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Judges and Winners at the 34th Annual Awards Ceremony

34th Annual Writers & Illustrators of the Future Winners Announced

Darci Stone, a writer from Orem, UT and Kyna Tek, an illustrator from Gilbert, AZ were this year’s Grand Prize Winners at the 34th Annual L. Ron Hubbard Achievement Awards for Writers and Illustrators of the Future Contests in Science Fiction and Fantasy held at The MacArthur in Los Angeles, California. The gala event, presented by Author Services, Inc. and Galaxy Press was held on Sunday evening, April 8, 2018. A capacity crowd of 450 people attended the black-tie event, which had a theme of “Magic and Wizardry.”

We’ve experienced that history sometimes has a way of repeating itself. Thirteen years ago in 2005, Darci Stone’s husband, Eric James Stone stood on stage as a Quarterly Award Winner of the Writer’s Contest. And now his wife, Darci, who started dabbling in writing speculative fiction while dating and attending Eric’s weekly writing group sessions, has walked off with the Grand Prize as Writer of the Year.

For illustrator Kyna Tek, who was born in a refugee camp in Thailand and whose family later immigrated to America, winning the Illustrators of the Future Grand Prize is a dream come true.

In keeping with the evening’s “Magic and Wizardry” theme, the gala celebration opened with magician/mentalist Spidey and magician/illusionist Joel Meyers performing a visually stunning dueling wizards routine with floating objects appearing in mid-air. Later in the evening, they performed a very interactive routine with the participation of celebrities and audience members.

Coordinating Writer Judge David Farland and fellow Writer Judge Brandon Sanderson announced writer Darci Stone as the Golden Pen Award winner while presenting her a check for $5,000. Darci’s story entitled “Mara’s Shadow,” was illustrated by artist Quintin Gleam.

Coordinating Judge Echo Chernik and actress Marisol Nichols announced illustrator Kyna Tek as the Golden Brush Award winner while also presenting him with a check for $5,000. Kyna illustrated writer Erin Cairns’ story, “A Smokeless and Scorching Fire.”

Over the years, submissions for the Writer and Illustrator Contests have come in from over 175 countries. And this year we received entries from three new countries: Andorra, Seychelles and Benin. Selecting the two Grand Prize Winners from the thousands of contest entries submitted every year was not an easy process.

In her acceptance speech, Darci Stone commented, “My husband won a Nebula Award. I am fairly certain that this is a much bigger trophy. I would like to thank my artist, Quintin Gleim, for illustrating my words into an image. I hope one day that all of us will see our names, stories and artwork in best-selling books.”

Kyna Tek, who was visibly in shock when he heard his name called out said, “When I saw everyone else’s illustrations in this Contest I never imagined I had a chance. Thank you for this moment. I’m never going to forget it. I will cherish it forever.”

The awards show was held in the Elks Hall of The MacArthur, a historic Los Angeles landmark conceived in a visually opulent Gothic Revival architectural style with cathedral-like ceilings. The book signing and reception, which followed the awards event, was held in the equally well-appointed Grand Ballroom.

The keynote speaker was Ruben Padilla, a magician and founder of Narrative Strategies. In his address, Ruben delivered a heartfelt presentation to the winners and guests and stated, “The entire purpose of tonight is to celebrate, in all its fantastical forms, the creation of words and illustrations. Something magical happens to you when you write something down.”

Artist and Illustrators of the Future Judge Larry Elmore was presented with the L. Ron Hubbard Lifetime Achievement Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Arts. Larry has been an inspiration for countless artists over the years including this year’s winners Kyna Tek and Anthony Moravian who thanked him from the stage. It was Larry who told Kyna to enter the Contest after seeing Kyna’s artwork at a convention—and the rest is history.

Actress Judy Norton sang “My Father’s Song” written by composer/lyricist Pauline Frechette as part of an In Memoriam tribute to two of our esteemed Contest Judges who passed away over the last year, Jerry Pournelle and Yoji Kondo.

Galaxy Press’ President John Goodwin unveiled the print and audiobook editions of L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future Volume 34. The book was edited by David Farland and features artwork by artist Ciruelo on the cover. It includes stories and essays by well-known authors and artists Orson Scott Card, Brandon Sanderson, Jody Lynn Nye, Jerry Pournelle, Ciruelo and Echo Chernik.

For a complete listing of the contents of the book and the names of all the winners, go here.

Awards for each of the Quarterly Finalists of the Writers and Illustrators Contests were presented by actors Nancy Cartwright, Jade Pettyjohn, Sean Cameron Michael, Catherine Bell and Lee Purcell, along with judges from the Contests. Photos from the event are posted below.

All in all, a very magical evening for all this year’s Writer and Illustrators of the Future winners.

 

The Magic Picture

Here is the next in a series of articles addressing the barriers to achieving your writing goals as requested by you, the new writer. It was also unanimous that you wanted to hear from top-line professionals as to how they overcame these same barriers.

In this article originally written for and published in Writers of the Future Volume 5 in 1989, Hal Clement, member of Science Fiction’s First Fandom and Grand Master of Science Fiction, deals with how to effectively “challenge readers with the ‘what if?’ implications of a background significantly different from the familiar and everyday.”

So if you are interested in learning from a Grand Master, read on …


The Magic Picture

Every story has a background; an environment in which—and a set of rules under which—everything happens, and writer and reader (or teller and listener) must have a reasonably similar idea of the nature of that background for the story to make sense.

In ordinary adventure or romance tales, the familiar “real” world forms the background, and the similarity can be taken for granted. Even in historical novels, while the author must specify the period somehow, it is usually safe to assume that the reader knows a fair amount of relevant history.

In fantasy and science fiction things are very different. The whole point is to challenge readers with the “what if?” implications of a background significantly different from the familiar and every day. A verbal picture has to be painted, and the wordage needed to do the background is what commonly makes SF novels easier to write than shorter fiction. The ordinary storytelling rules of pacing, characterization, and motivation still apply, but the SF writer has additional work to do; book-length offers more freedom to do that.

Why bother with the extra work?

The key reason is consistency; lack of this quality in a story will bother all but the most utterly passive readers. The slips may be minor but still annoying; Ozma’s magic picture, in Frank Baum’s Oz stories, sometimes has a gold frame and sometimes a radium one, and is sometimes called a magic mirror instead. This never has serious effect on the plotline; the existence and properties of the picture itself are the only important things; but to readers who thought they had the background clearly in mind, the changes still give a jolt.

Hard Science Fiction

In the “hard” science fiction which I personally favor, the background is “real” but deliberately unfamiliar in some ways. Here, at least one aim of the writer is to take the reader by surprise with a “what if?” that is logical but unexpected, as with Phileas Fogg’s gain of an extra day by going eastward around the world. The chief professional difficulty lies in spotting all the implications of the unfamiliar insertion, so as to maintain consistency. This task sometimes frightens writers out of the field. In my opinion, it should instead be taken as an opportunity; the implications can provide plot and action ideas. For example:

Quite commonly, science fiction authors have used planets whose atmospheres contain chlorine in place of oxygen. The usual implicit justification is that chlorine is almost as active as oxygen and chlorine-breathing creatures would probably do as well as we oxygen-breathers.

On the whole, I would agree, though as a matter of fact there is a minor energy disadvantage for the chlorine types. However, unless other implications of the chlorine (or fluorine, which has an energy advantage over oxygen) are considered, the author faces a strong risk of consistency slips (embarrassing), and of overlooking potential story-line material (wasteful!).

Some people claim that chlorine atmospheres are unlikely because chlorine is much less common in the universe, and probably on any given planet, than oxygen. True but unimportant; it is not necessary for a substance to be the most common, merely that there be enough of it. If the most common were automatically the most probable, we should be silicon instead of carbon beings ourselves; silicon-based life has been a favorite with writers for decades because of the chemical similarities between the two elements, and they may be right. It may be only chance that we turned out as we did, even though Earth’s crust is about a quarter silicon by mass and well under one percent carbon, but I doubt it (I am not saying that silicon life is impossible; that’s a different and much longer debate).

