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.

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!

 

 

False Hearts

Laura Lam‘s latest novel, False Hearts, is a departure from her previous YA fantasy series. It’s a fast-paced sci-fi techno-thriller, and awesome hyphenated adjectives are the least of its strengths.

This book is a serious page turner. Once I started reading, I could hardly put it down. It more than met my need for a riveting, all-consuming read. More than that, it has a wealth of elements I adored. It’s science fiction. It’s a mystery thriller. It’s packed with fascinating, well-constructed techno marvels. It’s set in San Francisco. It deals with issues of consciousness. It’s set against the background of a secretive religious cult. It has grey areas aplenty.

And best of all, it features a pair of awesome protagonists with a highly unique perspective on life. Taema and Tila are twins. More than that, they were conjoined twins, separated in their teens, and still dealing with the psychological impact of having grown up with somebody else a literal part of them, having never been alone, having each of them know every single thing about the other. When they’re separated, all of that changes. The story is as much about the impact that has on each of them, and how it feels for Taema to discover that the person from whom it used to be physically impossible to keep secrets now has a massive one that threatens both of their lives.

I loved the interaction between the sisters. I really enjoyed the back-and-forth narrative and the clever use of viewpoint to show the past and the present simultaneously. Taema’s chapters revolve around the present – the terrifying dilemma she finds herself in when her sister is arrested for murder. Tila’s chapters recall the past: the sisters’ upbringing in the cult that refused them treatment for their condition, and the consequences of their determination to seek help when their shared heart begins to fail.

It’s a cleverly constructed novel with superb pacing throughout. The balance between the past and present viewpoints is perfect, allowing necessary insight from the twins’ past at just the right points in the present storyline. Their distinct personalities come through vibrantly, and I was rooting for each of them in turn. The story also portrays an intriguing futuristic society – an almost-utopia on the surface, with lurking dystopic menaces underneath.

For a fast-paced thriller, this novel has a ton of layers. I think that’s what I loved most about it.

If you love a good story with fascinating protagonists, more than one attention-grabbing setup, ample twists and turns, and action in droves, look no further. This is the droid you’re looking for.

Endings, Dark Towers, and Confidence

Story endings are difficult. Sometimes they’re difficult to read, either because you’ve enjoyed the story so much you don’t want it to end, or because the ending isn’t what you expected or hoped. But most often, they’re difficult to write. I guess some writers find endings easier than others, but for all the times an ending has come naturally and perfectly, there have been a dozen where it’s been dragged out a word at a time, or rewritten over and over, or just never felt right, no matter how you twisted it.

I think the best endings have confidence. If you believe in your ending, it’ll show, even if readers hate it. And I think when you know it’s an ending that will divide opinion, confidence is everything.

I recently finished Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. (MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD. IF YOU INTEND TO READ IT OR HAVEN’T YET REACHED THE END, GO AWAY, FOR YOUR FATHER’S SAKE.)

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~ You never intend to read it? You don’t care? Okay. *grumble grumble* Your loss.

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~ Just in case you’ve changed your mind. Last chance.

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Right. Let the spoily-spoily fun begin.

Now that was an ending. A magnificent, inevitable, divisive, heartbreaking, hope-filled ending. I adored it even as I hated what it meant. Roland goes through all of that, a quest which has consumed his entire life, killed most of his friends, tormented him physically and mentally, and finally – FINALLY – reaches his destination… only to be sent back to square one, with the whole thing still ahead of him. It’s a vicious, brutal cycle, which he briefly recognises he’s already lived countless times. He has to start over, and even though his memory resets with his surroundings, we as readers know what he’s been through. We know that it abruptly lies ahead of him yet again. It’s devastating.

And yet. It’s also hopeful. It’s hopeful because his last-minute realisation is that he’s messed up, somehow, on the previous times, and this is his new chance to get it right. It’s hopeful because he begins again with something he didn’t have on his last try, something he has already realised he needed. And it’s hopeful because now we know there’s a chance the whole ka-tet may yet make it to the end. Maybe Eddie, Jake, and Oy don’t have to die this time. This is a chance for the happy ending the previous cycle could never have had, even if something glorious had awaited Roland at the top of the Tower.

This ending understandably divides opinion. I can sympathise with people feeling cheated by it to some degree, although I didn’t feel remotely this way myself. But I’ve also heard people call it a lazy ending, an easy way out, and I couldn’t disagree more with that sentiment.

The ending to The Dark Tower might just be the bravest ending I’ve ever read.

Remember that thing about confidence? Just imagine having the confidence to write that ending. The confidence to say to your readers, ‘Yeah, I know, this sucks. But it’s right. It’s how it had to end. I’m sorry, but there it is.’ You think it was heart-rending for us readers? I guarantee you it was a damned sight more heart-rending for Stephen King, who had been writing that story for over three decades and who knew Roland and his obsession far better than any of us. It was the only way the story could end. The clues were there throughout. Even as I hated it, I knew it made sense. And the fact that it ends on a shining note of hope means the disappointment and shock is immediately lessened.

For me as a writer, this is an incredible lesson in trusting your endings, even if they’re not what you expected them to be. It’s a perfect example of realising what’s going to happen and then letting it happen, even if it hurts, and even if your readers might hate it. I have yet to write anything remotely as encompassing as the Dark Tower series, but I can still employ this lesson in my shorter works. The key to a kick-arse short story is so often its ending, and such endings can be elusive.

But however they arrive, I intend to imbue mine with confidence from now on.

 

[Also, I highly recommend this brilliant analysis of the Dark Tower’s ending, if you want a more in-depth look.]

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!