Why We Write

It’s been a scary year. The events of the past three weeks have felt like some kind of demon cherry on top of a glut of instability and fear-mongering. No one can know for sure what happens next, but the signs point to very unsettling possibilities.

I’ve seen all kinds of reactions from the writing community, ranging from dearths of creativity to fierce rallying cries. All those reactions are valid. Personally, I’ve been somewhere in the middle.

But it’s all got me thinking about the power of what we do. Writing is art, it’s communication, it’s portrayal of the world. It can be used for wondrous ends and horrendous ones. You’ve only got to look at the average British tabloid to see ample evidence of the latter. In many ways, those examples make it all the more encumbent on the rest of us writers to balance the scale in the other direction.

We write to process our thoughts and our ideas. We write to work through past hurts and present difficulties. We write to explore possibilities, to warn of dangers and to sow our hopes. Speculative fiction does this in ways other genres can’t, because it isn’t restricted to the world as we know it. Its scope extends to the futuristic, the fantastic, the alternative… with all of those things we can explore ‘what ifs’ and share visions of things that haven’t yet happened or delve into human nature from entirely new perspectives. The blog post I wrote on the importance of science fiction amply describes my thoughts on why it matters.

Our writing can draw attention to world issues by portraying them, veiled or openly, through the viewpoints of our characters. In doing this, we’re taking ideas beyond the factual, beyond informative articles and projections, and actually turning them into real-life situations. We only truly relate to these things by empathising with others going through them, and fiction provides that empathy in a way no other medium can. When I show what my persecuted refugee character is feeling, I enable my readers to connect with her and others like her. When I show how my rebel protagonist stands up against her totalitarian government, I enable readers to experience her anger and determination to put things right. When I show my alien character struggling to overturn her species’ discrimination against humans, I hope readers will see parallels in the way we continue to treat those we deem ‘inferior’.

Fiction is a reflection of its era, and the one we’re in now is rife with pitfalls and possibilities that we need to investigate. We need to explore the dangers through story before it’s too late for empathy. We need to show the bright alternatives before we’ve steered our path too far away from them. We need to work through our own fears, putting them into words both as catharsis and signpost.

This is why stories matter. This is why our society needs them more than ever.

This is why we write.

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Deep Magic – Out Now!

The August edition of speculative e-magazine, Deep Magic, is now live. It features, among a fabulous table of contents, my story ‘Her Glimmering Facade’. It also has gorgeous cover art. Just look at it!

Deep Magic - August 2016 by [Brown, John D, Thompson, Eldon, Russell, Josi, Power, Stephen S, Tahmaseb, Charity, Powers, Beth, Wood, Eleanor]

This story is sort of a sci-fi mystery. It has twists and turns and tragedy… and I really can’t say much more about it without ruining the plot. Usually I’ll summarise a story’s theme in one of these announcements, but even that would be giving things away. Hopefully that fills you with desperate intrigue and a need to know more… If not, the ‘Look Inside’ feature on Amazon gives you the first few hundred words of the story before the preview cuts out (as well as the entirety of Stephen S. Power’s ‘The Catskill Dragon’), so go and read it for a taster if you’d like.

Deep Magic has recently relaunched after a ten-year hiatus, so it’s great to see another pro speculative fiction market back in action. Go send them some love and a few quid, and pick up what looks to be a terrific read.

All purchasing options are on their site – check it out!

 

 

Anthologies Still Abounding!

This year’s Campbell Anthology is here! Up and Coming: Stories by the 2016 Campbell-Eligible Authors is now available to download for free, for a limited time only. This amazing collection of stories features 120 authors and over a million words of SF&F short fiction. It will only be available until the end of March, so grab it while you can!

 

The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer is an annual award given to the best new writer whose first professionally published science fiction or fantasy work has appeared in the previous two years. It’s nominated and chosen at the same time as the Hugo awards, and announced at each year’s Worldcon. I’m in my second (and final) year of eligibility following my first professional sale (my story ‘Daddy’s Girl’, to Crossed Genres) in 2014.

Up and Coming contains three of my previously published stories: ‘Daddy’s Girl’, ‘Pawprints in the Aeolian Dust’, and ‘Fibonacci’. Those three little stories are in some incredible company, with works from some of the most happening FSF writers in the field. I’m delighted to be sharing a table of contents with these talented people, among whom is my dear friend Emma Osborne, who’s also in her second year of Campbell eligibility.

Click on that link and download yourself a mindblowing collection of fiction that’ll cost you absolutely nothing and provide you with reading material for months. If you have an active Worldcon membership, you can nominate and vote, and if you don’t, you can get a taste of what’s happening in the marvellous world of today’s speculative fiction.

In years to come, you can say you saw it here first.

 

 

Anthologies Abound!

First up in anthology news, Flash Fiction Online’s 2015 anthology, featuring my story ‘Fibonacci’, is now available! It contains over thirty stories by a wide variety of authors, all available for the price of a cup of coffee, or a large portion of chips, or a jar of Marmite, or an average-price greetings card. You know, whatever you’d usually spend a couple of quid on. I’m currently reading the anthology, and it’s fabulous. Such a wonderful range of stories! And as they’re all 1000 words or fewer, it’s so easy to dip in and read a quick story when you’ve got a spare five minutes. I’m having a lot of fun working my way through them all, and I highly recommend the read.