There is plenty of chlorine on Earth, however. If you want to write a mad-scientist story in which a genetic engineer plans to deploy organisms that can oxidize the chloride ion to the free element, you have a realistic plot. Only about a tenth of the chloride now in Earth’s oceans would have to be processed to match our present oxygen supply with CI2. Conceivably, it was only chance that the photosynthesis that works on oxides such as water evolved before one using chlorides; we might have been chlorine-breathers ourselves (an alternate-universe suggestion I haven’t seen used yet; please note my continuing point of possible storylines). In fact, there were (and still are) bacteria on Earth that used iron, and others that used sulfur in about that way, and which did come first. Why they didn’t end up in charge of Earth is another long question, and of course another possible set of story backgrounds.

If we grant a planet where a chlorine atmosphere does exist, what other implications are there?

Further Assumptions

They depend on further assumptions. If the temperature is in the liquid-water range, for example, we have the fact that chlorine dissolves (rather slowly) in water, reacting with it to give hydrochloric and hypochlorous acids; the latter in turn decomposes slowly to hydrochloric acid and free oxygen. To maintain the chlorine atmosphere, then, we need some process (presumably the original chloride-oxidizing photosynthesis) that will turn the acid back to free chlorine as fast as it forms; and we must also accept the fact that there will be some—possibly small but certainly not zero—concentration of free oxygen as well as the chlorine in the atmosphere.

If we had preferred fluorine, things would have been more difficult (read: more challenging). Fluorine also reacts with water, forming hydrofluoric acid and free oxygen. The acid is viciously active, even on the common silicate minerals of an ordinary Earthlike planet, with which it forms SiF4. This is a gas that is also pretty active, and the long-term result will put the fluorine into insoluble minerals, just where we find it on Earth, instead of into the oceans like chlorine. Maybe some unfortunate early life, far back in Earth’s history, did develop a fluorine-releasing variety of photosynthesis, but couldn’t keep things going. If Earth were enough colder to have hydrogen fluoride oceans, with water a solid mineral, now….

Be my guest again. But do some chemistry of your own; there are other problems (read: story inspirations) to be checked along this line.

With that taken care of, consider the problem of seeing. I don’t, obviously, mean that the eyes of a being that has evolved in a chlorine environment would be irritated by the gas as ours are; but as most people know, chlorine is visibly colored—greenish, hence its Greek-origin name. Scientifically, we say that it absorbs radiation in the visible spectrum, more heavily at the long-wave end. This implies that over more than a short distance, which I haven’t tried to calculate since I haven’t tried to write this story yet, the atmosphere is opaque to human vision. Presumably native organisms, if they have evolved anything comparable to our sense of sight, use a different part of the spectrum.

What part? I don’t know; you’re writing the story. If I did decide to try it myself, I would find out what I could about the absorption spectrum of molecular chlorine—or just possibly, if I were in a real hurry for some reason or got too lazy to finish the research, I would cross my fingers and tell myself that, say, microwave radio photons are too low in energy to affect electronic, spin, or vibrational energies of the CI2 molecule. In the latter case I would not be too surprised, after the story appeared in print, to get a critical letter from a spectroscopist.

I don’t want to scare potential writers into confining themselves to the narrow, “mainstream” part of the storytelling field. I want to show the desirability of considering as many as possible of the possibilities—something we would like to do in engineering and politics as well. However, I grant that spotting them all is just as impossible in this field as in those.

Producing a good story

One can certainly produce a good story that concentrates on one “what-if?” and deliberately ignores others. Rick Raphael‘s “Code Three” dealt with the problems of a highway patrolman in a North America laced with five-mile-wide superhighways, whose speed lanes went above five hundred miles per hour. Many of the cars were jet-driven, and nuclear-powered ones were just starting to appear. I personally doubt strongly the possibility of fueling such a civilian fleet, but I still enjoyed the story—plot, action, motivation, characters, and all—except the end of the book version, which was perfectly logical and reasonable but unhappy (that is, my objection was a subjective, not a professional, criticism).

I realize, and want to emphasize, that Mr. Raphael may have omitted the fuel matter intentionally. He may have felt that discussing it would harm the pace of the story; he may have been saving that question for another story; he may have disagreed with me about the weight of the problem, afterthought and calculation. He could even be right; science is an inherently tentative field, and maybe I didn’t consider enough factors. (Certainty is only an emotion, and science is not for you if you feel a strong need for it. Join a group that depends on faith).

You are, in the final analysis, going to have to use your own judgment in painting your non-standard background picture. You can research in books and journals, pick the brains of friends, get information from computer networks; but only you can decide, for purposes of the story you want to tell, whether we are heading for a Larry Niven world in which checking into a hotel entails the risk of having the bed booby-trapped with high voltage and finding yourself sold for spare parts the next day, or the kind I used in “Mechanic” where the genetic code has been reduced to engineering practice and a patient’s new heart or leg can be grown from a snip of his own flesh, thereby obviating tissue rejection as well as organlegging.

Painting a Word Picture

You are painting a word picture (or a series of them— the frames in a movie). Your pigment is your vocabulary, your brushes are the rules of grammar, and your model is the universe—the known (and thinkable, if you’re extrapolating) laws of Nature.

The desirability of a good vocabulary (a rich palette) is obvious. Skill with brushes (the rules of expression that help avoid ambiguity and other forms of confusion) seems to me equally important. Many people, however, question the need for a model (scientific knowledge).

Personally, I find it convenient to have a lot of the rules and facts in my head, though the last three words are certainly not essential and not always correct—I often have to look things up. It greatly speeds up the process of painting-in the background, and it is also a fertile source of story ideas by itself. It does not, of course, preserve me from error; all of us, every now and then, take something to be so obvious that we don’t need to check it, and then find we were wrong. Just after World War II, I was assuming that jet aircraft would not be practical commercially because of their enormous fuel consumption; I was a bomber pilot, and had a fair supply of relevant knowledge. What I should have been considering, of course, was not pounds of fuel per hour, but ton-miles or passenger-miles per pound of fuel.

Mission Gravity coverIn my novel, Mission of Gravity, I assumed, in spite of my perfectly valid astronomy degree, that my planet Mesklin would have an elliptical polar cross section (it was written before slide-rules grew buttons). Later, the MIT Science Fiction Society had a great deal of fun calculating what the actual shape would be, and of course telling me about it. In the same work, I took it for granted that my leading character’s vessel, the Bree, would sail faster with the wind behind it. A sailor straightened me out on that one. I should have known better; I just didn’t make the high-school-physics vector analysis I should have (and which I wouldn’t have had to make if I’d ever done any sailing; the situation would have been familiar).

The word, then, is to spend all the time and effort that you want in working out your hard-science background material. I spend a lot because it’s fun (for me). If you don’t enjoy it, don’t feel guilty; maybe (probably!) you’re a better character builder than I.

Don’t however, expect to avoid all mistakes, and don’t worry when you’re caught. You’re in the entertainment business, and many of your readers will get fun out of catching you. Just remember that the fewer mistakes you do make, the more triumph they’ll feel when they do; don’t make any on purpose.

And don’t try to claim that you did. “Touché” is a courtesy not restricted to fencing.

 


Hal Clement

Harry Clement Stubbs (1922-2003) earned degrees in astronomy, chemistry and education. He was a multi-engine pilot in World War II. By that time he was already capturing the attention of Astounding readers with a kind of SF writing he, in effect, invented and whose leading practitioner he remains. It’s usually called “hard-science fiction”; a combination of a gripping story—as in his famous Mission of Gravity—with meticulously worked-out scientific extrapolation of a totally alien environment, told entirely or in large part from the viewpoint of an intelligent and appealing, but totally alien, inhabitant of that environment … to whom it’s just that ordinary place he lives and must be brave in.

He was named Grand Master by the Science Fiction Writers of America in 1998 and became a Writers of the Future judge in 2001.

Robert J. Sawyer speaking to writer winners

Eight Things New Writers Need to Know

Here is the next in a series of articles addressing the barriers to achieving your writing goals as requested by you, the new and aspiring writer. It was also unanimous that you wanted to hear from top-line professionals as to how they overcame these same barriers.

In this article originally written for and published in Writers of the Future Volume 22 in 2002, Robert J. Sawyer provides eight important things you need to know as a new and aspiring writer.

