The problems of managing a train of pack horses

A few years ago, a friend was contemplating a writing a book or story where the main character, an experienced trader, has to make a solo pack horse trip over unfamiliar terrain. He didn’t know anything about very difficult this would be, or anything about the challenges of pack horse trains. I freaked out and brain dumped — because there are so options for complications and drama.

First of all:

The Technology

Moving goods with pack horses is ancient technology, but that doesn’t mean it’s simple. Here’s your equipment:

  1. Pack saddles (may have a variety of chest and breech straps for stability) and saddle pads
  2. Ropes, pack cinches, and halters
  3. Waterproof tarps
  4. Containers for your goods — these can be bags, bundles, or specially-made panniers (boxes). Modern panniers are thick plastic.
  5. Hobbles (more about these later)
  6. Don’t forget your camping equipment!

Techniques for loading a pack horse will be different from culture to culture. What matters most is stability, reliability, and ease of assembly. In North America for the past century (at least), the standard has been the Diamond Hitch. This video shows you how to do it.

What about the horses?

How many horses you’ll need will depend on how far you’re going, how much you have to transport, and how many people are coming along on the trip.

A horse can carry about a third of its weight. Which sounds good, because horses are big, right? Well, generally, pack horses are small to medium size, probably 600-700 pounds. This means each horse can only carry about 200 pounds. You might have a big pack horse or two, which can carry 300 pounds, but you don’t want a pack train full of tall horses unless you have got a lot of help.

The weight each horse can carry also depends on the terrain. If it’s rough, you’ll want to pack them light (more on this later).

Remember, every morning, you have to catch the horses and pack them, then unpack them at night before setting up camp. It’s a hell of a lot of work.

But that doesn’t tell us how many horses we need. Here’s a hint: In addition to whatever you’re transporting, you have to carry your food, clothes, tent, and cooking equipment, probably a weapon of some kind, and grain for the horses unless you’re certain about the grazing opportunities along the trail. So count on one pack horse per person just for food and gear. This is before whatever you’re transporting.

So let’s say we have 600 pounds of trade goods to transport, and we have two people to manage the train. We need five pack horses (three for the goods and two for the food and gear), and two riding horses. That’s seven horses. A reasonable amount of work for two people. It’s fine, but it’s work.

Why a solo pack trip is the worst idea in the world

My friend was contemplating a solo pack trip for his main character. Okay. Also: ouch. There isn’t enough money in the world. That’s one hell of a lot of work for one person. Let’s assume they have 600 pounds of trade goods to move, which means five horses. Here’s what the day looks like:

  1. (dawn) Catch all five horses (hope they didn’t wander too far in the night)
  2. Cook, eat, and break camp
  3. Pack four horses (which means lifting and adjusting about 1000 lbs of saddles, goods, and equipment)
  4. Guide yourself down the trail, keeping track of four pack horses all the way,
  5. Find a camp with water and good grazing nearby
  6. Unpack four horses (lifting another 1000 pounds)
  7. Make camp, cook, eat, and sleep like the dead

So yes: a solo pack trip is the worse idea in the world. But it can be done. Here’s a video showing how to throw the Diamond Hitch solo:

Don’t sleep like the dead

Except you can’t sleep like the dead. even if you’re not worried about predators. At night, you’re always keeping one ear open for the bell you’ve put on your alpha mare, because the last thing you want is to wake up and 2 AM and not hear it. That means your horses didn’t like the local grazing, and have gone off in search of better eats. They could be five miles away by dawn — even if you’ve put them in hobbles to curtail their roaming.

Horses are perfectly able to run in hobbles, if they feel like it:

What kind of terrain are you on?

The weight and dimensions of the packs will depend on what kind of terrain you’re traveling over. On flat terrain and a wide trail, you can have big heavy packs, and stack them as high as three feet over the horse’s back.

On mountainous or heavily forested terrain you have to to keep your packs small and low, because you don’t want them shifting around going up and down slopes, or getting caught on branches.

Packing the horses lightly means you’ll need more pack horses. Which means longer packing time in the morning, and unpacking every night.

Never forget that horses have personalities

Let’s imagine you have an experienced pack train and you’ve made a lot of trips together. But because you have to carry more goods, or travel over unfamiliar or difficult terrain, you have to add new horses to your string. The horses are going to have strong some feelings about this.

