Into the Dreaming Imaginative Fiction from Author, Reviewer, and Writing Coach Christine Amsden

Category Archives: Short Stories

Short Story Review and Three-Question Interview: Spidersong by Alex Shvartsman

I must confess that I read very little “flash” fiction (short stories under a thousand words), so I don’t consider myself an expert on the subject. All I know is that I found Spidersong by Alex Shvartsman be satisfyingly creepy.

The spiders are coming, but with the adults chattering endlessly, the children cannot hear the song. So they ask one adult for a story, while the spiders grow ever-closer.

A good read if you like creepy scifi! Check it out online at Daily Science Fiction. It won’t take long!
Alex Shvartsman is a writer and game designer. His adventures so far have included traveling to over 30 countries, playing a card game for a living, and building a successful business. Alex resides in Brooklyn, NY with his wife and son. His blog can be found at www.alexshvartsman.com

Three-Question Interview

Is flash fiction a preferred style for you, or was this an exception? What do you see as the advantage to the extra-short format?

Most of the stories I’ve written to date are flash fiction. Partly it’s because of how little time I’m able to claw out of an average day to spend on this. More importantly, I tend to be very concise in my writing, and that compliments the flash format very well. Most of my friends struggle to get their manuscripts under the word limit guidelines of their target markets. I, on the other hand, often struggle to hit the lower accepted limit instead!

Perhaps the greatest advantage of flash stories is their accessibility to the reader. Our readers lead busy lives and it’s a lot easier for them to find a couple of minutes to read a flash piece from Daily Science Fiction or Every Day Fiction on their coffee break than to sit down and enjoy a 5,000 word story, no matter how great that longer story may be. Personally I often snatch a few minutes to read flash pieces on my cell phone.

In terms of crafting a story, flash is challenging because you have very few scenes to work with (often only one) and a limited amount of time to develop the characters. Trying to cut a story down from 1200 words to a thousand really helps cut down those excessive words – a skill that can and should be applied even when the word limit is less stringent.

Are you afraid of spiders?

I find all manner of insects unpleasant. While seeing a spider doesn’t make me run for the exit, I wouldn’t ever want to hold or even touch one of those large fuzzy pet tarantulas.

This story was inspired by the photo of trees in Pakistan that were completely covered in spiderwebs. http://pics.livejournal.com/alexshvartsman/pic/0000w2rp/

The image was equally beautiful and spooky. It made me imagine giant spiders that covered entire forests with their silk. I worked this image directly into the story. It’s the scene where two of the children meet a spider for the first time.

What are you working on now?

I’m in a process of writing another Conrad Brent story. This is a series of light, action oriented urban fantasy short stories set in my hometown of Brooklyn, NY. I delight in using titles that reference popular books and movies about the borough. The first story, titled “A Shard Glows in Brooklyn” will be published at Buzzy Magazine in 2012. The one I’m working on currently is titled “Requiem for a Druid” and has the protagonist butting heads with a fictionalized version of Donald Trump.

Short Story Review and Three-Question Interview: Twelvers by Leah Cypess

If you’ve ever read “The Happiest Baby on the Block,” then you’ve probably heard of the first three months of a baby’s life being referred to as “the missing fourth trimester.” Some theorize that with greater intelligence and greater head size, our babies come out a little too early, compared to other animals whose babies are far more able to adapt at birth.

So what if artificial wombs allowed unborn babies to remain in-utero for an extra three months? Would they come out stronger, able to sleep through the night? And would there be consequences?

This creative science fiction tale by Leah Cypess explores that possibility, from the perspective of just such a child — growing up and dealing with middle-school bullying. “Twelver” is an insult, but Darla isn’t even sure how to deny it, when her reactions to their provocations prove she is what they say.

Being a bit of a naturalist myself, I found it hard to think about a potential future in which babies are grown artificially. (And I suppose fed that way, too…alas, I loved nursing!) Although, having had terrible migraines through both of my pregnancies, I could see the appeal. 🙂

Either way, it was fun and imaginative. Darla was an intriguing character, and I certainly recommend this story to science fiction fans!

Leah Cypess used to be a practicing attorney in New York and is now a full-time writer in Boston. She much prefers her current situation. She wrote her first story when she was six years old (the main character was an ice cream cone), and went on to publish two young adult fantasy novels, Mistwood and Nightspell (the main characters are, respectively, a shapeshifter and a barbarian princess).

Three-Question Interview:

A few pieces of this story had me thinking about “The Happiest Baby on the Block” (as I mentioned in my review). So I have to ask…have you read it,and if so, did it inspire this story in any way?

I both read the book and watched the DVD (along with pretty much every
baby book/DVD in existence) when my oldest daughter was born. Before
writing this story, I read some more technical medical books on child
development, but I’m pretty sure “The Happiest Baby on the Block” is
where I originally heard of the “fourth trimester” concept.

Would you grow a baby in an artificial womb, if you could?

The genesis of this story was my intense longing for such an invention
while I was in my first trimester of pregnancy! So a part of me would
like to say yes. Then again, I also breastfeed despite the
availability of formula; and I suspect that even if there was such a
thing as an artificial womb, it would turn out to be less healthy for
the baby than doing it the old-fashioned way. Then again, I have
pretty debilitating pregnancies. So I think the only answer I can give
at the moment is that… I would be very conflicted.

What are you working on now? (And when do I get to read it!?)

