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Reading Recommendations from World Weaver Press, and the Odyssey Writing Workshop

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larry1_sm2Reading Recommendations from World Weaver Press, and the Odyssey Writing Workshop

You are probably counting the days or perhaps the minutes until the next episode or book comes out in the Game of Thrones series. But if you really like the writing of George R.R. Martin, here’s a shocker: he’s written other novels! Over at World Weaver Press, they’ve put up reading recommendations for their writers and staff, and mine is “Tuf Voyaging,” published in 1986 by, you guessed it, George R.R. Martin. Here’s what I wrote of it:

“Anyone not in a coma the last few years has heard of A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin, but many have not stopped to consider that maybe, just maybe, he might have written previous novels. I recently read one of his best, Tuf Voyaging. Originally published in 1986, it’s basically a series of related short stories that cover the adventures of the highly eccentric Haviland Tuf, a giant, overweight, pale, vegetarian food-loving, cat-loving, hyper-honest genius who becomes the owner of the Ark, a 30-kilometer ancient ship with incredible ecological engineering capabilities. Tuf’s do-goodism is constantly misunderstood as he travels the galaxy, alone other than his feline companions, solving planetary problems and righting wrongs, often with controversial solutions and over the objections of those he is helping. It’s both a fascinating character study and an environmental satire, and a hoot to read.”

So why don’t you head over to World Weaver Press and read the recommendations and reviews from the others? They include:

  • “Hand of Fire” by Judith Starkston
  • “Life Without Harry” by Sara Dobie Bauer
  • “Her Stories: African American Folktales, Fairy Tales, and True Tales told by Virginia Hamilton and illustrated” by Leo & Diane Dillon
  • “Sparrow Hill Road” by Seanan McGuire
  • “A Darker Shade of Magic” by V. E. Schwab
  • “Monster” by Naoki Urasawa (manga)
  • “Hawkeye” comic by Matt Fraction
  • “Juliet’s Nurse” by Lois Leveen
  • “Jason Crane” series by Richard Gleaves
  • “Karen Memory” by Elizabeth Bear
  • “Cinnamon and Gunpowder” by Eli Brown
  • “Uprooted” by Naomi Novik
  • “Superposition” by David Walton
  • “The Best of Connie Willis: Award-Winning Stories”
  • “Hiding from the Reaper and Other Horror Poems” by Michael Potts
  • “Blood Chimera” by Jenn Lyons
  • “Sing Me Your Scars” by Damien Angelica Walters
  • “Far Orbit Apogee” edited by Bascomb James

Note – World Weaver Press will be publishing my novel, “Campaign 2100: Game of Scorpions,” on Jan. 26. More on that in the coming weeks!

Odyssey Writing Workshop

If you are an aspiring writer, have you considered applying for the six-week Odyssey Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing Workshop? It would be a life-changing experience for you! I went in 2006. It also qualifies you to be a part of “The Never-Ending Odyssey,” where graduates get together once a year for nine days and run our own writing workshop. (I’ll blog more about this later on.)

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More Pings and Pongs

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More Pings and Pongmore-pings-and-pongs-front-cover-sms is out, in both print and kindle formats! This is the second anthology of my short stories, and includes the 25 best stories I’ve sold and published since 2012. The first one, “Pings and Pongs,” came out in 2012. From God getting Earth critiqued in a workshop, to a dragon landing on the U.S. Capitol, from a dead kid on a high school track team battling the Mile Mafia, to the first ten U.S. presidents battling each other and alien vacationers on an alien computer, here are more stories from the feverish mind of Larry Hodges!

Many of these stories were critiqued in writing workshops, such as at the “The Never-Ending Odyssey” (an annual nine-day workshop by graduates of the six-week Odyssey Science Fiction & Fantasy Writing Workshop – I’m class of 2006), and others at Codexwriters.com, an online community for experienced Science Fiction & Fantasy writers.

