The Best of Podcastle 2011

written by David Steffen

Podcastle’s going strong under the continued editorship of Dave Thompson and Anna Schwind. In 2011, they published 52 feature length episodes (from episodes 138-189), and 9 flash episodes (flash episodes 58-66), as well as 4 special feature stories from the Alphabet Quartet.

Generally, it was a pretty strong year, I think. I had plenty of material to fill the list with. There was one episode that got under my skin in a bad way, that I had trouble shaking, but I want to keep these lists about the positive, so that’s all that I’ll say about it here.

1. As Below, So Above by Ferrett Steinmetz
I’m surprised this one didn’t appear on the Drabblecast. Bloodthirsty giant squid point of view character, mad scientists, all with a nice mix of theology.

2. The Parable of the Shower by Leah Bobet
Modern Biblical story that begins with an angel visit… in the shower. Fun stuff.

3. The Ghost of Christmas Possible by Tim Pratt and Heather Shaw
I’ve seen so many adaptations of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol that I’d thought I’d never see another one that really seemed original. But this one pulled it off. It’s a mashup of the original and William Hope Hodgson’s Carnacki the Ghost Hunter who is called in by Ebenezer to investigate the strange visitations.

4. The Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu
Fair warning: this is a very sad one. A son’s story about growing up with an immigrant mother. The characters in this one seemed especially genuine.

5. Abandonware by An Owomoyela
A boy finds an apparently prophetic computer program in his dead sister’s belongings.

6. Stereogram of the Gray Fort, In the Days of Her Glory by Paul M. Berger
Two perspectives on a set of events taking place after the humans have lost the war with the Fae.

7. Hart and Boot by Tim Pratt
This story is based on the known life of Wild West outlaw Pearl Hart and her mysterious partner in crime, Joe Boot. This takes the known events of her life and fills in the gaps.

Honorable Mentions

A Hunter’s Ode to His Bait by Carrie Vaughn

Balfour and Meriwether in the Adventure of the Emperor’s Vengeance by Daniel Abraham

Beyond the Sea Gates of the Pirates of Sarskoe by Garth Nix



The Best of Podcastle 2010-

My first Best of Podcastle list was posted back on January 4th, 2010. This list picks up where that one left off, and includes the rest of 2010. So it includes all of Podcastle’s publications except for “When Shakko Did Not Lie”. Including flash fiction, there were 67 stories included in this set, and I’ll be listing out my favorite 7.

There have been some major events at Podcastle in the last year. They reached their 100th episode. Rachel Swirsky stepped down about the same time of my list last year, and was replaced by dual editors Dave Thompson and Anna Schwind (who I interviewed last year after they took over).

If you like this list, check out my other “Best Of” articles.

1. The Mermaid’s Tea Party by Samantha Henderson
read by Tina Connolly

Don’t be fooled by the title into thinking that this is Disney’s The Little Mermaid. The mermaids in this story are evil, spiteful creatures and the story hits on all cylinders from the first moments in which a young girl, a survivor of a shipwreck, is feigning enjoyment of seawater “tea” to keep the sharp-toothed mermaids from eating her. Very dark.

2. Creature by Ramsey Shehadah
read by Norm Sherman

A lovely, well-told non-human perspective. Creature is a near-invincible blob living in a post-apocalyptic world. The story follows his travels across the wasteland, as he meets and befriends a young girl.

3. The Warlock and the Man of the Word by M. K. Hobson
read by Bob Eccles

An awesome “weird west” tale, in a world where demons exist among cowboys in the wild west, and the power of prayer can generate a sending from God with unpredictable results.

4. The Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allan Poe
read by Eric Luke

This is probably my favorite Poe story, and it’s good to hear it on the podcast. This is one of those stories we had as required reading that convinced me that required reading does not necessarily suck.

5. Biographical Notes to “A Discourse on the Nature of Causality, with Air-planes” by Benjamin Rosenbaum by Benjamin Rosenbaum
read by Graeme Dunlop

No, the doubling of the name “Benjamin Rosenbaum” is not a mistake, the first is part of the title. This is a long philosophical adventure in a parallel world starring a parallel version of the author. Most of it takes placeon a dirigible in a world where airplanes are nothing but imagining. In this world philosophy is more prevalent than scientific rigor, so the perspective is very different and interesting.

6. The Alchemist’s Feather by Erin Cashier
read by Dave Thompson

Another well-told non-human perspective. The point of view is an Alchemist’s simulacrum, a little wooden doll without a voice who is kept only for his value in experiments.

