One of the minor frustrations of my life, up to now, is that though I can sell as much nonfiction as I care to write, fiction sales had eluded me. What made this particularly irksome is that I don’t have only the usual ego reasons for wanting to succeed. I love the science fiction genre and owe it much; I want to pay that forward by contributing back to it.
It therefore gives me great satisfaction to announce that I have made my first SF sale, a short (3.5kword) piece of military SF titled Sucker Punch set on a U.S. aircraft carrier during the Taiwan Straits Action of 2037. Some details follow.
The backstory begins with Castalia House, an e-book publisher based in Finland, noticing my recent spate of reviews and offering to send me some of their current releases – notably John C. Wright’s Awake In The Night Land, which I haven’t reviewed yet only because I feel I need to have read Willam Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land first and, brother, that is quite a slog.
During this conversation, the head guy at Castalia House (the infamous Vox Day, wearing another hat) informed me of an upcoming project: an anthology called Ride The Red Horse intended to reprise the format of Jerry Pournelle’s old There Will Be War compendia. That is, a mix of military SF and military futurology, written by a mix of SF authors and serving military personnel, with few technical experts added for flavor.
“Want to write a fiction piece for us?” said Mr. Castalia House. “I can’t write fiction for shit, or at least all my attempts to sell it have failed,” I replied.
“Well, what about non-fiction?” I couldn’t think of a premise; then, suddenly, I could. Which is how I wound up researching and writing a fact piece called Battlefield Lasers and the Death of Airpower. I turned in a partial first draft about four hours later, and swiftly learned that (a) the actual editor on the anthology is Tom Kratman, and (b) he loved the draft and absolutely wanted it in when it got finished.
A couple days later I got a full draft done and shipped it. (A&D regular Ken Burnside, who knows weapons physics inside and out, was significant help.) Delighted that-was-brilliant! email from Castalia House followed.
“Are you suuuure you don’t want to do a fiction piece?” Mr. Castalia House said, or words to that effect. He tossed a couple of premises at me which I didn’t particularly like; then it occurred to me that I might dramatically fictionalize one aspect of the futurology in Battlefield Lasers…
A long Sunday later I had Sucker Punch ready. Writing it was an odd experience. I knew the story concept was working as I pounded it out, but what it clearly wanted to be was a Tom-Clancy-style technothriller in miniature, which is not something I had ever imagined myself writing. But I went with it and shipped it.
Hours after I did so Mr. Castalia House got back to me and said “What caused you to imagine that you can’t write fiction? This story is better than mine!” He then went off on a tear about the incompetence of the gatekeepers who had turned down my previous efforts. Which, I suppose, is possible; or maybe they really sucked but I’ve learned some things since.
Anyway, that’s how I sold my first SF. I don’t have a publication date more specific than “this Fall” yet. I’ll announce it here. And I’ll try not to make this a one-off. I do have some advantages; I’m already a very skilled writer, just not so much at the “fiction” part.
My real dream, someday, is to write a major novel of hard SF at the level of (say) Greg Egan’s Disapora or Neal Stephenson’s Anathem. That’s a long way off from here. Baby steps…