perceive, much less decipher.

David: With your background in linguistics, do you have trouble enjoying SF stories that avoid the issue of language barriers.

Juliette: Actually, no, though I always enjoy the ones that try to take language on. The classic solutions, universal translators or language-deciphering AI's, are so prevalent that I generally consider them to be an element of premise, i.e. I just have to accept that the method works, somehow. That's not too difficult to ignore, and then I can get onto enjoying what the story is really about.

David: Do you write novels, as well as short stories? If yes, do you prefer to write one or the other? Which comes easier to you?

Juliette: Yes, I write novels. I started writing them first, in fact, but I enjoy writing both. I found that starting to write short stories really helped me grasp some of the larger structural aspects of directing a story, so they've helped my novels a lot, indirectly.

David: What's your favorite way to spend your time, besides reading and writing?

Juliette: Being with my family. Going out to the children's museum, or ice skating with them, or just reading books, maybe helping my kids learn to use the computer. Also, talking with my husband is one of my favorite things to do. Sometimes we discuss my writing, and other times his work or events in the world.

David: If you could give only one piece of advice to aspiring writers trying to secure their first fiction sale, what would it be?

Juliette: Be dogged, both in improving your writing and in finding ways to connect to the community of writers. If you believe in it, just keep going.

David: More specifically, since you've had repeated sales to Analog, what is your advice to writers who wish to break into that particular market?

Juliette: It's hard to say. I was lucky, in some sense, that linguistics is what I do and Dr. Schmidt happens to like it. But I do have two pieces of advice: don't *not* submit just because you think Analog is a hard market to break into. Let the editor decide if your story is appropriate for them. The other is, keep in mind that Analog stories are very principled. Follow the guidelines as far as making science (linguistic or otherwise) integral to your plot, and be maniacal about keeping scientific grounding and consistency. This is not to say that you need to explain all the relevant science, just that it needs to serve as a rock-solid foundation for the story to succeed.

David: What was the last book you read?

Juliette: Ship of Dreams, a pirate historical romance written by my friend, Elaine LeClaire. Actually the first romance novel I've ever read, so it was fun and a change of pace. Very well written, too, with terrific historical detail - I heartily recommend her work.

David: Your favorite book?

Juliette: Hands down, my favorite book is The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin. It was the inspiration for my writing philosophy.

David: Who is your favorite author?

Juliette: In science fiction, Ursula K. LeGuin, for the depth and realism of her worlds and their people. In fantasy, I'd say Patricia McKillip, for her sense of story and her poetic use of language.

David: What was the last movie you saw?

Juliette: In the theater, it would have to be WALL-E. A bleak vision of the future, but a wonderful story - and a testament to how effective body language can be in communication.

David: What is your favorite movie?

Juliette: I'm not sure. The Lord of the Rings series is certainly high on my list.

David: Are you currently working on any writing that you'd like to give a sneak peek at?

Juliette: I'm designing a new story for Analog, tentatively titled "At Cross Purposes," where some human terraformers run into trouble with spacefaring aliens who have an unusual view of technology. Almost finished with a novel of linguistic fantasy, "Through This Gate," involving a magic book that contains a world literally made from the delusional writings of a Japanese madwoman who has lived inside it since the 11th century.

David: Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions, Juliette. I look forward to picking up a copy of Analog to see your new story in print.

Also, thank you to Brad R. Torgerson for his contributions to this interview.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Karl Johanson interview's a little delayed

Sorry for the long period of silence. I just haven't had time to write any non-interview posts for a while. I'd planned to post the Karl Johanson interview in the middle of this month, but he's been pretty busy, so it might be a bit longer.

And the Juliette Wade interview should be posted on the 28th, come rain or shine!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Upcoming interview: Juliette Wade

Coming soon is an interview with Juliette Wade, a science fiction author who draws on her background in linguistics to create unique stories. Her second published story, Cold Words will appear in Analog, hitting newsstands on July 28th. I highly recommend the story and I'm looking forward to reading more of her work.

If anyone has any questions for her, drop me an email and I'll try to work them in!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Monday, June 29, 2009

Upcoming Interview: Karl Johanson

My next interview will be with Karl Johanson, editor of Neo-Opsis Magazine.
Got any burning questions for him? Email me.

My new Fantasy Magazine Article posted

It's a reprint of my previous blog post "Wizard vs. Witch: Who's the Real Villain?"


Sunday, June 21, 2009

Cat Rambo interview

My guest today is Cat Rambo, fantasy and science fiction writer and editor of Fantasy Magazine, a market recognized as being professional by SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America). Check out her website at and check out Fantasy Magazine's website at

David Steffen: Cat, thanks for coming. I really appreciate you taking the time for this interview.

Cat, what plots or types of stories are you tired of seeing?

Cat Rambo: I am tired of seeing retold fairy tales that don't do anything new with the fairy tale, where they just kind of say, okay I'm going to retell Cinderella but it's going to be a shopping sale at the mall and don't do anything new with that.

I have a great fondness for sword and sorcery. I grew up reading sword and sorcery. I read Fritz Lieber and C.L. Moore and a lot of Michael Moorcock, but I think there again you have to do something new for me to be interested. I get a lot of stories that are sort of Conan the Barbarian revisited but they're not as good as Robert E. Howard. Unless you are as good as Robert E. Howard it's probably best for writers to steer their way away from that.

David: Do you prefer certain subgenres of fantasy such as urban fantasy, contemporary fantasy, high fantasy, etc?

Cat: I love urban fantasy. Paradoxically enough, given how much of it is out there, I don't get a lot of good urban fantasy. I like stories that tend to work on more than one level. We have, for example, a story that was very popular with our readers last year, Elena Gleason's Erased, which I was just looking at again. That story on one level is about someone's boyfriend who is invisible and what do you do when you're confronted with an invisible boyfriend. But on the other hand, at a deeper level, it's about what do you do in a relationship when the other person is vanishing. So I like the stories that work on more than one level. The stories where you go away and you find yourself thinking about later and think "Oh, yeah, okay, it works like this too."

David: Are there any big changes on the horizon for Fantasy Magazine?

Cat: Oh, onward and upward for Fantasy Magazine. We have a web comic that will be appearing soon. We have been reorganizing and getting a lot of people in to drive individual areas like TV or books, and comics. So there's going to be a lot. We're hoping to up the amount of content to put out something interesting at least two or three times a day.

