Monday, November 23, 2015

Ecotour guest blog: Inundated

As the month of November winds down, there is still time to participate in our Kickstarter campaign for the Ecotones anthology. One of the cool things we've been doing is giving each of the participating authors a chance to talk a bit about where their story came from and what drew them to write for the anthology. You can check out all the posts that have already been posted (including mine about place in fiction) at the bottom of this essay. And be sure to stick around to the very end for info on how to win a free gift card!

Today, I am happy to introduce Jon Laidlow, contributing author in Ecotones. He’s here to tell us why he submitted a story of place to’s fourth anthology.

When the theme for the forum anthology was announced, I was still stuck writing fragments and ‘flash’-length fiction of about 1000 words or more for the forum challenges. I found constructing longer stories quite difficult, though I’d made a few half-hearted attempts.

I’d written a thousand words of a story, “Inundated,” about a man confronted by an apocalyptic flood, and his search for his wife and daughter while the world ended. I thought it was quite neat, but the story didn’t really hang together properly: it opened well, then faded a little.

The theme was announced, and then I had to shamefacedly Google what an “ecotone” was! I was a bit scared that it meant pure eco-SF/fantasy, which I’m just not knowledgeable enough to write well.

(Wikipedia: An ecotone is a transition area between two biomes. It is where two communities meet and integrate.)

But the quickie definition from Wikipedia gave me something to go on. My protagonist, Yuri, in that story, lived on the land, but had worked the sea. I had established that the land and the sea had been in an equilibrium, but now something had changed, something had broken an old pact, and the waters were rising.

But still, I’d never written a successful story at this length, and the forum is full of writers, like Daniel, who can do this in their sleep, so I twiddled my thumbs a bit, then toyed with an idea for a story that I called “Avocado Blue” which I still haven’t written.

Finally Andrew got in touch and said “Inundated” was pretty good. Can you make it longer?
Five times longer.


I decided to give it a go, and struggled through August to draft and then edit a new version of the story. I learned a lot while writing the longer version of “Inundated”. I then learned even more when Andrew pointed out to me that I had used flashbacks (I like to call it in media res) and a convoluted narrative scheme. He gently suggested telling the story, which was by this point seven thousand words - the upper limit for the anthology, but by no means a novel - in chronological order. Oh. Right. Yeah….

I acquiesced, and saw that it improved the story almost immediately.

Even then I didn’t expect the story to make it past the reading team. They had a lot of submissions and only a limited number of slots, and there are some good writers on the SFFworld forums. When they accepted the story (subject to fixing the timeline!), it felt like I’d crossed a threshold in my writing, I’d “levelled up” into someone who could write more than a thousand words. And now I’ve got several longer stories either finished or on the go.

Finally, this is how the new version of “Inundated” opens:

“Yuri woke up to the sound of waves breaking at the end of the street, and knew that the undines had breached the final defences.“

Thank you to Jon for his thoughts. I'm looking forward to reading it!

Want to read Jon’s story and find out what undines are? Want 13 other great, ecotoned stories from professional and amatuer writers from around the globe?

In fact our campaign has recently been chosen by Kickstarter as one of its coveted Staff Picks.

We’re over 70% funded! Can we reach 80% today? We can if you'll help us. You’ll get Jon’s story and much more.

Enter to win a $10 Amazon gift card by posting a link to this post on Twitter or Facebook. Remember to use the hashtag #Ecotone and come back here to let us know you promoted our anthology (provide link). The winner will be contacted via the email address used to comment. And we’ll announce the winner at the end of the blog tour (December 2nd, 2015).

If you are curious, check out what other contributors have to say on this Ecotour:

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Strangers and refugees...and a superhero

Out of all the stories I've written, I have exactly one that features a superhero. The story itself is in that limbo of having been accepted for publication but not yet released, so I won't get into the plot. I will mention, though, that his name is The Stranger, and his superpower involves changing his appearance so he always looks like a foreigner to those he meets, always matches whatever people group the locals currently fear.

The Stranger's mythos, such as it is in just a single short story, is that he was once a god of some sort (even he doesn't know) who cursed villages and encampments that refused to welcome him. Now he does that (on-the-surface) typical superhero thing of seeking out injustice and fighting it.


If there's one theme that goes through a lot of my writing, it's the idea of immigrants, exiles, and refugees. Some day some graduate student will go through my works and my life and come up with theories of why and places where that plays out even more than I'm aware. For now, though, I'll just say that I grew up very aware of the immigrant stories of my grandparents and great-grandparents and many others in the tight-knit Dutch-immigrant communities of West Michigan. The religious ideals of that community play into it as well, the idea that they as Christians were strangers in this land, these Shadowlands as C. S. Lewis called them. And certainly the many interactions I've had with immigrants from Mexico and other Spanish-speaking countries (I was working side-by-side with immigrants in the fields from a very early age, well before I decided to major in Spanish or worked at a Spanish-language newspaper or any of those later experiences) have had a huge role in shaping my views and interests.

It is no anomaly that the central character in the Spire City serial is a second generation immigrant. Nor that her circle of support has such a high concentration of immigrants. At this point in the series, the members of the Weave include not only Chels, whose mother immigrated, but Sairen, who is younger than Chels but immigrated himself a few years earlier. It also has two members who immigrated from a completely different city as adults. And really once you look at it, even those whose ancestry lies in the city, by the nature of their infection, they are exiles.