Horses are highly social animals with a finely tuned sense of herd hierarchy. They have love/hate relationships with each other just like humans. One horse will insist on always following another, so your pack train will always walk in the same order. The horses like it that way.

Whenever you add new horses to an established herd, your horses have to readjust their social hierarchy. The horses are not going to be happy – not until a new equilibrium is reached. This could lead to some serious problems, with horses biting and kicking each other as they sort out the new order. Which could mean thrown packs, scattered and broken goods, and injured horses.

But we’ll hope that won’t happen, because you’ve got good pack horses, maybe a little old, which means you can’t load them up as much, but old, calm horses are much easier to deal with than young ones. Skittishness is the last thing you want in a pack horse.

The lead mare is your best friend

Mostly, your pack horses will be geldings, with a lead mare who bosses them all around. You’ll be riding a gelding. Your mare is the kind of horse all the other horses will follow. She’ll be a the head of the train and she’ll set the pace. .

If you really trust your lead pack mare, you don’t even have to lead it once you’re moving, as long as there’s a clear trail. The horses will follow and stay in line because horses desperately want to be together. Of course if their dynamics are shifting, this will be harder, and if something happens to panic the horses, they could scatter.

How far can you go?

How far you can get in a day completely depends on the weather, the terrain, and how fast the horses feel like going. Oh yes. Never forget they’re setting the pace.

If the horses haven’t been on this trail before, they’ll probably go slower than if they know the trail and are looking forward to grazing at the next camp. They’ll also probably say close together for safety.

If they’re familiar with the trail, and know it’s hard traveling with not much to eat at the end, they’ll be slow and reluctant, and the train will spread out. If they are on their way home, or know they’re going somewhere where the grazing is good, they’ll walk much faster, and the hungrier/greedier horses might try to push the hierarchy to get there first.

My favorite non-fiction books

Did you know we’re living in a golden age of non-fiction writing? It’s true: never have there been so many excellent books on so many diverse topics. Here are some of my favorites from the past few years. I’ve been meaning to do a run-down on this topic for a while, so there’s a lot!

Note that the images below link to Amazon.com. If you order though the link, I get a little kickback, which is nice but not necessary. If you can, order them from an independent bookstore.

I’ll try not to use the term “mind blowing” too many times (runaway enthusiasm is my drug of choice). But all of these books sincerely did.

A Cold Welcome: The Little Ice Age and Europe’s Encounter with North America, by Sam White

Early North American colonization attempts by Europeans were doomed by the colonizers’ poor knowledge of about climate science. They assumed that growing seasons in North America were analogous to those at the same latitude on the opposite side of the Atlantic, which it simply isn’t. This led to a lot of failed attempts and fascinatingly stupid disasters.

It also discusses the theory that the Little Ice Age is directly linked to the population crash of North and South American Indigenous people via intentional and unintentional genocide by European colonizers, which was a link I’d never heard before. The evidence holds up.

The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft, by Claire Tomalin

This biography was extra-fascinating because the biographer has very little sympathy for her subject. Basically, she treats Mary Wollstonecraft like a massive trash fire. Which, sure, there’s a lot of evidence for her being a hot mess. What a life, though.

It also goes into depth about Mary Wollstonecraft’s involvement with the French Revolution. She went to Paris as a journalist at the beginning of the revolution and threw herself into it whole hot. She might have been a disaster but she had lots of guts.

Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley, by Charlotte Gordon

I read this right after the biography above, and it made a great pairing. Mary Shelley’s radical mother died giving birth to her. They never knew each other, but their lives were entwined nonetheless.

This dual biography that jumps from Mary to Mary, picking out influences and similarities between their lives. It’s simply wonderful. The biographer is sensitive to the domestic detail of both women’s lives, which is extremely relevant, because while they were rewriting our history, both women had to support their extended families financially, emotionally, and domestically.

The Tiger, by John Vaillant

In the isolated Amur region of Siberia, poachers hunt tigers, and the tigers hunt them right back. This is the story of how tigers respond to human threat, taking revenge in ways that are simultaneously human and alien. We know cats are smart. This book show’s they’re also psychologically sophisticated. Cats know us well.

At points, while reading this book, I simply had to scream, “No way!” It’s brilliant.

Origins – How Earth’s History Shaped Human History, by Lewis Dartnell

It makes sense, right? Humans evolved in specific ecosystems, so climate, geography, geology all influence who and what humans are.

