I am pleased to announce that my novelette “The Cage,” the first thing I ever sold to Tor.com, has been chosen for their ten year retrospective collection, Worlds Seen in Passing: Ten Years of Tor.com Short Fiction, edited by the wonderful Irene Gallo, who has been such a key part of making this sight awesome on every possible front.
The book has been announced here; you can find the full story on how the anthology came to be, along with a full contributor’s list and a bigger picture of the cover. It’s available for pre-order now, and contains work by Charlie Jane Anders, Nino Cipri, John Chu, Tina Connolly, Ken Liu, Haralambi Markov, Helen Marshall, Kai Ashante Wilson, Alyssa Wong and so many other wonderful people. You’ll be dazzled, amazed, and delighted by it.
One of the many reasons I tell people–unabashedly and often–that I am delighted to be a Tor author is that this fiction project and the entire Tor.com site is so forward looking. It is a great experiment in figuring out what publishing is in the age of the Internet, and how it can work. The Tor.com team takes risks, works hard, and experiments. The wild success of their novella program (from which you can pre-order Kelly’s thoroughly wonderful Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach) and Tor Labs shows they aren’t resting on their laurels. It takes guts, perseverance, and vision to bring all of this wonderful creative product together, and I cannot express how much I admire everyone at Team Tor for their innovative spirit and dedication to the cause.
This year the amount of student work I read–both as an instructor at UCLA and UTSC and as an MFA student at UBC–was copious. We’re talking around two hundred stories and novel fragments, all of which I critiqued, too. This is what I fit in the cracks:
New Fiction – Novels, Novellas & Collections
Autonomous, by Annalee Newitz
Spoonbenders, by Daryl Gregory
The Best American Mystery Stories 2016, edited by Elizabeth George
River of Teeth, by Sarah Gailey
Taste of Marrow, by Sarah Gailey
The Red Threads of Fortune, by JY Yang (I am reading the companion novella now!)
The Well-Tempered City: What Modern Science, Ancient Civilizations, and Human Nature Teach Us About the Future of Urban Life by Jonathan F. P. Rose
Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber (Kelly is reading this to me so we aren’t quite done)
Crafty TV Writing: Thinking Inside the Box by Alex Epstein
Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel, by Hallie Ephron
The Best American Travel Writing 2017, edited by Lauren Collins
Women & Power: A Manifesto, by Mary Beard
Fieldwork Fail: The Messy Side of Scence, by Jim Jourdane and 25 scientists
I read lots and lots and lots and fucking lots of non-fiction articles, and I didn’t track them. You can’t track everything. But notable among them is: “City of Villains: Why I Don’t Trust Batman,” by Sarah Gailey
New Short Fiction
This is an incredibly incomplete list… I’m still struggling to capture all my short fic reading, especially the DailySF offerings.
“Excerpts from a Film (1942-1987)” by A.C. Wise
“And then there Were (N-One)” by Sara Pinsker
“We Who Live in the Heart,” by Kelly Robson
“Letters Found on the Backs of Pepper Labels next to a Skeleton in an 800-year-old Hibernation Capsule Ruptured by What Looks Like Sword Damage,” by Luc Reid
“We Need to talk about the Unicorn in your Backyard,” by Mari Ness
“Making the Magic Lightning Strike Me,” by John Chu,
“The Famine King,” by Darcie Little Badger
“Later, Let’s Tear up the Inner Sanctum,” by Merc Rustad,
“Seasons of Glass and Iron,” by Amal El-Mohtar
“It Happened to Me: I was Brought Back to Avenge my Death, but chose Justice Instead,” by Nino Cipri.
“A Hero, I am,” by Kat Otis
“Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time,” by @KMSzpara in @UncannyMagazine
”Rivers Run Free,” by Charles Payseur –
“The Witch in the Tower,” by Mari Ness
The Blue Place, by Nicola Griffith
Stay, by Nicola Griffith
Always, by Nicola Griffith
In the Woods, Tana French
Ghost Story, Peter Straub
The Trespasser, Tana French
On Monday I posted a rundown on all of my 2016 reading except new-to-me books: the student projects, rereads, short fiction, first chapters, you name it. Today, I give you the things I read from cover to cover.
One of the great things about being a writer is that you sometimes get to see advance copies of books, and I got to look at a few such things, some of which are out now, some of which are coming soon.
They were amazing, and you will love them!
