Monday, April 14, 2014
Tuesday, April 01, 2014
The Sound of Death started life as a 600 word story in response to a flash fiction challenge – basically just the opening scene of this alien murder mystery. Right from the start I wanted the cause of death and the scene of the crime to be as non-human as possible. As I started expanding the story I realised this principle had to apply to the whole society, their social interactions and motivations. It was soon clear that everything I had learned from watching several seasons of CSI was also useless. I needed to invent entirely new forensic procedures and investigative methodology.
I found Inspector Ek-Lo-Don to be the most interesting character I have written, not only because of who and what he is, but because I was forced to give far more thought to him than I usually would to a human character. The story only briefly scratches the surface of his society – which is just as well because when I was writing it I wasn’t entirely sure what might be below that surface. Since completing The Sound of Death I have been back and analysed the story and put together detailed notes on every aspect of Ek-Lo-Don’s world as revealed so far. It’s all too easy when you’re creating a new world to get carried away and lose track of what you’ve already established.
I’m currently writing a second, longer, Ek-Lo-Don story that explores many more aspects of his world, and a third story is biding its time to be written too. Hopefully you’ll find it as intriguing as I have.
--Gareth D. Jones
Wednesday, March 05, 2014
It started on Twitter.
To which I responded by saying that “Explaining Cthulhu to Grandma” would make a great short story title.
Sylvia was kind enough to let me have it, and I came up with a family-run magical pawn shop (loosely inspired by the History Channel’s Pawn Stars), and named the protagonist Sylvia, as a thank-you to my friend for inspiring the idea.
The resulting story was one of the funniest I have written, and I was very proud that it became my first short story to be published in IGMS (you can read it in issue #33). This story has since gone on to receive some great reviews, and was even included in Tangent Online’s Recommended Reading List for 2013, with the maximum possible rating of three stars.
I had so much fun playing in the magic pawn shop sandbox, that I knew I would have to come back to this setting and characters, again and again. In the first story, Cthulhu trapped in a snowglobe-like pocket dimension was brought into the pawn shop. So I got to thinking, what other interesting items might show up at its doorstep? Excalibur? Holy Grail? A mint Alf action figure, still in original packaging? The Pandora’s Box was definitely on the short list, and that’s what I went with.
Of course, I wanted the title to be as over-the-top as “Explaining Cthulhu to Grandma,” which is how I came up with “High-Tech Fairies and the Pandora Perplexity.” It sounds like an episode of the Big Bang Theory which, to my mind, is a good thing. I was especially pleased with the play on words – in addition to its popular meaning (bewilderment), perplexity is also a mathematical term, dealing with the probability of distribution. Which sort of makes sense for this story – you’ll know why once you read it.
I intend to keep writing funny magic pawn shop stories, so this hopefully will not be the last you’ve heard of Sylvia.
Thursday, February 20, 2014
“Underwater Restorations” was born out my love of all things underwater. As a kid, I used to spend hours snorkeling in Keuka Lake in upstate New York, until I was blue and my father had to pull me out for safety. I often wished that our house was underwater and imagined how much fun it would be to snorkel and dive down into it—of course, I wasn’t a homeowner then, and now it isn’t something I would wish at all.
Right before I wrote “Underwater Restorations,” I had been attempting to write literary fiction and came to the decision that it wasn’t for me. Undeterred from giving up writing, I thought back to all the stories I loved to read and movies I enjoyed to watch as a kid, which were all Science Fiction and Fantasy. And there waiting for me after the genre shift, was the childhood desire to go snorkeling through an underwater house. These two came together seamlessly and produced “Underwater Restorations.”
Writing “Underwater Restorations” was an easier experience than some I’ve had, and whole lot of fun—which was my intent in writing it: to just have fun. It is my hope that the reader enjoyed in some of that fun and I plan to come back to Isa, Puo, and Winn sometime in the near future and see what they’ve been up to in my absence.
--Jeffrey A. Ballard
Monday, February 10, 2014
There are stories that come to you complete, and there are stories that you have no idea are there until they play themselves out. "Into the Desolation" was definitely one of the latter.
I started off in third person past tense, as I usually do, and I thought the story was going to be all about the Imogene character and her adventures in the Time Wastes. Gus was just a tool, a point-of-view for the reader to see Imogene. But then his voice began to take over, and I realized the story would be better told with his vocabulary and rhythm, and that was first person present tense. I'm not a fan of present-tense stories, but for Gus, it just worked.
I still thought getting into the Time Wastes would be just the first part of the story, and then something would happen. But as I went about motivating Gus to go--as I remembered what it was like to grow up in a small town and imagined how it would feel if a smart kid like Gus stayed--I realized he was subconsciously aching for Imogene to convince him to go. He was a blister waiting to be popped. But I honestly didn't realize what the trigger would be until she asked him, "What makes you think I want to come back?"
I have a friend who lost a child. I've seen how that pain continues to haunt her. But what binds Imogene is the what frees Gus. I wonder what adventures they will have together in the Time Wastes? And how will they grow?
