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Archive for the ‘readers’ Category

Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard, Klingon, & Lawrence Schoen

Barsk The Elephants Graveyard by Lawrence M. Schoen

Flash Fiction Online welcomes Lawrence Schoen, author of Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard

First of all, congratulations on the release of Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard.

Before we get to Barsk, let me say yl’el, which I hope means “welcome” in Klingon. It was either that or “My hovercraft is full of eels.” My translation skills are questionable. But yours are not! I’m fascinated by your mastery of Klingon and the subsequent founding of the Klingon Language Institute. How did you become a Klingonist?

I was a psychology professor at a small college in northern Illinois that had been going through a period of declining enrollments. It got so bad that they decided they needed to terminate four faculty positions and unfortunately for me, I was the newest hire in the largest department on campus. But academia is funny; I basically had a full year as a lame duck to look for other jobs and wait to hear back. I’m not good at waiting, so I went looking for a distraction, and I stumbled upon a copy of The Klingon Dictionary. I’d grown up hanging out with people who studied Tokien’s Elvish languages, and it struck me that I could play with Klingon for a few months, maybe even pull together some other interested folk. Then the media found out about what I was doing and it all exploded!

I know how enthusiastic Star Trek fans can be, but your work translating Shakespeare into Klingon is staggering to a casual fan like myself. As such, the amount of detail you put into world building Barsk makes perfect sense. Still, how did you go about it? Do you have a time honored process — a note card wall or a staggering character bible?

Full disclosure, I’m not the one who translated (or as we prefer to phrase it, “restored”) Shakespeare into Klingon. Hamlet was done by Dr. Nick Nicholas and Andrew Strader. And Nick also did Much Ado About Nothing. I handled the physical production, the layout and design of the books. I was the upper management on the projects, but other very talented people did the linguistic heavy lifting, not me.

With respect to worldbuilding in my fiction, I typically start with a character, and I work backwards from there. What sorts of things must exist in the character’s world that made him become the man he is? What factors were missing that led to her making the choices she did?

In looking at your biography — hypnotist, psychologist, psycholinguist, Klingonist — I could only feel that Barsk is a culmination of all these. That in order to achieve the level of world building, of social and political upheaval, with the emotional depth that you’ve achieved with such challenging characters, it would take a “Renaissance” author of sorts. Tell us how Barsk came to be, and if it did build upon your earlier experiences in a culmination of sorts.

Barsk started on a whim, a joke really, when the roommate of one of my students invited me to take part in a RPG based on an anthropomorphic animal comic book. The heroes were cats, the villains were rabbits. He said I could play any animal I wanted and for some reason I said “elephant,” but it turned out that wasn’t among the options in the rules. I didn’t care, I was off and running, spinning some nonsense about a planet the furry races didn’t want because it never stopped raining, and on and on. That was the start of Barsk.

We never did play that game, but that student was running a zine, and I promised to write him a novel based on that world and the elephants. I don’t know why I said that, I’d been writing a while, but I’d never had anything published yet. So I wrote a couple chapters, and he published them, and suddenly I was writing a novel!

I didn’t know much about writing, but I’d heard the phrase “write what you know,” so I started putting everything I knew into the story. Most of it didn’t stick. But I remember one piece very vividly that I should share. I wrote a scene in which a character dies by his own hand. He deliberately throws himself from a great height, from the canopy of a rainforest in fact, and falls to his death. It was a nicely visualized scene, but it felt flat. It lacked emotional depth. So I went back and rewrote it making one small change. I had him set himself on fire before he jumped. Suddenly, the thing had gravitas. But the difference wasn’t the fire. It was that instead of imagining someone committing suicide, I was channeling my experiences from earlier that academic year when one of my students killed himself via immolation. That’s when I came to understand what “write what you know” really means.

We often get story submissions here at FFO with non-human characters, and from long experience, we know it’s hard to write a convincing yet relatable character alien. Not only in Barsk but in your earlier works including The Adventures of the Amazing Conroy, you succeed in giving us entire worlds of anthropomorphized animals and alien cultures. What’s your advice in writing as “the other” like this?

