Reality Skimming

Reality Skimming

Reality Skimming promotes optimistic SF -- stories that inspire us to fight the good fight for another day. Committment to larger projects, the writer's sense of mission, joy of reading, the creative campfire of the SF community and the love of deserving protagonists are celebrated. We believe in heroes and striving to be what we believe in. It is also a news hub for content related to the Okal Rel Saga written by Lynda Williams.

28Jan/15Off

Interview with Graham Darling

Graham Darling

Graham writes diamond-hard Science Fiction, mythopoeic Fantasy and unearthly Horror. He is a past professor of chemistry, and current consulting industrial research chemist. As "Doctor Carus", he is also an award-winning historical re-enactor and columnist with the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), with a special interest in alchemy and other medieval science & technology. As a longtime SF lit, film & gaming fan, he has served as panelist and moderator on various topics at conventions. His first professional story appeared in the anthology "Sword & Mythos" in May 2014. A novel is in progress. You can find more about Graham at http://fiction.grahamjdarling.com/

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Interview by Christel Bodenbender

Graham, your short story "Jon Carver of Barzoon, You Misunderstood" just achieved Best Short Fiction of 2014 – Honourable Mention in Apex Magazine. How do you feel about publishing your first story and the recognition it received?

I was delighted and gratified to see it published at all, particularly in so honourable a venue as the Kickstarted “Sword & Mythos” from Innsmouth Free Press. I was also pleased to hear that some have read and enjoyed it, including critics like Apex's Charlotte Ashley, who included it in her list of 20 recommended short stories out of the 500 she read in 2014. That was a bit startling, but very encouraging for a new author.


Can you tell us more about the story?

It's very short, so I can't say much without spoiling it for those who haven't read it yet, which would be sad; or going on longer than the story itself, which would be silly. Plus, I believe stories should generally stand on their own, as I hope this one does. But I think it's safe to say that those who've liked it might also enjoy a swashbuckling SF sub-genre called Sword & Planet; and vice-versa. Not to mention Norse cosmogeny, with a touch of the tentacle. It may have a marketing problem, though, in that the reader might be unable to decide (as I couldn't) whether the feelings it invokes are Wonder or Horror. Though that's normal for the common human condition to which it also alludes – or so I'm led to understand.

You write with a good dose of humour and keen sense for technical and social details. What sources of inspiration and experiences do you draw on when you write?

Laughter is the explosive recognition of a new concept. This is why infants are always laughing – when they aren't crying at their frustrations, intellectual or otherwise. The same's true for scientists, “mad” or otherwise, though not always visibly – we must keep up appearances, after all. Thus, as a scientist by training and profession, not only can I draw on natural phenomena and technologies themselves (actual or extrapolated) for my stories, but also on how I've seen them reflected more or less firsthand in myself and my colleagues, and in the several cultures I move in (including SF fandom) or have travelled through. And second hand, of course, through books, television, movies, roleplaying games and historical re-enactments about things distant or past, or that never were, or that yet might be.



Also, dreams. “Jon Carver” began as a few striking images from a dream, which I arranged, with some new ideas and some themes I had been thinking about, onto a coherent plot like beads on a string. This time, most of the actual language came last of all. Elsewhere I might start with snatches of conversation, or a bit of nice-sounding prose, from which or towards which I further build. Sometimes the process seems like constructing a house from the roof down, but you have to start somewhere, and work with what you've got.


What was your first encounter with the speculative fiction genre and what do these early experiences still mean to you?

Lewis Caroll's “Alice in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass” come to mind – the first novels I ever read, and which as a child I knew by heart (I'll still recite “The Walrus and the Carpenter” at the drop of a hat). It still impresses me how logic was the author's life, yet he taught it so playfully. And how extreme yet casual were his fantastical conceits. And how he incorporated the commonalities of the surrounding Age into his fiction, so that his satirical versions of then-common poems are today still known and loved where the originals have fallen into obscurity. And the puns.

When you are reading out aloud, you carefully bring to life the characters and the narrative by drawing on different voices. How did you develop your reading skills for performing in front of an audience?

