alisa alering

Writer of fantasy and other fictions


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Traveling the Galaxy with Absolute Pony

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Pleased to announce that my story “Absolute Pony” has just been published in Time Travel Tales, an anthology of short fiction edited by Zach Chapman and including tales by Sean Williams, Tony Pi, Robert Silverberg, and my fellow Writers of the Future winner, Brian Trent.

The volume features dinosaurs, temporal clones, intergalactic celebrity chefs, and of course ponies. Well, sort of ponies. You’ll have to read and see for yourself.

 


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The Monster Within: An Interview with Kim White

Kim White Retouched 178Kim White is another wonderful author I met at the excellent Books with Bite workshop, led by Nova Ren Suma and Micol Ostow, at the Highlights Foundation this past September. I had such a good time that, basically, I don’t want to let go. Hence this series of interviews with my fellow writers. 

Hi, Kim. I had a really transformative experience at Books with Bite, in terms of re-evaluating what I want to write and why. What was the workshop like for you?

There was nothing not to like about the workshop. The focus on horror themes, the setting in the woods of Pennsylvania, and the stellar workshop leaders made Books with Bite a great experience. But far and away the best thing about the workshop was the other writers—talented women who were generous with feedback and willing to open up and share their own experiences. Everyone was working at a professional level, which made me feel challenged and inspired. I would definitely recommend it.

What’s the appeal in writing about dark and scary things?

I like a particular kind of dark and scary. I’m interested in stories about the monster within. The horror of being the monster is scarier to me than being in the path of the monster.

My first book, Scratching for Something, was a collection of flash fiction that explored this theme. In each piece, a character undergoes a transformation, and their body takes on a physical manifestation of their psychological state. To give a few examples: a man turns into a tree but his human heart remains beating inside the trunk; a woman’s breasts become actual fruit that she has to eat to survive; a man finds he can remove his head and walked around with it tucked under his arm; a woman coughs up her soul and keeps it in a jar, watching it shrink to the size of a raisin. The transformations are monstrous and horrifying but also infused with an inwardness and self-discovery. I’m fascinated by what we make of the dark parts of ourselves.

You also have a novelette about grief that you wrote in response to the 9/11 attacks. 

Diurnal-iBooksYes, in Diurnal, Susan’s past experiences and premonitions of the future indicate that her dream of having a child will go horribly wrong, but she goes ahead anyway. When the boy she gives birth to dies, she raises her daughter as the son she lost. The second part of the story is from the point of view of Gabriel, Susan’s daughter. We see how Gabriel maintains her own sanity with a different kind of magical thinking. Gabriel believes she was the child sending dreams and premonitions to her mother before birth, and that her mother mistook them as coming from her brother. Gabriel believes she has found proof in her mother’s diaries that she was the child her mother was (literally) dreaming about.

Can you tell us about a time when you were really scared?

This is tough to answer because I can’t tell you about a time I was really scared in a few paragraphs. When really scary things happen, like being in NYC during the 9/11 attacks, or seeing someone get shot on 42nd street, or being in a subway car when someone is being stabbed, I have to write stories because the emotions these experiences provoke are so complex. It’s fear mixed with anger, sadness, hope—it often takes years and many thousands of words for me to sort it out.

What’s your favorite scary story?

I like noir films, psychological thrillers, and dystopian science fiction. Silence of the Lambs, The Shining, The Matrix, Enders Game are some of my favorites, but I also spend a lot of time with literary fiction that delves into what really scares me—death and oblivion. One of my favorite terrifying passages is from Nabokov’s memoir Speak, Memory. He opens with this stunning first sentence: “The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.” The image of life as a fragile crack of light, or as a baby dangled over a dark void, is nightmarish because it feels so true and inescapable. We can’t do anything to escape the oblivion to come—that’s terrifying to me.

bookcover_150Kim White holds an MFA in fiction from Columbia University and an MFA in poetry from Hunter College. She is the recipient of the Academy of American Poets Prize at Hunter College, The Catalina Paez and Seumas MacManus Award, the Shuster Award for an outstanding Master’s degree thesis, a Bingham Writing Fellowship from Columbia University, and a Forbes Foundation Grant.

You can check out more of her work here and here.


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One Year Later: Writers of the Future Vol. 29

Writers of the Future 2013

Writers of the Future Vol. 29, writer and illustrator winners and judges, Los Angeles, April 2013

This time last year, 13 writers from around the country headed to Los Angeles to take part in the Writers of the Future workshop and awards ceremony. For many, this was their first professional publication. We bonded, we hung upon the wise words of workshop leaders Tim Powers and David Farland. We wrote a 24-hour story. We ate perhaps a smidge too much greasy food. But that was 12 long months ago, and the question arises: What have they been doing since then? Are these really the writers of the future?

