Author Archive

Latest writing news

I just got back from the bimonthly writers’ lunch (FYI, the baked squash side dish at the Old Spaghetti Factory, plus a small salad, makes a very nice light lunch) and I was kind of stunned at the amount of writing news that’s come down the pike in the last 60 days. Then I realized I hadn’t posted much of it here, so here’s an update.

  • Analog is about to publish its first anthology in Kindle digital format, titled Into the New Millennium: Trailblazing Tales from Analog Science Fiction and Fact 2000-2010, and Stanley Schmidt has selected my novelette “Pupa” to appear in it!
  • The anthology End of an Aeon, including my novelette “The True Story of Merganther’s Run,” is finally here! I wrote this story in 2003, rewrote it in 2006, revised it in 2007, sold it to Aeon in 2007, then Aeon folded in 2008. You can order the anthology of all the stories Aeon bought and couldn’t publish, in paper or Kindle format, from Fairwood Press.
  • My story “Zauberschrift,” originally published in Apprentice Fantastic, has been podcast at PodCastle, with a fine reading by Wilson Fowlie.
  • The awesome Alpha Workshop class of 2011 has posted their official class video!
  • I have been added to the Liar’s Panel at the Worldcon: Thursday 20:00 in A03. Jay Lake, James Patrick Kelly, Connie Willis, and me! (And if you believe that, you’ll believe anything.)
  • Issue 100 of Realms of Fantasy has been reviewed by Rich Horton in Locus: “I particularly liked… David D. Levine’s ‘The Tides of the Heart’ — pure urban fantasy, in which a plumber specializing in magical problems runs into a special one: an undine trapped in the pipes of an historical old house marked for demolition. The plumber’s solution to the problem is personal as well as magical, and the intermixing of the two works perfectly. Recommended.
  • I sold short story “The Last Days of the Kelly Gang” to John Joseph Adams for his anthology Armored. It’s a steampunk powered-armor story set in the Australian Outback in 1880.

Les Misérables

fter a lovely French dinner (steack frites FTW) and a walk around downtown, we are just about to head into the auditorium for Les Misérables, a very significant show for us.

We first saw Les Mis on our first trip to London together, cheap last-minute obstructed-view seats, and it blew us away. We’ve seen it many times since, we own the original French concept album and a couple of different cast albums on LP and CD… we even have a documentary video on laserdisc. Okay, it’s kind of hokey and formulaic, and the music isn’t as good as we once thought it was, but it’s Our Show.

Now if I can only stop myself from singing along using the Forbidden Broadway version of the lyrics…

Presenting the Hugo, and other Worldcon news

I am pleased and proud to announce that I will be presenting the award for Best Short Story at the Hugo Awards ceremony in Reno!

Good news: I get to hang out with the other presenters, nominees, and SMOFs at the reception before the ceremony. I get to dress up in my fancy party duds. I get to be on stage. I don’t have to worry about winning.

Bad news: I have to write and present a speech. I know I won’t go home with a rocketship.

On balance: WIN!

The rest of my Worldcon schedule is below:

Wed 17:00 – 18:00, Ask Doctor Genius, A03 (RSCC)
The panelists provide authoritative (but not necessarily correct) answers to audience questions on any topic. David D. Levine (M), Paul Cornell , Sam Scheiner

Thu 11:30 – 12:00, Reading, A15 (RSCC) David D. Levine

Thu 14:00 – 15:00, The Necessity of Reviewers, A05 (RSCC)
Ten or twenty years ago, information was scarce by today’s standards. The reviews in Locus, F&SF, and other magazines were the primary source of information for readers. In today’s environment of blogs and Amazon reader reviews, what is the role of the reviewer in the traditional magazines and their online peers? David D. Levine (M), Lev Grossman, Farah Mendlesohn, Mark R. Kelly, Gary K. Wolfe

Thu 16:00 – 17:00, My Trip to Mars, A01+6 (RSCC)
David D. Levine was part of a group who lived in a simulated Martian environment. Sponsored by the Mars Society, the Mars Desert Research Station gives researchers of all kinds the opportunity to see what exploring Mars could be like. David D. Levine

Fri 10:00 – 12:00, Writers Workshop, Section K, Peppermill
All workshop sessions required advanced sign-up and are filled. Walter Jon Williams, David D. Levine

Fri 15:00 – 16:00, KaffeeKlatsch, KK1 (RSCC)
David D. Levine

Fri 23:00 – 01:00, Whose Line is it Anyway?, Naples7 (Peppermill)
Our version of the improvisational TV show. Marc Wells (M), Sean Wells (M), David D. Levine, Dave Howell, Madeleine E. Robins, Seanan McGuire

Sat 10:00 – 11:00, Fans Turned Pro, A09 (RSCC)
There is a long and distinguished tradition in the field of SF fans turning pro while retaining their connections. This tradition, dating from the early day of fandom, is alive and well today. Our panel discusses their experiences as pros and fans. Moshe Feder (M), Vylar Kaftan, Lois McMaster Bujold, David D. Levine

Sat 8:00 – 10:00, Hugo Ceremony, Tuscany Ballroom (Peppermill)

Sun 12:00 – 13:00, Wild Cards, A01+6 (RSCC)
George R.R. Martin, Carrie Vaughn, Melinda M. Snodgrass, Ian Tregillis, Paul Cornell, Kevin A. Murphy, Daniel Abraham, David D. Levine, Walter Jon Williams, Ty Franck

Hope to see you there!!

