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.
Originally from Scotland, Dave Duncan has lived all his adult life in Western Canada, having enjoyed a long career as a petroleum geologist before taking up writing. Since discovering that imaginary worlds are more satisfying than the real one, he has published more than fifty novels, mostly in the fantasy genre, but also science fiction, young adult, and historical. His most successful works have been fantasy series: The Seventh Sword, A Man of His Word and its sequel, A Handful of Men, and seven books about The King’s Blades. His 50th novel, The Eye of Strife, is now available from Five Rivers (and Amazon &c &c of course). To find out more, please visit http://daveduncan.com/
Interview by Christel Bodenbender
Your 50th book, The Eye of Strife, has just been published, which is an exciting achievement. Did you foresee going this far when you started writing?
Heavens, no! I was much more excited by selling my second book than I was by my first, because the second meant the first sale had not been a fluke. Besides, I was in my fifties already and wondering about retirement. (I gave up doing that a while back.)
Could you tell us a bit more about your latest book? Is it part of a series?
No, it's a standalone, and not an easy book to describe. It's almost a parody of epic fantasy, with gods and swordsmen and beautiful maidens. Even I didn't know how it was going to turn out until I was almost finished writing it. I didn't expect The Eye of Strife to be my fiftieth, which ought to be something more solemn and worthy. Or maybe a bagatelle is more appropriate?
Are most of your books/book series in unrelated worlds, or do you often draw on the same world and focus on different aspects/peoples within that world?
Um, yes... I don't tell the stories; the stories usually tell me. When I start writing, F&SF was largely a paperback genre (polite term for pulp fiction) so I could write cliffhanger series. When I got bumped up to hardcovers, that wasn't okay anymore, because hardcovers had to come out no more often than once a year. I've written about as many standalones as series, with the series running from two to four books.
Tell us what writing means to you?
Do you mean love or money? I tumbled into writing when boredom with a thirty-year career collided with a cyclical downturn of the oil business. (Here we go again, right?) I found writing great fun, and profitable, and ego-boosting. Nowadays I do it because I love doing it, and people still like what I do. In the company of Odysseus and Robert A Heinlein, I shall sail beyond the sunset.
You have spun many tales, what do you think is the source of your inspiration?
Insomnia. When I can't sleep, I make up stories. A few of them seem to have potential and inspire me to try writing them down, but beginnings are much easier to write than endings. I have dozens of openings on file, several half books, and even a 160,000-word completed novel that I've never gotten around to sending to my agent because I don't like the ending.
What are your favourite kinds of stories to write?
Obviously SF in all its varieties. I've never written a mainstream story. I just can't get interested in them.
Could you tell us about some future projects?
The book that I thought would be my fiftieth, but was delayed by various happenstances, is called Irona 700 and it will be published by Open Road Media in August. It's a more substantial work. If there's such a thing as a political fantasy, then it's one of those. If not, I may have created a new subgenre.
Apart from that, see above under “sunset”. I have a twosome historical fantasy almost done, and the last few days I've been trying out a science fiction story tentatively called Neweden, a title that ought to send shivers down your spine. And there are all those unfinished fragments on the hard drive.
Sandra Wickham lives in Vancouver, Canada with her husband and two cats. Recently, Sandra has been busy organizing the Creative Ink Festival for Writers, Readers and Artists, which you are welcome to join on Saturday, 25 April. To find out more about Sandra and the festival, please visit http://www.sandrawickham.com/
Sandra is also a writer and her short stories have appeared in Evolve, Vampires of the New Undead, Vampires of the Future Undead, Crossed Genres magazine, The Urban Green Man and more. She blogs about writing with the Inkpunks, is the Fitness Nerd columnist for the Functional Nerds, blogs for Luna Station Quarterly and slush reads for Lightspeed Magazine. Sandra competed in fitness competitions for ten years, including four years in the IFBB Pro ranks. She’s been a trainer for twenty years, offering programs designed for anyone looking to improve their level of health and fitness. Sandra has also acquired her black belt in martial arts.
Interview by Christel Bodenbender
The Creative Ink Festival is less than three weeks away, how has the response been in the community?
I’m overwhelmed by the support I’ve received from professional authors and artists as well as by companies willing to sponsor us. Our programming is stacked with talented and knowledgeable professionals, and our membership tote bags are going to be filled with great stuff, including free books, thanks to the generosity of those sponsors!
Is this the first major event you have planned and produced?