For me, writing “the other” is a lot harder than writing “the alien.” There’s no comparison really (he said and then went on to make a comparison) because “the other” is some reader’s “me” and “the alien” by definition won’t ever be. Writing “the other” means I need to get inside another culture or gender or orientation or race or religion, and I need to get all the bits right, both the conscious ones that are objective and in theory researchable and the unconscious things that everyone who is a part of that “other” knows without thinking about because it’s just part of the identity. And you’re always, always, always going to get parts wrong. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try, I believe you should. I think every writer has an obligation to try to write characters who don’t look and feel and sound and act like them. And when you fail, great, look at why you failed, and do it better next time. This is part of growing as a writer.

Writing “the alien” is easier because you start by saying, okay, I’m going to pick some trait or perspective or biological quirk or cognitive process that is different in most humans and make it critical to the identity of my characters. Once you’ve worked out what that thing is, you just wind up the characters and let them loose, same as you would for human characters. If you’re writing humor, you play that difference for laughs. If you’re writing drama, you have the plot turn on it. If you’re writing tragedy, you play it for poignancy.

In Barsk, the Fants have a drug that allows certain users to interact with the recently dead. Both relationships and how we are remembered, including not at all, are important themes in the novel. Is this something that resonates for you on a personal level? Or in your work as a psychologist and mental health care provider, do you find the need to be remembered something that resonates with all of us?

I find death completely unacceptable. Not in terms of a physical ending, but rather the idea that a life of experience and thought and creation vanishes because the meat we’ve been walking around in hits an expiration date. This is a theme in a lot of my fiction, and one that I was oblivious to for years.

So in Barsk I invented a new branch of physics and tied it to cognitive psychology and explained how memory works, not just during our lives but afterward. Basically, the concept is that in life the thing which makes each of us completely unique as individuals is the vast collection of organized information that represents our memory and experience. So I offered an explanation for how that survives after corporeal death. Once I had that worked out, the fun part was positing a way that some people could still access that information, and in so doing effectively “speak to the dead.”

What advice, if any, would you give to aspiring writers?

Make mistakes. Don’t play safe. Try to write things you know you don’t know how to write. Fail, and when you do (and you will!), go back and figure out where you failed and why. Then do it again. You’re likely going to fail again, but you’ll also probably get a little further. You’ll learn how and why things work in your writing and more importantly, how and why they don’t. And you’ll get better.

Where can our readers find you on social media?

I have a website at www.lawrencemschoen.com, and a fairly active presence on Facebook. And I’m spending more and more (aka too much) time on Twitter where you’re welcome to follow me as @klingonguy.


 

SchoenHeadshot-1(300dpi)Lawrence M. Schoen holds a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology and psycholinguistics. He spent ten years as a college professor, and has done extensive research in the areas of human memory and language. This background provides a principal metaphor for his fiction. He currently works as the director of research and analytics for a series of mental health and addiction recovery facilities in Philadelphia.

He’s also one of the world’s foremost authorities on the Klingon language, and since 1992 has championed the exploration and use of this constructed tongue throughout the world. In addition, he’s the publisher behind a speculative fiction small press, Paper Golem, aimed at showcasing up-and-coming new writers as well as providing a market for novellas. And too, he performs occasionally as a hypnotherapist specializing in authors’ issues.

In 2007, he was a finalist for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. He received a Hugo Award nomination for Best Short Story in 2010 and Nebula Award nominations for Best Novella in 2013, 2014, and again in 2015. Some of his most popular writing deals with the ongoing adventures of a space-faring stage hypnotist named the Amazing Conroy and his animal companion Reggie, an alien buffalito that can eat anything and farts oxygen. His latest work is a very different kind of book, an anthropomorphic SF novel that explores prophecy, intolerance, friendship, conspiracy, and loyalty, and a drug that lets you talk to the dead.

Lawrence lives near Philadelphia with his wife, Valerie, who is neither a psychologist nor a Klingon speaker.

Flash Interview with Iulian Ionescu – Fantasy Scroll Magazine Editor

Today I am talking with Iulian Ionescu, editor extraordinaire at Fantasy Scroll Magazine. Listen up, writers!

SM: Hello, Iulian! Tell our readers about Fantasy Scroll Magazine.

II: Hi Stefan, thank you for inviting me to this interview.

SM: Tell us how the magazine got started.

