Echo Chernik and Jody Lynn Nye with Writers of the Future Vols 36 & 37

Writers of the Future Volume 36 & 37 Workshop Week – Day 4

Contributed by Wulf Moon

Day Four of the Writers of the Future Workshop began at 2 p.m. This was not so that the writers could sleep in, but to give them the full amount of time to complete their 24-hour stories! How did they do? Looking out over the group of tired but relieved writers, it was obvious they had successfully completed their task.

“I made it with five minutes to spare,” Leah Ning said.

“I wrote my last line ten minutes ago,” Brittany Rainsdon added.

Luke Wildman stated: “It forces you to go with your instincts. There’s no time to overthink it.”

Mission accomplished. The exercise proved to the writers that they have undiscovered potential to create stories under extremely tight deadlines. They had been warned not to view these as throw-away stories—many past winners have had their 24-hour stories published. We look forward to discovering whose stories will be published next.

After three stories were randomly selected for future critique in the workshop, more discussion on writing craft began. Tim Powers (On Stranger Tides) led it off with a reminder to the writers not to become self-assured in their abilities. “Never figure now I can coast,” Powers said. He recalled teaching the Clarion workshop and noted the overconfidence of some writers as they turned in their stories and proclaimed them good. New writers normally get feedback from friends and family, which can give them an inflated view of their abilities. Powers said: “It’s like Schrödinger’s cat. A story is like a waveform. It doesn’t exist until an editor opens the box and looks at it. Your friends don’t count.”

Powers continued discussing other issues he noted in stories from Clarion. “Too often, I saw stories where the appalling thing happened, or the supernatural, and the characters just looked at one another and said, ‘Yeah, that happens.’ There is what should be an affecting event, but characters should not go about like nothing incredible happened.”

Powers warned about the current trend of writing “snarky stories.” He said: “Don’t be flippant, ironic, sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek. Nothing kills a story faster than a tongue-in-cheek tone. Unless you’re Robert Sheckley.”

David Farland (Runelords) encouraged these writers to reject the view that speculative fiction is unimportant. “The greatest writers of all time have always been fantasists,” Farland said. “Homer, Shakespeare, Milton, all were fantasists. Ray Bradbury’s writing was too good to be considered science fiction. His speaking fee was $50,000, and universities were glad to pay it. But they didn’t classify him as a science fiction writer.”

Powers swept back in with another warning. “It’s a mistake to entertain the reader with how clever are you, the writer. It’s the equivalent in a movie of having a character look at the camera and wink. Don’t do that! I’m trying to get into your story. I don’t want to know the writer is there.”

After advising the group to study classic works, such as those of Robert Heinlein and Ted Sturgeon, the workshop was dismissed for tuxedo and gown fittings for Friday’s formal gala.

Then came the Big Reveal. This is the event every winner looks forward to—seeing the full-color commissioned illustration of their story for the first time. It is rare for most publications to commission art for a story—cost is prohibitive. But the Contest does it for each of the winners’ stories, commissioned from each artist that won the illustrators’ side of the Contest. It’s an exciting moment for the writers to enter the room where prints of their illustrations are displayed. The artists stand behind their work, hoping the writers will be pleased. It’s an emotional moment as writers circle the room and identify the illustration that belongs to their story. Cries of delight ring out, tears are spilled, compliments are made, and discussion ensues on what portions of the story inspired the illustration.

Illustrator winner Daniel Bitton spoke to Brittany Rainsdon about the illustration created for “Half-Breed.” He said: “The story had rich imagery. As I read it through, I knew the scene I would work with. It had elements of nature and magic, things I’m passionate about, so it was easy to find a real connection to the story. I spent a lot of time studying tree trunks and gnarled branches, making certain the work was accurate.” Bitton revealed he had also won a second award with the illustration in the Artrepreneur contest.

On winning the Contest, illustrator winner Arthur Bowling said: “I’m still kind of processing it. It’s a bit of a shock. I honestly didn’t expect to place this far.” As to the overall experience of the workshop, Bowling said: “It’s been a fantastic experience so far, being with other artists and the instructors. I’m looking forward to the rest of the week to learn from and with them.”

The day ended with illustrators and writers meeting together for acceptance speech rehearsals with President of Galaxy Press, John Goodwin, and a final meeting with the writers to verify all had received the three 24-hour stories to read and critique. Tim Powers finished the day with a wild story about an adventure he had with his friend, P.K. Dick. . . . Sorry, you had to be a winner to hear it. Membership does have its privileges.

Illustrators Workshop, Day 3:
Guest Instructors, Drawing Salon, and the Big Art Reveal

Contributed by Kary English

Day three began with a presentation by Dr. Laura Brodian Freas Beraha, doctor of music education. Beraha took art classes while she was at music school, and so met noted illustrator Frank Kelly Freas, who was known as the “Dean of Science Fiction Artists.” Freas’s work extended beyond science fiction to things like NASA posters and album covers for Queen.

Beraha told the illustrators that she’s subscribed to Analog, Asimov’s, and other speculative fiction magazines in college. She’d read the stories, see images in her head, and think about how the stories should be illustrated. Sometimes she had different, and possibly better ideas than what she saw in the magazines. When she talked about this with Freas, the two struck up a friendship that led to more than three decades of marriage and artistic collaboration. Through his guidance and mentorship, Beraha learned the principles, the “how do you do it” of professional illustration.