Secondly, Hear Me Roar, which includes my story ‘The Fruits of Revolution’, is a finalist for the Aurealis Award for Best Anthology! Very exciting… can’t wait for the results on the 25th of March. If you haven’t yet grabbed yourself a copy and want to find out why it’s a deserving finalist, all Ticonderoga paperbacks are currently 20% off when ordered through their site. It’s also available via Amazon (Kindle and paperback), Barnes & Noble (Nook and paperback) and Book Depository.

So what are you waiting for? Go treat yourself to a couple of awesome story collections already! And enjoy the wild ride.

 

Happy 2016 to All

Here we are again, at another of those yearly roundups. When I look back on my previous ones, all I can do is smile. My writing progress has remained steady and on an upward trajectory, and that’s really all I can ask for.

I sold four stories in 2015, and all four were published the same year. Two of them went to semi-pro markets, and two to pro markets. One of those semi-pros was my first paperback publication, in Liz Grzyb’s awesome anthology, Hear Me Roar. The other, Sci Phi Journal, featured my dear, departed dog in its cover art. Seriously, wow. I wouldn’t have believed either of those things this time last year.

As for the two pro sales, both are freely available online in excellent magazines, and oddly, both are stories I wasn’t convinced would sell. ‘Flare’ had a couple of personal rejections that made me doubt whether I was hitting the right mark, but Urban Fantasy Magazine sent me a lovely, encouraging rewrite request and swiftly bought the revised version.

The other pro sale was my final publication of 2015, and appeared in Flash Fiction Online last month. ‘Fibonacci’ is an experimental sci-fi story that got in my head and drove me crazy. It’s under 1000 words long, but it is the most difficult story I’ve written to date. Not only did I set myself the insane challenge of structuring the whole piece around the Fibonacci sequence, I also gave myself a strict word limit (it had to be flash) and a complex, science-driven story. It needed both plot and character arcs. It had to be a proper, fully-fledged story and not just a gimmick. But once the idea got in my head it wouldn’t let me go, and after what felt like a wordsmithery wrestling match, I tackled it into submission and ended up with something I could actually be proud of. It got picked up on its second sub, and I’m delighted it found such a well-renowned home. Its December publication was a lovely way to round out the year, and left me on a momentum high that I fully intend to keep going.

I wrote five meaty short stories and a good chunk of my novel-in-progress. I critiqued a whole bunch of pieces for fellow writers, and established some great writing friendships this year. I discovered some terrific new markets. I joined Codex. I submitted stories 42 times and received 4 acceptances (nearly ten percent! Woo!).

Yep. It’s been a great year. I plan to carry its positivity into 2016 and watch all kinds of new wonders appear.

May all my fellow writers and readers have a magnificent year ahead!

Flare

My latest story, ‘Flare’, is now out at Urban Fantasy Magazine. Needless to say, it’s an urban fantasy piece…

Like most of my stories, there’s some personal stuff in this one. It’s also the first time I’ve managed to combine my fishkeeping experiences with my fiction writing. While ‘Pawprints in the Aeolian Dust’ is a story about a man’s relationship with his dog, ‘Flare’ is a story about a young girl’s relationship with her fish. It’s odd that these stories have been published consecutively. I wrote one soon after the other, and they’re the only stories in my current arsenal that deal directly with human/animal companionship. They’re also both stories about deceased animals that return, albeit in very different manifestations, to their former humans to lend them aid. It’s weird that I hadn’t really noticed the parallels between these stories before, although they’re obvious in hindsight.

The fish featured in ‘Flare’ are bettas, also known as Siamese Fighting Fish. I’ve kept many bettas over the years, and without exception they’re wonderfully engaging and full of personality. I’ve never had two the same, and I enjoyed exploring their unique characterisitics in the context of this story. There are five fish in ‘Flare’, and every one is based on a betta I’ve had at some point.

File:HM Orange M Sarawut.jpg
By Daniella Vereeken (Flickr: HM Orange M – Sarawut)

I have little doubt I’ll return to the theme of human/animal connections. But for now, it’s rather lovely to know that both ‘Pawprints’ and ‘Flare’ are out there simultaneously, shining little lights on the importance of our animal companions.

Plasma Frequency Comeback Drive!

I’ve blogged about Plasma Frequency Magazine before. They were one of my first published venues, and ‘Rift’, the story that appeared in their 7th issue, was the first piece of flash I ever wrote. To this day, theirs remains one of the best publishing experiences I’ve had, from submission right the way through to publication. They’ve published some terrific stories and provided an excellent potential market for us writers. I was dismayed by their news over the summer that they’d been decimated by online banking fraud and lost all their funds. As a result, they had to close the magazine with no guarantee they’d be able to return.

But… they’ve recently launched a Kickstarter to do just that! They’re planning to bring back all the great stuff they published before, as well as a brand new Rookie Author feature, as described here:

‘Being a new author is tough. One of the toughest challenges is finding a home for your work. Plasma Frequency wants to help new authors out by ensuring that at least one story in each issue is by a new author. This is great for writers because it helps them out. But it is even better for readers because it gives them a fresh voice they might have missed out on otherwise.

This Rookie Author Feature is ground breaking in the industry. To our knowledge few other paying publication offers a specific slot for new talent. Plasma Frequency is known for testing the boundaries of “normal” and “traditional”, so this feature will be just another way we shake things up.’

Very cool.

As I write this, they’re already 64% of the way there, and they’re offering some really nice perks to backers. If you’ve ever read an issue of the magazine, submitted them a story, been published with them, or just want to support more great speculative fiction, please check out the Kickstarter page and consider throwing them some dosh.

They’ve been through the wringer. Against the odds, they’ve come back fighting. I’d be over the moon to see them return.