Monthly Archives: January 2015

Vectors: Our Favorite Short Fiction of 2014

It’s award season in the science fiction and fantasy world. Eligible members of SFWA, World Fantasy, and World Con get to cast votes for their noteworthy reads published in the previous year. We’re discussing our favorite short stories, novellas, and novelettes of 2014.

Fran WildeFran Wilde:
Novellas:
The Mothers of Vorheesville, Mary Rickert, Tor.com
Palm Strike’s Last Case – Charlie Jane Anders, F&SF July
The Tallest Doll in New York City, by Maria Davana Headley. at Tor.com.

Novelettes:
Sleep Walking Now and Then by Richard Bowes, Tor.com
The Insects of Love – Genevieve Valentine, Tor.com
The Year of Silent Birds Siobhan Caroll, Beneath Ceaseless Skies
A Guide to the Fruits of Hawai’i – Alaya Dawn Johnson, F&SF July

Short Stories:

This Chance Planet Elizabeth Bear, Tor.com
Belly, Haddayr Copley-Woods, F&SF July
Stone Hunger, N.K. Jemisin Clarkesworld
Ink of My Bones, Blood of My Hands Vylar Kaftan, Beneath Ceaseless Skies
The Panda Coin (reprint), Jo Walton, Lightspeed
Migratory Patterns of Underground Birds, E. Catherine Tobler, Clarkesworld
21 Steps to Enlightenment (Minus One), LaShawn Wanak, Strange Horizons
Shatterdown, Suzanne Palmer, Asimov’s
A Stretch of Highway, Two Lanes Wide, Sarah Pinsker, F&SF
The Earth and Everything Under, by K.M. Ferebee, Shimmer
Resurrection Points – Usman T. Malik, Strange Horizons
Combustion Hour – Yoon Ha Lee, Tor.com

Michael R. UnderwoodMichael R. Underwood:
The most memorable piece of short fiction I read in 2014 was Unlocked by John Scalzi, a lead-in novella that served as a primer and backstory for his novel Lock In. The aspect that really pulled me in to Unlocked was the format. Framed as ‘An Oral History of Braden’s Syndrome,’ Unlocked delves into the history of this fictional disease, its personal, political, technological, and social repercussions, and laid the groundwork for the setting which Scalzi then used in Lock In.

As a folklorist, someone trained in a discipline that uses oral histories extensively, this was totally up my alley. I loved getting the various perspectives on the disease, it’s social context, and in seeing the story unfold on a wide canvas. Most short fiction is focused by necessity, even at novella length, but with the oral history format, Scalzi was able to go wide while also delivering some very specific human stories. I was really impressed, and I haven’t even read Lock In, the book it was promoting yet. It was a strong work of speculative fiction on its own, and I’m so glad I read it. It’s also notable in its focus on disability, a topic which often gets short shrift in the genre despite SF/F being an incredibly useful genre to examine disability and neurological difference.

tina_connolly-300x450Tina Connolly:
Due to the new baby, I am less widely-read for 2014 than usual, but a couple pieces I particularly enjoyed are:

21 Steps to Enlightenment (Minus One) by LaShawn M. Wanak, Strange Horizons

Five Stages of Grief after the Alien Invasion by Caroline M. Yoachim, Clarkesworld

A Kiss with Teeth by Max Gladstone, tor.com.

KenLiuHiResKen Liu:
My full list of stories I liked would be far too long, so I’ll restrict myself to novellas:

“Grand Jeté (The Great Leap)”, by Rachel Swirsky, Subterranean.

“Claudius Rex”, by John P. Murphy, Alembical 3.

BethCato-steampunk-headshotBeth Cato:
In recent years, I have been very organized about my short story reading. I kept up documents in Word where I noted my favorite works. Then 2014 happened and my book happened. I didn’t keep track of what I read, nor did I get the chance to read as much short fiction.

Therefore, my list is pretty pitiful. I’ll depend on the recommendations here on Novelocity and elsewhere so that I can play catch-up in the next while and be an informed voter.

Short stories:
“The Eighth-Grade History Class Visits the Hebrew Home for the Aging” by Harry Turtledove, a Tor.com
“Makeisha in Time” by Rachael K. Jones, at Crossed Genres
“The Serial Killer’s Astronaut Daughter” by Damien Angelica Walters, at Strange Horizons

Velociraptor-full body1

Vectors: Writing & Revision How-to Books for NaNoWriMo Authors

Our first topic of 2015: Which how-to books on writing do you recommend for writers who are finishing or revising their NaNoWriMo projects?

Lawrence M. Schoen
beginnings-middles-and-ends-nancy-kress_mediumEven before I had the great pleasure of being her student at the Tao Toolbox, I had found Nancy Kress’s Beginnings, Middles, and Ends to be an essential tool.