So if you are marching along the road to becoming a newly published writer, read on…


1. Not Everyone Is Going to Like Your Work

And that’s okay. Your job as a writer isn’t to be blandly acceptable to everyone; rather, it’s to be the favorite author of a narrow segment of the population. If you try to please everybody, you’ll end up pleasing no one. Good book reviewers know this: their job isn’t to tell you whether they like a given work (which is a datum only of interest to them personally); rather, it’s to say if you like this particular sort of work, then this book will be to your taste—or not, if the book has failed at what it set out to do. Which brings us to…

2. Your Fiction Should Be About Something

Theme is the story element beginning writers spend the least time on, and yet it’s the single most important aspect. Nothing drives this home more clearly than the success of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. The book is poorly written in almost every way—and yet, on its own, it has been read by more people than read all the books published last year by all science fiction and fantasy publishers combined. Why? Because it’s about something. In particular, it’s about the suppression of the feminine in Catholicism, and a reinterpretation of the Christ story that is new to most readers. The quality of the plot (formulaic chases), the characters (made of the same stuff as the paperback’s cover), and the prose (pedestrian at best) are all forgiven, because Dan Brown had something to say—and you should too. Which means…

3. Your Job Is to Tell Your Stories

Too many talented young writers waste time writing fan fiction (such as stories set in the universes of Stargate Atlantis or Star Trek: Voyager). This is a waste of time; worse, it’s a seductive waste of time, because they get all sorts of feedback praising their “skillful handling” of the characters, which makes them think they’re much better writers than they really are (since creating your own memorable characters, not aping someone else’s, is a key part of a writer’s job).

Once you start publishing, you may be offered the chance to write a media tie-in; don’t do that, either. Your job is to establish your name; you are branding yourself in a competitive marketplace, and you do that by telling unique, original stories about characters and events you’ve devised while exploring issues that you are passionate about. Many experienced writers of media tie-ins do so under pseudonyms—precisely because they don’t want the association with hack work to taint their own original writing. And, for Pete’s sake, don’t even think about starting your career with a media tie-in; they are not entry-level work in this field; rather, they are dead ends. No, to launch your career, write your own wholly original first novel. But be aware that…

4. First Novels Are Hard to Sell

So don’t make it any harder. The number one reason first novels are rejected is that they’re poorly written; you, of course, don’t have that problem! The number two reason first novels are rejected—that is, the reason the vast majority of well-crafted, polished, tightly written novels are not bought by publishers—is that they aren’t easily categorizable. Almost no one who is involved in the selling of your novel will ever actually read it. All they will know is what the editor says about it at the publisher’s sales conference in perhaps sixty seconds, plus maybe 150 words of copy in the publisher’s catalog.

What the sales force wants to hear about a first novel from the editor is, “This is a Heinlein-esque military-SF novel that will appeal to fans of David Weber and David Feintuch” or “This is contemporary urban fantasy, in the mold of Charles de Lint.” Save your cross-genre impossible-to-categorize novel for later in your career, for the time when all the sales force needs to hear is, “This is the new novel by you.” In my own case, my first novel, Golden Fleece—which grew from a shorter work submitted to Writers of the Future in 1986—was a hard-SF novel about a murdering computer aboard a starship. It clearly echoed Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey—and that’s how the editor presented it. Of course, as with almost all first novels, I had to write the whole thing before I could sell it.

But for my twelfth novel, Calculating God, which I sold with just a conversation on the phone, I said I wanted to write a novel in which two people sit in a room and debate evolution vs. creationism without ever getting really angry in the process. I never could have sold that book as my first novel—but it was easy later in my career (and it hit number one on the Locus bestsellers list, and was a Hugo finalist), because by that point all that mattered was that it was a new book by an established name. That said…

5. With Your First Book, Knock Their Socks Off

Many people read a bad book then say, “Heck, I can write that well!” and then set out to try to do so—and they succeed, producing a bad book of their own. Set your sights high. For my own first novel, I wanted to do something that I’d never seen done well before: a book from the point of view of an intelligent computer (and I guess I pulled it off, because in his review of my book for The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Orson Scott Card said I’d created “the deepest computer character in all of science fiction”). It’s important to have ambition: you should be aspiring to greatness, not mediocrity, and your best inspiration is the top works in the field. Because the truth is…

6. If You Want to Write It, You’ve Got to Read It

When I meet someone at a convention who tells me they’re trying to break into science-fiction writing, I ask a seemingly unrelated question: “Have you read anything by me?” It seems self-absorbed, perhaps, but it’s actually a useful little test. See, I’ve been lucky enough to win the field’s two top awards—the Hugo and the Nebula, both for best novel of the year. If you want to sell in this market, you need to know what the market considers to be the best work. When people say no, they haven’t read any Sawyer, I smile politely and walk away—because they can’t really be serious about breaking in. After all, if they were, they’d be reading not just the Hugo and Nebula winners, but also the nominees each year; doing so is a key part of knowing the marketplace. Which brings us to…

7. Your Best Market Guide is a Bookstore

Sure, there are lots of websites with writing advice (including my own at sfwriter.com), but to sell in this field, you have to know the market inside and out—and the best place to learn about that is in a bookstore. Trivia question: what do the writers Cory Doctorow (Tor), Nalo Hopkinson (Warner), Tanya Huff (DAW), Robert J. Sawyer (Tor), and Michelle West (DAW) all have in common? Answer: we all used to work at Toronto’s Bakka-Phoenix, the world’s oldest SF specialty bookstore, and Michelle still works there, even though she hardly needs the booksellers’ wages—because being in a bookstore keeps her finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the SF&F marketplace.

Forget about online market listings. Rather, you should spend hours looking at actual books, studying what sort of work each publisher puts out. A wannabe author should be able to name not just their five favorite contemporary SF&F authors (and if the best list you can come up with is Asimov, Clarke and Tolkien, you’re not reading enough new stuff), but also instantly be able to name who each of their publishers are—and understand why they were published by that house and not another.

There is a world of difference between a Baen military-SF novel by John Ringo, a Del Rey contemporary-SF thriller by Greg Bear, and a Tor literate fantasy by Gene Wolfe. If you send your manuscript to the wrong editor, you’re wasting not just the editor’s time, but your own—and with editors taking a year or more to respond to an unsolicited submission, it behooves you to do your homework. Because…

8. Ultimately, It’s All Up to You

Editors do care, and agents can help. But, in the end, it’s only you who really has a large, vested interest in whether or not you succeed. Some established authors think it’s their job to discourage newcomers, because the faint-of-heart might not do well in a rough, competitive marketplace.

Ultimately, I think that’s short-sighted. Yes, the marketplace is harsh and uncaring, but what a loss it would be to our culture if the only books published were by hardened, thick-skinned, tough-as-nails types. There’s a place on bookstore shelves for the shy and the delicate, too.

So, take what advice encourages you, smile politely and ignore advice that discourages you, and, most of all, don’t give up. More than talent, more than luck, more than anything else, this is a game of perseverance—and the only sure way to lose is not to play.


Robert J. Sawyer, called “the dean of Canadian science fiction” by The Ottawa Citizen, has won all three of the science fiction field’s top honors for best novel of the year, the Hugo, the Nebula and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, as well as eleven Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Awards (Auroras).

The ABC TV series Flash Forward was based on his novel of the same name. Maclean’s: Canada’s Weekly Newsmagazine says, “By any reckoning, Sawyer is among the most successful Canadian authors ever.” Sawyer’s novels are top-ten mainstream bestsellers in Canada. His twenty-three novels include FrameshiftFactoring HumanityCalculating GodWake and the Neanderthal Parallax trilogy: HominidsHumansHybrids.

Rob first entered the Writers of the Future Contest in 1984, and he became a judge for the Contest twenty years later. He lives in Toronto.

Matt Dovey with a cuppa tea

Matt Dovey: Two Years Later

From aspiring writer to writing contest winner to—let’s find out!

It has been nearly two years since Matt Dovey was announced as the Golden Pen Award winner in the L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future writing contest.  As a contest for aspiring writers, we thought we would find out how winning the writing contest has affected Matt. So we asked him.

____

As I write this, it’s coming on two years since I attended the 32nd workshop week in LA, which also marks two years since my first publication—WotF was my first sale, but I was published for the first time just a month beforehand, in Flash Fiction Online.