7. Songdogs by Ian McHugh
read by Amanda Fitzwater

And, another “weird west” type tale, this one in a mutated post-apocalyptic Outback starring a bounty hunter mage bringing in her captive for her pay.

Honorable mentions

1. The Christmas Mummy by Heather Shaw & Tim Pratt
read by Rish Outfield

Interesting note: This was included with Heather and Tim’s Christmas letter last year. What a fun idea!

2. Fetch by Nathaniel Lee
read by Peter Wood

3. Sir Hereward and Mr. Fitz Go to War Again by Garth Nix
read by Paul Tevis

Busy Fitches: David Thompson and Anna Schwind

Anna Schwind and David Thompson are the co-editors of Podcastle, a weekly podcast of fantasy fiction. It’s one of a trio of podcasts produced by Escape Artists, the others being Escape Pod (for science fiction) and Pseudopod (for horror). They’ve stepped up to fill the editorial position recently vacated by Rachel Swirsky. I’ve very much enjoyed the stories that Rachel has chosen, but I’m excited to see what new editorial directions these two will steer the publication toward.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with these podcasts, you should check them out. My Best of Podcastle list would be a good place to start. They’ve carried stories by many of my favorite writers, including Tim Pratt, Greg Van Eekhout, Cat Rambo, and Edgar Allen Poe. Each podcast provides an audio story every week, free to download. They depend on donations to pay their authors, so if you like the story enough, you might want to consider dropping them a few bucks. I know both editors from the Escape Artists forums, where Dave and Anna are known as DKT and anarkey, respectively. If you like to discuss the good and bad qualities of stories, stop by.

When David Thompson isn’t editing, he’s also a writer, who wrote Last Respects (among other things) which made it on my Best of Pseudopod list. You can find him on LiveJournal as well where he talks about many things, including the new season of LOST.

Anna is also a writer who’s been published in Escape Pod and Every Day Fiction. You can find out more about her on her website.

David Steffen: How were you chosen to co-edit Podcastle? Had either of you expected it or was it completely out of the blue?

David Thompson: In August 2009, Rachel emailed us and asked us to come aboard and help with some of the details-oriented tasks at PodCastle like finding narrators for stories, scheduling introductions, manage the schedule, record feedback, those kinds of things. It was kind of hinted at that she might want to hand over the editorial reigns at some point, but then we got another email a little over a month later saying that time was now. We all kind of sat on it for a while, and convinced Rachel to stay until the end of the year, but that’s when we started reading slush and selecting stories. So it wasn’t completely out of the blue, but it all happened very fast. At least, that’s how I remember it.

Schwind: I remember it exactly the same way! Except with talking trains and a rotting orange and the secret message in a bottle from that werewolf guy.

Thompson: Ben Phillips is a werewolf? That explains so much.

Steffen: Can you give any hints about the stories you’ve bought? How do you think the stories you two choose will be different than Rachel’s?

Thompson: For the most part, I’d rather keep what we bought and what Rachel bought slightly ambiguous. I can tell you that we’ve run stories that Anna and I have selected, and we’re still running stories that Rachel selected, as well. I’m not entirely sure how our selection will differ from Rachel’s. That might be a question better suited to our listeners a year or so from now.

Schwind: I can give you the following hint: we’ve bought some great stories. Stories which Dave and I are really excited, I mean hand-rubbing and cackling excited, to share with listeners. Some of them will be stories Rachel never would have bought, and some of them will be stories that are exactly what she would have bought.

Steffen: Is editorial work what you expected?

Thompson: I’m not really sure what I expected, to be honest. It’s certainly very satisfying work – we’re doing something we believe in, telling stories to thousands of people. And since we were both longtime fans of the Escape Artists podcasts, it feels like we’re really giving back. But it’s definitely more complicated than I thought it’d be – it’s more than just reading stories. There’s also looking for narrators, recording introductions, recording other stuff like announcements or feedback, scheduling. It’s a big job. But I love it!

Schwind: Pretty much, yeah, what I expected. I knew it was too much work for one person, actually, which makes the extensive work Rachel put into PodCastle all the more remarkable. I’m really glad to have someone to share the responsibility (and the joy) with. Oh, wait, did I write that? Now my co-editor is going to think I like him or something.

Steffen: What’s the hardest thing of the job? The most rewarding?

