Monday, April 9, 2018

Money Flows Toward the Creator

For the past few months, my fiancee Autumn and I have been posting sporadically to a shared blog called Pictures and Prose. Most of our posts have been light and casual, but when we first had the idea, we wanted to spotlight some of the conversations she and I have about our creative pursuits and the industries that wrangle them. Writers and illustrators have a lot of shared goals and professional overlap, so we thought this might be interesting to some folks.

This morning, we posted our first entry like this. It's a little long, but we hope it's an interesting read. It's about something many of my writer friends will be familiar with: Yog's Law, the idea that money should flow toward the writer (or creator), never away. In other words, unless you're self-publishing, you shouldn't be paying upfront for most publishing services. If someone asks you to violate this rule, it's probably a big red flag.

As a writer, I enjoyed hearing Autumn's take on this as an illustrator/artist. Unfortunately, it sounds like the art world is full of just as many predatory actors as the publishing world, if not more. And a lot of young artists find their coinpurses turned over by people claiming to help.

Here's an excerpt from the entry:

James: There’s an axiom science fiction and fantasy writers refer to called “Yog’s Law.” The name comes from an old internet handle used by author James D McDonald, who came up with it. Yog’s Law states that money flows toward the writer. Never away. In other words, the writer should never pay upfront for services necessary to the publishing process (at least not in the traditional publishing model–indie publishing is another story, since you’re playing the role of publisher, as well). When a writer gets an agent, for instance, they don’t pay the agent for their services. The agent takes a cut from the sale of the writer’s work to a publishing house (usually 15%) after the ink is dry and the check for the advance has been cut. 
The reason Yog’s Law is passed around is because it’s a helpful rule for new writers to remember to avoid being taken advantage of. If I know money flows toward the writer, then I’m going to hear alarm bells in my head if anyone comes to me with their hand out. Because if it breaks Yog’s Law, it’s probably a scam. It’s probably a predatory business trying to take advantage of someone new to the industry–someone they hope doesn’t know any better. 
But I don’t see why the law should cover just writers. Why shouldn’t artists of all stripes demand this kind of treatment? Why not say money flows toward the creator? We’re the “starving artists,” after all. We don’t have the money! We need to be paid for our work before we can turn around and dole it out. And we should be. Our work has value. 
But Autumn, I know you’ve told me before that in your experience, the art/illustration world is a bit different. There’s a different culture, where it seems more acceptable, if not normal, for people to take your money. 
Autumn: I think the art world can be very predatorial in that regard. There are a lot of people who convince young artists to throw money their way. I think part of the reason they get away with it is because the mindset of shelling out money starts before even setting foot into art college.  Art supplies aren’t cheap, but you can’t start without them.  Before you start applying to art school, you need a portfolio; the more mediums you display, the better your chances of being accepted–which means buying more supplies for each medium.  Many students also pay for pre-college classes to help them better their portfolios. Once you are accepted to a college, you need to borrow money and go into debt (unless you come from a wealthy background). 
When you’re fresh out of college, no one knows who you are. No one knows if you’re good or not, if you’re responsible, if you’re worth their investment. Then if you have trouble getting an honest agent who will find work for you, it can lead to a sense of desperation. That’s when a lot of predators will step in with their hands out, promising you the world. Some of those people even call themselves agents, whether it’s accurate or not. 

To read the rest, head over to Pictures and Prose!


Thursday, March 15, 2018

Read "Braving the Morrow Candle's Wane" in Beneath Ceaseless Skies

The latest issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies, a magazine of literary adventure fantasy, just released. Inside, you can find a story of mine called Braving the Morrow Candle's Wane.

Braving the Morrow Candle's Wane is a story about faith, war, and growth. When the initial idea came into my mind (prompted by a weekend contest on Codex), I'd recently read a comment somewhere on the internet complaining about short stories that are "mostly just two people in a room talking." The commenter claimed such stories are "always boring" and "all the same." Having written a couple flash pieces that focus on the dynamic between two people, I took a bit of umbrage--which ended up manifesting in this story. With Braving the Morrow Candle's Wane, I wanted not only to show that "two people in a room talking" can be compelling, but that you can do lots with that premise. If you check the story out, you might see what I mean. [Light spoilers incoming.] I attempted to build tension, nest multiple narratives, and layer mixed themes, all within the "limitation" of a story largely driven by a single dialogue exchange between two characters. You can judge for yourself if I pulled it off or not. I'm happy with the result. And I'm happy to see it out in the wild!

This is my first appearance in Beneath Ceaseless Skies. As a reader, it's one of my favorite magazines, so I'm very pleased to have my work featured there. Scott H. Andrews, the BCS editor (and cool dude), approached me at MidAmeriCon II and asked me to send him a story sometime. It took me a while to write something I thought would fit there, but it was worth the wait. You can read my story alongside a delicious piece by Siobhan Carroll. You can also listen to it on the BCS podcast if audio is more your thing.

And, of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t share one other awesome thing about this story. When you’re in a relationship with an artist/illustrator, there are certain perks involved. For instance, this:

Autumn interpreted the themes of Braving the Morrow Candle's Wane and painted this awesome piece, called Awakening. I love it. You can grab a print of it here, if you love it too.