 


Matt Dovey above, accepting the Golden Pen Award from David Farland and Orson Scott Card

It’s honestly strange to realise it’s only been two years. It feels a lifetime ago, as if everything before were a different person, as if LA were a wormhole I travelled through to an alternate life where—suddenly, amazingly—I’m actually a writer.

This is, of course, nonsense. The only act necessary to be a writer is writing, and if you have the courage to sit before the blank screen and summon whole worlds and people and hopes and dreams from nothing more than the spider silk of your imagination, mere publication is an incidental fact in the definition. If you’re reading this, chances are you write and are still chasing that first sale. So I’m telling you now, definitively and authoritatively: you are a writer. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.

But, of course, we’re all only human, and we all seek that validation from others, so it’s hard not to feel like you need the Badge of Approval that comes with publication to confirm that yes, really, it’s true: you are a writer. And for all my high-falutin’ talk above, it’s absolutely a trap I fell into myself. Honestly, most writers I know do. We seem to need more validation than most.

But having had that validation from WotF, my whole outlook on writing has changed. It’s gone from a strange little habit I indulge after work to a fundamental aspect of who I am; my day job is the incidental fact, now, the necessary evil to support my writing. I don’t just write when I feel like it, or when an idea occurs: it’s a given that I’ll be sitting down at my keyboard each evening and working, even if sometimes that “working” is just talking to friends in the community (essential lesson, learned the hard way and given freely here: self-care is as important as word count).

And you know what really gave me that feeling of validation? It wasn’t winning the super-fancy trophy (though that sure is nice! And really, really heavy in your luggage); it wasn’t meeting legendary pros like Tim Powers, Nancy Kress, Todd McCaffrey, so many others; it wasn’t even seeing my name in print, my story in the book, my words in physical form.

Writers of the Future winners, Class of 2016

It was the friends around me, the people in my class who were going through that indescribably surreal week with me. The friends who, it turned out, had the same weird habits and thought patterns and fears and aspirations as I had, the ones I’d thought only I had because writing, inevitably, is a lonely hobby, sat silent at the keyboard with only your own thoughts.

I found out I was a writer that week in LA because I found out I was just like other writers.

And so the last couple of years have been good to me. I’ve got 15 pro sales to my name now, plus semi-pros and reprints and narrations. I’m volunteering as a slush reader over at PodCastle and doing my bit to contribute back to the community there and in other ways. I have strangers send me fan mail and people reviewing my work and stories appearing in Year’s Best anthologies.

But whilst I wouldn’t have managed any of that if I hadn’t done the work, equally I wouldn’t have managed any of that if I didn’t have the friends I have now. I’m still close to all my WotF class; we support each other, not just with feedback but with commiseration and celebration and reminders that, for all the bad days when the rejections pile up and the new draft just isn’t working out, there are good days, too, and reasons to celebrate each other even if it doesn’t always feel like there are reasons to celebrate personally.

You’ll get nowhere in writing if you don’t have friends to walk the path with. And in the same way you don’t need anyone else’s validation to be a writer, you don’t need anyone else’s permission to join in with the community. Find us on Twitter, or on forums (the WotF forums are a great place to start), or at conventions. It’s the best thing you can do, for your career and yourself, I promise.

Just join in.

 


Matt Dovey

Matt Dovey

Matt Dovey is very tall, very English, and most likely drinking a cup of tea right now. His surname rhymes with “Dopey”, but any other similarities to the dwarf are purely coincidental. He lives in a quiet market town in rural England with his wife and three children, and despite being a writer he still can’t express the delight he finds in this wonderful arrangement.  He has fiction out and forthcoming all over the place; you can keep up with it at mattdovey.com, or follow along on Facebook and Twitter both as @mattdoveywriter.

WotF finalist Molly Elizabeth Atkins doing research at the library

“Search for Research” by L. Ron Hubbard

A means to overcome writer’s block

Here is the first in a series of articles addressing the barriers to achieving your writing goals as requested by you, the aspiring writer.  In our New Year’s Resolution Survey, the top barrier you expressed to achieving your writing goal was simply the lack of self-discipline. While some said it amounted to being lazy, others stated it as a lack of drive. However you articulate it, it is a common malady and manifestation of writer’s block.

In this same survey, it was also unanimous that you wanted to hear from top-line professionals as to how they overcame these same barriers.

L. Ron Hubbard’s outpouring of fiction—often exceeding a million words a year—was prodigious, ultimately encompassing more than 250 published novels, novellas, short stories and screenplays, in virtually every major genre, from action and adventure, western and romance, to mystery and suspense and, of course, science fiction and fantasy.

In this article, Mr. Hubbard relates how he had come to the heartbreaking conclusion that while writers want to write and sell more stories, they generally fail to try.

So if you are interested in a proven tool to overcome writer’s block, read on…

“Search for Research”

Books with magic lampAll of us want to sell more stories and write better ones. It is hard to believe that there exists a writer with soul so dead that he would not. But, from careful observation, I have come to the heartbreaking conclusion that while writers usually want to do this, they generally fail to try.

Writers are the laziest people on earth. And I know I’m the laziest writer. In common with the rest of the profession I am always searching for the magic lamp which will shoot my stories genie-like into full bloom without the least effort on my part.

This is pure idiocy on my part as I have long ago found this magic lamp, but not until a couple years ago did I break it out and use the brass polish to discover that it was solid gold.

This lamp was so cobwebby and careworn that I am sure most of us have not looked very long at it in spite of its extreme age and in spite of the fact that it is eternally being called to our attention.

The name of this magic lamp is research.

Ah, do I hear a chorus of sighs? Do I hear, “Hubbard is going to spring that old gag again.” “What, another article on research? I thought LRH knew better.”

In defense I instantly protest that I am neither the discoverer nor the sole exploiter of research. But I do believe that I have found an entirely new slant upon an ancient object.

In Tacoma a few months ago, I heard a writer sighing that he washavingahelluvatimegettingplots. This acute writing disease had eaten deeply into his sleep and bankbook. It had made him so alert that he was ruined as a conversationalist, acting, as he did, like an idea sponge. Hanging on and hoping but knowing that no ideas could possibly come his way.

As usual, I injected my thoughts into his plight­—a habit which is bad and thankless.

I said, “Here’s an idea. Why not go out and dig around in the old files at the library and the capitol at Olympia and find out everything you can on the subject of branding? There should be a lot of stories there.”

He raised one eye and leered, “What? Do all that work for a cent and a half a word?

And just to drive the idea home, I might remark that one day I happened into the New York Public Library. Crossing the file room I slammed into a heavy bulk and ricocheted back to discover I had walked straight into Norvell Page and he into me.

I gaped. “Page!”

“Hubbard!” he whispered in awed tones.

Solemnly we shook each other by the hand.

CHORUS: Well, this is the first time I ever saw a writer in a library!

These two instances should serve to illustrate the fact that research does not rhyme with writer no matter what kind of mill you pound.

Research is a habit which is only acquired by sheer force of will. The easy thing to do is guess at the facts—so thinks the writer. When, as a matter of facts, the easy thing to do is go find the facts if you have to tear a town to pieces.

Witness what happened last summer.

Staring me in the face were a stack of dangerous profession stories which have since appeared in Argosy. At that time they were no more than started and I sighed to see them stretching forth so endlessly.

I chose Test Pilot as the next on the list and started to plot it. I thought I knew my aviation because the Department of Commerce tells me so. Blithely, thinking this was easy, I started in upon a highly technical story without knowing the least thing about that branch of flying—never having been a test pilot.

For one week I stewed over the plot. For another week I broiled myself in the scorching heat of my self-accusation. Two weeks and nothing written.

Was I losing money fast!

There wasn’t anything for it then. I had to find out something about test pilots.

Across the bay from my place in Seattle is the Boeing plant. At the Boeing plant there would be test pilots. I had to go!

And all for a cent and a half a word.

I went. Egdvedt, the Boeing president, was so startled to see a real live writer in the place that he almost talked himself hoarse.

Minshall, the chief engineer, was so astounded at my ignorance that he hauled me through the plant until I had bunions the size of onions.

I sighed.

All for a cent and a half a word!

I went home.

About that time it occurred to me that I used to write a lot for the Sportsman Pilot and as long as I had the dope and data, I might as well fix the details in my head by writing them an article.

That done, I suddenly saw a fine plot for my Argosy yarn and wrote that in a matter of a day and a half.

