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.
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.
SFContario is coming up soon, right here in downtown Toronto. Here’s my schedule:
How to Overthink Your Way Out of Writing 3:00 PM Saturday, November 18 – Gardenview room Charlotte Ashley, Matt Mayr, Ira Nayman, Kelly Robson (M)
Theodore Sturgeon famously taught “Ask the next question.” Beginning writers everywhere are advised to ask “What if…?” as they develop their story. With a little research and some extra caffeine you too can come up with such a plethora of possibilities that your story becomes a dense jungle with no clear path – impenetrable and neverending. As denizens of the Digital Age, with its abundance of information and surfeit of attention span, we have never been in a better position to over-complicate our stories – and our lives!
Where do we go from here? 12:00 PM, Sunday, November 19 – Solarium room Matt Mayr, Lawrence Schoen, Kelly Robson, Clare Wall (M)
Speculative fiction speculates, it’s all there in the name. In today’s rapidly changing climate – cultural, political, and scientific – where should we be pointing next? How can current SFF keep pace with the current developments, and still prepare the way to the future?
Quatloos and Credits and Latinum, Oh My! 1:00 PM, Sunday, November 19 – Solarium room Alyx Dellamonica, Kelly Robson, Cenk Gokce (M)
Economics is frequently overlooked in SF. Do adventurers simply live on nuts and berries and what they can kill? What do they pay with when they visit an inn or buy a drink? How is trade carried out, particularly between species? Is there still a struggle for resources or has science advanced to the point where anything can be fabricated?
Until yesterday, I was super happy with my current story-in-progress. The drafting went comparatively fast, and the second draft revision was smooth. The sentence-by-sentence writing developed a few lovely turns, and I was happy with everything I’d done until the third draft polish when suddenly—
I realized the last quarter of the story was dumb. Beautifully written, but dumb. I mean, it was okay. It was probably good enough. Someone, somewhere would have bought the story. Readers would probably go hmmm at the end.
But I’m not in this to make readers go hmmm. I’m in this to make their heads snap back.
I mentioned this situation to a friend, who asked, “How do you know the ending sucks?” Difficult question. Basically, my instinct told me. It simply didn’t feel right. So I sat down with my big sketchpad and did what I always do when I have story problems—doodle and sketch out my thoughts (why does this suck — this is so bad — I have no idea what I’m doing) until I figured out the problem.
The ending hinges on the main character’s reaction to a big dramatic public proclamation, and the person making that proclamation really doesn’t have a reason to do it. They don’t necessarily need a reason—they’re not the point of view character—but without a solid reason, the story rings hollow and false.
So I’m reworking the whole ending. Not quite sure how I’ll fix it. But it’ll be a good ending instead of one that’s just barely good enough.
The con committee does a terrific job with programming. I’m looking forward to it so much. Here’s where I’ll be:
Saturday, October 14, 10:00 AM Readings
Kelly Robson, Kate Heartfield, Tonya Liburd
Reading from our latest works. I’ll be reading from my forthcoming book “Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach.”
Saturday, October 14, 1:00 PM Advice to Aspiring Writers on the Craft Charles de Lint, Tanya Huff, Kelly Robson, Haden Trenholm, Eric Choi (moderator)
Established pros discuss their hardest lessons, the watershed moments in their careers (both creative and business), and offer their tips and tricks to emerging and aspiring writers.
Saturday, October 14, 10:00 AM What Makes Romantic Chemistry Between Characters? Julie E. Czerneda, Jennifer Carole Lewis, Linda Poitevin, Jamieson Wolf, Kelly Robson (moderator) Most writers, no matter the genre, at some time need to create romantic chemistry between two characters, whether this will be consummated or remain as ships passing in the night. The panel of writers will use examples from their own published works, as well as positive and negative examples from TV and movies to analyze romantic chemistry.
Sunday, October 15, 2:00 PM Leveling Up Your Writing with Formal Courses Curtis C. Chen, Suzanne Church, Timothy Gwyn, Leah MacLean-Evans, Kelly Robson (moderator)
Previous participants in courses like Clarion, Odyssey, Taos Toolbox, MFAs, etc. discuss (1) the benefits and drawbacks of residential vs. online writing courses, (2) how they got in, (3) what they learned there vs. other places to learn.
When I was a teenager, we lived on an acreage west of Hinton, Alberta, in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. It’s beautiful country, but not a great place for a bookish kid to live — especially pre-internet.
I wasn’t naturally athletic. Quite the opposite, in fact. But I was naturally horse-crazy. I competed in the local rodeo and summer gymkhana meets, riding in the barrel racing competitions along with a variety of other timed events. I did steer riding only once. It was the most frightening thing I’ve ever done, next to driving in Sicily.
