Campbell Award

Campbell Interview: Karen Lord

Today we have the fifth and final interview with the finalists for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. You can read them all by clicking the Campbell Award tag. Please welcome Karen Lord, who writes about trickster spiders and is therefore extra-awesome.

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1) In exactly 26 words, who is Karen Lord?

Lover of paradox finding dreams in reality and reality in dreams, freedom in rules and order in chaos and now, as a writer, play in work.

2) Tell us about the kind of fiction you write, and where we can find some of it!

I write speculative fiction, by which I mean fiction that contains elements of science fiction and or fantasy. My debut novel Redemption in Indigo is mainly fantasy. The US edition was published by Small Beer Press and the UK edition by Jo Fletcher Books/Quercus. There is also an audiobook by Recorded Books beautifully narrated by Robin Miles (also on Amazon’s Audible.com, Barnes & Noble, etc.) A list of bookseller and publisher links is available in the sidebar of my website.

My second novel, The Best of All Possible Worlds, is mainly science fiction and it will be published in February 2013 by Del Rey and Jo Fletcher Books.

3) What has been the best moment of your writing career thus far?

Winning the Frank Collymore Literary Award for the second time, two years running. I’d been terrified that the first win, which was for the Redemption in Indigo manuscript, had been a fluke. Hearing my name announced again for The Best of All Possible Worlds was a real ‘this is it’ moment. This is it, this is when I call myself a writer, without excuses or equivocation.

3b) And if you’re comfortable sharing, what was the worst?

There are always challenges, and while there have been one or two bad moments, it’s when several slightly bad moments pile up in a heap that I really stumble. It’s hard to be creative in the face of many small crises happening all at once, even more so when a portion of your work consists of thinking, which can too often resemble doing nothing to the untutored observer.

4) You won’t be at Worldcon this year, which makes us sad. Give us your best, most outlandish and creative excuse for missing the convention…

Sadly, the most outlandish and creative excuse I could give is that I’d be relaxing on a beach, sipping a cocktail and watching the sun sparkling on the waves of the Caribbean Sea. It could happen so easily, and it won’t. I’ll be closed up in my office chasing deadlines and forgetting that the beach even exists, as usual.

5) As a writer, where would you like to be in ten years?

Surprising people, including myself. I’d like to keep challenging myself and improving as a result. I want to try different forms of storytelling, varying the length, the style and the medium. I hope I will always be able to keep the ‘play’ aspect of writing in whatever I do and however long I do it. I think that’s where the core of my creativity lies.

6) A review of REDEMPTION IN INDIGO mentions the presence of trickster spiders. I’m very much pro-trickster spiders! Could you tell us more about these spiders and the other magical characters in the book?

A trickster spider, yes … also a godhorse, a ladybird, a beetle and various other insects! They’re disguises for the real troublemakers. Should we call them magical? They’re hard to explain or understand, certainly, and even harder to predict. Some are playful mites, easily swatted, and others are implacable forces. They belong to that part of the world which lies beyond the ken of our five senses, and at times they like to interfere in the part that we call ‘reality.’ That’s what creates the tension, the complication and the resolution of the story.

More on my Trickster – a nancy story deserves an Anansi character, and mine turns up early in the book – drinking in a bar (why not?), fooling two minor characters (of course!), and then weaving his way lightly in and out of the story until he gets himself tangled up a bit more than he expected.

Campbell Interview: Stina Leicht

This is the fourth of my interviews with the finalists for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. You can read all of the interviews by clicking the Campbell Award tag. Today we have author Stina Leicht, whose interview includes the immortal phrase, “…kick Snork ass.”

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1) In exactly 27 words, who is Stina Leicht?

I’m a perky goth with technicolor hair, sometimes known as the acorn of death. I’ve a light and a dark side. “Driven,” “perceptive,” and “serious” also apply.

2) Tell us about the kind of fiction you write, and where we can find some of it!