It is no anomaly that the novel I'm currently preparing to query (and/or submit to a publisher) is called Fugitives of the Avocet Road.

Even a look at my poems reveals "The Immigrant Looks Back" and "Exile, Self-selected" (which I see now is no longer available online, and even the Wayback Machine didn't find an archived copy, alas—I may have to do something about that... It is apparently still available in POD format).

And just over a month ago, I won a flash fiction contest with a rather surreal story of refugees boarding a train. I could go on, but it would mean little to anyone except those who've beta read my other novels and stories. Suffice it to say that this idea of being away from home in one way or another may well be more central to my writing than even I realize.


This is not meant to be a partisan, political post. I try to maintain contact with people from all over the political spectrum and never block people on Facebook, etc. for their views. Many of my friends who self identify as conservative (understandably given my upbringing) fit comfortably in the religious right label. (Though note that many even who shared that upbringing most definitely do not.) Many of my writing friends self identify as liberal, which is not surprising in an artistic field, but also doesn't encompass all of them.

What I'm seeing is that for the most part, these friends from all over the political spectrum are uncomfortable with the anti-refugee rhetoric going around. Certainly a month ago, few if any seemed to support the glimmers of anti-refugee rhetoric that were floating around. They either weren't commenting or were speaking out (often forcefully) for compassion. Post Paris...I'm seeing a bit more caving to that, as ethics become subordinate to fright, but for the most part the call remains strong to welcome the stranger, to put those religious ideals (for those that ascribe to them) into practice and not react out of hatred or misguided fear.

I'm heartened by this.

I'm disheartened by governors clamoring to shut their borders to refugees. I'm disheartened by presidential candidates threatening to send 'em all back. I'm disheartened that they haven't been called on this forcefully enough by those they might listen to.

But I'm especially heartened to see the glimmers of pushback that are there. And the many voices of friends and acquaintances from all kinds of backgrounds, religions, politics saying "Wait. This isn't right." Thank you.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Ecotones Kickstarter

A few days later than I'd intended coming to this, but the Kickstarter for this anthology is now live (and already approaching 50% funded). This is a really exciting project, with lots of great writers, so please check it out and consider reserving your copy (and even get copies of the earlier anthologies as well, if you wish!).

As part of the campaign, there will be a variety of interviews/roundtable discussions of a sort posted at the anthology's page. You can check out the first of those today, "Can you describe an ecotone that has had personal significance for you?" (Ecotone being a literal or metaphorical borderland where two different places come together.) And keep following the blog all month for the rest of the questions.

We're also organizing an ad-hoc blog tour among us. So coming up I'll have a guest here, and at some point I will be a guest elsewhere as well.

All of which means, there's lots of cool stuff coming associated with the anthology. And lots of great rewards available in the Kickstarter!

Monday, November 02, 2015

"A Brotherhood of Beetles" released at last (ne pas deja vu?)

Eight and a half months ago, "A Brotherhood of Beetles" was all queued up for release. Everything in place, all editing, copy-editing, galley approval, etc. And I had a clear image in mind of what the coming year-plus of my writing life would be, with a new episode every three weeks, a few-month break before season three, and then the same.

Then Thursday night before its release, I got an odd email. The episode would not come out as scheduled the next morning. Had I done something wrong? There had been times when I'd unintentionally put off approving the galley later than I was supposed to, but that hadn't been the case this time. Was there some technical glitch? The email was oddly worded but only said I'd hear more the next day.

There had been some other issues with over-booking some of the later release dates, so I'd heard they might be pushing back the following episode by a week or two, so I just figured the most likely explanation was that someone had decided to juggle this release date as well. Strange to wait until the night before though...

What I never guessed was that I would wake up the next morning to learn on Facebook (even before my email had fully downloaded) that Musa was closing. Episode 5 would not come out, nor the rest of the series at all.

Yikes. A complete change from what I'd been planning around. And not only would the new episodes not come out, but the already published episodes would be pulled from online stores within a few weeks.

You likely know the rest, how I decided to self-publish what had come out as well as the rest of the series. Well, here we are at last with "A Brotherhood of Beetles" released (Amazon US | Amazon UK | Barnes & Noble). For the first time, readers have the chance to read it. And from here on out all the episodes are completely new, never before released.

If all had gone according to plan, all of Season Two would be released now, and we'd be getting close to launching Season Three at the end of this month. In some ways, though, I think this is better. I like the weekly release and the quicker schedule. It won't be all that long before we've caught up to where the series would have been from Musa, and by the end, Season Three will still wrap up before it would have. And there's so much story to tell yet, between now and the end.

Eight episodes remain in Season Two: Pursued. Thirteen episodes in Season Three. Won't you join me in this ambitious project?

Sunday, November 01, 2015

99-cent November

I was approached a bit ago by Milo James Fowler with the idea of participating in a month-long promotion where a bunch of writers would be discounting a title (or more) to $0.99 for November. Sounds like a great idea to me, so my novelette "The Spire Singers" is now discounted to 99 cents. Get this Kafkaesque look at the Spire City from a very different perspective to what we see in the main series...and you know you want this amazing art from Worlds Beyond Art on your Kindle (/Kindle app) anyway. Now's your chance!

And please be sure to check out the full listing of 99 cent offerings over on Milo's site. Some excellent writers in there, with a great deal.

What's more, one good discount deserves another, right? Well, Spire City, Season One: Infected will also be on sale this month. For the month of November, you can get the entire first season for only $2.99 US. Don't wait!