Friday, December 14, 2012

Short Fiction Friday

I haven't been following all my favorite ezines as closely as I'd like, but I did get a chance the other day to read some of what I have collected on my Nook (I automatically upload Lightspeed, Electric Velocipede, and Weird Fiction Review and manually upload Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Ideomancer, and Abyss & Apex to my Nook, while reading Strange Horizons and Clarkesworld and quite a few others online at the moment). I haven't come close to catching up on everything that's waiting for me (either on the Nook or in browser tabs on my computer), but the November 29 issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies I found well worth reading.

"The Telling" by Gregory Norman Bossert tells of a manor and what happens after its (presumed) lord dies, especially its effects on Mel (a child whose role in the structured patterns of the house is uncertain) and the bees (which react dramatically to the news that the lord has died). Though the narrative style is not like Mervyn Peake's, there's something of Gormenghast in this manor and its ritual- and propriety-focused inhabitants, and without revealing too much, something of Titus Groan in Mel's decision at the end.

John E. O. Stevens' "The Scorn of the Peregrinator" is one of those stories where the strange and evocative setting is the draw. It's the kind of wildly imaginative society I tend to love, immersing the reader into it with little explanation because our eye in the world is entirely familiar with it. So as the story goes, you're constantly realizing more and more of how strange and fascinating these bird-like people are. Into this society, the Peregrinator of the title has come to conscript soldiers for some distant war. The main character and his relatives don't believe they owe any more.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Interview question

I'd nearly forgotten that I wrote up a blog post for Penumbra as part of their one-year anniversary celebration. All of us who'd had stories in the inaugural issue were invited to contribute something to their blog. I wrote up and sent in my answer to the question they posed me, "How do you turn a simple idea into something publishable?" in the day or two before heading to the hospital, so I guess it just slipped my mind that this was coming out. Looks like late last week, though, my post went up on their blog.

Absence: newborn

So shortly after posting my last post, I went rushing off to the hospital with my wife, and my son was born that two minutes to midnight, and that's the actual time not fudged just so we could say he was born on 10-11-12 (as dates are written in the US).You have no idea how many times I keep hearing that insinuation... We're doing well, though I will admit I haven't been able to concentrate much on any writing (or blogging, critiquing, etc.).

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Next Big Thing meme

I was doubly tagged for this meme, first by W. E. Larson and shortly after that by Nick, who specified that he'd like me to focus on the work he's currently reading the draft of.

1. What is the title of your Work in Progress?

Fugitives on the Avocet Road

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

No one source. I wanted to write a book for last year's National Novel Writing Month and started piecing together scraps and pieces from my mind a few months before hand. I wanted it to center on a family, not just a lone individual (which is often my default, I'm realizing). I wanted it to be a family that is not treated well by the people with power in their world. And then I got the image of a society where everyone is constantly on the move: families, villages and towns, even entire cities moving constantly up and down the road. As I was brainstorming this, I was coming back from a jog to the Children's Gardens (my daughter's favorite destination) with the jogging stroller and passed a street called Avocet, and I couldn't quite place what an avocet was. Once I looked it up at home, I added that into the mix, and everything started falling into place.

3. What genre does your book fall under?

Fantasy, I suppose. Or speculative fiction at any rate. There are some SFnal touches to it and certainly some influences from other sub-genres, but really it's a non-epic secondary world fantasy.

4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I watch few movies and less TV, and even when I do, I don't pay attention to who the actors are, really. So no idea, to be honest. Teeana would need to be on the older side of middle-age (she'd likely seem older than her actual age, after all she's been through). Someone who can come across as tough and a little bitter, though not overcome by the bitterness. Vosef should come across as playfully child-like and inquisitive.

5. What is a one-sentence synopsis of the book?

Fugitives on the Avocet Road is a non-linear fantasy of a family of refugees, pursued the length of a mysterious, barren road through a land where the soil is deadly to those who stay in one place for too long.

6. Will your book be self-published or traditionally published? Represented by an agent or no?

(I've re-worded this question, as the original set up an odd either-or that didn't make much sense.) I have no plans to self-publish it. I'm in the process of querying agents for a different novel, so having an agent would be ideal, but I wouldn't be opposed to submitting it unagented if necessary and if the right publisher happens to have an open reading period.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Two months. I wrote about 65k words during NaNo and finished the draft by the end of December.

