Tuesday, May 24, 2016

WotF Recap, Part 3: The Workshop

In part one of this series, I shared some info about my contribution to Writers of the Future Vol. 32, "The Sun Falls Apart." In part two, I introduced you to the talented illustrator who brought the story to life. Now, I'll attempt to provide a glimpse into the week I spent in Hollywood at the Writers of the Future workshop.

This will be difficult. I've been home for a month now, and my thoughts are still in a jumble. It was an intense, mind-melting experience . . . but also very rewarding. It reminded me of my time at Odyssey Writing Workshop in 2013--as though I'd left normal spacetime and entered a strange bubble dimension. Those eight days felt more like eight weeks, yet they also seemed to fly by in a wonderful blur.

The back of my head is quite photogenic.
The workshop was fun, informative, and at times, utterly exhausting. They had us on a tight schedule from morning 'til night. We'd wake up bright and early, stroll down Hollywood Boulevard from the hotel to the Author Services building, and line up in front of David Farland and Tim Powers, who would commence the knowledge barrage.

Each day was packed to the brim with useful information, with the occasional break to accommodate our growling stomachs and (as Dave Farland put it) our weak human bladders. We learned a little about every level of the craft, from plot to setting to characterization. We even got a crash course in the business and promotion aspects of the industry.

And just as our brains were nice and mushy, along came the infamous 24-hour story challenge. It began with Tim Powers passing out a selection of random tokens. This included items like an empty pack of cigarettes, an oddly-shaped piece of metal, and a plain rock. I got a seven-year Alcoholics Anonymous coin. After that, we all walked to a local library for some spontaneous research. Next, we were sent out into the streets of Hollywood with a nerve-wracking challenge: talk to a stranger. We had to approach someone we'd never met and strike up a conversation. I'm a shy introvert, so this was not easy for me. Nonetheless, I managed to chat up not one, but two different people. And neither of them grimaced and ran away!

The Return of the Back of My Head
With these exercises under our belts, Dave and Tim gave us 24 hours to write a brand new short story. Preferably one with "THE END" written somewhere toward the bottom. They tasked us with incorporating our token somehow, even if it was just the leaping off point of the initial idea. We also had to use the information we gathered from the library and our stranger encounters.

I'd been dreading this, because I've always been a slow writer. I had to completely abandon my usual process and just plow ahead through my outline. Every time I'd start to slow down and polish things up, I'd look at the clock and force myself onward. Somehow, I managed to cobble together a tale about a woman forced to give up magic for the sake of her sanity. It was a very rough draft, rougher than I'm used to, but it had a beginning, middle, and end. I plan to revise it and send it out into the world.

Oh, did you'd think it'd be a pic of the front of my head?
Towards the end of the week, they rolled out the big guns. We got to hear from an unbelievable lineup of rotating guest speakers: people like Robert J. Sawyer, Orson Scott Card, Kevin J. Anderson, Sean Williams, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Rebecca Moesta, Doug Beason, Nancy Kress, Todd McCaffrey, Mike Resnick, Eric Flint, Larry Niven, James C. Glass, Eric James Stone, and many more.

I still can't help but smile in disbelief at that list of names. I grew up reading some of these authors. To get the opportunity to not just meet them, but learn from them, and hang out with them . . . wow.

And that word is probably the best way to sum up my entire week at the Writers of the Future workshop. Was it all sunshine and roses? Not really. There were times when I was tired and socially overloaded, and the last thing I wanted was someone following me around snapping pictures. There wasn't much time to recharge my introversion batteries each day. But honestly, the ginormous positives outweigh those puny negatives by a metric buttload. It was an experience I'll remember for the rest of my life.

#SFWApro

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Read "Project Earth is Leaving Beta" in Nature

This week's issue of Nature is out today, and you'll find a story of mine called Project Earth is Leaving Beta waiting for you on the Futures page. You can also read it for free on the Nature website, along with all the other Futures stories published each week. I'm delighted to see my work featured in the pages of Nature once again. I'm just as tickled as the first time around (Möbius), that one of my silly little stories somehow managed to find a home in a respected science journal.

And silly is perhaps an accurate descriptor for Project Earth is Leaving Beta. It's a humorous piece written in the style of a Kickstarter update sent to backers of "Project Earth," the elaborate MMO game that is our lives. It was a fun little premise to play with, and some of the tidbits within have borne out in reality since I wrote it, which makes me feel like one of those genuine sci-fi prophets. Okay, so it's not exactly Arthur C. Clarke predicting the geostationary satellite, but hey, I'll take whatever I can get!

#SFWApro

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

WotF Recap, Part 2: The Art (with Autumn Evelyn)

In my last entry, I talked about "The Sun Falls Apart," the story of mine that won 1st Place in Writers of the Future. But the winning stories are just one side of the coin. The other is the Illustrators of the Future contest, which highlights up and coming artists the same way the writing contest finds promising new authors. Each illustrator winner is then assigned one of the winning stories and tasked with creating an illustration for inclusion in the annual anthology.

Sun Shines Through by Autumn Evelyn
Seeing my illustration (shown right) for the first time was one of my favorite moments at the workshop. I've had stories illustrated before, and it's always very cool--but it's nothing like being led into a room framed with a halo of beautiful images, anxiously bouncing your eyes from one easel to the next in search of the one you inspired. Then you turn around and the person who created this wonderful interpretation is standing right there. And you get to hang out with them and pick their brain! It's always awesome to speak to a reader who really gets your story, but it's something else entirely when they're able to take that understanding and make art of their own.

