“The Plumes of Enceladus” now back online for your reading pleasure

My story “The Plumes of Enceladus” was published in Abyss & Apex earlier this month, but there appears to have been some kind of technical mix-up, since trying to read it would net you a 404 page not found error.

That’s been resolved! You can now go read this story—which features a disabled protagonist, a race to Saturn, and a not unreasonable amount of angst and poor decisions—online at http://www.abyssapexzine.com/2016/09/the-plumes-of-enceladus/.


“Love and Relativity” now available in Spanish at Axxón!

My story from Nature Physics, “Love and Relativity,” has been translated into Spanish by the fine folks at Axxón magazine.

You can read the translation, “Amor y Relatividad,” by author and translator Claudia De Bella, here: http://axxon.com.ar/rev/2016/10/amor-y-relatividad-stewart-c-baker/

Gracias, Claduai y Axxón!

Three quick tips for writing believable dialogue in your fiction

One of the things I often find myself changing when I’m editing people’s fiction is dialogue.

Dialogue is one of the cornerstones of fiction writing: it gives your characters a chance to show off who they are, and–just as in real life–serves as a way for them to learn about each other and work to resolve their differences.

Good dialogue can really make characters come alive. Wooden, unrealistic dialogue, though, can throw a reader out of your story very quickly indeed.

To misquote Mark Twain, the difference between the good dialogue and wooden dialogue is really a large matter—’tis the difference between “Reach for the sky!” and “Hello, Miss. Yes, I am here to rob the bank. I am holding on to a gun in my hand here. Can you please give me all of the money that you have in the sack behind the counter there now so I can take it. If you do not want to give me the sack I will have to shoot you with my gun instead and I do not want to do that if I do not have to and I am sure you do not want me to shoot you either so just give me the money now and I will go.”

Here are three simple, concrete things you can start doing right now to improve your written conversations.

Use contractions

Although it varies a bit depending on your locale, most varieties of spoken English use contractions.

In stories, however, I often see writers who would say “I’m going to the store. Want anything?” in real life make their characters say:

“I am going to the store. Is there anything that you would like me to get for you?”

This turns what would be an otherwise unmemorable line into something that sticks out–in the worst possible way.

While the occasional “I am” or “you are” can serve to make a character’s point, most people use contractions when they speak. (And, as Mark Liberman of Language Log points out, they’ve done so for quite a long time where informal speech is concerned.)

To return to our shopping character:

“I’m going to the store. Is there anything that you’d like me to get for you?”

With this one small change, the dialogue already sounds more realistic.

Make every word matter

Brevity, as Shakespeare tells us, is the soul of wit. My bank robber example above shows that it’s also important to dialogue.

Every sentence–and ideally every word–in your fiction should serve some kind of purpose, whether it’s furthering the plot, advancing the action, deepening characterization, or any of the other things that help draw readers in.

Dialogue is no different. Indeed, since it’s how your characters express themselves most directly, every word carries even more weight.

In the end, it comes down to whether you want your characters to come across as interminable blowhards, or smart and snappy. There’s a place for both kinds of speech–but by and large, shorter is better.

This goes double for sections where your characters are saying something that’s crucial to resolving the plot or their conflict with another character. A reader will feel the impact of a terse “I just–I love you, okay?” much more than a long, rambling discourse on the nature of romantic attraction, complete with detours through every kiss your hero has ever shared with his lover.

Break up dialogue with action

Outside the technical aspects of dialogue itself, it’s important to consider what else is going on during your story.

Your protagonists are rarely likely to be in a situation where they can talk for hours, so it’s important to fit what they’re saying in with what’s happening around them.

Dialogue tags are one easy way to intersperse action and dialogue. Working in short, sentence-long paragraphs in between bits of speech can also do the trick:

“I’m going to the store,” Jeyna said. “Is–”
A shattering of glass filled the air as a zombie broke down the window at the front of the room.
Jeyna pivoted and put a bullet through its forehead, then returned her gun to its holster. “Is there anything you’d like me to get?”

Although there isn’t an exact formula for mixing dialogue and action, at least make sure your long, meaningful heart-to-heart isn’t happening during a time when your protagonist and her estranged brother are in the midst of fighting off an army of invading alien warriors armed with rapid-fire laser blasters. Few things are less convincing than ten paragraphs of dialogue squeezed between dodging one attack and then returning fire.

If your story isn’t action-oriented (and even if it is!), make sure other characters nearby don’t suddenly stop existing while your two characters talk to each other. Either put your characters in a place where they can be alone, or work in a couple of short interruptions–which can also be a great way to increase tension.

Bonus Tip: Read it Aloud

If you’re not sure your dialogue is working, try reading it out loud–either alone or with a friend.

