This week, third quarter 2013 Writers of the Future winner, Paul Eckheart is in the hot seat.
Stuart: Welcome, Paul, and again, congratulations. Tell me something those who know you might find surprising.
Paul: As a teenager I spent two summers teaching swimming and lifesaving at an ice-cold mountain lake. The kids I taught could only stay in the water for 15-20 minutes at a time to make sure they didn’t catch hypothermia. I, on the other hand, “got to” spend as much time in the water as I wanted–or as long as was needed to let all the kids do the rescuing and whatnot.
I haven’t been swimming since.
Stuart: Ooooch! They should at least have given you a shorty suit! Cold water is B.A.D.! So, I guess writing was really just a way to stay warm? What got you started?
Paul: I’ve asked myself that question many times and the most satisfying answer I can come up with is: This is what I’m supposed to do.
Stuart: I hear you, Paul. Even after our win, it still seems a daunting path. And yet, it’s the path. So, where’s it carried you? How have you evolved?
Paul: I used to think The Big Surprise was the reason to tell stories. I grew up watching reruns of The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits–so many of those episodes have that moment of revelation at the end that brings clarity to all that came before it. While I still enjoy it when those moments come in my own work, I no longer look at The Twist as the be-all-end-all of storytelling. I’m a lot more about the full emotional journey beneath the story these days.
Stuart: Good answer. Yeah, the twist is still good, but it’s only one of many good ways to bring it home. What’s your writer’s cave like?
Paul: I invested in a very nice office chair several years ago. Even though it was more money than I ever imagined paying for a chair, I have never regretted it. My desk has telescoping legs that I’ve expanded so that my monitor is perfectly at my eye-level. Then I use a lap-desk for my keyboard and a trackpad. I like writing in the dark where it’s just me and the monitor–and maybe some orchestral music for mood setting.
Stuart: Do you have any unusual talents or hobbies?
Paul: I make my own bread. I have part of a sourdough yeast culture that was started in the late 1700s. Once a week I pull it out and feed it fresh flour to make sure it’s still alive and kicking.
Stuart: Sweet! You know I have a really old…um…no, I got nothin. How about a short excerpt?
Paul: This is from the first draft of my current work in progress:
Bad things came in threes. That’s what Gareth’s mother had always said, but he didn’t believe it. Not entirely. If life had taught him anything, it’s that bad things did cluster together. But “three” was arbitrary. Fours. Fives. Sixes. Didn’t matter. When the fates decided to smite you, you were screwed.He perched on the edge of his old man’s wooden Adirondack chair letting the hard edge of the angled seat press his Levi’s into the back of his leg and pulled on his lower lip. The air was thick with the smells of harvest–crop dust kicked up by the threshers, a touch of diesel smoke from the trucks and machinery. He could hear them in the distance.
At the side of his folk’s old two-story farm house Gareth’s rusty 1978 Ford F-100 waited. The air rippled above its open hood in the smothering heat of the Indian summer.No way in the world he could afford a new transmission. Not with the collection agencies already after him for his outstanding student loans. Nobody wanted to hire sociology majors. Someone should have told him that five years ago.The piercing rays of the sun found a gap in the foliage of the cherry tree Gareth’d taken refuge beneath, and as he stood to move the chair he noticed, out over the corn fields beyond the edge of the unkempt lawn, birds circling overhead. Hawks? No. Not black enough. Wrong size, too.
He squinted and shaded his eyes. Crows. Scavengers. Carrion feeders. Something out there was dead. Or dying.And then, in the rows of corn directly in front of him, something moved.
Stuart: Very nice! Next, Star Trek or Star Wars? Windows or Linux?
Paul: Wow Stuart, are you out to start a Holy War between the workshop attendees? :) Next you’ll be asking if–
Stuart: Pantser or plotter?
Paul: See?! SEE??!!
Stuart: Ha ha. You ever dream about writing, Paul?
Paul: Writing? No. Stories? Yes. I’ve worked out plot problems in my sleep before–but that’s always been with works in progress. With very few exceptions, the things that *start* as dreams don’t translate to the page very well. Or, at least, the people I’ve shown them to don’t find my paper-captured dreams nearly as amusing as I do.
Stuart: You know, I once had a dream with commercials and credits. I feel that should’ve have told me something… When you were a kid, what was your favorite toy?
Paul: I collected Folkmanis hand puppets. One in particular, a black and white cat, seemed to follow me around. Think Calvin and Hobbes, but without the orange tiger stripes.
Stuart: Ha! I’ll bet that kitty told some stories! Okay, if you had a wardrobe tag like Doctor Who what would it be?
Paul: I occasionally pull out a paperboy cap for workshops and conventions. It used to be a Pendleton Mills wool hat, but after that wore out I started wearing a Kangol 504.