Highlights

Several stories from Writers of the Future Vol. 29 were featured in the Tangent Online Recommended Readings List for 2013 (“Master Belladino’s Mask,” “Cop for a Day,” “The Ghost Wife of Arlington,” “Dreameater,” “Planetary Scouts,” “Twelve Seconds,” and “The Grande Complication.” Other winners had new stories singled out as reader favorites: Marina J. Lostetter took 2nd place in both the Jim Baen Memorial Writing Contest and the IGMS Readers’ Choice Awards. WotF Grand Prize winner Tina Gower won first place in the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery and Suspense (Science Fiction, Fantasy, Futuristic category) for her unpublished novel, Identity. Brian Trent’s “A Matter of Shapespace” was voted 2013 Apex Magazine Story of the Year.

Marina J. Lostetter

Galaxy's Edge, Issue 4

Galaxy’s Edge, Issue 4

Andrea Stewart

Shannon Peavey

Alisa Alering

Kodiak Julian

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Lex Wilson (Alex Wilson)

Alex has done narration work for Lightspeed Magazine and the anthology series Apocalypse Triptych, edited by John Joseph Adams and Hugh Howey. He has also appeared as an actor in an episode of True Crime with Aphrodite Jones as well as several independent films.

Eric Cline

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Chrome Oxide

In the past year Chrome has been busy recording live musical performances and doing audio work on the documentary film Reverb Junkies. He has also appeared at conventions, bookstores, and musical events in the Los Angeles area, signing his books and CDs.

Christopher Reynaga

Tina Gower

Stephen Sottong

Brian Trent

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As you can see, it’s been a pretty exciting twelve months. Here’s to more stories and more sales in the next twelve. And, oh yeah, congratulations to this year’s winners!


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8 Reasons Why Your First Novel Isn’t Working

In my previous posts, I talked about Why Novels Are More Fun Than Short Stories and lifted your spirits with How To Not Hate Your First Draft. Now that you’ve dried your tears and have begun to envision a glorious future for your deformed brainchild, it’s time to talk about exactly how you’re going to climb that gilded staircase to the stars.

In June, I spent two weeks at the Fantasy & Science Fiction Novel Writer’s Workshop in Lawrence, Kansas, learning from two sharp and insightful instructors: Kij Johnson and Barbara J. Webb. On the first day of the workshop, we eight first-time novelists sat around the table in the fishbowl and listened as Kij told us everything we had done wrong.

Like Madame Defarge, Kij knits while we cry.

Like Madame Defarge, Kij knits while we cry.

Prior to the workshop, we had all submitted the first three chapters of our novel-in-progress plus a complete synopsis. Kij read our sacrificial offerings and summed up her reaction with an inventory of our collective crimes. Use the handy-dandy checklist below and see how your first novel holds up.

Common Problems of First Novels

  1. Not Enough Plot. It can be hard to wrap your head around just how big a novel is. First-timers often try to stretch a thin little string of circumstance over 200+ pages. Other possible offenses: Too Much Plot and Poorly-Paced Plot.
  2. Rushed Scenes. When discussing my chapters, Kij pointed out places where she wanted more description and more setting, and my instinct was to resist. “But that’s boring,” I’d think, “I have to get to the action.” While struggling with short fiction, I had trained myself to mercilessly stamp out every curlicue of narrative elaboration. Now that hard-won skill was working against me. Novel readers look for different pleasures than short story readers: they need immersion, and they need time to settle in.
  3. Churning. Looking at that vast expanse of blank pages you have to fill, it’s easy to get panicky and start throwing incidents at the page. You slap on an explosion here, a gunfight there, sprinkle a one-eyed ogre army over Chapter Five, top it off with a messy break-up and call it a plot. But activity doesn’t = plot. A plot is a sequence of events in which each event causes the next, leading to the central conflict. A lot of flashy unrelated action will never get you there.
  4. Stakes Aren’t High Enough. You’re not going to convince a reader to go along for a novel-length ride if all that’s at stake is whether your protagonist is going to have a bagel or a Belgian waffle for breakfast. Your stakes don’t have to be mortal danger or the fate of the universe, but whatever you choose must feel like annihilation for your character. Extra Credit: Writing Excuses 7.47: Raising the Stakes.
  5. Lack of Agency. Related to #3. Activity also doesn’t = agency. First novels often feature characters pushed around by circumstance, or ones that don’t initiate activity. Your protagonist must go out into the world and cause things to happen. Preferably bad things that will hurt him/her and rain misery on their hapless head.
  6. Backstory & Exposition Poorly Managed. This one happens in short-story land, too. The reader gets a couple of pages of a scene with a good hook and then everything screeches to a halt while the author explains the full timeline of events since the protagonist’s birth*.
  7. Poor POV Choices. Novels typically have more characters than short fiction, and can handle multiple points-of-view. But are you choosing them wisely? Are you switching POVs at the right places? Kij suggests that more than one POV can improve your story, but if you introduce too many, you’re more likely to trip yourself up. Analyze your POV changes and ask yourself if they are the best interest of your story. Extra Credit: Writing Excuses 4.13: Juggling Multiple Viewpoints.
  8. Anemic Description. Characters need to be grounded in their environment. I did this one wrong and so did pretty much everyone else. If your story is set in the Wild West, the reader needs to know not just how it looks, but how it smells, how to saddle a horse, and how long it takes to travel by train. Useful description is what makes a world feel real to a reader. Extra Credit: Writing Excuses 6.11: Making Your Descriptions Do More Than One Thing.
Delicious, but not enough to sustain a novel.  Photo by Christine Lu, via Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0