Cascade Writers

Somehow it has been a whole week since I got back from the Cascade Writers Workshop at the Washington coast, where I was one of the instructors.

The workshop seemed ill-starred at first, with author guest Jay Lake having to drop out (as it happened, he wound up having surgery on the first day of the workshop) and his replacement Ken Scholes only able to attend Friday and Saturday. A few weeks before the workshop, the restaurant of the hotel where it was to be held burned to the ground, leaving the organizers scrambling to find a new space for lectures and the Saturday night banquet; the fire also took out the stairs leading from the hotel down to the beach. And on the first night of the event, workshop organizer Karen Junker’s step-father (who was helping out) died in his sleep, an unexpected tragedy that left many people dazed and sleepless the next day.

Despite these unfortunate events, though, the workshop itself went well. Ken and I, along with editor Beth Meacham, provided critiques and Q&A sessions, with additional lectures by NYT bestselling author Bob Mayer and writers Randy Henderson and Spencer Ellsworth. The students included a nice mix of people from previous workshops and new people, and some of the stories were very exciting. And the food, all of it provided by Karen and her family, was first-rate. There was so much to do that I didn’t even really miss the fact that we couldn’t easily walk down to the beach (I did have a nice soak and conversation in the hot tub).

One incident from the weekend stands out in my mind. During my Q&A session, someone had just asked a question about creating sympathetic characters when a bird flew into the room, battering itself against the glass doors in an attempt to escape. Everyone leaped to its assistance, gently guiding it back outside. As soon as we’d settled back down I pointed out how that bird was an object lesson in creating a sympathetic character: it was a character (the bird), in a situation (the room), with a problem (an impenetrable glass door), which tried and repeatedly failed (battering itself against the door), but eventually succeeded (it got out with our help) and was rewarded (it flew away).

By taking action in an attempt to better its situation, what I call “protagonistiness,” the bird demonstrated pluck, which makes it admirable. By failing it demonstrated that the problem was significant and not easily overcome, which made it sympathetic. By repeatedly trying and failing it demonstrated persistence, which made it even more admirable and sympathetic. And then it succeeded by using a quality that had been inherent in it from the beginning (its cuteness) to solve the problem in an unexpected and yet satisfying way (getting us to help it). Kind of hokey, yes, but how could I turn down such a brilliant example when it literally flew in the door? We imagined that great bird legends would be written about the battle and defeat of the Invisible Wall.

I enjoy teaching but it does take a lot out of me; I was pretty wiped out when I got home. But the feedback I’ve gotten from the weekend has been excellent, so I will happily keep doing it as long as people keep inviting me.

Vampires as fanfic

In a discussion in the car on the way home from Cascade Writers, I realized that writing about vampires or zombies is a lot like writing fanfic. In both cases, much of the character development and worldbuilding are done for you; all you have to do is say “vampire,” or “Kirk,” and the reader instantly knows what to expect.

In both cases, defying those expectations is possible, but it’s more work, and it’s not often done because it will disappoint or anger a good chunk of the readers. Some writers wind up “filing off the serial numbers” so that the fanfic is no longer recognizable as such (or is recognizable in a camouflaged, wink-and-a-nod way). You end up with a starship that isn’t quite the Enterprise, or a powerful life-draining immortal who isn’t quite a vampire. There has been some quite good fiction produced in this way.

Although I recognize that fanfic is a useful writing exercise, and can be used as the basis of some interesting transformational works that take the basic material and comment on it, or use it to comment on other aspects of society, I generally find it uninteresting because it’s lazy. And that might be why I find so much vampire and zombie fiction (and there is so much of it, these days) extremely put-downable.


At the Pittsburgh airport now, heading home from the Alpha Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Workshop for Young Writers where I was an instructor. The Pittsburgh airport is pretty cool; it has a T. rex skeleton and exhibits on Mister Rogers and Andy Warhol, plus free wi-fi.

I had a fabulous time at Alpha. The young writers are smart, energetic, focused, and extremely talented, and the staff very helpful and well-organized. Even the school cafeteria food was good. The four manuscripts I critiqued from the “Betas” (previous students returning to the workshop as teaching assistants) were of extremely high quality, and the ideas I reviewed for the stories the Alphas will be writing this week were astonishing in their creativity. I wish I could be here next week to see the stories that result.