Stuart: Wow! A man who knows his hats! And, do you have a quotation for us?
Paul: “if you can see that your story is getting boring, have a clown on stilts rush through the scene with his hair on fire.” — Tim Powers
Stuart: Ha ha! Or an undead pirate king, no doubt! Thank’s Paul, and I can’t wait to meet you in person!
Paul: Thanks, Stuart. You’re welcome. Pleased to be part of it and I look forward to meeting you in April.
Paul actually does have an answer to the Pantser vs. Plotter question, and plans to blog about it in coming days at www.pauleckheart.com.
Stuart: Welcome, Megan, and thanks for dropping by. Let’s start right off with something those who know you might find surprising.
Megan: I was once a cheerleader. We shall not speak of this again.
Stuart: Ah, well you know, there are many paths to greatness. It was cheerleading that gave my youngest the internal motivation she needed to get through her GT classes, and quite a few former presidents have been cheerleaders, so no points off there. What got you into writing?
Megan: My mom was a journalist-turned-English teacher, so writing was always a part of my life. However, what really kicked off my interest in SciFi and Fantasy was one glorious day when my dear friend Arwen introduced me to AD&D. So, really, this is all her fault.
Stuart: Arwen, eh? That sounds like a D&D character right there. So, that got you started. How have you evolved?
Megan: I’ve challenged myself to be sure I read at least one non-fiction book a month. The real world expands my imagination in all sorts of crazy ways.
Stuart: Ha ha! Convergent paths. When I was little, I wanted to learn everything, so I only read non-fiction. Now we’re reversed and I’m catching up on fiction. Where do you do your writing?
Megan: Wherever I’m most comfortable in the moment. Preferably that’s at my desk, listening to the sweet, sweet clickity-clack of my mechanical keyboard. In truth I end up all over the place. Writer: have laptop, will travel.
Stuart: Keyboards are important. I despise the flat keys on today’s Ultrbooks. Do you have any unusual talents or hobbies, Megan?
Megan: I am a professional soap maker. No, no, it’s not like Fight Club. Well, okay, maybe a little. I also tinker a little with robots, right now I’m really into the arduino.
Stuart: If I weren’t writing, I’d be into arduino too. The whole idea is stamped out of 100% pure titanium nerd-cool. If you had a superpower, what would it be?
Megan: Time-travel would be peachy. I’m vastly annoyed by my mortality and subsequent inability to see all the cool stuff that the far-future will hold.
Stuart: A common malady among we scifiers, I think. Do you ever dream about writing?
Megan: The only dream I remember clearly was from when I was a kid. Clifford the Big Red Dog chased me down a dark alley, and Oscar the Grouch was no help at all. So… I guess what I’m saying is, no, I don’t dream about writing.
Stuart: Ha ha. That reminds me of nightmares I had when I was little, where I’d remember them later and think, “Huh? What was so scary about that?” When you were a kid, what was your favorite toy?
Megan: Without a doubt my tree-house. It was cobbled together with old plywood, orange construction net, and a rope. It was glorious, and I only broke my tailbone once.
Stuart: Suuuweet! I’m so jealous! Okay, if you adopted a unique wardrobe tag like Doctor Who (scarves, fezzes, bow-ties), what would it be?
Megan: Dresses. They’re perfect–you only have to pick out one article of clothing, and you look put together. As long as you can remember to get your shoes to match each other, that is.
Stuart: Suprising answer. Dresses got a bad rap during the ’70s, but they definitely have practical advantages. Think how cool it would be if we all wore unisex togas–updated with pockets for our gizmos and googaws of course–and just judges each other by the level of our individual coolness? On second thought, we should all wear spacesuits. Yeah (stares dreamily). And finally, do you have a quotation you’d like to share?
Megan: “An original idea. That can’t be too hard. The library must be full of them.” — Stephen Fry
Stuart: Excellent! Okay, everybody, mandatory kudos for Megan all-around, just for quoting the versatile Stephen Fry, who has made us laugh and think for so many years from BBC land.
Thank’s Megan, and I can’t wait to meet you in person!
Megan really does make soap. You can learn more about that at meganokeefe.com/blushie-bath-body, and follow Megan’s antics in general at twitter.com/MeganofBlushie.
My story, “Rainbows For Other Days,” is about a cyborg ranger torn between his humanity and his programming–and the hauntingly simple way in which he copes. It will appear in volume 30 of the L Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future anthology.
Release is in April. You can pre-order here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1619862654/ref=as_li_qf_sp_asin_il_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=1619862654&linkCode=as2&tag=nothingun-20
If you haven’t read the Writers of the Future anthology before, check it out. The stories are the winners in the most prestigious short story competition in speculative fiction, and there’s always something for everyone.
Meet fellow Writers of the Future winner, 2013′s second quarter 1st place: Randy Henderson.