One of the most fascinating revelations here is the theory that the climatic variations of the Rift Valley, which fluctuated from wet to dry on a 50,000-year cycle, are the reason humans evolved to be smart and adaptable. And it also may mean we are uniquely suited to surviving or even thriving in conditions of climate change.

The Five, The Untold Stories of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper, by Hallie Rubenhold

Millions and millions of words have been written about Jack the Ripper. Movie, TV shows, comic books, you name it, but it’s all conjecture.

By contrast, there’s a lot of information about the five women he murdered, but their stories have never been told. Jack is the universal boogeyman, but let’s forget about him. In the past, these five woman have been faceless and near-nameless, but no more. What a brilliant book.

What I found especially fascinating (and terrifying) is the repeated illustration of fragility of women’s lives in the downward spiral of poverty. This has not changed.

Timefulness: How Thinking Like a Geologist Can Help Save the World, by Marcia Bjornerud

Okay, I’ll admit it. When I really want to relax, I read about geology. This book is about deep time – the unimaginable timescales of our planet, where we are not even a blip in the data.

Humans have trouble thinking long-term. Even five years is often too much for us. If we can start appreciating our temporal insignificance and plan for the future using more reasonable time frames, we have a chance of living to meet our future.

Spying on Whales: The Past, Present, and Future of Earth’s Most Awesome Creatures, by Nick Pyenson

Before reading this book, I would have said that scientists know a lot about whales. After reading it, turns out we know almost nothing. But what we do know is amazing.

Also, I was blown away when the author, Nick Pyenson, describes discovering a wholly unknown whale organ never before recorded by science. It’s not a small organ, either!

Maybe this is the best book I’ve ever read? Yes, probably. Whales!

The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World, by Steve Brusatte

Of course I love dinosaurs. What’s special about this book is it’s new (published in 2018), so it’s as up-to-the-minute with the latest research. Or up to a couple years ago, at least.

The author is a young paleontologist and seems to have no sacred cows. He’s just as fascinated by dinosaur tracks as he is by huge fossil finds. Just as enthralled by ancient reptiles as he is by T-Rex and the gang.

But best of all, Steve Brusatte is a cracking writer. Gosh, it’s good.

Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times, by Elizabeth Wayland Barber

This book makes a superb argument for the importance of textiles in the development of human societies. It’s an area of history under-researched because of the assumed unimportance of women’s economic activities, and also because of the relatively few surviving artifacts in the historical record.

But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to discover. Textiles were cutting edge science and technology, and its practitioners constantly innovated and adapted materials and techniques. A great book on an important topic. Also tons of fun.

The Brontes: Wild Genius on the Moors: The Story of a Literary Family, by Juliet Barker

A lot of what we think we know about the Brontës is untrue, a series of literary inventions concocted by their early biographers and by Charlotte herself. Those stories have been taken as gospel, but it turns out their lives weren’t as simple or as bleak and isolated as they would have had us believe.

Instead of taking the Brontë legends at face value, Juliet Barker actually goes to primary sources (imagine that!) to write a new biography of this fascinating family. It’s incredibly detailed and immensely readable.

Debt: The First 5,000 Years, by David Graeber

Finally, the book I recommend to everyone, always, as a worldbuilding primer, as an unfamiliar take on history, and for insights on human behavior.

David Graeber is an anthropologist, and he argues that the model of early human economic interaction standard to every econ textbook and taught in every 101-level course is, at best, a simple fantasy, and at worst, dumb as hell. Turns out, basic barter exists nowhere in the anthropological record. What does exist is much much more complicated, and has fascinating implications for our times.

How to fix a buggy Word document

You’re a writer, and that means you spend a lot of time — I mean a LOT of time —revising documents in Microsoft Word. Or maybe you work in Scrivener, but even so, at some point you have to work in Word. And one of the things we know about Word is, it loves to break your heart.

Documents that go through lots of edits and revisions — especially with Tracked Changes — tend to get buggy. Here’s how to avoid it, and how to fix it if you can’t avoid it.

The simplest solution: Avoid bugs in the first place with “Save As”

This is easy. You’ve trained yourself to hit CTRL+S to save your document every few minutes, right? Now train yourself to occasionally use Save As instead of plain old Save.

