Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Read "Project Earth is Leaving Beta" in Flash Fiction Online

Project Earth is Leaving Beta is reprinted today in Flash Fiction Online. This humorous flash piece is written in the style of a Kickstarter update sent to backers of "Project Earth," the elaborate MMO game that is our lives. You can read it alongside awesome stories from Alexis A. Hunter, Samantha Murray, and my roommate from Writers of the Future (and Golden Pen winner), Matt Dovey.

When Nature first published this story back in May, it received a bit of attention, which I'm not used to! Cory Doctorow shared it on Boing Boing, saying, "JW Alden's arch, funny short-short science fiction story in Nature, is a delightful little piece of design fiction..." and Bruce Sterling called it "pretty good" and "pretty funny" in his column on Wired. I'll take it!

This is my first publication in Flash Fiction Online. I'm very happy to see Project Earth is Leaving Beta out in the wild again at one of my favorite markets.

#SFWApro

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.

EDITED TO ADD:

So . . . it's now been three months since I've returned home from the workshop, and I've finally come down from the reverie. And I realize now that this blog entry is likely to be found by writers googling Writers of the Future for insight into what the experience is like and whether or not it's worth it entering the contest. I know that because that's exactly what I did before entering. So if you're one of those people and you have specific questions about the contest or workshop that you're not sure were answered herein, please feel free to contact me and I'd be glad to answer them. I'm also willing to get into more detail about the negative side of the experience, which I'm now realizing I kind of glossed over in this entry (largely because I really do feel the positives far outweight the negatives).
#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