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Lost pennies

"Mommy, can I have this penny?"

I looked up to see my youngest daughter, thrilled with her discovery, holding a shiny copper penny in her hand. She'd found it on the ground outside, and as per usual my children's usual protocol, she'd come to check with me before claiming it as her personal property.

I smiled and told her she could have it. Two hours later my older daughter made an excited noise and lifted something shiny from my computer desk. "Mommy, can I have this penny?"

Primed by the day's earlier events, I answered yes without looking up from the screen. I finished the sentence I was working on, turned to admire my daughter's acquisition, and discovered that it was the same penny I'd been petitioned for earlier. My youngest daughter, instead of tucking the penny into her wallet, had left it lying on the desk and wandered off to play. The same penny had now been discovered and claimed twice.

I briefly considered reclaiming the penny, then shrugged and let it be. There is no shortage of pennies in this household. If the original owner came back to look for it (an unlikely proposition, in my experience) I'd produce a replacement and send her off cheerfully.

Fast forward three hours. I finished my day's work, shut down the laptop, and paused as something caught the light at the edge of my desk. I scooped up the penny absentmindedly, intending to collect it into my wallet, where lost coins generally belong. Halfway to my purse I paused, realizing that it was the exact same penny my two daughters had collected, then forgotten.

I smiled and contemplated the penny's gleaming surface. Then, gently, I lowered it to the kitchen table.

There's a lesson there somewhere, although I haven't quite figured out how to verbalize it. Regardless, I expect it won't be long before someone new wanders past the table and asks me for permission to claim the penny.

New Audible Book

When Marguerite Kenner narrated Movement for Escape Pod, she brought a depth and subtlety to the story that I had never imagined. Her reading of Hannah emphasized aspects of the character that I had not previously considered. It was like… meeting my characters all over again. I’ve often wondered whether Marguerite’s narration played a role in the story’s eventual nomination for the Hugo and Nebula awards.

I’m pleased to report that Marguerite is back, narrating a three-story sampler pack called The Breath of Heaven. The stories inside represent some of my older – but arguably superior – work. One was a WOTF finalist, the others were originally published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies and Jim Baen’s Universe. They’ve been available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords for a while, but this is the first time the sampler pack has been offered in audio format.

And here’s the happy part: new Audible users can get the book for free as part of a 30-day trial membership.

[Addendum: For those who have already collected large quantities of my fiction (I adore you. Have I mentioned how much I adore you?) the sampler pack includes THE BREATH OF HEAVEN, KNOWING NEITHER KIN NOR FOE, and IN THE HALLS OF THE SKY-PALACE.]


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Reviews and Pre-orders

Kathy at Shelf Full of Books has kindly posted a review of The Death and Rebirth of Anne Bonny.

“This was an excellent book of short stories. Written over a wide variety of topics the stories bring encouragement, enlightenment, and evoke a wide range of emotions. The stories are thought-provoking and can be taken on several different levels from superficial to something deeper.”

Also, pre-orders are open for:

Shattered Shields (BAEN) and
Carbide Tipped Pens: Seventeen Tales of Hard Science Fiction.

Both anthologies have a strong showing of contributing authors, and both sets of editors were delightful to work with. If I had to guess, I’d say Shattered Shields will sell more copies and Carbide Tipped Pens will get more award nominations. But hey: it’s not like I haven’t been wrong before…


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Empty Boxes

Ok, um. So I was going to write this big long post about how exciting it is moving into a 100-year-old house, and finding doors that had been plastered over, and chimneys that no longer go anywhere, and fantasizing about hidden treasure in the basement. But I don't seem to have managed to write that post yet, so instead I'm going to jump right on in to the day-to-day of unpacking.

(Yes, we are STILL unpacking. We sort of got swept up in the day-to-day of school and work, and left most of the non-essential boxes to gather dust in the corner for two months.)

Today Alex and Aubrey discovered empty moving boxes lying in the main hallway. Ah, the towers. The rampaging. The barricades with fist-sized slots for pop guns.

For their final trick, the children walled off the door to the kitchen, and Aubrey taped a pair of signs to the front of the boxes. "Sorry, the kitchen is blocked off", and a big red circle with the word "Kitchen" behind a diagonal red line. All in adorable 2nd-grade handwriting.

On Happily-Ever-Afters

It’s strange how certain conversations can stick with you. I was chatting in an online forum years ago, among good friends, when the topic turned to family relationships. A number of forum members shared difficult and distressing experiences from their personal lives. Then someone asked, a little wistfully, “Is there even such a thing as a normal family anymore? Like, you know, a family where everybody is still talking to each other?”