Crossroads of Canopy: Book One in the Titan’s Forest Trilogy, by Thoraiya Dyer
And Carry a Big Stick, by S.M. Stirling (March 2018)
Weave a Circle Round, by Kari Maaren
All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault, by James Alan Gardner
Just as wonderful, but slightly less hot off the presses…
The Witch of Lime Street: Séance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World
, by Dan Jaher
, by Madeline Ashby
Step Aside, Pops: A Hark! A Vagrant Collection
, by Kate Beaton
The City of Falling Angels
, by John Berendt
The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival
, by John Vaillant
The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness, and Greed
, by John Vaillant
, by Michael Rowe
, by Connie Willis (read my Tor.com review here!
Mystery on the Isles of Shoals: Closing the Case on the Smuttynose Ax Murders of 1873
, by J. Dennis Robinson
, by Fran Wilde
A Feast of Sorrows
, by Angela Slatter (read my Tor.com review here! Also, check out this cover.
This was my reading year! And 2016 being in the rear view, perhaps I’ll ask: How has yours been so far?
In 2016 I read approximately 120 stories and/or partial novels from students, pieces ranging in length from 1,000 words to 25,000, and wrote a critique for each and every one. I also read over fifty stories, novelettes and novellas for the Heiresses of Russ 2016 anthology, which I co-edited with Steve Berman. Most of those, naturally, I read twice.
Because of the anthology, I was often very focused on short fiction, and read a lot of it online. I had promised myself that I would remember to record titles and authors and links, and I probably managed to do this a quarter of the time. When I list notable shorts, below, know that I may well have read and loved your story too… I just forgot to cut and paste the link into my master list.
“This is not a Wardrobe Door,” by A. Merc Rustad
“Only their Shining Beauty was Left,” by Fran Wilde
“Motherlands,” by Susan Jane Bigelow
“No Matter Which Way We Turned,” by Brian Evenson
“Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers, by Alyssa Wong
“Madeline,” by Amal El-Mohtar
“And You Shall Know Her By The Trail Of Dead,” by Brooke Bolander
“The New Mother,” by Eugene Fischer
“The Blood that Pulses in the Veins of One,” by JY Yang
“Grandmother Nai-Leylit’s Cloth of Winds,” by Rose Lemburg
“Fabulous Beasts,” by Priya Sharma
“Over a Narrow Sea,” by Camille Alexa
“A Million Future Days,” by Charles Payseur
Samples and Starts: Another new category for me, this year, was first chapters and samples of books I didn’t go on with. Usually these were non-fiction works with great concepts and line by line writing that wasn’t quite delicious enough to out-compete all the other brilliant non-fiction books out there.
The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective, by Kate Summerscale
The Winter Prince, by Elizabeth Wein
Accused, by Mark Giminez
Tales From Development Hell: The Greatest Movies Never Made? by David Hughes
Morgue: A Life in Death, by Dr. Vincent DiMaio
The Human Factor: Revolutionizing the Way People Live with Technology, by Kim Vicente
When I am reading a lot of student work, I find new novels rather hard to tackle. Too much of my headspace is taken up, and so I reread. I didn’t record these very well either, in 2016. I know Tana French’s Broken Harbor and Faithful Place were among them, as was Minette Walters’ The Shape of Snakes.
And this is plenty for you all to chew on, so I’ll make a second post, soon, containing 20 new-to-me novel-length works I read in 2016!
I have been trying for some time to get a few of my favorite authors to come here to my blog and talk about a lucky break in their careers. Unexpected forks in the road, weird bits of random serendipity… you name it. Writers work hard to achieve success, but every now and then something happens that they couldn’t ever predict or reproduce. Some of those moments, I think, must have good stories in them.
(And what’s more, they don’t even have to come packed with a moral lesson! Nobody’s going to say: New Author, you should try to get a concussion at a con! Or: Hey, car trouble is the way to go if you want to hit the NY Times Bestseller List!)
But the thing is, people (and perhaps especially writers) are superstitious. To some extent it feels like inviting bad luck to go crowing too loudly about good luck. It has taken me awhile to find someone who was willing to take this particular interview plunge. And how fitting that the trailblazer is Lara Elena Donnelly, whose audacious upcoming novel Amberlough is out on February 7th. This book is going to seem to many of you as though it was written just yesterday, because while it does not quite happen on Earth, or even in the United States of America, it is nevertheless a chilling capture of so many things we have lately come to fear.
Generally, you wouldn’t count a cracked exhaust manifold as a lucky break. Not in your writing career, or in your life as a whole. But if not for a cracked exhaust manifold, my debut novel Amberlough might not be coming out in February.
The sequence of unlikely events and circumstances that led me to this moment began on a winter day when blizzard warnings were flying thick and fast as the snow would later in the evening. I got up early, got in my mom’s car, and we drove to Michigan.
