Emily C. Skaftun

(skŏf • tŭn) n. A writer of speculative fiction.

Tag: writing

Obligatory write-a-thon post

photo: AHLN / Flickr
This might make a good illustration for the story that has hijacked my brain again. Can you believe I tried to write about people’s physical size being dependent on their esteem WITHOUT a monster rampage? Silly.

 

Hello, friends! I am once again doing Clarion West’s write-a-thon, because peer pressure.

Just kidding. It’s an amazing organization, and now more than ever we need to band together to fund such things. You can sponsor me here, and if you donate more than $15 I’ll send you one of my famous story postcards. What is that, you say? Well, one of the first housekeeping things I took care of this write-a-thon was to make a page for all of them. You can see them at eskaftun.com/postcards-from. There were more than I remembered!

But because writing is HARD when you work full-time for a newspaper and are in the middle of some (minor) renovations on your new house and also need to spend at least some time with your husband and cat and you have to get to roller derby practice because slamming into people while wearing roller skates is cheaper than therapy and it’s finally summer in Seattle so you also need to be outside as much as possible… the write-a-thon is almost half over already!

So this is also a progress report. How am I doing? Here’s the annotated list of things I said I was going to do:

• Add a year’s worth of old travel writing, book reviews, and other junk to the blog. (at least 2 posts per week) I’m on track for this one, so far. I’ve added 5 re-posts of articles I wrote for the newspaper to the blog. Now for bonus points I must remember how easy this was and do it at the time from here on out. Next up, travel writing!

• Um, actually submit some fiction for once? (at least 1 per week) Nope, haven’t even thought about doing this.

• Write and post new postcard stories. (at least 3 per week) I’ve drafted four of these, but haven’t inked them or posted them. So I’m a little behind. 

• Organize postcard stories on website. These are probably the most distinctive fiction I write, sadly, and they’re hard to find. DONE!

• Work on current WIP, a murder mystery set in a school full of invisible teenagers. This had been last year’s goal too, upsettingly. At that time I thought it was a short story, but it wasn’t. It’s a damn YA novel. On the bright side, I did “finish” it last year. Too bad I have to “finish” it again. I haven’t started on this yet, because a short story that I thought was finished told me it needed ANOTHER new ending. This makes four. Hopefully I can finish this up soon and submit it and get back on track with the novel! 

• If that doesn’t work, I have two other unfinished/abandoned novels I half-heartedly want to finish/update.

Midway through, this isn’t looking as bad as it feels. AND, I’ve been lax because I have no sponsors to answer to as of yet. If you sponsor me, I bet I’ll work harder on this stuff. 🙂

Those Time Travel Leaves Behind

The following is politically relevant Back to the Future fan fiction that I wrote just after the election. Since it is probably un-sellable as fiction, you can read it as a freebie!

 

My name is Jennifer Parker, and I’ve lived my whole life in a little California town called Hill Valley.

Yes, that Hill Valley. The one with the massive eyesore casino. The one that gave us President Tannen.

I didn’t vote for him. In point of fact, most of the country didn’t vote for him. But Biff Tannen never cared much for the rules. I know things about him…

Why didn’t I come forward before now? No one would believe my story. I could be committed just for admitting that I believe it—and I wouldn’t be the first person he had committed.

The year was 1985. I worked in his massive eyesore casino, because in the Hill Valley dystopia that’s just what you did. Biff didn’t think I was pretty enough to be in one of his pageants, but I was good enough to serve cocktails on the casino floor. I was seventeen. That didn’t seem to matter to anyone. With some makeup and my tits hiked up to my neck I fit in just fine.

It was a horrible job, as I’m sure you already guessed. Cocktail waitresses work for tips, and there weren’t a lot of big spenders on the floor of Biff’s Pleasure Palace. When their hands came near me it was usually to grope something, not to reward me for my excellent service.

When my shifts were over I liked to go up on the roof and smoke cigarettes and pretend I lived somewhere else. Maybe somewhere with a high school. You could see the stars, sometimes, and at the very least you couldn’t see the casino when you were on top of it.

Suddenly the door burst open and a teenager burst out onto the roof. I knew who he was, of course. You don’t grow up in Hill Valley and not know who Biff’s stepkids are, at least by sight.