Talking aloud in different voices is something I do anyway alone as I write, to help me better visualize my characters, so I might as well in public. Also I think it helps listeners better follow a story when they don't have the text before their eyes, with its format cues and opportunities for pause and backtracking. Naturally I know the text also has to work on its own, since the living author usually isn't around to show a reader how it's “supposed” to sound – but I still think reading out loud tells me whether the style and the voice fit together; whether one flows naturally from the other. And gives me other feedback, such as when I read “Jon Carver” to an audience at the VCON Book Launch last October: when I pronounced the last word, I heard dead silence for two heartbeats, then the whole audience exhale as one. That is something to aim for, I think.

Certainly I was read to enough as a child, and my dad often told me long stories of his own improvising. I also did some stage acting in school, and carried those skills forward as a gamemaster and historical demonstrator and performer. As a professor, I got regular practice at injecting passion and meaning into my lectures to students and colleagues. And as a lector at my church I get to be the voice of God, together with an epic cast of shepherds, kings, prophets, apostles, tricksters, warriors, lovers, philosophers, necromancers, jurists, widows, wonder-workers and angels (and the occasional dragon), with signs and messages to rouse a chosen people from complacency or despair. As you can perhaps imagine, this task carries a special incentive to do vocal justice to the text.


You are currently working on a novel. Do you enjoy writing a longer piece of fiction in contrast to the creative burst of short stories?

I started work on the novel before the stories. Switching back and forth between them keeps me from going stale on either, and gives me the repeated and ongoing satisfaction of actually seeing stuff finished and being read. If a short story's like building a house, a novel's like erecting a cathedral, single-handed (though I appreciate the friends on whom I've been testing it, who gently point out where one of the columns looks a little shaky, or an arch has been installed upside-down). Both house and cathedral have many elements in common, and equally deserve to be well-built; but a cathedral is more than a big house, and I still look forward to the second kind of accomplishment, now that I've experienced the first.


Tell us more about your future projects?

Various spinoffs from the current novel, including a fuller-scale Planetary Romance and a non-fiction Manifesto as written by one of its characters. More short stories, including a series set in a future Solar System with some original spacefaring technologies and their unusual implications; an urban fantasy modelled on medieval legend; several hard SF-Horror (there's no Horror like Science Horror, I always say – technological plausibility makes it all the more disturbing, and in the extreme it can even prove useful as prophecy or cautionary tale); eventually to be collected into a themed anthology.


Graham Darling

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7Jan/15Off

Interview with Ira Nayman

Welcome_to_the_multiverse

Besides holding a PhD in Communication, Ira is the creator of Les Pages aux Folles, a Web site of political and social satire. He has self-published five collections of Alternate Reality News Service stories from the Web site in print, and he produced the pilot for a radio series based on stories from the first two ARNS books; “The Weight of Information, Episode One” can be heard on YouTube.

Ira has also written a series of stories that take place in a universe where matter at all levels of organization has become conscious. They feature Antonio Van der Whall, object psychologist. To date, eight of these stories have appeared in such collections as Even Birds Are Chained To The Sky and Other Tales: The Fine Line Short Story Collection, UnCONventional, Here Be Monsters, and Explorers: Beyond the Horizon.

Ira won the 2010 Jonathan Swift Satire Writing Contest. He signed on with Elsewhen Press for his Transdimensional Authority novel series, of which "Welcome to the Multiverse (Sorry for the Inconvenience)" and "You Can’t Kill the Multiverse (But You Can Mess With its Head)" were published in 2013 and 2014, respectively. You can find more about Ira at http://elsewhen.alnpetepress.co.uk/index.php/catalogue/author/ira-nayman/.

Interview by Christel Bodenbender

After self-publishing your first set of stories, what does it mean to you to have been signed on by a publisher the traditional way?

I love the control of self-publishing, and will continue to self-publish some of my writing despite now having a traditional publisher. That having been said, finding a traditional publisher was a very important part of my development as a professional author.

Self-publishing has a dismal reputation, often deserved given how many self-published books are riddled with typos and other evidence of bad writing. Having a traditional publisher gives a writer validation; it says to the public: somebody other than his mother believes in this writer. It’s not just the public, though; it also gives the writer a sense of validation. At the best of times, writing is a solitary craft; self-publishing increases this, since a book can be put out with no input from any other human being. When Elsewhen Press accepted my first novel, it proved to me that there was value to my writing.

