"An Ill-Fated Girl Just Happens to Meet an Ill-Fated Man" in F&SF, some award things
An Ill-Fated Girl Just Happens to Meet an Ill-Fated Man in F&SF
My story An Ill-Fated Girl Just Happens to Meet an Ill-Fated Man is in the May/June issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Unfortunately I can’t find a link to buy the individual issue, but it should be available at newstands throughout the United States, as well as through subscription services on Weightless Books and Amazon.
The story is basically my (fantasy) love letter to the great Chinese novel The Dream of the Red Chamber (also know as The Story of the Stone in English)— doomed love and unavoidable tragedy on a backdrop of fading opulence. I’m also very fortunate to be good friends with an expert on Qing history, which was invaluable for this story in particular. My hope is that the story will be entertaining for those who understand the references while still being accessible to those that don’t.
This is also my first publication in one of the “Big Three” print magazines, and my first time on newstands, which is a pretty nice career achievement. Of the Big Three, F&SF has always been my favorite, too.
2022 Clarion West Class Announced
And I’m in it! Not that this is a surprise, since I’ve been delayed since the cancelled 2020 class. But I’m really looking forward to have a chance to work with these amazing and talented people. (Relatedly, I’ll be 99% offline for the whole workshop, so no newsletters for June or July.)
Deadline for Nebula Voting
The deadline for Nebula voting is tonight (Saturday, April 30) at Midnight Pacific Time. If you’re a SFWA member, please vote!
2022 Award Reading
Send it to me! Send an e-mail to email@example.com with [Award Reading 2022] in the title and include a link to your work (if it’s online) or an attachment (if it’s not.) Yes, it’s early in the year, but getting a jump on reading makes it easier for me. Near the end of the year I will get overwhelmed; if you send the story now I’ll definitely read it.
Normally this is the sort of thing that gets posted in private industry forums, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but I’ve found that I get a better response if I post a call in public.
Please only send “Flash,” “Short Story” and “Novelette” length works (so anything up to 17,500 words.)
It’s okay to send stuff that will be published later this year. Just attach the manuscript.
Please only send one story.
This offer is open to any writer with a story published in 2022. Feel free to share it around.
Please don’t send stories that aren’t yet purchased for publication (I’m not a publisher or editor! I can’t publish them!)
Some Thoughts on Exposition and “As You Know, Bob”
Exposition is an ongoing problem for SFF writers. You can’t just assume a reader knows about the world you invented (well, you can, but you have to be very careful about it.) In general, you’re going to want to explain to the reader how things work.
But, because direct exposition is often boring, writers try to work the details of their world into dialogue and character interaction. (Direct exposition need not be boring, as long as you work to keep your reader engaged. Douglas Adams is a great example of someone who does direct exposition incredibly well.) This, then, creates another potential issue, where one character explains to another character something about their shared world that they both already know. This can end up being stilted and unnatural—why is this character saying something that the other one already knows?—and in SFF writing circles it goes by the name “As You Know, Bob.”
In general, writing advice is to avoid both “As You Know, Bob” and direct exposition. But, of course, this still leaves the problem of how to do your necessary exposition. There’s not a single, clear-cut way to do it, but I think a lot of these “rules about things not to do” end up primarily being impediments.
With exposition in mind, I’ve been observing natural language uses, looking for situations in which people explain things about our world and how it works. And what I’ve noticed is that people say things that everyone knows all the time. The only difference from the classic “As You Know, Bob” problem is that they don’t explain it in a neutral or informative tone.
Here’s a few of the natural circumstances in which people say things that everyone in the conversation already knows:
They’re angry or frustrated. Say you’re in the US, and the president has just done something stupid that pissed off Canada, and you’re mad about it. You might well say “—He pissed off Canada! Canada, the country right to the north of us!” In this case, the comment is intended not to be informative—everyone in the US knows that Canada is to the north of us—but to use the obvious fact emphasize the stupidity of the action.
They’re condescending. Mansplaining is so commonplace that it’s a bit of a cliche, but anyone who sees themself as “above” another person (including, most certainly, men to women) will often “explain” something incredibly obvious to everyone involved. Sometimes they’ll even explain it wrong!
They’re explaining something else that is more complicated. When you’re trying to explain a complex topic, it is incredibly useful—and incredibly common—to start with basic, obviously shared knowledge and build out from there. For instance, when I was studying physics, it was very common to start to explain a new concept with the equation “F=ma”—the basic building block of all physics—and then building the concept out from there.
They’re pointing out hypocrisy. This is kind of a secondary case of “angry or frustrated,” but it’s incredibly common to repeat very well-known norms while pointing out that they’re not actually true. To use another example from US political discourse, it’s incredibly common to see a statement like “Everyone says that the US is a ‘country of immigrants,’ but our immigration policy is actually incredibly restrictive.” Again, the expectation is not that the first part of this is new information, but to point out the juxtaposition of stated ideals and actual policy.
(This isn’t intended to be an exhaustive list, just some of the circumstances I have noticed. Once you start looking for people saying things that everybody knows, it turns out that to be way more common than you’d expect.)
I’ve been experimenting with integrating these into my writing. So far it’s working great. And, additionally, there’s something else useful about them for writing purposes—most of them contain an implicit conflict (whether between individuals, between states or institutions, or between ideals), which serves to make them inherently pretty interesting to read.
Anyway, I just wanted to pass that along in case anyone is struggling with exposition or dialogue.