When I was 14, I lost the rodeo queen competition. Yes, there were tears (I was only 14!). The next year, I was first runner-up, which officially made me Rodeo Princess. Always better to be the princess than the queen, if you can manage it. All the glamour, none of the responsibility.
But despite all this outdoorsiness, I was a nerdy kid at heart. I never felt comfortable in my rodeo princess skin. I always felt like an impostor, a poseur, a fake.
Writers talk about impostor syndrome a lot. We don’t often acknowledge that it’s not a phenomenon confined to the writing world. Impostor syndrome happens to everyone who’s actively working at getting better at something that most people don’t have the guts or the ambition to try. It happens whenever we’re taking risks.
One of my barriers to becoming a better barrel racer was psychological. I was too scared of getting hurt to really push the speed. Plus, I was working on learning the skill by myself, so I could never see what I was doing right or wrong. And, crucially, I didn’t have anyone to coach me through my fears.
Writers don’t take physical risks, but we take psychological and emotional risks that are just as scary. We have to, or we don’t get better. This is why most of us crave relationships with other writers. We need peers and (occasionally) teachers or coaches to show us the risks are worthwhile, tell us what we’re doing right and wrong, and reassure us that we will get better if we just keep working.
In December, when I was making my writing plans for this year, I vowed to write five 5,000 word stories. You see, I’d just finished a very long novella (Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach — coming in March!) and I was itching to write shorter. I had all five planned out. So, it’s September. How have I done with that goal?
Revised Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach twice (no small task)
Planned a sequel: Time, Trouble, and the Lucky Peach (will be so much fun!)
Planned a book I’m dying to write (even more fun!)
Planned three more short stories in the series of five I’m currently obsessed with
When I look at this list, I feel pretty darn productive. Also super excited about writing these things.
And in case that looks just too virtuous, I also started and gave up on a story that just wasn’t giving me joy. And that’s okay! Not all ideas work out and not all are worth the time it takes to make them click.
My time travel novella Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach is ready for preorder! The release date is March 13, 2018 in both trade paperback and ebook. Pre-orders matter, so if you’re inclined, please do!
Check out these amazing blurbs! How could anyone resist?
“Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach is a tour-de-force, with nuanced characters in a masterfully conceived world of stunning, mind-bending eco-tech. Absolutely brilliant storytelling. I didn’t want it to end.” ―Annalee Newitz, co-founder of io9 and author of Autonomous
“The far future, the distant past. Time travel, bioengineering, office politics ― and ecological consulting. How could I not love this?” ―Peter Watts, author of Echopraxia
“A necessary meditation on the nature of change and the sacrifice required to manifest it, Robson’s novella pulls no punches, spares no rods, and leaves no idea unexamined.” ―Madeline Ashby, author of Company Town
And here’s the cover copy:
Experience this far-reaching, mind-bending science fiction adventure that uses time travel to merge climate fiction with historical fantasy. From Kelly Robson, Aurora Award winner, Campbell, Nebula, and Theodore Sturgeon finalist, and author of Waters of Versailles
Discover a shifting history of adventure as humanity clashes over whether to repair their ruined planet or luxuriate in a less tainted past.
In 2267, Earth has just begun to recover from worldwide ecological disasters. Minh is part of the generation that first moved back up to the surface of the Earth from the underground hells, to reclaim humanity’s ancestral habitat. She’s spent her entire life restoring river ecosystems, but lately the kind of long-term restoration projects Minh works on have been stalled due to the invention of time travel. When she gets the opportunity take a team to 2000 BC to survey the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, she jumps at the chance to uncover the secrets of the shadowy think tank that controls time travel technology.
Ten days ago, I was in Helsinki, Finland, on a whirlwind trip to WorldCon and the Hugos. I only had four days of vacation left for the year. With travel days, this gave Alyx and me exactly four days on the ground. A lot of expense for such a brief trip, but I wasn’t going to miss my chance to attend the Hugo Awards as a finalist.
As the Hugo administration keeps reminding us, the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer is technically not a Hugo. But it’s presented at the Hugos, and I got a chocolate Hugo as a loser’s award, so you know, it’s a Hugo in the mind of nearly everyone.
So what was it like? Nutty. Crazy. Helsinki is beautiful and I would gladly travel visit again if I had the slightest excuse. If Helsinki was a big cake, we just took a finger’s scoop of the icing. I’d like to visit more of Finland’s spectacular art galleries, and do proper justice to the Finnish way of sauna.
No, silly, what were the Hugos like?
The ceremony was loooong. A three-hour award ceremony is a marathon. I wish I’d brought snacks. I did bring water, however, and that’s a story.