I had one of those rabbit-in-the-headlight moments. “Yes!” I thought. “Mine!” We’re not perfect, not by any means, but we send each other gifts at Christmas and hold family reunions and take an interest in each others’ lives. Those of us who are married are still on our first marriages, and I’ve chatted amicably with all of my siblings during the past year.

But in the context of the conversation, it didn’t feel right to say that. How could I parade my happiness in front of people who were dealing with the horrifying situations we had just been discussing? It didn’t seem respectful. It didn’t seem appropriate. And so I let the moment pass.

And I find, years later, that I am still saddened by the necessity of doing so.

Because there are happy families in this world. Marriages that actually work. Couples who meet and fall in love and really do find a happily-ever-after together. It is possible. Difficult, yes, especially for those who’ve been handed a crapload of emotional baggage. But possible.

And I think, sometimes, that this possibility gets lost in the massive, ugly realities of day-to-day living. And that those most in need of a glimpse of hope are perhaps the very people who seldom get it – because when your own family life sucks, those who have it better tend to make themselves invisible out of a sense of respect for the difficulties you’re going through.

It’s easy to fall prey to the notion that everyone who appears happy is secretly hiding some ugly skeleton of domestic abuse. That every starry-eyed pair of newlyweds is destined for a rude awakening after their honeymoon. That lasting contentment is a silly children’s story, often envisioned but impossible to experience.

But you see, that’s a notion every bit as unrealistic as the belief that life will unfold perfectly just because you’re in love. Both realities are true – the fairy-tale marriage that crumbles to ashes and the romance which blossoms into 60 years of happiness – they both exist. They are both real. And so, at the same time that conscientious authors are understandably working to prevent young girls from rushing headlong into relationships they’ve not yet taken time to think about, I hope we also don’t erase the idea of a happily-ever-after entirely.

“But wait!” I hear concerned readers saying. “Statistically, the likelihood of an unhappy relationship is much higher than the likelihood of happiness. Why dangle an unrealistic dream in front of children who are sure to be disappointed?”

Well, hm. The likelihood of becoming a NYT Bestseller is, quite frankly, very slim. Do we tell aspiring authors it’s just a pipe dream? Do we urge them to set their sights on something more realistic, like selling a couple of short stories to a semi-pro magazine? Or do we encourage them to buckle down, use whatever resources fate and a cruel world have allotted them, and learn the skills that will give them the best possible chance of reaching that statistically unlikely yet infinitely desirable goalpost?

Happiness exists. It is real. It is possible.

It is worth striving for.


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I’ve talked about classy panelist strategies before. But after my latest guest appearance on Writing Excuses, I realized I’ve left out a huge piece of the puzzle.

See, in my last post I focused on egocentric strategies: things you can do – as an individual – to ensure that you make a good impression and offer something of value to the audience. That’s a great starting point for panel etiquette. But if you’ve ever listened to Writing Excuses, you know there’s a dynamic that exists above and beyond the behavior of any individual panelist. There’s a synergy that happens. The podcast isn’t just a bunch of really smart people sharing their thoughts. It’s a group of engaging professionals having a conversation together, building on each others’ ideas, creating a gestalt experience that delights and entertains the listener.

You might think this magical effect is mere slight of hand – that the Writing Excuses cast just knows each other really well, and that’s why they’re able to work so well together. Granted, they are very familiar with each others’ careers and conversational styles, but I don’t think that’s why every episode feels like one of the awesomest panels from my favorite conventions. Because I’ve walked into those recording sessions blind, and felt their camaraderie reach out to enfold me. I’ve sat on convention panels with people who had never before met and watched a delightfully enthralling conversation unfold.

So no, I don’t think the magic comes because the panelists know each other. I think it comes because they mutually understand a fundamental truth: that consummate conversations are far more than the sum of their parts.

That’s what I want to talk about today. Panelists as part of a greater whole.

(By the way, even if you never anticipate being on a panel, this post may still be relevant. Because good panelist etiquette is, conveniently, also an excellent set of protocols for basic social interaction at, oh, you know, parties and business meetings and evil overlord convocations and suchlike.)

So how does one go about creating a consummate conversation?

It begins with an awareness of the entire discussion, rather than one’s own part of it. A solid conversation is balanced. No one person does all the speaking. And generally, for most topics, there’s an ample supply of interesting information accompanied by entertaining witticisms, relevant insights, and a smattering of tasteful humor.