Thompson: Okay, I’ll cop to one story that was our pick: Samantha Henderson’s “The Mermaid’s Tea Party.” I loved it when I first read it a couple years ago, and blogged about it, and shared it with a few friends. But when we ran it at PodCastle, we got to share a story we loved with over 10,000 people. For me, that’s the best part – sharing stories we love. That it was well-received by our listeners was also nice. As I said before, the details of everything else is the hard part, at least for me. There’s so much more than just finding a story you love that goes into the podcast.

Schwind: Fishy bitches!

Thompson: OMG. “Fishy bitches” should be the logo on the next PodCastle t-shirt.

Schwind: Ok, on a more serious note: the toughest thing for me is knowing there’s stories out there which I adore, but because of rights situations or inappropriateness to audio or wrong genre or no ability to contact the author or whatever, we just can’t bring to listeners. And let me just insert a PSA right here: PodCastle solicits stories sometimes, and we can’t solicit your story if you, as an author, have not included a way to be contacted on your webpage. You’d think that’d be totally basic, but alas, no. You, author, go put a contact me button on your webpage RIGHT NOW.

Steffen: How do you split the duties? If one of you likes a story and the other doesn’t, how do you decide whether to buy it or not?

Thompson: We both read the stories that Ann Leckie, our incredible, tireless slush reader, forwards to us. If one of us likes a story and the other one doesn’t, we have a discussion on what’s working for us in the story and what isn’t and why. After that discussion, we’re usually on the same page. As for splitting the duties, I record intros once a month and record outros/feedback segments for every episode. I think that’s really the only thing that I do that Anna doesn’t.

Schwind: One thing I like about working with Dave is that we complement each other so well. Often he’s perfectly happy to do the aspects of running the podcast that I find tiresome. I believe he feels similarly, and he’ll ask me if I’d mind doing something that to him seems an onerous chore and I’m overjoyed to do it. Splitting duties has been relatively painless because of that. As to deciding on stories where we feel differently, it’s about – like Dave said – talking it through. We’ve not yet had a knockdown drag out fight over anything. I’m actually hopeful that we do, at some point, just to see what that’s like, but so far we’ve been able to make a case that sways the other or not about each individual story. That sounds civil and boring. I should probably have made something up, about a contest of wills or a platinum battle in the astral plane.

Thompson: I didn’t realize fights on the astral plane were an option. Now I’m going to have to go out of my way to pick a fight over a story.

Schwind: Eeeeexcellent, Thompson. We shall meet in the metaphysical arena of stars and infinite night, each wielding our ineffable auras as a finely honed weapon, and the first to fall shall give over the right to peddle one story.

Thompson: I’ve got dibs on the Possible Sword!!!

Steffen: What sort of stories have you seen too many, and what sort would you like to see more?

Thompson: We’ve seen a lot of stories featuring pirates. But I’m actually fine with that. I wouldn’t mind seeing more…weird stuff in general. New weird, I guess. I wouldn’t mind finding some Sword and Sorcery that really blew my mind, but I haven’t read it yet.

Schwind: Let’s see…we see a lot of stories where the implications of the worldbuilding aren’t acknowledged within the story and lots of stories where the author thought fantasy was an excuse to skip their research. We also see lots of run of the mill fantasy, with no distinguishing marks, whether it be urban or faux medieval or pre-columbian or whatever. On reflection, I’m considerably less interested in what I see too much of than in what I’d like to see more of. I’d generally agree with Dave that I have a strong attraction to stories that court the weird. Give me some Fortean phenomena, or some cockroach-shaped, lightning-emitting unicorn, or some vividly described but unusual setting and I’m there. I don’t think anyone’s sent us a story where the plot hinged on the outcome of a soccer game between centaurs, or one where their furniture is trying to murder them at the behest of an angel. We don’t get many stories set in Africa. It’d be nice to get a city story about Mumbai or SÃ’ o Paulo, instead of New York. We don’t get any fantasy set in the 1950s or the 1970s; it’s either current or in the far past. Cold war fae? Quetzalcoatl and the Sandinistas? I could get into that. Very few stories from the point of view of a bug have come to our inbox. In fact, since I’m on point of view, I will also say we don’t get many stories in omniscient POV. I like tight third and first person narrations as much as the next reader, but fantasy has a well-established tradition of omniscient POV and I really enjoy it, when it’s deftly executed. So, you know, there’s plenty of leeway for surprise and delight. There are innumerable situations I haven’t seen or read about, and those are the ones I want to see and read about.