8. What other books would you compare this story to in your genre?

Hmmm. Perhaps Mechanique by Genevieve Valentine. That was certainly an influence on my decision to make it a non-linear book. I've been intrigued by non-linearity for a long time and wrote one novel some years ago that dabbled with it. Reading Mechanique around the time I was brainstorming the story reminded me of my interest in that and helped me see how this was a story that would benefit from such an approach. Other than that, there are influences all over the place, conscious and unconscious, that I'll let my biographer some day attempt to trace.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

It sounds disappointing to answer that NaNo inspired me... I wouldn't say any particular person or thing inspired it--well, maybe a touch of Occupy Wall Street rhetoric--but mostly a wish to tell a story and to stretch my ability to write it, to try something new and see how it plays out.

10. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Bees! Honey! (Another influence as I was brainstorming that worked its way in was Amal El-Mohtar's The Honey Month.) The constant threat of body mutation from the soil. Fighting against injustice. Camel-drawn villages. A city that winds its way up and down the mountain road by being pulled by a pair of massive chains.  Another city that is not a place but an amoeba-like grouping of people who choose to self-identify as belonging together. Deadly poisons and a sweet escape that tastes like revenge.

Include the link of who tagged you and this explanation for the people you have tagged.

The links are above, at the beginning of this post. I'll have to try to come back and tag some people later...

Monday, October 01, 2012

Human skeleton spiders and frogs

I try not to post Io9 links much from my blog, partly because I figure other people are already seeing those posts on Io9 and partly because I'd be tempted to post so many links that it would just take over the blog, but this movie of frogs and a bird and a spider, all with human-like skeletons visible inside is just too cool to not link to. Creepy and mesmerizing, and seems to gel with the human-animal-robotic interactions that crop up a lot in my stories, even if there's nothing actually mechanical involved.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Self-moving plants

Cool article about a microscopic algae that can swim. I'm always fascinated with plants in general and especially learning about new behaviors and ways they seem to tease the line between what we think of as plant and what we think of as animal attributes and behaviors.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

"Moon Magic Eclipse"

I just realized today that the latest issue of went live on September 1st and that this is the issue with my flash fiction story "Moon Magic Eclipse." This was a story I wrote to be deliberately more high fantasy in feel than I usually try for--for a long time I'd had in mind a magic that works like moonlight, coming from a definitive but cyclical source, something that could be blocked or amplified. Only thing was, my longer writing was moving away from the kinds of stories that this kind of magic seemed to fit, so it just sat there in the back of my head (and probably in a notebook somewhere). Then last year I decided to work it into a flash fiction piece, and this was the result.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Honorable Mention

For a second year in a row I wrote and submitted a poem for the National Space Society of North Texas's poetry contest. I learned today that my poem was chosen as an honorable mention, which I'm assuming means it will be appearing in the anthology in a few months. Last year I wrote a free verse poem about the moon. This year it was a formal sonnet about colonizing Mars.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Short Fiction Saturday

A couple of recent stories that I found worth mentioning in themselves, but also seemed to complement each other, with their takes on gender:

In Aliette de Bodard's "Heaven Under Earth" there is an unexplained shortage of women on a distant planet, settled by (Chinese) humans. Only some males, then, are allowed to be fathers, the eggs of what women there are are harvested and highly valued, and most males undergo a procedure that turns them in caihe, a sort of eunuch with an artificial uterus and mammary glands. Liang Pao, a caihe carrying a child for the husband, is the central character, and the tension comes when the new, fourth spouse turns out to be not a caihe but an actual woman.

"Love Might Be Too Strong a Word" by Charlie Jane Anders is a wild and imaginative story set on a massive space ship headed toward a new planet. There are many genders on the ship, determined by a person's rank and role in keeping the ship going, and Anders gives each of the genders their own sets of pronouns, which adds an intriguing touch to the story. The main gist of the narrative is a love story, sort of, in which a pilot (at the top of the ship's castes) falls in love with a low-caste cleaning person. Or seems to. The courtship news spreads throughout the ship, a lovely and romantic thing...except to the cleaning person Mab, who doesn't trust the pilot at all. The gender play is stunning throughout, and the imagination of it means this is a story that will likely stay with me.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

"The Rustic Ladder" in Bourbon Penn

My story "The Rustic Ladder" is part of the new issue, which just went live today.