David: Can you elaborate about the web comic?

Cat: It's a fantasy comic based on a setting that will be familiar to a lot of our readers, which is inside a fantasy role-playing game.

David: Are there any features coming up in Fantasy Magazine that you're particularly looking forward to?

Cat: Right now we're running a series called "Game-mastering NPCs". The first of the five part series was just posted last week, talking about the importance of NPCs (non-player characters) to a roleplaying game campaign. Also, I'm particularly looking forward to some articles by Genevieve Valentine.

David: Which were you first, a writer or an editor?

Cat: First and foremost, always a writer.

David: Do you think that being an editor has changed the way you write?

Cat: Not really. It's one more thing nibbling at my writing time. I think every writer experiences that in some form or another.

David: Has being an editor provided you with extra skills that have been useful as a writer?

Cat: Yes. One thing about reading slush is that it gives you greater confidence in your own writing. It has really driven home the importance of making the first paragraphs of a story draw the reader in.

David: Has the economic crisis impacted the magazine at all?

Cat: Not really. Previously we hadn't been drawing in as much advertising revenue as we could have. We're making an effort to do better in that respect, so we may actually be doing better now than before.

David: SFWA added Fantasy Magazine to their list of professional markets earlier this year. Has this sparked any change in submissions, either quantity or quality?

Cat: Yes, in both respects. We're getting 500-600 submissions a month now, as well as seeing submissions from some pro writers we hadn't seen before. It's been a good thing we have the new online submission process, which speeds things up significantly.

David: I have noticed in my submissions a large reduction in turnaround time since the new online submissions system was set up. How exactly does that system make things faster?

Cat: We were just using Gmail before, so every couple weeks we had to check the junk folder just to make sure that things weren't getting lost there. And there was stuff bouncing every once in a while. Someone's spam filter would eat our stuff. So it just makes it a lot easier to track what's going on and you've got a system also where we can see which slushreader is reading and who is slacking and go prod them. *laughs*

David: What are your personal pet peeves when reading stories?

Cat: Personal pet peeves? In terms of the stories or in terms of the way they're presented?

David: Like little grammar mistakes that you see too often, things like that.

Cat: Oh, "its" and "it's" drives me nuts. I taught composition a few times and I always tell students that is the one error that will get under my skin. Its/it's and they're/their/there. Nowadays we have spellchecker, so there's really no excuse for having too many actual misspellings but we still see alot of the it's/its.

David: How about other things that bother you. For instance, some editors really dislike reading stories that begin with the character waking up.

Cat: I don't like the beginnings that start out with kind of two heads talking in space where there's no sense of location and you don't know what's going on. I don't like beginnings that aren't well-grounded and give us a sense of the story world.

I don't like the endings, not so much the beginnings, where someone wakes up as the endings and is "Oh my God it was all a dream." And it's like "Oh, come on!"

David: It sort of makes you wonder "Why did I spend my time reading this?"

Cat: That's it, it insults the reader: "Ha ha I tricked you and you wasted all your time." I don't like stories that take the "I'm cleverer than you approach" to the reader.

David: I've heard that some editors like a little humor, but so many people have different views on what's funny. How do you judge a humorous piece in submission to Fantasy or do you generally steer clear of humor pieces?

Cat: I like humor. I love a good funny story. I love, for example, the Terry Pratchett books which I think are just wonderful, or the Jasper Ford Tuesday Next stories. I like humorous pieces that don't depend on cliches. If it's a joke that's been told before, I've heard it before, so I don't really want those. Good humor is very hard to write and it's far too scarce in the submission pile.

David: What was the last book you read?

Cat: It was a really cool Japanese murder-myster that Ann Vandermeer turned me onto. I just did a workshop with her and she recommended it. It's titled "Out", written by Natsuo Kirino.

David: Your favorite book?

Cat: I will go with a classic and say Thomas Mallory's Le Morte D'Arthur which is one of my desert island books.

David: Who is your favorite author?

Cat: I will be slightly pretentious and say James Joyce because I do love what James Joyce does with language.

David: What was the last movie you saw?

Cat: We went and saw The Hangover which I thought was a lot of fun. We love Zach Galifianakis. We'd seen him in a documentary called the Comedians of Comedy and he was so hysterical in that.

David: I saw that last week as well. There are a few moments in that movie that are sure to be nominated for the MTV Movie Awards' WTF award.

Cat: *laughs*. It just had so many moments like that where you were just like "Oh my god where are they going to go with this"

I kind of want to go so Land of the Lost simply because I loved it when I was a kid. I like Will Ferrell but I"m just not sure the combination is going to work. I like Will Ferrell. I have liked him in a great many things, and then I have seen him in many things where I've said "Well okay that's not as interesting as it could be."

David: What is your favorite movie?

Cat: I really love the Wizard of Oz.

David: I just wrote a story specifically for a Wizard of Oz horror anthology called Shadows of the Emerald City.

Cat: Oh cool, what a neat idea. I had just been reading John Kessel's The Baum Plan for Financial Independence. Which I think kind of pokes gentle fun at the economics of Oz which is kind of a funny way to do it.

Who's putting out the horror anthology?

David: Horror writer JW Schnarr:

David: Do you have any upcoming publications that you'd like to tell us about?

Cat: Indeed I do. I have a collection coming out with Paper Golem Press. The title is "Eyes like Sky and Coal and Moonlight."

David: That's a catchy title.

Cat Rambo: That's the title story.

David: Is it a collection of reprinted stories or all-new writing?

Cat: I think It's about half and half, there is about 50 percent new stuff, and a couple Strange Horizons stories, and the Weird
Tales stories. Kind of the best stuff that's appeared in publication. I'm really happy about that, because somethings appears in small magazines then sort of vanishes like a leaf on the wind. It's nice to get a chance to put stories I'm really pleased with out in front of folks.

David: If you could give only one piece of advice to aspiring writers trying to get published, what would it be?

Cat: Be persistent. More than anything else you have to cultivate the hide of a rhinoceros, put your head down and keep plugging away.

David: Do you have any works in progress you'd like to tell us about?

Cat: I am finishing up a young adult novel called Phat Fairy. It is my reaction in some ways to reading the Twilight series.

David: What did you think of the Twilight series?

