Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Secret History of a Novel (A Guest Post by Lawrence M. Schoen)

Today's post comes from Lawrence M. Schoen, whose novel Barsk: The Elephants' Graveyard drops today from Tor Books. Go grab it!

Lawrence holds a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology, has been nominated for the Campbell, Hugo, and Nebula awards, is a world authority on the Klingon language, operates the small press Paper Golem, and is a practicing hypnotherapist specializing in authors’ issues.

His previous science fiction includes many light and humorous adventures of a space-faring stage hypnotist and his alien animal companion. His most recent book, Barsk, takes a very different tone, exploring issues of prophecy, intolerance, friendship, conspiracy, and loyalty, and redefines the continua between life and death. He lives near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with his wife and their dog.

To read more from him, you can visit his website, friend him on facebook, and follow him on twitter. Thanks for stopping by, Lawrence!

Secret History of a Novel

by Lawrence M. Schoen

Most of you will make the not all that unwarranted assumption that I wrote Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard fairly recently. That I turned in a manuscript and waited for editorial notes and crafted my revisions and then waited for it to wend its way through the publishing calendar. Or, at worst, that I’d had the book finished for some few years and had been actively trying to sell it during that time until finally time and place and editor all lined up. In fact, in some ways, bits of both of these are true, and I’ll tell you which bits, but more importantly the really odd piece is that in a major way they’re all wrong. This book is old. Possibly older than you, dear reader.

It’s not simply that I started writing Barsk roughly twenty-five years ago. A lot of us start books, set them aside for a while, come back to them. But no. I began writing this book in 1988 during my second year as a college professor (I was 28 at the time, the ink still wet on my doctorate). The first two chapters were published in a fan magazine in 1990, and I went on to write the entire novel, all fifty chapters of it! I was very proud of the book, as it was the first novel I had written from beginning to end, and quite naturally I started trying to publish it. I dropped it through the transom of as many publishers as I knew would let met. I acquired first one and then another agent who also showed it around. No one so much as nibbled.

And a good thing too. Because as I kept writing, producing other stories and novels, learning my craft and improving my skills, one thing became very clear: I’d written a horrible book!

It wasn’t that the story was bad, just that I didn’t have the tools or the ability to tell it well. Quite simply, I wasn’t good enough yet. Eventually this fact bypassed my ego and percolated through to my awareness and I put the damn manuscript in a drawer. I went back to writing, to learning, to improving. I joined a regular writing group. I attended James Gunn’s two week workshop at the University of Kansas. I climbed the mountain and took part in Walter Jon Williams’s master class in Taos, New Mexico. And I practiced, practiced, practiced.

You know the adage that goes ‘when the student is ready, the master will appear’? Apparently it applies to authors and editors too. In 2011, at the Worldcon in Reno, Nevada, an editor friend took me to dinner, explaining that he’d recently taken a job at Tor and would soon be in a position to acquire new works. “Pitch me,” he said, and so I told him about four different books that I had in various stages of development. One of them was Barsk, which arguably was in a stage of development, if you want to call ‘being trunked’ a stage. In any case, he picked that story and that caused me to pull the book out of its trunk and look at it with fresh eyes after more than a decade, so I could write and sell him a proposal.

Oh, the pain. It was soooooo bad. But, the story still worked. If anything, I saw subtleties in the broad strokes that I must have intended at some unconscious level because they were clearly there though I didn’t remember them and had never developed them in that original book.

I ripped that book apart. I tore all the words out and broke the storyline to bits. I brought in a team of people to bounce ideas off of using the tools I’d since acquired. Characters changed names, some vanished entirely, others merged. Plots took on new dimension, subplots abounded, voices acquired nuance and perspective and scope.

The version of Barsk that comes out today is at one and the same time the novel I wrote twenty-five years ago and of course it’s nothing like that book at all. It’s the book that I wish I could have written back then. Best of all though, it’s the book that I’m glad I waited till now to write.


Friday, September 11, 2015

Writers of the Future Radio Interview, Podcast Reading

Prepare your earholes! I am attacking you with audio on two fronts this week.

Last week, the Writers of the Future publicity machine began churning, giving me a taste of things to come. Articles about my win ran in some local newspapers, which made for some fun scrapbook fodder. My wife and I had an adventure tracking down a copy of The Lake Worth Herald on a rainy Sunday this past weekend, which led to us stumbling upon the paper's offices and meeting the friendly editor.

I also had my first ever radio interview, with Larry Whitler & Robin MacBlane on WOCA in Ocala, FL. I had some nerves going in, but they made it easy for me. Other than a slight over-enunciation of a word or two on my part, I think it went great. I hope I can come back and chat with them again after the gala.

In other news, my story Child Soldier was featured on Beam Me Up! this past week. Beam Me Up! is broadcast on WRFR in Rockland, ME, but also exists in podcast form, so you can listen online. Child Soldier is a short story about a war veteran's encounter with a young boy affected by the conflict. It was originally published in Daily Science Fiction in 2013.