One thing that I wasn’t expecting, but for which I am grateful, is the supportive community that my publisher has created, not only among all of the people who work on my books (including editors and cover artists), but the other writers that they publish. I have had two opportunities to meet other Elsewhen Press writers, and they are wonderful people. Given the solitary nature of writing, this has been a delightful perk of finding a traditional publisher.

Did the publisher approach you or did you get in touch with them?

I got in touch with them. But there’s a lesson in that story that I used to tell my students when I taught at Ryerson University: approach even the most mundane acts of career building as an opportunity to express your creativity.

When I am asked to write a bio for a science fiction convention I plan on attending, for example, I usually mix the personal information with a hefty dose of humour. One of the first cons I went to was Sci Fi on the rock, a convention held in St. John’s, Newfoundland. They printed my bio in the con programme. After I got there, whenever I would introduce myself, people would invariably point to me and say, “You’re the bio guy!” People knew who I was before they ever met me, which made talking to them (and selling them books) much easier.

What does this have to do with your question? Well. I sent a query letter to Elsewhen Press, outlining what I write and giving a brief description of Welcome to the Multiverse (Sorry for the Inconvenience). The response of the publisher, Peter Buck, was: we looked for some information about you on the Internet. You look completely bonkers – just the sort of person we’re interested in working with! Please send us the first three chapters of your novel.” Of course, he eventually published it. Would he have published the novel anyway? Possibly. But the fact that I made a good first impression couldn’t have hurt.

Don’t slough off even the smallest writer’s task; you never know what will benefit you down the road.

What is different in the writing and editing process between self-publishing and working with a publishing team? What do you see as the advantages of both?

When I decided to write humour lo these many years ago, I knew that I wanted to develop a unique comic voice. (This may not have been that smart, since it’s harder to sell people on something truly original than it is to sell them something that is a small variation on a formula they are already happy with. But, I was eight years old – what did I know?) Self-publishing allowed me to develop my voice without editorial interference; had I been more successful earlier in my career and had a traditional publishing path open to me, my writing may have developed in a more mainstream direction, which, I think, wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun for me or my readers.

An important advantage of working with publishing teams, and editors in particular, is that they force me to up my game. At this point in my writing career, I would like to think that I know my way around a story, that I know exactly the elements I need to make a sequence of events comprehensible to a reader. Still, I can’t begin to count the number of times a good editor has pointed out issues with a work that I hadn’t thought of. The process not only improves the individual works that the publishers have put out, but made me a better writer.

Please tell us more about the latest book and the universe of the Transdimensional Authority?

It’s a multiverse, actually. The basic idea is that travel between universes is possible, but it has to be highly controlled so that the fundamental fabric of reality doesn’t start to unravel. (What that means is explored in the first novel, Welcome to the Multiverse (Sorry for the Inconvenience) ) When you’re somewhere you shouldn’t be, doing things you shouldn’t be doing, the Transdimensional Authority is the organization that finds you, stops you and takes you back to where you belong.

The latest novel is You Can’t Kill the Multiverse (But You Can Mess With its Head). Different teams of Transdimensional Authority investigators are sent to universes where it appears that technologies are being used that do not belong in those universes. As their different stories unfold, it begins to become clear that the disparate investigations are actually somehow connected.

You Can’t Kill the Multiverse (But You Can Mess With its Head) was fun to write for many reasons, but I’ll give you just a couple. For one thing, it allowed me to explore some of the TA characters who had been briefly mentioned in the first book but who had otherwise been left undeveloped. For another thing, I was able to incorporate a character created by Michael Moorcock (with his kind permission). And there are dragons.

It’s the whole package, really.

Your stories thrive on humour. What is your source of inspiration for your writing style?

In reviews, my books are often compared to the work of Douglas Adams. While that is immensely flattering (not least because I am a fan), it is misleading: I have a much different set of thematic concerns and authorial voice.