Ironically, the very first story in the anthology is “Workshop Gods,” a satire on writing workshops. What happens when a very nervous God gets bad critiques for the planet Earth in his workshop for planetary creation, and he decides to cheat in order to qualify for SFWA (Supernatural Formation of Worlds Association)? The opening line is “God fidgeted.”

Here’s the Introduction to More Pings and Pongs, which also explains the title:

In 2012 I published “Pings and Pongs,” an anthology of the 30 best short stories I’d sold at that time. Since then I’ve been typing and selling away – and here are 25 more!

I’ve divided them into three sections: Fantasy (6 stories); Science Fiction (8); and Short Stuff (11). I’m told I tend to write with a light touch, and many of the stories are humorous. However, a few are a bit darker, such as the award-winning stories “Rationalized” and “The Awakening.” Read over the story descriptions in the Table of Contents to see which stories interest you, or just read it straight through from the start!

You may be wondering about the title, “Pings and Pongs.” In the real world, I make my living as a professional table tennis writer and coach. Really! Ping-Pong, or its more proper name table tennis, do make their way into a few of these stories, in particular in “Ping-Pong Ambition.” You can read about my table tennis exploits at www.TableTennisCoaching.com, or see my science fiction & fantasy page at www.larryhodges.org.

Here’s the text from the back cover:

Here are 25 stories from the feverish mind of Larry Hodges. God cheats to save Earth from a bad critique and annihilation in a planetary workshop…An English professor and a supercomputer battles a muse who turns all writing into masterpieces…A dead kid joins the high school track team and battles his killer and the Mile Mafia…A wizard and a warrior battle in the belly of a dragon…William Shakespeare has ten trillion typing chimpanzees in his basement…A city of lost souls lives in the backbone of the Devil…An underground society battles to hide their secret – their emotions weren’t surgically removed at age 13…A man becomes a universe and battles his vengeful tendencies…A 4-D artists messes with a 3-D fly and ends up at war…The first ten U.S. presidents battle each other and alien vacationers in an alien computer…The U.S. president gets sucked into the Galaxy Girding Grid…A huge dragon swoops out of the sky and lands on the U.S. Capitol – what’s the president to do?…and many more!

So let me very crassly ask you to buy your copy today – or I’ll sic Shakespeare’s chimpanzees, the mile mafia, and that fly mentioned above on you. You don’t want to mess with the fly.

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Political Campaign SF – a New Sub-Genre?

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Presidential politics has dominated the news for years. Few stories are more compelling than a bare-knuckle, fight-to-the-finish political campaign. And yet, where are the SF stories that cover this?

I’m sure there are some out there, but I must have missed them. Sure, there are SF novels about presidents and other leaders, but they generally cover things that happen while they are leaders, not the titanic election campaigns that got them there. Or they cover coups or revolutions that create leaders. But what about the drama of the ballot box?

It’s sort of a puzzle to me. What has trumped (!) the U.S. news for months, and does so every four years? The race for president. It’s like the number one story everywhere, with a cast of characters – and I do mean characters! – seemingly right out of character development 101: Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee, Carly Fiorina, and so on. George R.R. Martin couldn’t have done better! And we haven’t even gotten into the other cast of characters, the numerous people in conflict with these people. (Or at least with Trump.)

It has natural conflict – think of all the one-on-one battles going on this year, and the somewhat inevitable at this point battle between Hillary and Trump. Or in past years – Obama vs. Romney and McCain; Bush vs. Kerry and Gore; Clinton vs. Dole and Bush Sr.; Bush Sr. vs. Dukakis; Reagan vs. Mondale and Carter; Carter vs. Ford; Nixon vs. Humphrey; Johnson vs. Goldwater; Kennedy vs. Nixon; and Eisenhower vs. Stevenson. (And don’t forget the subplots – the primaries.) Each of these was a proverbial war between good and evil (which was which?), with huge resources on each side battling to the bitter end, with a bitterly divided audience in the hundreds of millions. Wouldn’t that be a nice audience for a novel?

