Category Archives: Admin

Withdrawing from Writers of the Future

Earlier this week, I received a phone call informing me that my final submission to the Writers of the Future contest (first quarter 2018) had been selected as a finalist. However, after contemplating the information1 that past winners have shared about the contest in recent weeks, I have withdrawn my finalist story from consideration.

I would not judge anyone for their past (or future) decisions to be involved in the contest, whether or not they act(ed) out of ignorance. After all, many writers – myself included – have long treated this contest as a normal fixture of our community. I hope my choice will help encourage others to reexamine that assumption.

For myself, no award is worth supporting an organization that has hurt and misused so many friends, fellow authors, illustrators, and human beings.

[Updated April 25 with more links in the footnote.]

Escape Pod Rejectomancy Update

As of today, I’ve made a small change to how we at Escape Pod choose our rejection letters.

In short, rejection letter type now reflects where the story got in our editorial pipeline. The criteria for Tiers 1&2 have been updated, so that now:

  • Tier 1: Rejected by Associate Editor (first reader)
  • Tier 2: Rejected by Assistant Editor (me)
  • Tier 3: Rejected during Assistant Editor Second Pass
  • Tier 4: Rejected by Co-Editors

Note that, as a result, we will be sending more Tier 1’s than in the past. We have tweaked its text accordingly.

Now more than ever, tier is not an estimate of story quality. “Who detected that the story wouldn’t be a fit for Escape Pod” is not highly correlated with the (subjective) question of “how close the story came to fitting.”

If you miss having some subjective opinion in your rejection letter, fear not! We continue to provide personalized rejections whenever possible for original story submissions.

If you want to learn more, including how to identify which tier you received, check out my full Submissions and Rejetomany post.

Hugo Nomination: Semiprozine 2018

I got home last night from a weekend traveling by train, plane, and automobile. All of it in a state of shock over being a 2018 Hugo Award Finalist for Best Semiprozine as part of the amazing Escape Pod editorial team, led by co-editors S.B. Divya and Mur Lafferty (and outgoing editor Norm Sherman).

You can find Escape Pod’s official announcement here, and I’m trying to add a few thoughts of my own, despite being largely in a loss-for-words state. Which means I’m just going to do an EMOTIONAL BRAINDUMP and you all gotta live with it!

First and most importantly, my thanks and love to Mur Lafferty and S.B. Divya, my two excellent co-editors, the pilots and visionaries of the finest pod in the galaxy. It’s a pleasure to serve under the both of you. Mur: you need but say the word, and any gourd shall die. Divya: double-extra thanks for putting your trust in me back when  I was just a baby!author. Plus, my gratitude also to Norm Sherman, helmsman of the pod for many years; and to Alasdair Stewart and Marguerite Kenner, the spine and spark of all we do across the Escape Artists family.

Second and ALSO most importantly, thanks to all the listeners, readers, and fans who make Escape Pod possible. We work hard to bring you the very best science fiction to brighten your jog, commute, kitchen, and more. We’re glad you love it, and in return, you inspire us to keep dialing up our awesomeness for you, year after year. That’s a promise.

Third and STILL most importantly, thanks to the rest of the awesome Escape Pod crew! Only a few names fit on the nomination, but every turn and flight of the pod depends on you. Tina’s hosting, Adam’s production work, Kay and Laura’s fantastic work in Artemis Rising, and the rest of the team – Santiago, Erin, Jen, Sarah, Darcie, Sandy, Peter, Darusha, and everyone else who’s come and gone (and stayed in our hearts) over the years.

Yes, you are all the most important. (Even all you people who are critical to my success, but not specifically to Escape Pod: family, friends, mentors, workshopmates, Codexians, Magnificent Seven+, and more. ) Deal with it. It’s my first big award nomination and I’ll gush all I want.

Fan Writer Eligibility: Neuroscience in 2017

If you’ve been enjoying all my work to bring neuroscience to the SFF author and fan community, consider: all this stuff makes me eligible for the Best Fan Writer Hugo award!

Here’s all of my public-audience neuroscience writing1 published in 2017:

1. The Evolved Brain in Clarkesworld
2. Tools and Problems of Human Neuroscience at the File 770 blog
3. Right Hand, Human Brain: The Mysteries of Handedness at Baen.com
4-34. Thirty-one neuroscience essays via my #NeuroThursday Twitter feature.2 A few highlights:

[Edit: #1 and #3 appeared in professional magazines, and therefore technically may not create eligibility for Best Fan Writer. So, focus on NeuroThursday – but you can still be aware of my whole body of work!]

I hope these pieces have contributed to your knowledge, entertainment, and awesomeness! If it has, consider nominating me for Best Fan Writer. But make sure you also nominate more deserving people like Alasdair Stewart and Sarah Gailey.

