Cast of Wonders is the YA branch of the Escape Artists podcasts, edited by Marguerite Kenner and Katherine Inskip, covering all speculative genres and aiming to appeal to YA audiences. Marguerite Kenner announced at the end of the last episode of the year that that was the last episode she was editing before stepping down. She will be missed!
This year’s offerings included their usual staff pick re-airing of stories from last year (which are not considered for the list since they were already considered for a previous list), and stories for their Banned Books Week theme, for a total of about 43 stories considered for the list.
Short Stories that are Hugo and Nebula eligible for the year are marked with an asterisk (*).
1. “The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections” (Part 1 and Part 2) by Tina Connolly, narrated by Alethea Kontis This is one of my favorite stories in years. The layers! Based around confections that draw you back into immersive flashbacks that evoke a particular feeling based on the ingredients of the confection.
2. “Blame it on the Bees” by Rachel Menard, narrated by Tina Connolly* A teen grieving over her dead friend discovers that her friend’s soul has become housed in a flower.
3. “Common Grounds and Various Teas” by Sherin Nicole, narrated by Jesenia Pineda* A family that can harness the power of stories, and finding your own way in a family tradition.
4. “A Singular Event in the Fourth Dimension” by Andrea M. Pawley, narrated by Dani Daly Tale from an android child’s point of view, about how she fits in with her family, and how roles change as the family changes.
I am trying out a new feature that I might run occasionally here, where I pick a story that I particularly liked, and pick it apart to try to figure out why it worked so well. For this first entry, I’ll be talking about “The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections” by Tina Connolly, first published in Tor.com, and nominated for both the Nebula and Hugo award.
I’m not going to avoid SPOILERS after this paragraph, but in this paragraph, I will give a very brief overview. The story is about a woman who worked with her husband in their bakery until the government was overthrown, at which point he was taken as the private baker by the new monarch, the Traitor King, because he has developed the skill in making special pastries that evoke strong memories that suit a particular mood. The main story takes place at a banquet with the monarch, prepared by her husband, where she is the food taster to ensure that the food is not poisoned.
The most interesting thing about this story is the way that it uses the flashbacks that are evoked by the pastries. The power of the flashbacks is threefold: 1. The first is the typical power of flashback, to give character backstory, to help you understand character motivations. Throughout the story you see when she first met her husband, you find out about what happened to her sister, about the rise of the tyrant, and about the development of her husband’s skills. 2. The second is to develop an understanding of the memory-pastries. Each pastry eaten at the banquet has a different flavor, like the first section “Rosemary Crostini of Delightfully Misspent Youth”, each flashback is titled by the pastry that describes the type of memory that it evokes, and you find out about what kinds of pastries Saffron recommends to different customers to what reason. 3. During the main timeline of the story, Saffron and her husband have been separated for quite a while, ever since her husband was taken to be the pastry chef of the Traitor King, preparing banquets for the kings and his nobles. They were very close, and know each other very well, and they worked very closely together every day in the bakery. Saffron volunteered as the taste tester because it was the way she could get the closest to him, and the Traitor King took the opportunity because he trusted that her husband wouldn’t poison her or torture her with more cruel desserts. But now the only route of communication between them is the desserts themselves. He knows her well enough to have a pretty good idea what particular desserts will evoke what memories for her, so they are hints, and a warning of what to come. He has been doing research while imprisoned, and she doesn’t know what new desserts he’s developed. She hopes that he will do something with his special desserts but she doesn’t know what he can do that would do the job, especially since she knows he wouldn’t kill or torture her.
I have never seen flashbacks that do so many things at once; it is an incredible idea, and wonderfully executed. The descriptions of flavor on top of it made my mouth water, I would absolutely love to visit this bakery if it were a real place.
I also appreciated seeing the very different but very real strengths of the characters. Her husband’s strength is obvious, his special pastries that form the basis of the story. But her role in the bakery was no less important. She learned to read people, to help decide how to recommend what pastry would suit them the best. Everyone loves the ones that give you a sweet memory, but the regretful pastries have their uses, and others. And no occupation could have suited her better for her present circumstances–before she became the taster she didn’t have much experience at dissembling, but here she is surrounded by those she has to mislead, and everything here depends not only her husband’s pastries but on her ability to be able to keep it to herself when the time comes for her husband’s plan to come to fruition.
And the finale is perfect. When it finally comes to the finale, as she takes it and relives all of the times when she hurt someone else, but feeling the pain for herself, they can tell from her face that it was unpleasant, but the Traitor King enjoys watching the other nobles squirm taking the less pleasant ones, and even when she admits a bit of what it is, he thinks that his own remorseless nature means that he will enjoy it. But not only does he feel the pain of reliving these memories, because he has been cruel to so many people, it leaves him incapacitated long enough for his throne to be taken, and then wakes up in a cell, with the only food available to him another of the same pastry. Even in the end, as she watches this, she is self-aware enough to know that if she took another bite of that kind of pastry she would relive that moment.
I can see why this story got its nominations. Tina Connolly is an incredible author.
Toasted Cake is the idiosyncratic flash fiction podcast published, edited, hosted, and most often narrated by writer Tina Connolly. As noted in last year’s Best Of list, Toasted Cake had gone on hiatus for a couple years to make more time for writing deadlines and raising young children, but in the fall of 2017 she brought it back as an ongoing publication, publishing weekly during the school year. 2018 is the first full calendar year of publication after the end of the hiatus.
Tina Connolly has great and varied editorial taste and she’s an experience and excellent narrator as well. If you like flash fiction that is weird and unique and many times fun (but not always, there is serious fare as well), you would do well to check out the podcast.
1.“A Scrimshaw of Smeerps” by Shannon Fay* Future holiday traditions, wherein we tell the children that cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin comes to our home every year.
Uncanny Magazineis an online Science Fiction and Fantasy magazine with a commitment to diversity. Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damien Thomas are the co-publishers and co-editors-in-chief, and Michi Trota is the managing editor. The first issue of Uncanny Magazine was published in November 2014. Uncanny Magazine has already been nominated for and won multiple SF/F awards, including winning the Hugo Award for Best Semiprozine, and multiples stories first published there nominated in the Hugo story categories, winning a Parsec award, as well as being a finalist for World Fantasy Award and Locus Award.
They release monthly issues, in ebook format, online, and two of the stories every month in the podcast. Every episode of the podcast features an update on what the Thomases are up to which varies in length between about two minutes and twenty, which includes any publishing changes, convention travel, mention of current events (usually regarding publishing or politics). Then, the story (sometimes two), the poem, and an interview (often of the author of the story, but that may not always be true).
This list is based on the list of all of the stories published on the podcast only since the beginning of the podcast, which comes to about 50 stories. This list is not based on stories that Uncanny Magazine published in ebook/online formats that weren’t on the podcast, so if you like what you read here, you should certainly go read more of their fiction that wasn’t considered for this list. This list also doesn’t include poetry because I am a terrible judge of poetry.
1. “Big Thrull and the Askin’ Man” by Max Gladstone
The dialect of the narrative voice of this one took a little bit getting used to, but the incredible reading by Heath Miller helped sell this a lot, he pulled the dialect off splendidly. The story follows Big Thrull, who is a legendarily tough member of a legendarily tough race that is heavily based on customs and values toughness and straightforwardness, who invites the “Askin’ Man” into her home as a guest who is of a culture and toughness that we would call more ordinary who knows how to ask the right questions to get what he wants. Big Thrull has to quickly become acquainted the slippery slope of giving small favors.