Cat: I thought that they were decently written but I thought they were just an appalling message for young women. You have this utterly passive heroine whose main motivation is nailing her man. I really didn't think they were a good message for young women at all. I have a goddaughter who will at some point be reading YA fiction, so I wanted to make sure there was at least one book out there with a healthier message. Though I am not trying to write a message-driven book either.

David: Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions, Cat, and letting us get a glimpse into Cat's world of writing and editing. Also, thanks to Frank Dutkiewicz, Brad Torgerson, and Gary Cuba for your contributions to this interview.

Stay tuned for more interviews! I've got a full schedule, at two interviews a month, lined up through mid-October!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Upcoming: Reprints in Fantasy Magazine

I'm excited to say that reprints of a few of my blog posts are slated to be published in Fantasy Magazine! Some interviews, and some analysis of books/movies. Needless to say, I'm very excited. :) More details soon.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Cat Rambo is not a robot

I called Cat Rambo yesterday for a very pleasant phone interview and conversation. She's a very nice person and fun to talk to, and I hope I have an excuse to talk to her again in the future. I'll be transcribing the interview into text, and I hope to post it some time next week.

And, most importantly, Cat Rambo is not a robot.

Humans unite!

Most of my writing friends and contacts are entirely online contacts. Sometimes, like right now, the philosophical center of my brain takes over, and I start to wonder if these online contacts are really real flesh and blood people. The only evidence of their existence is lines of text on my computer screen, which are composed of small changes in voltages sent through my Ethernet cable.

For those of you who are flesh and blood people, I apologize in advance for when I meet you in person. I may stare. Don't worry, it will be nothing you said, and you don't have a booger hanging out of your nose. It's sort of like when you listen to your own voice on a recording and it sounds nothing like what you hear in your own head. Just grab a soda or a cup of coffee and wait for a few minutes. Eventually I'll sort it out and will return to my usual charming self.

But until I meet you, the most important and immediate question here is, "How do I know you aren't robots?" Perhaps the robotic uprising is nigh. Perhaps my banter and exchanging of writing ideas are all just contributing to the robots' understanding of human abstract thought so they can better learn how to manipulate and eventually destroy us.

The answer to this question seems particularly obvious when reading form rejection letters from certain publications which are so badly worded as to be entirely inhuman. The robots think so little of me, they sent their crudest AIs to smite me. For instance, the oft-used "Your story does not suit our needs at this time"--I'm always tempted to reply and ask at what time my story WOULD suit their needs. (The topic of form letter dissection has sparked a new post idea--will post more on that soon).

So beware--when you send communications to people you only know on the Internet, you are contributing to the accelerated downfall of humanity. Be warned! Your knee-jerk reaction to this blog-post may be to laugh. "He's contradicting his own warning by putting it in a blog post!" you say. But I'm craftier than you realize. By lacing my own message with this major logical fallacy, I've rendered this post invisible to modern artifical intelligence. They'll disregard it as nonsense. So if you've made it this far, you must be a human. Either that, or the robots are more intelligent than anyone thought, and all is lost!

Humans unite!

Email address

I've now updated my profile with an actual email address:

Replace the <> with an at sign, and the <> with a period.

Feel free to email me!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Alethea Kontis Interview

My guest today is New York Times bestselling author Alethea Kontis. She co-wrote the Dark Hunter Companion with fellow New York Times bestselling author Sherrilyn Kenyon. Her short fiction has appeared in multiple professional publications, such as Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show, and Realms of Fantasy. Not only that, but she's published a children's book titled AlphaOops: The Day Z Went First, with a sequel upcoming. Besides her fiction, her essays can be seen at several professional magazines and have been collected in book form, the first volume of which is called Beauty & Dynamite.

Check out her website at

DS: I'm sure you answer this question all the time, but I have to ask: your name is so unique. Is there a story behind it?

AK: "Alethea" is the Greek word for "truth." As all Greeks know, words have power. My name is as much of a curse as it is a blessing, especially when my grandmother continually reminds me to lie to her friends about my age. (Sorry, Nana!)

My mother discovered the name as the family settled down to watch "Kung-Fu" on March 15, 1973 -- my older brother's 9th birthday. (West is currently a 4th-degree black belt in Taekwondo.) In that particular episode, Jodie Foster played a precocious girl named Alethea Patricia Ingram.

I discovered the details of this event only a few years ago...after I had already been a buyer at Ingram Book Company for over six years. Oh, yes. Words have power, my friend.

DS: You've written so many essays, and I've enjoyed the ones I've read. They flow so naturally that they're effortless to read, yet at the same time are very focused on each particular topic. Do essay ideas just slap you across the face, demanding to be written or does it take a more concerted effort? How does essay-writing compare to fiction-writing?

AK: I was raised in a family of storytellers. And when I say that, I mean that we put most voice actors and stand-up comedians to shame. You only have as much time as everyone plans on sitting around the dinner table, and you only have the floor for as long as your voice carries over everyone else' whatever you choose to impart to the group, it better be GOOD. Every time I sit down to write an essay, I imagine myself around that table. As long as I have the floor I've got to have a great beginning, I've got to keep my audience engaged, and I can't take forever to get to the point.

Someone asked me once if one needed a diverse and interesting background to be a writer. I think everyone has a diverse and interesting background; writers just exploit theirs. Everyone has stories to tell; you step in them like puddles every single day. For whatever reason I seem to have this abnormally remarkable life -- these are just the stories I step in.

DS: Do you prefer to write by yourself or with another writer (like the Dark Hunter Companion). What sort of unique challenges or benefits arise when working together?

AK: The Dark-Hunter Companion is the only collaboration I've done to date. Sherri and I had a unique arrangement with the Companion that could have been as much a disaster as it was a triumph. I started out with a stack of novels, a notebook, a glorified outline, and an anticipated word count. I re-read the whole series (many for the 3rd or 4th time), took notes, and then wrote the entire encyclopedia as if I was just another smart-mouthed character in the Dark-Hunter universe. I handed the manuscript over to Sherri, who then pulled out some spoilers, put in some teasers, and altered a few things that could only be altered by She Who Keeps Entire Worlds in her Head.

When I got the manuscript back for copyedits, our writing style blended so perfectly I honestly couldn't tell where my words left off and hers began. Everyone was pleased with the end result -- the fans most of all. It was a fascinating experience.

DS: What do you think has been the most significant event to advance your career?