On the fiction side I’m in my second year of eligibility for the John. W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, with 7 original short stories and a lot of editorial work in 2016-2017. Check out the summary here!

Awards Eligibility 2017

We have passed the end of 2017, into the beginning of 2018, and that means the Eye of Awards have fallen upon us all, with its bleak and terrifying gaze.

I sold five stories to professional markets in 2017, but three of them will be published in 2018, leaving me with only two pieces of new fiction for 2017:

  • The Setting of the Sun, in Compelling Science Fiction: a 1300-word piece encompassing nine hundred million years in the life of a Dyson swarm.
  • Cyborg Shark Battle (Season 4, O’ahu Frenzy), in the Cat’s Breakfast anthology: an 800-word satire about backstage politics in a remote-controlled-shark-combat reality TV show. Also it is the most neuroscientific thing I have yet published.1
    • Reprint now available for online at Curious Fictions, or email me for a copy!

Also, 2017 was my second and final year of eligibility for the Campbell Award for Best New Writer. In my two years of eligibility I have:

  1. Published seven original short stories, six of them in professional magazines: Strange Horizons twice, PodCastle, Flash Fiction Online, Cat’s Breakfast anthology (Third Flatiron Press), and Compelling Science Fiction. Also one semi-pro story at Metaphorosis.
  2. Sold another three professional short stories (to Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Mind Candy, and Diabolical Plots), but those won’t be out until 2018.
  3. Served as the Assistant Editor of Escape Pod since May 2017. In this role, I decide which stories to pass up to our illustrious Co-Editors, write ≥ 80% of the personal rejection letters2, and recruit & manage our amazing team of Associate Editors (first readers). I’ve also increased our editorial transparency to our process, with a writeup of our pipeline and rejection letters here.
  4. Published nonfiction pieces about neuroscience in Clarkesworld, the File 770 blog, and Baen.com. I later expanded the Clarkesworld one into a solo presentation at the 2017 Nebula conference.
  5. Written thirty-one Twitter essays (and more in 2018) about neuroscience via my NeuroThursday feature.
  6. Been recommended by Rich Horton for this here Campbell Award!

The nonfiction in #4-5 also makes me eligible for the Best Fan Writer Hugo Award. More thoughts and details on that here!

It’s hard to believe I’ve been a so-called “pro” for only two years. In that time I’ve accomplished a lot more that doesn’t fit on that list (written novel, edited novel, started querying novel, sold another couple short stories), but most important of all is the amazing community I’ve found: at workshops (well before I was doing anything “pro” myself!), conventions, online, and in person. So many new friends, mentors, and fellow-travelers out there, and I’m honored to know every one of you.

I’d love to conclude with some recommendations, since there are so many amazing writers out there, new and veteran, young and old. Unfortunately, the majority of my reading happens in the Escape Pod slush pile these days, so I don’t read nearly broadly enough. I look forward to reading your recommendations in the weeks and months (and years) to come!

But speaking of Escape Pod, if you’re pondering Hugo nominations, may I suggest our fine podcast for Best Semiprozine? Remember that our editorial turnover happened in early 2017, so this year make sure to list Norm Sherman as well as Divya Breed & Mur Lafferty as editors.

Three Years

On this date in 2014, I finally revealed to my friends & family that I was a writer. I’d shrouded my hobby in secrecy while I worked for my first 2-3 years (I typed my first words in late 2011), because I didn’t want to be Mr. Working On A Screenplay In My Basement. But on October 11 2014, I had sold one semi-pro story (though it wouldn’t get published for another year). More importantly, I was en route to the Viable Paradise workshop, and I had to tell people why I was headed to Martha’s Vineyard for my vacation!

In the three years since Viable Paradise, I’ve had 8 short stories published (6 of them pro), with 4 more on the way. I’ve become the assistant editor of Escape Pod, where I manage an awesome team and help select stories that go out to thousands of listeners every week. I’ve joined amazing communities of writers, editors, fans, publishers, and mentors, all of whom are brilliant and incisive and empathetic in ways I strive every day to replicate.

It’s been a great journey so far, and I can’t wait to see what the next 3/30/60 years will bring!

Two Exciting Websites

I’ve run into two exciting new websites in the last week, both related to short stories of science fiction & fantasy. Perhaps some of you out there can enjoy, or even contribute to, one or both sites!

First up is Curious Fictions, a new online aggregator for short SFF fiction. It’s got a searchable database of stories that have all appeared in professional-quality markets, and the option for readers to pay as they go, tip-jar style. If you’re an author with qualifying stories, the setup process is as simple as can be – and if you’re a reader, perhaps you’ll find some new stories to love!