This story really came about, a couple of years ago now, as a result of a number of discussions about the differences between magical realism and fantasy. Gene Wolfe famously said magical realism is simply fantasy written by someone who speaks Spanish. It's a funny quip, but not the most helpful... I've never been a fan of strict or exhaustive boundaries and definitions of things like this, but I do like to go back to the distinction given by a professor of mine. We were studying, especially, the Boom writers, and in that context she explained that in Spanish-language fantasy, the fantastical or uncanny aspect is the source of the story's conflict. In magical realism, however, the fantastical elements are simply a part of the everyday lives of the characters, and the conflict arises from other sources, often related to themes of colonialization and (sub-)development. With that distinction, and with those online discussions fresh in mind, I wrote this story to explore how I might take those themes.

Bourbon Penn is free to read online, or you can order a Kindle copy or POD physical copy through the site.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Short Fiction Tuesday

I've been trying to catch up on some other, non-short fiction reading this past week, so I haven't had a chance to read the latest batch of short stories to upload on my Nook. But one story I have read this past week and is well worth reading is N. K. Jemsin's "The Trojan Girl," which originally appeared in Weird Tales. She published the story for free on her blog in protest of Weird Tales' recent editorial meltdown. The story is a rich take on self conscious entities evolving within computer networks, told from within the network with something of a mythic-feeling background to their actions avoiding human awareness of their existence. Very cool story.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Short Fiction Friday

I've continued reading as much short fiction as I can recently, despite the busy schedule. Here are a few stories of late that have stood out for me. I'd already jotted down the links to include in this post before I'd even realized that despite being four stories, it's only two writers, each with two of them.

First is "Cutting" by Ken Liu. I upload Electric Velocipede's posts every week to my Nook, and this one didn't upload quite correctly. The story simply repeated itself three times, but because of the Calvino-esque subject of the monks' beliefs, I read it through each time, trying to see if there was anything changed. There wasn't, but then I read the editor notes and realized I needed to check out the actual site. The story itself is great (even worth reading through three times), and the way Liu uses the story in the subsequent iterations is both clever and meaningful.

And then continuing my ereader mishaps, Lightspeed didn't load properly, so I went to the site and discovered "The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species," also by Ken Liu. Again there's what I'd call a Calvino sense of play and wonder, cataloging an imaginative array of aliens and the use they make of books or book-like objects.

The other two stories are both by Alex Dally MacFarlane and both involve foxes. In truth, I think the more important commonality (and the part that especially drew me to these two) is the sense of a people struggling to maintain its ways in the face of an antagonistic dominant culture. In "Feed Me the Bones of Our Saints" its a group of women and foxes who have developed a way of life as hunting pairs. They've been driven away from their ancestral homes, and the stories of them cast them as ridiculous caricatures. Those who survive now seek to reclaim the bones of some of their ancestors. It is a sad and powerful story. In "Fox Bones. Many Uses." the foxes are hunted by the main character's people, and the different bones consumed to produce different magic. Za's position among her people is complicated by the fact that she has a child whose father comes from the dominant culture, so she and the child are not completely trusted by her own people. When soldiers come after the village, it takes fox-bone magic and a guess about the soldiers' weaknesses to protect her people.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