AK: My life suddenly flashes before my eyes: My parents telling me I couldn't major in English. My English teacher telling me no child would want to read my fairy tales. My friend Gail telling me to just write my picture book idea "so you can read it." Orson Scott Card telling me to just write the novel. Tom Piccirilli taking me to task when he found out I hadn't submitted a finished manuscript. Kevin J. Anderson slapping me in the face when I denigrated my own writing.

If I had to pick only one event, it would be the Baen dinner in the fall of 2003, where David Drake found out I lived only a couple of miles from Andre Norton and ordered me to go visit her. "She has no idea what she means to this industry," he told me, and he was right. My correspondence and friendship with Miss Andre is something I'll treasure forever.

DS: What is your favorite thing about writing?

AK: Making my mother cry.

When I wrote stories as a kid, making my mother cry was a mark of excellence -- I knew then that I had something powerful. My mother was always my first reader and ("get a real job" major aside) my biggest advocate -- up to and including calling a particular university and bullying them to accept my application essay despite the fact that I was a few hundred words over the limit. (I was accepted to said particular university, but ultimately could not afford to attend.)

While at Boot Camp in 2003, I called Mom from the campus of UNCG and yelled into the phone, "ORSON SCOTT CARD SAID I'M A GREAT WRITER!!!" I could not have offended her more. There was silence on the other end, and then a very cold, "Alethea, we've been telling you that for years. So now you're going to believe some guy just because he's some big fat best-seller?" It was then that I officially realized my mother hadn't actually been spoon-feeding me a load of crap, as most mothers are wont to do.

She forgave me. Six years later, she's still my first reader. And she still tells me every time I make her cry.

DS: Do you have a particular writing process you go through for every story, from story conception to drafting?

AK: Because I was raised a storyteller, I'm what they call an "Athena writer" -- the stories all but spring fully-formed from my head. I mentally work through my plot points and dialogue and edit as I write. The words need to be in order, and they need to be the right words.

As a result, when writing fiction I average only about 500 words an hour and only a few thousand a day at my most productive. But I rarely go back and rewrite, and my first drafts are very, very clean drafts.

DS: If you could only give one piece of advice to aspiring writers, what would it be?

AK: Do the thing that scares you.

DS: What's the last book you read? Your favorite book? Your favorite author?

The last book I read (all the way through): The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker, by Leanna Renee Hieber. (For the record, I loved it.) Favorite book and author -- ha! I could no sooner choose a favorite star in the sky.

DS: What was the last movie you saw?

AK: Last movie I saw: UP. I think I only cried more after seeing Big Fish.

DS: I know you're very active on the convention circuit. What upcoming convention appearances do you have planned?

AK: I've just finished six weeks of the heaviest schedule I've ever had (including Penguicon, Mo*Con, Hypericon, and BEA). The rest of 2009 is fairly light -- I'll be at Necon in July and, of course, Dragon*Con on Labor Day weekend.

DS: What do you like best about conventions? Do you suffer from stage fright--if so, how do you get up there in front of all those people?

AK: I'm a raging introvert, but I have no problem with stage fright. My Aunt Ernestine (actress Ernestine Mercer) taught me how to say "TA-DA!" when I was a baby -- a feat I had turned into a lucrative acting career by he time I was eight. I was on stage all through high school...which trickled down to only helping out on student films in college...and then after I graduated, the hermit took over and I slipped into borderline agoraphobia.

All it took was one panic attack in the grocery store for me to say, "NONE OF THIS NONSENSE, PLEASE!" From that point on, I concentrated on consciously participating in a healthy amount of social activity and pulling myself back out of my shell. I am definitely not the mealy-mouthed frump I was five years ago. Five years from now, people will have to put on sunglasses just to look at me.

DS: Any convention stories to share? Strange people you've met?

AK: Ha! Plenty. There than ten in Beauty & Dynamite alone. My very first convention was Dragon*Con in 1996. From the minute I showed up on the front steps, it felt like I had come home. And all those misfits I've met? They're all as close as family now. I love every single one of them. Some of them even dubbed me their Princess, an honor I have accepted with all the appropriate grace and aplomb. I now have a collection of tiaras...but that I blame on Jill Conner Browne.

DS: Do you have any newly published stories or soon-to-be-published stories that we should watch out for? If so, what can you tell us about them?

AK: This year, keep an eye out for "The Giant and the Unicorn" in Shimmer Magazine's steampunk Clockwork Jungle issue. I've got "The Witch of Black Mountain" coming out in Apex's Harlan County Horrors anthology and "The God of Last Moments" in Maurice Broaddus's Mo*Con anthology. I'm also working on a piece for Doug Warrick and Kyle Johnson's Nick Cave anthology...which I really need to get home and finish. And, as always, keep watching the blog for the next humorous installment in the Adventures of Lee.

DS: Any exciting works-in-progress in the pipeline right now? What can you tell us about them? Can you give us any sneak peeks at any of them to pique our interest.

AK: I've just finished the unabridged, novel version of "Sunday", my fairytale novelette that appeared in Realms of Fantasy in October 2006. If you'd like a sneak peek, the story is available on the Anthology Builder website.

DS: I'm keeping a running "wish list" of guests for interviews. Is
there anyone in the speculative fiction industry you would love to see

AK: Ha! I've been interviewing folks for the Ingram Genre Chicks column for over five years now, so every time I think of the answer to that question, I just hunt down the prospective victim and interview them. Neil Gaiman? Charles Vess? Anne McCaffrey? Easy-peasy. What I love best are the interviews that surprise me. I go back and re-read Naomi Neale's (aka Vance Briceland) or Joe Hill's answers whenever I need a pick-me-up. Heck, Edmund Shubert's still makes me laugh so hard I cry. I know I'll never look at penguins the same way again.

Good times.

DS: Alethea, thanks for taking the time to answer all my questions. It's been fun. I've been meaning to make it to some cons this year. If I end up making it to Dragon*Con I'll be sure to look you up on the event list. I would love to meet you in person!

Questions for Cat Rambo

Coming soon: my interview with Cat Rambo, writer and co-editor of Fantasy Magazine.

Any questions you'd like to add to the interview? Drop a comment here and I'll try to work them into the interview.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A Year in Rejections

It was 1 year ago that I sent out my very first submission, my first novel to Tor. And what a year!

1 novel finished before the year started.
19 short stories written to completion within that year.
31 venues received my submissions.
91 rejections on those stories.