I write historical urban fantasy with an Irish crime edge. I also enjoy writing science fiction and plain old fantasy. At the moment I’m working on a fantasy series for older teens. You can find my work at your local bookstore as well as Barnes and Noble. My novels are also available online and in electronic format (DRM-free and Kindle) at the Night Shade Books website, IndieBound and Amazon.

3) What has been the best moment of your writing career thus far? (And if you’re comfortable sharing, what was the worst?)

There are a number of great moments. They seem to come in pairs. Two are from 2005 when I attended a writer’s workshop. Jim Minz asked for my first novel manuscript based on reading my short story entry. That same weekend Charles de Lint introduced himself and then asked to read that story. The next two great moments involve Joe Monti. First, when he called to tell me he wanted to be my agent and the second when he called to say he’d sold my first book. This year I’ve been given two major award nominations — being short-listed for a Crawford Award and then being nominated for a Campbell Award.

The worst moment was my first real agent rejection in 2007. We’d been communicating and discussing manuscript changes for a year. Then that first novel manuscript, the one that Jim Minz was interested in, didn’t sell. After that, I wrote the first draft of Of Blood and Honey and the agent promptly lost all interest. At the time, I was convinced that I’d done the best work I’d ever produce, and it still wasn’t good enough. It felt like lightning had struck (with the second short story I’d ever written, no less) and I didn’t think I’d get another chance. Everyone knows lightning doesn’t strike twice. I’d screwed it up. I’m so thankful for that experience as painful as it was. It taught me that there’s always room for improvement. It also taught me that writers have very little control over the outside forces that shove them about. However, they do have one thing that they can control: the quality of their writing. In the end, it’s best to focus on what you can control and not what you can’t. Doing otherwise will drive you insane.

4) Who would win in a fight, Papa Smurf or Spider-man?

Papa Smurf wouldn’t fight Spider-man. Spider-man wears smurf colors and is therefore, an honorary smurf.  Everyone knows smurf doesn’t fight smurf. As for Spider-man, he wouldn’t fight Papa Smurf because he isn’t a member of Spider-man’s rogues gallery. In fact, Papa Smurf and Spider-man would join forces and hire Matt Murdock to file an IP suit against the Snorks because Spider-man knows what it’s like dealing with evil impersonators. If that fails, they would then team together to kick Snork ass.

Or maybe they’d just opt to hang out with Rainbow Brite, listen to The Clash, eat veggie curry and get drunk. You never know.

5) As a writer, where would you like to be in ten years?

I’d like to have produced as many great novels as I can and to have sold every one and for them to be successful and well read. It’d be nice to have had some film options too, but it’s not the be all end all.

6) What drew you to write about Ireland in the 70s for OF BLOOD AND HONEY and AND BLUE SKIES FROM PAIN? What was the biggest challenge?

The Troubles (1968-1994) is a fascinating and utterly tragic time period in Irish history. (Although, there isn’t much in Irish history that can’t be described as tragic.) I’ve always been drawn to stories about ordinary people trapped in horrific circumstances. A lot of it has to do with the fact that I don’t believe reality operates in absolute black and white. Yet, absolute good versus absolute evil is a fantasy trope. That kind of thinking doesn’t work in realistic settings, and I prefer realistic settings. Extreme situations tend to bring out the very best in people as well as the very worst. I guess you can say it’s my way of finding a real situation that fits extreme good versus extreme evil. Again, the real world is far more complicated. But I find it much more moving to read about the ordinary person who is changed into a hero than I am by an already perfect person doing perfect things. Sometimes I wonder why we have that particular fantasy trope. Is it because traditional fantasy relies on older history and older history is often edited to create the black and white picture? I wanted to play with that. The only way to do so was to chose a more recent history. Current events are far too muddled to even attempt the bigger picture. We need distance before that dichotomy starts happening. Also, the British deliberately changed the record of events and got away with it.