A Dream of the City's Future published

The August issue of Penumbra is out now, and look at that cover:
My story is one of a handful of stories I've written that take place in the city called Boskrea. I haven't said a lot about that setting on my blog, though I may have mentioned it a few times. I first began to imagine the setting years ago, and it's often been a place I've used when I want to experiment with some different narrative style or approach. One of the first stories I wrote in the setting received a rejection that concluded,"That said, however, this is a terrific story, one that I'm certain I'll see published elsewhere soon." And that's been reflective of many of the responses I've received on the stories. Not quite right for any of the markets I send them to. That makes finally selling a Boskrea story especially pleasing. This one is a more recent one. I decided to take the stories I'd already written and see how they would work joined together in a sort of mosaic novel. I still go back and forth on my answer to that question, but as I wrote what's basically a novella-length story to weave in and out of the stand-alone shorts, I decided I needed one final stand-alone story to wrap things up, something that would take place (or seem to take place) far in the future, compared to the main events of the story. So this post-apocalyptic dream story (the subtitle, which appears in the pdf version but not the epub version, is "A collective, cultic dream, as recorded by the Story Eaters of Fallen Crown) was written to play that role, along with another flash piece that weaves in at an earlier point about those Story Eaters.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Well, the move and subsequent stream of visitors has made trying to get time for other things quite difficult. But I did want to take a quick moment to mention a story of mine that came out a couple of weeks ago.

"The Chief Censor" was published on Every Day Fiction. This is one of many stories that came from one writing group's (sometimes) weekly one-hour writing challenges. I have no recollection now of what the prompt was, but I liked the image of the censor growing increasingly paranoid.

Expect more blog posts as I get into a more predictable routine here.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Two more acceptances

Yesterday I received contracts for two different pieces (a flash story and a poem) within about a half hour of each other:

"Moon Magic Eclipse" is a flash fiction piece that will be appearing in, for my second appearance in that zine.

And "Food and Illusion for the Dying" is a poem that will be coming out in Nameless Magazine from Cycatrix Press. It's a strange poem, I suppose, a poem that takes place within the same setting as a handful of short stories I've written, including the story forthcoming from Penumbra. I don't see a lot of secondary world poetry, for some reason, except attempts to incorporate songs and the like within longer narrative works. So it will be interesting to see what reviews and comments (if any) the poem gets.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Rapid-fire acceptances

Any short story sale is exciting, but this week has including a rapid-fire series of three sales, each of which I'm very excited for.

First, "A Dream of the City's Future" has sold to Penumbra for its dream issue (and for my second appearance in that zine). I'll say more about that one when it comes out in August.

Second, "Rustic Ladder" will be appearing in Bourbon Penn, an online and print-on-demand magazine. I discovered that magazine when a writer I admire linked to one of the stories in their latest issue. It speaks highly for the readers it's attracting.

And third, "Chief Censor" sold today to Every Day Fiction, which I believe will be my fourth story in EDF.

Very pleased, of course, with this string of acceptances...and let's see how long it can continue.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Wild fire

We've got a pretty intense wild fire burning just outside Fort Collins. One of the roads now blocked off is just a little over a mile from here, though the fire is still a fair distance away. I'm tasting smoke at the moment. The wind has been sparing us the worst of the smoke, but sometimes it shifts enough to blanket us. My newspaper this morning had flecks of ash on it.

Here's a picture I took from our apartment parking lot:

And here's one from the neighborhood where we're building our house:

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Short Fiction Sunday

I love Samantha Henderson's "Beyond Calais" from a couple of weeks ago in Strange Horizons. It's a story of wild airplanes and those who try to tame them and press the beasts into military service. It's more than that,of course, with a lot of fun and thought-provoking things going on, but I think as soon as I realized these were engine-driven, propeller-powered airplane-beasts, I knew it was my kind of story. It could have easily become cutesy, but instead it's an accomplished and entertaining story.

Another excellent story of late is Catherynne Valente's "A Hole to China" in Lightspeed. There's an Alice-in-Wonderland sense of whimsy to this story of a girl who discovers a way into a bizarre underworld. A lot of times when stories seem to aim at the same nonsensical dream-world that Lewis Carroll led us doesn't seem to work well. You end up with nonsense without anything more, or you end up with a pale imitation. But Valente succeeds in this story at creating a story that holds together and doesn't seem derivative.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Detroit Salt Mines

I love this post from io9 about the Detroit Salt Mines and I had to look around for other articles about them as well. Either 50 miles or 100 miles of roadway (depending which of those articles is accurate) through some 1,500 acres of solid salt deposits, nearly 1,200 feet underground, beneath even the rock that forms the bed for the Great Lakes. Now I love lost/abandoned type places in general--like Seattle's underground ghost town that Lauren told me about a year or two ago--but I practically lived right above these. The northwest edge of the mines came within about a mile of where I lived for four years, within a few blocks of the hospital where my son was born. And I never knew. Granted, it's far below ground, so why should I know? And they'd stopped doing tours two decades prior to that, but still...

