Star-Studded Chicago — Come Visit Me & Other Authors at the Nebula Awards, May 12-15

I will be at the Nebula Awards this weekend in Chicago, from May 12-15.

NebulasPostcardFront20161-360x257If you don’t know what the Nebula awards are:

“The Nebula Awards ® are voted on, and presented by, active members of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc… Our conference will also feature the prestigious 50th Annual Nebula Awards hosted by comedian John Hodgman and banquet along with exciting tours of the City Winery and Northern Illinois University. Receptions honoring SFWA’s newest Grand Master, C.J. Cherryh and the Nebula Award nominees will take place throughout the weekend along with a mass autographing session.”

The Nebulas are introducing a new feature this year (which sounds fun!) — Ask an Expert. Here’s the description from the site: “In the Ask an Expert Village, you can sit down for a one-on-one with an expert. Bring your questions. Sign up for these 10 minute sessions at the registration desk.” I really like this idea; I hope it catches on elsewhere, too.

Thursday, 4pm-5pm: Come visit me to discuss short stories: “Brainstorm a problem area, or ask questions about writing short fiction.”

I’m also on three panels:

Friday, 1pm: The Second Life of Stories: handling backlist and reprints. Panelists: Sarah Pinsker, Rachel Swirsky, Colleen Barr, Marco Palmieri, John Joseph Adams, Don Slater

Friday, 4pm: Medicine after the End of the World: managing chronic conditions and serious illness after the apocalypse. Panelists: Annallee Flower Home, Nick Kanas, Daniel Potter, Rachel Swirsky, Michael Damien Thomas, Fran Wilde

Saturday, 4pm: Redefining the Aliens of the Future. Panelists: Juliette Wade, Charles Ganon, Nick Kanas, Fonda Lee, PJ Schnyder, Rachel Swirsky.

I’m also participating in the mass autographing, Friday, 8-9pm. 

autographing session

Also, this site is a cool addition to the Nebula proceedings. You can sign in to peruse speakers, events, and participants, so you can look at events in a traditional program style (by day and time), or else look at what panels an author you’re interested in is doing. Mary Robinette Kowal and the other members of the programming team are doing a really stylish job this year.

Hope to see you there!

Silly Interview with Spencer Ellsworth Whose Bedpost Notches Are Real People


Spencer Ellsworth had been publishing short stories since 2009, and has work in PodCastle, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, F&SF and a number of other places. You can find his short story “Clockwork of Sorrow” in the anthology Ghost in the Cogs: Steam-Powered Ghost Stories (the cover of which you can see here).

Every time I see Spencer, I always ask the same question. You see, several years ago when Ann Leckie was running Giganotosaurus, I sometimes did first-round reading for her. And while Ann and I have very similar taste, we don’t have identical taste. So once in a while we’d come up against a story that I was jazzed about, but that didn’t quite cross her threshold. So every time I see Spencer, I ask about that one story that got away.

[Note: We conducted the interview a while ago, just after the Nebula ballot was released.]

RS: Haaave you sold the cool story about the alien kites yet? If not, perhaps we can leave a summary here to tempt an editor into opening their door.


It’s called “When Stars Are Scattered,” and it tells the travails of a doctor on a homesteading planet, an atheist caught between Muslim missionaries, who have converted the quirky indigenous aliens, and homesteaders mostly of a Baptist stripe, who do not see the aliens as sentient, intelligent beings.

This story, man. I originally wrote a draft in 2006, scrapped it and rewrote in 2007, and that went everywhere and got nice notes from everyone, including you at GigaNotoSaurus. I took it to Viable Paradise in 2010, where it collected some nice comments and an invite to submit from Patrick Nielsen Hayden, then I took it home and sweated over the rewrites for four years, then finally sent it in and… they bought it.


Ten long years ago, when I conceived the story, I was really pushing myself to tackle some bigger issues in storytelling. My favorite writer is Octavia Butler, partially because I could never predict, or even start to predict, how her stories would end. They were always about these terrible moral dilemmas and vicious relationships. So I decided to write one of the real world’s unpredictable conflicts, about faith and land and morality, and put some aliens in it.

RS: Conan the Barbarian. It sounds like you both love it, and know it has problems. What do you see as today’s cultural heirs to the tradition?

You refer to “The Child Support of Cromdor The Condemned,” which was a very well-received piece on Podcastle, and AHEMAHEM made the Nebula recommended reading list.