Almost to the century mark for rejections. Lately the trend seems slightly more positive--I've actually gotten a few "almost" replies, and one that's being held for consideration for an anthology. I'm hoping that's a continuing trend and not just a shallow peak. Here's hoping! Who knows what the next year will bring.

I am a little bit curious what the big 3 digit rejection will be, the big one oh oh!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

When is a writer a writer?

This was inspired by a Facebook post where someone said "not everyone who calls themselves a writer is a writer".

When is a writer a writer?
To write: to form (as words) by inscribing the characters or symbols on a surface.
So whoever puts symbols surfaces is a writer? No. Writing does not make you a writer, or anyone who is literate would be a writer. A person would become a writer when they pay with a check or write a grocery list. That's writing, not Writing.

When most people speak of a writer, they are speaking of someone who has written something in particular, especially a book. But does one become a writer simply by writing a book? I've written a book. Does that make me a writer? It's sitting in submission at a publisher at the moment. I've written more than a dozen short stories, does that make me a writer if none of them are published? What about a writer who's been too afraid to show his work to any other person? Are they still a writer, or does their fear of rejection take away that title?

Does someone have to like your writing to make you a writer? What if you've shown your writing to some people, but none of them have enjoyed it in the slightest. Must we seek a seal of approval to call ourselves writers, or should this writer declare his title regardless if anyone cares for his work?

Are you a writer once published? Most people would agree that people who make their primary income from writing are writers. But what if you've published a single short story? What if you've been published only at semi-pro markets? Token markets paying a half cent a word? No pay at all? Does that make you any less of a writer? Many of history's greatest artists were not appreciate in their time, does that mean they only became artists post-mortem? Until then they were just losers with paintbrushes, and somehow became artists as a side effect of decomposition?

When the subject comes up, I tend to call myself an "aspiring writer". Not because I really think there's much difference, but because that one word avoids the inevitable and awkward follow-up question: Where can I see your work? But once I publish a short story, is that the time to call myself a writer or do I need a longer bibliography? Perhaps there should be stages of writership, novice, apprentice, journeyman, master, grand master. I could try using these as my writing career develops, but unless these terms go into wide usage, people will just think me a weirdo. Which is fine, I am a weirdo and proud of it, but the terms don't provide clarity if no one knows what they mean.

Once a writer, always a writer? What if I won a short story contest in grade school and never write again? Does that mean I can always carry the title? If people ask, I can show them the story collection with the byline "David Steffen, age 7". Does that entitle me to call myself a writer? What of J.D. Salinger, who has not published an original work since 1965? Most people would call him a writer because his wild success of "Catcher in the Rye", but what if the book had been less successful? What if it had been a single short story? Would he still be considered a writer today?

Many similar questions apply to painters. Monkeys can manipulate paints on a canvas, but does that mean that monkeys are artists? I suspect that painters would be insulted by the idea--no lower species could be capable of art. Yet I've seen some abstract art that looks remarkably similar to monkeys fingerpainting. Does that mean that that artist is not an artist because a monkey could do the same?

Movie Review of X-Men origins: Wolverine

X-Men Origins: Wolverine was an okay movie. It had its moments, in particular I liked some of the casting choices, but overall it left enough continuity questions and major plot holes that it really just bothered me.

One of my favorite scenes in the whole movie happened in just the first few minutes, where it shows Wolverine and Sabretooth fighting in every American war since the mid-19th century, each of them of course in period uniforms and with grainy photography of each era.

Overall it was okay, but some of the character motivations were thin at best, there were several characters that were clearly only included so they could be part of merchandising later on. That aspect wasn't as bad as X-Men 3 (thank God) which included dozens of characters that were only on camera for seconds, just long enough to say their name and show their powers.

The movie follows James ( who we know in later movies as Wolverine or Logan) played by Hugh Jackman and his brother Viktor (who later becomes Sabretooth) played by Liev Schreiber. Never mind that Liev Schreiber looks nothing like the Sabretooth of the first X-Men movie. You would think that they could have at least died Liev's hair the sandy brown color, but apparently that was too much to ask. On the other hand, Liev did make a good Sabretooth, albeit one who didn't look right. And apparently mutton chops are a genetic trait--their dad had them in the opening scene, and both of them have them as adults also.

Anyway, it follows their lives as brothers, and how Wolverine became Weapon X with the adamantium laced skeleton that makes him nearly indestructible. Together they join a strike force led by William Stryker, who you might remember from X-2. You might also remember Stryker having a southern accent which is oddly absent from this movie. Despite that, I did like the casting choice for Stryker. He had a very smooth convincing voice which is perfect for the character.

The action was good, but there was just too much of it sometimes. A movie about Wolverine has to have lots of action, but he pretty much ended up fighting every character he meets, even if they are on the same side. Granted, this is a tried-and-true comic book tradition, throwing two "good" characters together and making them think they're enemies for an episode, and then they're shown to be friends at the end at which point they apologize and unite against the enemy they both came to fight. But just because comic books use that device doesn't mean that movies should.

I really liked Ryan Reynolds character, but he wasn't in enough of the movie to make it worthwhile. He had some good wisecracks while he was on screen though. And it was good to see Dominic Monaghan, though his role wasn't a huge one.

Keep reading if you've already seen it or you don't mind some spoilers


But there were some MAJOR problems. First and foremost--the final scenes take place on Three Mile Island, and the action actually ends up causing the meltdown. That's a bit contrived but not the worst plot device I've ever seen. But the thing that bothers me is that NONE of the characters suffer from radiation poisoning whatsoever. Wolverine has some excuse for this, because of his healing factor, perhaps he's immune to radiation sickness. Stryker, however, is entirely human, he was on the site, and not only does he survive the movie, he's alive for X-2 that happens maybe twenty years later with no apparent ill side effects. Explain that to me! Did the makers of the movie really not realize that a nuclear meltdown is not a healthy thing to be around.

Another MAJOR problem--they didn't do their chemical research. At one point in the movie, someone uses a drug to fake a death, to supposedly slow their heartbeat down so it's unnoticeable. That's fine, but the drug they used was hydrochlorothiazide, which is not a heart medication, it's a diuretic. That's right, all it does is make you pee. (Thanks to my wife the pharmacist for pointing this out). The only way it could affect your heart, and even this is a stretch, is if you peed so much that you lost too many electrolytes and your heart went into arrhythmia, which is not what happened here. Two minutes with Google could have given them a medicine that at least slowed down heart rate--that's just lazy!

