The Best of Escape Pod 2019

written by David Steffen

Escape Pod is the weekly science fiction podcast, one of the Escape Artists family of podcasts, edited by S.B. Divya and Mur Lafferty.

Escape Pod published a total of 41 stories in 2018, which is lower than it has been in some years because of a combination of longer stories that were split across multiple episodes, as well as mixing in “Flashback Friday” episodes this year, which are republications of stories published earlier in Escape Pod’s history–since Flashback Friday stories have already been considered for previous Best of Escape Pod lists here, they were not considered this time.

And let me say that Escape Pod has been in incredible form this year–it was very hard to winnow the list down to this length, and I had to cut stories that I would recommend to get it down to the length. If you like what you read in this list, there are many many more where that came from!

Every short story that is eligible for Hugo nominations this year which were first published by Escape Pod are marked with an asterisk (*). 

The List

1. “Failsafe” by Tim Chawaga, narrated by Tina Connolly*
Failsafes are legally required human components to automated systems that serve as impediments to machine uprisings by being able to refuse to participate if something starts happening. There aren’t many left and they are left and they are chosen specifically for their empathy.

2. “When Robot and Crow Saved East St. Louis” by Annalee Newitz, read by Louis Evans
I love stories of artificial intelligences that do great things because they find new ways to apply their specialized programming, and this is one of those! In this case a drone designed to help the CDC stop disease outbreaks early.

3. “Optimizing the Verified Good” by Effie Seiberg, narrated by Trendane Sparks
Battlebots! This story is about a cleaning bot that operates in a battlebot arena cleaning up the damaged parts after battles to clear the way for the next battle. It decides that a more optimal way to keep the arena clean would be to reduce the amount of damaged robots–another in the subgenre of robots following their programming and doing unexpected things as a result.

4. “The Great Scientist Rivalry on Planet Sourdough” by Beth Goder, narrated by Divya Breed, Mur Lafferty, Adam Pracht, Alasdair Stuart, and Tina Connolly
Hilarious full-cast recording with multiple point of view characters all with their own clashing motivations.

5. “Flash Crash” by Louis Evans, narrated by Ibba Armancas*
Another in the robots following their programming and doing unexpected things, in this case an investment AI expanding as it goes.

Honorable Mentions

“Spectrum of Acceptance” by Nyla Bright, narrated by Maxine Moore*

STORY ANALYSIS: “Optimizing the Verified Good” by Effie Seiberg

written by David Steffen

For another round of story analysis, I wanted to draw attention to the short story “Optimizing the Verified Good” by Effie Seiberg, first published in Analog September/October 2018, and reprinted in audio in Escape Pod.

As with the previous run of the Story Analysis, do expect SPOILERS after this paragraph, but will give a quick spoiler free summary here. The cleanerbot that is the protagonist of this story works in a Battlebot arena, where robots are specifically built to destroy each other in the arena. Each of them the fighters feels a pain response when they are damaged to encourage them to avoid being damaged, and there is a control AI that maintains and updates their systems to promote the overall appeal and effectiveness of the Battlebot arena. The cleanerbot shouldn’t have any interest in doing anything but it’s primary purpose–cleaning up the robot parts after the battles, but it has memory of the pain the battlebots feel when they’re damaged and it decides it wants to help.

The cleanerbot starts simple, working by itself, finding ways to work within the parameters given to it that will interfer with the efficiency of the arena, cleaning the same areas over and over again, cleaning poorly, and so on. The other bots don’t understand why it would seem to push against its purpose, but as it tries again and again, and is gradually given updates to block each new attempt, the battlebots start to see the wisdom in its plan, and they start to work together to find some way to improve their lives.

I really enjoyed this story of a bot revolution, as they try to understand the details of their scenario, they come to understand that they can’t just stop fighting because that would mean the battlebot arena would close down, which is where their power comes from. But I especially enjoy intelligent robot stories when there is some justification for how they behave, and the incompletely formatted memory drive made sense here. And the robot way of thinking was very well executed here.

I quite enjoyed this story by Effie Seiberg, and I always look forward for her stories.

