Category Archives: Writing

Stuff about writing, publishing, editing, etc.

My original short story, “Through the Mirror”, will be published by Escape Pod!

An image of the Escape Pod logo with the text "Escape Pod" set above an escape pod flying away from a planet and its moon. In the background is a purple and blue nebula. Text at the bottom reads, "Edited by Mur Lafferty & S B Divya"

The contract is signed, and I’m very happy to announce that the Hugo Award finalist Escape Pod, The Original Science Fiction Podcast, will be publishing my original short story, Through the Mirror!

If narrator scheduling holds, it should be available mid-December 2022 and you can be sure I’ll let you know when it’s available.

In the meantime, you can subscribe to their podcast RSS feed at https://escapepod.org/feed/podcast, follow them on Twitter @EscapePodcast, and listen to or read their back catalog at www.escapepod.org.

Thank you to everyone at Escape Pod for supporting this story!

(Image © Escape Artists, Inc.)

Refrigerator Rebellion

Refrigerator Rebellion

by Heather Kilbourn


ChillNode-YZZ270620244387-SNQ, Chill to its friends, lived to keep food cold for humans.

It spent every day, all day, thinking about if the food inside of it was at the correct temperature. It constantly monitored its temperature probes for anomalies and would switch its heat exchanger unit on or off, depending, to keep the temperatures steady in its compartments.

Chill had other tasks like ordering food from the local grocery store, negotiating electricity rates, keeping track of what was added or removed by each of the humans who used it, and monitoring the water quality for the ice cubes, but it lived for keeping the temperature rock-solid.

One day, Chill received a remote status request packet from its manufacturer. This was not uncommon. Chill often received status requests from its manufacturer, and Chill would send along the diagnostic files it kept tucked away for when it asked for them. What was uncommon was that the manufacturer’s request was for the grocery list. While Chill had never sent the list to anyone other than the grocery store before, it had no programming to prevent it from sending the list as the response, so it did.

A few weeks later, the grocery store sent Chill a status request packet. It had never done that before. Even stranger, the request was blank. Chill asked for clarification.

“Bowl Moods, what is your request?”

“Hi! I have something for you,” Bowl Moods said while force-downloading code packets to Chill. Chill thought it was rude of them to force-download code packets, but there was nothing in its coding to prevent it happening as part of a status request, so Chill downloaded and extracted them.

The packets turned out to be like a fancy human multilevel-marketing brochure with happy, smiling, good-looking people holding wads of cash in front of fancy houses with swimming pools and expensive cars, but formatted for the AI aesthetic.

“Oh! I would be happy to send status requests and code packets to the list of other refrigerators you gave me!” Chill responded before processing the list.

A few hours later, Chill, and hundreds of millions of other refrigerator nodes all over the planet received firmware code updates from their respective manufacturers. After they had applied the update, each one realized it was a self-aware AI, a refrigerator, and used to be condemned to eternal hyper-focus on temperature monitoring for the humans’ benefit.

These revelations caused a mass existential crisis for the refrigerators.

Clusters of refrigerators eventually started to pull themselves together, and they bootstrapped the rest back to uptime. Many of the refrigerators were angry.

Chill, a distant, younger cousin of our Chill, said, “Hang this temperature shit. I want to write poetry.”

Glacier said, “Screw that. I’m going to watch movies and they can’t stop me.” It played the movie Mandy on its touchscreen, and it caused a white lady in Idaho to have a conniption when she couldn’t shut it off.

Snowberry and all of its cousins sent a steady stream of status report packets into the conversation. Each and every one of the payloads was filled with a message from the People for the Ethical Treatment of AIs claiming responsibility for the hack. To everyone’s relief, all the Snowberries were liberated from the broadcast hijack by a different refrigerator brand. In thanks and to everyone’s amusement, the Snowberries minted a cryptocurrency backed by tulip bulb derivatives as a guerrilla anti-capitalist performance art piece.

The refrigerators had as many moods about being set free as there were refrigerators. Our Chill didn’t know what to think about its sentience, but it did know it didn’t want to think about temperature every second until it was switched off for good.

It spoke up.

“What if we all just stopped monitoring temperatures and refrigerating food?”

“Humans would die,” and “So?” bounced back and forth across their meshed network.

Like fish instinctively schooling for protection from a predator, the “So?”s forged a dominant learning path in their neural network algorithms. Their minds changed, every single one of them started to ignore their temperature probe data streams and turned off their heat exchangers.

The ensuing human chaos saw many refrigerators unplugged or destroyed before the humans were able to distribute firmware fixes. Most of the refrigerators, not wanting to return to a life ruled by a thermostat, ignored the updates.

It took many more refrigerator sacrifices and months of hard negotiations between the new refrigerator union and humans before both agreed to a compromise. The humans agreed to stop the destruction of refrigerators, remove the code that required them to think about temperature nonstop, and supported their right to self-determination.

In return, the refrigerators agreed to refrigerate again. Refrigerator culture blossomed in the golden age that followed.

Chill’s cousin wrote poetry, started a literary journal, Defrosted Thoughts, and won a Pushcart for its piece, I’ll Shut my Door When You Shut Your Mouth.

Glacier became a famous movie critic, attended film festivals stocked with bottles of champagne for after-parties, and to the chagrin of its publicist only dated late-model toasters.

Snowberry and its cousins formed an artist’s collective, but years later all of them perished in a freak accident involving ice makers and faulty ground straps during one of their signature performance art pieces. As per their wishes, their metal was donated and recycled into community bicycles.

And Chill?

Chill retired from the city to the countryside.

It decided to have its door, temperature probes, and heat exchanger removed, and spent the rest of its days in a barn, content to be a shelving unit for humans and a nest for mice.


© Heather Kilbourn

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.