Metaphorosis: A Question for Angie Lathrop

My story, Radical Abundance, will be published on the Metaphorosis site next week, but this week my nano-interview (that’s an interview with one question, by the way, and it’s also a term I just made up) was published on the site recently.

 

Metaphorosis is a magazine of science fiction and fantasy. We offer intelligent, beautifully written stories for adults.

If you like science fiction and fantasy short stories, be sure to check out the Metaphorosis site. They’ll send a link to a short story every week if you sign up, and the stories I’ve read so far are pretty great. And if you are writing short speculative fiction, consider submitting to Metaphorosis. The editor, B.Morris Allen, was a pleasure to work with while editing my story. And he gets back to authors of submitted fiction really quickly.

 

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First Page Contest wins! and UW-Madison Writer’s Institute 2015 Weekend of Writerly Fun

I usually go to the UW-Madison Writer’s Institute each spring–it’s a great way to connect to writer friends and meet new people, and spend a weekend in Madison. And, for a dose of extra awesomeness, I had two winning entries in the First Page of Poem Contest (1st and 2nd places in the YA category.) This contest is about writing a compelling beginning (first page, so about three hundred words-ish) that will hook your reader. For the writer, it’s an exercise in anguish as you try to polish and hone such a short piece…

The first pages I submitted are from my YA trilogy about the rise of vastly-beyond-human artificial intelligence. The first book is close to being ready to query (and the Writer’s Institute is just the thing to motivate me to just get the damn thing done and out the door.)

Ist Place PROJECT JOEY

The first time the feds came for me at school, I’d been pretty freaked out—probably the effect they were going for when they read me my rights in the principal’s office. I was only ten, so sobbing was probably a reasonable reaction under the circumstances. Still, later, I was a little disappointed in myself.

The second time, I saw the black car with government plates pull up, and so I had time to put on a convincingly innocent and confused face while remaining calm. Same agents, same black suits and ties. Same questions for me. Same angry mother having to leave work to deal with her delinquent son.

This time, though, I could tell things were going to go down differently.

For one thing, I wasn’t expecting them—I hadn’t been technically breaking the law in my online activities in some time. So, when the speaker broke into my English class and requested my presence in the office, I had this idea that it was about my science fair award. I knew I was going to win–when your project has to do with self-assembling nanobot swarms, it stands out from the usual middle school displays on how bean plants grow better when you talk to them.

I was mentally rehearsing how humble and surprised I’d be, but as I turned the corner I practically ran into my two personal federal agents. They gave me the usual death glare.

Two other guys were with them. One guy had a t-shirt with digits of pi arranged in fractal swirls, and the other one’s shirt had a Tardis from Dr.Who. Both had a little scruffy beard growth, and they were very clearly not federal agents.

I knew them—not them, personally, but the kinds of guys they were. Engineers or programmers or someone who actually knew what they were doing in the digital realm.

The feds had brought along guys like me. And that meant that this time, they might actually figure out what I’d been up to.

FEEDBACK FROM JUDGES ON THIS STORY

This is compelling because we have the Feds coming after a teenager, and he admits he’s been up to something they are interested in. This feels big in scope. It’s also well-written; the flow is excellent. In addition, this is clean of typos or mistakes in punctuation, etc. This is a pro writer deserving of attention from any agent or editor or reader.


2nd Place Relinquishment

From my hotel room window I can see the cheerful stick-figure WALK Guy, and the serious, no-messing-around DO NOT WALK hand. I’ve been bored, so I’ve timed them by counting in my head: forbidding red hand for thirty seconds, happy WALK guy for twenty.

The real people walking do not look cheerful or happy like WALK guy, though. It has been raining and snowing, and with the subways and trains all shut down, most people just walk in the slush.

But they have to be careful, because the people who are driving aren’t always watching for pedestrians. I’ve seen five people hit while I’ve been in the hotel. People have forgotten, my mom says. It’s been a while since people thought of cars as something that could kill you, and I guess even if you know that it’s just people driving them now, it’s easy to forget and step in front of them when WALK Guy says to.

