Category Archives: Writing

Stuff about writing, publishing, editing, etc.

Alien Weather Report

“…and that was Koflan Whitzan’s 3142 classic, ‘Baby, You’re So Cold You Make Cold Fusion Hot’, featuring the 2718 Frank Zappa AI on lintar, here on Classic Earth Radio.”

“That was truly an elevated choice on Koflan’s part, Arlanda.”

“It really was, Miguel. Speaking of elevation, I’m heading off-planet to the Europan floes this weekend for a little ice fishing with my girlfriends in the tourist zone. What’s the alien weather looking like?”

“Well, Arlanda, we’re going to be tracking a number of alien fronts all across the solar system this weekend, so be sure your distress beacon is operational and your EVAC suits are patched.

“The Jovian system in particular is expected to have elevated activity, as a large contingent of Yautjans have been observed in orbit around Jupiter and performing regular sorties into the atmosphere. We think this is a repeat of their 3164 coming-of-age ceremony when we observed their free-fall hunts of the floating Sagans…”

“Whoa, hold up! There are a bunch of horny Yautjans in town? I’d better pack a mud mask for my trip!”

“Ha ha! That’s not all you’ll need, Arlanda. Brood twelve is still actively harvesting sulphur on Io, and their swarming ships will be a navigational hazard throughout Jupiter’s gravity well. Last but not least, you’d better pack your flamethrower because Biological Sampling Station Eleven on Europa is missing a husky sled dog and is on lockdown until it’s found.”

“Sounds ominous, Miguel.”

“But not as ominous as the Three-eyed Venusians who are back at it on Mars this week. The truce seems to have broken and Sojourner and Jezero Bases are reporting aerial bombardments. The Federation is scrambling to enforce a no-fly zone for the planet and all commercial traffic is being re-routed to Phobos and Demios.”

“Thoughts and prayers go out to our Martian listeners, Miguel.”

“Indeed. And you better think twice about trying to get away from it all out towards Neptune and Pluto unless your UV decontamination is shipshape. Kuiper Belt observatories are showing large fluxes in interstellar spore showers, posing ongoing contamination hazards.”

“With all that, maybe my group should change our plans!”

“That’d be an excellent choice, Arlanda and it’s not all doom and gloom out there. You and your throuple might think about packing bikinis and sunscreen instead of parkas, and heading to Mercury’s sunside to watch the Dahomey Walking Trees’ marathon.”

“Oh that sounds like fun! Hey, Miguel, what do you say to a Dahomey Walking Tree dressed like a Douglas Fir?”

“I don’t know, Arlanda. What do you say to a Dahomey Walking Tree dressed like a Douglas Fir?”

“Aren’t you barking up the wrong tree?”

“I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that and remind our listeners that it’s peak mating season for the Meekrobs and if you have the chance, you should head on out to Saturn to watch their prismatic displays in the rings. And to close out the alien weather report as we always do, Arlanda, we have to talk about Uranus.”

“What do you have to say about it this week, Miguel?”

“Uranus has more dark rings than a bathtub after washing a tauntaun!”

“Zing! Alight folks, it’s the weekend, I’m Arlanda Washington.”

“I’m Miguel Hernadez.”

“And here’s a deep cut from Classic Earth Radio to send you on your way, 3156’s top hit by the Pleasurebot Confessionals, ‘When the Chamber Vents’. Have a safe one out there people!”

A writing milestone–my first paid fiction publication, The Usurious Mechanic

Factor Four Magazine published my first paid fiction piece, The Usurious Mechanic, in their March 2022 Issue and I couldn’t be happier for achieving this milestone. Thanks, Factor Four!

Of the titles in my bibliography, I’ve been paid to write freelance non-fiction magazine articles and I’ve earned dinner money from some self-published fiction works, but cracking the paid fiction market was elusive. I use The Submission Grinder from Diabolical Plots to keep track of submissions and it tells me I started submitting stories in 2015 and had over 60 submissions and rejections across multiple stories before this acceptance.

