alisa alering

Writer of fantasy and other fictions


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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Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery and Suspense (Science Fiction, Fantasy, Futuristic category) for her unpublished novel, Identity.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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Rewrite Your Way to Greatness

Today, I’m less than 10,000 words away from the end of the first* draft of my first** novel. You might think that at this point I’ve got the finishing line in sight and I’m feeling good.

You would be wrong.

Photo by Karl Baron, via Flickr

Photo by Karl Baron, via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Now that I’ve written more than 50,000 words and have the overall shape of the novel in front of me, I have this lovely, panoramic vision of All The Things I’ve Done Wrong. It’s like the view of Mordor from Mount Doom. We’re talking volcanoes and wastelands: this is not the kind of stuff I can put right with another measly 10,000 words.

The last couple of days, sitting down to work has made me want to cry and yell at the cats for…having fur and stuff. I wont lie–it feels terrible. But, just as with most other things about writing novels so far, this is just another crisis of faith.

Photo by saxcubano, via Flickr

Photo by saxcubano, via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Maybe (okay, probably) some of what I’ve written is terrible. Maybe it’s missing big chunks of plot and character motivation. But that doesn’t mean the book itself is going to be terrible.

I think, as novice writers, we fall into a trap. We compare our first drafts to somebody else’s completed novel. In a side-by-side comparison, that thing we just made–that we struggled with and worked so hard on–looks like crap. Because the thing we made is NOT a complete novel. It’s an early stage draft. And you never see anybody else’s early stage draft. You don’t see the mangled first pages of The Ocean at the End of the Lane, or Life After Life, or Wild Seed.

You may, in fact, have the most precocious, promising, early-stage draft in the history of novel-writing. But if you compare it to that OTHER thing, the finished novel, what you have looks like utter, meaningless crap.

Would you compare a cement block to a skyscraper? Would you look at that block and scorn it because it doesn’t have a marble lobby and banks of high-speed elevators that shoot straight to the rotating rooftop restaurant?

The humble cement block. Photo by Jeremy Price, via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The humble cement block. Photo by Jeremy Price, via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Yet, when that skyscraper’s finished, that worthless cement block will still be a part of it***, hidden somewhere inside, doing its bit to keep the rooftop restaurant turning out platters of regionally-sourced pork belly and craft cocktails.

A first draft is a necessary step on the way to completing a novel.
A first draft is not the same thing as a novel. Not even close.

Go ahead, have a drink. You're going to need it. Photo by David Kenny, via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Go ahead, have a drink. You’re going to need it.
Photo by David Kenny, via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

To prove it to you, Maggie Stiefvater dissects a first draft of a chapter from her novel, The Scorpio Races, and walks you through step-by-step of what she changed and why.

And then she gets ten other novelists to do the same. Including blog hero, Margo Lanagan, talking about her latest, The Brides of Rollrock Island.

There’s also “Writing Excuses: 5.29: Rewriting,” in which guest author and Writers of the Future judge Dave Wolverton (Farland) promises that even Hugo- and Nebula-award-winning authors write terrible first drafts. This is a really good episode, with specific advice, and I highly recommend checking it out. After all, it’s only fifteen minutes long.

This is how novel-writing works:
You write a draft, you find the problems, and then you fix them.
And then you do it again.

* “Real” because this draft was preceded by a zero draft, written at breakneck (NaNo) speed last November.
** In some senses this is my third novel, but those other two have been put quietly away and we’re not going to talk about them.
***Don’t tell me that modern skyscrapers don’t include cement blocks or that’s the wrong kind. It’s an analogy, okay?


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“Everything You Have Seen” – Dance Performance

I was lucky enough to have my winning story, “Everything You Have Seen,” interpreted by two marvelous dancers at the Writers of the Future Awards Ceremony in April. I like this performance more every time I see it, and if you haven’t already, you should definitely check it out. [And if you’re curious about what I look like in make-up and sequins, pretending to be glamorous, my acceptance speech follows the performance.]


