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First Review of “The Waxing Disquiet” (And It’s a Good One!)

Thanks to my co-author Tony Pi for the head’s-up about the first review of our story “The Waxing Disquiet,” which appeared last month in Deep Magic.

The Waxing Quiet, by Tony Pi & Stephen Kotowych in Deep Magic. “He retreated to the calculation antechamber, where the tallylooms worked unceasingly. Click-clack went the wooden hooks, tying knots in the coarse hemp twine, the knot-history of their answers.” Fate and faith are at the center of this story, set in a society where a complex loom is used to determine which decisions are the right ones: for the society as a whole, and for individuals. The loom itself is a breathtaking piece of imagined technology, and I love the way the organization of the society uses concepts and terminology from bees and bee-keeping. A uniquely imagined world, and I’ll be thinking about that loom for a while…

Thanks to Maria Haskins for the shout-out–we’re glad she liked the story!

– S.

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“The Waxing Disquiet” Available Now!

18879898_1349788011771685_4624014453232649535_oThe June 2017 issue of Deep Magic–which includes “The Waxing Disquiet” by Tony Pi and me–is available now! Here’s the epic table of contents for Deep Magic’s 1-year anniversary issue!

– Short story “The Black Irix” by the legendary Terry Brooks
– Short story “Metamorphistry” by Wall Street Journal Bestselling author Jeff Wheeler
– Short story “The Waxing Disquiet” by Tony Pi & Stephen Kotowych
– Short story “Bad Dog” by Patrice Sarath (Gordath Wood)
– Short story “Dreams of a Radiant Sentry” by Christen Anne Kelley
– Article “Rock Your World in 5 Easy Steps”, by Sara B. Larson, Author
– Article “The Problems with Publishing Contracts”, by David Vandagriff, lawyer specializing in the literary industry
– Interview with Matthew Bialer, agent at Sanford J. Greenburger Associates
– Book Excerpt by Wall Street Journal Bestselling author, Charlie N. Holmberg, “The Fifth Doll”
– Book Excerpt by bestselling author Carrie Anne Noble, “The Gold-Son”

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Sale! “The Waxing Disquiet” to Deep Magic

Very pleased to announce that “The Waxing Disquiet”, a collaboration with Tony Pi, has sold to Deep Magic. It should appear in that magazine’s June issue.

This is the first collaboration for Tony and I, though we’ve known each other for more than ten years, including belonging to The Stop-Watch Gang writer’s group.


“The Waxing Disquiet” is set in a low-metal civilization built around hive-pyramids, bee-keeping, and the candle-and-waterworks-powered tallyloom computers that direct and order the society.

It was a lot of fun writing collaboratively with Tony. We both really loved this world, and I hope its one we can return to again soon.

And as it happens, Tony was able to arrange for a class of University of Toronto mechanical engineers to use the tallyloom idea as the basis for their year-end projects. Several teams actually built tallying machines that used only wood, water, wax, and weights to operate. It was very cool to see something you wrote about come to life like that!

– S.

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We’ve Made Our Own Deflector Shields for the Earth

Usually when you hear about unintended consequences they’re bad ones–here’s a good one for a change!

A pair of NASA space probes have detected an artificial bubble around Earth that forms when radio communications from the ground interact with high-energy radiation particles in space, the agency announced this week. The bubble forms a protective barrier around Earth, shielding the planet from potentially dangerous space weather, like solar flares and other ejections from the sun.

This bubble is caused by human use of very-low frequency (VLF) radio waves. The observations suggest that the VLF waves can push radiation particles away, since the Van Allen belts (naturally occurring bands of charged particles that surround the Earth) are much further from Earth now than in the 1960s, when we sent fewer VLF transmissions.