Thompson: Come to think of it, I could go for more whimsy. I love the dark and gritty stuff. The fishy bitches and the goblin sweatshops. But we’ve got a story coming out by Merrie Haskell that’s very adult but at the same time completely charming. It’s not a kid’s story – it has some pretty mature stuff happening in it. But it’s permeated with whimsy, and we don’t see a lot of that in our slush.

Steffen: Besides the editorial change, are there any other changes in the works for Podcastle?

Thompson: Nothing major. We’re doing some smaller things, like running reviews. We have our first, full-length PodCastle original coming out soon. The other EA podcasts run originals regularly, but PodCastle’s run almost only reprints. So that’s kind of a new thing. But for the most part, getting out a feature-length story every week and a piece of flash fiction every third week keeps us pretty busy.

Schwind: Busy Fitches!

Steffen: When you’re not editing, writing, or reading, what do you like to do?

Thompson: Ha! I don’t think I have time to do too much else. Spend time with my family. I need to make more time to write – I haven’t had as much time to do that in the last six months as I’d like to.

Schwind: I’m strongly tempted to make something up here. I’ll tell you two lies and one truth: I like to watch TV, I like to fold origami, I like to bake cakes.

Steffen: Who do you admire most?

Thompson: To be honest, I’d have to say I think I admire my children most right now. They’ve both had some difficult times this past year, and yet they’ve handled it all with far more grace than I would have. I appreciate their grounding me, and I admire how much joy and wonder they both radiate.

Schwind: Most? Seriously? I have no idea. I admire the way my cats can sleep in uncomfortable positions and the way the sun glints on the Atlantic and the way Obama speaks in public and the way Suzanne Vega sings and the way Darjeeling tea tastes in the morning.

Steffen: In exactly 6 words, what is the meaning of life?

Thompson: Love everyone. Do not be afraid.

Schwind: Inhale. This, too, shall pass. Exhale.

Steffen: What was the last book you read?

Thompson: I’m listening to Gene Wolfe’s Shadow of the Torturer right now. I’d read the entire Book of the New Sun series years ago, but I just found it online at Audible, and I’m having a great time listening to that on my commute and at work. It’s such a challenging, layered, weird book. I’m also reading Jim MacDonald’s The Apocalypse Door, which is fun. I’m crazy excited for Escape Artist authors who have books coming out: Greg van Eekhout, Tim Pratt (who is serializing Broken Mirrors online for free right now), M.K. Hobson, Samantha Henderson, N.K. Jemisin, and Mary Robinette Kowal – they all have novels coming out soon, and that makes me really happy, because I became a fan of all of them from listening to their stories at Escape Artists.

There’s always way too many things I want to read.

Schwind: The Book Thief by Mark Zusak.

Steffen: Your favorite book?

Thompson: Oh, there’s a few I love. I still remember just needing to take a few hours to think after reading Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 in high school. Alex Garland’s The Beach really channelled the GenXer in me. In college, I wanted to escape and live in Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. I’m still kind of blown away by all the cool weirdness that China Mieville crammed into Perdido Street Station.

Schwind: I can’t fail but notice that all of these questions come in the singular. This makes me sad.

Steffen: Wait a minute… What do you mean “all of these questions”? It’s almost as if you know what questions are coming even before I ask them. But that’s impossible! What am I thinking of right now?

Thompson: Erm, who is your favorite author?

Steffen: I’m the one who asks the questions around here. Now, where was I? Ah yes, now I remember: who is your favorite author?

Steffen: Who is your favorite author?

Thompson: My favorite? That’s a difficult question for a short story editor to answer! Thinking more along novel-length stuff: Gaiman and Mieville, definitely – they’ve had the strongest influence on me.

Schwind: I am wallowing in sadness.

Steffen: What was the last movie you saw?

Thompson: Wow. The last one I saw in the theaters was the last Harry Potter, I think. The last DVD I watched was District 9. But it seems like lately, I’m watching a lot of TV on DVD like Veronica Mars, Pushing Daisies, and The Wire. And, of course, the final season of Lost.

Schwind: The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus. I love Terry Gilliam.

Steffen: What is your favorite movie?

Thompson: Empire Strikes Back, easily. I would love to carve out nine hours one day and rewatch all the Lord of the Rings movies. I also tend to quote Get Shorty randomly.

Schwind: Now I weep.

Thompson: You don’t like Empire Strikes Back? Or Get Shorty? I’m…not sure I can work with you anymore.

Schwind: As long as we agree that Han shot first, I may be able to stop crying over the tyranny of the singular favorite.

