2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 24,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 6 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.

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Interview with Brooks Rexroat, author of ‘To the Stars’

With Brooks Rexroat we wrap up the interviews of authors from Alt Hist Issue 3. Brooks’ ‘To the Stars’ is set during the Cold War space race and is a very human story of the effect on one family in particular.

Would it have been possible to write ‘To the Stars’ before 1989?

A cheeky answer first: I doubt it. I was doing most of my composition in crayon at that time.

In all seriousness, though, I think someone could have written this story at that point. There are no great tactical secrets here, very little that would’ve been unknown to Westerners and most Russians – and even James Bond – prior to 1989. While the setting is a bit exotic to most of us, the main themes could be placed in lots of locales of time frames and still function nicely – the question of whether the grass really is greener elsewhere, the convoluted battle of individualism versus selflessness, the dream of giving children a gift of opportunity, and so forth.

Cosmonaut or astronaut?

For me? Neither. I’m terrified of heights. How about launch room controller?

‘To the Stars’ is written in the present tense. What were the challenges and benefits of writing in this tense?

I’ll start with the benefits. This story was my first stab at historical fiction, and so one of my chief concerns was to bring something very distant chronologically into a closer proximity for the reader, and even for myself as a writer. There is an immediacy to the present tense, which I hope helps to connect readers to some very contemporary themes, even when the vehicle is a slice of our past. The first draft was, in fact, written in past tense, and it felt very cold and inaccessible. There were some nice things about that aesthetic, but it didn’t strike me as a story many folks would connect with. As I changed it to present tense, it felt much closer, far more energetic, and, more importantly, more real. My biggest challenge in switching it over to present tense was simply to maintain consistency.

How did you get into writing?

I’ve always been a writer of some sort – I remember making up stories and speaking them into a tape recorder before I had mastered the physical act of writing, and I very much wish I still had those cassettes. I had my angsty-teen-hidden-notebook-of-bad-poems phase. I suppose that, in terms of professional writing, a pair of professors opened that door by simple telling me that writing was viable as a career. High school counselors like to send students into sensible paths. Professors seem to like opening the doors a bit, and I’m glad I encountered two such individuals. I spent some rewarding time as a journalist, and now creative work serves as a good companion to life as a teacher.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

When I’m not writing, I’m generally lecturing, deigning courses, or grading student essays–that takes up most of my existence. I’m a musician as well, so I play an occasional gig and like to catch live performances whenever I can. I run on occasion, and play a dangerously absurd amount of digital Scrabble.

Are you working on any other short stories or novels at the moment and if so can you tell us a bit more about them?

I’ve got a file of 37 stories in some stage of completion, half a dozen of which are solid in structure and close to being finished. They’re eclectic in topic, but many of my current pieces involve the “Rust Belt” section of the American Midwest – stories of the folks who have long been dealing with the economic struggles that have now reached coastal population centers. This landlocked region is my home, and there are plenty of stories to tell – hence the extensive ‘in progress’ story file on my laptop.

What are your ambitions as a writer?

At this stage of life, I think of myself as a teacher who writes. I’m fortunate to teach writing and talk about the craft with bright university students every day, and so I go home from the office eager to fill some pages, to tell some stories. My ambition is this: to keep writing as long as something’s rattling around in my head – to keep revising and shaping those thoughts until they represent a truth that might be meaningful to others. Alt Hist, incidentally, represents the beginning of my published ambitions – it was the first magazine to accept my work. I’ve had eight additional stories published since receiving that tremendous news that ‘To the Stars’ would be printed. Links to those pieces can be found at http://brooksrexroat.com.

Don’t forget to check out Brooks’ story ‘To the Stars’ in issue 3 of Alt Hist.

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Interview with Arlan Andrews, author of ‘Riders on the Storm’

Arlan AndrewsArlan Andrews is another writer who has written previously for Alt Hist, his ‘Lament for Lost Atlanta’ appeared in Issue 1, and his new story ‘Riders on the Storm’ has recently appeared in Issue 3.

In ‘Riders on the Storm’ several of the characters use slang from a future language. How did you go about creating the language they use?

I let my mind go “out of gear” and try to feel what might pass for slang/language in about 50 years. Look at today’s converstions versus those of 50 year ago — half of what we say would make no sense: “tweet”, “OMG”, online, email, stimulus, neo-con, jihadi, 9/11, UAV, stealth, Mbit, VR, Facebook, apple, iPad/Pod, and many more. I just try to slide into a natural progression of things. (Actually, I have no idea where any of it comes from — it’s just there when I need it.)

What’s your favourite time-travel story and why?

Guns of the South by Harry Turtledove; because he is the master of the genre, and easily makes one believe in the story as it unfolds. As a Southerner, one always has a slight tinge of wishful thinking that perhaps Things May Have Been Otherwise.