I love the fact that the huge tractors and other equipment are all still down there, since it isn't worth taking them apart to bring them up. And that there was a machine shop down there for putting the equipment together in the first place. The fact of the mules living their entire lives down there is a sadder one (is there a mule cemetery down there in the salt?), but fascinating as well. It makes me wonder about the logistics of that. How many mules did they have at any given time? What kind of paddock did they have for them, and who was in charge of their care? Makes me want to write a story about the salt mine's mule tender...

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Poem at Every Day Poets

My poem "A Poet's House" is up today at Every Day Poets. It's sort of funny to see it now, in that I wrote the poem in the very brief time when we'd started looking at the place where we're building a house, but still thought it probably wouldn't happen now. It was really just a matter of a few days when we thought we'd have to wait until another year or so, but that was when I wrote the poem. Despite having sold the house with the sun-robbed bamboo, it's still an idea I can get behind. Does it set me up for actually writing a poem every day after we move in, though?

Friday, May 18, 2012

Turtle car?

And if towering carnivorous plants aren't your thing, what about car-sized, crocodile-eating turtles?

Hmmm, someone should write a story about a turtle that actually is a car...

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Towering carnivorous plants and their insect body-guards

Tell me this doesn't make you want to write a story about it... Up to 65 feet tall and in a symbiotic relationship with ants that live in its roots and chase off dangerous weevils. Pretty cool stuff.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Short Fiction Monday

I've added a new site to those I download each week to my ereader (using Calibre and the RSS feed): Weird Fiction Review. I've been following the site since it launched, but I found that I was getting overwhelmed with the amount of new content some weeks, so I'm hoping to be able to keep up with it more conveniently this way, though it does mean I'll typically be reading it a week or even two after things are posted.

So today's recommended story comes from Weird Fiction Review: "Watcher" by Leena Likitalo. Part of the enjoyment of the story is the realization of how it all fits together, so I won't say too much about it. But it gives the story from the perspectives of a trio of creatures, one of numerous rodents, one of several butterfly-people, and the watcher from the title. The perversely dark image of the wind-torn, miserable butterfly people is especially striking.

Also worth reading is CaitlĂ­n R. Kiernan's "Steam Dancer (1896)" in Lightspeed. It's a reprint, one I'd seen the title of in some anthology or best-of list (already a reprint for that, I'm pretty sure), but hadn't read yet. It's a steampunk story that takes place in the American West. Missouri Banks, the dancer of the title, lost some limbs to illness years ago and now has steam-powered replacements. The story manages to avoid both whizz-bang silliness and dour gloom in showing us her life and love as a dancer.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Short Fiction Sunday

I missed it when the new Kaleidotrope went up a couple of weeks ago, but I see now that my friend Lindsey Duncan, who guest-blogged here a few weeks ago, has a story "Voices" in the new issue. I vaguely remember reading an early draft of this several years ago, so it's good to see it's found a home. It's the story of an assassin, haunted by a ghost of sorts. Go give it a read, and then check out the rest of this issue (as I will shortly also). If any of the other stories in there stand out, let me know so I can be sure to get to that story soon.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Imagination isn't enough

One of the key aspects I appreciate in fiction is a sense of a highly creative imagination. If the imaginative aspect is interesting enough, I can forgive much. Sometimes I wonder if I'm too forgiving of works that I find sufficiently imaginative. And yet... Some books prove that imagination alone isn't enough.

Some years ago, I decided to give William Hope Hodgson's The Night Land a try. It's an early work of fantasy, written in 1912, and features a wildly imaginative take on a distant future when the sun has ceased shining and the last remnants of humanity live in a huge chasm miles beneath the surface (but presumably open to the surface). A fascinating and dark future of terrible powers arrayed against the humans.

I gave up.