I wrote that story about the terrible male role models presented to me as a young man. James Bond, Conan, The Man With No Name, etc–all those taciturn, violent guys who have a girl of the week, conveniently gone the next week. It was difficult for me to reconcile such role models, whom society held up as the paragons of “manliness,” with my dad, who relied on peace and compassion to solve problems, and (gasp) treated women like actual human beings.

I got fan mail for that one. I quote “All the notches on Cromdor’s bedposts get to be real people in your story, even when they’re not directly onscreen.” I was proud of that, especially considering there aren’t that many women onscreen in the story. It’s very distinctly a story about the women who have been left offscreen, and humanizing both Conan and Conan’s wenches.

RS: You recently sold a short story that you wrote in an hour. Is that normal for you? How was it different–if it was–from your normal writing process?

About The Bear” was based on a true story, and that really fueled it. Writing all comes from unconscious processing, I think, but occasionally you hit a rich lode near the surface, and a real-life experience becomes great fiction. I really did know a guy who wrestled a bear and came out okay, although, as I learned upon pressing him, it was an adolescent bear. I plugged our conversation into my fantasy world, and boom: I had a flash piece that all came together, about one of my favorite themes: how stories change us.

RS: When you are teaching English, what’s the most basic thing you want to make sure all students leave knowing?

Ooh! Good question! And yet, I don’t really want them to “know” something, so much as I want them to love learning. A lot of students come into my classes at Northwest Indian College having had bad experiences in school. They were frustrated, stereotyped, endured racist microaggression either within or without the community, and their parents often went through the same or worse, especially if a residential school was involved. Many never received early intervention for dyslexia or farsightedness. They are turned off by academic learning, though most of them are very adept at learning and sharing traditional teachings.

I want them to leave with a love of books, a discovery that academic learning can be fun and empowering. When a student finds a body of knowledge that inspires them, that’s the best part of my job. A couple of cool experiences I’ve had lately: a student stayed up all night finishing the memoir of an American Indian Movement activist, a student shared with me his ideas for science fiction stories and we discussed creative writing for a while, and several students told me they loved my Developmental Reading class, which is not, in my mind, a Number One Fun Time Class. Oh, and we read “If You Were A Dinosaur, My Love,” in that class, and had a spirited discussion about subtext and genre. They liked the story, all the more so for discovering the subtext. BE PROUD RACHEL. YOU ARE MIGHTY IN READING 091

RS: Tell me about Pawnbroker.

Quality used musicians! Prices negotiable. Pawnbroker is my band and we try to marry the 90s and the 60s, our favorite musical decades. Try us out for free.

I’ve always played music along with writing–I find the intuitive, experiential nature of playing music live makes a good companion to the more structured, studied creativity in writing and revising. The band has actually been on a little hiatus, though I’m sure we’ll make it work again one of these days. In the meantime, I’m working on a solo project that is like unto Nick Cave or Elliott Smith, which is my way of saying I can’t really sing but the songs will one day be covered by Scarlett Johanssen for a vanity project. PROMISE

RS: Projects? Notes? Please put them here!


I’m currently working on a book called The Red Walker, which is SO MUCH COOL FUN TO WRITE. It’s about a girl whose brother dies halfway through his Epic Chosen One quest, so the little sister has to take up the quest, with the help/hindrance of a rogue sorcerer who is, um, a lot like Omar Little from The Wire.  As in, if Omar lived in an epic fantasy novel, this would be him.

Everyone say it with me: “Oh, indeed?”


I recently read Six of CrowsBigfootloose & Fancy FreeSeriously Wicked, and The Shards of Heaven and loved them all. You should too.

Our Lady Of The Open Road was one of my favorite stories of last year, aaaaand it’s on the Nebula ballot.

You can put just about anything in chocolate and it makes it better! This stuff is amazing. Vote it for the Nebula in Best Chocolate. And this stuff in the Vegan Cheese Nebulas.

Why isn’t drywall reusable? That is so wasteful. Amiright?

Stop adding “punk” to things, writers! Cyberpunk IS punk; it’s an angry critique of materialist culture! Steampunk/dieselpunk/silkpunk/drywallpunk/bicyclepunk/godzillapunk/blerrrrghhfrpunk are killing the word “punk” and (all together now) PUNK’S NOT DEAD.

Bears, man.

Thanks very much for this opportunity to rant and share some answers to excellent questions, Rachel. As I’ve said many times, if you were a dinosaur, you’d be this one.