Second is SFFreviews.com, a new website for reviews of short SFF fiction. They’ve got a distributed model, where volunteers sign up to write short reviews of the stories at one favorite magazine. This could be a great place to learn about brand new stories (unlike the reprints at Curious Fictions), or if you want to share the love and expand the conversation, you could sign up to review one of the magazines they’re still looking to cover!

NeuroThursday Master Episode List

List of all NeuroThursday episodes, in chronological order (oldest first). Apologies for any inconsistent formatting, but Storify is dead and Threadreader is unreliable, so sometimes a Twitter link/embed is all I can provide.

2017
  1. Neolithic Trephination
  2. Brain Energy Consumption
  3. The 10% Myth
  4. The Discoverer of Neurons
  5. Handedness Across History
  6. Left/Right Brained
  7. Mirror Neurons
  8. Brain Variability
  9. Hand Dominance
  10. Maps in the Brain
  11. The Arm’s Complexity
  12. Precognition and Evidence
  13. Sleep and its Deprivation
  14. Déjà Vu and memory
  15. Placebos and their Efficacy
  16. Artificial Neural Networks
  17. Marijuana Safety
  18. Power Poses
  19. Fluidity of Memory
  20. No Teleportation
  21. False Memories
  22. Phantom Limb Pain
  23. Muscle Memory in the Brain
  24. Harry Potter and the Principles of Neural Science (aka Novelty in the Brain)
  25. Harry Potter and the Theory of Neural Science (aka Philosophy of Neuroscience)
  26. Myths and Methods of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS)
  27. Power and Costs of Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS)
  28. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
  29. Saturday Night Palsy
  30. Learning Styles
  31. Solstice Detection (Slow Vision)
2018
  1. The Choke: Skill, Action, and Attention
  2. Peripheral and Color Vision
  3. Filling in the Gaps: Optical Illusions
  4. Filling in the Gaps: Time Itself
  5. The Secret Badassery of your Balance System
  6. Balance 2: Body Position Sense (Proprioception)
  7. Two-Space Typing and Scientific Analysis
  8. Yanni, Laurel, and McGurk: Auditory Illusions
  9. Synesthesia and Evolutionary Psychology
  10. Motion Aftereffects and Adaptation

You can always find recent episodes by clicking the NeuroThursday link under “Categories” down on the right.

Escape Pod: Submissions & Rejectomancy

Gentle reader, I present to you: a behind-the-scenes look into the Escape Pod editorial process!1

REJECTION LETTERS

The Escape Pod general submission queue has 8 kinds of response letters (4 rejection tiers, plus a Reprint letter and three special cases). The exact wording may vary over time, so here are the key phrases that identify each letter:

Tier 1: Associate Editors (slush readers) didn’t think it was a fit for Escape Pod.
Key phrase:
– “We appreciate your interest in our magazine and wish you the best in finding a home for your story.”

Tier 2: Associate Editors liked it, but the Assistant Editor (me) didn’t think it would fit.
Key phrases:
– “We enjoyed this story, but unfortunately, it’s not quite right for us.”
– “We wish you the best in finding this a good home and look forward to your next submission.”

Tier 3: The Assistant Editor thought it could fit, but it didn’t make the Final Round cutoff.
Key phrases:
– “We enjoyed reading it, and it was well-received among our staff. However, it’s not quite what we’re looking for right now, so we’ve decided to pass on this one.”
–”We wish you the best of luck in finding the right home for this one, and we look forward to reading more of your work in the future.”

Tier 4: Final Round from the Co-Editors.
Key phrases:
– “While we enjoyed reading it, it’s not quite what we’re looking for right now, so we have decided to pass on this one.”
– “That said, your story was very well-received and reached the final round of consideration.”
– Signed by the Co-Editors (instead of the usual Assistant Editor signature)

Reprints: Replaces Tiers 1-2 for reprint submissions.
Key phrase:
– “We enjoyed reading this reprint, but unfortunately, it’s not quite right for us.”

Ineligible: For stories that don’t meet critical parts of our guidelines, usually by being too long or too short. No matter how well the story might fit otherwise, we can’t publish it.
Key phrase:
–”Unfortunately, we cannot consider it because it does not meet our submission guidelines.”

Revise & Resubmit: Self-explanatory if you get one. Very rare; less frequent than acceptances.

Acceptance: Also self-explanatory. Huzzah! Go you!

The astute reader will notice I keep saying “a fit [for Escape Pod].” What does that mean?