Save As rewrites your document from scratch, which helps clean out potentially bug-creating history and metadata. When you use Save As, you can use the same file name you’re currently working with, or make a version of the file with a new file name — doesn’t matter. Both work.

To Save As, use the key command CTRL+SHIFT+S, or choose Save As from the File menu. You don’t have to do this very often, depending on how complex your document is. Maybe once a week.

Use “Save As” when you get a document back from an editor with tracked changes

When you receive a document from an editor and it contains a lot of tracked changes or notes, use Save As to make your new working copy. And as you work through that new version of your document, use Save As occasionally to keep everything working nicely.

Help! My manuscript is buggy!

How do you know if your document is buggy? It starts acting sluggish or erratic. Sometimes both. It refuses to show red lines under misspelled words. Some pages may refuse to display. It also might take a very long time to save. No problem — we can fix this.

What’s happening? Well, Word saves a lot of document history information that you can’t see on the page. With a big document like a book manuscript, which gone through thousands of small changes, this can be a lot of unnecessary info. What you want to do is copy your document contents, without the metadata, and paste it into a new fresh document. Here’s what to do:

  1. Hit CTRL+A. This will select everything in your document.
  2. Hold down the SHIFT key, and hit the back arrow once. This will exclude the metadata at the end of your document.
  3. Open a new document and type a few spaces.
  4. Hit CTRL+V. This will paste your content into the new document.
  5. Hit CTRL+S and save your new document with a new name. This will be your new working document.

Now your new document should be working well. Depending on how the document styles have been set up, some formatting may be odd, but it should be easy to fix.

What if this doesn’t work?

Some documents are so buggy that this doesn’t work. In this case, you can use the same steps, except copy and paste the content as unformatted. text.

With a fiction manuscript, losing formatting shouldn’t create too much of a problem, since fiction doesn’t generally include complex formatting. You will have to redo all your italics and bolding, and any formatting for chapter headings.

Here’s the ultimate weapon:

  1. Hit CTRL+A. This will select everything in your document.
  2. Hold down the SHIFT key, and hit the back arrow once. This will exclude the metadata at the end of your document.
  3. Open a new document and type a few spaces.
  4. In the Home tab, click the arrow under the Paste icon. The Paste Special dialog box will appear. Choose Unformatted Text, and hit the OK button.
  5. Hit CTRL+S and save your new document with a new name. This will be your new working document.
  6. Go through the document and fix your formatting.

Good luck! Hope this helps!

My Super Huge 2018

2018 was a massive year. If fate gives me another year like this, I’ll be very lucky indeed. Here’s the rundown:

My first book (novella) came out
It’s a book, but it’s not a novel–it’s a novella! Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach came out in March, and the audiobook arrived in September. People like it, and of course it’s eligible for award nomination, should you be so inclined. (But always vote your heart.)

I published three other stories

  • A Study in Oils (novelette) in Clarkesworld, September 2018 (read it online or listen to the podcast)
  • Intervention (novelette) in Infinity’s End, edited by Jonathan Strahan, July 2018
  • What Gentle Women Dare (short story) in Uncanny Magazine, May/June 2018 (read it online or listen to the podcast (top right of the read link))

Two of my older stories were podcasted

Two stories made it into three Year’s Bests
“A Human Stain” was chosen by Ellen Datlow for her Best Horror of the Year, Volume 10. “We Who Live in the Heart” was reprinted in The Year’s Best Science Fiction, Thirty-Fifth Annual Collection, edited by the late Gardner Dozois, and also in Neil Clarke’s The Best Science Fiction of the Year, Volume 3.

I dipped my toe into foresight consulting
For UNICEF! It was fun. I got to write a piece of flash on the fly in the middle of one of their strategic meetings.

I found an agent
And the wonderful Hannah Bowman found me!

I won a Nebula
Oh my goodness, yes, I did. Still stunned.

I got to play with the big kids
I wrote a story introduction for the Best of R.A. Lafferty, out next February.

I made the cover of Locus
With a big big interview! I’ve been a Locus subscriber since the 90s so every time I look at the issue I think I’m hallucinating.

Me freaking out over having my name on the cover of Locus

Me freaking out over getting a big interview in Locus
This is one of the biggest things that has ever happened in my life

And I traveled to China
It was beautiful. So beautiful. Look:

Danzhai Wanda Village, Guizhou, China

Zangaogao Terraces, Guizhou, China

Rice terrace in Paizuo village, Guizhou, China

Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach roundup

In March, my first book Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach hit bookstores.