Over a span of ten years I promoted thirteen bodybuilding and fitness shows. Our last one had over 300 athletes, a sold out audience of over 1200, plus dozens of volunteers, sponsors and vendors. While it’s not the same type of event, the festival is similar in many ways and I’m hoping to use my experience to make it a great experience for everyone.
I saw the programming grid went up and am already selecting the panels and workshops I want to attend. How difficult was it to fill the day with these exciting events?
Once again, I’ll thank the presenters and panelists for their contributions, they’re providing so much experience and knowledge for festival members. Many of the panels are simply things I would love to hear about or have enjoyed at other events.
How nervous are you? This could become one of the major events for art and writing in Vancouver.
Well, now I’m extremely nervous since you put it that way! I do thank you for the kind words, but I’m just focusing on the details of this one, and promoting the 2016 event. I am nervous that after getting all these great presenters and sponsors on board, not enough people will come to see them. I’m hoping the “if you build it they will come” magic will work for me.
You had an exciting career in the fitness industry. Was writing speculative fiction something you always had on the backburner and can you live and breathe now?
I’ve always written, including writing my first novel at the age of nine. I dropped writing while I was at university pursuing my degree in English and Drama. After that came backpacking overseas, then competitions for ten years, none of which really went well with serious writing. Once I retired from competition, I went back to writing and started submitting.
What comes next? Are you right away going into planning mode for next year, or do you have other projects planned first?
The one day event has kept me extremely busy, for the full weekend event I will be taking the entire year to plan it. Of course, I also plan to continue with my own writing!
Charlotte is a writer, editor, bookseller, book collector, book historian and Alexandre Dumas fanatic. She lives in Toronto with her husband, two daughters and books. She reviews speculative fiction short stories over at Apex Magazine, where she is also the Reprints Editor. Charlotte has several short stories published, the latest is "La Héron," which appeared in the March/April issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. You can find more about Charlotte at http://once-and-future.com/
Interview by Christel Bodenbender
Your short story "La Héron" has just been published in the March/April issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. What is the story about?
It’s the story of a duellist and her drunken-nun second competing in an illicit sword fighting tournament in 17th century France. A band of otherworldly folk crash the tourney and the organizers let them compete anyway. Shenanigans ensue!
You have written a wide selection of short stories. What is your inspiration for writing?
In general, I write what I want to read, but on a story-by-story level my inspiration comes from a lot of different places. I’m a big fan of starting from a prompt – preferably several unrelated prompts – and thinking creatively to press these disparate elements into a cohesive story. Somewhere along the way I start to notice patterns and themes emerging on their own. The subtext is usually where my personal concerns and politics start to come out, so I go back in with an awareness of what is being said there and try to shape the story into a good vehicle for the theme.
In a different interview you said you found your feet when you started writing short stories. What draws you to the shorter side of speculative fiction in contrast to the epic plot?
Mostly I find the shorter scale more manageable. Not only do you have the ability to tailor every last word to the plot and theme just the way you want, but if it doesn’t quite work out, you haven’t invested years of your life in the project. I suppose a good writer probably puts the same attention to minutia into a novel, but the scale of that undertaking is just boggling. With a short story, I can hold the whole of it in my mind at once. The shape and pace of it is something I can manipulate and examine. Do I have the processing power to do the same for a novel? I’m not sure. Maybe one day I’ll find out!
You have also published an online story called "Utopia: An Interactive Crisis" using the interactive game engine Twine. How did you like the process of creating a plot without a straight storyline? Where there particular strengths or weaknesses you encountered?
This was really interesting! You’re basically writing dozens of parallel stories using the same characters. I loved it as an exercise in getting to know my characters and what they would do in a wide variety of circumstances.
But on the other hand, I think ultimately I had trouble seeing the story from the player’s perspective. Some storylines were more boring than others, and if a player hit one of these slower lines without knowledge of the others, they might get bored and give up. I found myself being clever, revealing information in one storyline that meant more if you’d read another. But what good is that to the player if they never played the other storyline? I think I got a lot more out of writing the game than anyone could have gotten out of playing it.
What feedback did you get from readers regarding the Twine story, where readers can also steer the plot with their choices?
I actually messed up the feedback mechanism – I neglected to put a contact button in until quite a while after the game launched. But I noticed people take the easy or obvious route the first time through, getting the most generic ending. This was one of the least interesting storylines and a lot of these players wouldn’t play a second time. But the players who went way out there and chose riskier options got the crazier endings and liked the game a lot more!