Two months went by. Arthur Lawson came in as editor of Dell and promptly remembered Test Pilot in Argosy and demanded a story along similar lines.

In two days I wrote that.

A month after that, Florence McChesney decided that she needed a twenty-thousand word flying story.

Test Pilot,” says I, “do your stuff!”

Each and every one of those yarns sold first crack out. Article for the Sportsman Pilot, short for Argosy, short for War Birds, twenty-thousand worder for Five Novels.

One day of research = several hundred bucks in stories.

This naturally made me think things over and, not being quite as foolish as editors think writers are, I added up the account book and promptly went to work. Thus, the moral is yet to come.

On the dangerous profession stories which followed, I almost lost my life and broke my neck trying to make them authentic. On each one I kept a complete list of notes and a list of plots which occurred to me at the time. There is enough writing material in that file to last me at least a year. It is the finest kind of copy because it is risky in the extreme, full of drama and high tension. I haven’t any fears about mentioning this, as any writer who is crazy enough to go down in diving suits and up in spar trees deserves all the help he can get.

But research does not end there and that is not the point of this article.

A short time ago I began to search for research on the theory that if I could get a glimmering of anything lying beyond a certain horizon I could go deep enough to find an excellent story.

I stopped doing what I used to do. There was a time when I expected a story to blaze up and scorch me all of its own accord. I have found, however, that there is a premium on divine fire and it is not very bright when used by a pulpateer. This gentleman has to write an immortal story about once every three days to keep eating.

On this plan I began to read exhaustively in old technical books, ancient travel books, forgotten literature. But not with the idea of cribbing. I wanted information and nothing else. I wanted to know how the people used to think here, how the land lay there. Given one slim fact for a background, I have found it easy to take off down the channel of research and canal-boat out a cargo of stories.

In other words, I have no use for an obvious story idea as laid out in Popular Mechanics or Forensic Medicine. I want one slim, forgotten fact. From there a man can go anywhere and the story is very likely to prove unusual.

In one old volume, for instance, I discovered that there was such a thing as a schoolmaster aboard Nelson’s ships of the line.

That was a weird one. Why should Nelson want a schoolmaster?

Answer: Midshipmen.

When did this occur?

Answer: The Napoleonic Wars.

Ah, now we’ll find out how those old ships looked. We’ll discover how they fought, what they did.

And there was the schoolmaster during battle. Where? In the “cockpit” helping hack off arms and legs.

Next lead indicated: Surgery during the Napoleonic Wars.

Wild guess in another allied field: Gunnery.

Again: Nelson.

A battle: On the Nile.

A ship or something strange about this battle: L’Orient, monster French flagship which mysteriously caught fire and blew up, throwing the weight of guns to Nelson.

Incidental discovery: “The Boy Stood on the Burning Deck” was written about the son of L’Orient’s skipper.

Back to midshipmen, the King’s Letter Boys: They were hell on wheels, arrogant, ghastly urchins being trained as officers.

And with all this under my mental belt I girded up my mental loins. Complete after a few days of search I had Mister Tidwell, Gunner, which appeared in Adventure.

All that because I chanced to find there was a schoolmaster aboard Nelson’s ships of the line.

This is now happening right along because I haven’t let the idea slide as my laziness dictated I should.

The final coup d’état arrived last winter.

Boredom had settled heavily upon me and I sat one evening staring vacantly at a shelf of books. They were most monotonous. Whole sets stretched out along the shelves with very little change in color or size. This annoyed me and I bent forward and took one out just to relieve the regularity.

It proved to be Washington Irving’s Astoria, his famous epic of the fur trading days.

It had never been brought home to me that Irving had written such a book and to find out why, I promptly started to read it. The result was, of course, a fur trading story. But the method of arriving at this story was so indirect that it merits a glance.

Irving only served to call to my attention that I was out in the fur trading Northwest and that I had certainly better take advantage of the history of the place.

I roved around, found very little because I had no direct starting point. I went to the Encyclopedia Britannica to discover a bibliography of such source books and started out again to ferret them out.

All these books were contemporary with fur trading days, all of them written, of course, by white men. But everywhere I kept tripping across the phrases, “The Warlike Blackfeet.” “The Bloodthirsty Blackfeet.”

This finally penetrated my thick skull. I did not like it because I thought I knew something about the Blackfeet.

Were they as bad as they were represented?

Into the records. The real records. Into Alexander Henry’s Journal. Into this and out of that until I had a stack of material higher than my desk.

And then I capped the climax by locating a young chap in Seattle who happens to be a blood brother of the Blackfeet. Lewis and Clark’s Journal contained about five pages concerning the circumstances which surrounded the killing of a Blackfoot brave by Lewis.

The way this suddenly shot down the groove is remarkable to remember. The Hudson’s Bay Company, the Nor’Westers, the Blackfeet, John Jacob Astor . . . The story pieces dovetailed with a click.

Coupled with years of experience in the Northwest, these hundred sources jibed to make the story.

The result was Buckskin Brigades, a novel being put out this summer by Macaulay.

Buckskin Brigades came to life because I happened to be bored enough one evening to sit and stare at a line of books on a shelf.

This account of researching is not complete unless I mention a certain dogging phobia I have and which I suspect is deeply rooted in most of us.

H. Bedford Jones mentioned it long ago and I did not believe him at the time. But after rolling stacks of it into the mags, I know that B-J was right as a check.

He said that it was hard for a person to write about the things he knew best.

This gives rise to an ancient argument which says pro and con that a writer should write about the things he knows.

Witnesseth: I was born and raised in the West and yet it was not until last year that I sold a couple westerns. And I only sold those because somebody said I couldn’t.

Know ye: The Caribbean countries know me as El Colorado and yet the only Caribbean stories I can write are about those countries which I have touched so briefly that I have only the vaguest knowledge of them and am therefore forced to depend upon researching the books and maps for my facts.

Hear ye: I wrote fine Hollywood stories until I came down here and worked in pictures. I wrote one while here and the editor slammed it back as a total loss.

There are only a few exceptions to this. I have been able to cash in heavily upon my knowledge of North China because the place appealed to me as the last word in savage, romantic lore. The last exception seems to be flying stories, though after flying a ship I can’t write an aviation story for a month.

The final proof of this assertation came in connection with my Marine Corps stories. Most of my life I have been associated with the Corps one way or another in various parts of the world and I should know something about it.

But I have given up in dark despair.

He Walked to War in Adventure was branded as technically imperfect.

Don’t Rush Me in Argosy, another Marine story, elicited anguished howls of protest.

And yet if there is any story in the world I should be qualified to write, it is a Marine story.

These are my woes. The reason for them is probably very plain to everyone. But I’ll state my answer anyway.

A man cannot write a story unless he is deeply interested in it. If he thinks he knows a subject then he instantly becomes careless with his technical details.

The only way I have found it possible to sidetrack these woes is by delving into new fields constantly, looking everywhere for one small fact which will lead me on into a story field I think I’ll like.

This is not very good for a writer’s reputation, they tell me. A writer, it is claimed, must specialize to become outstanding. I labored trying to build up a converse reputation, hoping to be known as a writer of infinite versatility.

I did not know until two years ago that the specializing writer is persona non grata with an editor. Jack Byrne, for instance, rebuilt Argosy with variety as a foundation. And once I heard Bloomfield sigh that he wished some of his top-notchers would stop sending him the same background week in and week out.

Maybe I am right, possibly I am wrong.

But I believe that the only way I can keep improving my work and my markets is by broadening my sphere of acquaintanceship with the world and its people and professions.

oooOOOooo

Additional hard-won advice from our Contest Judges can be found at WritersoftheFuture.com.


L. Ron Hubbard, 1935About L. Ron Hubbard

With 19 New York Times bestsellers and more than 350 million copies of his works in circulation, L. Ron Hubbard is among the most acclaimed and widely read authors of our time. As a leading light of American Pulp Fiction through the 1930s and ’40s, he is further among the most influential authors of the modern age. Indeed, from Ray Bradbury to Stephen King, there is scarcely a master of imaginative tales who has not paid tribute to L. Ron Hubbard.

 

 

Jake Marley on stage with Dave Farland and Erika Christensen

Jake Marley: One Year Later

From aspiring writer to writing contest winner to – let’s find out!