Saturday, February 10, 2018

Look at These Awesome Flash Drives With My Name on Them

I got a nice surprise in the mail earlier this week: a box full of flash drives with my logo on them! A company called USBMemoryDirect reached out to me and offered to send these custom drives in exchange for a shout out on my blog if I liked them. And I do! I think they look great:

I haven't decided yet what I'll use the drives for (other than stroke them vainly, of course). I may load them up with ebooks and stories, then take them with me to conventions, do a giveaway here on the site, or even leave them in random places around the streets of Philadelphia.

If you like them as much as I do, you can grab some yourself on USBMemoryDirect's website. They have a ton of different flash drive designs in addition to the nifty book-shaped ones they sent me.

That awesome logo, by the way, was designed by my partner (and illustrator-extraordinaire), Autumn Evelyn. She also designed the new header on my site, which incorporates the logo. Feel free to reach out to her if you'd like a logo, illustration, or book cover of your own. Then you too can have little USB books with your name on them!

Thursday, January 11, 2018

"The Sun Falls Apart" is now available on Amazon

The Sun Falls Apart, the story of mine that won Writers of the Future in 2016, is now available on the Amazon Kindle Store.

The Sun Falls Apart is about a teenage boy named Caleb who has never seen the sun. Boarded windows and a fortified door have kept the outside world a mystery his entire life. The only way out is passing the strange tests his parents conduct on him–tests that require Caleb to grasp at a power he doesn’t understand.

"This was, in my estimation, sentence by sentence the best written story we had this absolutely first class piece of fiction." 

- Robert J. Sawyer, on The Sun Falls Apart

This is my first foray into self-publishing. I know the standard advice is that short stories don't sell well on Amazon (especially singles), but this is mostly an experiment for me. I wanted to familiarize myself with the publishing process on Amazon, and I figured the best way to learn would be to dive right in and publish something. I'm moving from short fiction to longer works now, and there may come a day when I want to self (or hybrid) publish a novel.

And hey, it's less than a buck! Maybe some folks will actually buy it. You never know.

That awesome cover, by the way, was created/designed by Illustrators of the Future winner Autumn Evelyn. She adapted the original illustration she made for this story in the Writers of the Future anthology, and I think it works wonderfully as a cover. I also have some exciting news to share that involves Autumn, but I'll save that for another day.

In the mean time, if you'd like to pick up a copy of The Sun Falls Apart for your kindle, click here.


Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Listen to "The Tentacles Never Lie" on Cast of Wonders

The newest episode of Cast of Wonders, a Young Adult fiction podcast featuring tales of the fantastic, dropped today. It features a story of mine called The Tentacles Never Lie.

The Tentacles Never Lie is about a saleswoman working for a mega-conglomerate called GalactiCorp, which profits from selling failed and faulty retail products to an alien race with no concept of dishonesty. Tune in to hear my attempt at making a tale of greed, lies, and corporate ethics lighthearted and fun.

The story is brought to life by Megan Leigh, who did an excellent job narrating--especially considering I didn't make it easy for her with words like Dthlrap, baryonic synchrotron, and sucrasulfasacchlitol.


Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Read "Möbius" in The Future is Nigh

The Future is Nigh, a free anthology of short works from ten Writers of the Future winners, releases today. Inside, you can find Möbius, a flash piece of mine that originally appeared in the pages of Nature in 2014.

Also featured within are stories by these awesome authors:

Martin L. Shoemaker
Liz Colter
Matthew S. Rotundo
C. Stuart Hardwick
Laurie Tom
Marina J. Lostetter
Brian Trent
William Ledbetter
Matt Dovey

Did I mention it's FREE? Just follow this link and click "get it now" to download an epub, mobi, or PDF.


Friday, February 3, 2017

Check Out the Flash Fiction Online 2016 Anthology

Volume 1 of the Flash Fiction Online 2016 Anthology released this week, which includes my story Project Earth is Leaving Beta. This volume of the anthology collects science fiction stories published by FFO in 2016.

Project Earth is Leaving Beta first saw publication in Nature, where it received some positive remarks from Wired and BoingBoing. It was later reprinted in Flash Fiction Online, hence it's inclusion here.

Here's a list of the other awesome authors featured in the anthology:

John Wiswell
Benjamin C. Kinney
Joy Kennedy O’Neill
Rachael K. Jones
Lora Gray
Caroline M. Yoachim
Michelle Ann King
Derrick Boden
Gary Emmette Chandler
Stewart C Baker
Matt Dovey
Shannon Peavey
Raven Jakubowski
Alexis A. Hunter
Kat Otis

Pick it up and give it a read!

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Listen to "The Sun Falls Apart" on StarShipSofa

You can hear an audio adaptation of my story The Sun Falls Apart on the Hugo-winning podcast StarShipSofa this week.

The Sun Falls Apart is about a teenage boy named Caleb who has never seen the sun. Boarded windows and a fortified door have kept the outside world a mystery his entire life. The only way out is passing the strange tests his parents conduct on him–tests that require Caleb to grasp at a power he doesn’t understand. This story won 1st Place in Writers of the Future last year, and was originally published in Writers of the Future Volume 32. Now StarShipSofa brings it to life with the help of narrator Spencer DiSparti.

This is my first publication with StarShipSofa, but it's the third time I've had the pleasure of hearing an audio adaptation of my work, and I always get a kick out of it. It's particularly interesting to hear how the narrator interprets your characters versus how you hear them in your head. It can be a learning experience!


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.


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!


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, 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 for a handy list of purchase links, as well as previews of the other winning stories and illustrations.