Stuart: Hi Randy. Congratulations and thanks for dropping by. Why don’t you start by telling me what made you want to be a writer?
Randy: It’s what all the cool kids were doing.
Stuart: Ha ha. Must have been an interesting school! So, in what ways have you evolved creatively?
Randy: I used to have adverbial gills and a passive vestigial tail. Now, I can cast power sentences. If I gain three more publishing victories, I will evolve into an Authorion Prime, and then I’ll really kick writing butt.
Stuart: I think I have prepositional gills.
Randy: I actually have a presentation I give on the evolutionary stages of writers that reflects the stages I’ve gone through and continue to work through, which includes:
- Not mistaking events, preaching, or a series of transgressive acts as being a story (i.e. writing dramatic stories with plots).
- Learning the fundamentals of written gooder, he exploded explodingly.
- Realizing that writing, editing, and submitting are work, and doing that work consistently and effectively.
- Learning and using deeper plot and character techniques like integrating plot and character arcs, backwards plotting, etc.
- Finding one’s voice and style.
- And of course, getting published professionally, and everything that comes with and after that.
Stuart: Of course. Are you a pantser or a plotter?
Randy: Having been shunned as a child, I do not condone pantsing anyone else, only yourself, let’s make that clear up front. However, I do think honestly most writers are a blend of both, particularly on longer projects. It is not so much one or the other but, from writer to writer and project to project it is a graduated scale, like the spiciness of salsa, or one’s sexual identity, or the quality of Start Trek movies.
Stuart: Describe your writer’s lair.
Randy: Well, for the best view, why don’t you stand there above the shark tank and–
Stuart: Umm…Randy, that’s Stromberg’s Shark Tank. You remember what happened to Stromberg, right?
Randy: Oh, fine. Well, one thing of note is, I started using a standing desk and it is awesome.
Stuart: Hey me too! I liked it so much, I built myself a treadmill desk…
Randy: Reduces back and neck strain, allows you to dance as you write, is better for your circulation, helps burn calories, and even cuts through cans.
Stuart: “It can even cut a cow in half!”
Randy: And alas, no, I don’t get 10% commission if you mention I sent you.
Stuart: Star Trek or Star Wars, sir?
Randy: Each has a special place in my heart for different reasons. I feel, generationally, a more relevant question today might be Halo or Mass Effect? Video games have reached a point where they can offer the kind of rich storyline, characters, awesome experiences, and most importantly, action figures, that we once took from movies and television.
Stuart: Action figures, yes. My favorite is The Great and Powerful Yogurt, from Space Balls. Windows or Linux?
Randy: Commodore 64.
Stuart: Good answer. I actually used to know a guy who wrote and sold software for the those. He was, umm, a nice guy? You ever dream about writing?
Randy: Indeed. I hope to some day. But until then, I’ll probably just write about dreaming.
Stuart: Very wise. When you were a kid, what was your favorite toy?
Randy: Anyone who knows me knows this question makes the terrible assumption that A) I grew up and B ) I would have only one fave. But I do remember fondly from my childhood (to date myself) my Six Million Dollar Man toys, my Evel Knievel toys, models of Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica ships, and of course video games.
Stuart: I remember Lee Majors. You know, for an astronaut and all, he spent an awful lot of his time solving crime. If, like Doctor Who, you adopted a unique wardrobe tag (scarves, fezzes, bow-ties), what would it be?
Randy: I don’t believe in popping tags. You will however frequently see me in a tie shirt (a shirt with a tie imprinted on it). But if I had my way, I suppose it would be Doc Ocs arms. I mean, come on, I could write 4 novels at a time! Suh-weet!
Stuart: Or maybe a T-shirt reading “You’d have to be crazy to become a writer.” Any last thoughts?
Randy: Why, did you poison me with iocane powder?
Stuart: You ate Stromberg’s fries??? You KNOW what happened to Stromberg, right? And it wasn’t iocane power, it was powdered nightlock berries. But it’s cool, since we are inventing this universe, we can just invent a logically consistent anti-toxin. Meanwhile, remain calm and rest here while I tell the nice folks how to find out more about you, you know, in case you make it.
Randy Henderson’s fiction can be spotted frolicking in places like Penumbra, Escape Pod, Realms of Fantasy, Every Day Fiction, and anthologies. He is a 1st Place winner of Writers of the Future, a Clarion West graduate, a relapsed sarcasm addict, and a milkshake connoisseur who transmits suspiciously delicious words into the ether from his secret lair in Kingston, Washington.
The first novel of Randy’s humorous urban fantasy series, titled FINN FANCY NECROMANCY, is forthcoming from TOR in early 2015. Learn more at www.randy-henderson.com. Stay connected on Facebook (/randyhenderson) and Twitter (/quantumage).