Another big one--the use of adamantium is inconsistent. In X-2 I believe it was an alloy, not a pure metal, and once it hardened it was impossible to melt again. But in this movie Stryker finds it in it's hardened form and yet is somehow able to use it as if it wasn't--continuity error! Then Stryker creates a gun that shoots adamantium bullets, and assumes they will be able to puncture Wolverine's skull--but you need something harder than adamantium if you want to puncture it!!

Another big continuity error--in this movie Stryker has the ability to steal powers from one mutant and give them to another mutant. If he knows how to do this now, he should know how to do it later in his life, but somehow he doesn't in X-2. He's the sort of man that would use any weapon in his arsenal whenever he can--I doubt he would have held back in X-2 if he knew how to do it.

Well that's all, I just had to rant about it, and I was cataloguing all these little problems as I watched the movie. We're trying to get back into the habit of watching a weekly movie, so I hope to do these reviews more often again!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

My next guest!

The next guest to be interviewed right here is Alethea Kontis, writer extraordinare! She's a great writer whose fiction and essays have been featured at several major speculative magazine as well as having published multiple books.
Check out her website at

Do you have any questions you're dying to ask her? Drop a comment here and I'll try to work them in!

RIP David Eddings

I've read and enjoyed a few of his books and have been reading to read more of them.

Interview Schedule

Tentatively I'd like to do two interviews a month, one near the beginning of each month and one near the middle. I have a list of folks who've expressed interest in being interviewed, including some editors, some writers, slushreaders, and illustrators.

Within the next week I'll try to announce the next guest to give you guys some time to send me any burning questions you may have for him or her. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Rough weekend

Between Friday and Monday I received SEVEN rejections. 2 on Friday, 3 on Saturday, 2 on Monday. Ouch, my ego!

On the bright side, a story I have posted to the Baen's Bar forum (a critique forum that doubles as a submission route for Jim Baen's Universe) is getting some positive comments, even from Edith Maor, one of the slush readers who is notoriously hard to please.

Lately I have noticed that, in my writing submissions, when I get particularly bad news it seems to come paired with some measure of good news on the same day. Maybe it's just a fluke, but maybe something really good is just around the corner. I can hope, right?

Google Precedence

Just for fun, I did a Google search for my name to see where I rank these days. I've now moved up to #4, and even passed up one of my unsavory name-doppelgangers that has thwarted me for a long time--the web page is titled "Is David Steffen and elitist bigot?"

1. President, Biomedical Computing in Texas
2. convicted murderer from a case back in 1983
-I think I can safely say that I am absolved of all guilt in this case--I was less than 2 years old.
3. Generic search for my name
4. Internet Broadway Database (IBDB)-- a fellow who works in marketing
5. Me!
6. Is David Steffen and elitist bigot?

Gary's Tiny Timmy's Tweets

Tiny Timmy Tweets: Tub Travails

Tiny Timmy loved his bath toys. Except for the whirring one, the hairdryer that Mommy would sometimes toss into the tub. See Timmy splash!

Tiny Timmy hated taking baths. Especially when Mommy held his head underwater to teach him how to count. How much is a gazillion, Timmy?

"Dive, dive!" Tiny Timmy said in the tub, making like a submarine. "You need more ballast," his mom replied. "How about this cinderblock?"

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Interview with David Farland (aka David Wolverton)

I'm delighted to introduce David Wolverton (aka David Farland), New York Times bestselling author who has published nearly fifty science fiction and fantasy novels, including the Runelords series (which I highly recommend). In addition to that, he's served as the coordinating judge for the Writers of the Future Contest.

You might also know him from his email blog "Daily Kick in the Pants", through which he gives motivational tips, insights on writing, and helps us see the ins and outs of the writing business from the point of view of a highly successful author.

You can check out his website at

David, thanks for stopping by.

David Steffen: You always seem to have the answers on how to establish yourself as a successful writer. Was there ever a time when you found yourself ready to hang up the typewriter? How did you handle it and get back on track?

David Farland: I've never felt in despair about my career. I love to write, nd I've always thought that if there was anything else in the world that I wanted to do, I'd just do it, too. For example, when I was young I went to school to study medicine. I thought that it would be fun to be a genetic researcher or a pediatric physician, then write my novels on the side. Unfortunately, I would have needed an endowment of stamina to do it. (For those of you who have read The Runelords, you'll get the joke!)

Seriously though, I did go through a fit of depression a few years ago, and went through my "midlife crisis." I found out that Prozac doesn't help most men, but Welbutrin does.

David Steffen: You've given aspiring writers endless tips to help get their careers started. If you could only give a single piece of advice, what would it be?

David Farland: Be persistent. It's your career. If you really want to be a writer, make time to practice, to hone your craft, and just do it.

David Steffen: Where do your story ideas come from? Do you see stories everywhere you look and you just have to pluck the ones that appeal the most? Or do you have to sit down and actively say "I'm going to think of something new to write today"?

David Farland: Ideas come to those who look for them sometimes, but other times they just hit you. A twist of a phrase, a powerful image, a news story, an insight from a child--anything can set you off. I have at least a dozen story ideas per day, I suppose. I can't write even a hundredth of them. So I just siphon.

Yet even with all of that, I find that I sometimes have to go searching for good ideas to fit a particular story. In short, you never get to rest.

David Steffen: In particular, what was the first idea that came to you for the Runelords series? A character? An idea for the magic system? The world itself?

David Farland: With the Runelords, I knew that I just wanted to write a big fantasy at first. I wanted my series to appeal to medieval fantasy readers--the Tolkien crowd--but I also wanted it to be different from any other story. So I had a basic idea for the world. I knew that it was going to be medieval, and that it would have plenty of large animals and monsters. In short, it is covered with megafauna, much as the United States was twelve thousand years ago when dozens of breeds of mammoths and mastodons roamed here, along with cave bears and sabertooths and dire wolves and all of those other cool animals. So I knew that I wanted to make my world similar to other fantasy worlds, but there are no glorious elves in it, no dwarves or orcs. I wanted my own creatures.

But what really set me off was the magic system. I wanted to create a new kind of magic for my world, and I knew that it had to be different and mind-blowing. I spent months looking at various magic systems used throughout history, and then one day the whole concept of wizards drawing attributes from vassals--glamour, brawn, wit, grace, sight, hearing, etc.--just literally seemed to fall right out of the sky.