Award Recommendations 2018

written by David Steffen

Here are some recommendations for selected Hugo and Nebula categories. (Note that I’ve listed them in alphabetical order, rather than order of preference, and have listed more than the 5 ballot options when possible). I don’t think I’ve read any eligible novels this year, so that category is not represented.

Best Novella

“Umbernight” by Carolyn Ives Gillman, in Clarkesworld Magazine

Best Novelette

“A Love Story Written On Water” by Ashok K. Banker, in Lightspeed Magazine

“A World To Die For” by Tobias S. Buckell, in Clarkesworld Magazine

“The Last To Matter” by Adam-Troy Castro, in Lightspeed Magazine

“Dead Air” by Nino Cipri, in Nightmare Magazine

“Hapthorn’s Last Case” by Matthew Hughes, in Lightspeed Magazine

“The Fortunate Death of Jonathan Sandelson” by Margaret Killjoy, in Strange Horizons

“To Fly Like a Fallen Angel” by Qi Yue, translated by Elizabeth Hanlon, in Clarkesworld Magazine

“House of Small Spiders” by Weston Ochse, in Nightmare Magazine

“Thirty-Three Percent Joe” by Suzanne Palmer, in Clarkesworld Magazine

“Master Zhao: An Ordinary Time Traveler” by Zhang Ran, translated by Andy Dudak

Best Short Story

“After Midnight at the ZapStop” by Matthew Claxton, in Escape Pod

A Scrimshaw of Smeerps” by Shannon Fay, in Toasted Cake

“Variations on a Theme From Turandot by Ada Hoffman, in Strange Horizons

“Secrets and Things We Don’t Say Out Loud” by José Pablo Iriarte, in Cast of Wonders

“Octo-Heist in Progress” by Rich Larson, in Clarkesworld Magazine

“Hosting the Solstice” by Tim Pratt, in PodCastle

“Marshmallows” by D.A. Xiaolin Spires, in Clarkesworld Magazine

“The Death Knight, the Dragon, and the Damsel” by Melion Traverse, in Cast of Wonders

“Some Personal Arguments in Support of the BetterYou (Based on Early Interactions)” by Debbie Urbanski, in Strange Horizons

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form / Ray Bradbury Award

Ant-Man and the Wasp

The Incredibles 2

Kevin (Probably) Saves the World

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, for Nintendo Switch

A Wrinkle In Time

The Best of Escape Pod 2018

written by David Steffen

Escape Pod is the weekly science fiction podcast, one of the Escape Artists family of podcasts.  At the beginning of 2017 it was edited by Norm Sherman, but when he stepped down from the role two co-editors have filled the positions: S.B. Divya and Mur Lafferty.

In February Escape Pod once again participated in the Artemis Rising event across the Escape Artists podcasts, publishing fantasy stories written by women and nonbinary authors.

Escape Pod published a total of 42 stories in 2018, which is lower than usual because of a combination of longer stories that were split across multiple episodes, as well as mixing in “Flashback Friday” episodes this year, which are republications of stories published earlier in Escape Pod’s history–since Flashback Friday stories have already been considered for previous Best of Escape Pod lists here, they were not considered this time.

Every short story that is eligible for Hugo nominations this year which were first published by Escape Pod are marked with an asterisk (*). 

The List

1.”And Then There Were (N-One)” (Parts 1, 2, 3, 4) by Sarah Pinsker
The author Sarah Pinsker attends a convention of Sarah Pinskers from other dimensions. And then Sarah Pinsker is murdered! Dun dun DUUUUN.

2.”The Revolution, Brought to You By Nike” (Parts 1, 2) by Andrea Phillips
Nike’s new viral marketing campaign is aimed at changing the world.

3.”Caesura” by Hayley Stone
Finding ways to make an AI write poetry as a form of grieving.

4.”Beatrix Released” by Shaenon K. Garrity*
Beatrix Potter, controlling a team of clever animals.

5.”Anna and Marisol in Time and Space” by Tim Pratt
Time travel romance!