We often hear the phrase “History is written by the victors.” It isn’t just a truism. Bloody Sunday (1972) proves it. It was a rare incident in which the finger prints and DNA had yet to be wiped clean. I found it horrifying that so few people outside of the UK had bothered to notice. (Note: I started writing two years before the British apology of 2010.) Everything Sinéad O’Connor got so much flack for ranting about was true. So, Of Blood and Honey was, in many ways, my reaction to that. In addition, there is much Americans can learn from The Troubles. I see no reason we should repeat what the British did. That’s outright stupidity. So, I wanted to draw attention to the similarities. Personally, I enjoy sci-fi and fantasy that addresses difficult topics and makes me think. My hope is that my readers want to think too.

I enjoy music a great deal. It helps me get my head in the right place and time when I write. So, part of my research was what sort of music might Liam like? Punk rock was born in 1976. As I saw it, punk would appeal to him. Liam is, in many ways, the embodiment of Irish rage. Punk music is a great outlet for anger. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that punk was a factor in Northern Ireland and not in the way I (as an American) would have thought. Kids from both sides of the wall came together to rebel against the extremist politics and violence. They used punk as a means for peace. Outside of Northern Ireland, punk lasted nine months. I loved that. Who wouldn’t? Again, it’s something that very few Americans are aware of. So, when I sat down to write And Blue Skies from Pain I decided to bring that aspect into the story.

As if writing about a place you’ve never been wasn’t challenge enough, the fact that I’d chosen to write about a foreign culture that I had no connection with was pretty difficult. However, I’d say the biggest challenge was the research. The established record had been tampered with. That meant not only gathering all the information I could, it meant having to discern the truth of, as well as the motivations behind, its contents. It meant gathering more than one account of events — checking and triple checking. It meant having locally written materials shipped to me because I wouldn’t have any other access. It made interviewing at least one person who’d lived through The Troubles a necessity. Frankly, I had all the problems of a non-fiction writer. Also, I knew I had a hard sell on my hands. I had to earn that setting with all my might. Sloppiness just wasn’t an option.

Oh, and let me just add that it was more than a little bit frightening ordering things like the “Green Book” (the IRA’s old handbook) and Cage Eleven by Gerry Adams online during the Bush era. [shudder]

Campbell Interview: E. Lily Yu

Welcome to the third of my interviews with the finalists for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. You can read all of the interviews by clicking the Campbell Award tag. Today’s author is E. Lily Yu, who is also on the Hugo ballot for Best Short Story.

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1) In exactly 21 words, who is E. Lily Yu?

A tetchy paper caterpillar with teeth. That’s all. And I’ve got the scrappiest cat and purdiest sister east of the Mississippi.

2) Tell us about the kind of fiction you write, and where we can find some of it!

The vast majority of my work is on my hard drive, and you can find it by hacking or stealing my laptop. For the less larcenously inclined, I have two stories in The Kenyon Review Online, here and here, one stock-market fairy tale in the May/June issue of Cicada, and half a novel on my computer that I’m hoping to finish this summer. I have several stories circulating and picking up rejection slips, and others in various drafts, which might or might not appear soon.

3) What has been the best moment of your writing career thus far? And if you’re comfortable sharing, what was the worst?

There’s nothing like the first time you have something published. I was fifteen, heading home on the school bus one afternoon in March, when I checked my rarely-touched Nokia and found a message over a month old, telling me my entry had won The Writer’s 69-word story contest and that I needed to call them to get my $50. The check arrived, the story was put online, and my parents, lovely people, were happy for me but pointed out that this was not a good way to make a living. There. I just made both of us feel old.

I was rejected from my university’s creative writing program almost exactly a year ago. That’s small beer, though.

4) Which is better: yo-yos or juggling? Defend your answer!

Juggling, hands down. You can’t set yo-yos on fire and perform the same tricks with any real panache. Neither can the common yo-yo stand against a juggler’s clubs, knives, and torches. If you mean diabolos, though, which under the right conditions are lethal spinning wheels of death, complete with nunchuks, then I’d have to abstain.

