David Steffen is a science fiction writer, and reviewer who lives in Minnesota. His work is available or forthcoming from Daily Science Fiction, Pseudopod, Stupefying Stories and Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine. He also co-edits the Diabolical Plots website, and co-manages the (submissions) Grinder, an invaluable tool for all those writers out there who are looking to track their story submissions. We caught up with David over the summer to find out a little bit more about the man and the websites.
You have an exceptionally active online presence, with your Diabolical Plots website and The Grinder. Tell us a little about Diabolical Plots, what it is, and how it came to be.
In 2008 I started to get involved in the SF writing community, absorbing whatever advice I could find about how to learn to write, how to network, and so on. One piece of advice I heard over and over was that it's important to have an online presence. The more present you are online, the more editors will be aware of you and the more opportunities readers will have to come across your work. When I heard this I admittedly wasn't very excited about maintaining this presence. I've never been a huge fan of blogs. It's just not my idea of entertainment.
I had pretty much given up on the whole online presence thing other than a token effort at Facebook, until I came across a blog that was different: TalkToYoUniverse by Juliette Wade. Juliette is one of my favorite SF authors of today, especially her Analog-published short stories based around alien linguistics. Her blog is not the usual blog fare. She doesn't just have an online presence where she talks only about herself in her little corner of the Internet. She engages the community, adds valuable content to the discussion of SF on the Internet. I could do something like that, I thought, and so I started my own Blogspot account which I called Diabolical Plots. Early on, Juliette Wade, David Farland, and KD Wentworth were willing to sit for interviews, and I continued on with other interviews, writing advice, reviews, and so on.
Anthony Sullivan approached me in 2009 about joining forces and making a more appealing site. He did a great job making it look nice and have a much nicer looking format than the Blogspot account which I had admittedly done nothing to enhance. Our artist friend Joey Jordan provided some great original artwork that the mad scientist logo at the top of the page was cropped from. Regular contributors Frank Dutkiewicz and Carl Slaughter, along with other shorter-lived collaborators, have volunteered along the way as a way to get exposure and to engage the community in conversation.
Between us we've kept a weekly stream of content flowing for years, interviews, reviews, Best Of lists (my personal favorite), and writing tips. We love when people comment--we do this to be part of the community, after all.
Of the short stories you've published are there any that really stand out for you as favorites or of special significance? Why?
One story comes immediately to mind, "Marley and Cratchit" which was published in Escape Pod around Christmas 2012. It's a secret history of A Christmas Carol. It tells of the days of the firm of Marley and Cratchit, an alchemical research firm, before the days of Scrooge and Marley. It was a load of fun to try to write all new material in a Dickensian style and to fit a new story in around the details of the well-known tale. I had just finished reading A Christmas Carol for the first time, so it was all very fresh in my memory. I've gotten compliments from big fans of the original, so I feel like I pulled it off pretty well. And it marked my first publication in Escape Pod, and eligibility for membership in SFWA, both longtime goals.
"The Utility of Love", published in Shadows of the Emerald City anthology is probably my second favorite, a retelling of The Wizard of Oz with some changes. Most notably, the Tin Man is a two story tall sociopath who coerces Dorothy into teaching him the meaning of love. It was my first fiction sale.
Of course most of my fiction is not based in pre-existing worlds, but it's so much fun to play with such well-known icons.
You recently had the story Escalation published in Imaginaire which describes itself as containing 'mathematical fiction.' Escalation is a caustic warning shot. What prompted you to write it, and send it to a place like Imaginaire?
I wrote "Escalation" when I was in a writing funk from which I was worried I would never recover. I was having trouble writing anything at all, but I wasn't ready to give up writing, either, so I made an exercise for myself to make a story based on a rigid structure. I didn't care what the story was about; the structure was my focus. I decided to write a story based on geometric progression, where each paragraph had twice as many words as the previous paragraph during the rising action, and each paragraph had 1/4 as many words as the previous paragraph during the falling action. I picked that particular plot, of a self-replicating corporate espionage AI, to fit the structure, both a POV and a plot progression that would make sense for that structure.