Thompson: Hrm. Guess we can keep working together, then.

Steffen: Incidentally, Anna, could you stop using my invisibility cloak as a hanky? Human tears make it all shimmery, and it costs a fortune to get it dry-cleaned. Now, do you have any upcoming publications you’d like to tell us about?

Thompson: Maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaybe? I’ll have to get back to you on this one.

Schwind: No. I’m trying to be better about submitting stories, but well.

Steffen: Do you have any writing works in progress you’d like to tell us about?

Thompson: Oh, some short stories, a couple novels. You know, the usual. But at this point, I’d feel more comfortable just saying enjoy PodCastle.

Schwind: All my writing consists of works in progress. Very little gets finished or revised. I feel badly for whomever has the task of going through my papers when I die. That said, I expect to be starting a new novel soon, perhaps before the year is out. If you want to read it you’ll need to join my crit group, though. 🙂

Steffen: Thanks to both of you for taking the time to answer a few questions. I know you’ll keep doing a great job in your new roles. I’ll be listening.

Schwind: Thanks for taking the time to interview us. I believe this may be the first time I’ve ever been interviewed.

Thompson: Yes, thank you! It’s a first for me too. Although I do feel kind of ripped off that there weren’t any cockroach-like unicorns to mark the occassion…

Steffen: You didn’t see them because they’re invisible. And pink. I know when they’re nearby because my nose hair tingles and I taste royal purple on my tongue at the same moment that I get a craving for garlic.

Thompson: Ah, yes. I see them now!

The Best of Podcastle

podcastle-iconPodcastle is a podcast of fantasy stories, which I’ve been listening to for the past couple of months to get caught up on their backlog. They’ve provided a whole lot of great stuff for free distribution. They do ask for donations, but they are not required to listen to their fiction. Now that I’ve listened to all of their episodes, I’ve made a list of my top ten favorite episodes (and some honorable mentions that almost made the list).

If you like this article, you might also want to check out The Best of Pseudopod, in which I make a similar list for Podcastle’s horror counterpart, and The Best of Escape Pod, the science fiction counterpart.

1. Cup and Table by Tim Pratt
Read by Stephen Eley

Superpowered agents on a quest to find the Holy Grail. You can’t get much cooler than that! On top of that, the protagonist has a confused time sense, and Pratt’s writing of the story in non-chronological order works surprisingly well. And if that’s not enough, the ending was both cool and unpredicted (by me anyway).

2. A Heretic by Degrees by Marie Brennan
Read by Paul Tevis

Worldbuilding at its best. The strange world of Driftwood is revealed to the reader bit by bit. I know from experience that this is a tough balance to strike. Too much at once and it gets boring. Not enough and it’s confusing. Parallel worlds have always been one of my favorite fantasy elements.

3. Fourteen Experiments in Postal Delivery by John Schoffstall
Read by Heather Lindsley

This one starts out relatively normal and ramps up the weird as it goes on which, for me, made it easier to digest. I don’t particularly like the protagonist of this one, but she feels like a real person and that’s more important to me than likeability anyway. If you’ve never read any surrealism you might want to give this one a try just to see what you think. There are some lewd images and swear words–they fit well within the story, but just FYI.

4. Captain Fantasy and the Secret Masters by Tim Pratt
Read by Matthew Wayne Selznick

Clearly Tim Pratt’s style is well suited to my reading tastes! This is a very long one, one of the Podcastle “Giant” episodes, and one of the few Giants that I’ve liked. Most stories this long are much longer than they need to be–they could benefit by cutting their length in half and they seem to be padded for word count. This one is worth every word, every second. I do love superheroes, and this story gives nods to old-school superheroes alongside more modern styles, and has some unique ideas I haven’t seen in any other superhero stories (which is hard to do in this day and age). Lots of good rip-roaring action, as well as some good mystery elements.

5. Come Lady Death by Peter S. Beagle
Read by Paul S. Jenkins

This is an oldie but a goody. First published back in 1963, it tells the story of Death in human form who attends a party. The setting is similar to Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death, but the style and plot are all their own. It’s not the first time I’ve seen a female Death figure (Susan Bones from Pratchett’s Discworld series, for instance), but this incarnation is distinct and provides an enjoyable experience.

6. Nine Sundays in a Row by Kris Dikeman
Read by Kane Lynch

I have a lot of respect for anyone who can do a nonhuman point of view well, and Kris Dikeman has done that with this story. It’s the tale of a deal with the devil with the point of view of the devil’s dog, sent to watch over the supplicant who must spend every Sunday night at a crossroads for nine weeks in a row in order to earn a meeting with the devil. The characters are great, and the ending is fitting. A great story.