II: I’ve been writing for quite some time and if there’s been any process that was hardest for me to understand, it was the submission process. Not the technical side of it, or the submission strategy per-se, but what happens after when my story is out there. Also, I needed to brush on my editing skills and also see what other people were doing. Those two things are the selfish reasons for the magazine. Once the idea popped in my head, I realized that it’s the perfect way to pay it forward. There are lots and lots of writers out there waiting to be discovered. Why not be a part of that? The more I thought about it, the more it seemed like a good idea. This was in the beginning of 2013. I shared my idea with a few close friends, writers and editors, and they all told me it was crazy. There’s too much to do, there’s really no money in it, it’s a hassle. So, I put the project on hold for a while, but the idea never left me. It was there, in the back of my head, scratching its way out. So, I started to study. I analyzed the public side of other magazine’s processes. I looked at endless websites, spoke with editors and writers. Little by little, I became convinced I’d be able to do it. So, in late 2013, while my wife was a few months pregnant with our second child, I decided to go for it. I bought the domain, I worked relentlessly for a few months to create the website, designed the process and then launched the Kickstarter campaign. In the meantime, I started to collaborate with a few first readers and editors. Without them, I am sure I wouldn’t have succeeded, so I owe them a lot. By the end of the first quarter of 2014, the magazine was ready for its first issue. At this point, there was no way back… and if felt good!

SM: What makes Fantasy Scroll different from all the other online magazines out there?

II: I think “different “ might be the wrong term. Speculative magazines have been running for ages and in the last decade there are a few out there that have basically defined the new-age of online magazines. There are very few things we can invent, very few paradigms that can turn things around. If there are a few things that we try hardest to do is respect the writer and entertain the reader. I know that our magazine doesn’t offer pro-rates yet, which seems to be in contradiction with the respect the writer mantra, but that’s just a financial hurdle we hope to overcome. What we try to do is respond fast to all our writers, provide feedback when possible, and really respect the writer’s choices. We then strive very much to put the writer’s names out there. We blast social media, submit our site to directories, we try as much as we can to make sure their names are heard. Another thing is that we are relying heavily on new writers. We do publish reprints, and often approach well-established writers and ask them to submit, but our biggest joy is to discover new voices and put them out there.

SM: As of now The Grinder lists your magazine’s acceptance rate as 5.63%. From reading the magazine myself I have to say that quality is a must for you and your staff.

II: Indeed. I think that Duotrope lists us at 4.5% acceptance at the time of this interview. We do have very high standards and all stories go through three levels. We have a first screen made out of our slush readers. After that, I read all the stories that pass through the slush and I only push forward those that I believe are great and a good match for the magazine. From there the stories are taken by the editors. At this stage most stories will go through, but there were a few that got pushed back after a thorough discussion. Because we publish a mix of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror, we try to balance the genres out and get a few of which. And we do need more sci-fi… wink, wink!

SM: How do you plan to make the transition to a pro-paying market?

II: I have to be honest, if I’d in the position to fund the magazine myself, I would turn it pro tomorrow. But right now, I just don’t have that capability. Since we publish our stories for free, online, the paying readership grows very slowly. We hope that our new podcast will increase the numbers, and we also hope that our annual anthologies (the first one due in the fall) will improve those finances. At this point, once I am able to get to some stable budget, I will push for the pro-status. The first year we tested the waters with 4 issues. In 2015 we are doing 6 issues and I hope to move to monthly in 2016. We see surges in our traffic with every issue and our inbound links grow. So, we hope that the combination of more, and more frequent issues and the annual anthologies will allow us to earn enough to turn the magazine pro. It’s a long shot, I know, but it’s a goal that will never leave my mind.

SM: Tell us about your upcoming Kickstarter campaign.

II: I don’t have an upcoming Kickstarter planned; the only Kickstarter we did was for the very first year. I am very thankful to all the backers who helped us back then. The infusion of funds in the beginning was paramount. For us it was a success story, but we decided against running annual Kickstarter campaigns. I strongly believe that a magazine should become self-sustaining after a while. We have various ways to support the magazine including donations, advertising on the site, and subscriptions. If things get tough, maybe we’ll turn to Kickstarter again, but so far we don’t have to…

SM: The covert art for your issues in amazing! How do you go about recruiting artists?

II: I love art and illustration. Both my parents are architects and really good at drawing. I grew up as an illustrator wannabe until I had to finally admit that I just don’t have “it.” So, right now what I do is surf the web in search of those who have “it.” I spend endless hours through DeviantArt and DrawCrowd looking for awesome artists. I contact them and propose them to work with us. It’s a hard task, but so far it has worked. I truly love all the covers we’ve selected and I hope we can keep them coming.