Marty was the youngest of them, my age. We’d been in classes together, when he bothered to go to them. He’d flunked out of school long before it burned down, and was shipped off to boarding school. Sometimes he made headlines in the local paper for a drug-fueled episode that got him kicked out of another school—or at least he did before the paper’s editor mysteriously disappeared. Anyway, he was a wreck. I guess I would be too if my dad was murdered when I was five.

At first I thought that was all it was, Marty stumbling around in a drunken misadventure. But a minute later Biff himself came out the door, swaggering and repulsive with a gun in his hand a silk bathrobe barely covering the rest. I put my cigarette out and shrank deeper into the shadows.

That was when I saw how different Marty looked. He wasn’t drunk or drugged at all. He stood up straighter than I’d ever seen. His eyes—even though they were far away I could see something steely in them that hadn’t been there since grade school.

I saw a flash of something else. Marty and me together in a grassy place. A phone number scribbled on the back of a flier. A kiss.

With Marty? The kid who vomited in the king of Saudi Arabia’s private plane? But the guy I was looking at wasn’t that Marty. He stood right up to Biff’s gun (albeit while backing toward the edge of the roof), and that was when I overheard Biff admit to murder.

“The police will match the bullet to that gun,” Marty told him.

And Biff said, “Kid, I own the police. Besides, they couldn’t match up the bullet that killed your old man.”

You see now why I never told anyone?

I closed my eyes. Marty was either going to get shot or jump off the roof, and either way I didn’t want to see it.

But then I heard a really strange sound. Something I’ve never heard before. Like a motor running, but also like a vacuum cleaner or a bunch of kazoos or … I really can’t describe it. As much as I’ve hoped to, I’ve never heard that sound again.

I looked over and I saw … a spaceship!

Or so it looked to me at the time. Later, much later, when I saw a Delorean on the street I recognized it from that night. So I guess it was a car. But it hovered just at the edge of the roof like magic.

The wing door came up and knocked Biff out, and he lay splayed on the roof, the revolver next to his hand. I dared peek out a little further at Marty, who stood proudly and majestically on the roof of that flying car like something from a dream.

Maybe it was a dream. But for just a moment he saw me, and we locked eyes, and there was such a recognition in his eyes, a familiar, reassuring smile that seemed to promise me it would all be okay in time.

And then he hopped into the car and the door shut and I stood up from my hiding place with my mouth open to scream, Take me with you!

But I didn’t say a word. I crept past Biff and went downstairs and went home and the next day I went back to work and lived my pathetic little life.

I never told anyone what I saw, but I’ve thought about that flying car every day of my life. I guessed—hoped?—that it had come from a better future, one with flying cars and who knows what other marvels.

But it’s the future now, and we still don’t have flying cars. It’s 2017 and Biff is president and I don’t know, I guess I always thought Marty would come back in his Delorean and stop it somehow.

Sometimes I have flashes of another life where he and I are together. Sometimes it’s a great life. Sometimes it’s just okay. Sometimes we have kids who do stupid things. Sometimes there are flying cars.

But the Jennifer in those lives isn’t me, and the Marty here isn’t him. This Marty overdosed a few years ago. He was found on the floor of a trashed penthouse suite in Atlantic City. And I still work at Biff’s Pleasure Palace, only now I’m not pretty enough to serve drinks either, so I clean vomit out of gold-accented hotel rooms that haven’t looked classy in 30 years.

I keep thinking there’s a world in which we live happily ever after, but I don’t live in that world. The car flew away and now I’m stuck in this one.

To the word mines!

The word mines might look like this.

It’s week five of Clarion West, which means it’s week five of the Write-a-thon too. There’s still time to sponsor me!

I might actually meet my writing goals for the write-a-thon this year, for the first time. Mostly this is due to setting more realistic goals, but I’ve also been productive in the word department. The first of the two stories I promised myself (and the world) I would write clocked in at almost 11,000 words. Which of course means it will be impossible to sell–but that comes later.

Today I start on the second one, and honestly I suspect it will be on the long side too. Hopefully not AS long. Want to cheer me on and also receive a 100-word story on a postcard? Support Clarion West by sponsoring me!

Write-a-thon again?

So apparently an update every three months is all I can manage this year. Oh well. I’ll console myself by pretending that while I’m not blogging I’m doing More Important Things.

Here is one thing that’s actually important: it’s Clarion West season again! A new crop of 18 up-and-coming SF writers have taken residence in their “secret” location in Seattle, and are now one week closer to earning their SF decoder rings.

My corroded decoder ring.