7. Komodo by Tim Pratt
Read by Cat Rambo

Yes, another one by Tim Pratt! Apparently I’m a huge fan, though I made the list on the stories without thinking much about the authors. His style and subject matter must just be particularly well-suited for my tastes. So I’ll definitely be watching for more from Pratt. This is the tale of a very powerful sorceress living in the modern day, when she comes up against something that seems to be beyond her abilities. She’s a well fleshed-out character, and the magic system in this is really good, not like anything else I’ve read.

8. Colin and Ishmael in the Dark by William Shunn
Read by MarBelle

Usually I don’t like omniscient point of view, where the narrator is an apparently corporeal third party in the room, unable to affect, only to observe. But it works well in this story, describing an encounter between a prisoner and a guard in a pitch black jail cell. The story is told almost entirely through dialogue between the two, and because the scene is dark, the actual events that are occuring are not always straightforward to interpret. This helps keep the story as disorienting for the reader as it is for the characters, which is quite a trick.

9. The Evolution of Trickster Stories Among the Dogs of North Park After the Change by Kij Johnson
Read by Heather Lindsley

The premise of this story is very interesting, with domesticated animals suddenly gaining the ability to speak, and it focuses on the interaction between dogs and their former masters. As the dogs develop a lingual culture, they develop (as the title states) trickster stories, which are interspersed with the narrative itself. I actually liked the trickster stories better than the main narrative, despite their short disconnected nature. I wish the world had been fleshed out a bit more, animals gaining the ability to speak didn’t have nearly the effect that I would’ve expected, but there’s still a lot to love about this story, and the trickster stories themselves made them worth the listen.

10. Castor on Troubled Waters by Rhys Hughes
Read by Alasdair Stuart

This is a ridiculous tale told by a character who has quite a story to tell in the time honored tradition of making stuff up to get out of paying people money. This is clear from the very beginning, which just makes his tale all the more funny.

Honorable Mentions

It was hard to pick out just ten, so here’s a few that were strong contenders to make the list.

The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allen Poe
Read by Cheyenne Wright

I know, it’s nearly a crime for Poe to be on the honorable mentions and not on the actual list. I’ve loved Poe’s writing since I first read them in English class, and this is one of my favorite authors. I love Cheyenne’s voice, and he narrated this quite well, except for one detail. The word “Amontillado” is mispronounced throughout, which drove me to distraction. One mispronunciation isn’t the end of the world, but since the word is used many times within the story, is in the title itself, and is in fact the central motivation for one of the characters, I found it hard to ignore. Even if it had been pronounced phonetically, it would have been better. In any case, Poe is one of my favorite authors of all time, I still wanted his story to be mentioned.

In Ashes by Helen Keeble
Read by Marie Brennan

The Twa Corbies by Marie Brennan
Read by Elie Hirschman

In Order to Conserve by Cat Rambo
Read by Mur Lafferty

Technology and Writing

Technology is constantly changing the way we do so many things, and writing is no exception. How exactly? I’ve broken down the answer to that question into a set of categories. Keep in mind that all of this is through my own perspective on writing, which has been primarily speculative fiction short stories.

Is there anything I’ve left out, related to any sort of writing? Leave a comment!

1. Revising/writing

a. Spell Check-Many would be lost without spell check. Many programs, including Microsoft Word, even do a spell check as you type, and immediately mark an incorrectly spelled word the moment you type it. The spell check program can suggest alternative spellings, provide dictionary look-up. Still, spell checks could be improved–if the program could recognize a name through context this would prevent a lot of false alarms. Word also comes with a grammar check, but that is less useful because its grasp of grammar rules is shaky at best.

b. Revise and print-You decided you want to add a new paragraph on page one of a five hundred page manuscript? Or you discovered that all of your pages need a 1.5 inch margin instead of 1 inch? No problem! All you need to do is open up the document in your word processor, make your changes, and it’s ready to print. If you wanted to do this with a typewritten manuscript, it would not be fun at all.