2. “When the Circus Lights Down” by Sarah Pinsker
The circus is a living thing, and the big top tent lights down from the sky and attracts the nearby residents to come and visit before lighting off again sometime in the near future.
3. “Auspicium Melioris Aevi” by JY Yang
Harry Lee Kuan Yew is being rigorously tested. Not just this Harry Lee, but the dozens of other Harry Lees before him, tested against various battle simulations the original Harry Lee had faced up against, and scored and ranked to determine their future fates.
5. “Wooden Feathers” by Ursula Vernon
A woman carves wooden ducks to sell at local fairs. Every single day an old man buys the cheapest one she has on display with barely a word. What is he doing with all of those ducks? This story has one of the best and most surprising moments, where the story suddenly shifts from a curious mystery to something much different. (full disclosure: I reprinted this story in The Long List Anthology Volume 2: More Stories From the Hugo Award Nomination List)
“Pockets” by Amal El-Mohtar (full disclosure: I reprinted this story in The Long List Anthology Volume 2: More Stories From the Hugo Award Nomination List)
“Down and Out in R’lyeh” by Catherynne M. Valente Another story read by Heath Miller who did an incredible job selling the voice on a story that might’ve been difficult to read. The story uses “squamous” to mean very drunk, and especially with Miller’s reading voice, it really works.
Toasted Cake is back! After the last Best of Toasted Cake list for the year 2014, Tina Connolly decided to put her idiosyncratic podcast on hiatus. With a young child in the house and books on deadline, Tina needed to find more time. But she has missed it enough, and she has decided to run Toasted Cake for a school year run, and revived the podcast in September for that reason. So, this list covers the last few months before hiatus in 2015, the one story Toasted Cake slipped quietly into the feed in 2016, and the fall portion of the school year run of the revival, for a total of 35 stories considered for this list.
Toasted Cake has already raised author pay rates, so now pays at least 1 cent/word, which is also exciting. It sounds like Tina might want to run the podcast longer term if there’s some Patreon support, so if you love some weird flash fiction you might want to consider tossing in a couple bucks a month.
Toasted Cake did publish one of my own stories, my only original story published in 2017, “Cake, and Its Implications” published just before the end of the year, a funny flash story about an android who loves cake. But of course I don’t consider my own fiction for these lists.
Note that I did end up including a story that Toasted Cake reprinted that I originally published (#2 on the list). I decided to make the list one item longer than it would usually be to accomodate for this, so that a story I published wouldn’t bump another off the list.
Every short story that is eligible for Hugo nominations this year which were first published by Toasted Cake are marked with an asterisk (*).
I am back from WorldCon 74, also known as MidAmericon 2, which was held in Kansas City, Missouri from August 17-21! I am back into my normal swing of things and trying to work my way back into the normal everyday types of things that WorldCon wasn’t.
I had such an incredible time. Sitting at my desk, back in the real world, my brain is still trying to process everything, it has been a very densely packed 4 days. I am introvert. I use the word “introvert” in the sense, not that I hate social situations or hate people or anything like that, but that social situations use energy and being by myself recharges energy–as opposed to an extrovert who recharges by being around people and uses energy when they’re alone. I was expecting to have fun, but I was also expecting to slam into my social limits halfway through each day and then come home feeling like a wrung out washcloth. But, it seems that in this very specific environment, I am more of an extrovert–most nights when I finally retired to my room the reason was more because of aching legs and knowing that I should try to get some sleep than being unable to cope with the social scene anymore.
I arrived at the hotel around midday Thursday and left around midday Sunday, so I had a solid 72 hours around the premises. I hear there are a lot of really interesting things to go see in and around Kansas City. But I didn’t go to any of them, figuring that I had such a limited time here and the people and things I came here for were all concentrated in the area by the hotel and convention center.
The biggest difference in my convention experience between this time and the last time at WorldCon in Chicago in 2012 is that I have become somewhat more notable in the speculative fiction publishing community.
–The Submission Grinder was launched.
–Diabolical Plots started publishing original fiction and became a SFWA-qualifying market.
–The Long List Anthology was published.
So the biggest difference is that it wasn’t uncommon for complete strangers to actually know of what I do. Some would recognize me from checking my name badge alone. Others wouldn’t recognize the name, but if I mentioned the Grinder or someone else mentioned that I run the Grinder then many writers would recognize me, would often say very nice things about the site. This was a very big difference for me–When I last attended a convention I had had some published fiction and had been running Diabolical Plots for nonfiction-only for 4 years , but those had never spurred this kind of reaction.
In the past, when I was just getting started at writing, I had some miserable experiences at conventions–I just thought they weren’t for me. I couldn’t seem to get anyone to really talk to me and whenever I tried I just felt like I was shut out by everyone there. This time around, since I was more well-connected than I’ve been in the past, I tried my best to try to help people have a good convention who looked like they might’ve been in the same boat as I had been when I’d had miserable conventions. First, if I was standing in a circle of people talking and I saw someone standing outside the circle looking like they wanted to join, I would try to step to one side and wave them in, make it clear they were welcome to join the conversation. Second, if I was with some people I knew, and I saw other people that I suspected didn’t know each other, I would try to introduce the two groups to each other, maybe with a bit of bragging-up, since it is much easier to talk about another person’s accomplishments than your own. I feel like these simple practices might’ve helped make the con a little better for some of these people, and I know that when I saw such similar behaviors directed toward me I greatly appreciated the person taking a moment to make my day much better.
I was namedropped on at least three different panels, and each one was for a different project–this was a novel experience for me. I have heard secondhand from people who’ve gone to other conventions that the Submission Grinder is often mentioned in panels as a resource, which is great! I hear that I was mentioned in a Kickstarter panel as an example of someone who has run a successful Kickstarter (for the Long List Anthology last year)–this was before I arrived onsite or I might’ve been there myself. I hear that I was mentioned in a panel aimed at new writers that in part discussed the topic of how to find markets for your work, and the Submission Grinder was mentioned as a resource–I had intended to attend that panel just to see if I could witness a namedrop for the fun of it, but I ended up seeing a perfect opportunity to hang out with someone I had barely seen yet, so I took that opportunity (and didn’t regret it since my intent to visit the panel was really just a vanity novelty). And the one namedrop I was there to witness–Finding the Right Podcast For You, in which Alasdair Stuart mentioned the Diabolical Plots “Best Of” podcast list as a good way to get samplings of fiction podcasts… and then he also commented on the shades of pink I was cycling through. So that was all very exciting.
