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New entry May 28

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Books from Critters!

Check out Books by Critters for books by your fellow Critterfolk, as well as my list of recommended books for writers.

How to Write SF

The Craft of Writing Science Fiction that Sells by Ben Bova, best-selling author and six-time Hugo Award winner for Best Editor. (This is one of the books your ol' Critter Captain learned from himself, and I highly recommend it.) (Also via Amazon)

The Sigil Trilogy

If you're looking for an amazing, WOW! science fiction story, check out THE SIGIL TRILOGY. This is — literally — one of the best science fiction novels I've ever read.


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Book Recommendation

THE SIGIL TRILOGY: The universe is dying from within... "Great stuff... Really enjoyed it." — SFWA Grandmaster Michael Moorcock

Announcing ReAnimus Press

If you're looking for great stuff to read from bestselling and award-winning authors—look no further! ReAnimus Press was founded by your very own Critter Captain. (And with a 12% Affiliate program.) [More]








The Thirteenth Annual Writers of the Future Workshop and Banquet:
A Personal Review
David L. Felts

Surf, sun, writing, and professional Science Fiction and 
Fantasy authors and illustrators. I recently got back from the 
thirteenth annual Writers of the Future Workshop, held at the 
Radisson Resort in (mostly) sunny Cape Canaveral, and thought I'd 
share the experience.

Before I begin, I want to address a perception -- not 
widespread, but out there -- that the Writers of the Future 
Contest is not the Real Deal. I'm not sure if this is because the 
contest is open only to new writers (and hence winning -- as one 
professional editor told me -- means only that yours was the best 
of a bunch of bad stories) or because of its association with 
Scientology. I've heard one professional writer express, "Even 
though I know people who've won, I'll never buy one of their 
anthologies because I don't want any money going to those 

The group I was in was a mixed bunch -- from a young author 
of twenty five who won on her first try with the third story 
she'd ever written, to an author in his late forties who'd 
entered 21 out of the last 23 quarters and had completed over 100 
stories, many of them published in the semi-pro and small press. 
Like the many of the names in previous anthologies (Barnes, 
Hoffman, Rusch, Wolverton, Reed, etc., etc., etc.), you'll be 
seeing many of them again. The WOTF contest has a remarkable 
track record for discovering talent. Over 120 winners and 
finalists have been selected since the contest's inception. 
They've gone on to produce more than 200 novels and 1500 
professional short stories, and not just in the speculative 
fiction field. 

This year's judges were Kevin J. Anderson, Gregory Benford, 
Algis Budrys, Doug Beason, Anne McCaffrey, Larry Niven, Andre 
Norton, Frederick Pohl, Jerry Pournelle, Tim Powers, Robert 
Silverburg, Jack Williamson, and Dave Wolverton. There are some 
big names here, and their participation alone should be enough to 
give the contest legitimacy in anyone's eyes. If your story wins, 
it wasn't the best of a bad bunch, it was a good story. I invite 
you to take a look at this year's collection. You won't be 

As for the second point, yes, Author Services (who 
administers the contest) is part of the Hubbard conglomerate. But 
in the seven days I spent there, no one mentioned Scientology. 
The contest is not a membership drive. There are those out there 
who have a knee-jerk reaction to the name "L. Ron Hubbard." The 
contest is for writers, judged by writers, and run by writers. 
I'm thankful to the Hubbard folks for footing the bill. And no, 
I'm not a Scientologist. Nor was anyone else in the workshop. Nor 
were Algis Budrys or Dave Wolverton. I can't speak for all the 
other professional writers and illustrators, but so what if any 
of them were? Having a bias against a group because of their 
religion seems like a form of discrimination to me. Enough said.

The Writers of the Future is the Real Deal. The contest is 
dedicated to discovering new talent. The stories are judged and 
selected by professional writers, many of them legends in the 
field. You have to write a good story to win. They get between 
800-1,000 manuscripts per quarter, from which they pick three 
winners and one or two finalists. Many stories that fail to make 
the cut at Writers of the Future go on to get professionally 
published elsewhere. If you win, you can be proud of it, no 
matter what anyone might say.

And now I'll get off the soapbox. 

I arrived on a Sunday, having driven down from North 
Carolina, one of eleven writers in the workshop (one of the 
winners was unable to attend and the published finalist arrived 
later in the week). We wasted no time in getting busy, assembling 
at 7:00 in one of the conference rooms to get the workshop 

Algis Budrys (writer and editor) and Dave Wolverton (a 
former WOTF Grand Prize winner and best selling author) headed 
the workshop. They introduced themselves and talked about what 
we'd be doing over the next week. It sounded daunting, but I was 
looking forward to it. After general introductions, we dispersed. 
We met again on Monday at 9:00 A.M, read some essays, one by 
Algis and others by L. Ron Hubbard, and talked about the 
structure of a story. We looked at what the public wants from a 
story and the basis for generating good, believable conflict. 
Classroom exercises focused on idea generation; being assigned a 
common object (like a glass or even the way something smelled) 
and coming up with story ideas based on it. After an early 
afternoon finish, we had plenty of time to enjoy the pool or take 
the short walk (about a mile) to the nearby beach. 