2. Backing up your work

Imagine that, after putting weeks, months, or years of work into creating a masterpiece of prose, you suddenly lose your only copy of your manuscript. You remember the major plot points, but you’ve lost all the little details, and all the beautiful sentence-level work. It’s a terrible thought! Well, these days, there’s no reason to lose all your work if you just take a little time to prepare. Email is a convenient way to back your documents up. Many email services provide large storage banks for each account. I have a Gmail account that I started for free that makes a great aid to backing up documents. While I’m working on a new document, I email myself every couple of days. If I ever lost my other copies, all I would need to do is dig up the saved email. In addition to that, if someone plagiarized your work in the future, the timestamp on the email could help prove that you had a work in progress of the story long before it was in print. In addition to email, it’s always a good idea to back up a file in several places, each at different physical locations (so that a disaster like a fire doesn’t destroy years and years of hard work).

There are even programs designed specifically to help you keep your stuff backed up. Anthony recommend Carbonite.

3. Learning the craft

a. Interaction with pro authors-When I was younger, professional writers seemed to be a race of distant and otherworldly beings that I could never hope to interact with, lest my head explode (like when humans hear the voice of God in some belief sets). But now that illusion has been mostly dispelled. Don’t get me wrong, I still admire my favorite writers greatly for the amazing worlds they’re able to pull seemingly out of nowhere, but it turns out that quite a lot of them are quite nice people, and I’m even pretty sure that some of them are at least mostly human. Lots of them have blogs where they freely give writing advice to anyone who’s interested in listening. David Farland, for instance, has an email blog called Kick in the Pants–you can sign up for it at his website. Dean Wesley Smith is another favorite, providing great advice on his blog, including ideas for self-motivation like The Race. I’ve even added quite a few of my favorite authors as friends on Facebook–I enjoy hearing their writing updates and hear when they’re coming through my area for book signings.

No single writing method works for everyone, so if David Farland’s advice doesn’t work for you, don’t be discouraged. Just keep trying different methods until you find something that really clicks. Check out the sites of a few different authors. At the very least, their perspectives are entertaining. And if you have any questions, drop a comment to one of them. Keep in mind that they’re busy, but it’s not at all rare for them to take some time to reply to questions or comments.

b. Peer critique forums-Once I decided to start writing I spent more than a year writing a novel, mostly in isolation. I had just a few people who were willing to give me feedback on my stories, but these people tended to be inclined to tell me that they really liked the story, but not tell me much else. This was good for my ego, but not so useful to improve my writing skills. After that year, I decided to start writing short stories, and while doing market research I came across Baen’s Bar, a peer critique forum that doubled as a submission vehicle for Jim Baen’s Universe. You can post a story to their forum, and it is available immediately for feedback from others registered on the forum. Staff members of JBU often gave their comments, as well as other aspiring writers. Not only can you get feedback on your own work, many of whom are very experienced and have a good eye for picking out what’s missing in a story, but you can critique the writing of others. Of all the ways to improve your own writing, critiquing others is the best way, in my opinion. It allows you examine the stories of other aspiring writers and examine them with a cold eye without any emotional attachment to the story. You can decide what you like and what you don’t, and the real trick is to learn how to apply this to your own writing.

Jim Baen’s Universe will be closed as of mid-2010. There are no official plans to close Baen’s Bar critique forum, and the newsgroup it exists on will probably still need to be maintained for Baen’s Books and the Grantville Gazette magazine, so i hope the venue is around for a good long time.

c. Easy sharing-If you want to share a copy of a story with a friend, all you have to do is drop them an email. It’s free, and it’s quick, and a great way to share your work for feedback or just for fun.

d. Autocrit-Autocrit is a subscription-based service which provides automated tools to help watch for trouble spots in your manuscripts. It can look for potential flaws such as overused words and phrases, cliches, and overused dialogue tags. No tool is the end-all be-all of revising your manuscript, but this tool in combination with other techniques and tools can make a big difference.

4. Research

The effect of the Internet on research is obvious. Anyone with Internet access has nearly endless banks of information at their disposal, but one must always keep the source in mind. Wikipedia, for instance, is good for finding quick, interesting information, but because it is created by users, information provided there may not be correct. If a writer decides to write a story about doppelgangers, a quick Google search can provide a plethora of information in a fraction of a second.

5. Market info

1. Sites like Ralan provide submission information for a wide variety of publications.Â

2. Most markets have submisions page which describes exactly what they’re looking for, including any special formatting they require, required length, and preferred themes. Be sure to check out this page each time you send out a story to that market. You never know when some of their requirements will change. Many markets close to submissions from time to time, also, and it’s best to check here to be sure the market is still open as well.