Aside: This might be an appropriate time to note that being able to have an unrelentingly wonderful time does not mean that everyone was treated well–see this thread by Alyssa Wong about being targeted by harassment at this convention and a previous one she had gone to. Alyssa had very positive things to say about how the WorldCon organizers handled it (which is good!) but it is horrible that it got as far as it did–people should know better. This isn’t rocket science. Read her thread and other threads that spun off of it if you aren’t aware of this kind of horrible behavior from some small subset of fans. It’s nasty stuff. I did not see any of this kind of thing happening personally, but it did happen. It’s not necessarily surprising that I didn’t see or experience it personally, since I am an able-bodied heterosexual white man of unremarkable appearance who is not a household name, and so it would be less usual for me to be the target of such abuse (not impossible, mind you, but less common). It is a mark of privilege that I don’t generally need to worry about that, and I’m glad that Alyssa Wong and others are willing to talk about this kind of thing still happening, because it’s easy for people who don’t experience it to forget about it or to think it’s not a problem if the people who ARE experiencing it feel like they can’t talk. On the other hand, since this is a post about my experience of the con, I will leave it at that for now–if you weren’t aware of that thing happening, consider taking some time to read her tweets. There have been some other tweet streams of interest on the subject of harassment that have run since WorldCon, such as this one by Rachael K. Jones and this one by Julia Rios.
I wasn’t involved in a lot of programming. I actually hadn’t thought that I would be on any programming at all–I had applied early in the year and received a rejection quickly after. But I did end up being in two bits of programming.
I co-led a critique session with C.C. Finlay (editor of F&SF and a writer), which was a lot of fun. We read synopses and excerpts from novels by three authors, and then all five of us gave our impressions and we discussed ways that the synopses and excerpts might be improved. I had never met Finlay before, and it was wonderful to get a chance to not only meet with him but to interact with him for a couple hours to discuss strengths and weaknesses of fiction. Obviously I can’t say much more than that–these were unpublished novels and the discussion in a private room, so I can only speak about it in generalities.
I was very excited to find out not too long before the convention that I had been assigned a 30-minute fiction reading (Well, 25 minutes, to allow some time to let the next author get prepared). It… wasn’t what you would call an ideal timeslot, being from 7-7:30 on the night that the Hugo Awards start at 8–so at that time most people who were at all interested in watching would be finding seats in either the auditorium or in some other group viewing area where they were streaming.
But to my surprise, approximately 13 people were there just to hear me recite things I made up! This is a quite large turnout for someone like me who is not well-known for their writing.
Of all the readings by other people that I attended, most people read either one work that fit very closely into the time allotted, or maybe two things, or an excerpt from a longer work. I flipped through upcoming stories and though I would’ve loved to read part of my upcoming story that will be in IGMS, it is a bit of a sprawling story so that it would be hard to find a representative sample. And, well, in my opinion my best writing is very short, punchy stories of 500-1000 words. So, I decided to buck the trend and I ended up reading 5 stories in my allotted time.
I read “My Wife is a Bear in the Morning”, written as an complaint letter to an apartment manager by a man whose wife is literally a bear in the morning (you can hear it in audio at Podcastle).
I read “So You’ve Decided to Adopt a Zeptonian Baby!”, written as a brochure to help those who’ve decided to adopt those invincible alien babies that keep falling from the sky in meteor showers. (you can hear it in audio at Podcastle)
I read “This Is Your Problem, Right Here”, which is a story about a woman who has recently purchased a water park and finds that the plumbing doesn’t work properly when she opens in the spring, and it starts as a plumber tells her that this is because all of her trolls have died (the existence of trolls are not common knowledge in this world). That was originally published in Daily Science Fiction, you can also hear it at Cast of Wonders.
And I read two others that are as-yet unpublished, so I won’t discuss their details here.
The reading seemed to go over well. I got some compliments, and people said they liked the quick changeups of stories, especially at the end of a long day when everyone was getting tired.
The one book that I knew ahead of time that I was going to buy was The Flux by Ferrett Steinmetz. I already own the book. I already love the book. But I only had it in ebook, and I love these books so much I felt like I should have a signed paper copy. And, since Ferrett was onsite, it seemed best to go ahead and buy it so that I could get him to sign.
I knew that Ferrett’s next book, the third in his ‘Mancy series, was coming out soon, but that the release date was not for a little while yet. But Angry Robot Books had the book on sale at their vendor booth! So, obviously that came home with me too. And I am SO EXCITED to read it.
So I showed up at the Angry Robot booth to buy The Flux, and knew I had to buy Fix, a very nice man (whose name I didn’t immediately recognize and so didn’t pay all that much attention to) behind the counter told me that I could get a discount if I bought one of the larger form-factor books. Not really intending to buy a lot of books (because I have such a stack at home, I am a slow reader) I saw that United States of Japan by Peter Tieryas was on display, and I had heard someone talking about how good that was earlier, so that was the first one I picked up. The guy behind the counter started telling me about it and I tried my best to unrudely say “yeah yeah let me just read the back cover descriptio myselfn” (I hope I didn’t across as rude! I like taking verbal recommendations from fans of a book but at pretty much any kind of store I would rather just look at stuff without staff discussing everything I look at–it makes me very nervous if I feel like the staff are hovering and I will be much more inclined to scurry away than to buy). It did indeed sound really interesting, a story where Japan won World War II and ended up in control of the United States. I glanced at some of the other books, flipped a few over to read the back, but decided that United States of Japan caught my eye much more solidly than the others. So I decided to buy United States of Japan. The guy behind the counter rang me up and then offered to sign my book… at which point I of course realized that I was talking to Peter Tieryas, the author of the book I’d just bought, so I laughed at the fact that I had not noticed the matching book cover and name badge and took him up on his offer. (This concludes my telling of “The Time That I Wouldn’t Let Peter Tieryas Finish Pitching His Book To Me But Then I Bought His Book From Him Anyway Without Realizing He Was the Author of Said Book: A Tale of David Steffen’s Inattention to Detail”)
Caroline M. Yoachim and Tina Connolly both had book releases from Fairwood Press at WorldCon. Caroline’s book is a short story collection titled Seven Wonders of a Once and Future World. Caroline is an incredible short story writer, and consistently hits out of the park for me, so I am buying the ebook for this one. Tina‘s short story book is a short story collection titled On the Eyeball Floor. Tina (along with Caroline) is another writer who, when I hear they have something new out, I don’t ask for a pitch I just say “shut up and take my money”. So, I’m buying that ebook too. It was quite fun to watch these two launch together–they made it a friendly competition where they made a wager on it and the Fairwood Press vendor table had a running tally sheet of sales. They ended up tying at the end, which is hilarious and perfect.
I stopped by the freebie table once, at a time when it was a twenty minute wait to get to the table. After that wait I felt like I had to grab the maximum of three books even though I don’t really need more books. I saw a stack of Briarpatchby Tim Pratt and grabbed a copy even though I already own and love the book, so that I could give a copy of it away to the next person I talk books with. I also picked up a copy of Fearful Symmetries, edited by Ellen Datlow, and a short story collection by Matthew Johnson titled Irregular Verbs and Other Stories.
I also had a few extra copies of the Long List Anthology left over from last year’s Kickstarter and I decided that there was no better way to use them than to bring them to WorldCon and give them out to people when I chat with them. I saved one to give away at my fiction reading and gave three out when it felt appropriate, so that was fun!
I did not attend many panels this time around. I attended a very select few that were on very specific topics that were very near and dear to my heart or to specifically try to meet some of the panelists that were on my mental list of people that I wanted to meet.