In which my migraine reveals itself as duplicitous

My intention to catch up on work this weekend was scuttled by a migraine.

ME: I’m going to catch up on work.

MIGRAINE: Okay, that sounds fine. I’ve been on break for a few days anyway; I’ll just go grab drinks at the pool bar.

ME: Cool.

ME: Okay, it’s Saturday, so I’m going to start working on–


hyperbole and a half pain chart

hypberole and a hal pain chart two

(On the Hyperbole and a Half pain chart, it was really only a 6 or 7, which pain meds got down to a 3 or 4. I appreciate the pain help, but it’s still hard to work through.)

So, yeah. Quick update:

If You Were a Butt, My Butt” is at $259! That means a prose version and an audio version. (If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, try the link.)

At $300, I will add $100 of my own to go to Lyon-Martin’s LGBTQ health services. If people don’t know why Lyon-Martin was my choice, it’s because this year’s Hugo ballot is being used to harass both me (along with other individuals) and the LGBTQ community at large, with a subtle lemon twist of transphobia. Supporting L-M seems like a fitting response to hate.

I hope people will help put it over the edge and force me to pony up!


Friday read! “Hwang’s Billion Brilliant Daughters” by Alice Sola Kim

One man watches the world evolve as he passes, sleep by sleep, into the future, trailing after his generations of descendants.

I really like this story and its strange futures. It isn’t taking itself seriously as a prognosticator. Rather, it’s talking about emotion, identity, and human experience, with a meta-textual tongue-in-cheek. Charles Yu’s How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe played with the same ideas around the same time. Kim’s story is more accessible, with a lighter touch and humor.

You should check out more of Alice Sola Kim‘s work, too.

hwang illustration


Hwang’s Bilion Brilliant Daughters” by Alice Sola Kim:

When Hwang finds a time that he likes, he tries to stay awake. The longest he has ever stayed awake is three days. The longest someone has ever stayed awake is eleven days. If Hwang sleeps enough times, he will eventually reach a time in which people do not have to sleep. Unfortunately, this can only come about through expensive gene therapy that has to be done long before one is born. Thus, it is the rich who do not have to sleep. They stay awake all night and bound across their useless beds, shedding crumbs and drops of sauce as they eat everyone else’s food.

Whenever Hwang goes to sleep, he jumps forward in time. This is a problem. This is not a problem that is going to solve itself.

Read here.

Silly Interview with Mary Robinette Kowal, intermittenty teal storyteller

© 2012 Rod Searcey

© 2012 Rod Searcey

Mary Robinette Kowal is a woman of incredible multiple talents — a professional puppeteer who sews regency dresses and narrates audio books — and wins Hugo Awards. Her first novel series, the Glamourist Histories — fantasy novels about Austen’s regency period — recently concluded. I even drew some fan art about it. She also teaches writing online — oh, just visit her website.


RS: A lot of novelists let short stories lapse when they embark on their novelling careers. You keep publishing strong short fiction, like last year’s “Midnight Hour” in Uncanny Magazine. How do you make time for short stories, and what do you get from them that you don’t get from longer fiction?