It has been nearly a year since Jake Marley was announced as the Golden Pen Award winner in the L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future writing contest.  As a contest for aspiring writers, we thought we would find out how winning the writing contest has affected Jake. So we asked him.

So Many New Friends

In 2017, my Writers of the Future workshop was just the start of my opportunities to meet professional writers and editors.

Jake talks about his experience as a writer and with the 24-hour story during the Writer Workshop in an interview here.

I used my winnings from the Golden Pen to go to a few different writing conventions, and met even more of my contemporary heroes and favorite writers and editors, including quite a few bestselling authors. I think a highlight of the year was getting another chance to speak with Nnedi Okorafor while we were both in Providence, and I had another opportunity to thank her for her part of the workshop, which I had really connected with.

I also had a dream come true when Andrew L. Roberts and I were able to sign copies of WotF 33 at SDCC this year. The pro-badge I wore has a place of honor beside my trophies from last year’s awards ceremony.

I Am Selling What I Write

I’ve had two other short stories published since the release of Volume 33. One, “The Fifth Chamber” was in Resist and Refuse, and the other, “The Weight of Her Smile,” was just published last month in Unnerving Magazine #5.

The Post-Apocalyptic Tourist's Guide to Los AngelesI was also lucky enough to take part in the first Season of (fellow Vol. 33 winner) Stephen Lawson’s The Post-Apocalyptic Tourist’s Guide. While my story could stand alone, The Post-Apocalyptic Tourist’s Guide to Los Angeles is also part of a larger narrative featuring quite a few Writers of the Future alumni.

I’m hard at work on my new novel, and it’s coming together really nicely. I’m using quite a few of the tips and techniques I learned from Dave and Tim during our workshop, as well as applying the advice I received from the other judges (again, especially Nnedi Okorafor).

In addition to getting my novel written, I’ve just been given the upcoming Writers of the Future Volume 34 and I’ve begun reading the stories. I’m looking forward to review it!

A Note on Dr. Pournelle

Dr. Jerry Pournelle speaking at the Writers WorkshopI was very sad to hear about the passing of Dr. Pournelle. I think one of the most memorable moments of my experience with Writers of the Future last year was having him tell me that “Acquisition” was “a damned good story.” I only met him briefly, but it has made a lasting impression on my life.

 

How to Find Me

My website is jakemarley.wordpress.com and readers can find me on Facebook or @JakeofEarth2 on Twitter.

And here is the link to my Amazon page.

Writer judges Hal Clement, Robert Silverberg, Frederik Pohl and Jerry Pournelle

Why Is Writers of the Future the Top of the Top Writing Contests

If you are an aspiring author or know someone who is, then this article is for you. Find out for yourself why Writers of the Future is the top writing contest in the world and why you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by checking it out.

Created by L. Ron Hubbard to Provide for the Future of Science Fiction & Fantasy

Robert Silverberg

Robert Silverberg

“What a wonderful idea—one of science fiction’s all-time giants opening the way for a new generation of exciting talent! For these brilliant stories, and the careers that will grow from them, we all stand indebted to L. Ron Hubbard.”Robert Silverberg

For over three decades, Writers of the Future has grown to become the premiere writing competition of its kind in the world.

The Contest is free to enter with the ability to upload one’s submission online making it available to anyone anywhere on the planet. (English language only.)

The Contest is open to those who have not professionally published a novel or short novel, or more than one novelette, or more than three short stories, in any medium.

But, it’s a review of what Contest judges and past winners turned-to-Contest-judge say about the Contest that makes it clear why it is now the top writing contest in the world.

Kevin J. Anderson

Multiple New York Times bestselling author Kevin J. Anderson, a Contest judge since 1996, notes that perhaps L. Ron Hubbard’s greatest legacy is that with this Contest he has created another generation of writers.

Rebecca Moesta

Bestselling YA author Rebecca Moesta, a Contest judge since 2007, discusses how the Contest provides for the future of Science Fiction and Fantasy. 

Nina Kiriki Hoffman

Writers of the Future winner from the first year and Contest judge since 2000, Nina Kiriki Hoffman talks about the importance of paying it forward. 

Dr. Doug Beason

For Contest judge Dr. Doug Beason, the Contest provides a sense of family and a sense of togetherness, everybody there to help each other out. 

Tim Powers

Multiple World Fantasy Award Winner, Tim Powers explains how the Contest takes promising writers and provides a future.

Dr. Jerry Pournelle

New York Times bestselling author Dr. Jerry Pournelle was originally mentored by Robert A. Heinlein and became a Contest judge in 1986 to follow in Mr. Heinlein’s footsteps of paying it forward.

 

Proven Track Record for Over Three Decades

The Winners

For 34 years, the Writers of the Future Contest has established itself as the top merit competition for speculative fiction. Hear it from the winners themselves what it means to win the Contest.

It Levels the Playing Field

Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Participant in the first workshop in Taos, NM in 1986 and now Contest Judge, Kristine Kathryn Rusch was interviewed by SciFi Magazine about the Writers of the Future Contest.

“To my knowledge, it’s the longest-running contest currently going on in science fiction,” says Rusch, when asked why Writers of the Future is such an influential force in the sci-fi world. “It’s anonymous—which is important—and it only deals with new writers, which levels the playing field a bit. It’s also had tremendous success. The writers chosen have for the most part gone on to have great careers. I think that comes from having professional writers as judges and not academics. Writers know what makes good fiction.”

Robert J. Sawyer

The only thing the judges will see is the story itself with a number assigned to it. They have no inkling of age, sex, nationality or ethnic of the contestant. So it is only by the merit of the story alone that will determine a finalist or winner. Contest Robert J. Sawyer explains how this is: 

Judged by the Best in the Industry

From its inception, the judging panel of professional writers have been some of the most celebrated names in the science fiction and fantasy field. The judges for the first Writers of the Future volume in 1986, included Gregory Benford, Algis Budrys, C.L. Moore, Robert Silverberg, Theodore Sturgeon, Jack Williamson and Roger Zelazny. The panel of judges has continued to grow with many of today’s masters of science fiction and fantasy who were themselves winners in the formative years of the Contest.

Judges at the 1996 Writers of the Future Awards ceremony at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

(Left to Right): Doug Beason, Kevin J. Anderson, Jerry Pournelle, Larry Niven, Algis Budrys, Jack Williamson, Frederik Pohl, Tim Powers, Gregory Benford and David Farland.

For a full list of Contest judges past and present, go to the Writer Judges section.

Judges at the 1996 Writers of the Future Awards ceremony at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

 

The Judging Process

Here are Contest judges David Farland and Robert J. Sawyer discussing how the judging process works.

 

Writers & Illustrators of the Future:

The Search for Tomorrow’s Legends

Click here to enter the Contest.

Sign up for our Writers of the Future newsletter for writing tips and updates from Contest judges and winners.

 

International Space Station

Science fiction is the herald of possibility: How fantastic fiction has become science fact.

Science fiction—earlier termed fantastic fiction and later speculative fiction for its probing, multi-sided search of the world of “What If?”—has anticipated major developments in science and technology for decades.

Concepts now gaining widespread scientific recognition—ranging from microchip implants, robot drones and teleportation to the existence of other planets at the rim of the observable universe—were initially conceived of and written about in short stories and novels decades ago by science fiction writers such as Philip K. Dick, Robert Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, to name a few. To the general reading public, these were good books to read. But to aspiring scientists, engineers and astronauts, such fantastic fiction was the fodder of dreams.

First skywriting

Castrol created the world’s first skywriting advertisement at the Epsom Derby in 1929.

In 1889, Jules Verne wrote his short story, “In the Year 2889,” where he predicted skywriting, which became fact in 1915 and began being used commercially in 1929. He also predicted video chatting which became fact in 1964.

In 1903, H.G. Wells wrote his short story “The Land Ironclads” where he predicted tanks that became fact in 1916.

First Tank

The first official photograph taken of a Mark I Tank going into action, at the Battle of Flers-Courcelette, 15th September 1916. The man shown is wearing a leather tank helmet. Copyright: © IWM.

In 1911, Hugo Gernsback predicted radar and solar calculators in his short story “Ralph 124C 41+.” Radar became science fact in 1935 and solar calculators became fact in 1978.