Tell us a bit more about SIGMA.

When I worked in the White House Science Office 1992-1993, I was appalled at the lack of imagination when government bureaucrats tried their hand at forecasting. I wrote a manifesto — “The Future is too important to be left to Futurists!” — and asked some fellow science fiction authors, mostly Ph.D.s (to avoid the Washington, D. C., “giggle factor” to join me in providing the government and others with our own brand of science-fiction-based futurism. Our website, www.SigmaForum.org, has the background details, list of membrers, their bios, and some news clips. In January 2012 some of us will be appearing in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, as guest panelists at the Global Competitiveness Forum 2012.

How did you get into writing?

My father read to me before I could read, and family members made up stories. I also wrote. I began submitting science fiction stories after I met some writers and began to read stories I thought I could have written better. My first publication was a poem, “Rime of the Ancient Engineer,” in Asimov’s Magazine, in 1980, followed by stories in Analog. I’ve done about 500 pieces, fact and fiction, in 100 venues, most lately with fiction in Althistory.com, Analog and Kindle e-books. My factual pieces appear in Atlantis Rising Magazine, and a regular column in UFO Magazine.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

I have a real job as an environmental engineering supervisor, coordinate SIGMA activities, travel to ancient sites, and otherwise enjoy a real life with wife, children and grandchildren.

Are you working on any other short stories or novels at the moment and if so can you tell us a bit more about them?

My e-novel, Valley of the Shaman, will be available on Amazon.com in January 2012. I usually do short stories or articles at the drop of a hat, typically on a weekend, and they are most often not planned ahead of time.

What are your ambitions as a writer?

To join the Kindle Million Sellers Club.

Union or Confederacy?

Heart – Confederacy; intellect/patriotism – Union; with a time machine I would probably go back and assassinate both John Brown and John Wilkes Booth ca 1850.

Don’t  forget to take a look at Arlan’s website at www.SigmaForum.org, and also his story ‘Riders on the Storm’.

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I now have a Goodreads Author Profile

I’m partly blowing my own trumpet to announce that I have a Goodreads Author Profile, but also to let you know that all issues of Alt Hist are also on Goodreads, so if you use the site don’t forget to add them to your list of books and rate them!

Every bit of your support really helps, especially reviews and rankings on sites like Goodreads, and especially Amazon, so if you have read any of our issues then please post a quick review – it doesn’t matter if you didn’t buy it through Amazon you can still post a review there!

Many thanks.

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“Hooray for Historical Fiction” says the Huffington Post!

Dave Astor at the Huffington Post wrote a very nice piece the other day about why historical fiction is just great – mostly because of its ability to educate. He specifically cites Stephen King’s new novel 11/22/63, and also mentions other books such as Walter Scott’s.

Although it’s great to hear historical fiction praised in such a way – and one just wishes that other genres such as Science Fiction and Fantasy would get such plaudits too on a more regular basis, but I think that Dave’s reasons for liking historical fiction also raise a number of questions.

  1. What’s the chances of people actually getting misinformation from works for fiction? For instance Stephen King’s book involves an alternate history scenario where someone travels back in time to prevent JFK’s death. I think in this case most people would know the real history and it would be obvious that the author is changing things, but in cases where history is less well understood the author has a real responsibility.
  2. How comprehensively should an author actually tell the reader (perhaps in footnotes or an introduction) about how their work diverges from recorded history?
  3. Should editors and publishers be more careful in what work they accept authors, and should they actually research the historical background themselves? For Alt Hist, I usually do check facts in the stories that I publish in the magazine for instance, and this actually takes up a large part of the copy-editing process.
  4. Are historical fiction authors the new history teachers?
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New Historical Fantasy Book: The Folded World (Dirge for Prester John) by Catherynne M. Valente

The Folded World (Dirge for Prester John) by Catherynne M. Valente

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Night Shade Books (November 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1597802034
  • ISBN-13: 978-1597802031

Available from Amazon.com

Available from Amazon.co.uk

When the mysterious daughter of Prester John appears on the doorstep of her father”s palace, she brings with her news of war in the West–the Crusades have begun, and the bodies of the faithful are washing up on the shores of Pentexore. Three narratives intertwine to tell the tale of the beginning of the end of the world: a younger, angrier Hagia, the blemmye-wife of John and Queen of Pentexore, who takes up arms with the rest of her nation to fight a war they barely understand, Vyala, a lion-philosopher entrusted with the care of the deformed and prophetic royal princess, and another John, John Mandeville, who in his many travels discovers the land of Pentexore–on the other side of the diamond wall meant to keep demons and monsters at bay. These three voices weave a story of death, faith, beauty, and power, dancing in the margins of true history, illuminating a place that never was.