Tuesday was devoted to more idea generation, with the 
afternoon spent at the library for research. We had to come up 
with three more story ideas from our research. Wednesday, Algis 
and Dave examined our story ideas. We chose one and were assigned 
to write a full story on it overnight, to be turned in Thursday 
morning. Everyone was able to accomplish this, though a lot of 
midnight oil was burned.

Thursday and part of Friday we had guest speakers: 

Kevin J. Anderson talked about how professionals made time 
to write. He cited time to write as the main complaint of the 
fledgling writer. Ultimately, he stressed, it's not finding time 
to write, but making time to write. Many of the professionals he 
knows produce in excess of 100,000 words a month. For someone who 
has trouble writing a 5,000-word story in a month, I found this 
intimidating. He said the he did too, at first, but that it, like 
anything else, becomes easier over time. 

Frederick Pohl spoke on sustaining a long career, 
highlighting such topics as what not to do, how to keep the ideas 
coming, and the benefit (or detriment) of having an agent. The 
verdict? You probably don't need an agent for your first book. 
Send it out and if you get a call, THEN get an agent.

Tim Powers gave an energetic lecture on creating the unusual 
story. His pet phrase was "have a clown on silts with his head on 
fire wander through." Keep your reader off balance, but make sure 
everything that happens makes sense. Your emotions have to be 
real and the best way to do this is to learn how to put yourself 
in the character's position. If this were to happen to you, how 
would you feel? Figure it out, write it down, and make it real.

Bill Widder, a public relations man, talked about promoting 
yourself in the highly competitive publishing market. These days, 
it seems that the publishing houses are skimping on marketing, 
especially for new and mid list writers. He knows many writers 
who have overcome this by learning how to promote themselves. 
Learn how to write a press release, and don't be shy about 
tooting your own horn.

On Thursday, the session broke early again, with plans to 
meet at 6:00 to take the vans out to observe the shuttle launch. 
The launch was scheduled for 10:34 P.M. and despite some concerns 
over the weather, went off on time. A night launch is 
spectacular. The flame seemed bright as a small sun, illuminating 
the whole horizon. An amazing and motivating experience. I can't 
describe the way I felt as I watched the shuttle climb toward the 
stars. Pride, awe, excitement, sadness -- a mix of everything. Go 
and see one, you'll be glad you did.

After the guest speakers Friday morning, we spent a few 
hours critiquing the stories we'd written. It was helpful to have 
an editor and an established author tell what they thought needed 
to be changed, or if the piece was even salvageable. A humbling, 
but enlightening experience. Friday afternoon was a panel at the 
Kennedy Space center on Science Fiction in education and that 
evening there was an informal dinner where the budding young 
writers and illustrators (who had arrived Thursday) got a chance 
to brush against some established pros. 

Saturday was our own until four in the evening, when we met 
for a formal dinner before the award ceremony. After dinner, we 
packed up and headed for the Kennedy Space Center again, where 
the ceremony was held.

Norman Thagard was the key speaker, an electrical engineer 
and a four-time shuttle astronaut. The focus of his speech was 
the role of Science Fiction in his becoming a scientist. It's the 
dreams engendered by science fiction, he said, that lead many of 
us to the stars or other scientific accomplishments. Frank 
Frazetta was honored with a lifetime achievement award. The 
illustrators were recognized, and then the writers. The Grand 
Prize winners were announced -- Morgan Burke won with "A Prayer 
for the Insect Gods" and Eric Williams (who illustrated the story 
by yours truly) won for the illustrators. The anthology cover was 
unveiled, a painting selected from Frank Frazetta's works. 

After the ceremony, it was back to the Radisson for a 
reception that, to me, felt like a con party, except this time I 
was on the inside. Author Services organized a round robin where 
all the illustrators and writers signed 75 copies. I also had the 
opportunity to sign some books of fans who'd attended, having 
read about the reception in the local paper. It's kind of 
intimidating at first -- "Could you sign my book, Mr. Felts?" -- 
but I think I could get used to it.

And that's it in a nutshell, although reading about it is 
hardly the way to experience it. I got to spend a week with a 
bunch of like-minded people and press some of the biggest names 
in the business for advice. I saw people who had, years ago, been 
where I was -- a young first-time published writer with a dream -
- and were now successful authors. Perhaps the greatest gift I 
got was motivation. It can be done, and people do it. The only 
ones who don't make are the ones who give up. Don't quit, ever.

The Writers of the Future contest is the Real Deal. Write 
your best stuff, send it off and see what happens. And if you're 
a winner or published finalist, go. 

You won't regret it.

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to contact the 
author at dfelts@bigfoot.com.