James Van Pelt

Writing Words Fantastical and Otherwise

Story Sale: Science Fiction Analog

Trevor Quachri, the editor at Analog sent me an acceptance for “Party On” this morning. It’s rare for me to sell two stories in less than a week, although once I received three acceptances on the same day in the mail. This is when correspondence with magazines was done on paper. That was an awesome day!

Someone asked me if selling a story every gets old. Nope.

Story Sale: Daily Science Fiction

Daily Science Fiction sent an acceptance for my latest to them today. I want to thank my technical advisors, Dylan Van Pelt, Samuel Van Pelt and Teague Van Pelt, who know a lot more about computer gaming than I do. “NPC” will appear sometime in the future. This will be my 17th appearance in DSF and 6th story sale this year.

Buy Yourself a Birthday Present for an Author!

It’s my birthday tomorrow.

If you want to get yourself a present to celebrate it, order your signed, numbered, limited release, hardbound copy of THE BEST OF JAMES VAN PELT. There aren’t many copies left (remember the “limited release” part?).I really think buying author’s books for yourself or others on the author’s birthday should be a thing.

Hallmark should get involved.

Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop

I applied for this year’s version of the Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop.

Here are the answers to their questions in my application:

I have been appearing in many of the major (and minor) science fiction magazines since the early 90s. I am a frequent contributor in Analog and Asimov’s. My short stories have been reprinted in six collections from Fairwood Press, including a limited edition of THE BEST OF JAMES VAN PELT, which was released in November of last year. Along the way I have been a finalist for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, a Nebula finalist, a finalist for the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, a frequent finalist in both the Analog and Asimov’s annual readers’ choice awards. My first collection was included as a “Best Book for Young Adults” by the American Library Association, and I won a Colorado Book Award for my collection, THE RADIO MAGICIAN AND OTHER STORIES. My entire bibliography, including two novels and a smattering of journalism and poetry is viewable at http://www.jamesvanpelt.com/?page_id=21

I am a long-time member of SFWA. I also belong to the Colorado Authors League and the Western Colorado Writers’ Forum. I recently retired from teaching high school and college English, where I was a member of NEA and the National Council of Teachers of English.

My dad was an aeronautical engineer for Martin Marietta in Denver while I was growing up. Copies of SKY AND TELESCOPE were on every flat surface in the house. His interest in astronomy was so profound that he ground his own mirror for a telescope that he mounted permanently in our backyard. Through that he showed me Saturn’s rings and Venus’s moon-like phases, and Jupiter’s moons. He invited local elementary school classes to our house for hot chocolate and an evening of stargazing. He also loved science fiction, and his interests started me on a path to becoming a science fiction writer. Some of my writing requires a knowledge of astronomy, but my background is spotty and over-dependent on Google. Relying on a Sky Guide app on my phone is unsatisfying (although fun when I’m hanging out in my yard at night). I believe that a deeper dive into studying astronomy will not only improve the accuracy of what I write but also provide me with story ideas I couldn’t come up with otherwise.

I’m a frequent workshop leader for fledgling writers and young writer’s groups. One of my recurring themes is the importance of research, real-world information. Not having spent more time myself in a dedicated astronomy environment seems a sad hole in this science fiction writer’s resume. I would love to address that by attending Launch Pad. Like Whitman I have “Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars,” but I think I can’t just do that. I too need to spend time with “the learn’d astronomer.”

Launch Pad – Christian Ready

The Best of James Van Pelt on Goodreads and Elsewhere

Last year I posted about progress toward the release of The Best of James Van Pelt, but I haven’t said anything else about it here since! Sheesh.

Fairwood Press released the book in November last year. Publishers Weekly gave it a starred review, saying, among other things, “Van Pelt’s superior combination of imaginative concepts with recognizable human emotions makes him a talent deserving of a wide readership.”

More reviews came out, including at Blackgate, Analog Science Fiction, and other venues.

I talked about the book at Mary Robinette Kowal’s “My Favorite Bit,” and John Scalzi’s “The Big Idea.”

This is a limited edition (200 copies), hardbound, signed and numbered collection with a wrap-around cover featuring gorgeous art by the Slovokian artist, Gabriel Gajdos. At almost 700 pages, it contains 62 stories published in numerous magazines and anthologies over the last thirty years, including a Nebula finalist, Pushcart prize nominated pieces, and Analog and Asimov’s reader award top-three stories. Part of the fun has been signing copies in my living room to be shipped to Fairwood Press for distribution.

The majority of the books have sold (but there are still a few left–any that are left we’ll take to World Fantasy in Montreal in the fall–you can still get a copy!).

At any rate, what provoked this post was realizing my Goodreads friends can see the book exists at the Goodreads site but the purchase buttons take you to Amazon and other of the bigger online booksellers. Because it is a signed and numbered book, it isn’t available through them (unlike the rest of my titles). You can only get it through Fairwood Press.