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Why Yes, I Will Sign Your Book

photo1This past Saturday, I had my first-ever solo book signing, at the Barnes & Noble in Bloomington, IN. I admit, I was a bit nervous beforehand, but everything went well. I even sold out of books! One of my friends (who shall remain nameless) asked for a message customized to his personality. Which led me to Bill Ryan’s blog, Insulted by Authors. I’m too squeamish to insult as well as either of the Sedaris siblings (see blog), but with a little help from this, I think I did alright.


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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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Writers of the Future 2013, Day 5

At the book factory

At the book factory

Friday, April 12

Up early today for a trip to the book factory. We pile into a couple of vans for the trip out of LA towards Magic Mountain. I cling to my caffeinated beverage and look out the windows trying to get a feel for the terrain. Until now, I haven’t seen anything of CA except the same few blocks of Hollywood Boulevard.

Mystery machines

Mystery machines

After a brief introduction we’re taken on a tour of the plant (Bang Printing). There is a ridiculous amount of picture-taking as we wander through the factory looking at all of the cool big machines. And then we see it–OUR book. The covers of L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers and Illustrators of the Future Volume 29, coming off the press. And there are SO MANY of them.

Illustrator winners check out the book

Illustrator winners check out the book

That’s one of the best things about winning the contest. Not only do I get a prize, and this trip, and a fantastic cohort of fellow winners, people—LOTS of people–who I’m never going to meet or hear from are going to read my story. Some of them are going to like it, and some of them are going to say “eh” and move on to the next one. But with so many copies of the book in existence, my story is really truly going to be read. That’s a writer’s dream come true.

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In the afternoon, Rebecca Moesta & Kevin J. Anderson are back for an encore, this time with professional advice about agents, editors and the big bad publishing world. Mike Resnick tells a few industry horror stories, one involving a New York cocktail party and some nose-punching. Liza Trombi, editor-in-chief of Locus passes out copies of the magazine.

Dinner with Nina Kiriki Hoffman and 50% of Andrea Stewart

Dinner with Nina Kiriki Hoffman and 50% of Andrea Stewart

Class ends early as we adjourn to a nearby restaurant for a big celebration with the Illustrator winners, Author Services staff, arriving judges, and returning winners. I share a table with Nina Kiriki Hoffman, my roommate Andrea Stewart, writer-winner Marilyn Guttridge (the contest’s youngest-ever winner), and Marilyn’s mom (AKA Tammy). I eat lots of sushi and Nina shows me the very cool journal she’s started keeping, filled with cards and programs and stickers and the colorful flotsam of what looks like a very interesting life. I then eat some more sushi and there is also a possibility that I consume a number of raw oysters and a dainty portion of tiramisu.

Tomorrow: Stage rehearsal for the awards ceremony

Catch up with what happened on: Day 1Day 2Day 3, Day 4


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Writers of the Future 2013, Day 4

Illustration for my story, "Everything You Have Seen," by the talented Karsen Slater

Illustration for my story, “Everything You Have Seen,” by the talented Karsen Slater

Thursday, April 11

This is the first sentence of my 24-hour story: The memory we were looking for had once belonged to a 13th-century nun, Maria Teresa de Geres.

After collecting coffee from downstairs, I spend the bulk of the day in the hotel room writing. Unlike with a one-week Clarion West story, I figure I have zero chance of pulling off anything coherent in the given time, and therefore I may as well entertain myself. Which is perhaps why I lose control of the narrative by the end of the first paragraph and end up with some sort of Victorian adventure pastiche amid caverns beneath the earth. And did I mention the poisonous unicorns?

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I continue the hopeless cause until 3:30, tack on a hasty end, and head for Author Services just in time to turn in my…..collection of numerically-sequenced pages. Suddenly, I feel much brighter. From here on, there will only be fun times. Starting right now, because we Writers are going downstairs to get our first look at the pictures the Illustrator winners have done for our stories.

The illustrations are displayed on easels in a semi-circle, and we fan out like kids at an Easter egg hunt, trying to find “our” picture. I see one that might be mine, but I’m not sure. I circle the rest and come back. Yes, those stark trees are clearly the winter landscape of my story. I tell the illustrator, Karsen Slater, that I’m so impressed that she even included the sailboat pattern on the boy’s pajamas and we have a little geek out when she tells me that she looked up 1950s pajama fabrics to get the right idea—because I did the same thing, when I was writing the story.