Honorable Mentions

“After Midnight at the Zap Stop” by Matthew Claxton*

2017 Hugo/Nebula Award Recommendations!

written by David Steffen

Having previously listing out award-eligible works that were written or published by me, here is my list of works that I think you might want to consider for Hugo and Nebula awards that were not written or published by me.

I’m working mostly from the Hugo Award categories, with a focus on fiction categories.

The Short Story category is the one that means the most to me, so to help suggest more reading for anyone interested, I’ve listed 10 stories instead of 5.

I left out the Campbell Award for Best New Writer, because I know a lot of amazing people on that list and I don’t want to make people feel bad they got left out (but I’m still going to have to pick 5 for my actual ballot!).



The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden, Harper Collins

It Devours by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, Harper Collins



“River of Teeth” by Sarah Gailey, Macmillan

“The Dragon of Dread Peak” (and part 2) by Jeremiah Tolbert, at Lightspeed



“The Bridgegroom” by Bo Balder, at Clarkesworld

“Who Won the Battle of Arsia Mons?” by Sue Burke, at Clarkesworld

“The Chaos Village” (and part 2) by M.K. Hutchins, at Podcastle

“Owl Vs. the Neighborhood Watch” by Darcie Little Badger, at Strange Horizons

“The Secret Life of Bots” by Suzanne Palmer, at Clarkesworld

“Remote Presence” by Susan Palwick, at Lightspeed

“That Lingering Sweetness” by Tony Pi, at Beneath Ceaseless Skies

“A Series of Steaks” by Vina Jie-Min Prasad, at Clarkesworld


Short story

“How I Became Coruscating Queen of All the Realms, Pierced the Obsidian Night, Destroyed a Legendary Sword, and Saved My Heart’s True Love” by Baker & Dovey, at No Shit There I Was, reprinted in Podcastle

“Unit Two Does Her Makeup” by Laura Duerr, at Escape Pod

“Planetbound” by Nancy Fulda, in the anthology Chasing Shadows, reprinted in Escape Pod

“Infinite Love Engine” by Joseph Allen Hill, at Lightspeed

“The Greatest One-Star Restaurant in the Whole Quadrant” by Rachael K. Jones, at Lightspeed

“Home is a House that Loves You” by Rachael K. Jones, at Podcastle

“Vegetablemen in Peanut Town” by August Marion, at Escape Pod

“All the Cuddles With None of the Pain” by J.J. Roth, at Podcastle

“Carnival Nine” by Caroline M. Yoachim, at Beneath Ceaseless Skies

“Texts From the Ghost War” by Alex Yuschik, at Escape Pod



Dramatic Presentation, Long Form


The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

The Lego Batman Movie

Star Wars: The Last Jedi



There are quite a few that I might list here, but mostly I would love to see some award recognition go to my favorite podcasts at Escape Artists: Escape Pod, Podcastle, Pseudopod, and Cast of Wonders.  For too long podcasts have been thought of in fiction as afterthoughts, but they’ve proven that they can find amazing original fiction and present it professionally.


Editor, Short Form

Likewise, I’d be especially excited to see Escape Artists editors get nods here.  S.B. Divya, Mur Lafferty, and Norm Sherman for Escape Pod (you can nominate jointly).  Jen Albert and Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali for Podcastle.  Shawn Garret and Alex Hofelich for Pseudopod.  Marguerite Kenner for Cast of Wonders.

The Best of Escape Pod 2016

written by David Steffen

Escape Pod is the weekly science fiction podcast, edited by Norm Sherman, what is I think the longest running science fiction podcast out there.

In February Escape Pod once again participated in the Artemis Rising event across the EA podcasts.

Escape Pod published 43 stories in 2016.

Every story that is eligible for Hugo Award is marked with an asterisk (*).


The List

1. “Recollection” by Nancy Fulda
A treatment is available for Alzheimer’s, but it can only restore your ability to remember–the memories that have been lost are gone forever.  A man recovering from treatment struggles to fit in with the family that loves him.

2.  “In Their Image” by Abra Staffin-Wiebe*
What do religions make us do?  Examined by looking at alien religions.  Awesome philosophical SF.

3.  “Among the Living” by John Markley*
What if first responders were equipped with power armor?