Delicious, but not enough to sustain a novel.
Photo by Christine Lu, via Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0

Keep in mind that though everyone in the class was a first-time novelist, we were reasonably experienced writers with publications in professional markets like Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Clarkesworld, Daily Science Fiction, and Writers of the Futureand we still did it wrong.

That’s because writing a novel is hard. It’s probably not much like anything you’ve written before. So don’t freak out: now that you know what’s wrong, a second draft is the perfect place to fix it.

*If you’re lucky. If you’re unlucky, you’re going to get the founding of the nation in which she lives and the genealogy of her ancestors.


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Writers of the Future Vol.29 is #1 on Amazon today

WOF29 Cover.indd

Today, Writers of the Future Vol. 29 is #1 on the Amazon list of Best Sellers in Science Fiction Short Stories.

My Q2 winning story, “Everything You Have Seen,” is in this volume, but I’m going to recommend reading it because of all the other great stories. In particular:

  • “Dreameater,” by Andrea Stewart
    A great voice that grabs you from the first line. A complicated mother-daughter relationship. And brains, the eating of. 
  • “Holy Days,” by Kodiak Julian
    Gorgeous writing. Holidays can mean more than barbecue on the beach. What if there were a day that revealed everyone’s secrets? Or one that lets the dead come home?
  • “Gonna Reach Out and Grab Ya,” by Eric Cline
    CSI meets Close Encounters of the Third Kind. A lonely pathologist examines a very unusual corpse.
  • “Twelve Seconds,” by Tina Gower
    In the future, a police clerk archives the final twelve seconds in the lives of homicide victims.


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Catherine Krahe Wants Your Sisters (Stories)

C_Krahe

Catherine Krahe lives in Iowa.  She plans to save the world by telling stories and planting trees. She went to Clarion West (2011). Her stories have been published in Realms of Fantasy, Nature, and Ideomancer. She works with the Alpha Young Writer’s Workshop and is a first reader for Strange Horizons.

At least, that’s what she says. I say she is my Clarion West classmate, devastating editor & critiquer, maker of deadly Oreo truffles, and possessor of the bionic nun-field.

Her short story “Walking Home” is featured today in Daily Science Fiction.

She stopped by ye olde blogular to answer important questions about where she writes, how she writes, and the chocolate powdered flavoring mix that makes her world go round.

1. Special pen? Lucky socks? Breakfast of champions? Describe your writing process. (Include necessary rituals, superstitions, or talismans.)

My writing process is stalled these days, but my writerbrain is growing back. I grew up constantly thinking about stories–walking to and from school, going to sleep at night, in the bathroom, all the time. I’ve gotten out of that habit, or at least out of the habit of having my own active stories in my head.  Still, while I’m driving or while I’m walking from one place to another, there’s something going on. Mostly fanfic-ish things or fanfic-ish things of my own. That’s where “Walking Home” came from: it’s a side bit from the novelworld I had in late high school.

At some point, the story things up, and I do a draft. I don’t have a fixed process at this point, but do whatever the story seems to need. I usually write straight into the computer, but some stories happen on paper first. After that, I edit.  That’s the fun part–I like cutting and tightening especially.