Other than that, I tended to favor readings of authors: I went to readings by Caroline M. Yoachim, Terra LeMay, William Ledbetter, Loren Rhoads, Stefan Rudnicki, Kate Baker. And readings of magazines: Escape Artists, Flash Fiction Online, Asimov’s.
As well as kaffeeklatches, which are really just organized hangouts with people of interest–you signup in time to claim one of 9 slots and then you spend 50 minutes hanging out with that person. I did kaffeeklatches with Kate Baker, Ken Liu, and S.B. Divya.
So. Many. People. So wonderful to put faces to names for people that I have known online for years.
I am not even going to try to make a comprehensive list, because there is no way that I will remember everyone and I don’t want those that I do forget to feel left out. But I will list out a few.
Shortly after rushing to the critique session that I was almost late for, I met up with my writing group friend Doug Engstrom–we’ve swapped critiques and discussion for years, so it was great to meet him in person and to interact with him off and on throughout the weekend.
I got to meet Stefan Rudnicki and Gabrielle de Cuir, the masterminds (and mastervoices) behind Skyboat Media. They are most well known for producing the Lightspeed Magazine and Nightmare Magazine podcasts, and for performing much of the voice-acting for those productions. I have a direct professional connection with them in that they produced the audiobook version of the Long List Anthology last year–of which they sold out at their booth during WorldCon. They both have voices that I have heard for so long in story narrations that it was both wonderful and very weird to meet them in person–I associate their voices so strongly with storytelling that my brain sinks into story listening mode and I kind of had to yank it out of that mode because, hey brain I’m trying to talk to people here! It was great to meet them and talk business and chat.
Speaking of meeting people whose voices are incredibly familiar to me: I met Alasdair Stuart and Marguerite Kenner. They are the owners of Escape Artists, which is the parent company of most of my favorite podcasts: Escape Pod, Pseudopod, Podcastle, and Cast of Wonders, as well as the quarterly ebook zine Mothership Zeta. Alasdair has been on the staff of Escape Artists for more than ten years, and he was the host of Pseudopod at the time that I made my very first fiction sale of all time to Pseudopod and decided that maybe I ought to try listening to the show (which has resulted in an 8 year listening binge of all the podcast fiction I could find that still continues today). Marguerite is the editor and host of Cast of Wonders. They are incredible, smart, nice, welcoming, helpful people, and I want to hang out with them forever.
Kate Baker, is another one of those familiar-voiced people and I was happy to get a chance to hang out with her at kaffeeklatch and elsewhere. (And again with the barely being able to talk because I am so familiar with her voice from podcasts!)
It was wonderful to meet Sheila Williams, Neil Clarke, C.C. Finlay, Caroline M. Yoachim, Tina Connolly, Martin L. Shoemaker, Marina J. Lostetter, S.B. Divya, Ken Liu, Alyssa Wong, so so many others.
I got to meet a few writers whose short stories I have purchased: Andy Dudak, Tina Gower, Sunil Patel, Jon Lasser, Andrea G. Stewart. (it makes a handy icebreaker to say “Hi! I bought your story!” 🙂 )
Meeting people was easily the highlight of my convention experience.
The Hugo Awards
The Hugo Award ceremony was held Saturday evening and was hosted by Pat Cadigan. Cadigan was a wonderful and hilarious host, and really overall the awards went as well as I could have hoped given the ballot they started with. Lots of awesome things won. A couple categories got No Awarded (Related Work and Fancast I believe?) but none of the fiction categories which are my main interest in the awards.
Uncanny won Best Semiprozine in its first year of eligibility! Naomi Kritzer won for Best Short Story for “Cat Pictures Please”! Hao Jingfang and Ken Liu (who was the translator in this case) won for Best Novelette for “Folding Beijing”! Nnedi Okorafor won for Best Novella for “Binti”! N.K. Jemisin won for Best Novel for The Fifth Season! Neil Gaiman won for Best Graphic Story for Sandman!
The Martian won Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form, and its author Andy Weir won the Campbell Award! For each of them an astronaut accepted his award for him and talked about how much The Martian meant to them, that it got the science and the feel of the interpersonal relationships of the astronauts right!
Yes, there are a lot of explanation points in this section, but they are all deserved. Especially after last year with the fiction categories getting so many No Awards, it was a major relief that all the fiction categories were awarded, and to such incredible people and recipients.
I watched from the very crowded SFWA suite this year, in part because my reading was too close to the ceremony to have much chance of finding a seat. It… was more than a little cramped, but it worked out pretty well.
The Long List
Most of you who follow me at all already know about the Long List Anthology, but I’ll give a quick rundown for anyone who might not have heard about the project. Every year, after the Hugo Award ceremony, the Hugo administrators publish the longer list of works that were nominated in each category–approximately 15 including the 5ish that are on the final ballot. In most years, these works don’t receive a great deal of extra attention even though that longer list makes an excellent recommended reading list.
Last year I launched the Long List Anthology, which published stories pulled from that longer nomination list. It totalled 180,000 words, about 500 pages in print, and featured some of the most popular contemporary short story authors like Sam J. Miller, Amal El-Mohtar, Elizabeth Bear, Ken Liu, Kai Ashante Wilson, Alaya Dawn Johnson, and others. The book continues to sell steadily even now, and has sold more than 9000 copies (which is more than the Hugo voting population has been in any year).
The project was so successful last year, that I have decided to repeat the project this year–the list is here. I am in the process of reading stories in the different categories and sending queries to the authors. Last year the cover art was reprinted art from Galen Dara. This year I’m taking that to the next level and commissioning original artwork from Galen Dara. And I’ve got a few surprise ideas to try out for stretch goals, too.
There will be a Kickstarter to fund the anthology–I look forward to sharing links and the good news with you all–I am aiming for mid-September.
You may not know what WSFS Meetings are, but you’re probably familiar with the Hugo Awards, awards that are nominated and voted on by supporting members of WorldCon. WSFS meetings are held every year at WorldCon, and they define rule changes to the Hugo Awards. Anyone who has an Attending WorldCon membership can show up and debate, vote, help decide new categories or nomination rule changes and so on. I fully intended to go to at least one meeting while I was at WorldCon, because I do value the Hugo Awards and this once-a-year batch of business meetings defines everything. But… I was a horrible person and didn’t attend any of them. Nonetheless, some important rule changes went through this year, which I have been reading about after the fact, so I shall list out some of the more interesting ones (of the ones I understand) and give my reaction. My primary source for the WSFS Meetings that last couple years has been Rachael Acks’s blog. Rachael is a writer and editor, and is also involved in WSFS, both liveblogging updates as the meetings happen, and giving summaries and reactions afterward–which gives a very nice place to catch up on what you missed if you can’t or don’t go to the meetings.
Here is a list of the business agenda they started the weekend with, with a daily meeting scheduled from 10am to 1am. Or for a more informal version with Rachael’s reactions to items, you can check out this page.
I am honestly just catching up on these things now, so it’s entirely possible I got something wrong typing all this up.
Best Fancast category is now a permanent category
The Best Fancast category was defined a few years ago, and has been a trial category that would have expired after this year if it hadn’t been ratified again. I have mixed but mostly negative feelings about its permanent addition. I do feel that the Hugo Awards have been slow to consider publications in new media–it took quite awhile for online magazines to be considered seriously and audio-only publications have been slow to start to get some recognition, even when they are publishing original fiction of excellent quality. When the Fancast category had first come out I was excited that maybe this little niche would encourage more serious recognition.