Somewhere around the third chapter, I just decided that the it wasn't worth it, that what I was getting from the book didn't reward the effort to continue. The decision was in part an acknowledgment that I wouldn't finish the book before it was due at the library (because the narrative style is such that it takes effort to keep reading...). It was also came down to the fact that I wanted to read books that I would learn from, for my own writing. The Night Land is a book no writer should attempt to mimic. The writing is stilted and faux archaic, the structure is awkward, the focus on how many pills he did eat and on how modern readers should perceive the character...wearying, and the treatment of the true love by the narrator abusive and juvenile. It just came to the point where I did wot* that it wasn't worth continuing.

A website devoted to celebrating this book even states, "We think THE NIGHT LAND is one of the most colorful, inventive, and moving fictional worlds ever created. Haunting. Unmatchable. Unforgettable. But the book, as it issued from Hodgson's pen in 1912, is crippled by an unreadable style. For some reason Hodgson cast it in the frame of the future-dream of a gentleman of the 17th century. He attempted to reproduce the language of that period, with scant success."

And yet, I've decided to make another attempt. This time it's not a library book, but a Project Gutenberg text, so no worries about returning it when it's due. And also, I'm not reading it for what I can learn for my own writing, or at least not in the same way. It's a book I'll be glad to have read. The image of such a bleak future is compelling, despite the narrative approach. It feels, in a way, like outsider art, unaware of artistic (/narrative) approaches or conventions and forging onward in its own insular sense of what makes art (/literature) work. Reading it isn't enjoyable exactly, not in the way of other stories, but there is a train-wreck sort of fascination to it, with the reward of a compelling vision of the future.

This isn't meant to be a review (especially as I'm only a little past halfway through the book), but simply a record of a few thoughts as I'm reading. Plus, I came across this line today and wanted to quote it, because of the irony...

"And this is plain to you, and needing not of many words, which do so irk me."

They irk me too, William. They irk me, too.

*Yes, he uses that word, and far too often...

Friday, March 23, 2012

Blog Guest: Lindsey Duncan

It's been quiet around here, with selling the house, moving to temporary quarters, and now traveling to Phoenix for my wife's conference... For today, though, we have a special guest. My friend Lindsey Duncan is doing a blog tour to promote her recently published book Flow. So, welcome, Lindsey! Here's what she has to say:

Much thanks to Dan for having me on his blog – and the bravery of allowing me to pick a topic.  Since we both enjoy finding the right, evocative turn of phrase, I wanted to talk about the use of the sense of smell in Flow particularly and in description in general.

I’ve always been really drawn to the use of scent in descriptive passages.  There’s something of an irony to this:  I myself have always suffered from severe allergies, so my sense of smell is almost nil.  I miss scents that other people consider obvious … though my sense of taste is relatively normal.  Perhaps on a personal level, it’s because what scents I do notice are those that are most distinct and telling – details that leap out in my surroundings.  Many of these are warning signals, like the smell of fish (also allergic) and flowers.

On a more universal level, I find scent to be a very visceral and immediate thing.  Unlike sounds or sights, it cannot be transferred remotely (… yet!).  Our experience of scent is more instinctive, less rational.  Our sense of smell is less developed than other senses – which on a descriptive level invites more ambiguity and metaphor.  It’s also a sense less frequently used in fiction.  Descriptions tend to begin with the visual, sometimes include the auditory depending on the scene, but often don’t consider scent.

For Flow, I had decided early on that Chailyn would be particularly keyed into the scents of her surroundings.  As a dweller in an underwater city, I knew her experience with smell prior would be limited or at least very different – and decided it was something I wanted to highlight throughout.  (As a side note, a quick search through Google now seems to indicate that we’re only (fairly) recently exploring the possibility that certain mammals can smell and follow scent trails underwater.)  The recognition of the aromas of land was important to emphasize how much of a stranger she was to the world the rest of us take for granted.

Indeed, the character’s very first point-of-view sentence is:  “Chailyn inhaled deeply of mist and storm, and then another scent that was unfamiliar to her: dirt and loam, cold under the fall.”  (Fall = autumn, in context.)

In some cases, I simply had fun playing with snippets of description, for instance in a diner that was incidental to the plot, where I mentioned the scent of lavender soap and open flame.  It evokes a different “image” of the setting than a strictly visual reference.