My illustrator, Autumn Evelyn (credited in the anthology as Christina Alberici), played off the themes and symbolism in my story and created an illustration that took my breath away. It's hanging on the wall next to my desk now, and the charge I get when I look at it still hasn't gone away, weeks removed from that big unveil.

Autumn is an illustrator and BFA graduate of the University of the Arts, where she studied illustration and animation. Her style features a combination of surreal and fantastical characters, each painted in deeply imaginative settings. Her work is created completely in digital form, and portfolio includes book covers, editorial articles, as well as Sci-fi/fantasy artwork.

I invited her to stop by my little corner of the interweb for a chat about her work, the contest, and where she's headed next. She was gracious enough to oblige.


***


J.W. Alden: Thanks for stopping by, Autumn! I'm a little biased, but I think your illustration for "The Sun Falls Apart" is stunning. How did you arrive at that image?

Autumn Evelyn: First of all thank you. That really means a lot to me that you think that.

After I read your story, I started writing out what exactly happens in the theme and some key points. I started writing more and more in order to narrow it down and illustrate what it is that I want it to say. The more I write the easier it is to illustrate, as it unclouds my message. Once I am able to summarize what I want to say in a sentence or two, that's when I really feel like I have something worthwhile. Here is where I want to spend the time making sure that it is worth the amount of time and effort it takes to make a painting. I feel like I do more writing than sketching sometimes, but the pictures come together more easily once I have a clear thought or feeling, so I waste less time in the sketching process.

JW: Is this your typical process, or does it vary? How does your work usually get from your head to the canvas?

Visiting by Autumn EvelynAE: Honestly, it depends on the piece. Every piece of work that I've ever made required something different. I'd like to think that I have a process down by now, but life always tends to throw little curve balls here and there. I think that I start by playing with words, which then develop into images, which then I am able to develop into a more complete visual language. So what I have is a basic outline of a process that I'm able to adapt into whatever I need it to be. Whenever I make a new piece, it's not so much that I am building on something existing, but rather starting over and building something from nothing. That is one of the challenges of painting, but it is also what makes it wonderful and fulfilling.

JW: Have you been pursuing that wonder and fulfillment your entire life? Where did this all begin for you? 

AE: I have been drawing and painting since as long as I can remember. I think I always had an artistic sense. When I was little, I would draw so much that I would burn through piles and piles of paper. I never had a sketchbook until I was older, but my parents had to purchase printer paper in bulk because it would all mysteriously disappear. I was eventually given a toy board similar to an etch a sketch but with a pen to draw on due to the constant paper shortage. When you dragged the clapper back and forth it would clear the screen. I would like to think that was my first tool other than pen and paper in making art. I would use it constantly and go off in my own world creating scenarios and characters. I was the type of child who could make a toy from a found piece of string and create an entire make believe existence from it. I could play with anything quietly for hours. It was all up in my head.

Cages by Autumn EvelynJW: The word "surreal" seems an accurate descriptor for much of your work. Do you feel drawn to Surrealism?

AE: I find that my artwork tends to look similar to Surrealism, but people have also considered it to be Sci-Fi or Fantasy art. I think that what I try to make is something that the camera could never capture. All of those genres share the same ability.

I enjoy being able to take anything and turn it into art. I want my work to have that kind of flexibility, where I'm not bound to any specific genre or subject but still able to make it into my own. I feel that finding a very specific genre or niche is something that happens gradually over time. I think that young illustrators such as myself are jumping too fast into a niche, although I understand that in this current market, it is unfortunately necessary. As long as I have the ability to explore and play as an artist, I will continue my process in finding myself and attempt to make work that is excellent. I honestly hope that I never figure it out.

JW: Are there any other mediums you've worked with or you'd like to branch into?

Strange Victory by Autumn EvelynI am currently brainstorming a way to get my artwork to move. I have some skills in animation and film. I want to be able to animate my work to music and still have it be my own. I'm thinking of illustrating an interpretation of contemporary dance, but without showing literally figures dancing. This is the next project that I think would help my work to grow.

JW: What else is next for you? What does the future hold?

AE: I am looking into becoming an art teacher for adults, but informally. I'm looking around local farms to do some classes and workshops, and to start teaching out of the home, as well as continuing to make work. I think that teaching would help solidify my point of view, and having the ability to help guide others towards their creative goals would be a wonderful opportunity. I'm surprised that I didn't think of this sooner, but I believe that I had to experience a lot in order to get to where I'm at now.

JW: What do you hope people take away from your work?

AE: I hope that I continue to attempt to make great work. I hope that it influences people to embrace the new, because with that comes life.


***

My thanks again to Autumn for stopping by! If you'd like to see more of her (awesome) work, you can find her at ArtOfAutumnEvelyn.com, follow her on Tumblr, or add her on Facebook.

If you'd like to pick up a copy of Writers of the Future Volume 32, featuring Autumn's illustration of "The Sun Falls Apart," head to WotF32.com for a handy list of purchase links, as well as previews of the other winning stories and illustrations.

#SFWApro