I had submitted "Escalation" to some markets, but hadn't gotten an acceptance for it yet when I heard about Imaginaire's submission guidelines for mathematical stories, and I felt compelled to submit this only mathematics-based story I've written. I was delighted when it was accepted there.
In late 2012, the fiction market listing site Duotrope announced that starting in 2013 they were moving to a subscription-based model. I posted at length about my thoughts on the subject at length. But to sum up, I felt that the writer's community had lost a valuable tool and I wanted to see something fill the hole left behind. This was not an entirely unselfish goal, as I am a writer myself; I wanted the tool and I wanted the data to use for my own purposes. So I dropped Anthony Sullivan a line, whom I'd been collaborating with for four years on Diabolical Plots, and asked him if he'd be interested in working with me on a new fiction market listing site where writers could go to find new markets to submit to and find out how each market tends to respond. Although I'm a software engineer, I don't have any website experience, so I wouldn't be able to do such a site by myself. His response was "I've already started." He deserves a lot of the credit. I've put in plenty of work gathering user feedback, suggesting features, and lots of data entry. But if it weren't for Anthony pushing hard to get the initial release ready the Submission Grinder wouldn't exist.
The site is now more than six months old with a steadily growing user base. We have more than 1200 registered users, and more than 1000 open market listings. Some great features have been implemented--my favorite shows a histogram of response times that gives a very intuitive feel for a market's response patterns, and more are on the way, along with the maintenance of the listings themselves.
Would you like to tell us a bit more about The Grinder and how it came about?
What writers or books have you read recently that have got you particularly excited in the SF/fantasy genres?
Ferrett Steinmetz has, in the last year or two, become one of my favorite authors, with work such as "Devour" and "'Run,' Bakri Says". I don't know how he does it so consistently, but he has shown himself a real talent for finding a neat speculative idea, building a great character-based story around it, and then getting in or out with exactly the right number of words. The most recent of his stories which I got particularly excited about was "Dead Merchandise" which ran on Escape Pod. That story got my brain cranking for days afterward contemplating what feedback I wanted to post to the Escape Artists forums. One of the ways to get inspired to write is to read work by consistently solid authors like Ferrett.
I also just finished reading Redshirts by John Scalzi, one of the Hugo nominees for Best Novel this year. Although there were a couple parts I didn't like, as a whole it was a hugely fun novel aimed at folks who are familiar with the SF tropes established by shows like Star Trek. I would highly recommend it for any SF fan, especially if you like metafiction.
What are you currently working on? What can we expect to see from David Steffen this year? My writing workflow tends to be pretty erratic. My Muse, she be fickle, and I've learned that it all works best if I let her drive. If I try to steer, she just refuses to participate at all. So I just write whatever feels right at any given time, and don't worry too much about what that is. This has served me pretty well so far, though I'd like it if she would steer me towards writing some novels.
I've got a handful of stories pending submission. A space opera comedy flash fiction at Space and Time. A pan-temporal love story, a visit from Death to a fire-and-brimstone preacher, and a Weird West comedy, all to Stupefying Stories. And a hidden world fantasy with a network of wealthy magic users who spend their lives trying to find each others hidden souls to destroy them, coming to Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine. And I've got plenty of other stories making the rounds (or circling the drain if you're a pessimist)
David Steffen writes computer vision software to control traffic by day and writes fiction by night. He likes to keep busy, sometimes too busy for his own good. But, hey, you only live once, right? You can find him online at Diabolical Plots (http://www.diabolicalplots.com) and the Submission Grinder (http://thegrinder.diabolicalplots.com). Almost two dozen of his short stories have been published or are scheduled in as many venues, such as Escape Pod, Drabblecast, Andromeda Spaceways, and others.