Sometimes this happens on a writing date with friends, but not often. I’m more likely to get distracted by socializing than work steadily. I sometimes ping friends to bounce ideas off them or throw a draft at them. I almost always show my roommate Angela, who understands stories from a different direction and has pretty similar taste to mine–she’s wonderful. Of course, this is all subject to change.  I haven’t been writing a lot lately, and who knows what my process will be next?

Good tools: I love my CW notebook.  I require a good fountain pen with Noodler’s ink.  I need my computer, a three-year-old Thinkpad set up so I can use it but no one else can, trackpad turned off, and Dvorak keyboard. I do some tightening on paper, so I like to have a printer.  But what I need is discipline.

Bedroom Workspace. Go to Flickr  to view annotations.

Bedroom Workspace. Go to Flickr to view annotations.

2. Biggest thing that keeps you from writing when you should be writing?

Oh dear. I haven’t written anything really new in a while. I had the stereotypical post-workshop slump and haven’t unpacked my box of stories and critiques yet. Shameful, I know! I’m not sure exactly what’s holding me back besides anxiety and exhaustion. I don’t run my own stories in my head because it’s so much easier and more satisfying to return to someone else’s, like comfort food. I always have a story going, but I’m not someone who is driven relentlessly to put words on the page.

3. What do you wish you were reading but aren’t? (Because it doesn’t exist.)

I want sisters. More sisters. There are so many brothers in fantasy, especially urban fantasy, and what I want is a relationship like that between brothers but between sisters. The typical brother relationship is two brothers against the world, usually with one of them magical or otherwise vulnerable and the other one a vigilant guard. The typical sister relationship is that two sisters against the world are separated because one of them meets a man and leaves the partnership. I hate that. I want more relationships between women that don’t dissolve as part of the plot. –Why yes, I do adore Kate Elliott, why do you ask?

4. What can’t you live without?

Other than the obvious?  Chocolate milk.  Those who knew me at Clarion West know that among my first purchases in Seattle were cups and Quik.  It’s my breakfast on a normal day, and what I drink before going to bed.  I don’t need it on vacations, but it’s one of the things I do to establish ‘normal’.

5. What should a reader do after reading this interview?

Go read some Kate Elliott.  Write me a sister story.  Knit something.

Living Room Workspace. Flickr again for annotations.

Living Room Workspace. Flickr again for annotations.


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Waylines Magazine – An Inside Look

Nishinomiya-shi, Hyogo, Japan

Nishinomiya-shi, Hyogo, Japan 

When I go for a walk in the evening, I look in the windows of houses that forgot to draw the blinds. I sneak peeks at what you have in your shopping cart when I’m standing in line behind you. And if you’re a writer, I wish I could see where you write.

Writing is something of a secret vocation. Sure, authors today are expected to blog & tweet & Facebook their every thought, but the writing itself takes place behind closed doors. Behind the page, as it were.

There’s something magical about the site of creation. Granted, we writers tend to have slightly less fabulous workspaces than visual artists, but in some ways, that makes it all the more mystical (or do I mean mystifying?). To satisfy this unnatural curiosity of mine, I’ve decided to start a series about the workspaces of literary folk. Look into their spare bedrooms, their basement lairs, their frozen garrets, their comfy couches, and read the secrets of their souls.

The first victim who has volunteered to bare his tender interior spaces for your salaciously inquiring eyes is David Rees-Thomas, Fiction Editor of the brand-new Waylines Magazine. He’s also a writer of science fiction, fantasy, and mystery. He used to be the managing editor at Ideomancer magazine. He lives in Japan, and likes to build and collect old synthesizers in his spare time, which is not as much as it used to be. His musical endeavors can be found under the moniker, Phenotypo.

"Bashing the elderly and infirm with my laptop bag usually secures me a seat," says David.

“Bashing the elderly and infirm with my laptop bag usually secures me a seat,” says David.

So, a new spec fic magazine, huh? Why?

Waylines Magazine came about as the logical result of me and Darryl Knickrehm getting together and talking SF/fantasy and all that jazz every week. There are a ton of great writers out there, and there’s always room for another magazine to highlight their wonderful stories.

I worked as the Managing Editor at Ideomancer previously, and I learned so much about how to keep things from getting out of control (slush keeps rolling in even as you sleep) and also about the absolute importance of respect–for our authors and for the process. We aim to turn stories around quickly and make our editorial process as transparent as we can. We’re now on the verge of launching as a pro-rates paying market, which is our ideal. (For more about this, see the Kickstarter info below)

Darryl has a background in film and art, and we are editing the magazine as a team. We trust each other’s opinions, and each of us brings a different take on an individual story. We are both big fans of mags like Clarkesworld, Asimov’s, Lightspeed, Shimmer, F&SF, Apex, Analog, Strange Horizons, and on and on. Oh yeah, and, of course, Ideomancer!! We’ve been inspired by all these guys, and we also want to do something just a little different by including film as well as fiction.