Chailyn was one of two viewpoint characters in Flow.  The other, Kit, was a contemporary teen, more accustomed to her surroundings – so for her, while I didn’t avoid scent descriptions, I put no emphasis on them.  Whether or not the difference is obvious to a reader, I tried to maintain the distinction.

In a novelette / novella (depending on where you break the word count for that) I wrote entitled “Scenting Rain,” part of the premise is the main character losing her sense of smell as part of a pact with a spirit.  To establish that contrast, the opening (and the ending) of the story are rife with aromas – which was interesting to do in a desert setting, because to me, that’s a distinct and much subtler set of smells.  I indulged in some metaphor to encompass it:  “The crisp, empty scent of infinity surrounded her.”

I think that scent is something we often taken for granted and perhaps don’t notice until it vanishes – or hits us over the head.  Maybe that’s why I find it so compelling from a descriptive standpoint.  Regardless, I find it adds a new dimension to the atmosphere of any tale.

LINDSEY DUNCAN is the author of contemporary fantasy Flow, just released by Double Dragon Publishing.  Flow follows the water-witch Chailyn, on dry land for her first mission, and Kit, a contemporary teen with mysterious powers, as they seek the man who killed Kit's mother ... a goal which catches the interest of the darkest of fairies.  They must also deal with the Borderwatch, a zealous organization that hunts fairies and has been in a cold war with the water-witches for decades.

Flow can be found here:

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Haiku month ends

If you've been following me on Twitter, you know I've kept up with the haiku-writing this past month. It felt good to flex those poetry muscles, and I liked having something structured to give me a creative outlet during this month, with all the packing, putting things in storage, and showing the house. I was putting off writing up a blog post because it seemed like I should have some grand wisdom learned by the experience. I wouldn't say I have any, but that doesn't mean it wasn't worthwhile. Forcing myself to stay within the structure of a haiku--and most of the days following the prompt--is good experience for all sorts of writing.

One thing I notice, looking back, is that none of the haiku are speculative. No scifaiku or the like. Part of that was simply because of the prompts, but mostly it was that I wanted the haiku to come from things I was actually seeing and experiencing that same day. Some of the prompts had absolutely no way of touching on what was happening around me, so I ignored a few prompts and for others tried my best to draw on a memory of an actual event. But all, as far as I can recall at the moment, drew on actual experiences in some way.

This month is going to be, in some ways, even more chaotic than February was. I'm setting my creative goals quite low for the month. April, though, should be much less stressful. So maybe I'll find myself doing more poetry then, whether haiku or something else.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Goya's El Tres de Mayo

I recently finished a short story inspired, in part, by this painting. It's not meant to be a direct telling of this same scene, but rather plays with the idea of an artist reacting to, commenting on, inciting revolution against such an atrocity. When I was in Spain I saw this painting at El Prado, along with many other works of Goya. This one was especially memorable.

One of the first readers actually mentioned Picasso's Guernica, which did flash through my mind as I wrote (it's another work I saw in Spain--and another that's not quickly forgotten), but it wasn't a big source for the story. Still, I'm entertained to learn that Guernica was also inspired by El tres de mayo, so maybe there's a closer connection than I was realizing.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Contributor copy plus a sale

I received my copy of this anthology over the weekend. You can order it on Amazon or Barnes & Noble (there's no ebook version available at the moment). The poem I have in here is based on a variety of old myths about the moon and what someone would find there, the primary one coming from the Great Moon Hoax of 1835, which I just find to be a wonderfully surreal pseudo-scientific report. This lithograph that accompanied the articles is well worth putting here in the post:

In other news, I'll be having a drabble (a story of exactly 100 words) in the upcoming 20th edition of the Drabbler. The theme of the contest this time was death-bed confessions. I'll post a link when that's available.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Haiku-writing month

Someone on Facebook linked to the National Haiku Writing Month website, and I decided it would be fun to do that--for several years now I've thought it would be a good challenge for myself to write a poem every day during April, that cruelest month...but I've never actually risen to that challenge yet. A haiku a day, though, I can do. I'm not intending to send these out as submissions, so I'll just be posting them on Twitter (@ausema, if you want to read them). At the least, it gets me creating something new every day, even in the middle of the chaos of packing up, cleaning, and selling the house, when I don't expect I'll have a lot of time for any other creative stuff.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Dutch folk tale