Writers & Illustrator united!

Writers & Illustrator united!

After dinner, it’s a long night back at ASI with lots to take in: informal talks and advice from recent winners Laurie Tom, Eric James Stone, Brad Torgersen, & Jordan Ellinger. Judges Rebecca Moesta, Kevin J.Anderson & Nina Kiriki Hoffman also weigh in. Three of the 24-hour stories are distributed to the workshop and we are sent off to read & critique for the next day. I end up staying up past midnight, chatting in the hotel lobby. But I must go to bed: tomorrow it’s up early and off to the book plant.

Tomorrow–field trip to the book plant!

Catch up with what happened on: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3


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Writers of the Future 2013, Day 3

24-hour story writers arrive at the Frances Howard Goldwyn branch of the Los Angeles Public Library

24-hour story writers arrive at the Frances Howard Goldwyn branch of the Los Angeles Public Library

Wednesday, April 10
Library Day!

As a former librarian, I’m always interested to see what a public library looks like in somebody else’s neck of the woods. We’re supposed to be researching for our 24-hour story (that will begin this afternoon!). I have this idea that I want to pick a specific-yet-random date in history and pluck an event from that day to use as the catalyst for my story. I sit down at one of the computer terminals and call up historical newspaper databases. I make a few notes about “New Smoked Halibut” and “All Prisoners in the Cook County Jail Burned to Death,” but I can’t concentrate–the deadline clock is already ticking too loudly.

In their morning talk, Tim Powers and David Farland suggested that mythology can make a good framework for a story. I head to the stacks and walk along the 200s, snagging a copy of Edith Hamilton’s Mythology. I grab anything else that catches my eye, hoping that contrast and serendipity will be my friends.

Too many ideas

Too many ideas

I want to jumble things up, but maybe I jumble them too much. I take notes on El Cid, the Spanish Inquisition, the prophylactic virtues of unicorn horn, traumatic insemination in bedbugs, and the first lines from short story collections of several vintages. I am hoping that if I can’t get started, I can use the ‘translation’ method I learned from Bruce Holland Rogers last year.

After lunch it’s time for the third and most-dreaded component of the 24-hour story: Interview a Stranger. I don’t doubt that there are any number of characters along Hollywood Boulevard with whom I could strike up a conversation. But the most important qualification for me is finding an interviewee that will let me end the conversation. And who won’t want to resume when I pass by the next day. I shuffle around, clutching my notebook to my chest, trying to appear bright and open. All of the sane people are–well, sane–and aren’t particularly interested in striking up a conversation with a stranger. I covertly observe a normal-looking young man working at a sunglasses kiosk. He doesn’t have a lot of business, and he looks bored, which means he might be willing to talk. I take the plunge.

Interviewing a stranger

Interviewing a stranger

He tells me how long he has been in the U.S., how beautiful Istanbul is, and that his brother is a policeman. We chat for 20 minutes or so, then his boss arrives, and I say how nice it was talking to him and melt away into the crowd. Success! I scurry down the block to Author Services to meet up with the rest of the class. Marina Lostetter also interviewed a young man from Istanbul working at a sunglasses kiosk. But it’s not the same guy. We are given a final pep talk and released at 4pm and instructed to return at 4pm the next day, with a completed story.

Now it’s time to write.

Catch up with what happened on Day 1 & Day 2. Or read on to Day 4.


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Writers of the Future 2013, Day 2

Tuesday, April 9

In what will be a dismaying trend, wake at 5:30 am. Use my phone to light my way around my suitcase, creep into my clothes, and sneak out without waking roommate. Investigate hotel’s ‘fitness center.’ Choose elliptical as least disconcerting option and settle into 45-minutes of feeling awkward and like I don’t know what I’m doing. Back to the room for a shower, hello to roomie who is awake, banana consumed and coffee obtained at the lobby bar, and now–are everyone’s pencils sharpened? It’s time for the first day of class!