David Steffen: I find the endowment system in the Runelords series particularly interesting, where a donor or "Dedicate" can permanently grant an attribute to a recipient or "Runelord", and that link lasts as long as they both live. Where did the idea for this system come from?

David Farland: Well, when I was researching magic systems, I knew that I wanted to write about one that had something of an economic base. There needed to be a price for the magic.

But you know, you can't really tell where these things come from. I mean, I didn't base it upon anything that I've seen. I pondered dozens of magic systems, and then one day it hit me. I think that I might have had an inkling of it when I was watching a show where a calf got branded. My mind went, "You know, they used to brand slaves like that, too." And I thought at the time, I wonder if it would be interesting to write a fantasy novel where people got branded as part of a magic system."

It was just a fleeting thought. I was in Scotland a few months later, traveling down a road past Innessfree, when a friend asked, "Could you imagine what this must have looked like 2000 years ago?" I recall reading from a Roman historian who complained that on one night, some 40 men were dragged from their beds and eaten by wolves. He said, "The only thing worse than the wolves are the wild Scotsmen themselves!" I was thinking about that, and suddenly my subconscious said, "Hey, I've got your magic system!" and the whole complex system--along with the first novel in the series--just popped into my head at once.

David Steffen: Do you have any guesses who the next big up-and-coming big name writers will be, from your recreational reading and from your role judging stories for the Writers of the Future contest?

David Farland: Well, in fantasy it will be Brandon Sanderson and Patrick Rothfuss. I know some excellent new writers who are coming along, but they'll have to get their books written and sold first.

David Steffen: What was the last book you read? Your favorite book? Your favorite author?

David Farland: I just listed my two favorite new authors. I don't want to choose between them, since I like them both. I know I should have done it years ago, but I'm reading Eragon right now. My favorite living author right now is still Orson Scott Card, overall.

David Steffen: How about the last movie you saw? Your favorite movie?

David Farland: I saw the latest Terminator last night, but it wasn't nearly as good as Star Trek. I need to go see Angels and Demons this week. There are a lot of good movies coming out this summer.

David Steffen: How did your writing career get started?

David Farland: Actually, I began writing heavily in college, and my career took off after I started winning writing contests. I entered my first short story in a little contest and won third place. When I was done, I thought, "Wow, I spent ten hours on this story, and I won $50. That's $5 an hour. Maybe if I worked a little harder, I could win first place in a contest."

So I spent some time thinking about how to win writing contests, and then wrote several short stories. I entered six different contests, and won first place in each of them, including the Writers of The Future. When we went to New York for the awards ceremony, a number of the judges had already gushed to various editors about how good I was (Thank you Robert Silverberg, Orson Scott Card, Algis Budrys, and Roger Zelazny). Half a dozen editors approached me, asking if I was interested in submitting novels. Not only was I interested, I'd packed a novel proposal in my suitcase! Within a week, I had a three-novel contract with Bantam Books.

David Steffen: What was the single most significant step you took to advance your career?

David Farland: You know, I realized after I'd written my second book that my real last name, Wolverton, always put my books on the bottom shelf at the end of the rack. That was terrible placement. So I decided to begin writing under a pseudonym. That was tough to do, given that I was hitting at the top of the bestseller lists for science fiction. But when I moved to fantasy, my publisher allowed me to do it. I think it was a smart move.

David Steffen: What convention appearances do you have planned?

David Farland: I'm trying to decide whether to go to DragonCon in August. I believe I'll be at World Fantasy Con in San Diego in October, and then I'll probably go to Life, the Universe, and Everything at Brigham Young University in February.

David Steffen: What's your next publication that we should watch out for?

David Farland: My next novels are Freaky Fly Day, Book three of my Ravenspell series, which comes out in September from Covenant Books. I also have a historical fiction novel that deals with the Willie Handcart Company, in which Mormon pioneers crossed the prairie in 1856, facing tremendous hardships. Here's a link for that one: I also have the eighth book in the Runelords series coming out in October, called Berserker Lord. You can see the cover in the art section at, and you can order a signed/numbered copy of the book by emailing

David Steffen: What are you currently working on? Can you give us a sneak peek?

David Farland: Yes, I'm actually reading galleys for Berserker Lord, and you can read the first couple of chapters on I'm going to put up a new feature on my site that I'm thinking about calling "Over my shoulder," where you will be able to read what I've written recently, and I'll explain why I made the choices that I've made.

David Steffen: How did you react to rejections when you started writing? How has that changed over the years?

David Farland: My reaction has always been the same. I try to figure out why I got rejected, and then I rewrite and try harder!

David Steffen: Do you tend to write in a certain environment? For instance, some people say they write better with particular kinds of music, or can only write if they have an hour or more of uninterrupted time, or like me, they tend to do their best in the morning just after they get up.

David Farland: I find that I do my best writing in the morning. It's important to be comfortable, so I write with a laptop while sitting in an easy chair. I tend to like it to be perfectly quiet, but sometimes I write with music playing softly--instrumental soundtracks from movies like Lord of the Rings, or possibly some classical music. To tell the truth, that's always difficult. I like to rock out.

But I write best if I have long blocks of time to focus. For that reason, I usually take writing retreats a couple of times a year. I like going to Mexico, but with all of the problems there lately, I'm thinking about heading off to Alaska in a couple of weeks.

David Steffen: David, thank you very much for taking the time out of your busy schedule for this interview. Now I need to catch up reading on the rest of the Runelords series so that I can be ready for the new release.

Also, thanks to everyone who assisted me in the interview process, including A.W. Sullivan, Jordan Lapp, and Joey Jordan.

Tiny Timmy's Tweets

More tweets from Gary's horror series:

Tiny Timmy was told never to play with his father's table saw. But he seemed bound and determined to become known as Tinier Timmy.

"Hot! Too hot, Mommy!" Tiny Timmy cried. Mom pulled him out of the microwave and put him back on the floor. "Now will you please _behave_?"

"Time to learn a new word, little man," said Tiny Timmy's haggard babysitter, cleaver in hand. "Can you say 'decapitation'?"

"Help! Help!" Tiny Timmy cried from the well's depths. "Won't anyone save me?" The piqued director called it a wrap, and the crew left.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Upcoming Interview: Dave Wolverton (aka David Farland)

Keep your eye on the blog! David Wolverton (aka David Farland) has agreed to join us for an interview on my blog some time very soon. He's an award-winning, New York Times bestselling author who has penned nearly fifty science fiction and fantasy novels.