My upcoming novel, “Campaign 2100: Game of Scorpions,” dramatizes and satirizes presidential politics in creating this new sub-genre, campaign science fiction. It is West Wing in the 22nd Century. The underlying theme of the novel is moderation in politics; some will read it as a Moderate Manifesto. It comes out in late January from World Weaver Press. Here’s a short description:

It is the year 2100, and the world has adopted the American two-party electoral system. The father-daughter team of Toby and Lara Platt ran the successful 2095 campaign of Corbin Dubois for president of Earth. Toby soon realizes it was a horrible mistake.

Early in the 2100 re-election campaign, an alien ambassador lands outside the United Nations, sparking a crisis. Inspired by the ambassador, Toby finally resigns from the campaign in protest of Dubois’s extreme policies. Daughter Lara takes over the campaign. Toby decides to challenge the two major parties–one conservative, one liberal–and run for president himself with a third-party moderate challenge. He vows to put his daughter out of a job.

The campaign for president of Earth takes us to every continent as father and daughter battle for electoral votes and clash over the ideas and issues facing the world of 2100.

On a side note, I’ll be away from Dec. 12-27, and then will be busy doing various holiday stuff, and so my next blog won’t be until Monday, January 4. See you all then!

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Odyssey and Odyssey Online Workshop

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Odyssey is offering three online workshops early next year, with registration deadlines coming up – two of them have deadlines on Monday and Wednesday, Dec. 7 and 9. Odyssey is a science fiction writing workshop, with the main focus the six-week annual class held each summer. I went in 2006 – here’s the class photo! (I’m on the far left, middle row. Writer-in-Residence that week was Robert J. Sawyer, in the middle, with Director/Teacher Jeanne Cavelos – in red shirt – to his immediate left. Yes, Jeanne is a surviving redshirt.) It was at Odyssey that I learned the foundation of my SF writing. I go back nearly every year to The Never-Ending Odyssey (TNEO), a nine-day workshop for graduates also held each summer – I’ve been to that six times now.

Here are the three online courses coming up:

Monday, Dec. 7 is the deadline to register for the first one, “Three-Act Structure in Fantastic Fiction,” taught by Odyssey director Jeanne Cavelos. The course meets Jan. 4 – Feb. 2, 2016. If you are having any type of plotting problems and want to strengthen your story structure, I strongly recommend this. This is likely similar to what was taught in the six-week Odyssey workshop I went to with Jeanne in 2006, and yet I’m tempted to take the course as a refresher. (Alas, I don’t have time right now.) Here’s an excerpt describing the class:

“Does your story or novel lack momentum, suspense, and escalation? Do you feel you’re making plot decisions randomly? Are you missing crisis points of impact and emotion? Do readers say “ho hum” or “hunh?” to your climax? One of the greatest weaknesses of developing writers is plot. One of the best tools for strengthening plot is the act. Plotting in acts creates a more suspenseful, unpredictable, and emotionally satisfying experience for the reader. This course will start by defining key units of structure–the scene, chapter, and act–and explore why we need acts. We’ll discuss the effect of acts, the importance of acts, how acts work in short fiction and novels, and how acts are used in science fiction, fantasy, and horror. How does one identify an act? When are three acts appropriate? Why are three acts so popular and powerful? We’ll learn how to plot in three acts. What makes a strong three-act plot and what makes a weak three-act plot? We’ll look at powerful methods and weak methods of ending an act. We’ll explore how to create a causal chain that generates escalations and leads to a strong climax, the qualities of a strong climax, how subplots work within three-act structure, the unifying role of theme, and the critical connection between structure and character transformation. With a strong act structure, the protagonist will face challenges that will put him, and the reader, through an experience they will never forget.”

Wednesday, Dec. 9 is the deadline to register for the second one, “Getting the Big Picture: The Key to Revising Your Novel.” I’ll let you go there for the description – but if you are currently revising your novel, or think you might be doing so at some point, jump in there!

You have a little more time for the third, “Point of View: The Intersection of Character and Plot,” with the deadline on Dec. 26, 2015. But that’s the day after Christmas, and some might forget about it that day, so I suggest registering early.

