Next up in my Q&A series is another fellow contributor to Tides of Possibility: C. Stuart Hardwick! Stuart has already been hard at work helping to promote the anthology, and posted a Q&A session a while back where myself and several other contributors discussed our crafts. In addition to Tides, Stuart is a winner of the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future contest and the Colonnade Writing Contest, and has published speculative fiction in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine.
Having achieved what most spec fic writers only dream of with Writers of the Future, do you have any advice for writers (like me) who are still striving to at least get an honorable mention?
Sure. Well it should be obvious that the competition is vast and you need to totally nail those things you can control—the more mechanical aspects of craft. Once that’s sorted, though, it might be helpful to consider the editorial tastes of the market. Dave Wolverton is first reader and editor for WotF, and you could do worse than spending all your spare time studying his “Daily Kick in the Pants” blogs. Dave says the main thing that separates potential winners from the pack is originality and artistic confidence (so, talent and experience). But beyond that, Dave is a fantasy writer and his tastes naturally influence the style and nature of winning stories. WotF does a lot to support its winners, but remember that the contest cannot survive without producing a coherent product. Read a few recent copies of the anthology and you should be able to get a feel for the nuances of mood and genre that make the cut. It’s probably a fool’s errand to spend too much energy trying to tailor your work to a specific market (my winning story was originally intended for elsewhere), but at the same time, if you are committed to horror or hard sci-fi, say, WotF may just not be for you.
And that brings me to another point. Don’t let any one contest or market define you. Mike Resnick told me he picks stories for Galaxy’s Edge simply by looking for the ones “where you don’t want to stop reading.” But then he added, “but even most of the good ones, I have to say no.” The mathematics of today’s climate dictate that you will be rejected most of the time by most markets, period. The supply for good short stories just far outstrips demand. So you have to develop an objective, unjaundiced eye for your own writing and decide for yourself whether you are being stymied by the caliber of your work, market fit, or just the luck of the draw.
Between your stories in WotF, Andromeda Spaceways, and Tides of Possibility, which one are you most proud of, and why?
Andromeda Spaceways was my first sale, and “Callista’s Delight” is my personal favorite of the short stories I’ve written so far. But of course I’m most proud of “Rainbows for Other Days”, my winning WotF story. It’s the first story for which I got feedback from real, honest to God, money-paying readers, and it’s been great. I’ll never forget seeing Andrew Sonea’s artwork for the first time–a scene from the story, painted from an angle I hadn’t imagined, with the citadel looming in the background. It made the hairs stand up on my neck.
Writers of the Future was great, and I got to meet a fine bunch of folks, including a ton of bonafide legends of the genre. It was a real shot in the arm for which I’ll forever be grateful. But if anything, it had the effect of redoubling my commitment to improving my craft. Imagine meeting the Wizard of Oz and instead of shouting, “Ignore the man behind the curtain,” he reaches down his hand and says, “You can do this too.” And then you go home and try a few tricks and realize how far you really have to go. After the workshop, I sent Tim Powers a thank you and he wrote back saying, “Get out there and win your Hugo.” This is the man who wrote On Stranger Tides, the wonderful novel that inspired the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. You feel a certain obligation not to disappoint, you know?
What are you hoping to achieve next with your writing?
I’m working on a young adult sci-fi novel based on the dystopian world of my WotF story, but from the girl’s perspective. She starts out beaten down by a society that completely subordinates personal freedom to a cult-like faith in a future that seems to never get any closer. Her own desperate acts lead her to discover it’s all a sham, and if things are ever to improve, she’ll have to make it happen and do it over the objections of a deep and powerful corruption. Oh, and there are creepy cyborgs and romantic entanglements and lots of explosions. And stuff.
I have a lot of confidence in this project. My goal is to sell it and attract an agent to help me turn it loose on the world. And I’m going to do it, to, even though the vast majority of writers never do, those poor sons of bitches. [winks]
What do you consider to be particularly unique about your work?
Isn’t that like asking a parent which child is most attractive? I recently finished a story that addresses man’s post-industrial evolution. Another is set on a world where global warming is a good thing. I’d say those are typical. I always try to weave in fresh angles on thought-provoking issues, not to push my own views but because readers are smart and I think they look for that—especially in sci-fi. I go to great lengths to get the details right, and I’ve gotten great feedback on that from my readers.
Has anything you’ve written ever surprised or scared you? If so, what?
Sure. Writing is sort of a controlled psychosis. You create new worlds and simulate them in your mind and they grow and evolve on their own mental thread, as it were, and it can definitely shock you. I used to think when writers talk as if their characters were living people that that was a ridiculous affectation. Now I realize it’s probably the one universal of writing. You’re the god of the worlds you create, but you are beholden to the reader. That means you must be merciless and cruel, almost as cruel as is possible. I hadn’t expected that aspect of writing when I started, and it can be remarkably disturbing sometimes.
I suppose my biggest surprise was halfway through the first chapter of my current novel, when my protagonist suddenly announces she’s going to kill herself. It’s the only way she can see to stop her father making a terrible blunder that will ultimately condemn her whole family. So she jumps to her death, or she tries to, and that starts her world unraveling. That’s where the story dynamics led, and it was right, but it was quite a shock at the time.
You’re exiled to a faraway moon until the end of your days. What are the five books you bring (excluding the obvious survival guides)?
Stranger in a Strange Land, obviously. Anna Karenina, The Hunt for Red October, and any anthology of Asimov’s work. And an online edition of the OED. If I have power and WiFi, I’ll make of my amore.
What do you consider to be the mark of writing success?
That people enjoy your work enough to justify keeping at it. So far, I seem to be doing pretty well.
You can find out more about Stuart and his work by visiting http://www.cstuarthardwick.com/. Any followers of this blog who sign up for his e-newsletter will receive a free, signed e-edition of “Callista’s Delight.”
If you’d like to take part in a Q&A to promote your current or next work, please contact me through this website.