Fairwood is an awesome small press publisher who I’ve been with for all my books. The other books are available at Amazon, but not this collection. For those of you used to just pressing the “Buy now” button at Amazon, which I do often, you’ll have to visit Fairwood instead. I promise that it’s worth the trouble. Fairwood loves short story authors. If you are looking for collections, they are one of the best places to visit for contemporary authors. I particularly like Daryl Gregory’s Unpossible, Carrie Vaughn’s Amaryllis, Naomi Kritzer’s Cat Pictures Please, and Brenda Cooper’s Cracking the Sky.

So, Goodreads friends and others, you can find The Best of James Van Pelt at Fairwood Press, and only there.

By the way, when you buy directly from Fairwood, all the money goes to Fairwood and the author. There’s no middleman cut to another distributor (hint, hint).

Analog Reader Awards

Science Fiction Analog has released the list of finalists for the Anlab, the annual readers’ award for best stories from the previous year. My novelette,

Analog Science Fiction and Fact September/October 2020 by Trevor Quachri

“Minerva Girls,” made the list, along with luminaries: Tom Jolly, Harry Turtledove, Sarina Dorie, and Robert R. Chase.

This is the 17th story of mine to make the readers’ award finalist lists between Analog and Asimov’s. In 2017 my stories took both second and third place at Analog.

You can read all the finalist stories for free by following the link to the announcement from Analog.

Stuff That’s Happened Lately: Late 2020

It’s been a while since I’ve shared news here (I post more often on my Facebook page!).

I attended the virtual MileHiCon the third week in October. This was my first virtual con. I had a tough time getting into it. I love conventions, but the virtual version lost almost everything I like: meetings in the hallways, crowds, room parties, dealers’ room, art show, bar-con, etc. Still, it was better than no con at all, and I did meet up with friends virtually. Fortunately, they recorded many of the panels. Here are the ones I was on:

Creative Parenting

There’s Kissing in My SF

My Favorite Writing Tools

You can cruise through the complete list of recorded panels here.

I attended World Fantasy a week later, where I also did some panels.

For most of the fall I have been working on supporting the release of The Best of James Van Pelt, my huge short story collection. This has included doing interviews and essays. The first rumination on the collection appeared in “My Favorite Bit: James Van Pelt Talks about The Best of James Van Pelt,” which Mary Robinette Kowal hosted. The second one appeared on John Scalzi’s WHATEVER, The Big Idea: James Van Pelt.

Sadly, Covid wiped out this year’s Rain Forest Writers Retreat, which I’ve attended for the last eleven years (sob!). Hopefully the world will right itself by 2022 and conventions and public events will be a part of our regular schedule again.

On the publishing side of things, my novelette, “The Minerva Girls,” was the cover story for the Sept./Oct. Science Fiction Analog. Also, “Ethnoentomology” appeared in Deep Magic, and “After the War” in On Spec. Analog sent the galleys of “I Have Loved the Stars too Fondly” for approval, and Asimov’s bought “The Bahnhof Drive-in.”

In the meantime, I’m truly enjoying being retired, and I’m working on my next stories.

Science Fiction Prompt Night

I lead a prompt night for the Western Colorado Writers Forum this Thursday. It was a unique event for me on a couple levels. First, I haven’t been to any kind of public gathering since March. Non-family members in the same room with me, even masked, felt odd. Second, the presentation was a hybrid of Zoom meeting and live audience. The whole time I didn’t know if I should pay attention to the computer screen or to the people in the room.

Science Fiction, Sci Fi, Futuristic

Overall, though, it went well. They asked me for prompts bent toward science fiction, but most of them don’t write in the genre, so I felt like I was breaking in novices, even though most of them have been long-time writers.

I over-prepared, writing out the complete script of what I would say. A detailed script encourages me to read instead of teach, so I worked hard not to keep looking at this.

Here is the entire script. With 20-minute writing sessions and discussion after, this took exactly two hours:

Intro:

Zach Berkson said, “Science fiction, perhaps more than any other modern genre of fiction, is often written with a social purpose or a goal. 

“Reading science fiction enables us to reflect on the ways people interact with each other, with technology, with our environment. A good science fiction work posits one vision for the future, among countless possibilities, that is built on a foundation of realism. In creating a link between the present and the future, science fiction invites us to consider the complex ways our choices and interactions contribute to generating the future. 

“Why do we read science fiction? The immediate answer for some is escapism: to enter into fantastic worlds that are more exciting than mundane reality. But that’s a simplistic answer that fails to explain why we’re drawn to science fiction, which, while speculative, often nods to realism and presents a thoughtful perspective on the future – frequently one that’s informed by scientific and technological reality. The draw of science fiction is more nuanced than a desire to escape the mundane.

“Science Fiction expands the mind, considering ideas and possibilities outside our normal experience.  It explores not only what is, but what might be, or could be.” 

Ray Bradbury said, “”Science fiction is the fiction of ideas. Ideas excite me, and as soon as I get excited, the adrenaline gets going and the next thing I know I’m borrowing energy from the ideas themselves. Science fiction is any idea that occurs in the head and doesn’t exist yet, but soon will, and will change everything for everybody, and nothing will ever be the same again. As soon as you have an idea that changes some small part of the world you are writing science fiction. It is always the art of the possible, never the impossible.”