Tuesday, February 04, 2014
“Seven Tips to Enjoy Your Time in the Unreal Forest” is my most autobiographical story so far. Like my character Jordan Hudson, I grew up on Mercer Island, Washington, I went to North Mercer Junior High, and I waited for the school bus at a little clearing surrounded by a dense curtain of fog. My memories of that time and place inspired this tale, but just to be clear, all the characters in the story are made up. I never had a brother; my father is not the rat-bastard depicted here (sorry, Dad!); and if you happen to know a gorgeous woman named Traci who went to North Mercer in the late 70s, I never made out with her, much as I would have liked to.
Oddly enough, the key to getting this story to come together was the title. I outlined the whole piece and started writing, even though I feared the story was too episodic and missing something at the end to give the reader a sense of resolution. Also, I didn’t have a title.
Looking for something to seize on for a title, I researched fog and stumbled across this passage from T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land,” which I had read years ago and long since forgotten:
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.
I proceeded to rip off T.S. Eliot shamelessly. The opening line of my story is paraphrased from this passage, there are several other allusions to “The Waste Land,” and most importantly, Eliot gave me the idea that the unreal forest was a place the dead might reappear. I added that near the end, hoping it would create the feeling of resolution the story had been lacking.
Continuing to lean on Eliot, I made my working title “The Unreal Forest.” But somehow I wasn’t satisfied with that. I started thinking about how to embellish it, and hit upon the idea of adding to the title the concept of “tips,” pointers that the narrator is giving to someone else who encounters a similar “unreal” location. I liked the title better with that addition, and it prompted me to divide the story into seven specific tips, hopefully turning the episodic nature of the narrative into a strength. I’d love to hear what people think!
--Van Aaron Hughes
Wednesday, January 29, 2014
There comes a point in your life when you realize that you will never play baseball in the majors. I’m not talking about in high school, or even college. I’m talking about when you turn 40 and watch a game on TV with your 4-year old and think, “He still has a shot one day, if he wanted to play, but me, not in this lifetime.” You are resigned to watching the game, wishing you could play, but aware that your decades of baseball knowledge, to say nothing of your curveball, will go untapped by the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, or let's face it, even the Royals or Astros.
There comes a point in your life when you realize that chances are pretty good you won’t ever make it to the moon. In my twenties I decided I wanted to be an astronaut. I got as far as earning my private pilot’s license. In the course of educating myself on what it took to be an astronaut, I learned that most of the astronauts NASA selects into its program are over-achievers, even by the standards of mainstream over-achievers. It wouldn’t do to have just a pilot’s license. You also needed 3,000 hours in 20 different types of aircraft. Having a Ph.D in some physical science might improve your chances a little. Two Ph.Ds and a medical degree and now you might be in the running. Throw in competitive rock climbing and HILO parachuting, and you’re probably a shoe-in.
All I had was a pilot’s license.
But the great thing about being a writer, and specifically, a science fiction writer, is that age and decrepitude are inconsequential. My characters can be young. My characters can be experts in their field. They can play baseball, and they can fly to the moon.
It isn’t often that a writer gets to write a pure wish fulfillment story and see it published. For me, telling a good story is my most important job, and that sometimes means setting aside what I wish would happen, and allowing the narrative to unfold in such a way as to make the best possible story. In the case of “Big Al Shepard” I tried my best to tell a good story, and it turned out to also allow me to play for the Red Sox and fly to the moon.
I spent much of 1998 reading all I could about the Apollo moon missions, and marveling at the fact that men walked on the moon before I was born. (Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmidt, the last two men to walk on the moon, did so when I was 9 months old.) At the same time, I’m a lifelong baseball fan, and thinking about how Alan Shepard swung a golf club on the moon got me thinking about an alternate history in which he might swing a baseball bat instead. A title popped into my head, “Big Al Shepard Plays Baseball on the Moon” and I imagined it as a headline on the New York Times or Washington Post. That was all I had. I sat down to write, and the story emerged mostly as you see it.
I’d never written an alternate history before, and I had more fun writing this story than I’ve had on any previous story. It was wonderful creating an alternate timeline where Apollo 1 doesn’t end in disaster. I wanted one of the original Mercury astronauts to be first on the moon--something that Deke Slayton, in his role as director of crew operations, really wanted as well.
The baseball angle was just as much fun to write. Although I’ve made baseball references in my stories before, I’d never written a scene that involved any sort of sports drama. Writing the scene where Big Al Shepard is attempting to break Joe DiMaggio’s record was some of the most fun I’ve had as a writer. It also took me out of my comfort zone. As a lifelong New York Yankees fan, could I write credibly and positively about the Boston Red Sox? Or New York Mets?
This story was different in one other way. Usually, I have an idea, a “what if,” as well a good idea of how the story will end. Then I just write. In “Big Al Shepard” I had the idea, “What if, in an alternate history, Al Shepard was a major league baseball player before he landed on the moon?” But I had no idea of how it would end. Discovering that ending was a big part of the fun I had with this story.
Finally, I want to give a shout out to my friend, and trusted beta-reader, Ken Liu. Ken read this story in an earlier draft, and identified things that helped make it into a much better story.
-- Jamie Todd Rubin