Original Fiction: The Hunger from the Deep

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I ducked into Hutson Alley, my heart pounding in my chest—not because of the caterwauling of fire trucks, though their sirens filled the city streets, and not because I feared the citizenry would soon run to riot, though they stood on the sidewalk in nervous knots, clutching their handheld devices.

No, I ducked into the alley, my heart pounding in my chest, because I had been there at the waterfront when that thing had arisen up out of Charleston Harbor. I was among those lovers and holiday makers gathered there on the promenade, when what had at first appeared an especially active pod of porpoise had revealed itself as single, sinister wave, rippling darkly toward us through the waters.

A gasp of shock rose up from the crowd. But only I did fully apprehend the ominous nature of that black wave streaming toward us in the burning moonlight, and only I ran. Such fear had seized me, such animal terror, that I ran as far from the waterline as my legs could take me—which, owing to my love of a good meal, and general aversion to physical exertion of any type, turned out to be a mile or so away, to this alley just off King.

I do not flatter myself a man of courage, but those of my acquaintance might note my erudition. I am, at the least, in the possession of various advanced degrees, a great deal of debt, and one underpaid adjunct teaching position in the sciences. Though the college where I am employed has thus far proven deaf to my entreaties for advancement, they have acceded to my demands for a subscription to The Journal of Environmental Sciences. Which was how I came come to learn of a recent discovery in the Gulf of Mexico with some bearing on that cursed black wave I’d seen streaming toward the Holy City.

Read the rest of the story on my Patreon page–and if you enjoy it, consider becoming a sponsor!  

Breaking Through with Your Final Draft

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There are a lot of online classes for writing fiction. Many of the best–or most popular, at least–are aimed at new writers. Final Draft, my online writing class for LitReactor, starting May 22, has a different target audience: writers who’ve honed their craft, worked hard, and perhaps even put in their ten thousand hours, but have yet to break through with their first book deal.

MFA-havers, MFA refugees, or MFA avoiders. Those who’ve dedicated so much time to what is beginning to feel like a fruitless pursuit that they’ve begun to question their life choices. Those whose friends and family have been questioning those life choices for years.

Those who really are this close to landing their first major publication.

I created this class because I’ve been that writer, and I know how hard it can be, to feel stuck in this limbo between apprenticeship and authorship.

I’ve also been the person on the other side of the slush pile, as a reader for journals like Tin House and Alligator Juniper, the director of the Doug Fir Fiction Award, and, most recently, a member of the editorial committee for Forest Avenue Press.

I make my living (aside from my writing) as a freelance editor and book coach. So I know that most of the writers who think they’re ready to publish really are not.

But some really are. And all those writers really need are some solid strategies, industry knowledge, and detailed editorial feedback on their first ten pages, through multiple drafts, to make it happen.

So that’s exactly what I’m offering with Final Draft, which one former student called, “a finishing school for writers distilled into just four weeks.”

Here are some other things students have said about the class:

“She covered not just how to take a so-so manuscript and sharpen it up into a more professional product, but also how to approach the publishing scene once you have that finished manuscript in hand, be it short story or novel-length work. Lessons consisted of more than just common sense tips, they contained truly actionable ideas to apply to any piece of fiction writing. I came into the class with what I thought was a pretty decent piece of writing, and it was completely transformed.”

—Andrea (TheScrivener)

“I really enjoyed Final Draft. Susan had insight into taking my novel’s opening to the next level. Although I had received feedback on my opening in the past, Susan was able to identify what I needed to connect with readers.”
—Heidi Timmons

Call me a fiction evangelist, a champion of the underdog. Call me the coach who knows you can win.

Call me crazy, but if you’ve put the time in with this craft and you’ve got something to say, I believe there’s a place for you in publishing.

>More information on Final Draft, a four-week online class, beginning May 22, at LitReactor.

The Story Behind the Story: To the Fire

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Friends, I’ve been sitting on this one. Until I had the space to really talk about it–the first fiction I have written about having had cancer.