Part of my disappointment has been that every nominee, except for StarShipSofa, has been nonfiction. That’s… fine, I guess. People like nonfiction podcasts, apparently. But I really want to see fiction podcasts recognized, especially fiction podcasts that pay their contributors and which publish original fiction and don’t need to beg their listeners for votes in every episode.
The rest of my disappointment is that, for my favorite podcasts, it is quite unclear what category they actually qualify for. They could be a Semiprozine or they could be a Fancast. The differentiation between the two is not well-defined in the current rules. If Fancast is supposed to actually be nonfiction, as voters have been treating it, then I would prefer that it would just be defined as such, so that this differentiation was at least clear. And a common point of confusion is that people assume Fancast is the A/V equivalent to Fanzine, meaning that it’s defining trait is not paying its contributors. (I have had discussions with people who advocate for the Fanzine category and they insist that this is NOT the defining feature, but according to the rules that are actually used to administer the award that is the main difference). But the rules seem to imply that Fanzine is also the A/V equivalent to Semiprozine. And what happens if a publication published in both audio and text? There is some precedent in Beneath Ceaseless Skies and Clarkesworld and Lightspeed and others who both publish in both and who have gotten Semiprozine nominations, but other publications that also get both like Escape Pod came at it from the other direction and I think most voters think of them differently as a result.
I liked the Escape Artists editorial strategy last year, suggesting that if anyone wanted to vote for them, that EA would prefer they do it in the Semiprozine rather than the Fancast category. I thought this was a good idea, to encourage the fans to pick one specific side of the equation because one issue with having an ambiguous category is that maybe you have enough fans who want to vote for you to get you on the ballot, but if they’re splitting their nominations across two categories that kind of ruins that chance. Also, I don’t believe it’s possible to absolutely determine whether something is eligible for one category or the other unless it actually reaches the ballot level–at which point it will either be invited to be on the ballot, or it will be removed as being ineligible. Either case you’ve learned something which can help future voting, and it may even help push through some changes that better define the rules in the future.
The Five Percent Solution
Prior to this year there has been a requirement that all but the top 3 entries in a category must have at least 5% of the overall vote, or they are simply not on the ballot. This rule was a bit silly because it caused a reaction to larger pools of award-worthy worker and larger nominating group by REDUCING the category. This didn’t start hitting the ballots until a few years ago–that’s why you sometimes saw the Short Story category with only three items on it instead of five.
Very glad to see this bit removed from the constitution, so now you’ll see five items no matter what.
Electronic Signatures for Site Bids
Historically WorldCon has kindof been more USA-con. A lot of people have been trying to put the World in WorldCon and encourage it to be more internationally located. I’m a proponent of having it be more international (even though I will probably not be able to afford to go to most non-USA located years), and this helps more people vote for it without having to be physically present, so I think this is a positive change toward that goal.
Best Series Category
The idea behind this one is that some people felt that series of books that were remarkable and awesome series may not be likely to be nominated for Best Novel for their individual books. This category would be for those kinds of books–a series would be eligible after so many words have been published in the series, and would be eligible again after so many words have been published again after the first nomination.
I… don’t really see the point in this category. Individual books are already eligible, and if those individual books aren’t winning awards… it doesn’t seem like we really need to define new categories to handle that because maybe just some things are less likely to win, but we don’t need to make new categories for every little thing.
Not only that, but the eligibility would be harder to determine than any other category, since it would depend on when the last nomination for a series was, and how many words were in each book (which isn’t generally immediately obvious).
The idea behind this change is to prohibit the same entity from being nominated more than one time in a category (in which case I think the highest ranking item for that entity would be on the ballot). This was probably proposed in part based on John C. Wright’s shenanigans-related 5 nominations of a couple years ago. But more importantly, to me, this should make the Dramatic Presentation Short Form category much much more interesting, because there are many years where that is effectively the Best Doctor Who Episode category.
I am glad to see this go into the constitution, primarily for the Dramatic Presentation Short Form category.
Two Years Are Good Enough
Presently, anyone can nominate for the Hugos who was a supporting member last year, a supporting member this year, or who has registered already to be a supporting member next year. This proposal would remove the last of those options.
I don’t have strong feelings about this one–I wonder how many people actually pre-register for next year early enough that they can nominate this year? Maybe it’s just that my life rarely allows such pre-planning, that I find it hard to conceive this mattering one way or the other.
This passed for the first time, and would need to be ratified next year to go into effect.
This has been proposed before as a Hugo category. This time it was proposed as a not-a-Hugo that would nonetheless be voted for on the Hugo ballot and awarded in the Hugo Award ceremony with the rest of the Hugos (much as the Campbell Award for Best New Writer is).
This one passed but would need to be ratified next year to become an official category the year after.
It seems positive to me. YA is important to the genre world because it’s often the first thing that young readers pick up that transitions them into the adult fiction (and adults can love it too). I think it’s worthwhile to give it its own award.
Three Stage Voting
This was proposed as a way to avoid future Hugo Award shenanigans by adding an extra stage between nomination and the final ballot. The nominations would result in 15 semi-finalists which would be published. Then voters can upvote the things they think are good enough to be on the final ballot, which eventually becomes a final ballot, and then the final ballot would work now.
One concern I’d originally had was that it would increase admin workload, but it sounds like it might not be much different, especially by taking advantage of some crowdsourced effort. The middle stage would not have had eligibility verified, so the voting group can help point out ineligible works. And the nominated entities would only be checked for their interest in the ballot between the 2nd and 3rd stages, so that cuts down on “waiting for communication to happen” in the timeline.
I’m a little concerned that people voting against the spirit of the intent of the 2nd round might end up nuking categories, but I think it has a lot of potential.
This one passed, to be up for ratification next year.
E Pluribus Hugo
This is a new proposed nomination system which is intended to reduce the effectiveness of large numbers of voters with identical ballots for the same category (primarily to reduce the effect of slates). Last year I was in favor of this when it passed its initial vote, because I hadn’t heard of any better ideas and I didn’t want to wait a whole nother year to see if a better idea came around. But… though I think the concept makes sense, but it is more complicated than the current system–the current system you can look at all the numbers and sort them out by hand given the overall voting numbers. This one, you really can’t because it depends on the exact contents of individual ballots, and you end up having to basically count it by program given the full voting data.
And the major difference is that I think that the better solution might have come along in the form of three-stage voting. But three-stage voting also passed and so goes into effect next year, so we’ll visit that next year again.
5 and 6
This was another measure intended to make it harder to sweep the ballot with slates. Normally, a voter can nominate up to 5 works, and 5 works end up on the final ballot. So voting collusion can sweep the ballot with only a little discipline–just all fill out the ballot in the same way. This change makes it so that one still nominates 5 works, but that the top 6 end up on the ballot–so if one wanted to force 6 items onto the ballot it would require more complicated coordination. It increases the chance that at least one item will be on the ballot that was not related to the slate.
This was ratified so this will go into effect next year.