Of course, if you really want an inundation workshop where you can completely jumpstart your SF and fantasy writing, and have a memorable experience that you’ll never forgot while making lifelong writing friends – consider applying for the six-week workshop. I absolutely guarantee you won’t regret it, and then we can meet each year at TNEO!

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Short Story Submissions – Business or Hobby?

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A long time ago in an idealistic frame of mind far, far from the current more pragmatic state I began submitting stories to science fiction and fantasy markets. I was more or less in the Snoopy frame of mind when it all began, and just couldn’t wait for all the acceptances and checks to arrive.

1326 rejections later I’m a little more realistic about the markets out there. I’ve made a total of 1399 submissions (excluding current ones) and sold 73 stories, a 5.2% acceptance rate. Sounds pretty bad, doesn’t it?

Actually, much of this is apples and oranges. Mixing the submission rates of the top markets with those at the lower levels is like comparing a player’s batting average against major league vs. little league pitching. The top markets are inundated with submissions, and have acceptance rates something like 1 in 500 or so. It’s actually even worse for most of us since they have spots reserved for “name” authors (who have earned that right and consistently write great stories), but it means that for the rest of us, the acceptance rate might be 1 in 1000. Yeah, about 0.1%.

At the lower levels, the acceptance rate might be as high as 1 in 10, or 10%. Some “for the luv” markets (i.e. no payment) have rates something like 1 in 3. There’s a wide variance here, but the basic idea is that if you write pretty well, and are persistent in submitting, it’s not hard to get published at the lower levels.

At what point is all this submitting change from hobby to business? That’s a tough call. I like to think of myself as a professional, even though I don’t get nearly enough money from SF writing to make a living. (I actually get lots of money from writing about the Olympic sport of table tennis – yep, enough to make a living, with seven books and 1400+ published articles on the sport, and a daily table tennis blog, along with professional coaching.) So I try to keep the stories out there in the markets, relentlessly sending them out to new markets the same day they are rejected by foolish well-meaning editors. I currently have 18 short stories in submission, with 12 other stories in abeyance, i.e. waiting for an appropriate market to open up. (Often this is because I have a story in submission to a market, and so can’t submit until I get the result of that one.)

There was a time when I’d keep sending stories out, from the highest to the lowest markets, until it sold. These days I’m a bit pickier, as I’m more interested in making “good” sales than just making a sale at sub-minimum wage level. So if a story doesn’t sell to the better markets, but I believe in the story, I’ll hold back and see if perhaps an anthology opens up that it might fit, or a new high-level market. They come and go regularly. It means that even though my writing has hopefully improved, my acceptance rates are probably about the same, since I’m going for more difficult markets.

Meanwhile, I keep writing news ones – I have five in various stages of progress. However, recently I’ve moved up another level in the professional scale as I sold a SF novel to World Weaver Press, “Campaign 2100: Game of Scorpions.” And so I need to focus more on novels, including the sequel to this one, which I’m now 17,000 words into. But I still like to do short stories even if they aren’t particularly profitable. There are a few pro markets out there that I’m determined to break into – call it a professional challenge – and so I’ll continue to write short stories along with novels.

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3-D vs. 4-D Wars

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Today I sold a SF story to Galaxy’s Edge, “Pretty Pictures at War.” The story is about a billionaire who declares war on the 4-D world that humiliated him. The story will be in the March 2016 issue. It’s my 73rd short story sale.

This is the third SF story I’ve sold that involves a battle between 3-D and 4-D worlds. It’s a strange type of battle that’s rather hard to imagine. To a 4-D being, a 3-D world is like an animated picture on the wall, rather like a 2-D picture in a 3-D world. How do they battle with 4-D beings? You’ll have to read the stories!