Things that are hard to spot on the page often become very obvious when spoken.

I hope this post is helpful to you in your writing.

If you have a completed manuscript you want to take it to the next level, need a critique on a new short story you’ve written, or Want to make sure your novel is the best it can be before you indie publish, check out my editing services.

New story, “The Plumes of Enceladus” out now at Abyss & Apex

My short story “The Plumes of Enceladus” is free to read in this month’s Abyss & Apex: http://www.abyssapexzine.com/2016/09/the-plumes-of-enceladus/

The story is about pilots from two rival corporations involved in a race to Enceladus, an icy moon of Saturn, to collect water from its cryovolcanoes.

The pilots are:
Andry, a woman who’s driven by her grandmother’s life as a space pioneer to take her own place in the annals of space exploration. She’s a loner by choice but not necessarily a cold person. She also just happens to be a wheelchair user, although she has prosthetics for most of the story instead.

Frank, who feels lingering guilt from leaving his wife and their infant daughter at home on Earth.

Who wins the race? Only one way to find out. Go check out “The Plumes of Enceladus” in Abyss & Apex!

Like my story which came out in IGMS earlier this year, this one was originally written as an entry for the Baen Memorial contest. I’m pleased to have sold all my submissions to that contest now!

(note: There are a few minor formatting errors in the text of the story at the moment. I’ve contacted the editor to resolve them.)

New story, “Five Recipes You Can’t Live Without” now up at Spirit’s Tincture

My flash fiction story disguised as a series of magical cupcake recipes, “Five Recipes You Can’t Live Without” is now available to read in the inaugural issue of Spirit’s Tincture magazine.

To give you a taste (get it?) that will only serve to increase your appetite (get it?!), here is a sample-sized serving (okay, I’ll stop) made up of the opening lines:

One — Vanilla-Almond and Anise Cupcakes

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F
  2. With your dead sister’s image foremost in your mind, chant an awakening spell and light a stick of absinthe-infused sandalwood afire

The story was a runner-up in their flash fiction contest, and the issue also has stories by excellent writers like Laurence Brothers, Darcie Little Badger (whose story won the contest!), Spencer Ellsworth, José Iriarte, and more!

The issue’s free to read online (albeit in one of those funky page-flipping things), and you can also buy a print version if you’re into that sort of thing. Go and check it out!

Here’s the online version:

(PS: Peltandra Sagittifolia and snakeroot are kind of toxic, so do me a favour and don’t try to reproduce those recipes in your kitchen!)

In a feat inspired by quantum interference, I will be at WorldCon this year while I am not at WorldCon this year. #FlatStewart

Ah, WorldCon. Science Fiction and Fantasy fandom’s largest annual shindig. Where you can rub shoulders with upcoming SFF authors and renowned bestsellers alike—and thousands of other industry professional and fans—and even see some people take home fancy (if phallic) rocket ship trophies.

But for all of WorldCon’s fame and staying power, it’s not without its drawbacks. Like, for instance, how no one* has ever dared to attend the convention while also not attending the convention.

That’s all about to change. For the first time ever**, I will be attempting this daring feat, thanks solely to the generosity and ingenuity of author, editor, miniature poodle***, and all-around awesome person-type being known as K.M. Szpara.

Kellan has, through the magic**** of printing, created a proxy for me, dubbed Flat Stewart.

Aren’t I magnificently deranged-looking? I mean magnificent? Don’t answer that.

Anyway, Kellan will be taking Flat Stewart around the place, and no doubt getting up to all sorts of misadventures. You can follow along with the fun by looking at the #FlatStewart hashtag on Twitter*****.

Quantum interference has never been so easy.

* That I can think of, anyway, because I’m too lazy to look it up and see.
** See previous footnote.
*** It is possible I may be misreading their bio.
**** Any sufficiently advanced technology, &.c, &c.
***** Note that there appears to be some other Flat Stewart in the tweets prior to 16 August 2016. Judging from his profile and relative lack of facial hair, I’m the evil twin.

Reprint: “The Butterfly Disjunct” in Strange Constellations under a CC-BY-NC licence

My far-future story “The Butterfly Disjunct” is now up to read free of charge in Strange Constellations, a web magazine that publishes stories under a Creative Commons licence. a CC-BY-NC licence, in particular.

And what does that mean?

In practical terms, it means that you can do whatever you want with this little story, so long as you:

  1. Credit me as its author
  2. Make it clear that you’ve modified my work (if applicable)
  3. Don’t make money as a result

Want to paste the whole story on your web page? You can!

Want to put it in a free anthology of other CC-BY stories? Knock yourself out.

Want to remix it, or make it part of a bigger work? Cool. Go for it!