My certificate from UC Berkeley arrived today. With this and two bucks, I can get a nice cup of joe. It was worth it, though. I enrolled in the program when I knew I wanted to write better than I knew how. I read a lot of novels I’d forgotten existed or would never have given the time of day. I picked. I pondered. I asked. I studied. I wrote.
David Rompf’s class was awesome. And Mary Anne Koory’s and Margaret Steen’s. And the venerable Gary Tombleson who found my approach to essay (by god if nothing else, don’t bore yourself!) so refreshing. And the others…except for the execrable “novel writer’s workshop” which shall never be mentioned again. And now I write real good .
Well, I write better. I’m published and I’m an L Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future winner! Wow. That still feels like I should look behind me to see who we’re talking about. It’s hard to believe how far I’ve come, and yet…
I feel like the little boy who dreams of the distant mountain. Everyone says, be sensible, mountain climbing is for heroes or saints or the strapping lads from better towns where it’s taught as intramural sport and men wear climbing gear to clean out their gutters. Or else they say, “it’s no great thing. I’ve been there myself, see?” And as proof they tell improbable tales or flash hand-drawn sketches pinched in lily-skinned hands that have never known a callous.
So he packs up one day and sets off to see for himself. Along the way, he learns all he can. He practices and soaks up whatever advice seems reasonable. He builds his body and his toolkit and keeps climbing, ever deeper into hills that had been invisible at the start. One day, he heaves himself up onto a good-sized boulder and pauses to see where he’s standing. He realizes he’s been climbing for months–really climbing–up steeper and steeper slopes, and he’s left the naysayers behind. As he stands in the warming light, he hears encouraging voices echoing in on the wind. He smiles at the memory of the many gifts he’s collected, and a few of the strains and the bruises. He strokes his beard with sun-hardened fingers, and turns to take stock of the mountain.
Here it is at last, the gleaming tower of black stone and white snow and icy gold in the sunlight. He could never have reached this spot as a boy, could never have known this grandeur. But he stands here now a man. He looks out over the crevasses, the inclines pregnant with snow, the shear walls of shadow and dangers he cannot imagine. He’s come so far, seen so much, and the summit–that gleaming paragon in the clouds–is more remote, more inviting, than ever. All this, this life, has been but the first halting step.
And what can he do, our hero? He rosins up his fingers, pulls away a crumbling bit of chaff, and swings himself up to the next ledge.
So goodbye Berkeley. The is much yet to learn, and I’m looking forward to the workshop in April. I trust they’ll be handing out ice axes. I’ll file mine as sharp as I can.
And now off to the next chapter.
Last year, scientists reviewing the data from NASA’s Kepler satellite revised their extrapolation from the probe’s first tentative look at one tiny swath of our galaxy. They now estimate that the Milky Way may contain 17 billion earth-sized planets. Between half a billion and a billion of these may be “Earth-like.”
The candidates are already appearing. Kepler-62f and e are two newly discovered planets orbiting inside the habitable zone of a star smaller and cooler than the sun. They are both less than twice the size of the earth and one is inferred to have a rocky composition like the inner planets here. A third planet, Kepler-69c, is 70 percent larger than Earth and orbits in the habitable zone of a star similar to our sun. These star systems are both over a thousand lights years away, but other habitable planets will likely be nearer.
The hunt is on, and it is perhaps not to soon to dream of high-speed interstellar probes, but what do you think? Would finding forests and fisheries on other worlds rock your view of the universe? If you had the chance, would you go and visit such a world? Leave a comment and let me know.
I’ve always been a bit befuddled by fan-produced TV shows–particularly Star Trek. I grew up loving the show, but i’ve never considered myself a “trekker” per se. I just love good sci fi, and for many years, Trek was as good as it got on the small screen.
But fan produced shows? Guys, the show is over. Usually, these fan things amounted to amateurish CGI and corpulent “officers” who spent an inordinate amount of screen time dialoging about, well, nothing.
Then I hear that Grant Imahara of Mythbusters fame is playing Sulu in a fan remake called “Star Trek Continues.” I respect Grant enough to check it out, and it turns out that as fan fiction goes, this show is through the roof. Scotty is played by James Doohan’s son. Kirk is an actual professional actor. The set is both authentic and complete, the effects and cinematography are too.
But it ain’t Star Trek…except…it sorta is. I keep waiting for the story to bog down into dialoging–it doesn’t. The first episode is a sequel to a TOS episode, and a rather good one, I must admit. The attention to detail is impressive. Oh, I’ve seen nice looking set pieces before, but these guys have the cadence, the mannerisms, the timing and the pacing–all down right to the level of tension at each “commercial break”.
So, okay. “Continues” isn’t going to put J.J. Abrams or Chris Pine out of work, but I have to say, If you liked Star Trek the original series, you should check these guys out. It won’t be entirely just for nostalgia’s sake. http://www.startrekcontinues.com