2015: A year in review

Wait, what just flew by me?

Oh wait, that was 2015. Well, that went pretty quick didn’t it?

Looks like I’m going to have to do another one of these.

A lot of stuff happened in 2015. But to get it out of the way, I finished university. This one isa big of a mixed bag. I enjoyed my studies there and the numerous ways in which we were taught to approach subjects like criticism, deduction and scientific research. I loved meeting up with my friends everyday and making plans to do something weird.

One of the weirdest (that I can actually mention here) was in our film class, where we were set to watch the film Taxi Driver. We were ravenous, so we did what one naturally does and trooped along to Subway and ordered two entire cookie platters. Because reasons. Obviously we couldn’t finish it. So we took it into the film threatre and passed it around in the dark. It one point I believe someone started using it as a frisbee, scattering cookies and crumbs over us while Robert De Niro coasts around NYC with a bad haircut and sub nose revolver. Again, not mind-blowing stuff, but that’s all your getting from me. Other less interesting stuff was when a moron posted on 4chan that he would shoot up the university for kicks. Obviously nothing happened, but we could have done without the scare.

So yes, I had a good time there. But it was time to leave. Some classes were nothing more than pointless filler, or in some cases based on the teacher’s agenda – something that went to higher authorities more than one. Other times I just did not feel I was being taught anything practical, especially in creating writing. Some classes were incredible, others less so. There’s only so long you can take people seriously when you’re sitting in a lecture hall listening to someone ramble on about document/collage poetry when you’re signing contracts for Nature and Macmillan to purchase your work.

But I digress. Essentially: university was good and I enjoyed it in many ways, but it was holding me back in many ways as well. Time to move on.

For my own writing, I sold eight pieces of original fiction, all of which were semipro or higher and two of which were to Nature/Macmillan. I still pinch myself when I see the Macmillan publishers logo stamped beneath my stories. One of them, Daega’s Test, is currently being translated into Polish by Szortal. I also managed to reach the position of Finalist in the prestigious Writers of the Future contest Q3. I did not make the top three, but I will know within a week or two if I am the Published Finalist. Here’s hoping.

I also sold 13 reviews and essays, 4 of which have not yet been written as of yet, but are secured. 3 of them are to Strange Horizons, which is awesome. They published my review of Predestination back in January and I am still immensely grateful. And currently I am writing the official review for Star Wars: The Force Awakens for them. Not feeling the pressure at all.

The other significant essay was to legendary John Joseph Adams over at Lightspeed slash Nightmare. I’m going to be part of the People of Colour Destory Science-Fiction anthology, launching in June 2016 in paperback. It was a difficult essay to write and while I’ve never been one to shy away from speaking my mind, I had to dredge up some old childhood memories that I’d rather not talk about too often. But it was important and relevant and I decided to do it, and I’m going to be proud of it when the anthology launches with over 100+ other authors. I’m excited to see the line-up, very much so, but I’m even more excited to finally sell to John Joseph Adams and be published in Lightspeed, something I’ve been trying to do for 2 years now, which is 1/10 of my life.

I sent my YA SF novel out to do the rounds. It got an overwhelmingly good response. I think I scooped up around 14 fulls and 12 partials from major, major agents. I got essay-long rejection letters from some the most highly respected agents in NYC. But no, it’s a pass. I was guttered at first and beat myself up about it. But I told myself to shut up, learn from my mistakes and come back with a better novel.

And that’s exactly what I’m doing. I’m 65k into it now, and I’ve got the end in sight. The bones for my next project are slowly brewing, and it’s one I’m really excited about. And that’s primarily what I’m planning to do: focus on writing those novels first and foremost. I will always write short stories, always. But I came into this industry to be a novelist, to have an agent and to be sitting on those shiny shelves in those shiny bookstores. And that’s something you earn. And to do that, you need actual novels. I’m planning to sit down and outline my next novel and then go, full speed ahead. No side-stepping, no distractions, nothing. Hopefully when two months have passed I’ll have a novel. This last one took a whole year (and it’s not finished yet) because of university. I’m not letting that stop me again.

Now. To StarShipSofa.

We had an incredible year at the District of Wonders. SSS and Tales to Terrify alone managed to get over one million downloads. One million. And I worked on every single one of them.

I had the opportunity to work with and produce fiction by authors such as George R. R. Martin, William Gibson, Kim Stanley Robinson, Allen Steele, Robin Hobb, and dozens of others people who are gods in the literary world (if you told me two years ago that one day I would produce audio fiction by the creator of Game of Thrones I’d have laughed in your face). I was able to interview Ellen Datlow, Joe Abercrombie, and a whole range of other editors and publishers. I read hundreds of stories in the slush and picked out and produced audio adaptations of the ones I thought were truly the best. And it was truly an honour and a privilege to helm one of the biggest SF podcasts in the galaxy. And I will continue to be doing it for a long, long time to come.

