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Second Chance for “Second Chance”

Second Chance by David D. LevineI learned a lot at Clarion West, but I was miserable most of the time. But, eventually, I got a novella out of it. This is the story behind that novella.

Clarion West, in case you don’t know, is a six-week “boot camp for science fiction writers” held every summer in Seattle. Seventeen writers who’ve survived a rigorous selection process, but have never met before, live together in a dorm and do nothing but write and critique for six solid weeks. It’s a lot like a reality show, except that there are no cameras and no one ever gets voted off the island — you’re stuck together for the whole time. No one gets a lot of sleep, and the pressure is intense, but you’re all in it together. It’s a lot of fun and you can make friendships that last a lifetime.

At least, that’s the way it is supposed to be. But it didn’t work out that way for me.

Forced together under all that pressure, people can regress emotionally to high school or even middle school. Cliques form; best-friendships are made and broken rapidly; arguments can be intense; resentments simmer. That happened to me, in spades. And for a variety of reasons having to do with who I was at the time and what was going on in my life outside Clarion, I felt extremely isolated. It looked to me as though everyone else was making friends and having fun, while I was failing and failing creatively and ostracized from the group. (I realized much later that I did have friends, the failures were a necessary part of the learning process, and the isolation I felt had more to do with me than them, but that’s not what this post is about.) I cried almost every day, and the worst part of it was that this was supposed to be the best six weeks of my life — something I’d been hoping and dreaming about for years — and now it was ashes in my mouth.

But the thing about being a writer is that nothing that happens to you is wasted… it’s all material. So I put a note in my ideas file: “Old adolescents in space.”

Stan Schmidt, longtime editor of Analog, always said that he was looking for science fiction stories in which the science and the fiction were given equal weight. The science part of my idea was this: sending people to other stars is hard, because people are heavy and require a lot of maintenance, so I would instead just send a few cells, recorded memories, and a very clever robot that would build a space station from local materials, clone up the crew from the cells, and load them up with their previous memories. The fiction part of the idea was that those freshly-cloned astronauts would be experienced adults, mentally, but their bodies would be young and hormonal and their relationships would be middle-schoolish — my main character would be a man who achieved his dream but had it turn out sour because his emotions were all in a roil.

I attended Clarion West in 2001. I didn’t start writing the story until 2006, and when I did I threw everything I had into it. (In retrospect, I did everything I could to make it hard for myself to write. Maybe I didn’t really want to write it.) The main character, Chaz Eades, I made the opposite of myself — a religiously conservative black man whose faith put him on the outside of a diverse, liberal crew — but I demanded of myself that, despite a faith that I will never share, he had to be a fully-rounded human being, not a caricature or a villain, and that he would not let go of that faith. Then I threw issues at him to make his life hell: difficult ones of sexuality, gender, and race. This complex story grew as it was written, from a long short story to a novelette to a novella, but that was the length it needed to be to contain all of the ideas and emotions I’d put into it. I called it “Second Chance,” not only because it was a second chance for me to find some meaning in my Clarion West experience, but because it’s all about second chances. In fact, there are at least three significant second chances in the story, but you’ll have to read it to find out what they are.

Novellas are hard to sell. There were only about four markets that would even consider a story that long, and none of them wanted it, but they each took a long time to say so — actually, one of them folded while I was waiting for a response. But, eventually, I found a small press that was producing an anthology of three novellas, and after considerable editorial feedback and numerous rewrites, they published it in 2010. But, despite good reviews, it didn’t sell well. So, after joining Book View Café in 2012, I decided to publish Second Chance as a stand-alone ebook… to give this novella, so painful and so important to me, a second chance at an audience.

But the second chances don’t stop there.

I tackled some tough issues of race, religion, sexuality, and gender in this story, and in general my treatment of these issues seems to have been well-received. But I got some negative feedback on the transgender character, and upon reflection I realized it was deserved. So when I set out to make the ebook, I ran the story past a transgender friend. She concurred with the issues I’d known about, and also pointed out some others I hadn’t known about, some of which were are deeply baked into the story. I did what I could to address those issues, and I think the story is improved by the changes, but I recognize that even this revised edition isn’t perfect. I’ll try to do better next time.

So, anyway, here it is: the novella “Second Chance” is now the ebook Second Chance, and starting today you can buy it from the Book View Café, Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and Apple ebook stores.

If you’d like to try before you buy, you can download a free sample in EPUB or MOBI format.

Go on. Give it a chance.

Mysterious Portuguese tweet

A Twitter search on my name just turned up a tweet in Portuguese from user @lamevaperdicio (La Meva Perdició):

“#02DL “Portava a la mà una carpeta vermella amb una etiqueta en què es podia llegir TOP SECRET”. (David D. Levine).”

This tweet is a translation into Portuguese of a sentence from my Wild Cards Volume 1 rev 2.0 story “Powers,” but I can’t figure out what the #02DL hashtag is or why he tweeted it. Any guesses?

Space Magic audiobook released!

David at the micAs you may know, I’ve been working for some months on a professionally-produced audiobook version of Space Magic, my award-winning short story collection. Well, it’s finally done, and today is its release day!

The Space Magic audiobook is now available from Book View Café, Audible, Amazon, and iTunes in a variety of audio formats. Tell all your friends!

If you’d like to try before you buy, you can download a five-minute sample of “Tk’Tk’Tk:”

This has been quite an adventure. It’s been a lot more work than either I or the audio engineer had expected, and a real learning process for both of us. I’ve learned all about sibilants and plosives and “mouth noises,” and I’ve discovered that I don’t really have as many different voices in my repertoire as I thought I did. But I hope that you will find an entertaining variety of voices within each story. There are some dramatic scenes I’m really proud of, and I’m quite pleased with how the alien language in “Tk’Tk’Tk” came out.