My two main comic inspirations (which, apparently, surprise a lot of people) are the Marx brothers and Monty Python’s Flying Circus. At first, this may seem like an unlikely combination, but they both taught me two lessons that affect my work to this day: 1) maintain a high volume of comic elements, and; 2) use all of the comic devices at your disposal. The first point is important because the reader soon learns that if she doesn’t get a specific bit of humour, another will be along soon; as long as the reader gets most of the jokes, she won’t begrudge me some of the more topical or obscure or flat out strange ones. The second point is important because writers who use only one or two comic devices can become predictable, and surprise is one of the main characteristics of humour.

What does writing mean to you?

As I always say: writing is not what I do, a writer is what I am. It’s an essential part of my identity.

Many authors write four to six months a year, filling the rest of their time doing research and other career building things. I write just about every day (when you have to update a Web site on a weekly basis, you don’t have a choice). Because a lot of what I write is satirical, I read two newspapers a day as research. I try to read a lot of fiction, partially for the pleasure of it and partially to support my friends who are writers, but also to see if there is anything I can learn about craft from others. I carry writing utensils with me wherever I go and am prepared to make notes about projects at any time. (My friends are used to it.)

There is something about turning a clever phrase that is very satisfying. I really enjoy wrestling with character and situation (and, because I write humour, making it all funny). And, there is no greater joy than to have a complete major work and being able to say, “That’s mine. I made that.” (Okay, maybe there is one, but would it kill you to let me have my little bit of hyperbole?)

Tell us more about your future projects?

I have two books scheduled to come out in 2015. Random Dingoes is the third Transdimensional Authority novel. Noomi and Crash are the main characters (as they were in the first book); they are investigating a drug that is rumoured to make people high by allowing them to see into other universes without using any technology. Things go south when they are thrown out of the universe, sending the narrative in a completely different direction.

There will also be a sixth collection of Alternate Reality News Service articles called What the Hell Were You Thinking?: Good Advice for People Who Make Bad Decisions. It is a collection of humourous science fiction advice columns by ARNS regulars Amritsar, The Tech Answer Guy and The Biz Whiz.

I have also just about completed the Antonio Van der Whallcycle of short stories. After I have written the final story, I will write some interstitial material that will hopefully tie things together and answer questions about the world left unaddressed in the stories themselves, then I will look for a publisher for the whole package.

And there will hopefully be one or two surprises that I can’t talk about at the moment. So, for now, shhh....


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2Jan/15Off

Diff the Dragon – Part Sixtyone

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Diff the Dragon by Angela Lott, illustrations by Richard Bartrop. An Okal Rel Universe Legacy Novella featuring the young Alivda

Angela Lott is the middle child of Lynda’s three daughters. She did two years of Business schooling at the College of New Caledonia and is now working as an optometric assistant. In her spare time she enjoys writing, video blogging, reading and watching very nerdy TV shows.

Part 61

“Hey,” Alivda said. “What brings you here?”

“We need to talk,” Amel said.

“Oh, not you too!” Alivda groaned. “Grandma set you up to this, didn’t she?”

Amel had found her at a bar on a space station near Gelion. It was one of her favourite places to have a drink, meet a guy and generally have a good time.

“Perry hasn’t said a thing to me,” Amel said.

“Oh, so what do you want to talk about then?” Alivda asked, perking up again all at once.

“Your duelling.”

She sighed. Subtlety wasn’t her strong suit.

“Just to warn you: Grandma already tried to lecture me!”

“I don’t want to lecture you,” Amel said. “I just want to ask you a favour.”

“What?”

“Will you please check to see if the people you are duelling are, for lack of a better word, ‘not nice’ before you kill them? You could always make it to first blood or just have a sparring match if all you want is to learn.”

Alivda smiled. “Thank you for not lecturing me,” she said. “I will try.”

“Great!” Amel said. “Now onto more interesting topics?”

“You wanna help me scope out the bar?”

“Only if you are interested in women?”

Alivda laughed. “Not so much.”

“Well, I have a few days till I have to be back at court,” Amel said. “Let’s make the most of them.”

And they did.

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26Dec/14Off

Diff the Dragon – Part Sixty

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Diff the Dragon by Angela Lott, illustrations by Richard Bartrop. An Okal Rel Universe Legacy Novella featuring the young Alivda

Angela Lott is the middle child of Lynda’s three daughters. She did two years of Business schooling at the College of New Caledonia and is now working as an optometric assistant. In her spare time she enjoys writing, video blogging, reading and watching very nerdy TV shows.