Mankind: mucking up the cosmos since 1957! ™

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Sale! “The Murmur of Its Name” to Flame Tree Supernatural Horror Anthology

I was supposed to keep it hush-hush for a while, but I think I’m allowed to say now that I’ve sold another story. I’m very pleased that my story ‘The Murmur of Its Name’ will be published in Flame Tree Press’s Supernatural Horror anthology later this summer. From all accounts, Flame Tree’s books are gorgeous so I’m looking forward to my copy!ronin3-small

‘The Murmur of Its Name’ takes place (I think?) in the same world as my story ‘There Followed the Wind’ from my collection, SEVEN AGAINST TOMORROW.

I say ‘I think’ because this new story is…a bit dark for me. Usually I’m not one for horror, but this one just sort of came out that way. It’s also (again, unusually for me) what might be called a “swords and sanity” story, pondering what the invasion of a quasi-Japan would have been like if the Mongols and their Great Khan were actually in service of something…old.

So, not 100% whether it fits in with the world and events of ‘Wind’, but I have more ideas for this quasi-Japan and its samurai so I guess I’ll find out at some point…

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“Saturn in G Minor” Now Available on StarShipSofa

Very pleased to report that my Writers of the Future winning story “Saturn in G Minor” is now available as FREE audio fiction from the good folks over at StarShipSofa.

The narration is crackerjack, provided by Nick Camm, an actor, audio-book narrator and voice-overer. I love his narration–I do. However, based on the list of accents on his profile page I now kind of wish he’d narrated the story in a Cockney, or perhaps a Glaswegian accent. Ah, well. Next time.

This is my second appearance on the Sofa. My story “A Time for Raven” (first published in Interzone) appeared as the featured story way back in Episode 259. Here’s hoping they’ll have me back for more at some point!

Oh, and as a completely disinterested party…Did you know that StarShipSofa is eligible for Hugo nominations in the BEST FANCAST category this year for their run of shows in 2015? You can find a full breakdown of StarShipSofa circa 2015 here. Since nominations close this Thursday, March 31st there’s still time to show the Sofa some nomination love! You can be sure that I will. You know: as a completely disinterested party.

– S.

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Is Rejection Good for the Writer’s Soul?


The first story I ever sold was the second-ever story that I sent out to market. I submitted to an anthology invite, was asked for a minor rewrite of the ending (which improved the story), and the editors bought the story–a SFWA qualifying pro sale, in fact.

I had one other story on the market at the time–the first thing I’d ever sent out–and had 8 rejections slips in-hand by the time I made that first sale. I’ve still never sold that first story, having amassed 17 rejections before retiring it from circulation. But I still like it.

I don’t write any of this to brag, but rather in response to a couple of articles I’ve read online in recent days, speaking in defense (and, dare I say ‘praise’?) of rejection.

The first article by Monica Byrne—which I don’t actually take issue with—is her “anti-resume”, an analysis of six-years’ worth of submissions, finding a 3% acceptance rate, which is pretty standard (I’d always heard 2%, so she may actually be ahead of the curve). She submitted to literary journals and magazines, as well as venues more familiar to SF readers (places like Clarkesworld, F&SF, etc,) She has a pretty reasonable view of rejection in the life of a writer, too:

…my anti-resumé reminds me that rejection will always be a part of my career, as in any career, as in anything worth doing. And there are no successful artists I know for whom this isn’t also the case. They love their work. That love buoys them through inevitable and even overwhelming rejection. So I promised myself that, no matter how “The Girl in the Road” was received, I’d start the next book right away. Now I’m 20,000 words in and reminded that just the daily practice of sitting and writing is still the best part. And, like I found that no amount of failure would change that, I hope that no amount of success will, either.

Okay, so no real issue there for me. I went into writing with my eyes open, and I knew there would be a lot of rejection along the way.

Over on English Kills Review, however, Melissa Duclos wrote an article ‘In Defense of Rejection’ in which she cites Monica Byrne as an example of how “Artists need rejection.” Hang on–this is where it gets good:

Every time a writer hears “no”—from a graduate school or a literary journal, an agent or a publisher—she has another opportunity to say “yes.” Does she really want to keep doing this with her life? Yes. Does she really have something interesting to say, that people need to read? Yes. This is not just a matter of endurance, though of course that is part of it.