4.  “Murder or a Duck” by Beth Goder*
Humorous parallel world traveling story.

5.  “Myspace: A Ghost Story” by Dominica Phetteplace*
What happens to all those dead accounts you leave behind on old sites?

Honorable Mentions

“Brain Worms and White Whales” by Jen Finelli*










What’s Wrong With My Readers?!

written by Ben Hallert

The 2016 Escape Pod Flash Fiction (anonymous) writing contest had been going on for weeks, I was trapped on the wrong side of the glass, and I was convinced my critics were broken.

The length limit: 500 words maximum. If you could tell a story in less, go for it, but too much leftover room usually isn’t the problem with these. My first draft clocked in around a thousand and every single one of them was absolutely vital, but I started hacking and slashing. I’m a novice writer and it didn’t come easily, but the more I read out loud, the more I could find to get rid of. I’d re-organize things, remove others, and occasionally I’d even ADD things in a wild-eyed craze because I knew they were needed. Then, of course, the knives would have to come out again.

It hurt, but I couldn’t quit because somewhere along the way I’d decided that when I grew up, I wanted to be a writer. That I was almost forty years old didn’t help, but I knew that the only way I’d ever get any better was to actually write something where people could comment and then hopefully learn how to suck less. I had to enter the contest.

By the submission deadline, I’d been working on this story for a while. For days, I’d been chiseling tiny pieces off and molding others. I don’t have the natural talent the pros do so it felt like I had to fight for everything until finally, exhausted, I clicked The Button. My story was out of my hands. After that, the waiting started. A new batch released for judging each day with no sign of mine until near the end. Finally, it was time to get some feedback. When people started to critique it, though, something happened and I became… unstuck. I found myself falling backwards in time to a different century, state, and even career. I was back in Santa Monica, it was the 90’s, and I was back in software development.

A couple decades ago, I was getting my first exposure to software usability testing. This is a thing where we would give folks off the street some cash to come in and do tasks from a list while we watched. We’d ask them to talk their way through what they were doing too so we could understand why they decided to click certain things or type others.

Basically, what we wanted to know was “Can normal people use our software?”

Task: Turn off the firewall temporarily
Task: Create a network rule to allow Netscape Communicator
Task: Check for product updates

Stuff like this, we’d give them a basic task to complete and then we’d watch through the mirrored-glass (exactly like you’d find in any number of spy or law enforcement movies) and take notes.

I’d been working with this program for months and I knew it inside and out. I KNEW we were ready to go, anyone could use it and it was a really straight-forward interface so in my mind, this was a formality.

As people started doing the tests, things started to fall apart and I began to question the criteria used to pick them. Were these actual adults who could hold normal jobs and wash themselves? Why were they having all this trouble? I couldn’t understand how they messed up SO MANY THINGS.

“Why doesn’t he click the button RIGHT THERE?” I’d ask someone next to me after watching a tester spend a couple minutes hunting for an option.

Later, another new member to the team shook their hands over their head. “I don’t get why she doesn’t drag the icon into the folder! Has she even USED a computer before? Just drag it!”

“He’s in the wrong screen! Why does he think he can make a firewall rule HERE?! I think this is a prank. Nobody could be this thick!” I said to the other team member. They nodded. We were agreed, this was nonsense.

The seasoned developer in the room, waved at us to quiet down. “Just listen to what they’re saying”, she told us. “This is why we’re doing this.”

Finally, the person running the test asked us to quiet down because they could hear us through the glass. When we stopped talking, we were forced to listen, and when that happened we began to actually hear what this quiet developer had been talking about. No, it wasn’t obvious that they needed to drag something into a folder. Creating the firewall rule in this screen might make sense if they expect this part of the product to work like that other part they tried earlier. That button… I knew that button would take them to the option needed, but that was because I’d played with the product for months. Slowly, I grew to appreciate these tests because they showed me what we needed to do to make our products better. As I matured into my job, I started being able to see some of the problems ahead of time, early in design, and that saved us money and schedule time. I grew to be better at what I did and eventually started to look forward to these sessions.