This has also been a couple of months of having my own fiction rubbed in my face. You know how they say you should read your work aloud as part of the editing process? They’re right — there is no better way to spot problems in your own prose, and now I wish I had done this for some of these stories before they were published. And having to not only read my own work over and over, but then listen to it over and over (and I know I’m far from the only person who hates the sound of his own voice) has been truly humbling. But, on the whole, I find that I am still proud of these stories, and despite the problems I can still hear in the recordings I’m happy with the audiobook and I hope that you will enjoy it.

Many people have told me how much they enjoy my readings at conventions. Now here’s your chance to take a little piece of that experience home and enjoy it at your convenience.

Some people have asked me where and when they should buy my stuff. The bottom line is, you can get it wherever and whenever you like. If you buy from Book View Café I get more money, but if you usually get your audiobooks from Audible or iTunes or Amazon you should go ahead and buy it there, because those sales will help drive the “if you liked this audiobook you may also enjoy” engines at those sites. It would also be helpful to me if, after you’ve listened to the audiobook, you would rate it or even post a review at the site where you bought it (or on your blog, or anywhere really). But what I really care about is that people read (or, in this case, hear) and enjoy my work.

So, wherever you go, just go out and buy it… and then you can stick me in your ear! :-)

#SFWApro

In the dark in Minneapolis

We are okay here in Minneapolis after the storm, though we have no power or hot water. There is power in some nearby buildings, and the hotel says power will be restored "soon," but we're not holding our breath. 

The storm hit last night while we were out for dinner at a fine local Indian restaurant. Wind, lightning, horizontal rain, then the lights flickered and went out. We hung out there until the rain slackened, then walked back to the hotel, becoming only lightly soaked.

Back at the con, the scheduled yarn swap and music circle continued in the dark. Texture in yarn is so important, don't you think? And singing songs in the dark, by the light of flashlights and cell phones, felt very right.

Weather forecast for our flights MSP-MKE tomorrow and MKE-MSP-PDX Wednesday is not encouraging, but we'll see.

In the dark in Minneapolis

We are okay here in Minneapolis after the storm, though we have no power or hot water. There is power in some nearby buildings, and the hotel says power will be restored "soon," but we're not holding our breath. 

The storm hit last night while we were out for dinner at a fine local Indian restaurant. Wind, lightning, horizontal rain, then the lights flickered and went out. We hung out there until the rain slackened, then walked back to the hotel, becoming only lightly soaked.

Back at the con, the scheduled yarn swap and music circle continued in the dark. Texture in yarn is so important, don't you think? And singing songs in the dark, by the light of flashlights and cell phones, felt very right.

Weather forecast for our flights MSP-MKE tomorrow and MKE-MSP-PDX Wednesday is not encouraging, but we'll see.

Reviewers and testers wanted: Space Magic audiobook

As I've mentioned before, I'm working on a self-published audiobook of my short story collection Space Magic. Well, it's nearly ready for release! So I'm looking for a few good readers… er, listeners.

If you are an audiobook reviewer, or if you can suggest a review site that might be interested in an SF/F short story collection audiobook, or if you are an audiobook listener who would like to beta-test an audiobook (especially if you listen to audiobooks using something other than iTunes, iPod, or iPhone), please drop me an email at dlevine@spiritone.com. (This offer expires 6/27/13.)

!!EXCITED!!

#SFWApro

Fourth Street Fantasy

Sorry for the radio silence lately. I’ve been extremely focused on a variety of writing projects, including the YA Regency interplanetary airship adventure novel (first draft nearly done!), the Space Magic audiobook (hope to have the final audio files today!), a novelette (completed, rejected by one market, off to the next), a proposal for the next Wild Cards book (not accepted, alas), two characters for Wild Cards (one accepted, the other awaiting response), and the ebook of “Second Chance” (cover is done, review comments received on the text). Whew! I haven’t been blogging, or even reading blogs much, and I’m way behind on television.

Today we’re off to Minneapolis for the Fourth Street Fantasy Convention. This is the first time I’ve attended this convention, but it comes highly recommended. I’ll be appearing on the following panels:

  • Friday 5:30-6:30 PM: Short Fiction with Michael Merriam (moderator), Marissa Lingen, and Michael D. Thomas: It can be challenging to bring worlds to life at novel length, much less in a handful of pages. What are the specific challenges of writing fantastic fiction at short lengths, and what are some ways in which short fiction’s effects and goals differ from those of novels? What strategies can be used to overcome these challenges, and how much grounding in genre protocols does a reader need to be able to unpack short-form fantasies?
  • Saturday 8:00-9:00 PM: Tell, Don’t Show with Emma Bull (moderator), Steven Brust, Marissa Lingen, and Skyler White: Let’s talk about exposition! Authors like James Michener, Kim Stanley Robinson, and Francis Spufford have written novels that break all the “rules” about people hating exposition, and sometimes it’s better to just come out and tell readers things (c.f. Douglas Adams). What’s going on here, and what techniques and insights can we glean from it?

After the con, my father had planned to come to Minneapolis, which is where I was born, and we’d all hang out together there for a few days. Unfortunately, when I called him on Father’s Day I found him in the hospital with a blood clot in his lung. :-( He’s already home from that and doing much better (though he’ll probably have to take Coumadin, aka rat poison, for the rest of his life), but he was advised not to travel, so instead of him coming to Minneapolis we’ll be going to Milwaukee. Kudos to Delta Airlines for waiving all those nasty last-minute change fees for us.#SFWApro