Thursday, September 3, 2015

Read "Möbius" in Blue Monday Review

Möbius, a flash piece about an obsessive time traveler that I wrote during my time at Odyssey Writing Workshop, is reprinted this month in Blue Monday Review.

I've written a lot of flash fiction over the past few years, but I think this one is my favorite, so I'm happy to see it find another home. It was originally published in Nature, back in November of last year. You can read the blog post I made back then if you'd like some insight into the frantic writing process that bore this story. You can also read the guest post I made on the Nature Futures blog about the story's inspiration.

Blue Monday Review is a quarterly literary magazine that publishes prose, poetry, and art that embodies the work of Kurt Vonnegut. You can pick up a copy in print or PDF format.


Friday, July 3, 2015

I Won 1st Place in Writers of the Future

Yesterday, the official 1st Quarter results for Writers of the Future were announced. If I'm in your twittersphere or book of faces, you may have heard the good news already: my name somehow crawled its way to the top of the list. I won 1st place!

In my last entry, I wrote about the mysterious call that bore the news of my finalist status, and how I almost didn't answer the phone. This time I was ready for it. When I saw "NO CALLER ID" on the display, I braced for impact--not for good news, but for bad. I prepared myself for disappointment. I haven't posted in the Insecure Writer's Support Group in a long time, but there's still an insecure devil on my shoulder. Whenever I'm expecting news on a submission, he jabs me in the cheek with his pitchfork. So as I answered the call, I thought: Well, here's the bad news. But hey, you still made finalist! When Joni said, "first place," I almost dropped the phone.

Next year, I'll be whisked away to L.A. for an intensive, five-day master-class workshop taught by some of the big pros of our field. Then I'll squeeze into a tux for the big awards gala, where I'll be up for the Golden Pen Award along with this year's other 1st place winners. Which means I have to stifle the insecure devil on my shoulder long enough to write two acceptance speeches, just in case. Yikes! 

This has all felt a little surreal so far. I've known about the win for almost a month now, and it still hasn't quite sunk in. I'm sure that will change as the year dwindles and we get closer to the big trip. In the meantime, I'd like to congratulate Rachael K. Jones and Sylvia Anna Hiven, who nabbed 2nd and 3rd place respectively. Congratulations also to the finalists and honorable mentions.

My winning story will be published in Volume 32 of the Writers of the Future anthology (which should come sometime next June) alongside the other winners. I wish I could talk more about the story itself, because it's one of my personal favorites, so I'm delighted to see it do so well. But the Golden Pen is blind judged, so story details must stay under wraps for now.

Now it's time to go crouch in a corner somewhere and rock slowly back and forth until next April. Thanks to everyone who wished me luck! Those crossed fingers paid off.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Writers of the Future, Guest Posting

Writers of the Future

A funny thing happened yesterday. I received a call on my cell phone marked "NO CALLER ID." Now, here's where I'll admit I'm not a huge fan of phone conversation. In most cases, I'll gladly take a text or a tweet instead. So usually when I get a call like this, I send that sucker straight to voicemail. This time, however, I picked up. And man, I'm glad I did.

"This is Joni from the Writers of the Future contest," the voice on the other end said. My breath caught a little. "I'm calling to tell you that you're a finalist."

Woohoo! The story I entered in this year's Quarter 1 contest has made it through coordinating judge David Farland's culling process. I've known for more than a month that my entry had made the "first pass," but that doesn't guarantee even so much as an honorable mention. So to say I was thrilled to find out I'm a finalist would be an understatement. Now my story and seven others will be sent off to a panel of quarterly judges, who will narrow the eight finalists down to three winners (first, second, and third place). The winners get a cash prize, a fancy awards gala, and the chance to attend an intensive, five-day master-class workshop. Cross your fingers for me.

Guest Post

While I've got your eyes, I'd like to direct them to Adam Gaylord's blog. Adam is a science fiction and fantasy writer like myself, and he recently invited me over for a guest post. If you'd like to read my take on market research for short fiction writers, it went live today. 

This is a topic I've done some chewing on, so when Adam sent me the invite, I figured this was a nice opportunity to talk about my (fairly involved) research process. In fact, when I actually sat down and wrote the post, I discovered I had even more to say than I anticipated. I wrote so many words on the subject that Adam decided to break the post into two. The first part is up now. The second part will be posted next week.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Read "Item Not As Described" in Kasma Magazine

In 2013, I sold Item Not As Described to UFO Publishing for the second entry in their Unidentified Funny Objects anthology series. This was my first short story sale at pro rates, and as such, it will always hold a special place in my heart. So I'm happy to report that it's now been reprinted by Kasma Magazine.

Item Not As Described is a humorous fantasy story. The basic premise is: if an online auction site like Ebay existed in an epic fantasy world, what would the customer support emails look like? Read the story here (for free) to find out. And check out that illustration by José Baetas. Isn't that awesome? I hope I never fail to get a kick out of seeing art based on my work. Such a cool feeling.