At this precise moment, I’m working on a short story for an anthology
invite; but that’s my only current deadline, so I’m also flipping
between various book projects, working on whichever one strikes my
fancy on any given day. (This is my preferred method of working, so
I’m having a lot of fun.) I’m hoping to finish a first draft of one of
the books in a few months, and you will definitely get to read it
then!

Short Story Review and Three-Question Interview: Movement by Nancy Fulda

If I were given only one word to describe “Movement” by Nancy Fulda, I would choose beautiful. I have more words, and will do my best to use them well, but I wonder if any can do as much justice to the story as the one.

Hannah is an unusual character, suffering from what specialists call “temporal autism,” though she isn’t sure how aptly the label fits. At least, not the autism part. She is trapped in a strange world, with unique perspectives and ways of perceiving things. Her parents are trying to decide whether or not to okay a procedure to make her “normal,” and Hannah does not know what she thinks about that.

One of the powers of the written word over more visual mediums like television is the ability to get inside a character’s head and show us a perspective we would not otherwise know. For the space of this story, I was Hannah, looking out at a futuristic world through her eyes. And it was…beautiful.

I highly recommend this story.

 

Quotable Line: “Connections within my brain are forming, surviving, and perishing, and with each choice I make I alter the genotype of my soul.”

 

Title: Movement
Author: Nancy Fulda
Length: 3900 words
Published in the March 2011 issue of Asimov’s.
Also available in kindle edition.

 

Nancy Fulda is a Phobos Award winner, a Vera Hinckley Mayhew Award recipient, and has been honored by Baen Books and the National Space Society for her writing. Her fiction has appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, Jim Baen’s Universe, Apex Digest, and other professional venues. She has been a featured writer at Apex Online, a guest on the Writing Excuses podcast, and is a regular attendee of the Villa Diodati Writers’ Workshop.

 

Nancy is donating all December revenue from sales of Movement to the National Foundation for Autism Research. You can learn more about that at her web site.

Three-Question Interview

Hannah is a terrific character, one who, I think, represents any number of people who don’t quite live in the world the way we expect them to do. Who or what was your inspiration for her character?

My son has an autistic spectrum condition. At the time I was writing Movement, he and I were struggling to understand each other. It doesn’t feel right to say that Hannah’s character was inspired by him, because he and Hannah have almost nothing in common. (My son is verbal; Hannah isn’t. My son expresses his fascination with causality through games and stories; Hannah dances.) But Hannah’s personality and her unique perception of time definitely grew out of my floundering desperation to comprehend a mental architecture that was utterly foreign to me, and from my son’s tender and diligent attempts to do the same.

I am pleased to report that, for my son and me, the story has a happy ending. There are plenty of mountains left for us to scale, but we’ve found a common ground that lets us be ourselves and still enjoy each others’ company.

Would you stop writing for a million dollars?

I hope my writing never gets so bad that someone would pay that much money to get me to stop.

What are you working on now?

I’m completing the first draft of a coming-of-age novel set on a planet with a slo-o-o-o-w axial rotational and nomadic caravans that live in the twilight regions between day and night. The story focuses on Mikaena, who’s a sort of black sheep in her caravan and always gets in trouble for trying to do what’s right. She ends up involved in a plot to change society and save her world from destruction, and none of it turns out the way she expects.

Short Story Review and Three-Question Interview: The Sighted Watchmaker by Vylar Kaftan

Science fiction, in its full glory, teases our imagination and asks us to question the very nature of ourselves and our universe. The Sighted Watchmaker, by Vylar Kaftan, is such a story.

Umos isn’t a maker. Or at least, he doesn’t think he is. The makers abandoned him, and now he must fulfill their desires by guiding another species to full intelligence. But why did the makers leave him? And for that matter, who made them?

I thoroughly enjoyed this thought-provoking tale, and found it easy to read, despite its strangeness. I think that’s because the strangeness was only skin deep; looking deeper, I saw something very familiar.

Quotable line: “…if he did create a species capable of comprehending him, he wanted to be interesting.”

I highly recommend this story.

Title: The Sighted Watchmaker
Author: Vylar Kaftan
Length: 3100 words
Availability: Lightspeed

Vylar Kaftan writes speculative fiction of all genres, including science fiction, fantasy, horror, and slipstream. She’s published stories in places such as Clarkesworld, Realms of Fantasy, and Strange Horizons, and founded a new literary-themed convention called FOGcon. She lives with her husband Shannon in northern California and blogs at www.vylarkaftan.net. Her story, “I’m Alive, I Love You, I’ll See You in Reno”, was nominated for a Nebula Award.


Can you tell us a little bit about your inspiration for writing “The Sighted Watchmaker?” What do you hope readers will take away from your stories?

I was challenged to write a story based on a poem. The inspiration here is “Enigmas” by Pablo Neruda, which has these two final lines:

and in my net, during the night, I woke up naked, / the only thing caught, a fish trapped inside the wind.

That gave me a starting image. The rest just wrote itself, which is very unusual. It felt like I was reading off a page where this story was already written, and I was just as surprised to find out what happened as anyone. Some writers call this “a gift from the Muse,” and it’s lots of fun when it happens.

If you were permanently stranded on a deserted planet, with no hope for escape, what would you write, knowing no one would ever read it except you?

Well. The word HELP in the sand comes to mind.

If no one would _ever_ read it? I’m not sure I’d write anything. Now, if we have someone reading it five hundred years from now, I’d write The Swiss Family Kaftan and include exhaustive descriptions of how completely BORED I was. I’m more social than most writers.

What are you working on now?

Making sure I never ever get stranded on a desert island. So far, so good. Also trying to produce some new short stories.