Author Services library

Author Services library

Begin with a tour of the contest library, with photos from earlier contests and works by previous winners. The photo of a jubilant Sergey Poyarkov winning the Illustrators of the Future Gold Award in 1991 excites great comment and contest administrator Joni Labaqui relates an emotional Cold War story. Returning winner Jordan Ellinger AKA Jordan Lapp (Vol. 25) ceremonially places a copy of his novel, Fireborn: Ritual of Fire, on the shelves.

Tim Powers leads the herd down the block to Shelly’s Cafe for lunch. After a quick panic (greasy spoon + vegetarian = hungry vegetarian), I realize I can just eat breakfast. Order an egg and cheese muffin with a slice of tomato, and it goes down nicely.

In the afternoon, Powers and Dave Farland take the floor and talk about:
–Setting and the importance of transporting your reader to a different time and place.
–Things the author needs to know about the character even if the reader doesn’t. (e.g., When was her last meal and what was it?)
–The writer’s own embarrassment when writing emotional scenes, and how to deal with it.

My 24-hour story object. Photo by Toshiyuki AIMI CC-BY-SA

My 24-hour story object.
Photo by Toshiyuki AIMI CC-BY-SA

Objects for the famous 24-hour story are passed out. I receive a 3.5″ floppy disk. I’m thinking memory, obsolescence, 1990s…All of a sudden I’m in a K street apartment in Washington D.C. and somebody in the next room is playing Stereolab on repeat.

I struggle pack to the present. Class is dismissed and dinner is found…somewhere (maybe this was shared-pizza night at the snooty Italian restaurant?), followed by a tourist visit to the Willy Wonka candy store in the hotel mall. The illustrator winners have arrived, and a brave few join us for late night chat in the hotel bar.

Urinals in the 'gross' room at the Willy Wonka store. They dispense flavored candy powder.

Urinals in the ‘gross’ room at the Willy Wonka store. They dispense flavored candy powder.

You can go back and read about Day 1 here. Or move on to Day 3 and Day 4.


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Writers of the Future 2013, Day 1

WotF_All

A while back, I entered the Writers of the Future contest. And then I won. Here’s what happened.

Monday, April 8

Wake up at 4:45 am. I have an early flight from the Indianapolis airport, and I don’t live in Indianapolis. At 5:30 a.m., I catch the earliest shuttle to the airport. I listen to podcasts on the dark bus and watch the sun come up through the rainy windows. Some contest winners have exchanged stories ahead of time, and I vow that I will read them during the journey. Instead, I get coffee and take advantage of the free wireless at the airport to update Facebook. Then I read my Walter Mosley novel. Because that’s easier.

First stop, Las Vegas. My connecting flight is boarding before my first flight lands. I collect my backpack from the overhead bins and book it to the next terminal. They let me on and I settle down with both my good intentions and my detective novel. I enjoy the ginger biscuits Delta hands out, and as we land chat with the business guy in the next seat, a medical technologist from Minnesota on his way to Orange County. He points out the Hollywood sign.

In LA, I collect my bags from the carousel and am picked up by a contest driver. We loop around and around the LA airport making small talk as we wait for the next winners to arrive. They shared a flight and have already bonded. I listen to them talk and feel the tiredness creeping in as I watch the landscape change from billboards and bodegas to terra-cotta tiles and tidy gardens.

Grauman's Chinese Theater, down the block from the hotel

Grauman’s Chinese Theater, down the block from the hotel

Arrive at hotel, deep in Hollywood. Meet Joni, the contest administrator and have the good fortune to be assigned Andrea Stewart as my roommate. We three early arrivals get lunch at the Mexican restaurant upstairs from the hotel and quietly absorb the cost of casual dining in LA. Locate nearby grocery store and lay in supply of bananas, apples, and Kind bars for breakfasts. More winners trickle in and Thai food is consumed for dinner. Official business kicks off at 7 pm, with group photos and an informal introduction with author and workshop leader Tim Powers.

Powers addresses the grasshoppers.

Powers addresses the grasshoppers.

Continue reading about Day 2…and Day 3…and Day 4