Heather Kilbourn's fiction submission history from 2015 to 2022.

The Usurious Mechanic, a flash fiction piece under 1,000 words, was rejected six times before I sold it. It was not the first story I expected to sell. I started it in December 2018 and sent my first query in January 2019. I re-wrote it in May of 2020 based on some beta reader feedback and that’s the version that sold.

Why did this piece sell before others, including two I’ve received very positive feedback on from beta readers and some encouraging personal rejections?

Who knows? If there’s anything I’ve absorbed from the writing community, it’s that the publishing industry can be capricious, great stories get passed by all the time for a host of reasons, and luck can be an outsized variable. I try to stay sanguine about rejections and view them as being one step closer to another sale.

In the meantime, I’m savoring this win and the feeling of leveling up.

Writing is Not a Solitary Endeavor – Cascade Writers 2019 Writer’s Workshop Trip Report

I attended the 2019 Cascade Writers Workshop in Bremerton, WA this past July 19-21 out of a desire to jump-start my writing again and get a sense for the state of my craft. The workshop offered various panels on writing and the business of writing, and included optional, Milford-style workshops for pieces under development, which I signed up for. It was a fantastic experience with great people, and in addition to making some new friends, I learned that writing is not a solitary endeavor.

I’d only ever attended one other workshop and it was about four years ago. It was a one-day Milford hosted by Clarion West in Seattle, and the teacher, a published author, encouraged me to submit the story I’d brought with only a few word tweaks. I still haven’t sold it.

My Cascade Writers workshop group of eight was led by a literary agent, Jennifer (Jennie) Goloboy of the Donald Maass Literary Agency, and I felt very fortunate to be in her group. Her job is to evaluate writing and work with authors to get their submissions into shape before trying to sell them to publishers.

I wrote a new story just for the workshop to reflect the current state of my writing. Most of the other writers in the group were part of author’s critique groups, so the critique process was familiar to them. They provided me with such wonderful feedback, I was gobsmacked. Jennie echoed much of my cohort’s feedback and helped contextualize it with regards to things that would inhibit a sale. I’ve been mentally working on revisions since.

My personal breakthrough was when Jennie helped me crystalize something that is now obvious to me in retrospect, but wasn’t beforehand. Her (paraphrased) advice was, “You don’t workshop to show off how much of a genius writer you are, but to get constructive feedback on how to make your work better.’

My mental model for writing had been: write, edit, and submit alone, and use rejections as impetus to improve and push on. That model shattered when I realized my fellow writers used critique groups/workshopping for continual improvement. It was quite a realization to discover that what’s been missing from my writing is critical feedback from other writers.

This was ironic, given my background as a product manager who used customer feedback data to help craft better products and internal reviews before launch to catch errors. I’ve been shipping my product without any review or testing. 😮

All of us in Jennie’s group agreed to stay in touch and to support each other, and I was touched and energized when I was asked to join/form a couple of local critique groups. I can’t wait!

If you’re a writer who’s been toiling alone, I encourage you to get out and go to a workshop like Cascade Writers to find your writing community.