Cover for Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach, out March 16. Cover by Jon Foster http://www.jonfoster.com/
Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach. Cover by Jon Foster http://www.jonfoster.com/

How do you encompass something as huge as having your first book published? Impossible — it’s too big. Which is why this post is so late. I just couldn’t face the challenge of summing up something that enormous. So I won’t try. Here are some of the best bits:

I cried.
Of course I did. Several times. In one instance, I was sitting on the couch with all my author copies piled in my lap, drinking a huge glass of rye and bawling my eyes out. Seriously.

I was overwhelmed by seeing my book in an actual bookstore. ALSO A LITTLE GOOFY.

I lost some copies.
Here’s what will happen to your first book: You’ll be so excited, you’ll show it to people — and they’ll think you’re giving it to them. One of the first people I showed my book to was my favorite barista. She thought I was giving it to her and grabbed it. I couldn’t ask for it back, because she was so happy and excited. Bye bye book!

My book launch was transcendent.
We held it at Toronto’s famous Bakka Phoenix Books. I made not one but two different carrot cakes. Tons of people came. We sold 70 copies. It was the best day of my life.

Me emoting at the Lucky Peach launch.

I read in Orlando and New York.
The week the book came out, I went to the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts (which is a wonderful event), and then to New York to read at KGB Fantastic Fiction.

NY had a huge snowstorm the day of my NY reading! This is Central Park.

In NY, I read with the delightful Chandler Klang Smith, author of THE SKY IS YOURS — which is a very cool and awesome book, by the way.

People like Lucky Peach a lot.
Review have been fantastic! Here’s a few examples:

  • “Thrums with a delicious tension carefully developed among the wonderful characters.” Amal El-Mohtar, NEW YORK TIMES (link)
  • “Packs an enormous wallop of imagination and worldbuilding.” BARNES & NOBLE” (link)
  • “It’s likely to be one of the most impressive debut novels of the year.” – Gary K. Wolfe, CHICAGO TRIBUNE (link)
  • “There’s enough wicked cool tech to satisfy hard SF geeks, character development to please SF dilettantes, and fantastic storytelling to enamor everyone else.” – Alex Brown, TOR.COM (link)

People are buying it.
Lucky Peach hit the Locus Bestseller list! Check it out:

You might like it too.
Get it from your favorite indie bookstore, or:
Amazon US | Amazon Canada | Amazon UK
Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | Chapters Indigo
IndieBound | Powells | iTunes

People want more.
I’m working on the sequel right now, called Time, Trouble, and the Lucky Peach, and it’s going to be great!

 

How to use Bookmarks in Twitter

A few months ago, Twitter rolled out a new Bookmarks feature. It’s fantastic. I don’t know about you, but Twitter is where I’m getting most of my best research leads these days. Not just links, but nested threads by experts. It’s delightful, but hard to keep track of the gems. Bookmarks fixes this. The feature isn’t readily accessible on desktop yet, but there’s a work-around.

Setting a bookmark on mobile
1. Tap on the tweet to expand it.
2. At the bottom of the tweet, tap  , and choose Add Tweet to bookmarks.

Accessing bookmarks on mobile
1. Go to the Home screen.
2. Tap your user picture (upper left), and choose Bookmarks.

Desktop work-around
To set or access bookmarks on a desktop browser, you have to use the mobile version of the site. 

1. In the URL, insert an “m.” after the forward slashes (for example: https://m.twitter.com), then press Enter.
2. Now you’re looking at the mobile version of the site, and the instructions above will work, except that your user picture will be on the top left.

Snazzy, right? This function is my new favorite thing.

Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach out in a week!

Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach will be out in a week! I’m so excited for people to read it. It’s already getting some very enthusiastic reviews, so I have high hopes it’ll get good reader love.

Cover for Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach, out March 16. Cover by Jon Foster http://www.jonfoster.com/
Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach, out March 16. Cover by Jon Foster http://www.jonfoster.com/

Jonathan Strahan says:

“Rich, nuanced characters, deeply compelling story, and a powerfully conceived world make Gods, Monsters and the Lucky Peach one of the best novellas of recent times, one of the highlight books of 2018, and something to look for on awards ballots come 2019.”