E Pluribus Hugo +
This is a new proposal that appears to be a new alteration of E Pluribus Hugo? But I don’t seem to be able to find any additional information–I’m sure it’s out there. It passed, and is up for ratification next year, head to head with Three-Stage Voting. (NOTE: David Goldfarb explains EPH+ in his comment on this post–go read that!)
Drabblecast is a podcast of the weird and speculative. It is the closest publication to consistently hitting my own personal tastes, with a tendency towards especially strange and often funny ideas. Since its beginning it has been edited and hosted by Norm Sherman. This year marked a big change with Nathaniel Lee taking over as editor in chief, though Norm is still the host (Norm is also the editor and sometimes-host of Escape Pod, so he certainly has enough stuff to do). Drabblecast has continued their yearly tradition of Lovecraft Month in August, with one story by H.P. Lovecraft and three original stories inspired by Lovecraft written by contemporary authors.
Drabblecast published 39 stories in 2015.
1. “Old Dead Futures” by Tina Connolly
A young man has been taught to see the possible threads of the future and choose the one that will happen. He is exploited for this ability by an older man who can do the same thing.
2. “Restless in R’lyeh” by Oliver Buckram
One of the original stories for Lovecraft month. I love to read Buckram’s stories, fun and funny and thoughtful in turns. This one is a full cast recording, taking the format of a radio psychologist’s talk show during the time when Cthulhu arises from the depths.
3. “Metal and Flesh” by Steven R. Stewart
Very short story, but I found it very touching that begins with a badly injured man and a badly damaged robot trying to repair each other before their own bodies fail. I found it very touching.
5. “The Liver” by Andrew Kozma
The Greek myth of Prometheus ends with him being cursed to immortality with his liver eaten by an eagle every day. This story casts a different light on the myth–what if the eagle is trying to help, rather than being there to punish him? I thought it was interesting how it could cast a new light on a very old myth.
Podcastle, the fantasy branch of the Escape Artists podcast, has been running for almost eight years now. And this has been an eventful year for the podcast for several reasons:
They upgraded their pay rate for new fiction to professional rates. The other Escape Artists sister publications are now all pro-paying as well. I’m hoping that will draw ever wider talent (and hopefully get more award interest).
They are now paying their voice acting talent for the first time.
Dave Thompson and Anna Schwind have stepped down from co-editor positions.
Kitty Niclaian and Dawn Phynix were chosen to co-edit, but were unable to fill the roles.
Finally, Rachael Jones and Graeme Dunlop are now the co-editors.
6. “Makeisha in Time” by Rachael K. Jones Makeisha takes reflexive jumps back to random points in time, and each time lives a full lifetime before returning to the exact moment in the present when she left.
7. “Wet” by John Wiswell Immortal helps a ghost girl move on to the other side.
Anatoly Belilovsky is a rising star in the steampunk subgenre. He was born in a city that went through six or seven owners in the last century, all of whom used it to do a lot more than drive to church on Sundays; he is old enough to remember tanks rolling through it on their way to Czechoslovakia in 1968. After being traded to the US for a shipload of grain and a defector to be named later (see wikipedia, Jackson-Vanik amendment), he learned English from Star Trek reruns and went on to become a pediatrician in an area of New York where English is only the 4th most commonly used language. He has neither cats nor dogs, but was admitted into SFWA in spite of this deficiency, having published stories in NATURE, Ideomancer, Immersion Book of Steampunk, Daily SF, Kasma, UFO, Stupefying Stories, Cast of Wonders, and other markets.
CARL SLAUGHTER: MOST WRITERS STRUGGLE TO BREAK INTO DAILY SCIENCE FICTION. YOU’VE SOLD STORIES TO THEM. WHAT APPEAL DO YOUR STORIES HAVE?
ANATOLY BELILOVSKY: A story unlocks its market the same way a key opens a door, by lining up its bits with lock pins. Some bits must match the publication’s needs , length, style, subject matter; some must, in some ineffable way, tickle the editor’s fancy. I’ve had excellent experience with DSF; they tend to publish what I like to read more often than not, and also more often than not they like what I send them. In fact, if you look at my bibliography, NATURE, Kasma, Stupefying Stories, Toasted Cake, and DSF bought 3 or more of my stories, each. That’s half of my entire output in only five markets. Granted, these are the five most flash-friendly publications, but there is also undoubtedly an excellent match between my sensibilities, and their editors’.
WHY STEAMPUNK? WHAT OTHER SUBGENRES DO YOU SPECIALIZE IN?
Steampunk is basically 19th century fanfic, and my homage to authors of that era who shaped my own writing: Poe, Verne, Pushkin, Gogol, Chekhov, Conan Doyle. And I’m a history buff, too, so it’s a natural fit. Other subgenres , alternate history, magic realism, humor. Or combos thereof. One of my own favorite stories will be reprinted soon by Fantasy Scroll magazine: “Hither and Yon,” wherein a nexus of alternate realities converges on… but why spoil it?
“KULTURKAMPF” HAS BEEN SELECTED BY THE IMMERSION BOOK OF STEAMPUNK. WHAT IS IT ABOUT “KULTURKAMPF” COMPARED TO YOUR OTHER STORIES THAT BROKE THE ANTHOLOGY BARRIER?
Must have been that immortal phrase I had my fictional Richard Wagner utter: “Fools! They seek to defeat me with Bizet!” Although at least one editor fell in love with the military rank I invented for the story, “Timpanenfuhrer.”
WASN’T “KULTURKAMPF” YOUR FIRST STORY? OR AT LEAST ONE OF YOUR EARLIEST STORIES? AGAIN, VERY FEW WRITERS SELL ANY OF THEIR EARLY WORK. HOW MUCH PREP WORK WENT INTO YOUR FICTION CAREER BEFORE YOU HIT THE PRINT BUTTON FOR THE FIRST TIME?
Not quite the first, but yes, very early. The editor of IMMERSION BOOK OF STEAMPUNK was actually one of its critiquers on the Critters workshop and asked for it specifically. “Prep work” — this reminds me of a literary agent I met once at a con almost 30 years ago. I told her I wanted to write, and about what was going on in med school – I had just started clinical rotations then. She nodded and said, “It’s all copy.” So here we are, 30 years’ worth of family, career, and other experiences later. Yes, from the viewpoint of my writer side, it’s prep work. From every other viewpoint, it’s life. A bit farther down I mention my favorite line from a Chekhov story – but it didn’t hit me how brilliant that line is, until I actually saw enough undemonstrative people under overwhelming pressure, and saw how small and subtle and poignant are the ways of their display of these pressures.
MOST OF YOUR STORIES HAVE BEEN FLASH PIECES. ANY PLANS TO INVADE THE NOVEL MARKET?
Yes! Of this I dream: to crank out my novels, see them sold before me, and hear the lamentations of their copyeditors. One of my literary heroes is Georges Simenon, he of the novel-a-week school of writing. I can pretty much manage a thousand words a week, two thousand if inspiration strikes. Now if only there were a niche for flash novels…
YOUR PROFESSION IS IN THE MEDICAL FIELD. ANY OF YOUR STORIES INSPIRED BY YOUR MEDICAL KNOWLEDGE/EXPERIENCE?