She makes a number of sweeping generalizations, such as that the rise of self-publishing and the option to skip rejection from editors and publishers all together are “bad news for novels and for writing in general, and even worse for writers.” And again, she says that “Rejection, as maddening as it can be for writers, serves a purpose. Without it, the overall quality of novels on the market has suffered.”

Nowhere in her article, of course, does she substantiate or give any concrete examples to support these claims, nor could she. Taste in literature is completely subjective, after all.

She continues:

A writer who faces rejection—years and years of rejection—will eventually be forced to change, to develop her understanding of form, or her voice, or her handling of characters. She will have to grow in order to break through.


Don’t misunderstand: I’ve had plenty of rejection. After a spate of quick sales early on, I went two long, cold years with nothing but rejection slips…only to make two pro-level sales within days of one another to break the streak. My most rejected story was rejected 21 times, but then published in a major magazine market and I was immediately contacted out of the blue by an editor requesting a reprint. Did that story suck 21 times, only to be suddenly awesome the 22nd time even though I’d made no changes? Had I somehow forgotten how to write fiction for two years?

Of course not.

Rejection is simply a sign you haven’t appealed to a specific editor’s taste, or they don’t feel like they can sell your work to their publishing board or to their readership. And that’s what this is about–taste making and economics.

Which is A) why you shouldn’t take rejection too seriously/hard, and B) why it’s preposterous to claim that rejection is somehow good or necessary for a writer or their development as an artist. It’s just English Lit Department romanticism about the “tortured artist” that perpetuates this myth.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]You don’t need rejection. It’s something you ignore and then carry on writing.[/pullquote]

When Duclos asks whether writers will “choose to be artists striving to make a living, or salespeople, in the business of peddling words?” her misunderstanding of publishing is clear, as is where her sympathies lie: with the romanticized idea of the ‘starving artist.’ This means she’s missed one of the first (and key) points that Byrne made in her article: a desire to make a living from her art.

Artistic idealism is great, but fails to sustain the necessities of life unless coupled with a pay cheque from somewhere. Shakespeare knew this. So did Charles Dickens and Mark Twain. They created great art…which they knew would sell.

You often hear editors say a story or novel wasn’t right for them but then it sells elsewhere. Was there a flaw in the story, or did it just not suit the market? Those are different things. To suggest that rejection will teach something… Will it teach a general lesson, or will it just teach you how best to suit your writing to a specific market. This is the post hoc ergo proper hoc fallacy.

Mind you, there’s nothing wrong with trying to write to suit a specific market. I’d like to be published in ASIMOV’S and am working on stories that I think might appeal to Shelia Williams, and by extension her readership. To date, I’ve had some very nice, encouraging rejections from Shelia. But if she rejects my stories does that mean they won’t sell anywhere? That they’re worthless? That I’m worthless?

Of course not. She rejected that story that was rejected 21 times, and it still sold and sold well when it eventually went.

Besides, how much can you really learn from generic rejection slips? Even personalized rejections rarely have more than a cursory explanation, usually of the “it didn’t work for me”, “didn’t fit my needs”, etc. if an editor takes real time to tell you what needs fixing they are usually offering to buy it (or at least take another look at it) if you make that change.

I keep reminding myself of advice I’ve heard from people like Robert J. Sawyer, Nancy Kress, David Farland, and Kevin J. Anderson: persistence pays off. If you stick with this writing thing, if you love and keep at it, after most others have given up and fallen by the wayside you’ll find success.

It’s said that if you get shit on by a bird it’s good luck. I’m pretty sure that’s just something that people who get shit on by birds tell themselves to make themselves feel better. Saying “rejection is good for you” is nothing different. It’s rejection as the hair shirt of literary practice: a self-mortification.[pullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Saying “rejection is good for you” is nothing different. It’s rejection as the hair shirt of literary practice: a self-mortification.[/pullquote]

I always believed that rejection was unavoidable and necessary…but now I don’t know. The rise of self-publishing has meant that even if no editor feels a story works in their magazine or on their website, an author can release it to the world and see what the real arbiter of taste—the reading public—thinks. Look at (admittedly outlier successes) like The Martian, a book that no traditional publisher would publish for a host of reasons. I read it—it was a lot of fun, and a huge success book in print and on film.