SM: Let’s commiserate. Barring offensive material, what kind of stories are you sick and tired of in the slushpile? Mine are stories that exist purely to deliver a punch line and thinly veiled attempts at soap-boxing.

II: I agree with you there. I get a lot of stories that hinge on one idea. But instead of taking that idea and building a story around it, I see too often a lot of fluff created just to drop that idea one way or another in the end. The result is an emotionless story with characters that are dry and flat. I also hate stories that depict a lot of gore and violence for absolutely no reason. Last, but not least, I am very tired of stories that begin with a child who is walking somewhere with their grandfather and the grandfather is really wise. It’s become a cliché start, like the guy coming out of a car. Now, this being said, I just bought two stories of this kind, but just because they were really good. This shows that if the story is great, I am even willing to accept a cliché.

SM: Okay, John McWriter walks up to you on the street. He asks you how to get published in Fantasy Scroll Magazine. After berating him for his tacky name, what do you tell him?

II: I tell him, make my skin shiver. Whether it’s from sadness, happiness, or horror, I must feel your story in my bones. For that to happen, make sure you put great characters in it doing great things. Don’t spend a whole lot of time on world-building; I get it easily and so does any other reader. Focus on the character and his/her struggles. Make the plot interesting and fresh and make sure it is in fact plot. Things must happen, spectacularly. If I feel a knot in my throat by the end of the story, I’ll probably accept it.

SM: We sometimes get angry letters from writers who receive form rejections. Do you have that problem and if so how do you deal with it?

II: I honestly haven’t received a lot. I try to send very polite letters and quite fast. One time one writer did reply with “Orwell’s peers also rejected him. Good day,” but that was more passive-aggressive. If I were to get an angry letter, I would just ignore it. Honestly, I don’t have the time to teach manners or explain that this attitude is not helping. As a writer, I’ve received rejection letters to stories that, in my head, were perfect for that market. I felt a pang of anger, but I never wrote back. I don’t like to burn bridges and rejection is a way of life for any writer. If you don’t develop the thick skin to deal with it, you will never become successful.

SM: What can we expect so see from Fantasy Scroll in 2015?

II: In 2015 of course we started our weekly podcast, and we broadcast one story every week. We are going to experiment a bit with some wacky things to see how they’ll work out. In Issue 5 we had a graphic story, in Issue 6 and 7 we’ll have a novelette leading the issue. We are trying different things, and we are pushing the envelope. We want to put more stories out there and entertain our readers. We are going to try to get some more reprints from well-known authors and see if we can expand our social media reach by working with bloggers, writing groups, and writing sites. But really why you can expect from us is great speculative fiction from great (or soon to be great) writers.

SM: Here is a fun one I always like to spring on our guests. Recommend us a book or author that needs more exposure.

II: Good one, indeed. I am a part of a writing group called Writers of the Weird, led by Phil De Parto who also runs The Science Fiction Association of Bergen County. I’ve met a lot of great writers here who can benefit from more exposure. I will limit myself to just a few: Alex Shvartsman, Hank Quense, and Sarah Avery. They’ve all been published in Fantasy Scroll Magazine at some point. Alex Shavrstmanhas had more than 60 stories published in various pro-markets, and has recently published a collection of his works. Hank Quensewrites humorous fantasy and science fiction, as well as non-fiction about writing and self-publishing. Sarah Avery writes fantasy fiction, and her book, Tales from Rugosa Coven, was published in 2013.

SM: Your bio on the website says that you are a runner. Did you end up running a marathon?

II: Indeed, I am. My entire life I’ve been actually afraid of running. Two broken clavicles when I was very young meant that when I ran my shoulders were getting tremendous pain. But in time that went away. Around 2010, a friend of mine convinced me (read dared) to start running. I did and I loved it. My body got toned, I lost weight, I became stronger. At the end of 2013, I ran a hat-trick (that’s a 5k followed by a 10k on Saturday, and a half-marathon on Sunday.) That was the toughest thing I’ve ever done, so I had no doubt that in 2014 I’ll be able to run a marathon. But in January, I got struck by a car as I was crossing the street as pedestrian. It was a hard accident, but I came out okay in the end, but not before 10 months of physical therapy and endless doctors. And most doctors told me: you can’t run, not until you’re back in shape. Now, more than one year later, I am waiting for the spring to finally come and see if I can start training again. It’s going to be tough, but not as tough as the first time. I won’t give up on the marathon dream. Maybe not this year, but soon for sure!