About a half hour into the ceremony I was contemplating how, more than twenty years ago, I attended my first Hugo Awards at the 1996 Worldcon in LA. I was in a reverie, a blissful daydream state thinking that if I’d known I’d one day attend the Hugos as a finalist, it would have blown my mind. And then I reached for the my bottle of water, which I’d grabbed on my way out of the pre-awards reception. I didn’t realize was carbonated. When I twisted the cap, I sprayed myself, Alyx, and everyone around us.
The Campbell was the second-to-last award, and sure, I was disappointed not to win, but not horribly. On a scale of one to ten, it was about a three at the time and now is zero. I’m very happy for Ada. She deserves every success.
However, I did feel foolish for thinking I could win, which was painful but mostly dispersed by morning. Being a finalist is wonderful. Winning would have been amazing, but it does come with a certain amount of pressure. So maybe — just maybe — being a finalist is the best of both worlds. And that lovely pin in the first picture is mine forever.
I never thought to wonder why I include characters with disabilities in my stories — and especially in my SF stories. They’re not boxes I’m checking; they’re simply people who worked in the stories I wanted to tell.
Mikkel in “Two-Year Man” has Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Jane in “We Who Live in the Heart” uses a wheelchair. And in the forthcoming “Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach,” my 83-year-old hero Minh had her legs amputated when she was a child, and her friend and colleague Hamid is a little person. Minh and Hamid are members of a generation known as the Plague Babies — people who were hit hard by parasitic pandemics and spent their childhoods dealing with medical interventions. This generational shared experience has huge repercussions for the 23rd century Earth of Lucky Peach and is a foundation of the story’s world building.
Recently, I realized why these characters come naturally to me and why I’m interested in the issues. I also realized I cannot envision a future world that excludes people with disabilities, and even more, I don’t want to envision that future.
My reason comes straight from the heart.
My brother was born without an esophagus. This was the early 70s, and he nearly died. The story of his life isn’t mine to tell, but I witnessed it and remember a lot. I saw how much he went through as a baby, as a boy, and as a young man. Photos of his pain-etched little toddler face still bring tears to my eyes.
To be clear, I have never thought of my brother as a person with a disability. I doubt he identifies himself in that way. He’s just a person living his life. A loving dad, good husband, and all-around terrific person. But I came very close to losing him when he was a baby, and he is only here today by a twist of good fortune that put an answer in my dad’s hands when the hospital had given up on trying to save him.
People say, “In the future we’ll be able to make sure nobody is born with X, Y, or Z.” Okay, but what does that mean? Human development isn’t always going to be predictable. Parents who have no reason to worry can birth a child who requires medical intervention to survive, while babies born with serious problems can live and even thrive.
People also say, “In the future we’ll be able to fix disabilities. Even if someone is injured, we’ll be able to fix them.” Okay, but not everything is fixable. Not every medical risk is warranted. Not every procedure is worthwhile. And not everyone wants or needs to be fixed. A person who is managing their disability is still disabled, after all, and managing one’s own life and making choices for oneself is the foundation of human adulthood.
If we envision a future that excludes the possibility of people with disabilities, then that future (a) embraces eugenics, (b) is a perfect place where nothing unexpected happens, or (c) is a place where all problems can be fixed perfectly with no repercussions. Option a is horrible, option b is undramatic, and option c is simply unbelievable.
Despite all the doom and gloom the world is going through right now, I believe in the future. I truly believe humanity will go to the stars — not soon, not easily, but we will get there. And I believe when we do, people with disabilities will be a big part of that success story.
Sometimes the news is too good, it’s hard to know what to say about it. Where to start? An amazing thing happened. I can’t believe this, it’s so great…
Okay, how’s this:
A dream came true. I’m a finalist for the 2017 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, which will be presented at the Hugo Awards on August 11, at WorldCon in Helsinki. This is absolutely the award nomination that every new SFF writer dreams about, and I assure you, I’m drinking in every drop of joy it brings.
My fellow finalists are Sarah Gailey (my friend, great writer, and awesome human), J. Mulrooney, Malka Older (making such a splash with her work), Ada Palmer (her novel is up for the Best Novel Hugo!), and Laurie Penny. If you’re voting in the Hugos (and of course even if you’re not) please check out their work and if voting, download the packet of our work and vote your heart.
I will always say vote your heart for everything. Not because I don’t want to win (of course I do!), but because I care more about people voting for the right reasons that I do about winning. I’ve loved SF my whole life. The past two years of drama over the Hugos has been deeply upsetting, and I hope this year will be the first step in getting the awards back to normal.
Anyway, enough of that. I’m so excited about being a finalist! My wife and I will be going to Finland for WorldCon and I simply can’t wait. My plan is to have a terrific time, stay up late every night, see old friends and make new ones. Because that’s what it’s all about in the end. It’s not about winning or losing, but the people you meet along the way.