The Fadings

Mary Jo Egan Kilbourn

November 13, 1939 – April 5, 2017

     Our elders are the past who understood the world we were born into because they lived through it. By the time we understand the world, our elders understand it less, and usually by the time they die, it is as unrecognizable and confusing to them as the world was to us when we were born. And when they die, the past does not die with them. It fades.
     It fades in the slow, chemical decomposition of pigments in photographs. It fades in worn-out things requiring replacement. It fades in the uncountable moments we forgot of eating breakfast with them, shopping with them in grocery stores, phone messages from them we erased, papers from them we threw away and recycled, and the forgotten moments of normal conversations about making plans or just talking together about unremarkable things, because if they were remarkable we’d remember them.
     What remains is the curated distillation of them, but it isn’t really them. It’s the remaining distillations of those that came before them, which you curate further or catalog and file as museum archives, kicking the can down the generations, plus whatever you’ve saved of them because it reminded you of happiness, or comfort, or of the bond you now share with a ghost.
     You can talk to that ghost, but the ghost doesn’t really talk back. It does, but it’s what you think the ghost would say, not the ghost’s words. They’re you’re words. They’re words you tell yourself when you’re sad, or happy, or enraged, or melancholy, or joyous, or angry, or at peace, or terrified, or any of the other feelings that pass through a day like weather systems.
     Some of those words are like sunshine, warm and reassuring. Others fall like branches on your head during a windstorm, leaving you concussed because the sky is falling. Then the words fade, because they always do, and all that’s left are the emotions.
     Fear, anger, sadness, wistfulness, and million other emotions that vibrate in chords with a diminuendoing basso of grief that began as a siren’s ear-splitting wail. It fades sub-sonic and will punch you in the gut when it resonates in harmonic frequencies, boosting a resonant tone to where it bursts out of you in racking laughter or sobs, before fading into the background dirge echoing amongst the works and follies of all ghosts in chorus, indistinct.
     It’s music you chase through deserted cities, canyons, forests, beaches, mountains, fields of sunflowers, at the dentist’s, or anywhere else you find yourself suddenly alone. With the sound seeming to be always around the next corner or bend. But you never locate the source of it because the closer you come to it, the more it fades away until you stop searching for it. Then it blindsides you in the grocery, in the car, in the shower, under the covers, on the couch, while you’re out of for a run, sitting on the toilet, or preparing dinner, making you tremble as it catches you in its net and drags you under before fading and you can struggle up for air.
     Even faded, that past has weight. Each moment a grain of sand, which compresses into a slab of sandstone you carry until it, too, fades by weathering away back into sand and then dust. We carve our lives into these tablets, hoping to avoid fading, hoping some future soul will pick it up and dust it off, hoping we’ll be able to finish our lines in time.
     Over time, the shape of the land changes and what was once an ocean floor becomes a mountain and the mountain becomes the ocean floor, lifted by fire and then run down by water. And the animals and the vegetables and the minerals change and require twenty questions to identify, and one day we may join them in that game, if we’re lucky.
     But that’s okay. Uncountable stars, planets, galaxies, black holes, quasars, and other stuff we don’t know about yet have been born and then been fading away across the universe for billions of years and we don’t even know for certain if there are other creatures out there that have faded or will fade on those rocks or in those oceans. It’s just the nature of things. I have my suspicions though. Until and beyond when we know or never know, our fadings will ring the celestial spheres until none are left to hear.

Clarion West 2015 Write-a-thon

Like last year, I’m helping to raise funds for the Clarion West 2015 Write-a-thon.

If you’re so inclined, please sponsor me and add to the $50 I’ve chucked into the pot.

In their own words,

“Clarion West Writers Workshop is a nonprofit literary organization based in Seattle, Washington, with a mission to improve speculative fiction by providing high quality education to writers at the start of their careers. As an extension of its primary mission, Clarion West also makes speculative fiction available to the public by presenting readings and other events that bring writers and readers together.”

As a speculative fiction writer aspiring to paid publication, I love that a world-renowned organization like this is right in my backyard and how they are supporting literature. I attended one of their one-day workshops earlier this year and found it immensely helpful in learning how to critique my own and others’ work and look forward to attending more in the future.

This year I also applied for and was not accepted to this year’s six-week program.  My writing ego bruised by rejection, I resolved to complete a new short story and submit it for publication this year as a way to work through the disappointment and as a goal for my Write-a-thon participation.

I’m happy to report that I have finished the story, that it landed at novelette length (around 9,900 words, down from 13,509 [yay, editing,]) and have completed my first-ever submission for paid publication! Now I wait for the inevitable rejection/re-submission process until someone decides to buy it and will be switching off tapping away at my novel and completing two other unfinished, shorter works.

Writing, completing, and editing that story was a hell of a slog the past four months. It was the first time I really forced myself to write even when I felt stuck and editing it seemed to take forever. I can’t wait to be able to share it with you once it’s published, whenever that happens. 🙂