SM: Where can people reach out to you on social media?

II: These are the magazine’s social media sites:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/FantasyScroll
Twitter: https://twitter.com/FantasyScroll
Google+: https://plus.google.com/u/0/b/112513178431030711268/dashboard/overview

And here are my personal ones:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/iulienel
Twitter: https://twitter.com/iulienel
Google+: https://plus.google.com/u/0/109351607805691982746/posts

Feel free to follow me or the magazine, but don’t be a creep.

SM: Anything else you’d like to plug?

II: Nothing more than to invite people to subscribe and donate to our magazine. We live through your support, so please help!

Interview with Keffy R.M. Kehrli, Glittership Editor

  1. Glittership is open to flash fiction and short stories. Do you think there are differences to what makes each length of story successful?

Yes, but I find it difficult to articulate these differences in a way that doesn’t immediately sound fake to me. I think that flash fiction is most successful when it focuses very intently on one piece of the story, like a feeling, or a character, or an idea. As short stories get longer, they need to “do more” to be successful. But, that’s true of all fiction. The more words you use, the more you need to give me.

Of course, now I’m sitting here thinking about the ways in which flash fiction starts to approach poetry in some ways, in that each word becomes more and more important when the story gets shorter.

Then again, no matter what length you’re talking about, you shouldn’t have extraneous words just hanging out and doing nothing… heh.

  1. Do you have a favourite piece of flash fiction? If so, what about it stands out?

I don’t have a favorite – and even worse, I have the traditional writer’s problem when it comes time to start listing favorite stories or books. Essentially, I just go blank, and it’s like I’ve never read anything at all.

  1. You’ve worked as a slush reader for Shimmer in the past. Have you noticed any differences in how you evaluate stories now that you’re looking to create audio versions?

I quit reading for Shimmer last summer, but that was only because I felt like it was time for me to move on and work on my own editing projects. So far, the biggest change between how I read for Shimmer and how I read for GlitterShip is that with GlitterShip, I’m the boss. When I read for Shimmer, I was trying to pick stories that I thought might appeal to Elise, and was supposed to pass more stories up to her than we would ever buy so that she could choose between them. Now if I hold onto a story for a while, it’s just to see if how I feel about it changes.

I think that eventually I’ll be looking for different things in terms of how a story reads, but in my experience those differences are fairly slight. The two of my stories that tend to read the best have a lot of visual elements in them – scene breaks, poems, Kickstarter formatting. At the end of the day what I care about is whether or not I’ve chosen good stories, and then talented readers will take care of the rest.

  1. Glittership’s focus is on LGBTQ characters and issues. Do you have any advice for non-LGBTQ authors who might be interested in submitting their work?

In general, I think that anyone who is writing about people from a marginalized perspective that they don’t share should be reading copious amounts of fiction written by authors who are marginalized in that way. So, read fiction by authors who are out as queer.

Other than that, just send me the story! If I like it, I’ll buy it. If I don’t, well, we all get rejections.

  1. Anything else you’d like to say?

The first episode came out on April 2nd, so readers and listeners can check that out at our website (glittership.com). Additionally, issue #2, which will be out on April 9th is going to be a “flash medley” with three different stories between 700 and 1300 words, so lovers of flash fiction should definitely stop by on the 9th to check that out.

Ralan.com–Great Info Site for Writers & Readers

Ralan.com is a must-see for writers to find out what’s going on in magazine publishing, online or print. There, writers can find out who’s accepting submissions presently and what they’re looking for.

Readers might not know about it, but it’s handy for them, too. They may find publications of interest to them that they’d never heard of, some quite obscure.

Ralan (the man), categorizes publications along logical lines, from a writer’s point of view, such as pro-paying, semi-pro-paying, etc. In certain cases, a publication crosses those categories. FFO, for example, is placed in the Flash/Poetry category. However, since FFO is an SFWA (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America) pro-paying publication, it also falls into the pro-paying category. This hadn’t come up before, but Ralan was kind enough to put a special entry in the pro-paying category that directs readers to the Flash/Poetry section.

Thanks, Ralan!

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