WHAT MAKES A STORY FIT (OR NOT)

When we say a story doesn’t fit, it can be any combination of the following reasons:

  1. The story didn’t suit our personal tastes.
  2. We found problems with the story.
  3. We’ve seen too many stories like this.
  4. The prose would require too much editing.
  5. The story felt more like fantasy or horror than science fiction.
  6. The style wasn’t a good fit for audio.

This is fiction, not logic: subjective taste is our only true yardstick. We encourage everyone to keep trying no matter what flavor of rejection they receive! Many of our authors received several rejections of various types before we bought one of their stories, and many of our staff still receive rejections from other Escape Artists podcasts.

Rejection tier is not an estimate of quality. Instead, it tells you where your story got in our pipeline. If you want to understand exactly what that means, you’ll have to follow…

THE PATH OF A STORY

When you submit to Escape Pod, your story goes into a single big queue. From there, any reader can grab a story and read it. Our hard-working Associate Editors (slush readers) do most of the work at this level. They read each story anonymously, which means they don’t see the submitter’s name or cover letter.2 They rate each story with a Yes, No, or Maybe, and leave some notes about how they reached their decision.

Soon thereafter, I view each story, along with its rating, notes, and cover letter.3 If the Associate Editor voted No, I send a Tier 1 (or Reprint) rejection. If they voted Yes or Maybe, I read the story. Depending on my opinion, I either send a Tier 2 (or Reprint) rejection, or put it in my Assistant Editor Pile.

We aim to get all stories to this point within 1 month of submission. Assuming we’re on schedule, if any story sticks around longer than a month, that’s probably a good sign.

I use the Assistant Editor Pile to regulate the flow up to the Co-Editors so they can safely drink from the firehose. They need to put a lot of attention and effort into each story, so I only want to send them a limited number per month. Every two weeks, I review the pile and choose my favorite few (usually ≈6). I pass those favorites up to the Co-Editors, and I send the author an email to let them know we’ve held their story for the Final Round. If I reject a story at this stage, it gets a Tier 3 letter.

After that, Final Round with Divya and Mur! If they reject a story, they’ll send a Tier 4 letter.

PERSONAL NOTES

Some rejection letters may include personal comments in addition to the form text. Most personal notes are written by me based on Associate Editor input. In addition, sometimes the Associates write up the a note for me to paste in, and of course the Co-Editors write their own for Tier 4. The presence (or absence) of a personal note does not reflect how well we thought a story would fit at Escape Pod. Generally, five factors influence this choice:

  1. Who on our staff read your story? (Are they someone more or less inclined to write personals?)
  2. Did we think a comment would help this story or your future stories?
  3. Was our reaction something we could meaningfully condense down to a sentence or two?
  4. Was there something in your cover letter that affected our desire to provide feedback?
  5. How hurried was I while sending out rejection letters?

As you can see, many of these factors have nothing to do with your story. We offer feedback as often as manageable, but we’re not your critique group.

Reprints almost never get personal notes, because the story has already achieved its final form.

EXCEPTIONS

So many possible exceptions!

We try to go through the main queue from oldest to newest, but there’s a lot of jitter.  For example, if one of us downloads 10 stories to their Kindle, the next reader might come along ten minutes later and respond to the 11th story.

The workflow can vary if I or one of the Co-Editors plucks a story from the queue. That can skip a story straight to the Final Round selection, though this may or may not be faster than the usual route.

If a reprint submission gets a personal note or a regular Tier 1/2 rejection (instead of a Reprint rejection), don’t read anything into it. I’m sufficiently overtrained on the original-story workflow that sometimes I accidentally follow it for a reprint. At Tier 3 I usually include personal notes even for reprints; I’ve developed the summary during my decision-making process, so to omit it would just be hiding information from the author.

Special submission calls aren’t under my management. Artemis Rising generally follows a similar workflow, but has only two editorial levels, and tries to send more personal responses.

This is an explanation, not a contract! This process was different in the past, and could change again someday.

Escape Pod

I’m delighted to announce that as of this morning, I am the new Assistant Editor at Escape Pod!

This is a very exciting step up! Longtime editor Norm Sherman is stepping aside, and previous Assistant Editor S.B. Divya has stepped up to be Co-Editor, alongside the equally excellent Mur Lafferty.

As Assistant Editor, I’ll be responsible for looking at the comments of our Associate Editors (slush readers, such as I was for the past year), converting most of them into rejection letters, and sending the top few up to our editors. For those of you curious how our process works, or what our rejection letters mean, stay tuned – I plan to share my process once it becomes established and stable!

I’m thrilled to step up into this greater role & responsibilities with the amazing team at Escape Pod and the whole Escape Artists podcast family. For those of you who write, go forth and send us your best science fiction. For all of you out there, subscribe to our podcast or read the texts – we’ve got a lot of great stories for you!