I've been drawn helplessly into his "Earth King" series, starting with "The Runelords: The Sum of All Men". I also look forward to his regular "Kick in the Pants" email blog posts, where he gives insights about writing, plus motivational tips and news.

Burning with questions to ask him? Now is the time. If you add a comment to this thread with a question you'd like to ask him, I'll try to work it in.

I'm not sure the exact date I'll post the interview yet, but I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Gary Cuba Presents Tiny Timmy's Tweet's: The Beginning

And now, with no further ado, guest blogger Gary Cuba, a good friend of mine, a slush reader, and fellow writer. Heeeeere's Gary!

Dave has been a great e-friend of mine for quite a while, and he once invited me to do a guest blog. I'm not sure what that actually means, but recently, something popped up that may justify me figuring it out.

So what it is, is this: I ran across a tweeter story site recently (specifically, And, given that I can no longer find the will or the way to actually write a blasted full-length story myself, I got lost in this strange concept. 140 characters to comprise a tale? Sheesh. I've tried six-sentencers, 100-word drabbles, 50-worder stories. But _140-character_ tweeters?!

Then I got hooked with the notion, once I tried it. It's more compelling than Sudoku. More fun than sex. (Well, given my advanced age and prostrate condition, it _seems_ that way, anyway.)

Me loves it.

And as I began to wend my way more into it, it occurred to me that I got stuck on a particular theme. Sort of a "subgenre" of the tweet horror genre, as it were.

I call it: "Tiny Timmy Tweets." Here are a few to prime the pump:

"Doggy! Cute doggy!" tiny Timmy said gleefully, toddling toward the lumbering, slavering cur. "Didja just eats some whip cream, didja?"

Tiny Timmy looked into the well, its bottom lost in the darkness. "Gosh, it's deep," he said. "It'd be awful to fall into it." I grinned.

Tiny Timmy watched his mom prepare the turkey. She looked down at him and said, "Now, what shall we stuff it with, little man?"

"Timmy, you bad boy," his mom said. "You come here at once!" Tiny Timmy slunk further under his bed. Okay, he shouldn't have eaten the cat.

Well, you get the idea. Any other Tiny Timmy pieces rumbling around in your reptilian brain center? I've got dozens. Don't worry: Tiny Timmy can never _really_ expire!

What Lies in Wait Beyond the Next Branch

Just some philosophical musing today at the approach of an important anniversary.
One week from tomorrow (June 5th) is the 1 year anniversary of my very first story submission dropped in a mailbox. It's also my 5th wedding anniversary, but that's not what I'm talking about today. :)

I started writing fiction in 2007, and jumped right in, diving head first into writing a novel with no prior experience writing fiction, no critique group and rare feedback from anyone. I finished a rough draft of that novel last year. Over that whole year I hadn't even considered writing short stories. If you want to make it big, I reasoned, you've got to aim high. Book royalties, that's the key. Once I finished writing the entire book, I polished the first 3 chapters to the best shine I knew how, wrote a synopsis for them and dropped them in the mailbox addressed to Tor. Their website at the time estimated 4-6 months for reply to slush, so I figured I had time to polish some more chapters before I had any chance of hearing back from them. I figured most places will take at least as long as the time estimate they give you. Right? Wrong!

I had their rejection in my mailbox 12 days later, a grainy photocopy of a form letter: "Dear Submitter", "signed, the editors". Now what should I do, I thought. Not that many places even take submissions of just 3 chapters + synopsis. Many places require you to work through an agent. Many others require an entire manuscript. I found another publisher that would take 3 + synopsis, Elder Signs Press, and sent it off to them. Once that was out the door I decided I needed a change in tactic.

Since novels take such an ungodly amount of time to write, and since so few publishers will take 3 chapter submissions, I decided I'd better get writing something shorter. So I wrote up my first short story, originally titled The Long-sought Purpose of the Divining Man. It was filled with almost constant exclamation points and semi-colons as I'd had a secret love for these punctuations. It was very long and had all kinds of problems, but of course I thought it was great. :)

I made my very first story post to Baen's Bar, the critiquing forum associated with Jim Baen's Universe. It took me quite a while to work up the courage. What if someone steals my work? What if someone rips my story apart? But I sucked it up, because quite frankly, their money was among the best pay in the short story biz. And of course, the good Barflies there told me what they really thought of it, pointing out all the problems that they could find. "Wow, this is harder than I thought", I said, but at the same time was delighted to get prompt and knowledgeable feedback not only from fellow writers who were more experienced than I, but from the slush readers Edith Maor, Gary Cuba, and Sam Hidaka.

I've used Baen's Bar both to give and receive critiques since then and have yet to see its equal. The critiques I've received there have helped me grow as a writer much more quickly than dogging through it on my own. In the year since I started writing shorts I've learned 10 times what I learned the year before trying on my own.

I also found other useful writing forums like the Writers of the Future forum, and Hatrack River forum where I began wonderful friendships, discussed the ins and outs of writing and of the publishing business, and just had a great time. :)

More recently I've started grabbing writer friends on Facebook, which has been fun. Many of them give frequent updates about tour dates, publications, and you can just interact with them for fun too. It's been awesome. Before you start talking to these people it's easy to put them up on a pedestal and think of them as some sort of strange otherworldly being that can pull prose out of their ears unbidden, but they're folks just like you and me (albeit talented ones).

Anyhoo, I sent that ESP novel submission out over 300 days ago now, and have queried at 6 and 9 months without even an acknowledgment in return. How different would my writing career be nowadays if I had sent that first manuscript off to ESP instead of Tor. I probably would never have started writing short stories, so I wouldn't have come across critique forums like Baen's Bar. I never would've made the awesome friends I've made, and I would be left slogging through the revisions of that novel (or ones of a second novel) with little or no feedback to help me understand what works in stories and what doesn't. ALL it would've taken would have been a different address on that one envelope, and this would be so different.

I'm glad I addressed that first envelope to Tor, it set me on the path I've traveled to be where I am today. :)

Now I just need to get back to revising that novel! Such a daunting task now that I have a pretty good idea what I like and don't like about different stories!

Soon to come: A special guest blogger. Who could it be? More details soon.