If you’re popping over from the DSF e-mail blast of “The Key To El-Carim’s Heart” scheduled for Monday 2nd December — welcome! If you’re not — welcome anyway!
As mentioned in the story notes, “El-Carim” was inspired in part by my recollection of a film I saw as a child, “Captain Sindbad“. I haven’t seen it since, but I do still remember the seemingly impregnable tower with the villain’s heart locked in a chest. As it turns out, the villain in question was actually called “El Kerim”, so in one sense the name of my narrator and the title of the story is based on a badly researched Wikipedia entry (tip: don’t believe everything you read on the Internet, kids). Never mind, there’s not much else in common with the film apart from that central image of the heartless villain attempting to defy death itself.
Some beta-readers questioned the viability of a cryptographic key stored not as a computer file but printed on paper or parchment. Believe me — it’s been done, even if it’s not necessarily the most convenient method of storage or distribution.
“Carim” is a rather dark story, and that also was another issue some readers had, indeed I questioned it myself. Hopefully it will serve to remind us all to take more care of our precious keys.
What’s the very worst that can happen after a story is published?
Terrible reviews? Death threats from readers? Death threats from the publisher? Being disowned by your spouse and children?
Roaring silence. That’s the worst thing. Was the story any good? Was it really bad? Did anybody like it? Did anybody hate it? Did anybody read it at all?
So I’m really pleased to see these reviews that came in for “The Clay Farima” after it was published in BCS #128 last month.
Terry Weyna for Fantasy Literature: Magazine Monday reviews BCS #127 & #128:
“It’s a fascinating tale” … “and my favorite in these two issues.”
Michelle Ristuccia for Tangent Online:
“From Farima’s direct and vivid introduction to the dramatic choice she faces at the end, Szabranski provides an engaging tale full of enjoyable complexities ranging from the magical to the familial.”
Lois Tilton for Locus Online:
“Surprisingly, this ends up being a story of love.” … “As the author is a theoretical physicist , the Source seems to be casting the working of magic in those terms, which more SFnally oriented readers may appreciate.”
…which all sounds great, don’t it? But hold up. Lest my head explode, giddy from praise, note also that Lois says:
“Farima as a narrator is too overwrought particularly in the beginning”
and Terry notes the story is:
“a trifle clumsy at times”
…but, hey. That’s cool, too. I still consider myself very much a beginner in the business of story writing.
It’s great to get any coverage and input from reviewers. It really helps.
This week sees the publication of my novelette “The Clay Farima” in the fab magazine Beneath Ceaseless Skies. I had great fun writing it and I’m really pleased it found such a great home.
It is both a blessing and a curse that I generally don’t plan my stories. Starting out as a simple sword and sorcery whodunnit, this one quickly morphed into a journey of internal and external discovery. I honestly didn’t know how it would turn out or what wonders (or horrors) Farima and Mevlish would encounter beyond the Wall. Luckily the scenes mostly wrote themselves. No, I don’t know how that happens. No, it doesn’t happen that often.
Oddly enough, during the process of writing it, I found myself thinking of “The Clay Farima” as a pure science fiction story rather than an adventure fantasy tale. Substitute “gravity” for “magic” and suddenly the Wall marks the event horizon of the singularity known as the Source — although that analogy quickly breaks down if you know any real physics. Similarly, the artificially created narrator can be likened to an android or a clone, another familiar SF trope. So it’s really about a sentient robot’s journey to the centre of a supermassive black hole. But without the robot. Or the black hole. Or any of the science. What I really wanted to capture was the elusive “sensawunda” those type of stories can evoke. I hope I succeeded, at least in some measure.
If “Farima” seems dense in backstory, part of some larger tale, that’s because it follows an earlier story that detailed the rise and fall of the tempestuous relationship between Mevlish and Kaffryn. Some of the momentum from that original story carried through to “Farima”, and it may well continue into other projects set in the Near and Far Kingdoms. Hopefully “Farima” stands well enough on its own.
Another prompt for this story, once it began to brew in my mind, was this image used as part of a writing group challenge. The painting is by the remarkable artist Zdzisław Beksiński, and for those of you who have read “Farima”, the scene inspired by it should be immediately obvious.
Your story keeps getting rejected? You think it could be improved, but you’re not quite sure what needs to be tweaked? You want to break into the pro market, but you’re not quite sure what it takes?
Daily Science Fiction is running a Kickstarter campaign to fund their authors, September 2013 to March 2014.
A story critique by yours truly is available as one of their Kickstarter rewards (Update: now gone! But please do check out the other authors still available.). For a story up to 5000 words I’ll do a line-edit and give developmental suggestions and comments. Critiques are available from other DSF authors, too.
As well as featuring established authors, DSF has given many new writers their first professional break (including me). All their online content and their weekday e-mail stories are absolutely free of charge to readers, yet they manage to pay their contributors well above minimum pro rates. It’s a Kickstarter cause well worth considering if you’re at all interested in the genre.
So my last post seemed to do the trick: summer has arrived with a vengeance. The countryside sizzles and shimmers, the air is filled with BBQ lighter fuel fumes, insects buzz and bite. Even the road tarmac threatens to melt. Of course, it will only last until the school holidays begin, but I’m enjoying it while it lasts…
The big news for me this month is that I’ve finally joined the SFWA as an Active member. Which, for me, is A Big Deal.
I don’t remember exactly when I first became aware of the organization, but it was probably as a teenager when I used to read and collect Analog, Asimov’s and F&SF. Joining the august ranks of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America seemed like a distant pipe-dream at the time — it required at least one professional story sale — but it was always an ambition. A sign of having Made It.
Teenage dreams, eh?
By the time I qualified to join as an Active member this year, I have to admit I had my doubts about joining at all. First off, was sheer relevance. I’m not American, as it turns out. Would there be any purpose in joining, apart from as a badge of vanity? I certainly don’t consider myself a “professional” writer (yet); that remains a distant pipe-dream. And I don”t want to get into the various recent controversies about rabid weasels and inclusivity and Bulletin covers here, but from the outside looking in — it didn’t look good. Not good at all.
So why did I join, in the end?
Simply…those teenage dreams. It may well turn out there’s something to them.
I’m willing to see how the reality shapes up.
Not. At least not in these parts.
If summer is going to arrive at all this year, it’ll be late at best.
Same with my writing output at the moment. There’s a few stories bubbling close to submission, including a “sequel” to The Clay Farima, a prompt-based cyborg laserfest, various flash length works, and a long-standing piece that riffs on the theme of societal displacement (woah, dude)… some, none, or all of these may be ready to send out in the next few days and weeks.
I’m keenly aware of keeping up some sort of writerly momentum, a pressure to maintain at least an arithmetic progression of publication…but that’s just crazy thinking. There’s still so much I need to improve, so much more to learn; it’s these things I need to concentrate on, not chasing some illusory timetable or arbitrary numerical ambition.
Quality, not quantity. That’s what I need right now.