I was incredibly excited, for two reasons. One: even though I wasn’t sick, I was getting out of school. Two: I was about to meet my idol.
Holly Black’s urban fantasy novel Tithe had me rubbing four leaf clovers on my skin and staring through hollow stones, devouring any other fairy lore I could get my hands on. And I had read, on her LiveJournal (yes, LiveJournal) that she would be teaching at the Clarion Youth workshop in Ann Arbor, Michigan, just a couple of hours from my hometown. My mom pulled me out of school and put me in the car.
It was at Clarion Youth that Holly mentioned a sci-fi, fantasy, and horror workshop for teens in Pennsylvania, called Alpha, where Tamora Pierce taught every year. If you haven’t heard of Tamora Pierce, quick recap: she’s written dozens and dozens of fantasy novels featuring young women as knights, mages, cops, and spies. Her characters get menstrual cramps while jousting, use birth control so pregnancy won’t interrupt their espionage missions, and have frank discussions about sex with their partners in the midst of quests in the realm of the Gods. She writes fantasy with female characters who have the practical concerns of real-life women. She is amazing.
But Holly couldn’t remember the name of the workshop, and over the next year—which included my first summer job, my first love, and my first novel (a glorious disaster, if you’re wondering)—the idea of it leaked out of my overheated teenage brain. I found a workshop in Scotland I wanted to go to. I bussed tables and saved money. My mom sold home-baked bread at the farmer’s market, and saved money. And then her car broke down.
See, we got to the car eventually.
A cracked exhaust manifold ain’t a cheap fix. Scotland was off the table. But my mom, determined I would get my summer workshop, remembered Holly Black saying something about Pennsylvania, and Tamora Pierce.
The Alpha SF/F/H/Workshop for Young Writers was my luckiest break of all. Taught by a combination of visiting authors and dedicated volunteer staff (all of them also writers), it was the first place I learned I could write and sell short fiction. The first place I heard about getting an agent, about writing a query letter, about how to submit my stories, why I should go to cons. The first place, in short, where writing was treated as a profession and I was treated as a budding professional.
It was also where I heard about the Dell Awards.
The Dell Magazine Awards for Undergraduate Excellence in Science Fiction and Fantasy are awarded at ICFA, the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, every year. The important thing about this award: All finalists, not just the winner, get free registration at the conference. If you can get yourself to Florida, you get a formal introduction to the field of SFF. You meet people like Kit Reed and Ted Chiang and Peter Straub and if you’re like me at age 19, you have no idea who they are, and when you learn you’re petrified. But you keep going back.
After I graduated from college, I wanted to keep attending ICFA. But I was unemployed, like every other graduate after the financial crisis, and I couldn’t afford conference registration. I couldn’t afford a flight. I couldn’t afford a hotel. But I knew, because of Alpha, that cons were a good place to network. Sage advice from author Jeffrey Ford—attend the same con over and over again, until people know your face—made me eager to get back to Orlando, especially since I had a finished novel ready for submission.
So I asked for help. I set up a GoFundMe and my friends and family sent me to Florida for a sixth time. Where, in an incidental conversation, I met Diana Pho, an associate editor at Tor, and mentioned my book.
“That sounds really interesting,” she said. “You should send that to me when it’s done.”
Reader, I finished revisions in a week. And after nearly a year of back-and-forth, revisions, agent queries, abject panic and brief flashes of ecstasy, I signed a contract.
Without that cracked exhaust manifold, I’d have ended up in Scotland instead of at Alpha. That’s not to say I wouldn’t have sold a book, eventually, but it might not have been Amberlough. It might not be coming out on February 7, 2017, or currently available for pre-order. Without that cracked exhaust manifold, I might not be turning this hypothetical into a bald-faced plug for my debut novel.
My mom’s still driving the same car, by the way. Honda Civics are tough little bugs.
The all-singing, all-dancing Lara Elena Donnelly is a graduate of the Alpha and Clarion writers’ workshops. Her work has appeared in venues including Strange Horizons, Escape Pod, Nightmare, and Mythic Delirium. Her debut novel, vintage-glam spy thriller Amberlough, drops on February 7, 2017 from Tor Books, but you can pre-order it now. Lara lives in Manhattan, but you can find her online at @larazontally or laradonnelly.com.
About this series: If I can find anyone bold enough to brag about their good fortune, Lucky Break will be another of my occasional interview series with authors, about bolts from the blue that aided their careers. If I can’t, I hope you and I will continue to enjoy new essays like those in my series: The Heroine Question, Let Me Inksplain, and What We Inherited.