I got great feedback on my lectures and critiques; one of the Betas even told me that he’d been to Alpha three times and he liked my lectures the best. Everyone was friendly and supportive. However, I must publicly acknowledge the debt I owe to my own instructors: Pat Murphy, who gave me the “turn an idea into a story” exercise I used for my first lecture; Algys Budrys, who gave me the seven-point plot outline I used in my second lecture; and Carol Emshwiller, who gave me the line “use exposition as ammunition.” I stand on the shoulders of giants.

One of the students, Gretchen Hohmeyer (@adkwriter15 on Twitter) live-tweeted the following highlights from my lectures:

  • “Writing is a form of telepathy. You are putting your thoughts into someone else’s brain.”
  • “Experiment with experimental writing… just don’t inhale.”
  • “A symbol is a prop that has more weight than its own self.”
  • “Use exposition as ammunition.”
  • “The first sentence of any story is going to be world-building.”
  • “You can do a lot of world-building in a few sentences, if you choose the right detail.”
  • “Smoking’s a great help during dialogue. I dont smoke, I dont recommend it. But ur characters wont get cancer unless u want them to!”
  • “English is a marvelously rich language. We’ve stolen language from every other language.”
  • “You can get away with anything in this business as long as you can sell it, in both senses of the word.”
  • “The difference between a comedy and a tragedy is where you choose to end the story.”
  • “Ideas are like neutrinos: they fall from the sky and we just have to be dense enough to catch them.”

We also had a successful reading and signing at a local bookstore and attended a showing of the final Harry Potter film, which I really enjoyed (much more than the previous one, which took the sins of the whole book onto itself, leaving all the good bits for the final film).

All in all, I’m pleased, honored, satisfied, and very tired. It’s been fun, but I’m ready to be home now.

Reminder about EphSpec, July 17

Just a reminder that “Ephemerata Speculata,” a live event of F&SF story readings, will be held TOMORROW, July 17, at 5:00 pm at Tabor Space, 5441 SE Belmont, in Portland Oregon. Writers Bob Zahniser, David D. Levine, David W. Goldman, and Jennifer Cox read their work. For more information, see

My life is improv

Woke up at 4am. Now at the airport headed to Greenburg, PA (via Denver and Pittsburgh) for the Alpha Workshop for young F&SF writers.

I’m honored to have been selected to teach at this workshop. This is something I wanted; in fact, I pushed hard to get it. Yet I don’t feel remotely qualified for it. Maybe I can write (sometimes I have my doubts about that), but can I teach it? I have a one-page handout prepared for the first of my four lectures, and apart from that I’m just going to wing it. What was I thinking??

Still, I have taught at Cascade Writers and workshopped at many other venues; this is just a step up from there. I’ve lectured off the cuff many times and people seemed to like it. I have excellent support from the Alpha staff. And even if I blow it completely, there are three other instructors following me to clean up the mess.

I’ve wung it before, and I’ll wing it again.

Let’s talk about plot

I woke up this morning and realized that at 7am tomorrow I will be on a plane to Pittsburgh to be the first of four instructors at the Alpha workshop for young F&SF writers (the others are Tamora Pierce, Ellen Kushner, and Scott A. Johnson). I know that I can do this, but I’m still kind of freaked out. It seems like so much responsibility.

I will be giving four lectures, of about an hour each (1:15 in the morning, 0:50 in the afternoon). I have decided I’m going to speak on the following topics:

  • How to develop an idea into a story
  • What is plot?
  • Using sets and props to develop character
  • Using all the senses (there are more than 5)

For the first one I’m going to use the method Pat Murphy gave us at Clarion West, and I’m pretty solid on the last two. But plot is important, and I don’t feel that I have as firm a handle on it as I’d like.

One way of looking at plot is Algys Budrys’s basic seven-part outline: a person, in a situation, with a problem, who tries, and repeatedly fails, but eventually succeeds, and is rewarded. Another is the three-act structure used in Hollywood: setup (inciting incident and first turning point), confrontation (second turning point), and resolution (climax). One definition of plot is “a series of events that happen for a reason.” I can’t talk about plot without talking about how plot, character, and setting are thoroughly intertwined.

What are some of the most useful things you’ve been told about plot?

Jury duty

So I was on jury duty today.

I spent the whole day in voir dire (i.e. listening to the attorneys quiz the other jury candidates). I was called up for two juries and was not able to serve on either of them, because I’m flying to Pittsburgh on Wednesday for the Alpha workshop and both of the trials will take longer than that. Nonetheless I had to wait for the entire voir dire process to finish before I could leave. Frustrating.

The good news is that jury service is only for one day, so even though I was not on a jury I’ve still discharged my civic duty for the next two years. Go me.