5) As a writer, where would you like to be in ten years?

Snoozing on a towel beside a small pile of elegantly bound books that I’m proud of having written, amid the wreckage that is the draft of the next one, with wavelets slinking up the white sand to just below my toes.

More realistically, it would be nice to have access to a good public library system, perhaps also access to a very good university library system, and health insurance. I’ve just started sending out job applications and thinking about these things, and what I’m thinking isn’t too good.

6) You’ve also been nominated for the Best Short Story Hugo for “The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees.” Congratulations! I love the voice and imagery of those opening paragraphs. How long did it take before you felt the story was ready?

That’s kind of you. I had about four full drafts of the story between December and the third week of March, when Clarkesworld accepted it, and I was tinkering with it up until the last minute. There was one clunky sentence that I was deeply unhappy with, but I couldn’t figure out how to fix it. The deadline kept crawling nearer. I was biting through the caps of my pens. Three days before it was published, I came up with a better sentence. The audio had been recorded by that time, though, so if you try to listen to the story while following the text, you’ll notice that the first paragraph is different in each version. Escape Pod is just about to podcast the story again, this time including the change.

7) So what do you do when you’re not writing fiction?

Poetry. Plays. Actually, the last year has been all schoolwork and applications. Two academic theses: one submitted, one I’m struggling with. The deadline’s been extended to three days after the Nebulas. I’ve put everything else aside to work on those.

Campbell Interview: Mur Lafferty

Welcome to the second of my interviews with this year’s finalists for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. You can read them all by clicking the Campbell Award tag. For now, meet Mur Lafferty: author, podcaster, and owner of a very cool hat.

1) In exactly 25 words, who is Mur Lafferty?

Photo by JR BlackwellA carbon-based life form, podcaster, editor, and writer (obviously). I like martial arts, gin, and dogs. Contrary to popular belief, I do own dresses.

2) Tell us about the kind of fiction you write, and where we can find some of it.

All of my fiction can be found linked at Murverse.com – I wrote superhero satire (Playing For Keeps, Swarm, 2008), afterlife adventures – aka Bangsian Fantasy – (The Afterlife Series), lunar gladiatorial adventures (Marco and the Red Granny, Hub, 2010), and zombie audio dramas (The Takeover). I also write for scripts for others (The Leviathan Chronicles, audio, and Nanovor, animation scripts), have a history of writing for role-playing games, and have a love of writing Christmas short stories. I have a book (title TBA) coming out in 2013 from Orbit concerning a woman working on a travel book for monsters.

ETA: Shortly after this interview went live, Mur announced that she would be giving her fiction away for free for the next two months. Details are here.

3) What has been the best moment of your writing career thus far? (And if you’re comfortable sharing, what was the worst?)

Gosh. One best moment? Campbell nomination? The phone call from Orbit? Those two tie, I think.

Worst moment was coming to terms that my afterlife series, which is by far my listeners’ favorite of my work, would not find a home with a publisher, and I’d have to be content with it living in audio and epub.

4) If you had to incorporate that wonderful red hat into a superhero costume, what would your superhero name and powers be?

OMEGA MUR – a mild-mannered woman who, upon imbibing caffeine, loses all fear and gains super strength and rage. A child of Daredevil and the Hulk, if those two wacky kids would ever get together.

5) As a writer, where would you like to be in ten years?

One thing I’ve discovered is a love of writing for many different media. I’d love to be writing books, but also scripts for web series, and still putting out original, episodic podcast fiction. Of course, being a best-seller, Hugo-winner, and “making enough money to live off of” are nice goals too.

6) You run or work with several different podcasting sites (Escape Pod, I Should Be Writing, Princess Scientist’s Book Club, and the Angry Robot Books Podcast), and have podcast at least one of your novels as well. What is it that draws you to podcasting?