I wonder if autonomous vehicles are banned in other countries, too, and for about the ten-thousandth time, I reach for my phone before I remember it’s gone. Phones were the first thing that the Relinquishment Regulations targeted.

Not that my phone would do any good, because the internet came apart (or was dismantled, depending on who you talk to) right about the same time. And then the electrical grid went down, and although we’ve got power now it’s iffy. The WALK guy sometimes goes dark and motionless and the cars and pedestrians become a mass of slowly twirling eddies on the pavement. From above it reminds me of swirls of milk in hot chocolate.

Thinking about hot chocolate that reminds me of our kitchen at home, and that place is gone now. Just a smear of radioactive rocks, probably, although my mom says it wasn’t a nuke, just a regular missile. Even they wouldn’t have used a nuclear weapon against U.S. citizens, she says, but anyone we talked to said that they’d heard it was a nuke.

FEEDBACK FROM JUDGES ON THIS STORY

This is clever! It feels fresh with the character making something of “WALK Guy” and “DO NOT WALK hand”. We’re told right away that this very observant character has also seen five people hit by traffic while he’s been at the hotel. And then we find out that phones have been banned by the Relinquishment Regulations! Any young person reading this is now pretty darn hooked. We also learn that their home is gone. We’re turning the page.


Seven Second Fiction

I’ve used a word cloud generator while revising a story, usually to make sure that certain problem words are under control (I’m looking at you, “felt” “looked” “was” …) It’s great tool, but then I realized that I could use it to actually make a story-poem (sort of.)

I used a short story I’d written recently for my critique group (we’ve been critiquing each other’s novels, but I think we were all feeling a little “first chapter fatigue” so I ventured into the land of shorter fiction.) I uploaded the full text of the story to Tag Crowd  http://tagcrowd.com/ and then eliminated a few words that were inappropriate for my family friendly blog.

The story is called MUSE, and of course the characters names are evident immediately (Eli, Taylor, Wall, Morris.) The rest of the story is told only through the most used words, requiring a degree of reader participation unprecedented in fiction. A sort of Choose-Your-Own-Adventure.

One thing that’s cool about the word cloud version of the story is the way the human brain sees text in this form–not in a (roughly) linear fashion, as when the words are arranged in the normal way, but as an instant jolt of lexical caffeine.

Okay, I’ll humbly admit that the short story is much better than the word cloud version. But what if you’re in a hurry? It’s the perfect seven-second form of fiction.

tag cloud


Writing as surgery

Everyone has their own novel-writing technique, and mine (at least for my most recent novel, The Decline and Fall of Taran Elember) has remarkable similarities to one of my other favorite things: surgery.

So, Angie’s Special Novel Writing Plan (based on my veterinary surgical training):

  • Surgical Exploratory Phase–rambling first draft, lots of looking around and trying things
  • Regrouping Phase–chat with surgical staff, re-order instruments, ask for suture/sponges/clamps as needed; chill a little while you decide how to approach the problem at hand
  • Evisceration Phase–back to cutting, removing entire organs as necessary, occasionally transplanting
  • Surgical Phase–reconstructing and suturing as needed for structure, character, scene goals, etc.
  • Laser Phase–tightly focused fine edits for voice, personality, etc.
  • Micro-surgery–multiple tedious drafts to eliminate adverbs, passive voice, words I always use but shouldn’t, clichés that have managed to persist…
  • Recovery–the patient is turned over to the ICU staff (critique partners/first readers) so I can scrub out for a while and check on my next patient

 


I learn by teaching, think by writing — My New Latin Motto

 

Roman ruins of Caesarea Maritima in Israel

The Romans, gotta love-’em (photo taken at Caesarea Maritima in Israel)

Docendo disco, scribendo cogito: I learn by teaching, think by writing.

How exactly did the Romans come up with such crazily relevant stuff? As in, the phrase above that perfectly describes my life at this moment: teaching high school to my twice-exceptional son and writing writing writing.