Who is the ideal reader of Waylines?

Well, I want to say everyone! A more fun answer is that we thought we knew what we liked, and part of the enjoyment of this journey has been discovering new stories that made us stop, nod our heads, and go, Yes! Yes!!

Darryl has a soft spot for cyberpunk, the Twilight Zone, and Heavy Metal magazine. I have a soft spot for Ursula Le Guin, Samuel Delany, and Jack Womack. Go figure!

What do you wish you were reading, but aren’t (because it doesn’t exist)?

Ooohh, that’s a tricky question.

Alright, here goes: More science fiction by authors from Wales.

I grew up in Caerphilly, near Cardiff, a proper valleys boy. I also lived in Aberystwyth on the coast. We have a rich tradition of storytelling in Wales, so it would be great to see more from my homeland. Of course, this is not to suggest it doesn’t exist, or that we don’t already have great science fiction and fantasy writers–Alastair Reynolds, David Langford, the rather fascinating Rhys Hughes, and not to forget Islwyn Ffowc Elis, who wrote science fiction in the Welsh language.

There must be so much more out there!!

Tell us about your editing process. Or your writing process. Or both. Divulge.

On a typical day, I get up, make coffee, check Waylines’ submissions. Deal with any correspondence, reply to a few submissions, wonder what the strange humming noise is, realize I’ve left the bass amp on again when the cat brushes her tail against the G string.

Take a shower, write my morning 200 words, more coffee, make notes on all the Waylines madness to do during breaks from the day job. Get on the train. Write until I get to work. I am worried that in the future, I will not be able to write unless I’m on a train!! I typically work in the day job from about 11am-7:30pm. I get some writing done and read second round submissions when I have a lunch break.

Then on to the train again. Careful strategic positioning usually bags me a seat one stop after I get on the train. Then, it’s out with the trusted, dying, little netbook, and down to more writing. Once I’m home, dinner, some admin, editing, correspondence, and other bits and pieces until about 10:30. Then I relax. Whew!

Both Darryl and I edit the magazine, so if we think a story has something we like, we bump it to the second round of submissions, and inform the author. Things slow down a bit at this point. We read the story, make notes, and make a decision when we have our weekly meeting. If we like it enough, we move on to the next stage, acceptance and editing.

Darryl and I are in text message contact over our phones all day. We have a weekly meeting every Wednesday evening, in a cheap Italian restaurant in Umeda, Osaka. Note, we do no editing when drinking the wine.

Darryl (l.) and David (r.) get wine stains on your precious manuscripts

Darryl (l.) and David (r.) get wine stains on your precious manuscripts

What’s it like living in Japan? How does that affect your writing/editing?

We’ve both lived here for quite some time now, so the boring answer is that it’s probably much like living anywhere else. I’m originally from Wales in the UK. Darryl is from Orange County, California. Beyond the temples, shrines, and the cyberpunk pachinko assault on the senses, it’s a country where people have the same everyday troubles and celebrations as your own place in the world.

The truth is that we’ve probably been shaped by the experience more than we realize. We’ve probably learned to be a lot more open regarding different cultures, different people, and different ways of doing things. (Some things about Japan will forever mystify me, but the same could easily be said about Wales.)

We live in the Osaka area, which is more down-to-earth and rugged than Tokyo. Good food, straightforward people, and possibly the ugliest, most fabulous skyline in Japan.

Your prediction for the Mayan Apocalypse?

Well, it appears to be a Thursday, so assuming this doesn’t happen, then it will be a day like I outlined above. There shall also be miso soup and red wine consumed, as well as a good chance of some 1956 B movies on the TV at home, and a few parts going missing from the synthesizer I’m building as I attempt to do some soldering at 11:30 at night.

Perhaps that’s enough to herald an apocalypse by itself.

What should a reader do after reading this interview?

Bookmark our page. We really want to make Waylines something that will be enduring, something magnificent, something to make the gods themselves tremble!! Uh, seriously though, please do pop along, it would be lovely to see you.

We have plans for the first year, into year 2, and even a few years on from there.

We’re also running a Kickstarter until Dec 6th. If you cannot suppress the urge to really help us out, please take a look. It’s worth it just for the video.

Our bare bones goals will enable us to pay our authors semi-pro rates, but more will allow us to increase our rates to pro paying level, which would be wonderful.