6. Electronic submission/staff interaction

a. Save money-It costs nothing to send an email. That’s a major perk! Mailed submissions usually cost something like 2 dollars domestic within the US, including the SASE, and that’s not including the envelopes or the printing costs. Email submissions cost nothing. When you’re just getting started, those postage costs add up fast!

b. Quick interaction-An electronic submission arrives nearly instantly, ready for perusal by the magazine’s staff. My record fastest response was only 47 minutes (from Fantasy Magazine). That one was an outlier, but a few magazines consistently respond within 24 hours such as Fantasy, Clarkesworld, and Podcastle.

c. Geographically separated staff-A magazine’s staff members no longer have to be located anywhere near each other. In many cases, staff members may have never met in person, but members can interact easily with technology like email and online forums. This makes it much easier to find staff members, if you have the entire net-connected world to filter for candidates.

d. Competition fiercer every day! A downside to the recent ease of submission is that when submissions are both free and easy, more and more people will try it, which means more competition!

7. New publishing mediums

Printed words (either in magazine or book form) are no longer the only way to publish fiction. In fact, print may be the hardest one to maintain profitability with, and is probably the hardest method to start a new magazine with. Even a few years ago, print publications were generally considered to be more prestigious, but minds are opening a little bit more every year. SFWA recognizes professional markets based on pay and the circulation level, regardless of the medium.

Both of my sales to date have been to non-traditional publishing formats.

a. HTML-text format on a website. This can be provided for free (like Fantasy Magazine or Strange Horizons) or on a fee-based system (like Intergalactic Medicine Show or Jim Baen’s Universe).

b. Podcast-I’ve recently discovered audio fiction and I honestly don’t know how I’ve done without it. I can load up many stories on my iPod and I listen to them every day on my commute. Now I look forward to driving to see what the next story is! My first fiction sale was to Pseudopod, so I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for podcasts. And, even better, audio rights and text rights often do not overlap, so there is a large potential for resales for audio markets, as they are providing a substantially different product.

c. Print on Demand-Even just a few years ago, POD wasn’t really a viable option. Nowadays, if you have a good idea for a book or an anthology, you can publish it through POD and if you can find the audience for it, you can really do well. POD is not as risky as doing a huge preprinted print run (the traditional method), because you only print copies of the book that you have already sold. This means that once you’ve covered your artist/design and other upfront costs, each sale holds a share of profit. This is particularly appealing if the level of interest is uncertain or expected to be low.

Northern Frights Press was the publisher for my second sale. This was NFP’s very first anthology, provided via POD. Despite it being POD the printing is of a high quality that you could find in any bookstore, and it’s available to order from Amazon just like any other book. I’ve been very impressed with POD so far.

d. E-books-E-readers like Kindle are just starting to gain more widespread popularity. For a small fee, you can download books right onto the e-reader. With this technology you can grab new books instantly for less than what you would pay at the store, and you can carry your whole library with you wherever you go. I’m not sure that they will ever replace real books entirely–there’s just something I love about holding a physical book in my hand, the smell of the pages, the feel of the binding–but there are a lot of advantages to e-readers.

8. Social networking

In decades past, writing was generally considered to be a pretty lonely profession. Long hours alone with your typewriter were the norm, making a writer feel isolated from the very world she’s trying to write about. But if you’re writing on a net-connected laptop, you no longer need to be isolated. The importance of social connections in writing cannot be understated. There are many forums focused solely on writing, some geared towards particular genres, and they’re a great place to meet fellow aspiring writers. You’re not the only one struggling to be published. Together you can celebrate your successes, console each other for your failures, swap critiques, discuss writing techniques, and maybe just unwind a little bit.

#8 is closely related to #9 and #10. Read on!

9. Self-promotion

This overlaps somewhat with social networking in methods and tools, but the intent is different. Rather than meeting people for the sake of meeting people, this is working to spread your work to as many people as possible. Site like Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit work as very powerful promotional tools. With each of these you can share links with huge amounts of people with minimal effort, and they’re all free. Most of the hits for this article were probably generated by these tools. With a little careful promotional work, like book giveaways, traffic can be driven to your site to advertise your writing and help with name recognition.

10. Availability of distractions

The flip side of the coin of all these advantages is that with the whole web at your fingertips, distractions are easy to find. If you’re stuck on a story, staring at the word processing screen, it is far too easy to pop up Facebook to go read your friends’ statuses, to hop on an online forum to discuss True Blood vs. Twilight, or to go read (or write) a blog post about writing. Those things all have their time and place, but if you want to write, make sure you get your writing time in too!