One way to think of what makes a science fiction different from non-science fiction is the setting. A science fiction story has something in the setting that does not exist today or in history, but is scientifically possible.  The change in the setting is what the story is about, really, in the end. How does that difference in the setting reveal the human condition, or comment on today’s conditions, or warn us about the future?

A love story during a trip to Mars isn’t much of a science fiction if the trip doesn’t impact the love story in some way. If the love story is no different than the same story told on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship, for example, where every place in the story where you could have said “Jamaica” you replaced it with “Mars,” you haven’t done much with the setting. Putting a ray gun into the holster and making no other changes doesn’t turn a Western into a Science Fiction.

So one technique to create a science fiction story is to incorporate the change or changes in the setting that make it a science fiction, and then write your path into it.

Dialogue Prompt:

One strategy is to just have a pair of characters talking. This is a dialogue prompt. Dialogues that are good reading often have a tension in them, otherwise they’re just two people who aren’t really talking or who are just agreeing with each other. To make the dialogue pop, start with some kind of tension. Maybe the two characters are fighting. They have a disagreement that displays itself in the dialogue. Maybe one character is trying to convince another character of something. Maybe one character knows something that they want the other character to understand. Maybe the two characters are talking about a subject that is so sensitive to them that neither one is willing to name the real subject of the discussion. Maybe one character is trying to sell something to the other, or convince them to change a political position. Maybe the discussion is a disagreement in parenting styles. 

Whatever. For this prompt, write a dialogue between two characters that takes place in a science fictional setting. Their discussion needs to either be about the science fictional element, or be impacted by the science fictional element. In other words, this dialogue could not exist without the science fiction in it. You can show the science fiction within the quotes, or in your description of the characters’ thoughts and actions outside of the quotes. Don’t agonize over anything! Close your eyes. Let them talk. Don’t worry about where the discussion will end up. You have fifteen minutes.

Go.

Setting Prompt:

Setting, of course, is where your story takes place, and we’ve already said that what makes science fiction what it is is setting, so clearly you’ll need to give it some thought. Also, there’s a convincing argument that one reason we read is to be taken out of our reality and into another. Most writers know this, so they spend considerable amount of time describing setting, some of them to the detriment of story. Just like when we wrote dialogue with tension, setting should be a part of the action in the story. Description of setting should be tied to what your characters are doing. People hardly ever just stop and inventory the world around them, and reading about people who do that can create a boring story (unless you are just brilliant in writing descriptions that are worthy all by themselves—Tolkien seemed to be able to do it).

For this prompt, give your character, maybe you could use one from the dialogue you’ve already written, something to do. Maybe your character is doing their job. Maybe they are trying to hide. Maybe they are looking for something. Maybe they are discovering a place that is new to them. Maybe they have a plan to change the setting they are in, drastically, and they are thinking of the contrast.

Remember two constraints:

  • This is a science fiction setting. Make sure you included details that make it one.
  • The setting shouldn’t be static. Your description should include your character’s actions and reactions. The story shouldn’t stop because you are describing. You can include dialogue.

Set yourself some goals while writing this:

  • Use at least three of your senses more than once (sight, sound, touch, taste, smell)
  • Include some ferociously specific details. It shouldn’t just be the forest; it should also be a single leaf, brown and dying, stuck to the porch rail from the last rain.
  • Make sure the reader knows through the description what mood your character is in. Do they like being there? Are they afraid? Are they mad? Are they tense? Don’t forget emotion.

Go.

Character Prompt:

For the third prompt we will focus on character. Character comes out in a variety of ways. Here are the nine most common:

  • Appearance
  • Mannerisms
  • Actions
  • Speech
  • Thought
  • Contemplation of their past
  • How they control their own environment
  • How others react
  • What the narrator tells the reader directly (avoid using this one unsupported from the others)

My guess is that if you used the same character in the dialogue and setting prompts that you already have done some work toward creating a character. Write a scene with that character or start a new one, where your character has a moral quandary. This is a situation where the character has to take an action that no one else will see or know about. How the scene plays out will reveal to the reader a world about your character.

A good situation might be to make a science fictional version of an old favorite: your character is walking down the street alone. On the sidewalk in front of them is a wallet. What does your character do? Write the scene. Use all of your writerly tricks. This is an introductory scene. Your narrator can describe the character if you want to (self-descriptions are tough in first person!). Use at least five of the techniques listed above to write the scene.

Go

Colorado Public Radio Interviews James Van Pelt about Covid-19

Actually, what they wanted was a science fiction writer’s angle on possible impacts of the pandemic, and since I’d written a pandemic novel, Summer of the Apocalypse, they chose me. I suggested that a short story of mine, “Friday, After the Game,” was a better fit for the topic, so we talked about that instead.

Here is the interview.

The Best of James Van Pelt

This is the BIG project I’ve been working on for the last few months. Sixty-two stories chosen from almost three decades of publishing, including some previously uncollected work.  Only 200 copies will be released in a signed, numbered, limited edition hardcover with gorgeous wrap-around art. Available at Fairwood Press right now!

Available for preorder now for a November release

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