The first of the three, “First Cat,” was one of my first sales, way back in 2006 to the Twisted Cat Tales Anthology (and since resold to two other anthologies). It was a humorous farce about 4-D beings invading Earth through a portal they create in the Oval Office in the White House, and how the president’s cat, after getting its brain partially sucked into the fourth dimension and thereby dramatically increasing its intelligence due to the increase in brain cells, saves the day. (They increase in number the same way a 3×3 matrix in a 2-D world has 9 squares, but in a 3-D world it becomes 3x3x3=27 cubes.)

The second was “The Awakening,” which won the 2010 Garden State Horror Writing Competition, and was then published in 2011 in Space and Time Magazine. (It was a cover story.) This was the story of an artist from a 4-D world who, playing around with Earth, pulled part of a fly’s brain into the fourth dimension, thereby dramatically increasing its intelligence just as with “First Cat.” The rest of the story is about the fly going to war first with the human who tried to swat it, and then with the 4-D artist and his world.

The first of the three was humorous SF; the second horror SF; and the third straight SF with a humorous edge. What’s next, a doomed romance story between 3-D and 4-D beings?

Moving everything down one dimension, my first novel, “Sorcerers in Space,” featured Jim, the world’s only two-dimensional sorcerer, described as a glowing white sheet of paper that twisted in the air like a luminescent jellyfish, with a single giant almond-shaped blue eye centered on it. (His primary magical power was that whenever good things happened, people credited him, though he rarely had anything to do with it.) If I ever get to writing a sequel to that, central to that will be Jim’s 2-D world going to war with us!

I don’t know of any other stories or novels that feature battles between 3-D and 4-D beings. (We’re talking actual 4-D beings, not 3-D beings that can travel in other dimensions.) In the Futurama episode “Mobius Dick” they battle a 4-D space whale. Anyone know other examples, or perhaps an example of battles between 2-D and 3-D beings? Comment below!

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“Campaign 2100: Game of Scorpions” – Coming January 2016

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BIG NEWS!!! – In October, 2015, I sold my SF novel “Campaign 2100: Game of Scorpions” to World Weaver Press! It comes out late in January, 2016 – exact date is not yet set. The novel (123,000 words) is a drama/satire that covers the election for president of Earth in the year 2100, where the entire world has adopted the American two-party electoral system, with an alien ambassador showing up at the start as an observer. More on this as it comes up!

Here’s the World Weaver Press Announcement.

On Oct. 9-13, I attended a writing retreat at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, where I began the sequel, “Campaign 2110: Scorpions in Space.” I’m now 17,000 words into that.

On a side note, I plan to start blogging here more regularly, probably as a weekly thing, perhaps every Monday starting in January.

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“Sorcerers in Space” Now Out!

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My first novel, “Sorcerers in Space,” is out! It actually came out on Friday, Nov. 15, but it took a few days to show up everywhere. The book is on sale at Amazon.comHere’s the blurb from the back cover:

It is 1969, at the height of tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Neil, 13, badly wants to be someone. Instead he’s stuck as a sorcerer’s apprentice for Gus, the “meanest sorcerer in the world.” Gus creates a magical talisman to spy on the Soviets, but instead it spies on them and sends text into space. A Giant Face in the Sky shows up, reading the text.

Since whoever gets to the Face first can lob down spells and have the world at their mercy, the Race to the Face begins. The Soviets invade the U.S. in their attempts to kill Neil, who is prophesied to defeat them. A floating, talking meteor assassin named Buzz becomes Neil’s companion–but in one week, Buzz must kill Neil.

President Kennedy puts together a motley crew that includes Neil, Gus, Buzz, a dragon, the god Apollo, a 2-D sorcerer, and the sorceress Jackie Kennedy. Can they make it to the Face before the Soviets? And before Buzz kills Neil?

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“Head or Heat”

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I just sold my short story “Head or Heat” to Ares Magazine. They are a “Pro” magazine, and pay professional rates. The story is a dark satire on Halloween with a twist ending. It’s my 68th short story sale.

“Head or Heat, Head or Heat, give us something good to eat!” chant the master race Sizan children on their version of Halloween. But what they want are the heads of the slave race Slabinnac children, or they’ll burn your house down. What’s a slave mother to do?

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