Is there also a lot of self-published crap? Yes, of course. 90% of everything is crap, including from traditional publishing venues.

All this smacks to me of snobbery, the defense of some kind of platonic ideal of what it means to write and receive rejection and praise. Shakespeare, Dickens, and Mark Twain all wrote for money and for popular audiences. Those who wrote for some kind of elite audience are forgotten or remembered only in academic circles, where someone needs to find a thesis topic.

Forgotten authors make for good ones.

– S.

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Cover Reveal!: CAPED Now Available for Pre-Order

Look! Up on the bookshelf! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s…the cover for Caped, the new anthology of superhero fiction in which my story “Super Frenemies” appears!

In what is surely the fastest acceptance-to-finished-book turnaround I’ve experienced in publishing, the book is not only available NOW for pre-order, but will be released in print and ebook format on Tuesday, Nov. 24th. You can find the ebook through your preferred vendor, and the print book will be available via Amazon.

The only regret I have about the project is that they didn’t want an author photo. I had the perfect one ready to go…

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Superhero…

– S.

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UFO Detection and Tracking

From the ‘long-shot’ file this morning…

A volunteer group of scientists and academics from around the world (about 15 scientists, engineers, astronomers, professors, and a journalist) has launched a new effort called UFODATA (for ‘UFO Detection and Tracking’), to apply rigorous scientific research and methods to the study of UFOs–an area of study that has been confined to the margins (at best) of the traditional scientific community.

They plan to install a series of automated surveillance stations loaded with scientific research tools at various locations in known UFO hotspots such as those in the western United States and in Hessdalen, Norway. The sensors that the group hopes to build will include several high-resolution spectrographic cameras, a magnetometer, a Geiger counter, and a weather station. Each one will cost between $10,000 and $20,000, the group says, which they’re hoping to raise through crowdfunding and other donations.

The group says more reliable and scientific data will not only advance understanding of UFOs, but might also serve to persuade the public at large that this issue merits more serious examination.

While its a noble endeavour, one wonders whether its doomed to failure. Even if there ARE alien craft visiting the planet (which is a big ‘if’), if you can overcome the vast hurdles to meaningful interstellar travel, would you not have devised a way to avoid detection by the indigenous fauna? I mean, human science has apparently already cracked the invisibility cloak–surely some alien has come up with a cloaking device, right?

– S.

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Fukushima and the World Without Us

Polish photographer Arkadiusz Podniesinski–whose made a career of photographing abandoned and forgotten places–travelled to the site of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in September and has released a selection of images he captured within the 20km (12.5 mile) Exclusion Zone around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station.

They are, to say the least, breath-taking. They are like a photo essay from the end of the world.

The images reminded me of the book The World Without Us, by Alan Weisman: a non-fiction thought-experiment about what would happen to the natural and built environment if humans suddenly disappeared. Weisman details how our cities and houses would deteriorate (they’ll be forests within 500 years), how long man-made artifacts would last (hint: a really long time), and how remaining lifeforms would evolve without us around.

Weisman concludes that radioactive waste (along with bronze statues, plastics, and Mount Rushmore) would be among the longest-lasting evidence of human presence on Earth. Indeed, without human monitoring and intervention within weeks the world’s nuclear plants (over four hundred of them) would all melt down, while our petrochemical plants would erupt in flame, spewing poisonous clouds for decades to come. All the while, the world would slowly become wilderness again, with carbon dioxide levels returning to prehuman levels after the geological eyeblink of a mere 100,000 years.

If we could send back photos from the World Without Us, well, I rather suspect they’d look a lot like the photos from Fukushima.

– S.

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