Some writers have trouble getting all their ducks in a row to start a work, others find things fall apart as the end draws near, and then there are those among us who can handle the start and finish but get lost in the morass that is the middle doldrums of a work. Regardless of your weakness, this book will get you through. A “must have” on any writer’s shelf.

M.K. Hutchins
Beginnings, Middles, and Ends by Nancy Kress. This is, hands down, my favorite writing book. I didn’t really get it the first time I read it, but eventually it let me understand how plot and character come together to make structure for a novel. Maybe structure is just something I needed to learn. It would be an especially helpful book with a first draft behind you, so you can evaluate your own book as you read and plan for revisions accordingly. Second drafts are great for big changes like this. After the third, or fifth draft, it’s a lot harder to tear apart those carefully polished words.

Tina Connolly
SavethecatSave the Cat by Blake Snyder. This is a screenwriting book, and has been criticized for being overly formulaic. But formula can be a great tool for learning, a good jumping-off point. This book helps you understand structure, by thinking about it in very concrete, specific ways.

About Writing by Samuel R. Delany. This is a lovely, chewy, super-dense book about all kinds of writerly topics. I checked it out from the library a couple years back, and couldn’t get through it (at the pace I wanted to go) within the 3-week allotted time! I had to go straight out and buy it. There’s a more in-depth review of it from L. Timmel Duchamp here on Strange Horizons.

Ken Liu
I’m going to echo Tina’s recommendation for Save the Cat. This was without a doubt the most thought-provoking and interesting writing book I’ve ever read. It really changed the way I look at stories, and now when I try to break the rules, I know better why I’m doing so.

E.C. Ambrose
GoalmotivationconflictGoal, Motivation, and Conflict by Debra Dixon. Deb is an author, and now the founder of Belle Books, so she knows her stuff from several directions. This book is the best single resource for developing dynamic characters whose problems and solutions will lead to great plots. I recommend it all the time to writers whose works I am critiquing or editing. She zeroes in on the heart of character.

For Structure, yeah, Save the Cat.

For people who are standing in their own way as writers (and I think we all have those days), The Courage to Write, by Ralph Keyes is impressive and insightful.

For a good, solid kick in the pants, Chuck Wendig’s recent e-book, 500 Ways to Write Harder, which is compiled mostly from his blog entries, has a zillion lists of great pointers (though be warned, often they are also rude, crude and socially unacceptable).

Steve Bein
KingOnWritingCoverI can’t believe no one’s mentioned my top two favorites yet. I’ll add my +1 to Kress’s Beginnings, Middles, and Ends as well as Delaney’s About Writing. But my top two are Stephen King and Donald Maass.

King’s On Writing is his best book. (He might not like my saying that, but it’s true.) You’ve got to keep in mind as you read it that not everything in those pages will work for you — after all, this is his chronicle of his path — so just mine it and take whatever shines like gold to you.

MaassBreakoutCoverMaass’s Writing the Breakout Novel and Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook are hands down the best books out there for working with a finished manuscript. There are better books for how to get started writing, or how to push through a tough spot, or how to bring structure to a bunch of muddy ideas in your head, but in terms of tightening a finished manuscript and making it really pop, Maass is my go-to guy.

PerkinsAgentCoverI’ll add one more: now that your book is done, pick up Lori Perkins’s An Insider’s Guide to Getting an Agent. Following her advice helped me get my agent; here’s hoping it works for you too.

Beth Cato
self-editingI’ll be rebellious and choose two different books.

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King was a pivotal book for me when I was just starting out. It taught me that I had no idea how to revise my own work, and even more, that so many things I was taught in school are completely wrong for writing publishable fiction. The examples are fantastic.

JournalofaNovelMy other recommendation is one I read just last year, John Steinbeck’s Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters. It reads like an author blog circa 1951. Everyone looks at Steinbeck as such a master, and this book shows that he was worried and insecure throughout the whole rough draft process for one of his most famous works. I found that to be incredibly comforting.

Michael R. Underwood
RobertMckee-StoryIt’s rather formulaic, but I got a lot out of reading Robert McKee’s STORY. It’s largely based on the author’s experience working in Hollywood, but does a very thorough job of breaking down plot types, story arcs, scene-by-scene plotting, and other structural elements of storytelling. I’d definitely recommend STORY for anyone interested in screenwriting due to both its massive influence on the field and for the specific advice. Riffing on what Tina and Ken said above about Save The Cat, if you know what everyone else is doing, it makes it easier to know how and when to break the rules so that your work stands out from the pack.

Fran Wilde
90daynovelI found The 90-Day Novel useful as a guide for Nanowrimo and writing my first (still working on that one!) novel. Just having the process & structure was reassuring.