What are your favorite kinds of stories to write?
Action-adventure alternative histories! I’m interested in utopias and happy endings. I’m well aware that the world is a messy place, but I think the most interesting question you can ask is “How could it be better? What does better look like? What needs to be changed in a world or a society or history in order to get a better outcome?”
A lot of my favourite things can be classified as “guilty pleasures” – things that stir hope and excitement in me, but which can be deeply problematic. I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I want to show that you can have the thrill of exploration without the oppression of colonialism; the excitement of a battle without the othering of an enemy; the exceptionalism of a hero without creating a victim of everyone else.
You have also spent a lot of ink as fiction review blogger. How do you think you are able to shape the genre as a critic?
More than anything, I want to change the background noise. The status quo, I guess. I don’t have a particular mandate, but I want to help normalize unconventional stories by treating them as if they are conventional. No matter what you think needs to be changed about publishing or storytelling, it has to happen on all levels. You need not just stories and writers, but editors, critics, publishers, media outlets, networks. Whether you think we need more support for diverse stories, self-published stories, genre stories or whatever, you need people doing the grunt work. Reading those stories for more than just a challenge. Reviewing them as more than experiment. Talking about them as more than activism. If you want something to be the new normal, you need people to just be normal.
So that’s what I like to do. Find the stuff that isn’t getting the attention and give it some without making a big deal out of how little attention a thing is getting.
Could you tell us about some future projects?
My work has been creeping longer on me. I used to write to about 6000 words, but my last three stories have been 6500, 8500, and 8000 words. After a few months of panic, I’ve decided to just let it happen. My big work in progress is actually a novella: an alt-history murder mystery about an 18th century banker wooing investors for an aerocarriage venture. The whole thing takes place on the Isle of Logres, a nation of Ogres trying hard to figure out modernity. Murder gums up the works, as murder is wont to do.
Not that I’ve given up writing shorter short stories! I’ve a few of them in the pipe too.
Colleen Anderson has published nearly 200 pieces of fiction and poetry in such places as Chilling Tales, Evolve, Horror Library and Cemetery Dance. She has been poetry editor for the Chizine, host of the Vancouver ChiSeries, co-editor for Tessearcts 17 and The Playground of Lost Toys, as well as a freelance copyeditor. She has been twice nominated for the Aurora Award, received honorable mentions in the Year’s Best anthologies and been reprinted in Imaginarium and Best of Horror Library (forthcoming). New works for 2015 will be in Nameless, Second Contact, Our World of Horror, OnSpec, Polu Texni and Exile Book of New Canadian Noir.
For more information about the anthology The Playground of Lost Toys visit: https://colleenanderson.wordpress.com/2015/01/31/writing-the-playground-of-lost-toys/
Note: We’re already seeing a LOT of doll stories. The toys in this anthology need to be far ranging, both culturally and geographically. We won't be taking more than a couple of doll stories, if that many. And this doesn't mean start sending us a lot of toy truck stories. Think beyond the sandbox!
Interview by Christel Bodenbender
Toys are an interesting theme since it is universally relatable. Where did the idea for the theme come from?
I was at World Fantasy in Toronto a few years back and we (Halli Villegas, Ursula Pflug) were hanging out around the CZP book table. Somehow we got talking about some of our favourite childhood toys and how we lost, or found them. I mentioned I had this little metal fridge and I loved it. I was given a new one, complete with plastic fruit and veggies but it wasn't the same. Imagine having one of those cool silver airstream trailers and replacing it with a nondescript modern one. It may be newer but where’s the character. From this discussion the idea for the anthology was born.
How many individual stories are you planning to include in the anthology?
It will depend on how long the stories are. Minimum would be 16 but we're hoping to have around 20.
What audience and participants do you want to attract?
Audience? Everyone. Until we see the final stories it will be difficult to discern just how “adult” the anthology will be but it’s not aimed at children. I was reading Heinlein and Clarke by time I was 12 so probably the teenagers would enjoy it. Otherwise, we hope the stories are thought-provoking, entertaining and wide ranging. We aren't looking for stories about your favourite truck and how it was stolen by the kid next door. There may be wonder or dread but we want the tales to conjure up sense of otherness or a reality that isn’t as we see it in the light of day. What do toys mean? Some are symbols for other events and have a deeper meaning. Therefore allegorical and metaphorical stories may fit in as well.