I just came across the old folk tale of the city of Saeftinghe, which stood in a part of the Netherlands that is now submerged in a brackish swamp. An ancient city, lost to flooding, seems like there are many such legends. A few things make it stand out for me. First, it's a real historic event: the Dutch had drained the land in the 1200s. The city itself actually survived the flood that destroyed most of the surrounding land in 1570, but then Dutch soldiers (for reasons never fully explained in the several articles I read) had to destroy the last dike in the midst of the 80-Year War. The city was lost and never restored.

The other is just the little details of the folk tale version that make it charm me. It's a wealthy city, but cruel to those who come to immigrate, and this cruelty and greed is explicitly listed as the reason for its punishment. The mermaid part is fun, though I think common to other folk tales. But the ocean fish found swimming in the well is a cool touch, one of those things you could play up in a horror story, with the slow-building awareness of what's in story. And the bell tolling in the fog, though again common to other folk tales, wraps the tale up with a pleasing fairy tale feel.

I have to admit I'm tempted to somehow make use of this tale in a short story someday.

Monday, January 09, 2012


We're working to get rid of the clutter around our house, in advance of possibly selling it and buying a new one closer to my wife's work. Several years ago, I blogged about getting a piano for free off Craigslist, and so I decided to get rid of it the same way--the house will look much nicer without that taking up so much space in our living room. And I'll just say, if you ever feel like you don't get enough email, offer a free piano on Craigslist... Admittedly, the picture I took with my phone made the piano look actually a lot better than it really is, but the first person to come by has agreed to take it off my hands. And here I was afraid I'd get no takers and have to pay to dispose of it at the dump.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Goals and plans for the new year

I have to admit that new years' resolutions make me uneasy. Part of it is the contrariness of not wanting to blindly do what so many others are doing. Part of it is the fact that January 1 is just an arbitrary division, and treating it as more than that is suspect. And the main part, really, is that resolutions so often seem to be treated as drastic and unsustainable life changes, where the goal is simply to see how long you can stick to it, but with no expectation of actually improving anything long-term (except at most vague imaginations of some idealized version of yourself).

That said...goals, I've found, are very important. I always knew they were. When I was in experiential education, we would even create challenges that reinforce how much goals can help, and it was clear from group behavior that they really did. Yet until a couple of years ago, I wasn't really setting goals for writing, thinking that between the unpredictability of life with small children and the unpredictability (and uncontrollable-ness of certain aspects) of a writer career, it just wasn't worth trying. When I did start setting goals two years ago, it wasn't in the context of the new year so much as a result of reading Jeff Vander Meer's The Writing Life. So I set out to create a (n admittedly loose) 5-year plan, a (much more defined) 1-year plan, and a series of monthly and weekly tasks that would get me to those plans. I found, as I should have known I would, that the goals and tasks helped tremendously.

At about the same time, I began participating in a weekly, public goal-setting forum (titled, ironically enough, "Agraphia," which refers to a pathologic inability to write...), and that too did wonders for spurring me to accomplish what I have done. And three years of participating in National Novel Writing Month has taught me that I work well with that kind of publicly stated goal, even as I haven't really gotten involved in the other aspects of NaNo.

So I do believe firmly in goals, and a new year is a convenient time to reconsider those goals and think about what to do to achieve them. At this point, my 5-year plan is down to three years. I've revised it some, but I still want to reach those same things by that time, so I haven't created a new longer-timeline set of goals yet. Some I've already accomplished, actually. My goals for this year, then, include getting my novel Descent of Balloons out to agents (and/or publishers), doing the first revisions of the novel I finished in December (possibly titled Fugitives of the Avocet Road), and writing more short fiction than I have the last couple of years. Somewhat beyond my control (except for the tasks of submitting intelligently and often), is to have a second SFWA-qualifying sale and to acquire an agent. There are various other goals and tasks for the year, but that's the general outlines of what I hope to accomplish this year. If I have any resolutions, then, it's simply to be diligent about setting out my tasks to achieve them.