Part 60

“I’ve been hearing things,” Perry told her granddaughter when she got back home.

“Really!” Alivda said sarcastically, not even looking at Perry. She walked in and headed for the kitchen. Perry followed her.

“I heard you killed someone,” Perry said.

“And did you also hear it wasn’t a fair duel?”

“No, but—”

“Then what’s the problem?” Alivda said, now pulling food from the cupboards.

“He was a good man,” Perry said.

“He was a horrible sword.”

“Nevertheless,” Perry said, “you can’t kill people just for that.”

“Sure I can! Didn’t I just prove that?”

“Fine then, you shouldn’t kill people just for being horrible swords.”

Alivda rolled her eyes and finished preparing her vegetable-free food.

“I am serious, Alivda!” Perry said. “Stop!”

Alivda shaped her hand into a mouth and made it yap at her grandma while she gathered up her Vrellish-friendly lunch.

“Don’t you walk away from me!” Perry yelled, but it was too late. Alivda had taken her food and left.

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19Dec/14Off

Diff the Dragon – Part Fiftynine

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Diff the Dragon by Angela Lott, illustrations by Richard Bartrop. An Okal Rel Universe Legacy Novella featuring the young Alivda

Angela Lott is the middle child of Lynda’s three daughters. She did two years of Business schooling at the College of New Caledonia and is now working as an optometric assistant. In her spare time she enjoys writing, video blogging, reading and watching very nerdy TV shows.

Part 59

“I can’t move!”

“So you want a ten minute break then?” Alivda asked.

“How about an eight hour nap?”

She laughed. “No.”

They were standing across from each other in the room she had rented. The man she had defeated was named Tristin and she was making him spar with her.

“You are a remarkable sword,” Tristin said.

“Thank you,” Alivda said. “You are an okay lay.”

He chuckled nervously. “You are no Angel to a man’s pride either, Alivda D’Ander, D’Aur Lorel.”

“True,” Alivda said, grinning. “So you ready yet?”

“Between the sex and the fighting I don’t think I ever will be again,” Tristin panted.

Alivda sighed. “Then I will just have to find someone who is.” And left.

Tristin collapsed on the bed as soon as she was gone, but he didn’t have long to rest. Less than an hour later, Alivda returned with a man named Bernard and made him leave.

Alivda thought her system was very effective. She got a sword lesson and a little fun out of it. And what in life was better than sword fighting and fun. Anything that would get her what she wanted.

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12Dec/14Off

Diff the Dragon – Part Fiftyeight

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Diff the Dragon by Angela Lott, illustrations by Richard Bartrop. An Okal Rel Universe Legacy Novella featuring the young Alivda

Angela Lott is the middle child of Lynda’s three daughters. She did two years of Business schooling at the College of New Caledonia and is now working as an optometric assistant. In her spare time she enjoys writing, video blogging, reading and watching very nerdy TV shows.

Part 58

For the most part Amel kept his promise, and if for some reason he couldn’t she would come and see him.

And again time flies when you aren’t keeping track of it. Alivda sprang from a fully grown child to a teen in no time.

She enjoyed Korbin more and more, until he got boring and she started flying away from home to meet other men.

Her favourite way of doing it was to challenge them to a duel.

“So let me get this straight,” the black-haired man facing Alivda said. “If I win I give you a sword lesson and if I lose we sleep together?”

“That’s right,” a now fourteen-year-old Alivda said. “That’s the deal.”

“But that doesn’t make any sense,” he said. “Why would I even try to win?”

“’Cause otherwise you will lose to a girl?”

“That may work on those Demish bigots, but it won’t work on me,” he said.

“Fine!” Alivda said. “Then let’s switch it around.”

“So if I win we sleep together?”

Alivda nodded.

“Alright,” he said and drew his sword. Alivda grinned.

She let him think he was winning. She let him think she was horrible and that’s why she wanted a lesson. Why she had messed up the terms of the duel the way she had. Then just when he was starting to relax, she ducked under and sliced his leg open.

He collapsed. Grinning, she walked over to him. “How do you like my terms now?”

He laughed. “You are a hell of a woman!”

Alivda grinned from ear to ear and dragged him back to the room she was renting.

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