And there are the science fiction stories that are only now becoming science fact.

In 1897, H.G. Wells, in his story The Invisible Man, originally serialized in Pearson’s Weekly, predicted making a person invisible. Only recently has this started to become science fact as in this video

In 1930, take the instance of Charles W. Diffin with his story “The Power and the Glory” where ray guns were postulated. While we don’t have “ray guns” per se, laser cannons do exist which you can see in this video.

In 1949, L. Ron Hubbard’s “Conquest of Space,” is a series of short stories published which, told from the future looking back, reveal that space was finally conquered by heroic individuals through privatization of space flight and the incredible risks they took to accomplish it. This is only now becoming science fact with the likes of Elon Musk (SpaceX), Richard Branson (Virgin Galactic) and Jeff Bezos (Blue Origin).

And what of the future?

That remains to be seen. But what we can say is that it will still be the inspiration from great books to be read by writers of the future.

Keynote speaker for the 2015 Writers of the Future Awards Ceremony, William Pomerantz, Vice President Special Projects Virgin Galactic, spoke to the annual winners about how science fiction provided his initial vision and it was again science fiction that enabled him to persevere in the realization of his dream of space flight. He stated, “I owe a huge debt to you and to those who have come before you. It was through science fiction that I learned that optimism, and through science fiction that I reclaimed it rather than falling victim to that jaded skepticism of our modern world.”

Want to discover what fantastic fiction is inspiring tomorrow’s science fact?

For more information on science fiction, fantasy and those who create it sign up for our newsletter HERE.

Larry Niven at the Writers Workshop

Tell Me a Story by Larry Niven

I can’t help you sell your early work in the 1980’s. To enter the field my way you’ll need a time machine set for 1964. That’s when every novice was trying to write New Wave, except me, and an ecological niche was left wide open.

I can’t tell you how to write, not in a thousand words. I’ve been telling what I know as fast as I learned it for twenty-two years. My collaborators now know everything I do. I’ve spoken on panels and published articles on writing. Is there anything left to say?

Maybe.

I

If you want to know that the story you’re working on is saleable, try this: I tell it at a cocktail party. I dreamed up “The Flight of the Horse” one morning, outlined it that afternoon, and by that night was telling the tale to a clutch of cousins. I held their attention. I didn’t miss any points. I kept them laughing. The noise level didn’t drown out anything subtle and crucial. Then, of course, I knew how to write it down so I could mail it and sell it.

I told the sequel the same way (“Leviathan!”) and sold it to Playboy for what was then fantastic money.

This makes for good memories. It’s also a useful technique.

Some of the best stories simply can’t be told this way, and I can’t help you write those. Nobody can. They are rule-breakers. Try some early Alfred Bester collections. But any story you can tell as a cocktail/dinner conversation, without getting confused and without losing your audience to distractions, is a successful story.

So. You want to write a story, and be paid for it, and know that it will be read? You want that now, no waiting? Tell me a story. Tell your brother/wife/cousin/uncle a story: tell anyone you can persuade to listen. Persuading is good practice: you need skill with narrative hooks. Watch for the moments where you lose your listener; watch for where you have to back up and explain a point. Your audience will tell you how to write it. Then you write it.

You won’t need this forever. You’ll learn how to tell the tale yourself.

(My normal audience in the beginning was my brother. Thanks, Mike.)

As for the untellable story, that one depends on subtleties of phrasing or typographical innovations … that one you can postpone. You won’t have the skills to write it for a few years anyway.

II

We working writers, we’re not really interested in reading your manuscripts. We can be talked into it, sometimes, via the plea of relatives, or sex appeal, or someone to vouch for you.

Do you know how difficult it is to persuade, say Ray Bradbury to read one of your stories? Have you tried yet? You’d be a fool not to, if you’ve got the nerve. An hour of a successful author’s time could be worth a lot to you. What he says will apply to most of your stories.

Ray turned me down twenty-two years ago. He said he didn’t have the time, and he was right.

But we can be persuaded. So here you are, a novice who’s sold a few stories or none, and somehow you’ve talked an established writer into reading one of your stories. What do you do then? Give him your worst story, the one that most needs improving?

A novice writer did that to me when I was also a novice. He told me so after I told him that if I could think of a way to make it saleable, I’d burn it.

Give him your best story! The best is the one most worthy of improvement. It’s the one where your remaining flaws shine through without distractions, and you’ve picked the man who could spot them.

This shouldn’t need saying, but it does. I’ve heard counterarguments. Look: even if you’ve sold one or two, they just barely passed; they could have been better. You know that. He knows how.

(But don’t bother Ray. A thousand novices have broken their hearts trying to write like Ray Bradbury. He has a way of implying a story in insufficient words. It looks so easy, and it can’t be done.)

III

If the story you’re telling is a complex one—if the reader must understand the characters or the locale or some technical point to understand what’s going on—then you must use the simplest language. Your reader has his rights. Tell him a story and make him understand it, or you’re fired.

This is never more true than in hard science fiction, but it never stops being true.

If you don’t have anything to say, you can say it any way you want to.

IV

Do your research. There are texts on how to write, and specialized texts on how to write speculative fiction.

Learn your tools. (For instance: the indefinite pronoun is “he.”) You can create imaginary languages, but it’s risky.

Always do your research. One mistake in hard science fiction, in particular, will be remembered forever. Remember: you’re on record.

V

Start with a story. Tell yourself a story. Are you in this to show off your stylistic skills? They’ll show best if you use them to shape the story. Calling attention to the lurking author hurts the story. The best character you ever imagined can be of immense aid to the right STORY; but if he’s getting in the way, drop him.

A good stylist really can turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse; and he’ll be forgotten in favor of the average yokel who had just brains enough to start with silk.

VI

Don’t write answers to bad reviews. It wastes your time, you don’t get paid, and you wind up supporting a publication you dislike. Granted it’s tempting.

VII

Every rule of writing has exceptions, including these, and I’ve broken many.

You’re not good enough to do that yet.

This article by Larry Niven was originally published in Writers of the Future Volume 2.

 


Larry Niven

Larry Niven

Larry Niven was working on his master’s degree in mathematics when he dropped out to write science fiction. He broke into professional SF writing in 1964 and has been going strong ever since. Now a giant in the world of science fiction, he is best known for his Known Space future history, a still-growing series of more than thirty novels and stories. Ringworld, the most famous of these titles, won the Hugo, Nebula and Locus Awards. He later co-authored a series of novels with fellow judge Dr. Jerry Pournelle, including the celebrated national bestsellers The Mote in God’s EyeLucifer’s Hammer and Footfall. Larry Niven received the L. Ron Hubbard Lifetime Achievement Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Arts in 2006. He has been a Writers of the Future judge since 1985.

ShaunTan. Photo by Stefan Tell.

Advice for a New Illustrator by Shaun Tan

Illustration is a very diverse and scattered profession, a practice that takes many forms, sometimes even hard to define, and it’s very unlikely that the careers of any two illustrators are alike. It’s mostly freelance work where an illustrator moves from one opportunity to the next, often in an unpredictable way week to week and certainly unpredictable throughout a working lifetime. If nothing else, markets, technology, culture, personal skills, and interests will change and develop all the time. That’s the first thing to be aware of, especially when either giving or receiving specific advice—every artist’s experience and circumstance is different. The most I can do is reflect on general principles gleaned from my own successes and failures over the years, tips that might be relatively universal, useful and encouraging.

Challenge Yourself

Perhaps the first and most important tip is one that applies to all work: enjoy what you do, to the extent that it is a pleasure to go beyond the call of duty. Creating work that is more than sufficient, that exceeds expectations and even the demands of the client, has always been something that I’ve not only tried to do but learned to enjoy doing. I rarely consider any job “run-of-the-mill” or just “bread-and-butter” if I can help it. Given time and energy (admittedly not always available!) I like to treat every creative task as a unique experiment and don’t always go for the easiest solution, or the one most dependent on existing skills. Every piece of work should involve an element of innovation or novel difficulty. This is what I’ve come to understand as “doing your best.” It’s really about trying to do a little better than your best. I’ve always been surprised at the results, and that in turn has fed my self-confidence as an illustrator.