Disclaimer:

As TVTropes (BTW, this is an extremely awesome website for writers plus all the cool kids) says: “Well, nothing can dictate pretentious credibility compared to a Latin motto. It’s supposed to confer prestige, but Latin often gives off that “we’re so much smarter, richer and generally more awesome than you” vibe…”

Okay, maybe. But I do just really like Latin. I’m one of the seven people in the world who wishes Latin had even been an option in high school, as compared to the countless millions who were forced to take it and hated every moment of it.

I’m looking for another Latin quote to describe my life with even greater accuracy–something along the lines of : “runs family business/has too many pets/drives kids around a lot/does not cook or clean house except under duress/recently allowed 12 year-old-son to put various household objects in microwave to see what would happen…”

 

 


Reading Every Book (Ars longa, vita brevis)

My Childhood Library  When I was a child, I wanted to read every book in the library. And I had a plan.

I wasn’t completely delusional. I was only planning to read all of the fiction in the library, and not even all of that. I had no interest in the picture books, and I figured I had read most of what would no be considered middle grade (Judy Blume and Laura Ingalls Wilder, most notably.) My plan involved moving through all of the “Juvenile” section. I didn’t think much beyond that, other than vaguely considering the day that I’d be done with the children’s room and move on to the adult shelves on the main floor of the library.

I even remember trying to decide if I would allow myself to skip books that didn’t look interesting, or if all the books meant all the books. And I don’t remember if Louisa May Alcott was really the first author on the first shelf, but those are the books I always think of being on that shelf. Little Women. Little Men. I know made it at least as far as Lloyd Alexander (The Black Cauldron series.)

It’s unlikely that I really thought this project would work, although I was a very fast reader and I had lots of time on my hands–you can only watch so much Brady Bunch, cable/videos/internet hadn’t been invented yet, and I had few responsibilities of any kind. Plus, I was only about ten, so I had a lifetime to get through the Juvenile section.

But maybe I did. My grasp of reality was definitely more tenuous back then. I know I had some trouble with the concept of fiction versus non-fiction, even well into the time I was starting to read adult science fiction (I remember asking my mother if it Lankar of Callisto by Lin Carter was fiction, specifically if it was possible to find a magical portal in some earthly jungle and wake up on one of the moons of Saturn. She said if I wanted to believe it, then it was possible, which for some reason I thought was an acceptable answer.)

At some point, I abandoned my plan to read all of the books. I read a lot, but I didn’t confine myself to alphabetical by author, and at some time around age twelve I started hitting science fiction and Stephen King pretty hard, so that was it for the juvenile section (which had almost no science fiction.)

I’m having a similar problem now. I fully realize that I won’t read everything; I have finally grasped the magnitude of the situation: number of books in print + number of books published ever year+ actually having responsibilities now. And I don’t want to read everything, anyway. Definitely not the boring ones.

However, now I want to write everything.

I love writing (most of the time.) But it takes a long time, especially to revise and make an okay book into a good book. So I have this anxiety about writing now: There are so many characters, so many stories. So many kinds of stories.

I want to write an amazing space opera like Iain Banks’ Culture novels , and a young adult novel as shocking and perfect as How I Live Now. And a complicated thriller like Reamde. And insanely funny stuff like Hyperbole and a Half. Definitely nonfiction about how I got magically teleported to the moon of Saturn one day while exploring the Amazon Basin.

I know that I won’t write everything. I won’t even write all of the books that I have inside me right now–some, sad to say, don’t deserve to be written, and the competition for my writing time is intense. I’m figuring out what I do write best, and not surprisingly, it’s the kind of stories that I’ve always liked best…but told the way I tell them.

There’s even Latin phrase for this feeling: Ars longa, vita brevis.

So, back to finishing The Decline and Fall of Taran Elember. And then my in progress YA trilogy about the Singularity. And then that one with the AI dragons that I wrote just for fun but I really like…

Art is long, life is short.