I was drawn to podcasting in the beginning, 2004, when it was a new medium – that excited me. I wanted to play with all the new ways of storytelling. I didn’t need NPR to publish essays, I didn’t need the BBC or a US radio station to do an audio drama, and I didn’t need a publisher to make an audiobook. I was able to build an audience for my work well before I got a book deal. Podcasting has been instrumental for building my career, when I never expected it to.

7) For anyone who might want to get into podcasting, what resources would you recommend, and what’s the most important lesson you’ve learned about doing a successful podcast?

Microphone: Start small. A  $20 mic from the store will do just fine.

Software: Windows – Audacity is free. Mac – Garageband is free. (Aside – Audacity is also available for the Mac, but crashed a lot for me, so I got Amadeus Pro, which is quite affordable and much like a stable Audacity.)

Host: Libsyn.com – The first podcast host, designed to handle the greater demands of large audio and video files.

Other resources: Tricks of the Podcasting Masters, by Lafferty/Walch (Come on, I had to!), Podcasting for Dummies, by Morris/Terra

Advice: Interact with your listeners. Give them a place to contact/follow you and respond to them; when your voice is in peoples’ ears, it creates an intimacy not found in providing text.

Campbell Interview: Brad Torgersen

The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer is an annual award for, well, the best new SF/F author. (Meaning someone whose SF/F was first professionally published within the past two years.) I’ll be interviewing all five of this year’s nominees, beginning with Brad Torgersen, who was selected to go first by the highly scientific process of being the first to get back to me with answers…

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1) In exactly 23 words, who is Brad Torgersen?

Full-time healthcare nerd by day, part-time Chief Warrant Officer on the weekend, science fiction writer by night. Hugo, Campbell, Nebula nominee.

2) Tell us about the kind of fiction you write, and where we can find some of it!

I do mostly science fiction, with multiple appearances in Analog Science Fiction and Fact magazine. My Hugo and Nebula nominee, “Ray of Light,” was the cover story for the December 2011 issue of Analog. It’s also available on-line through Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble as an e-novelette, along with many of my other previously published stories. I also have some collaborative work coming out soon. “Peacekeeper” is a military science fiction story I did with Mike Resnick. It’s in Ian Watson’s anthology, THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF SF WARS. Mike and I also have another military SF piece, “Guard Dog,” now out in SPACE BATTLES, edited by Bryan Schmidt. And there is the rarity — a fantasy tale — also by myself and Mike, already out in Phil Athans’s THE FATHOMLESS ABYSS shared world project. Coming in Analog later this year I’ve got a piece I did with friend and fellow Analog author, Alastair Mayer, called, “Strobe Effect.” As well as a solo military SF story called, “The Exchange Officers.”

3) What has been the best moment of your writing career thus far? What about the worst?

I think I have to quote actor Geoffrey Lewis on this: the best one, is the next one. It was a magnificent thrill to (finally!) be published in Writers of the Future 26, as well as the November 2010 issue of Analog — my double debut. It was a thrill selling my third story, and then my fourth, and then my fifth… I’m well over a dozen sold stories now, including collaborations, and each one of them has been a pleasure to write, sell, and see in print. Whether it’s been in concert with mentors and friends like Mike Resnick or Al Mayer, or solo. Heck, before I landed on the big awards ballots, I got a readers’ choice award for my novelette, “Outbound,” which was my first Analog publication. Before that story, I’d gotten dozens of rejections from Stan Schmidt. To see my first Analog story win the AnLab was a remarkable thing. I think all the many, long years of frustration and endless rejection have taught me to treasure the (new) successes, however humble they may be. Now, when I sell a story, or I make an awards ballot, I treat it like it’s a silver dollar discovered on the sidewalk: I scoop it up, I count myself lucky, I savor the sensation of it in my pocket as I go about my daily business. It’s a wonderful thing to be publishing and garnering acclaim, both from peers, and from readers. Simply wonderful.