RT Book Reviews says:

★★★★
“Robson creates a nuanced take on how time travel can be used in science fiction beyond the typical ‘prevent event from happening’ trope. Time travel is treated thoughtfully here, with rules and consequences that enrich the novel to the last page.”

Scifi and Scary says:

You’ll be missing out if you don’t read this.

Pre-order at your favorite indie bookstore, or:
Amazon US | Amazon Canada | Amazon UK
Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | Chapters Indigo
IndieBound | Powells | iTunes

 

March excitement for Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach!

Cover for Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach, out March 16. Cover by Jon Foster http://www.jonfoster.com/
Cover by Jon Foster http://www.jonfoster.com/

Publishing is a waiting game. I’ve only been waiting for about a year since signing the contract for Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach, so I really shouldn’t complain. Most writers wait two years or more for their books to come out with a major publisher. Still, it feels like forever.

But now it’s nearly here! Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach hits on March 13. Reviews have been very positive and the book has a lot of buzz. Here’s two recent review quotes:

Gary K. Wolfe – Chicago Tribune says:

Robson, who has garnered major award nominations in a career of only a few years, builds both her future and ancient worlds with convincing detail for such a short novel, populating them with characters who are believable and engrossing, even when they have tentacles. It’s likely to be one of the most impressive debut novels of the year.

Scifi and Scary says:

You’ll be missing out if you don’t read this.

Second-time Nebula Finalist!

My Lesbian Gothic Horror novelette “A Human Stain” is up for a Nebula Award! How cool is that? I was a Nebula finalist in 2015, and it was a heck of a heady experience. Now I get to do it again! Whoop!

March is filled with STUFF. Here’s what I have on the go:

Intersection Comedy Show

I’m participating in the Intersection Improv Comedy Show on Wednesday, March 7. I’m going to be telling three of my most embarrassing moments, and then the troupe will make hay with my story.

Wednesday, March 7 at 8:00 PM to 9:30 PM
The Social Capital Theatre
154 Danforth Ave – Second Floor

International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts

I’ll be in Orlando at ICFA March 16-17, reading on Saturday at 4PM. ICFA is an academic conference that a lot of writers feel very romantic about because it’s so low pressure. Basically you just hang out with your friends. Alyx and I went last year and absolutely loved it.

KGB Fantastic Fiction Reading, March 21

I’m reading with Chandler Klang Smith at KGB Fantastic Fiction in New York. Can’t wait!

Wednesday, March 21, 2018, 7pm
KGB Bar, 85 East 4th Street (just off 2nd Ave, upstairs)

Book Launch at Toronto’s Bakka-Phoenix

The launch party for Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach will be on Saturday, March 24.

Saturday, March 24 at 3:00 to 5:00 PM
Bakka-Phoenix Books – 84 Harbord St, Toronto

Cake – Live Reading – Music – Book Signing  – More Cake

I’ll be making BOTH of my famous carrot cakes. Come for the cake!

Speculative fiction writing workshops – a list

A list of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror writing workshops (updated June 5, 2019). Thanks @outseideNavah WolfePatrick Neilsen Hayden, Rebecca StefoffJennifer Marie Brissett, Sarah Berner, Cat Rambo, John Appel, Patrice Sarath, Nino Cipri, Erin Brown Conroy, and Grayson Morris for corrections and additions!

News about workshops can be found on this page at Locus.

Workshops for new, emerging, and established writers

Cascade Writing Workshops, Seattle, WA
Three days in July, plus one day workshops through the year

Clarion, San Diego, CA
Six weeks in June-August

Clarion West, Seattle, WA
Six weeks June-August
Also holds one-day workshops throughout the year

FutureScapes Workshop, Sundance, CO
Three days in April

Gotham Writers’ Workshop, New York, NY
Ten week classes, online and in-person

Gunn Centre SF & Fantasy Novel Writers Workshop, Lawrence, KS
Two weeks in June

Locus Writer’s Workshop, Seattle, WA
June 28 and June 30, 2019 during the Locus Awards weekend
This year’s workshop is taught by Connie Willis and Amal El-Mohtar. Don’t miss it!