There is a maximum story length indicated on your blog. Do you also have a minimum in mind? I am particularly thinking if you are also including flash fiction stories.
Writing a good story that has a beginning, middle and end is harder the more you limit the words. It’s a good exercise for cutting extraneous description though. While we wouldn't want a full anthology of 500-word stories, a few shorter pieces at 500 or 1000 words may balance the rest well. Which means we could possibly look at a story slightly longer than 5,000 words but it will have to be truly stellar the longer it is.
I interviewed Ursula Pflug, the co-editor of the anthology, recently on Reality Skimming Blog. Have you worked together on projects before?
Not really. We’ve both been authors in several anthologies and Ursula bought one of my poems Family Tree last year for the anthology They Have to Take You In. So she's edited me but this is our first time working together.
How are you going to split the editing tasks?
We've had the publisher at Exile set up a Submittable account. I use it for submitting to various magazines and anthologies so this will be the first time using it as an editor. But it has the functions set so that we can both read and vote on the stories. Two yeses will move the story into the strong possibility category (we can’t say yes to any until the deadline). One yes and one no means that if one person loves the story they can make a case to the other editor. Two nos means it’s rejected and if we do so before the deadline you're free to submit another.
Are you going to fundraise for the anthology? If so, what are your plans?
No we’re not. I might want to do this some day for another anthology, but Exile is paying the writers and us so we can concentrate just on editing. Exile is funded through various councils such as the Ontario Arts Council and Canada Council.
Sandra Wickham lives in Vancouver, Canada with her husband and two cats. Her friends call her a needle crafting aficionado, health guru and ninja-in-training. Sandra’s short stories have appeared in Evolve, Vampires of the New Undead, Evolve, Vampires of the Future Undead, Crossed Genres magazine, The Urban Green Man and more. She blogs about writing with the Inkpunks, is the Fitness Nerd columnist for the Functional Nerds, blogs for Luna Station Quarterly and slush reads for Lightspeed Magazine. Sandra competed in fitness competitions for ten years, including four years in the IFBB Pro ranks. She’s been a trainer for twenty years, offering programs designed for anyone looking to improve their level of health and fitness. Sandra has also acquired her black belt in martial arts. To find out more about Sandra, please visit http://www.sandrawickham.com/.
Interview by Christel Bodenbender
First of all, I want to congratulate you on the recent birth of your son. How does it feel to be a mother?
I absolutely love this new mom gig. The lack of sleep is difficult, to put it mildly, but baby cuddles trump everything else. Everything. We’re so happy and privileged to have our son in our lives.
Besides your new parental role, you are also busy in the fandom and are planning the Creative Ink Festival for this April. Can you tell us more about your vision for the event?
Thanks for asking about my new venture, I’m really excited about it. My goal is to provide a great event for writers, artists and readers, all rolled into one. I really want people to get inspired, motivated and encouraged when attending the festival. You know that awesome feeling you have when you attend a great workshop or informative conference or fun convention? That's what I want for attendees. I want it to be both fun and educational. For anyone who has attended When Words Collide in Calgary, I am modelling it after that.
What audience and participants do you want to attract?
I’m hoping to get people involved that are as passionate about the creative arts as I am. Any writers or artists looking to pass it forward make great presenters and panelists. We’ve got a terrific GoH for our one day event, author and publisher, Mark Teppo. Our GoHs for 2016 have also been booked! We’re thrilled to have New York Times Best Selling author Carrie Vaughn and Hugo award winning artist Galen Dara coming to Creative Ink Fest next year.
As for the audience, the festival is really for everyone! If you’re a writer, a reader, an artist or a fan of creative endeavours, there will be something there for you.
What are your plans for advertising and fundraising for the event?
Social media is our friend, we’ll be using our website, twitter and facebook to get the word out. I’ve contacted those in the community who run workshops and critique groups, I’ll also be contacting the wonderful members of SF Canada. We’ve been generously given a listing in Pulp Literature, who are also going to be one of our sponsors. Speaking of sponsors (see how I did that), the money to fund this event is going to come solely from memberships and sponsors. We’re keeping the cost of memberships extremely low to keep it accessible, so sponsors are going to be vital. We offer different sponsor packages, depending on whether people want a booth, program ad, etc. Yes! I’m plugging sponsorship. Please check out the website for more information!
How can people get involved in the Festival?
I’ll always be looking for presenters, volunteers, sponsors and vendors. Visit the website or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can chat!
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/.
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.