We’re at that time of the year when writers recap their publications in the hope that readers might take notice of work that they’ve missed or perhaps commend the stories they’ve read to others. Some regard this as unseemly self-promotion, but since I am not of their number, I’d like to invite you backstage to take a look at how the latest additions to my bibliography came to print.
In May, my 12,500 word novelette “Grace’s Family” was published on Tor.com. Of course, I actually wrote this one in 2017 and workshopped it twice: once at the Sycamore Hill Writers Workshop in Little Switzerland, NC and after revisions, again at the Cambridge (Massachusetts) Science Fiction Writers Workshop (CSFW). In its various incarnations has been titled “Forever” and “What The Universe Knows” and finally “Grace’s Family.” In my own head I think of it as the faithful starship story. It’s another of my attempts to find a way to write about a post-singularity universe. On the surface, it’s a coming of age story about Jojin, who is a crew member on a sentient starship which is on a mission of exploration. However, given the size of the known universe, it is clear to the starship Grace and her family/crew that their mission will be neverending. And in a way, kind of crazy, insofar as their goal of a comprehensive map of the universe is unobtainable. And yet, they persist. Existential? You bet! My challenge was to create a narrative which would hold the reader’s interest while staying true to the story’s philosophical conundrum. So there are a variety of characters who have made their peace with their situation, all except Jojin, who is still coming to grips with it. I hope that I made some of his flailing seem comic. I was also trying to satirize the relentless pacing of most space opera by contrasting it with what I imagined would be the actual pace of life on a realistic starship. This might have been a wrongheaded decision in terms of the market, but the challenge was what interested me about the story. Imagine my delight when Jonathan Strahan picked it up for Tor.com, since it had been seven years since my last appearance there! My favorite review was in Locus from Rich Horton, “This is fascinating original SF, deeply concerned with the purpose of intelligence in the universe.” I’m very happy with this story, but I can’t help but feel a twinge of regret about it. As I was writing, I was thinking of what my friend Gardner Dozois would say about it. It has what I think are many of the strengths that he always encouraged in my writing; several of the jokes in it are particularly aimed at him and his boisterous sense of humor. I couldn’t wait to hear what he thought. Alas, “Grace’s Family” came out the week he passed away, so that pleasure is forever denied me.
In July, my 3600 word story “Yukui” came out in my new collection, The Promise of Space, published by Prime Books. My astute editor was Sean Wallace, who sent me an email out of the blue way back in 2014 wondering if I’d be interested in doing a collection for him. I remember bolting upright out of my chair with a shout of exultation (or something like) as I read. Yeesssss! Indeed I was. I was instructed to include an original story in the table of contents of the stories we’d be reprinting. “Yukui!” started as a flash fiction piece called “Severance” that I wrote in 2016 at the Stonecoast Creative Writing MFA program at the University of Southern Maine, where I teach. When I gave my workshop an assignment to write a 1000 word flash fiction story in two days, I took on the task myself. We critiqued all the flash pieces on the last day of workshop and my students gave me some fine suggestions, most of which pointed to a longer story. When I finished the rewrite, it was about three times as long as the first draft. I put it through CSFW, as is my custom with almost all of my work. I’ll admit that I was taken aback by the harshness of the workshop’s comments. I’ve written about my colleagues’ critiques and my reaction to them in a guest blog entry on Mary Robinette Kowal’s My Favorite Bit. Suffice it to say that I was schooled by the women in the group about what a man ought and ought not write about sexbots. I took their assessments to heart and did an extensive rewrite, which I then tried out on my friend, the gifted story writer Julie C. Day. She had an idea about how to open the story that made all the difference and after a final showing to my best reader and wife Pam Kelly, I sent the finished manuscript off to Sean. On the very first day the book was for sale, at the July 2018 Readercon, I was telling Sean about how happy I was with the book and I happened to ask him if he would object to me trying to resell “Yukui!” someday. I was thinking maybe six months or a year in the future. He said that would be fine with him, but that I could try to resell it now, if I wanted. It would be a good advertisement for the book, he said. I was flabbergasted. He then said that I ought to try it on Neil Clarke, who had done the book design of the digital edition, since Neil had obviously read the story and had liked my other work. Light bulbs went off in my head, but I was still too flabbergasted to do more than mumble. Sean then asked if I wanted him to walk across the dealers’ room and ask Neil, who was working at another table, if he’d be interested. I said sure and he left. Five minutes later, he was back, saying Neil would buy it. Easiest sale I ever made, and one of the most gratifying! And so “Yukui!” had a second coming in the August Clarkesworld. My favorite review of the story was by Gary Wolfe in Locus, as part of his review of the collection. “The one new story, “Yukui!” is set up as a familiar tale of getting dumped in a relationship – only the one getting dumped isn’t actually a girlfriend, but a digital sidekick, or “dependent intelligence,” who must begin to come to terms with the idea of independence – not a terribly original conceit, but one that Kelly sells convincingly through the sheer agony and passion of Sprite, the sidekick in question.”
I posted my afterword to The Promise of Space elsewhere on my little digital shrine to the book, and that’s most of what I have to say about it that’s of interest, so if you missed it back in the day, here’s your chance to catch up. My favorite review was on Amazon by Maren Tirabassi who wrote, “For years I gave up on short fiction -- all mood pieces or sad selfies. This is a fabulous storyteller, with characters I love and plot lines I can't guess, and this collection of stories is his best yet. I loved "Yukui," “The Rose Witch," and, of course, "The Last Judgment," but even the styles that aren’t my usual favorites are such rousing good stories that I consumed them like a child reading under the covers.”
And we’re on the 2019!