MRK: Honestly, these days I start a lot of the short stories while I’m teaching my Short Story Intensive. Part of the process is that I write along with the students in order to demonstrate how to start from a story seed and then develop it into a story. I often have a market in mind when I’m doing these, so the demonstration does double duty. The thing that I love about short fiction as a writer is that I get to experiment with a lot of different styles and ideas without the huge time investment of a novel. Plus, as a reader, I find that a short story can often deliver more of a sucker punch to the emotions and I kinda like that.
RS: You have one of the coolest career histories of any working writer I know, having been a professional puppeteer. In fact, I am going to take this opportunity to link to your audition video for the Henson workshop because it is amazing. (insert vid) How would you go about presenting yourself in puppet-form? Feel free to be practical, metaphorical, or to alternate.
MRK: Well… as it happens, I have been doing these videos recently in which a puppet answers questions about writing. In puppet form, I curse a lot more than I do in real life. And I’m teal. [RS: You can see one of her episodes here.]
RS: You sew absolutely beautiful regency dresses which have served as award gowns, bridal dresses, and icons for Scalzi fundraisers. When and how did you start sewing? And if you’d like to share any pictures of your dresses, I would not object.
MRK: My mom taught me to sew when I was in elementary school, and then the puppetry career refined those skills because you can’t buy an off-the-rack pattern for puppet clothing. The Regency gowns began as “research” but I keep making them because they are simple and fun.
RS: Your glamourist histories are, in part, an hommage to Austen. Perhaps you would indulge me in some silly alternate history. Imagine Jane Austen living today, not as her historical self reincarnated, but just as a person who happens to be alive now. How might you imagine her life? 
MRK: Her choices would not be as constrained today as they were then. I like to think that she and Cassandra would have a nice flat together and that Jane would continue writing. She’d attend conventions, like RT, and have a circle of friends that she snarked with on Twitter. If you’ve ever read any of her letters, you know that she was the queen of the cutting comment and would OWN Twitter. She would probably have to have a day job but would have picked something that she felt a connection to, not just something that made her life easier so perhaps social work or maybe an anthropologist — no. Wait. I’ve just remembered her childhood histories. I bet she would have gotten a PhD in history.
RS: Like many writers, your artistic talents abound in many creative fields. What drew you to and kept you writing?
MRK: I was one of those kids who wanted to do everything, and they all seem to revolve around forms of storytelling. What I like about writing is that there are no limits. I don’t have to worry about gravity or physics or a budget when I’m planning a story, or at least not in the ways I have to worry about them when I’m creating a puppet show.
RS: I read an interview in which you said you dread the “what are your upcoming projects” question, and yet, I fear, such things are inevitable since interviewers have to give us a way to promote what we’re up to. You suggested the question “What are you excited about?” instead, which I’ve used myself. But this wouldn’t be a silly interview if I did something practical like listen to what you want to be asked. So, instead: if your next/current project was an adorable animal, what kind of adorable animal would it be?
RK: A three-legged German Shepherd. Okay… I know, that doesn’t sound very adorable, but let me tell you about this German Shepherd. Her name is Ghost Talkers. She was a service dog in the war, and lost a leg saving the life of her human partner. She’s back home and healed now, and is so delighted and happy and enthusiastic, but can also very serious, because she’s a veteran. When she walks, it is a bouncing uneven gait that’s kind of funny, but when she runs you can’t tell that she was wounded. And if you let her, she would totally serve again because she’s kind and loyal and will save your life, then cover you with kisses.
Quick “Making Lemons into Jokes” campaign note: At $155, “If You Were a Butt, My Butt” is close to having an audio version!
If you want to support the Butts and send some money to Lyon-Martin health services (LGBTQ health care, offered regardless of the patient’s ability to pay), subscribe to my Patreon. You can stay in it for the long-haul, or just pay in for a single month so all your contributions go to L-M.

Making Lemons into Jokes: “If You Were a Butt, My Butt”

If you’ve been following events in online science fictiondom, you probably know the last few weeks have been tumultuous. If you are *not* following events in the online science fictiondom, then honestly, I’m kind of jealous.

In my family, humor has always been a way of putting crap into perspective. When life hands you lemons, make jokes. And then possibly lemonade, too. It is coming up on summer.

pablo (1)In that spirit, I’m trying a self-publishing experiment. And that experiment’s name is “If You Were a Butt, My Butt.”

If my Patreon reaches $100 by the end of the month, I will write and send “If You Were a Butt, My Butt” to everyone who subscribes. If things go well, I’ve got some stretch goals, too, like an audio version.

I will be donating the first month’s Patreon funds to Lyon-Martin health services. Lyon-Martin is one of the only providers that focuses on caring for the Quiltbag community, especially low-income lesbian, bisexual, and trans people. They provide services regardless of the patient’s ability to pay.

My Patreon is a subscription monthly service, so if you choose to join and then unsubscribe after a month, then all the money you pay in will go to Lyon-Martin. My subscribers also get one free piece of flash fiction or poetry each month, so you’ll receive that, too. (And anything else you sign up for.)

Humor can turn anything ridiculous. That’s its healing power. When that’s the aim, being mean-spirited or nasty defeats the point. I can’t promise I won’t make any metafictional jokes, but I’m not going to focus on it. The rare times I do, it will be silly.

Given the circumstances, a bit of erotica is unavoidable. It also won’t be the focus, will be in good humor, and will be marked so you can skip.

Really, I’m just farting around.

So if you want to get behind butting into the conversation with something cheeky, then scoot your derriere to my Patreon. We can do it.

(If you want to skip all that jazz, I also have a newsletter. It doesn’t come with free fiction, but it does come with updates about my writing and teaching.

Obligatory footnote: I reserve the right to limit harassment.)