About the Author

Catherynne M. Valente began September’s adventures in installments on the Web; the project won legions of fans and also the CultureGeek Best Web Fiction of the Decade award. She lives with her husband on an island off the coast of Maine. She has written many novels for adults and a few for children.


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Alt Hist to become a Biannual Publication

Alt Hist will be officially become a Biannual Publication. With the first two issues my aim was to see what was a reasonable publication schedule depending on my own available time and also the number of story submissions coming in. The first issue was published in October 2010 and the second issue was published in June 2011, and the third should be coming out in November 2011, so it looks like twice a year is about the right frequency for this publication.

So what does that mean for future publication dates? Well I think November and May are probably going to work out best. November – just before Christmas madness hits us, and May just before the Summer holidays.

As ever thank you for your support for Alt Hist, the new magazine of Historical Fiction and Alternate History.

More news on Issue 3 soon by the way!

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Review of Alt Hist Issue 2 at Fantasy Book Review

Alt Hist Issue 2 just received a very good write-up at the website Fantasy Book Review. Alt Hist is described as containing “engaging and well-written short stories with a historical setting that portray actual events or events that could have happened”.

I particularly liked the last paragraph of the review:

In music there is nothing better than finding and liking a band that is as-of-yet pretty much unheard off, only for them to go on and become a world-renowned name. I believe that this is why readers may also enjoy Alt Hist – the authors mentioned above will likely be new to 99% of readers but we may be catching them right at the beginning of their career and find that we can embark on a great journey with them.

You can read the whole review of Alt Hist Issue 2 at Fantasy Book Review.

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Interview with Priya Sharma, author of ‘The Orchid Hunters’

Priya Sharma has written two stories for Alt Hist so far: ‘The Bitterness of Apples’ in Issue 1 and ‘The Orchid Hunters’ in Issue 2. She kindly answered a few questions for Alt Hist.

How did you get into writing?

Reading a great book transported me but it also made me envious. I realised I wanted to write too and was making excuses not to. Some people find it a natural, easy process but I had to go through a very big pain barrier to make a start. Writing can feel like pulling teeth but nothing beats the thrill of completing a story (except for an editor accepting it, of course).

What do you do apart from writing?

I love books and films. It’s my mother’s fault. She introduced me to Hardy and Hitchcock. I’m a doctor by day.

How did you come up with the idea of writing about Victorian orchid hunters?

Men once died looking for what we can now get at the local garden centre. I find the history of the mundane fascinating- wars were once waged over coffee and nutmeg. Orchids are a window into a certain strata of Victorian society and its ideals. When I saw a documentary that showed elephants cradling the bones of their dead I knew I wanted to work it into a story and the ‘elephant orchid’ was born.

Are you working on any other short stories or novels at the moment and if so can you tell us a bit more about them?

I have two novels sat on my hard drive that need reworking- one is a historical fantasy and the other science fiction. I’m currently writing a horror short about the recession. The other piece I’m wrestling with is about a woman haunted by the failure of her marriage.

What are your ambitions as a writer?

To write more and write better. To be better at plotting. My approach to writing doesn’t lend itself to tight story structure, so it means I have to do a lot of rewrites to get a story I’m happy with. If I was better at planning it would also make it easier for me to write another novel.

Priya’s website: www.priyasharmafiction.co.uk contains more information and links to her other work.

Don’t forget to read the free extracts of Priya’s stories ‘The Bitterness of Apples’ and ‘The Orchid Hunters’.

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Great Review of Alt Hist 2 at SF Crowsnest

Gareth Jones over at SF Crowsnest has given Alt Hist Issue 2 a really great review.

Here’s some of the highlights:

“The second issue of ‘AltHist’ magazine builds on the solid basis of the first issue, bringing a collection of historical fiction and alternate histories from a broad cross-section of history. There are some wonderful stories among them.”

“‘Long Nights In Languedoc’ … was a highly enjoyable start to the magazine. ”

“‘The Apollo Mission’ by David X. Wiggin is pretty short but does a good job of imagining the setting and the feelings of the unfortunate volunteer.”

‘Son of Flanders’: The horrors of life in the trenches are atmospherically portrayed”

‘In Cappadocia’: “short but intriguing”

“‘The Orchid Hunters’ is a superb story by Priya Sharma”

‘Death In Theatre’: “an interesting study in motivation and human nature.”

‘The Scarab Of Thutmose’: “an amusingly quirky tale of intrigue”

“‘The Watchmaker Of Filigree Street’ by NK Pulley is an intriguing Victorian tale set in London”

Remember if you want to order Alt Hist Issue 2 there are lots of options available. Visit the How to Get Your Alt Hist page for details.

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