Need Beta Readers? Join Critters. Do It.


Hemingway, being a boss

I sometimes have panic-attacks about my writing: What if I really just suck and will never make it since I can’t go to fancy workshops like Clarion? I don’t have the time or the money, so am I sunk?  What if I’m just some delusional Millennial that thinks pure gumption will get me published?

Well, maybe those things are true, but what can happen is that previously unknown authors can score agents, or self-publish (with a great marketing plan) and make it. I think that the way to do this is to become a critical reader so that I, in turn, can become a good writer. I’ve written about getting beta readers before, but that can be a haphazard process if you’re just trolling forums and trying to get people to read your stuff via email. I do that for sure, but it’s probably better to submit your work to a secure, private group dedicated to critiquing writers.

Well, that’s what Critters is. I can’t believe it took me this long to join, but it’s been a great experience. I know the common objection to joining groups like this is, “Well, what if I end up just reading bad stuff?” I’ll argue that reading bad work is actually good for a budding writer. Can you articulate why it’s bad? Do you know enough about plot, characterization, POV, theme, setting, and structure to give a good and incisive review of someone else’s work?

That’s something that goes beyond good grammar and usage.

I’ll share a testimony from Matt Dovey here. This was sent out to all Critters members in an email with updates:

Matt Dovey, who sold his (Critter’d) short story, “This is the  Sound of the End of the World” to Flash Fiction Online. {A space opera in 992 words! It should be up in March, which will make it my first publication, just ahead of WotF32. The revisions requested by the editor were both things critters had brought up and I’d decided against, so let this be a lesson: listen to your critters, people!}

Dovey dropped some advice in a forum I was reading about how great Critters was for him as a writer, so I’m grateful he did that. Community, support, and a chance to get so good you get published? Sign up. You know you want to!

Solarpunk: Green Sci-Fi?

Nothing more punk than solar!

Nothing more punk than solar!

So, I’m kind of a negative person. (Hey, you SHUT UP!) This tends to mean that when I come up with a sci-fi plot, it’s probably best described as dystopian.

I feel like the sci-fi genre is built on dystopia: see this thing you are about to do? Here are some consequences you didn’t think about, and now we’re DOOMED!

Well, enter Solarpunk, a new sub-genre I came upon in my internet meanderings. The basic point is something like this: Try to think of a future that inspires hope in people, and not despair. And what’s more “punk” then living off a grid by getting your energy from the sun? Stick it to the man! You can’t tax sunlight!

That seems pretty cool, but it does have a purpose: sci-fi showed us what starships and space stations could be, and we get pretty close to that at NASA some days, right? Well, try to inspire that wonder in something eco-friendly. Frankly, my generation has grown up with this climate-change stuff hanging over us: we’re all doomed, no hope, no one will make anything better, blah, blah, blah. Well, time for some HOPE. What do we think is achievable? What forces do we have to overcome to see a Solarpunk world?

Says Adam Flynn:

Solarpunk is about finding ways to make life more wonderful for us right now, and more importantly for the generations that follow us – i.e., extending human life at the species level, rather than individually. Our future must involve repurposing and creating new things from what we already have (instead of 20th century “destroy it all and build something completely different” modernism). Our futurism is not nihilistic like cyberpunk and it avoids steampunk’s potentially quasi-reactionary tendencies: it is about ingenuity, generativity, independence, and community.

Sarena Ulibarri has a similar observation:

One way to motivate change is to make it uncomfortable for people to be where they are — that’s the strategy of dystopia: if you continue on this path, look where we’ll end up. Another way is to make it comfortable for people to be where you want them to be — that’s the strategy of solarpunk: look at this beautiful world we could build. Can science fiction directly influence science or policy? No, nor should it. But it can influence what people see as possible, and what images people default to when they think of the future. 

Honestly, I think of Miyazaki and the fictional worlds he built with his animation. His characters always regret picking a fight with nature, and they are all so deliciously human about their faults. Just watch Princess Mononoke.

People under 30 are presented with radical individualism or trans-humanism as solutions to the mess of life (these themes are prevalent in sci-fi), but we find ourselves longing for something more sustainable and less dreary.

That’s kind of cool. And I think it’s kind of telling that I can’t think of anything right away to add to a Solarpunk genre, which means it’s harder to write about hope than despair.

Aren’t humans funny?

I finally Read The Martian


As I began to read this little gem I became convinced that the narrator and I would be bosom pals if he ever existed. This is the problem with most of my imaginary friends, and now I’m sad. I guess I’ll go buy a few cats, start breaking in a cane I can wave at the neighborhood younglings, and re-read passages in this book and chuckle like a crazy person in public.

This is a great plan. Go me.

My First Acceptance and a Good Rejection

Possible head shot?

Possible head shot? Are you fooled into thinking I’m professional? 🙂

I got one of the best rejection letters I have ever received this past month. The editor took the time to outline what he really liked about my writing, expressed that the quality of my prose surprised him since I told him I was unpublished, and he told me he expected I’d find a home for my stories. He then let me submit again, even though he had a one-story-per-author rule, just so he could see what else I had.

If I ever get to be an editor, I want to be like that.

I can honestly say that everyone I have met in the sci-fi publishing world so far is really great and welcoming. If I’m lucky enough to get to be a part of that world someday, I’ll be grateful.

I also got my fist acceptance! It’s a first issue of a literary webzine that specializes in genre-bending prose and poetry. I’ll be sure to link to it once it goes live.

My Writing Process

Between working and taking care of my lovely kiddos, writing is hard to find time for. So, I decided to just stay consistent:

  1. Write 50-500 words a day, at night or in the morning. I just do it. I don’t care if it’s good, I just do it.
  2. I made sure to give myself realistic goals. I don’t sit around thinking, “I’m going to get a best-selling novel published!” Instead, I think, “I want to work very hard at getting published in X Magazine.” Maybe X Magazine rejects me few times. It will only make publication with them all the more sweet.
  3. Read. A. Lot. One of the pitfalls I found myself in this week was in being unoriginal. I wrote a story that followed a popular sci-fi trope, and the editor told me that while my writing was great and enjoyable, it wasn’t original enough to make it to the second round. This would be like, say, submitting a vampire story to a horror magazine. The editor is going to put it in a pile with other vampire stories and your competition might beat you.

I’m having so much fun on this little journey. Honestly, that’s the ultimate test.

No More Nonfiction Writing For Me


This guy is my biggest fan

This guy is my biggest fan

Getting published and read by a large audience for the first time can be exhilarating. It can also show you what kind of author you don’t want to be.

Let’s say you write nonfiction and it’s about a serious topic that you have researched and can contribute to. And you put a lot of work into in and it gets out there and suddenly thousands of people share it and your inbox and social media explode in a cacophony of condemnation and praise alike.

It’s amazing what people will read into your work even though you thought you were being clear; it just goes to show you that people don’t want to read most things and take them at their own merit, they want to force all opinions into their own acceptable narrative.


Um, see you later Captain Howdy.


Hi, nice to meet you.

That’s not even the worst part. The worst part is seeing the reactions of writers and bloggers and people you respect highly misinterpret your motives.

That sucks.


I imagine that Thomas Moore loved writing Utopia:  it was a way for him to explore what he thought by showing people what certain political structures looked like. He didn’t keep his head in the end but I don’t think it was because of that particular work.

I like writing. I’d like to do it professionally, but I’ve decided to actively pursue fiction. That means freelancing for a while, and maybe never getting anything published, but I’m good at getting rejections.

Here I come, world.