It’s an emotional time for me. It’s been five years since I went to CW, and my decoder ring has lost its shine. Literally. It was made of some cheap metal and it’s rusted now. It used to light up, but I guess its battery has died. Which is 100% NOT to say that CW is a cheap experience or that it doesn’t hold up. One has only to look at the successes of some of my classmates (most notably J. M. Sidorova and Randy Henderson–seriously, look out for these two writers) to know that the workshop knows what it’s doing.

So maybe some of us (me) haven’t succeeded as much as we’d hoped to by now. And maybe some of us like to get inappropriately morose about it at public events. I won’t name any names. That’s really not my point. (Do I have a point? Where did that thing go?)

My point is that I am once again supporting the workshop by participating in the Write-a-thon! You should sponsor me. You’ll be helping a terrific organization, and I’ll send you a postcard too.

Enough of that. Let’s focus on the positive:

• I have a four-week break coming up from the dayjob that has been my major excuse for not writing like I should. Hoo f-ing rah!

• In the first week of the Write-a-thon I’ve written about 1000 words of a new story. More importantly, I’ve written before work every day this week (though clearly not too productively).

• After Death WON the Bram Stoker Award it was nominated for! Congratulations, editor Eric J. Guignard, and thank you for including my story in your award-winning book. That feels nice.

• I’ve signed the contract and been paid and reviewed galleys, so this feels secure enough to announce: My story, “Diary of a Pod Person,” will appear in the October issue of Asimov’s! This is pretty huge for me. Asimov’s is the sort of market that I figured I would never be “SF” enough for. And my story that’s in it isn’t exactly the hardest SF in the world. But it’s in, and that feels like some kind of acceptance.

• A couple more stories are loose in the world; more on those later.

News and things

Hello, neglected blog!

I’ve been busy so far this year with my new job as Editor of a weekly newspaper. As it turns out that is a lot of work, and it’s also taught me some things about being a needy writer type that are probably good for me to remember. In super brief: assume there’s no problem if you don’t hear from an editor! She’s much more likely to find time to contact you if something’s wrong than if all is well. If you’d like to check out the paper, which is a niche publication for the Norwegian American community, visit blog.norway.com.

But, in actual writing news:

• I’m involved in a project called That Ain’t Right: Historical Accounts from the Miskatonic Valley. It has a kickstarter that ends in six days, and even though it’s already funded (woo!) there’s still time to unlock reward tiers and cool stuff.

After Death, an anthology containing my story “Final Testament of a Weapons Engineer,” has been nominated for a Bram Stoker Award! This is absolutely in no part due to my story, but it’s still fun to be connected to a project receiving that kind of recognition.

• I still haven’t signed the contract on this last one, so no details yet, but I sold a story to one of the major SF markets. Whee!

 

This year in narcissism

It feels impossible not to mark each year with a roundup post. The compulsion is too strong! I cannot resist!

2013 saw the sale of four stories, two of which were solicited. That feels really nice, even if the markets soliciting my work aren’t the highest paying or most prestigious. Those two haven’t come out yet; I’ll let you know when they do. The other sales were both to pro markets, Daily Science Fiction and Clarkesworld, and they make pro sales number two and three. This marker is semi-arbitrary but it still meant something to me to hit it. One more and I can officially give up on winning Writers of the Future.

About a year ago, thinking the intervening time would be less chaotic than it turned out to be (ha!), I applied to Taos Toolbox. So I went to that this summer, at what ended up being the worst possible time. I was unprepared and not in the right headspace to take advantage of the workshop, and my feelings on it are mixed. Other writing-related adventures included Norwescon and Rainforest Writers’ Retreat. None are planned for this year yet, but I’ll probably hit Norwescon again, and maybe another con. Who can say?

On the plus side: we did see a bear.

One of the unambiguous positives of Taos was going back to New Mexico. I wish I’d had more time to spend in Santa Fe, but it was a welcome reminder of the bizarre place I lived for a year. Other places visited this year include Alaska, my 42nd state, and Cuba, my 14th country. No big travel plans yet for this year, but I’ve got a few ideas kicking around.

Summer’s chaos was caused by another big change: buying a house and moving into it. This year’s project will be renovating the house, Cthulhu willing. Husband needs a garage, and we could both use a little more space.

And, the final piece of big news is that I start the new year with a new job, as the Managing Editor of the Norwegian American Weekly. Tomorrow is my first day, and I’m pretty excited about it. But instead of speculating now about what this will mean I’ll just wait and see.

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