It also explains my success as a creator of picture books. When I first entered the genre, I was very interested in challenging both myself and this narrative form rather than executing good, safe and “appropriate” illustrations according to an agreed fee or royalty.

I was inspired by other artists and writers with similar intentions, creating artistic problems for themselves, and investing seemingly unnecessary hours for very little pay, sometimes reaching only a small audience, in a genre that’s often critically overlooked and sometimes disrespected (true also of SF illustration from a mainstream viewpoint). That didn’t matter: what most concerned me was the opportunity for some experimentation that may not have been possible at the bigger commercial end of the spectrum, where higher pay usually equals less creative freedom. For the same reason, I devoted most of my energy and passion early in my career to small-press science fiction, because it offered the best opportunity for artistic development, weird visual challenges, and ultimately came to be the place where I could fine-tune my practical and conceptual skills as an illustrator in the absence of formal training. Making almost no money, mind you, although it’s paid off in the long run. I’ve learned to be patient and stick with it!

So it’s very important to pursue personally challenging work, and small jobs can be just as significant as high-profile ones for that reason. Although people are often impressed by an association with high-profile projects (especially film) perhaps my most significant achievements are modest landscapes and portraits painted in my parents’ garage during my early twenties, work which remains unexhibited and unpublished. I still enjoy creating paintings that have no commercial concern or public dimension. I think it’s very important to have this stream of work alongside commercial practice, a separate stream—again, it’s all about strong personal development. A good artist is (I think) an eternal student, and even when most confident, never feels like a master. They are forever pottering in their backyard spaces, trying to explore their craft with modest integrity. That’s how unusual and original work emerges, not by chasing markets or fashionable movements or wanting to be conventionally successful.

Be Versatile

But speaking of chasing markets, for a practicing artist this remains, of course, an essential pursuit, if only to survive. It’s the other, parallel course of creative practice: economic sustainability, making money. I think this area is the most difficult to cover with simple advice because there are so many types of working environment: adult, young adult and children’s publishing, advertising, editorial and genre illustration, film design, animation, theatre, fine arts, games and other forms probably not yet invented. Most visual artists will cross over several of these, especially in a digital, multimedia environment. Therefore, versatility is paramount. That doesn’t just mean being adept at working in known styles and media, but also unknown ones—you need to be able to learn and adapt, to remain flexible, diverse, open-minded.

Be Professional

The principle of versatility also applies to working with people, since nearly all commercial work is collaborative. Even if you are writing and illustrating a book in uninterrupted solitude, it’s still a collaboration with an editor and other publishing staff. It’s important to be reliable and easy to work with, as much as with any other job. This is the main reason clients will continue to give you work, and almost all of my early assignments came to me through the recommendations of others. A lot of preceding illustration produced for little payment in small-press magazines and anthologies proved to be worthwhile, both as training and exposure, a demonstration of my willingness to follow a brief in a dependable and imaginative way. That’s also true of one of my very first “jobs” as a teenager, an illustration for the Writers of the Future anthology that needed to complement a story about a time traveler who kills kittens!

Be a Good Speaker

Communication is very important, even though so much time is spent working alone on what can otherwise seem an introverted profession. You need to be able to talk and write about everything you create in a clear and explanatory way to help others understand your ideas, especially when they are not immediately visible, especially to non-artists and the aesthetically blind. Empathy and patience almost always win the day, even in tough situations. You need to be open to discussion, revision and compromise, while at the same time maintaining your own artistic integrity—these are not necessarily incompatible, as so many people often believe.

Maintain a Broad Interest

Technical competence as an artist is, of course, essential, but this is only ever a tool for the realization of ideas; without a strong imagination, the display of skill is just that—and “style” is interesting only if backed up by content. Too much illustration looks great, but leaves little resonance in the mind; it’s brilliant in style yet thin on conceptual relevance to real-life concerns.

It helps to remain interested in all forms of art and have a good grasp of art history as well as some knowledge of art theory, both past and contemporary. Understand the relationship between art and life. My own background is quite academic, and although I initially worried that studying art criticism might have been a bad choice (having no real idea what I wanted to do as a career), it’s actually been very useful. A knowledge of history and theory, and interest in art beyond making attractive pictures: this can really boost your artistic thinking. Developing a visual sensibility and vocabulary, rather than just technical skills, means that you can be perspicacious enough to deal with many different projects and find original solutions.

Don’t Despair!

As long as you are doing something, even if it isn’t successful, you are not wasting your time. The greatest achievement of so much creative work is simply finding time and dedication to do it, especially when it seems difficult and less than enjoyable, particularly as almost every project seems to involve some kind of confidence-wounding “crisis.” Good ideas and talent aren’t worth much if they aren’t put through the wringer of actual hard work. Ideas are not really ideas until they are translated into labor. Failure is also an essential prerequisite for success.

Pay attention to criticism, and don’t pay attention to criticism! At the end of the day, you are the ultimate judge of your own work, so learn to be critical in an affirmative rather than negative way. All creators—if they are any good—suffer from periods of disappointment, even depression with their own achievements (or lack thereof); that’s perfectly normal! Just keep going, if you want to cross that threshold. You also never find out if you’ve really failed until you actually finish a piece of work. Each success, regardless of quality, will build confidence, and confidence is the key. You also need to protect that sphere of confidence from unwelcome opinions or minor setbacks.

Draw, Draw, Draw and Then Draw Some More

Finally, for anyone interested in being an effective artist, illustrator, designer, even a film director—you should really learn to draw well. It’s a valuable foundation, something you’ll always use, regardless of technology or genre. Drawing is more than just wielding a pencil with precision, it’s a way of seeing well, something that takes several thousand hours of practice, and even then, never entirely mastered. Good drawing is a timeless skill, infinitely adaptable, and will never become passé. My entire career rests on my ability to draw well, to think effectively using simple pencil marks. All other visual skills and techniques, from oil painting to CG animation, are elaborations of this fundamental skill.

Tips on Getting Published

Being a competent artist is one thing; getting published represents a rather different set of problems. The most important advice I can offer is this: please consider the publisher. What can you offer them with your work? Research the area you are interested in and know what a prospective editor might be looking for, what other work is out there. A picture book text might be as brilliant as its potential illustrator, but if it does not suit the list that a publisher is pursuing, both are quite likely to be rejected. Unfortunately, publishers do not exist to supply a canvas for free artistic self-expression—I wish!—they are primarily a commercial business. Many young artists don’t pay enough attention to this important fact.

Be aware too that there is a “culture” of illustration in any genre that you need to be familiar with (which can vary from country to country). One good way of finding out about this is to study recent works that have won major awards and think about what they have in common. Recognize trends, but don’t bend backward to imitate them, or try to be something you’re not. Rather, look for the point of intersection between your creative interests and the kinds of books that are being successfully published.

As a contemporary illustrator, you can accomplish a lot by having a very good website and a well-presented folio. I would keep both of these quite simple, showing only your best work; young artists always seem to err (as I did) on the side of excess. A good folio needs only about twelve pieces—be very selective. These should represent technical skill and diversity, color and monochrome, and especially anything featuring human figures, something editors usually look for. Where possible and appropriate, it is good to arrange a face-to-face meeting with a relevant editor or art director. I’ve personally found this very useful, to get to know each other as people rather than less memorable e-mail or web addresses. Success as an artist, especially in publishing, has much to do with warm relationships. But don’t believe anyone who says “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know”—it’s what you know and who you know.

And, last of all, good luck, but don’t just wait around for it to happen: make your own!

This article was initially published in L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future Volume 28

 


ShaunTan. Photo by Stefan Tell.

Shaun Tan

Shaun Tan grew up in the northern suburbs of Perth, Western Australia, and began drawing and painting images for science fiction and horror stories in small-press magazines as a teenager. He has since become best known for illustrated books that deal with social, political and historical subjects through surreal, dreamlike imagery, such as The Rabbits, The Red Tree, Tales from Outer Suburbia and the acclaimed wordless novel The Arrival that have been widely translated and enjoyed by readers of all ages. Shaun has also worked as a theatre designer, as a concept artist for the films Horton Hears a Who and Pixar’s WALL-E and directed the Academy Award-winning short film The Lost Thing. In 2011, he received the prestigious Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, honoring his contribution to international children’s literature.

Shaun became a judge for Illustrators of the Future in 2011.