Beraha’s illustration work began in earnest when she and Freas received a call from the publisher of Weird Tales. The magazine wanted a reprise of a cover from 1953, along with several interior and spot illustrations. Beraha worked on the spot pieces. She then began illustrating for Analog, TSR, the Arms and Equipment Guide in addition to joint work with Freas.

“What,” Beraha asked, “is the difference between a fine artist and an illustrator? Both can draw paint well. A fine artist draws inspiration from their own head. An illustrator finds inspiration in the written words of an author. An illustrator’s job is to turn words on the page into an immediately potent, evocative visual image.”

“An image,” said Beraha, “should raise questions, but answer nothing.” For answers, the reader must buy the book or read the story.

Beraha told the illustrators to read their source material three times: once for the pleasure of reading, a second time with a sketch pad to take notes, make sketches and generate ideas, and finally, after making thumbnails and choosing a final approach, to read the piece a third time for details.

Beraha coached the illustrators to “make it beautiful.” Even when illustrating an ugly concept, beautiful art encourages the viewer to look at the art longer, to engage with the concepts that inspired the piece. She also discussed circularity, the use of artistic techniques and design elements that lead the eye through the piece in a circular, unending fashion. This technique gives the viewer more time to contemplate the visual work and to engage more deeply with the ideas it portrays.

Beraha distributed the short story Hit and Run by Jerry Oltion, and gave the illustrators time to read and sketch. The illustrators showed their sketches, then, with Beraha coaching, they discussed the scenes they’d chosen to portray and the choices they’d made. Beraha noted that a straight-on view can be static and boring. Changing the angle adds interest, so Beraha coached one illustrator to “move the POV up 6 feet, rotate by 45 degrees, and focus on the shadows.”

After lunch, Echo Chernik shared a client management tip. Clients and art directors, especially committees, want to have input on your work. Sometimes, as the artist, you can make a strategic decision by offering the client a choice—such as “do you want a bronze sword or a silver one?—in an easy-to-change layer. This often prevents the client from requesting a change in a different area of the work that might be especially complicated or difficult to modify.

Chernik also stressed the importance of using photographic references in illustration. Chernik says that using reference is perfectly acceptable, even expected in professional art, and she demonstrated side-by-side comparisons of reference and finished work by Alphonse Mucha and Norman Rockwell. In her own work, Chernik said she sometimes shoots up to 400 photos, only to use 10 or 11 in the final work.

Chernik suggested that the illustrators assemble a library of reference photos they’ve taken themselves, supplemented with images they like from books, magazines, and stock photo sites. Illustrators can turn to friends and family as models, they can use themselves, or they can hire models for reference shoots. In addition to photos, artists should also be on the lookout for props and costumes that suit their work, anything from hats, swords, and jewelry, to interesting rocks, branches, plants, textures, etc.

The workshop finished with salon time—live drawing with two costumed models. After a series of 5-minute poses for warm-ups, the illustrators settled in for an hour and a half of serious drawing.

The final item for the day was the Big Reveal. Each winning illustrator had been commissioned to illustrate one of the winning stories. For the writers, it’s usually the first time they’ve ever seen their work brought to life in a visual medium. For the illustrators, it’s often the first time they get to meet an author and discuss the work in person.

The illustrators are nervous. What if the author doesn’t like the work, or can’t figure out which artwork goes with their story? Will the author understand what the artist was trying to show? It’s an emotional night for artists and authors alike, resulting in gasps, excited squeals, and more than a few tears.

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Wulf Moon

Wulf Moon wrote his first science fiction story when he was fifteen. It won the national Scholastic Art & Writing Awards and led to his first professional sale in Science World.

Since then, Moon has won more than forty awards in writing. These include: Star Trek: Strange New Worlds 2; Critters Readers’ Choice Awards for Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Story of 2018, Best SF&F Short Story of 2019, Best Nonfiction Article of 2019, Best Author of 2019, Best Writers’ Workshop of 2019; and the Writers of the Future Contest, Volume 35.

Moon is podcast director at Future Science Fiction Digest. Discover his work at: Find him on Facebook or visit his website and join the Wulf Pack at

Kary EnglishKary English is a Writers of the Future winner whose work has been nominated for the Hugo and Campbell awards. She grew up in the snowy Midwest where she read book after book in a warm corner behind a recliner chair. Today, Kary still spends most of her time with her head in the clouds and her nose in a book. Her fiction has appeared in Galaxy’s Edge, The Grantville Gazette, Daily Science Fiction, Far Fetched Fables, the Hugo-winning podcast StarShipSofa, and L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future Volume 31.

9 replies
  1. Candice Lisle
    Candice Lisle says:

    These blogs are fantastic!!
    I find myself not waiting very patiently for the next one!!
    They make me feel like I am there with you.

  2. crlisle
    crlisle says:

    These daily blogs are fantastic! I wait rather impatiently for the next one to be posted. I spend the whole day wondering what is happening!
    Then I read the blog and am blown away. It is all so amazing! Thank you so much for doing this!

  3. David Hankins
    David Hankins says:

    Love the artwork for the stories! Looks like everyone’s having a great time and learning lots. Can’t wait to see the ceremony!

  4. David Cleden
    David Cleden says:

    Really enjoying reading these daily updates – great work Wulf and Kary! It’s bringing back lots of happy memories of April ‘19. Looking forward to watching the Gala too. Many congrats to all the writers and artists – hope you’re having a blast!

  5. Scott Sands
    Scott Sands says:

    The artwork is amazing. What a (well-earned) honor for the winning writers to have such professional images to represent their stories.
    Thanks for the blog. Loving it!


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