Thinking about making a Polish-language post-modern opera about it where the whole story takes place in a Cold War bunker? Sounds neat.

Again, so long as whatever you’re doing is not commercial in nature, there’s no real limit to what you can do. (Although as the author of the story, I can waive this on a case-by-case basis. So just get in touch!)

As a librarian with an interest in the Open Access movement, I’m excited to be able to publish a story under a Creative Commons licence. Especially since this particular story hasn’t appeared in the wild for free before. I hope you enjoy reading it! (Or doing whatever else you plan on doing to it.)

Read “The Butterfly Disjunct” at Strange Constellations.

Two SFnal reprints in QuickFic – “Masks” and “Little More than Shadows”

These two reprints are actually from late June, but I was visiting family at the time and wasn’t paying much attention to things.

So, under the “better late than never” category: I have two reprints in Digital Fiction Publishing’s “QuickFic” imprint which are free to read online on their website.

The first of these, “Little More than Shadows,” is a roughly 800-word 2nd-person slipstreamy story about dreams, monsters, regrets, and Hamlet references in the title. It starts like this:

On the worst days, just the knowledge that you’re dreaming is enough to set you shivering in the cot, neck stiff from the cables.

Eventually, one of your wardens will come, so you wait. They are little more than shadows, these days: features you can’t quite bring into focus; skin tone somewhere between ivory and midnight. You can’t remember any of the names you gave them when you first arrived.

The second story, “Masks,” is closer to 3000 words, and is space opera featuring a colony-ship, spies, sabotage, alien artefacts of unclear provenance, and more. Also a lesbian couple, hooray!

Min can tell by the way the man in the lizard mask drums the fingers of one hand on the surface of his desk that he is angry. She avoids the bright green glimmer of his eyes, wishing she were anywhere but here. Wishing she remembered who she was supposed to be.

“This is all you bring me?” the man asks, his voice raspy with distortion. In his other hand he holds the latest chip Min has stolen, heavy with data on Ship’s communications to the other surviving colony ships and its route away from Earth-long-gone.

New story in IGMS and an (interactive!) reprint in Sub-Q — Also, I’m a Baen Fantasy finalist!

It’s July! And I have a few stories out or otherwise newsworthy.

First, in Intergalactic Medicine Show, my hard SF story about space elevators and the end of the world (and family, and belonging, and loss, and responsibility, and a myriad of other things), “The View from Driftwise Spindle.”

Here’s the opening paragraph:

The plural for meeting, thought Gayatri Anwar, ought to be headache. And even for a surface stint, where meetings always played a heavy role, she’d had a lot of headaches since the Martian Disaster. The announcement that a rogue planetoid had struck their sister planet, and that meteor-sized pieces of ejecta would crash into Earth in five months’ time, had everyone scrambling to get off-planet. Driftwise, as the only spindle with no ties or obligations to a particular nation, seemed to be bearing the brunt of the attention.

You can read most of the first scene (and see the glorious full-colour illustration which won’t make sense until you’ve read the full story) over at Intergalactic Medicine Show, so go check it out! There are also great original stories by Rachael K Jones, Kat Otis, Aimee Pichee, Andrew Neil Gray, and Shane Halbach, along with an essay and reprint from Kameron Hurley. (Note: the full issue is behind a paywall, but an annual subscription is only $15.)

Second, my Writers of the Future winning story “Images Across a Shattered Sea” is now available as a free-to-read piece of interactive fiction at Sub-Q Magazine. Interactive fiction is perhaps not that well-known, so if you’re confused by the word, just picture those old Chose Your Own Adventure books, but on your preferred web browser and without the ability to cheat by reading straight through. Think of it like a text-only video game combined with a short story.

If that sounds like fun, I hope you enjoy the interactive version of “Images Across a Shattered Sea.” There are several new passages in this version of the story, and a few new endings, so even if you’ve read the story before there’ll be some things that are new to you.

I also want to thank Paul Otteni for letting me use his amazing illustration of the story for the cover art of the Sub-Q version of the story. Thanks, Paul!

Last, but certainly not least, my story “Fox-Sign” is a finalist for the Baen Fantasy Adventure Award, hosted by Gen Con. The winners will be announced August 6th.

Last Words of the Idea of English Superiorty, Spoken to Nationalist Parties Claiming Its Relevance on the Eve of the United Kingdom’s Dissolution into its Component Countries, Shires, Cities, and Townships (“Last Words” series)

Writing about brexit? Me?


Last Words of the Idea of English Superiorty, Spoken to Nationalist Parties Claiming Its Relevance on the Eve of the United Kingdom’s Dissolution into its Component Countries, Shires, Cities, and Townships

by Stewart C Baker

Are you lot still here?

(And this is my 100th post on this blog, apparently. Shiny.)