We will be making changes over at District of Wonders. We’ve acquired two new staff members for SSS, including my intern and assistant Ralph Ambrose (who is incredible – I’d be dead in the water without him). We’ll be uping our game. More narrators, more diversity in narrators, more content, more cool features, more special issues. We’ve already got one narrator locked in who’s acted in major films opposite the likes of Ellen Page, Woody Harrellson, Cilian Murphy and others. We’ve lined up an incredible story by a major author who’s had a film adaptation by one of the most respected director’s today. We’ve got…okay, okay, I’ll stop. All I’ll say is: District of Wonders is upping their game and working much, much more closely together. Expect amazing things in 2016.

Well, that’s it. It’s been a gigantic year for me, both as a writer and an individual. I don’t know what’ll happen next year (which starts in an hour’s time for me), but all I know is that I’ve got my sights set on writing a killer novel that’ll snap up an agent. It’s something I have to earn, and I’m willing to do just that. Failing that, I want to win Writers of the Future, something I consider to be likely in the very near future. But it’s impossible to tell.

I’m going to sign off, but first let me say to the hundreds and hundreds of authors, narrators, publishers, actors, writers, editors, friends and fans I’ve met in 2015, it’s been an honour to know and have worked with you in 2015. Truly, it has. And hopefully I’ll continue to do that in 2016. And maybe, I just might meet you in person.

But that’s another story.

Signing off,

Jeremy Szal

 

StarShipSofa: Slush Submission Update and Episode 400 Special

So I’ve been slowly, slowly hacking my way through the slush pile of StarShipSofa. It’s a process that simultaneously fun and wondrous, but daunting and difficult. I love being able to see what other people have written and nothing can compare to finding that diamond in the rough and knowing you have to take it, shooting off an acceptance and getting an excited email back filled with thank yous and how they can’t wait to see the finished product.

But.

But it’s also very hard to let go off some of these stories. Very, very hard. But unfortunately that’s part of the process and it has to be done. And there’s always another story for you to send.

Okay, enough of the petty sentiments: At this point, I have read and responded to everything up until July 3. If you haven’t heard back, you are currently in the 2nd round. I will not be tackling this until I finish the rest of the slush, as there was a barrage of last-minute submissions. I’ll let you know as soon as I can.

The other major thing? That would be the very special episode 400 of StarShipSofa. We’ve got a groundbreaking author lined up, one responsible for making SF/F what it is today. This author is without question of the most popular and well known writers in and outside genre. A pillar of contemporary literature. StarShipSofa has been graced with the mammoths that are George R. R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, Gene Wolfe, Michael Moorcock, Lisa Tuttle, Kim Stanley Robinson, and now this author.

Who is it?

You’re going to have to find out yourself. It’s taken months of planning, but it’s nearly here. And I can’t wait to see what you think.

StarShipSofa Submissions: An update

This is my first time reading slush, and it’s lovely to see all the fantastic submissions pouring in. And ¬°Ay, caramba!, I’ve come across some ripping stories. It’s an absolute joy to see this talent blooming, by both new authors and established authors alike.

I’ve already sent out a handful of acceptances, as well as a few rejections. Sending a rejection sucks just as much as receiving one, and I always try to pin-point what I personally didn’t like about the submission, or my reason for rejecting it. Remember, it’s just my opinion, and someone’s already picked it up, so you’re already on the right track.

But please, do remember to follow the guidelines. I’ve had a few submissions where the original publication venue is not listed, it’s addressed to “dear editor(s)” (despite the fact that my name is on the email address itself, and last time I checked I don’t have a double, as much as I’d like one). The latter I can forgive, but the former I cannot. I need to know if it was self-published by a vanity press, or if Ellen Datlow picked it up for her Tor anthology. It makes a big difference, and I will not read the work unless you follow these guidelines. Yes, it sucks, but I don’t have the time to trace its origin when I’ve got another 50 submissions from people who did follow the guidelines. It’s not fair on anyone. But overall I’ve had nothing but fantastic work and marvelous people, so keep that up.

This is the way I sort out the submissions. When the stories come in, I read from the earliest sent. I keep reading, and sometimes I’ll know immediately that this is a story I cannot let go, and I’ll email over the acceptance. Other times I’ll sadly have to send over a rejection immediately, as the story is not what I’m looking for. But most of the time, I’ll read the story and like it, and move it to the “Maybe/further consideration pile”. This means your story has a fighting chance, but I need to weigh it up amoungst the other submissions in the pile and decide against those merits. So basically, if you haven’t heard from me, you’ve moved to the maybe pile. The longer I hold on, the better. And I’m getting a lot of submissions, sometimes clocking it at 18,000 words, and for the most part can’t justify a response unless I’ve gotten to the end.

So, that’s it from Szal towers for now. Keep those submissions rollin’ and I’ll have an answer for you…sooner or later.

– Jeremy Szal