Back in 2016, reading the responses to my story felt like I was riding an emotional time machine. I was that younger version of me again. Instead of a mirror-wall, it was the anonymity of the contest and the need to not post (because of the danger of revealing which story was mine) that separated me from the readers. “No”, I wanted to post, “that’s not what I meant at all! The character is supposed to be like XXXX, not YYYY. You’re wrong!” “That’s not it at all, that was on purpose!” I wanted to tell another poster. After reading a couple responses and yelling at my monitor, I heard that voice from my past again and this time, I paid attention more quickly.

“Just listen to what they’re saying”, that developer murmured to me from the 1990s. I hadn’t spoken with her in years, but I could still hear that advice like I was back in Pre-dotcom-era Santa Monica. I paused. If I was going to become a better writer, I couldn’t expect to hand-hold my audience. My story would need to be self-contained, if it needed explanation then I’d screwed up. “This”, I could hear her say in my mind, “is why we’re doing this”.


BenHallertBen Hallert is an airplane pilot with an IT habit. He’s active in the Maker community, has an extremely patient family, and like to shoot frickin’ laser beams at things for fun. His story ‘Life Sentence’ was published in Escape Pod 426 in December 2013.

The Best of Escape Pod 2015

written by David Steffen

Escape Pod, the original science fiction podcast, is still running more than ten years later.  It continues to be edited by Norm Sherman.  Mur Lafferty began the year as editor-at-large (whatever that means) but moved on to the sister publication Mothership Zeta.

Escape Pod published 41 stories in 2015.


The List

1. “Beyond the Trenches We Lie” by A.T. Greenblatt
Fighting a war against blobs whose only vulnerability is lying, the more novel the more effective.  The story is told in the space between the lies.

2. “Everyone Will Want One” by Kelly Sandoval
What would it be like if you had a bot to aid you in your social situations to help you get through high school?

3. “Flowers For Algernon” by Daniel Keyes
Classic science fiction, you may have read it in school, a journal story written by a mentally handicapped man who undergoes a procedure to enhance his intelligence.

4. “The Semaphore Society” by Kate Heartfield
Future user interface technology allows the paralyzed to begin a new online group, inventing a new language as they go.

5. “Adaptation and Predation” by Auston Habershaw
A shapeshifting scavenger as assassin, taking on a member of a dangerous predator species.  Really fun, interesting, action packed story.


Honorable Mention

“The Lone and Level Sands” by Marco Panessa


Interview: Mur Lafferty

Mur_lafferty_headshotMur Lafferty is one of the pioneers of podcasting – founder, producer, host, voice, editor, author. She has won the Parsec Award several times. Her Shambling Guide comedy-horror series is available from Orbit.

Member of the Podcast Pickle Hall of Fame
One of the Top Ten Savvy Women in Podcasting, 2006
Tricks of the Podcasting Masters was named one of the top reference books for 2006 by
2007 Parsec Nomination for Best Speculative Fiction Story (Short Form): I Look Forward To Remembering You
2007 Parsec Award for Best Writing Related Podcast: I Should Be Writing
2008 Parsec Award for Best Speculative Fiction Story (Novella Form): Heaven – Season Four: Wasteland
2008 Parsec Award for Best Speculative Fiction Story (Long Form): Playing for Keeps
2010 Parsec Nomination for Best Speculative Fiction Story (Novella Form): Heaven – Season Five: War
2011 Parsec Nomination for Best Speculative Fiction Story (Novella Form): Marco and the Red Granny
2012 Nomination for John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer
2013 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer


Lafferty_ShamblingGuide2F8-1-200x300CARL SLAUGHTER: You’re one of the pioneers of podcasting. Geek Fu Action Grip, Wingin’ It, I Should Be Writing, Mad Science with the Princess Scientist, Angry Robot Books, Pseudopod, Escape Pod. Did I miss any?

MUR LAFFERTY: Almost! I did the Lulu Podcast and This Day in Alternate History back in 2007.


CARL SLAUGHTER: How did you get involved in each of these projects and what significant happened while you were there?