Inspired, yes: in the footsteps of Chekhov, Bulgakov, Conan Doyle (the usual physician writer suspects) in drawing upon that experience for knowledge of how people act under pressure. But I rarely write medical fiction: too many biomedical ideas get discarded because I know they wouldn’t work in real life, and can’t get past the shame of perpetrating a palpable falsehood in the one subject about which I may never be intentionally misleading , “Thus conscience does make cowards of us all.” (As you can see from QUANTUM MECHANICS, I have no such trouble with other sciences.) Two exceptions – NOR CUSTOM STALE, in NATURE, and DON’T LOOK DOWN, in Daily SF and Toasted Cake, both touch upon medical aspects of aging. A lot of what happens in medicine is a lot less exciting than it sounds. As a resident, I oversaw a voodoo exorcism of a dying boy in an intensive care unit. It was a last-ditch measure that the parents asked to try, and they brought their own practitioner, and everyone agreed that it could do no harm but no one wanted to be there when it happened, so I volunteered. So this quiet, unassuming gentleman in a business suit came to the ICU, whispered a prayer, sprinkled something on the child’s forehead, thanked me and left. That was that. Total anticlimax.
FOR THOSE WHO HAVE NOT READ ANATOLY BELIVOSKY’S LATEST DAILY SCIENCE FICTION STORY, SPOILERS IN THIS QUESTION AND ANSWER. In “Quantum Mechanics,” a man’s life is rewritten by, guess what, quantum physics. Was it the Mexican restaurant cook or the mechanic across the street who rewrote the main character’s life? Based on the implications of the next question, I’m guessing the cook. Why is the cook’s girlfriend alarmed when the customer asks about the shark bite that took the cook’s hand, and later, sad when she manned the cash register to take the customer’s money? Did the cook lose his hand saving his girlfriend’s life? Does he practice quantum mechanics on people who ask about the shark bite and the lost hand to prove to them that their life isn’t as bad as they think, ie, he lost his hand but it was worth losing and his life is still good because he has his girlfriend?
No, I was actually thinking of the mechanic: the unseen offstage presence, the actual hand that closes the lid on Schroedinger’s box, then opens it again to reveal the new reality – or at least “good as new.” Then again, once the story is out it belongs to the reader: one interpretation is as good as any other. Subject to the same caveat, this is my interpretation , and, again, not speaking ex cathedra: Here is the cook who, yes, lost his arm saving a woman from a shark. He lives across the street from “quantum mechanics” who, for a very modest fee, can rebranch the reality to where he got to keep his arm , good as new , and the shark got to keep its breakfast. Her anxiety, in part, is from her triggered recollections, and in part perhaps from a sense of insecurity , will he, or won’t he, reconsider his decision? He knows that will never happen; the answer to: “Did that hurt?” , is for the woman’s ears: “Not that much. Not really” , meaning: I’ve no regrets about the bargain I’ve made. And maybe for them, this is the second branch? Perhaps the cook first watched her die, then, with the mechanic’s help, went back to save her, and both of them remember both realities? And, knowing this, both look upon the story’s narrator with “countenance more in sorrow than in anger?” If you will allow a small digression, let me mention what I believe to be one of the most brilliant sentences ever written. It’s from Chekhov’s “A Lady with a Dog,” from the scene where the narrator sees the eponymous, and quite attractive, lady, with the eponymous dog, and approaches, ostensibly, to look at the dog. At which point: “He does not bite,” she said and blushed. I may be reading too much into it, and be wrong, but it’s my prerogative as a reader: I think this gives a wide-open view of her state of mind, of her desire to get the narrator to come closer, of her longing for, imagining, and blushing at the thought of the touch of the narrator’s hand. Analyzing my own line in retrospect: “Not that much. Not really.” It feels like it’s treading the middle ground, between: “Not in the least!” – which would have been a palpable lie, and: “Hurt like hell!” – which would have given the woman grounds for feelings of guilt on her part, or for thinking he might trade her back at some point when the sacrifice might seem not worth the outcome. Here he is both acknowledging her feelings, and tries to assuage her. This is all in retrospect, of course. Ultimately, it seemed the right thing to say at the moment and so I wrote it.
YOU’VE HAD A LOT OF YOUR STORIES PUBLISHED BY PODCAST SITES. THREE QUESTIONS ABOUT PODCASTING: WERE THESE ORIGINALS OR REPRINTS? DID YOU SUBMIT STORIES TO PODCAST SITES OR DID THEY TAP YOU ON THE SHOULDER? DO PODCASTS PAY MORE, LESS, OR THE SAME AS ZINES?
One original (NIGHT WITCH to Tales of Old,) the rest reprints. I love podcasting; my writing runs to storytelling, I have to hear the story in my head before I can write it, and the podcasts I’ve been on so far have done magnificent jobs with narration and sound engineering, and given both the higher expense of audio production, and the lack of revenue stream endemic to all Creative Commons endeavors, payments have ranged from token to low-semipro. But to hear the perfectly timed musical punchline to KULTURKAMPF as produced by Cast of Wonders, or Tina Connolly’s sublime Toasted Cake interpretation of LAST MAN STANDING, a zombie story that quotes Sartre and Camus, is a pleasure that overrides all other considerations. All stories audio produced so far have been submissions; the one “shoulder tap” was for a sequel to a story previously podcast. The sequel is written and first rights sold to its original market, but the publication of that anthology is woefully delayed, and so the podcast waits for its availability.
ENGLISH IS NOT YOUR NATIVE LANGUAGE. I have a degree in journalism and 25% of my freshmen class failed their first English department writing course. So I know from experience that even most native speakers don’t have good writing skills. I teach English as a Second Language and I’ve taught several writing classes to ESL students. So I also know from experience that most ESL students, even most of the English majors, can’t write a complex sentence completely and correctly, much less a polished, understandable, interesting manuscript. Even the English majors who specialize in translation make a lot of minor mistakes. You were not raised in America and it’s much harder to learn a second language as an adult than as child. How then did you not only master English but also master fiction?
Nabokov may have been too modest (or falsely so) when he wrote, in the preface to LOLITA: “My private tragedy, which cannot, and indeed should not, be anybody’s concern, is that I had to abandon my natural idiom, my untrammeled, rich, and infinitely docile Russian language for a second-rate brand of English.” Nabokov, of course, gets the medal for best literary command of English as a second language, with oak leaf clusters for French and German in which he had also wrote published stories while living in Europe. Starting in another language can make one more acutely aware of the fine structure of English, of how English sentences work, of how it compensates for lost declensions and abandoned conjugations; of how our first language’s classics had been translated (or mistranslated) into English, and vice versa. It certainly has not deterred the many amazing multilingual writers working now , I know for certain that Ken Liu and Alex Shvartsman both acquired English far later than they did their respective first languages, but the same is probably true of a number of others. Ken Liu, Alex Shvartsman, and James Beamon belong at the top of another relevant list – writers whose advice, encouragement and critique, all dispensed with unstinting generosity, brought me much farther than I ever would have gotten without them. To quote your question — “How then did you not only master English but also master fiction?” If “master” even remotely applies, as a verb, a noun, or an adjective, to any of my writing, it is to them that the credit is due. And then there is the subject of literary translation which a whole Ã¢â‚¬Ëœnother bag of skills altogether, which I am trying to break into with variable success – the “uptick” of “variable” being my translation of WHITE CURTAIN by Pavel Amnuel, out in the May-June 2014 issue of F&SF to very encouraging reviews (all of which say nothing about the translation, a fact I find most flattering as it means I succeeded in making the translation seamless and invisible.)