The story is called “To the Fire,” and it’s featured in the current issue of High Desert Journal, alongside work from Rick Bass and Rachel Toor, two authors I admire. I also had the pleasure of being edited by Laura Pritchett, author of Blue Hour, a novel-in-stories set in Colorado that I absolutely loved.

This publication marks the second story from my collection-in-progress, Dream Studies, to have found a home. The first was “The Mind-Body Problem,” published in Forest Avenue Press’s City of Weird anthology. And just as City of Weird was the perfect home for that story, High Desert Journal was the perfect home for this one.

Readers of my novel, Hot Season, will recognize the town where this story is set: Prescott (aka, Crest Top), Arizona, where I lived for fourteen years. The protagonist is a woman who has been diagnosed with an unnamed cancer that will require a full hysterectomy, eliminating her chance to have biological children.

I had the same surgery for the same reason nearly three years ago and received a clean bill of health after surgery; there was no grueling course of treatment and no recurrence. I was lucky, and I know it, and for that reason, I have not spoken much about the experience–there are so many who have gone through so much worse.

But that does not change the fact that I found myself staring down the barrel of my own mortality at thirty-eight–considerably earlier than virtually anyone expects to. Certainly earlier than I expected to. And in those days between diagnosis and surgery, I was struck by the sensation of not knowing my own story. What if the story of my life turned, “at the last moment, laughably tragic”?

The protagonist of “To the Fire” is a poet, and poetry proved a touchstone for the experience again and again. Like me at thirty-eight, her ambitions as a writer are largely unfulfilled, leading her to imagine her life as being, potentially, “a fragment, such as we were given by Sappho: So we must learn in a world made as this one / a human being can never attain their greatest desire…”

As a writer of fiction, feeling like my own story was so completely and utterly out of my hands was sobering. What if I “had no choice but to break my husband’s heart, my parents”? What could possibly redeem such a narrative? What kind of legacy would I be able to leave behind?

These are surely the same questions asked by anyone who finds themselves possibly dying young. And yet I had ever read an account in fiction of a protagonist in this situation, exploring this territory I’d somehow wandered into. So after the storm had passed, so to speak, I knew I had to write it.

I hope you enjoy reading “To the Fire.” And if you’ve found yourself in the midst of such a passage, I hope this story helps you to make sense of it, as writing it did for me.

More than anything, I hope it helps you to feel the importance of your own story, and the majesty of your own life.

Original Sci Fi: Earth Day Edition

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“The world ended the way it always did (US dictator, WWIII), pretty much (clowns, Central Park), on a Tuesday.”

That’s the beginning of my story “Strange Loop,” which was featured last week over at Daily Science Fiction. I wrote this little piece after I found myself lying awake at night due to the fact that The Man Who Sold the World was threatening nuclear war with North Korea, bragging about his Big Button (that works!).

Such nuclear brinksmanship on the part of the US president, with millions of lives at stake, like so much high school hallway primate posturing is, needless to say, horrifying. But there’s also a surreal quality to living under such an existential threat, as well as a kind of gallows humor.

Of course, the existential threat posed by climate change is even larger–so large that it’s almost impossible to comprehend. The destruction of the atmosphere, the Arctic, the fertility of the world’s farmlands, its ecosystems–the dead seabirds with bellies stuffed full of plastic. Microplastics in bottled water. The great time of dying that is upon us, without our even seeming to realize it.

In the face of such a threat, perhaps it’s helpful to think of our historic moment, which feels so exceptional, as part of a larger cycle. Because just as human beings at many points in history have found themselves ruled by kings who were idiots–not to mention totally fucking bonkers–and survived it, then surely, in all the worlds that exist in a quantum universe, there are intelligent beings who’ve made it to the point of destroying both themselves and their planet and failed to do so.

And while it may feel like so much of this surreal time we’re living in has already been written–by what hand, who can say–I think it’s important to remember what margin of free will we actually have, and how it can make a difference, especially when we reach out in empathy.

On this Earth Day, friends, let’s work for change, keep the faith, and laugh any chance we get, even if it hurts.

“Strange Loop” is my first professional science fiction publication, and it was produced with the help of my Patreon sponsors. Want to support my voice and vision in the world? Become one of them.