The most engaging panelists I know are actively aware of the shape of the conversation. They offer other panelists an opportunity to speak. They don’t drop a joke on top of someone else’s stirring emotional confession. They speak at length only when no one else has anything to say, and they know whether the other panelists have a contribution to make because they watch for subtle signs in their peripheral vision. Intakes of breath, slightly uplifted hands, or sudden shifts in facial expression can all notify the speaker of someone else’s desire to speak. And the panelist who is watching the shape of the conversation, rather than concentrating on her own bundle of words, will gracefully leave half her brilliant ideas unspoken because she knows the panel is most interesting when speakers swap off often.

The best panelists I know build off each others’ ideas. If panelist A postulates a fictional story in which scientists discover life on Venus, panelist B notes that fact. Then, when panelist B gets ready to discuss characterization he will demonstrate his point by using one of the scientists from the Venusian expedition rather than inventing a new scenario from scratch. Afterwards, panelist C will refer to completely unrelated material – a novel by a famous author – in a way that further illustrates panelist B’s point. Near the end of the session, Panelist D may decide to throw in a joke about Venusian biospheres.

Do you see what is happening here? The conversation begins to take on a structure, with running plot threads and recurring themes, not unlike a short story in microcosm. The panelists build this structure together, with a running awareness of mood and narrative tone. They are creating an integrated project, not a mish-mash of individual presentations. They are manufacturing a joint experience in which the audience shares.

Do all panelists manage this all the time? Heck, no, not even the experienced ones. I know I’ve certainly got a lot of room for improvement. But I’ve noticed that the panelists I admire most are extremely aware of the other people at the table and of the overall path of the conversation.

Pay attention the next time you listen to Writing Excuses. You will see all these techniques in action, and the results are spectacular.


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Crowdspeak

So it’s been a while since I blogged regularly. Quite frankly, ever since Movement was nominated for the Hugo and Nebula in 2012, the internet has intimidated me.

When I was writing for two people, or ten, or twenty, it was easy to keep track of my readers. I knew who they were; I had a pretty good sense of which topics they were comfortable with and which would touch off unpleasant emotional triggers. We shared a common vocabulary and a common set of online friends. Blogging felt like a comfortable luncheon with a group of trusted companions.

It’s not quite that way anymore. I’m thrilled at every reader, I truly am! But the sheer number of you these days means that my capacity to track all of you has evaporated. There are 100+ people listening and each of you has your own inner landscape and I can’t do justice to all of them. I’m no longer aware of all the trigger points. I can’t predict which words and phrases – innocuous in my own mind – might set off unwanted emotional reactions in the mind of someone with different life experiences. I mean, I can predict some of them. But I can’t predict all of them. Human experience is too individual and too complex and too extraordinarily unique for anyone to foresee how every person in a random sampling of listeners will respond.

So I am left with two choices: (a) avoid topics of significance and prattle only about banalities. (b) accept the fact that no matter how hard I try, I am always going to unwittingly cause discomfort to some subset of readers.

The first option seems pointless. The second is largely incompatible with my psyche. (You can see why I’ve kind of pulled into my shell and just focused on writing fiction lately.)

I miss the internet, though. Or rather, I miss chatting with the people who inhabit it. So I’m going to poke my nose out of the shell and try to discover a nebulous option (c), in which my blog posts are useful and relevant without becoming burdensome.

Wish me luck.


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Death, Birth, Rebirth and Brainbending

In honor of LTUE, my metaphysical/magic realism/alternate future collection is on sale for $2.99.

This collection includes my highest-paid story to date, The Cyborg and the Cemetery, which incidentally was also one of the stories that caused me the most grief. I’d just finished a Heinlein reading spree and desperately wanted to write something with that one-two-punch effect on the intellect, where you come away wondering whether the world you thought you were inhabiting is in fact the same world that actually exists. I’m very proud of the way that story turned out, and rather fond of the somber, vision-impaired teenager who features so prominently in it.

The collection also includes the title story, one of three written by request for Daily Science Fiction’s Numbers Quartet series. In it, a young girl discovers the truth about her childhood hero, loses respect for her father, nearly loses her life, and discovers an unexpected source of hope all within a few thousand words. Its companion story, All or Nothing, follows the life of a man cursed from childhood to become the living instantiation of the number zero, with outcomes rather different than one might expect.

The collection also includes a tale of unrequited love on an island where wood grows by magical command, an unusual take on therapeutic intervention, and a space opera retelling of the opening scenes of a familiar fairy tale.

Overall it’s a fine batch of stories. Each one stretched my skills as a writer, and each of them taught me something new about myself and the world I inhabit. I hope they’ll do the same for you.