IF ENGLISH IS THE 4TH MOST OFTEN SPOKEN LANGUAGE IN YOUR AREA OF NEW YORK, WHAT ARE THE FIRST THREE?
In my neighborhood, Russian, Spanish, and Urdu. In which I say, respectively, Spasibo, Gracias, and Shukriya.
Note: One of Anatoly Belilovsky’s Daily Science Fiction stories is a collaboration and was published under the pen name A.J. Barr.
Carl 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.
Flash podcast site Toasted Cake was launched in 2012 by speculative fiction author, theater buff, and painting hobbyist Tina Connolly. Toasted Cake recently posted its 100th podcast. Connolly’s first novel, Ironskin, published by Tor, is a fantasy retelling of Jane Eyre and was nominated for the Nebula award. Ironskin was followed by Copperhead. The third in the series, Silverblind, is due in the fall of 2014. Seriously Wicked, a YA novel, is due in the spring of 2015. Connolly’s short stories have appeared in Lightspeed, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Strange Horizons, and many other magazines. She is a graduate of the 2006 Clarion West workshop.
CARL SLAUGHTER: Why did you decide to launch a podcast?
So there I was in 2012 with a book coming out (Ironskin) and another book under contract (Copperhead) and a one-year-old boy and a new-to-us fixer house, and I said, Self, you know what would make this year even better? Podcasting a new story every single week, that’s what.
TL;DR: I be crazy overscheduled, yo.
CARL SLAUGHTER; How did you choose the name Toasted Cake?
TINA CONNOLLY: I knew I wanted it to be a flash fiction podcast, so I was batting around ideas that would play off of the bite-sized idea. Things like Snackcast. They were all taken. I kept brainstorming tasty -pod and -cast names, but still, all taken. Eventually I just got to things I like, like Pie for Breakfast (taken.) And eventually, Toasted Cake. (Listen to episode 32, “The Hungry Child” by Romie Stott, to hear an outro about why you should totally toast your cake.)
It has been since pointed out to me by more than one person that Toasted Cake and Tina Connolly share a set of initials. I did not do this intentionally, but I suppose my subconscious may have gotten the best of me….
CARL SLAUGHTER: Why restrict the podcast to flash fiction?
TINA CONNOLLY: One, because I wanted to podcast an episode every week, and that wasn’t going to be feasible with full-length fiction (not doing it all myself, anyway.)
But two, because I LOVE flash fiction, and I think it gets a bit overlooked. A really good piece of flash fiction is just a different creature than a full-length story, or a poem. (Listen to episode #13, Helena Bell’s “Please Return My Son Who Is In Your Custody”, for an outro with some of my Brilliantly Insightful Theories (TM) on what makes flash fiction work.)
The fact that I DO love flash fiction has made Toasted Cake work out really well, I think. I mean, in that you should probably only start a magazine if a) it’s filling a niche, and b) if it’s something you’re passionate about. I never wanted to become a magazine editor in particular, but boy howdy, I do love reading a piece of flash fiction each week.
CARL SLAUGHTER: How often do you post readings?
TINA CONNOLLY: Once a week. (With occasional misses for laryngitis.)
CARL SLAUGHTER: What type of stories do you feature?
TINA CONNOLLY: A few descriptors I like are weird, quirky, dark, twisted, funny, fun, literary, puzzling, bizarre, tongue-twistable, singable, patter-friendly, elocutionary, experimental, witty, and wistful.
A few of our amazing authors: Camille Alexa, Vylar Kaftan, Ken Liu, Cat Rambo, Rachel Swirsky, Caroline M. Yoachim, and I have to stop there or I never will. Most of the stories are reprints, and since they’re flash they tend to come from a few markets in particular,I notice a number of stories from Nature and Daily SF (and in the first year there were still a number from the late lamented Brain Harvest.) But I’ve also run original stories (“Zing Zou Zou” by C. S. E. Cooney, is a particularly awesome example), and stories from folks who’ve told me this is their first podcast appearance.
CARL SLAUGHTER: Who does the reading?
TINA CONNOLLY: Me! But while I was off on maternity leave, I had a few fantastic guest-narrators read for me: Dave Thompson, Graeme Dunlop, David Levine, and Matt Haynes. It ended up being all male voices, actually, because with three of the four of them I sent them something that I had wanted to run on the podcast but thought I wasn’t quite the right narrator for it.
CARL SLAUGHTER: You read for a variety of other podcasts. What type of stories do you like to read?
TINA CONNOLLY: Here’s where I post the list of descriptors I like again! 🙂 Seriously, though, what’s different about Toasted Cake is that everything I purchase has to be a) be podcastable and b) by ME. I sadly have to turn down stories that I personally like but I think I’m not a good fit for. So the stories on Toasted Cake are definitely the sort of stories that I think I will enjoy reading, and that will suit me. (But I also sometimes stretch a point and make my listeners listen to me sing, for example. 🙂
When an editor asks me what I feel comfortable with, my list usually goes something like: younger voices, alien/fey/otherworldly creatures, snarky, wistful. I’m planning to join Audible as a narrator one of these days,once the baby’s older, anyway! I would love to sink my teeth into a full-length book.
CARL SLAUGHTER: A number of your stories have been podcasted. Who chooses the reader for your stories, you or the podcast editor?
TINA CONNOLLY: The podcast editor does. I’ve had a lot of great podcasts run! Actually, my first exposure to Drabblecast was via hearing Norm Sherman read my On the Eyeball Floor for Escape Pod in a killer reading.
CARL SLAUGHTER: Toasted Cake recently reached a milestone. 100 podcasts. Can we expect any major changes or is it ‘steady as she goes’?
TINA CONNOLLY: Thank you! Yes, we did reach 100 , I’m thrilled to make it this far. (I was originally just planning to do one year, but then it picked up the Parsec award for Best New Podcast, so I thought, hmm, maybe there’s some people out there who’d enjoy hearing a little more of it… 🙂 No major changes,I plan to at least make it to 200, so there’s a good bit of Toasted Cake in store yet!
CARL SLAUGHTER: How does an author submit their story to be podcasted on Toasted Cake? How does someone volunteer to read for Toasted Cake? Do you accept prepackaged podcasts from the author or reader’s publicist or agent or fan?
TINA CONNOLLY: Right now I am the only narrator, although I wouldn’t rule out having another guest voice from time to time. Prepackaged podcasts is an interesting idea! I’m not sure if anyone’s doing that,at least, they haven’t contacted me with it. AFAIK, all the main podcasts, including mine, just accept submissions of stories. In text form.
I currently am doing two open submissions windows, one in February, and one in August (but not this year). Here’s the info, and I’m looking forward to the August submission period! Toasted Cake is a boutique market, which is a nice way of saying I can only pay $5. (You can also choose the option of me buying you a drink at a con, which I love as it means we get to sit down and chat a bit.) However, it is primarily a reprint market, which means you could have sold that story ten times already before sending it to me, and another ten times after. . . . Or, just come listen to the show!
Thanks for the interview, Carl, and for having me here on Diabolical Plots!
Carl 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.