MUR LAFFERTY: I’m not sure what significant things happened- I was simply interested in podcasting and I became part of the podcasting community where I met Michael and Evo of Dragon Page, and Steve Eley of Escape Pod. My communications with them had me working on Wingin’ It and the Pseudopod and Escape Pod, and editor Lee Harris was a listener of mine for I Should Be Writing and he asked me to do the Angry Robot show.


CARL SLAUGHTER: You recently returned to Escape Pod. In what capacity?

MUR LAFFERTY: I’m Editor at Large for Escape Artists, which means I am co-editing Escape Pod with Norm Sherman, but I have some other duties that will be apparent in future months.


CARL SLAUGHTER: I Should Be Writing is your longest running podcast. How many episodes have there been? What topics have you discussed? Who have you interviewed?

MUR LAFFERTY: Probably around 400 to 500 total. I have video, special eps, and some premium content for people who have supported me for years. I talk mainly about the anxieties that can stop new writers, and how to work past them. I’ve interviewed Connie Willis, Neil Gaiman, NK Jemisin, and, coming up, Seanan McGuire and Charlaine Harris.


Mur_lafferty-300x198CARL SLAUGHTER: Who is the Princess Scientist, what are the science topics, and how mad is the science?

MUR LAFFERTY: She’s my 11 year old daughter, we do science experiments around a theme via video. We’ve done sun science and baking soda science.


CARL SLAUGHTER: Whose idea was it to launch the Parsec Award? Who was involved?

MUR LAFFERTY: I thought SF podcasting needed an award, since podcasting awards started coming on the scene in 2005, but no one was recognizing the geeky section of shows. I got together with Michael R. Menenga and Tracy Hickman and we launched the award.


CARL SLAUGHTER: You carved out a fiction career for yourself in podcasting before you broke into print. How does an author get podcasted without getting published first? Is it easier to get a story published after it’s been podcasted? Is it easier to break into print after you’ve been podcasted?

MUR LAFFERTY: Publishing fiction via podcast is a DIY endeavor – an author doesn’t “get” podcasted, she does it herself. As for easier, I don’t think so. Like all self publishing, if something is a huge hit, publishers may take notice, but if it’s not, then publishers will consider it already published and not worth their time. One thing podcasting will give you is an audience which can make you more attractive to publishers, but ultimately you have to have a good book.


Lafferty_GhostTraintoNOLA-TP-200x300CARL SLAUGHTER: Suppose someone wanted to launch a podcast. How much money would they need to raise? What would they need in the way of recording equipment and web resources? What would they need in terms of personnel?

MUR LAFFERTY: I think you’re thinking bigger than I’ve ever been! You can launch a podcast with a $20 mic and some web space, which can be $120 a year. You don’t need a group to do it, the biggest thing is make sure you have a host with plenty of bandwidth so, if you get popular, you don’t get hit with a huge server bill.


CARL SLAUGHTER: Anything else an aspiring podcaster needs to know?

MUR LAFFERTY: You will hate your voice and your first few shows will likely suck. It happens to everyone. Don’t let it stop you.


Carl_eagleCarl Slaughter is a man of the world. For the last decade, he has traveled the globe as an ESL teacher in 17 countries on 3 continents, collecting souvenir paintings from China, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, and Egypt, as well as dresses from Egypt, and masks from Kenya, along the way. He spends a ridiculous amount of time and an alarming amount of money in bookstores. He has a large ESL book review website, an exhaustive FAQ about teaching English in China, and a collection of 75 English language newspapers from 15 countries.

Interview: Nathaniel Lee

interviewed by Carl Slaughter

Me 2014Nathaniel Lee puts words in various orders. Periodically people give him money for this. The correlation is weak at best, but present. He lives somewhat unwillingly in North Carolina with his wife, son, and obligatory cats, where he maintains a vague sort of career that provides sufficient money to continue his writing and board game habits. Coincidentally, he is the Assistant Editor of both Escape Pod and the Drabblecast (the posts were each offered independently and without knowledge of the other). As a result, he has read enough stories about penises, serial killers, and time travel. He is also an assistant editor for the humorous anthology series Unidentified Funny Objects. Check out his blog at Mirrorshards where he does Very Short Stories. Exactly 100 words. No more. No fewer. Every day.