You can purchase the e-book or just admire the pretty cover art over at Amazon.com. I do apologize to those with non-kindle reading devices. The book is scheduled for release at other online outlets within a few months.</a>


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Dark Expanse Tie-In Anthology

I’m pleased to announce that the Dark Expanse editorial crew has selected three of my stories for inclusion in their upcoming tie-in anthology. These are epic space opera adventures set in the Dark Expanse game universe, replete with alien races, interstellar battles, conflicting loyalties and a dark vanished race of self-appointed demigods.

I’ve read some of the other fiction slated for this anthology, and it’s going to be awesome. I’ve seen work by the cover artist. Also awesome. The official press release announcing the book later this month will be… you guessed it… absolutely awesome.

I’ve written four — no, five — stories for Dark Expanse over the last year, and it’s been a fabulous experience. There’s something paradoxically liberating about knowing that you’re not allowed to tinker with the alien races or basic world setup. I have a tendency to second-guess myself when writing fiction. I’ll go back and tweak alien cultures or planetary details that would be best left alone. Tie-in writing forces me to deny myself that little vice. The worlds aren’t mine, and I’m not allowed to fiddle with them. Instead, I get to interpolate, creating a hidden history within the pre-existing structure, focusing on characters caught up in brutal interplanetary conflicts rather than on the details of the conflicts themselves. Also, I get to blow things up.

It’s been fun writing in a game universe. I look forward to doing similar work in the future. But mostly, I look forward to sharing those stories with readers who may never have heard of the game, or might not be in its target audience. I really like some of the characters I created. I can’t wait to see what happens when they meet a new set of readers.


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Convention Schedule – LTUE

I will be attending the 32nd annual Life, the Universe, and Everything symposium on February 13-15, 2014. The event will be held at the Provo Marriott at 101 W 100 N, Provo, Utah. If you’re in the area, I hope you’ll stop by to say hello!

Thursday, 1:00 PM
Effective Book Covers
How to choose what to depict on your book cover, from the scene and character to emotion and theme. How to make book covers intriguing, marketable, and accurate to the story.

Thursday, 6:00 PM
Scene or Summary
Is it better to create a scene and work through it, or just give a summary of what happens? This panel discusses when to use each option (if ever), along with the advantages and disadvantages of each method.

Friday, 12:00PM
The Curse of the Jungle/Ice/Desert Planet
Even Venus isn’t perfectly uniform. The basics of how different climates and biomes arise and how to give your planet some variety.

Friday, 4:00PM
Short vs. Long Fiction
How long should your book be and what are the appropriate lengths for each genre? This panel also deals with the pros and cons of short works as opposed to long works, and vice versa.

Saturday, 9:00AM
Writers on Writing
Join these successful writers as they discuss their craft: Elana Johnson, L. E. Modesitt, Jr., Mette Ivie Harrison, Nancy Fulda, Shallee McArthur, Sara B. Larson

Saturday, 12:00PM
Writing Hard Science
Science fiction without the doctorate degree. Ever felt you weren’t smart enough to write hard scifi? Learn the tricks of the trade from these futuristic leaning authors.


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Profile

nancyfulda
nancyfulda

Publications

Nancy Fulda -- Hugo and Nebula Nominee

Web Site | Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn | Google+






That Undiscovered Country
Jim Baen Memorial
Award Winner


paperback | kindle | nook | PDF | Other





Movement
2011 Nebula Nominee

Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, March 2011

paperback | kindle | nook | smashwords





The Breath of Heaven
Stories from Distant Worlds

paperback | kindle | nook | smashwords






In the Halls of the Sky-Palace
Jim Baen's Universe, June 2009

kindle | nook | smashwords





Backlash (novelette)
Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, 2010

kindle | nook | smashwords





The Man Who
Murdered Himself

Phobos Award Winner

kindle | nook | smashwords





Dead Men Don't Cry:
11 Stories by Nancy Fulda


Paperback | kindle | nook | smashwords | DRM-free






Nothing This Fun Could be Good for You (article)
Available at:
Clarkesworld Magazine





Like Rain From Silver Skies
Available at:
Basement Stories





Knowing Neither Kin Nor Foe
Available at:
Beneath Ceaseless Skies


Nancy Fulda is a 2012 Hugo and Nebula Nominee, a Phobos Award winner and a Vera Hinckley Mayhew Award recipient. She is the first (and so far only) female recipient of the Jim Baen Memorial Award. Her fiction has appeared in a number of professional venues.

Nancy Fulda is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com

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