As for the worst moment… I don’t dwell on those much, but I can say I was positively crestfallen when my first Finalist story for Writers of the Future did not win. It was summer 2009, and I was going through a hell of a hard time at my civilian job, as well as enduring the crucible of Warrant Officer Candidate School on the Reserve side. When I found out I was a Writers of the Future Finalist, I was certain my moment had come. At last! It was the best story I’d ever written, period. And it didn’t win! I went home from work that day and just sat at the kitchen: the picture of despair. My best work, and it didn’t even win Writers of the Future; supposedly the “entry level” market. How could I possibly hope to succeed with bigger markets, after so many years of zilch? It was a massive blow to my hopes and aspirations. But it was not fatal, thankfully. By that point I was old enough and had experienced enough hard knocks to realize that this too would pass. So I got back to work, after licking my hurt ego for a few days. The next story out the door, “Exanastasis,” actually did win Writers of the Future. Even better still: the non-winner, “Outbound,” was the story that went to Analog, and got the AnLab award, and has sold (and keeps selling) to new markets overseas. I think of it as my phoenix story. From the ashes…

4) And now for the most important question of the interview: What is the correct orientation for putting a new roll of toilet paper on the holder?

HAH! We’re bohemians in my household. We have vertical TP holders from Ikea. It’s not a question of over or under, it’s a question of left or right. And on that matter, I don’t think anyone in my family cares. (grin)

5) After years of worldwide bathroom conflicts, you’ve chosen vertical toilet paper? What madness is this? HAVE WE LIVED AND FOUGHT IN VAIN???

Ahem. What I meant to say was, as a writer, where would you like to be in ten years?

Still publishing a few stories a year in Analog magazine. Hopefully publishing books with one or more major publishers. Perhaps some ancillary projects like video games or even something for Hollywood? Again, the years of failure have taught me to value the recent successes, big or small. Everything that comes to me now? It’s like a great big Halloween candy bowl. I can’t complain. I’m getting more sales and more recognition in my first two years as a published pro than I ever dared hope for when I was unpublished and struggling. I am moving forward with reserved optimism. Working as hard as I can on the next manuscript, and then the next one after that, and then the next one after that. Et cetera.

6) You’re currently nominated for the Hugo and the Nebula awards as well as the Campbell. (Congratulations, by the way!) If you could only win one, which would you pick and why?

That’s a tough call. I think the odds are best for the Campbell, though this award tends to go to novelists rather than short story writers. I am told by men like Mike Resnick that the Hugo has the most prestige, among the three, and looking at the other writers who have novelettes next to mine on the Chicon 7 Hugo ballot, I have to say I think it’s an excellently represented category this year. Top drawer work by top drawer writers. I am honored to be listed. Then again my friend Eric James Stone took the Nebula last year, and since I was his room mate at the Nebula weekend I got to see his Nebula trophy up close and personal. It’s a lovely thing!

But really, even being on the short lists is satisfying in and of itself. I will forever after be able to count my name among the (very small) group of people who’ve managed to be on all three lists at once in their careers. People like Barry Longyear. Therefore my winning even one of these awards, much less more than one, is almost too much to hope for. There are so many talented, deserving men and women who are also on these ballots with me. It’s daunting. I know that’s a very wordy non-answer, but it’s the best I can do. (grin)

7) What’s the best piece of advice you can give to an aspiring author?

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will your writing career. Very, very, very few authors ever sell their first books or stories right out of the box. Learning to be a proficient professional fiction writer isn’t much different from learning to play an instrument, or a sport, at the professional level. It takes exhaustive commitment and dedication. You have to burn for it, deep down, and you cannot let yourself fall into the trap of thinking and talking about writing, without actually writing. I advise setting monthly, weekly, even daily goals. One page a day. Five pages a days. Twenty pages a week. Whatever. Just make yourself sit down and do it. And don’t fret if the early books or stories don’t sell. It’s all part of your development. Embrace the struggle. Learn as you go. You will grow more as a writer through writing, than you will through almost any other type of activity.

Jim C. Hines