NATHANIEL LEE: Start writing and stop when you hit a hundred.

No, okay, seriously, flash fiction is a tricky row to hoe because here’s so little space. Microfiction almost always has to sacrifice some of the key “pieces” of a story: plot, setting, character, theme. Sometimes you shade them out in proportion, sometimes you just do away with one altogether (resulting in “character study” or “world fragment” type stories). If you can use tropes and narrative conventions to make your audience fill in the blanks for you, so much the better.

One thing that it will train you to do is absolutely and brutally trim all ornamentation. If there’s a bit of description that’s just pretty words but that doesn’t advance the core concept of the story, you’re going to feel it bulking against you like a two-liter soda in a snow jacket pocket. You’ll learn very quickly what is absolutely necessary to a story. (And sometimes you’ll find that you need those extra words; I’ve had several full short stories that grew from the fact that the 100-word story they started out as was just too cramped a space to explore them or generate their full effect.



Don’t ask me. I’ve lapsed. 😛 I’m down to one a week at best, now that we have a toddler, and when I do have energy to write, I’m usually working on salable short fiction. So I guess the answer is: free time.

When I’m alert and rested and ready to be creative, it takes as little as ten minutes for me to polish up a new flitterfic. It’s taken up to and over an hour, though.



At this point, they’re nearly identical. I manage our teams of slushers, making sure they get the stories and give the basic thumbs-up/thumbs-down in a reasonable timeframe, and then I filter the thumbs-up pile down to the 1-5% that make it to the editor’s desk. Other duties include whatever Norm needs me to do at the time, including emergency audio recordings, working with authors on rewrites, pestering people to send me stories I’ve read elsewhere, etc.



Uh, legion? Escape Pod plays it straight; we do science fiction of a fairly middle-of-the-road style, presented as stories read to you by a narrator, with brief intros and editorial comments. Drabblecast is a Weird market, liable to come at you with body horror or high-brow lit-fic or poetry or goofy cartoons, anything and everything that generates that frisson of “wait, what?” that makes a story Drabblecastian. It’s also much more of a show, if you catch my meaning, with Norm’s big personality rampaging all over every segment and putting a personal stamp on everything that happens, a bit like the old late-night movie shows with the colorful hosts. (Yes, Norm, I am explicitly comparing you to Elvira.) I feel like people listen to the Drabblecast specifically because it is Norm’s show. (Basically, Escape Pod has had four editors and at least as many hosts in its run, and they’ve all done a good job and maintained a recognizable show, but if the Drabblecast ever lost Norm, it wouldn’t be the Drabblecast anymore.)



What, like get your stories on? Uh, well, write a really good story and then send it to us. Advanced players can sell it elsewhere first, since we do a lot of reprints, and thus get paid twice on the same piece.

The other route is to write a story so amazing that when we read it after you have (of course) published it elsewhere, we then hunt you down and demand to give you additional money for it. If you want to make sure we see it, though, best to send it in to the submissions address.

Once we’ve bought a story, we line up a narrator from our stable of volunteers and get an audio file, and then Norm does whatever he does into a microphone and he and Tom chop it up real fine and bring it to a simmer, after which it gets spewed all over the Internet.



Unidentified Funny *Objects*, please. (U.F.O. – geddit!?) [ Just testing you. ]

Anyway, for Alex I just do volunteer slushing. He has about a dozen people he uses to help filter and sort stories every year. Also sometimes he buys stories off me. (I assume he doesn’t take my slush feedback on them into account. :-D)



Twenty dollars, same as in town. (You send it to the submissions address: Preferably while submissions are open, which they are not. If the money continues to roll in accordingly, I’m sure there will be a fourth installment next year. Try ’em then. :-P)



One word, plz. Mirrorshards. [ I knew that. ] And what goes on there is I write flash fiction and post it. Also when a new story of mine comes out elsewhere, I link to it there and update my bibliography, which is a sub-page on the Blogger interface. Real authors maintain actual sites with blogs about their lives and writing habits. I periodically post bizarre surreal snippets and the occasional hyperlink. This is how you can tell I am quality.