Locus Master Classes, Oakland, CA
One-day classes are held throughout the year
June 21, 2019 – Writing Master Class with Andy Duncan

Milford, Wales, UK
One week in September

Odyssey, Manchester, NH
Six weeks in the summer

Taos Toolbox, Taos, NM
Two weeks in June/July
I was at the first one (2007) and loved it

Viable Paradise, Martha’s Vineyard, MA
One week in October

Villa Diodati Workshop, various locations in Europe
Two five-day retreats each year, spring and fall

Writing Excuses
Runs courses and retreats (including a cruise!)

Workshops for youth

Alpha, Pittsburgh, PA
Only for people aged 14-19
Two weeks in July/August

Shared Worlds, Spartanburg, SC
Only for teens
Two weeks in July

Online workshops

Odyssey Online
Offers month-long classes through the year

Online Writing Workshop for SFF
Online workshopping community

LitReactor
Offers an array of online classes.

Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers
Live and on-demand classes through the year on a variety of topics, delivered by Cat Rambo and many other hot SFF writers. Scholarships available.

UCLA Extension Program Online
Offers a certificate program in fiction writing. My wife Alyx teaches Speculative Fiction writing here.

Writing the Other
One day seminars, on-demand master classes, and weekend intensives

Post-secondary studies

Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction, University of Kansas
Offers courses in Speculative Fiction Studies (also MFA and PhD, see below)

UCLA Extension Program
Offers a certificate program in fiction writing

MFA programs

I’ll only list the MFA programs that are specifically friendly to speculative fiction. This list is surely not complete. More info at Michael Underwood’s blog.

Graduate Program in Creative Writing, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS
MFA and PhD programs – Faculty includes Kij Johnson

Creative Writing MA, Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, UK
Faculty includes Helen Marshall

Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing, Portland, ME
Low residency
Faculty includes James Patrick Kelly, Theodora Goss, Elizabeth Hand

Temple University MFA in Creative Writing, Pittsburgh, PA
Samuel R. Delany is on the faculty

NC State MFA in Creative Writing, Raleigh, NC
John Kessel is on the faculty

Seton Hill MFA, Writing Popular Fiction, Greensburg, PA
Lucy A. Snyder is on the faculty

Western Colorado University Graduate Program in Creative Writing, Concentration in Genre Fiction, Gunnison, CO
Fran Wilde is director

SF-related Masters of Arts

Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, FL
Offers an MA in English with a concentration in SF and Fantasy

Other workshops

Many established writers are passionate about paying it forward. Check out the websites of your favorite authors. Chances are good they sometimes teach.

Many Science Fiction conventions offer workshops, master classes, lectures, or manuscript critiques from established writers. Some big ones upcoming:

The Surrey International Writer’s Conference embraces all genres. It’s a superb professional development conference that offers access to editors, agents, and superstar authors.

What have I missed? Email or tweet me.

Kelly’s eligibility post – 2017 edition

Fiction

Cover by Sam Wolfe

In 2017, I published two novelettes:

Lesbian gothic horror “A Human Stain” at Tor.com
At Locus, Paula Guran said, “…this spellbinding gothic novelette’s graceful writing and superlative atmosphere of dread alone are more than enough to commend it.” (10,000 words)

Far future SF “We Who Live in the Heart” at Clarkesworld
Gardner Dozois said, “The worldbuilding
here is fascinating, as is the intricately
worked-out detail of how the living ‘‘submarines’’
function and how it would be possible,
to some degree at least, to control them, but the
human relationships among the crew are equally
complicated and equally compelling. By the end,
the story has generated a great deal of suspense…”  (15,000 words)

I definitely think of myself as someone who writes short, not long, but these pieces pack a lot of story into the wordcount.

Also, both stories happen to feature lesbians. I didn’t plan that, but it’s kind of awesome.

Nonfiction

I also published two essays in Clarkesworld: “The Dream of Writing Full Time” (September 2017) and “Being James Tiptree, Jr.”
(April 2017). I’m proud of them.

Recommendations

Usually, I don’t do a recommendations post. I just tweet about good stories throughout the year, and add my recommendations to the SFWA Suggested Reading lists.

However, I’m compelled to super-push two works. First, Annalee Newitz’s novel Autonomous, because it’s just freaking spectacular (AND a lot of fun). I loved it so much. It’s got my vote for best novel of the year.

Second, please read and nominate K.M. Szpara’s terrific novelette “Small Changes over Long Periods of Time.” This is brave, bravura work and deserves to be recognized as one of the best stories of the year.