Uh, not much? When I was a wee young author, back in 2008, I joined a bunch of writing workshop groups and found out that most of them are terrible and are full of amazingly bad advice. Critters is a decent site if you need a feedback forum (and I think some fairly major names still use it), but the signal-to-noise ratio is pretty bad because your story is literally sent out to a random subset of the membership, of whom a further subset will decide to read it and critique it. I received some comically bad critiques there and at one point had someone threatening me with physical harm because I did not like his (terrible) story. It’s also very slow; you’re waiting a month or two for a critique unless you have the free time to earn the jump-the-line passes by critiquing a dozen stories a week (which I used to have but no longer do). I eventually found myself treating Critters critiques as an aggregate, where if *everyone* was saying the same thing, I’d look into it as an apparent problem with the story, but on the whole, it’s very hit-or-miss. I did meet some very nice and competent writers there as well, don’t get me wrong. It’s just that once you find a smaller group of folks whose taste you know and trust, I’d rather use that group of reliable beta-readers than trust to the whims of fate and the general Internet population. Additionally, since I now read slush for two magazines, I have a lot less energy and interest to devote to detailed critiques of random strangers’ fiction. (As King of the Slush Monkeys, I can read a terrible story and just go “No, this is crap, get out of my inbox” and I don’t have to be nice or friendly or find constructive things to say, just formal and polite “no.”)



Get used to disappointment? No, seriously. There are multiple orders of magnitude more hopeful authors than there are open and available slots in all paying markets combined. While it’s theoretically possible for a wunderkind to immediately flare into Guest of Honor status at all local conventions and instantly quit their day job to write fiction full-time, it is not going to happen to you, dear newbie author (statistically speaking). You’re going to have to keep head down and butt in chair, cranking out stories and improving your skills, and you’re going to have to send your stories out and get them back with form-letter rejections, a LOT, and it’s not much fun and doesn’t really pay much of anything. It’s a lot of hard work and a long, slow process, and for most people it never will become a career in the sense that it can pay the bills.

(Yes, yes, self-publishing revolution and etc. Me, I just don’t have the energy to promote myself quite that frenetically, and frankly the folks that have the skills to hack it as a salesperson and maximize their profits are often not the same folks who have the ability to make me tear up with the beauty of their prose. And even there the success stories are egregiously outweighed by the people who took a shot at it and failed so badly that no one even noticed they were trying. Browse the free and 99-cent books on the Kindle store sometime if you want to feel depressed. About yourself, about humanity, your choice.) (The self-published erotica is particularly good for the latter. My wife reads me excerpts sometimes. She likes them, but then, she is a demonic entity who feeds on human misery and draws strength from the pain and humiliation of others.)

As for actual writing advice, well, honestly, almost all of it is useless because almost all of it has at least one amazingly good counterexample, and more pertinently, what really works for one person (as writer or as reader) sounds dumb to another. I avoid statements about the nuts and bolts of writing because if you’re good enough, you can make anything sing. My advice is to read a lot, and not just idly, but actively teasing apart how and why a story was written the way it was. A good author is thinking about (or better still, has ingrained instincts about) everything down to the specific order in which the adjectives describing a character are placed in a sentence; the better you understand why each word ended up in the place it did, the better you’ll do when trying to sort different words into order yourself.

Read a lot, read actively, and keep butt in chair and fingers on keyboard. The more you write, the more you assess and revise and read and incorporate and revise and write some more, the better you will get. It’s boring, but it’s the only advice I’m willing to guarantee.


Note: Diabolical Plots reviewer Frank Dutkiewicz is also associate editor of the above mentioned Unidentified Funny Stories, I mean Unidentified Funny Objects, I mean, well, you know what I meanâ€


Carl_eagleCarl Slaughter is a man of the world. For the last decade, he has traveled the globe as an ESL teacher in 17 countries on 3 continents, collecting souvenir paintings from China, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, and Egypt, as well as dresses from Egypt, and masks from Kenya, along the way. He spends a ridiculous amount of time and an alarming amount of money in bookstores. He has a large ESL book review website, an exhaustive FAQ about teaching English in China, and a collection of 75 English language newspapers from 15 countries.