03 April 2015

Review Roundup: ZUGZWANG

Posting this to track reviews for a former 512 which became a longer story, and was published last September! You might see some ETA's below as time goes on...


Games with aliens. The sort of story that's not in the least bit groundbreaking, but still enjoyable.

Psocoptera, "2014 online short fantasy and science fiction recommendations, part 6"

A middle-aged woman is challenged to a game of alien chess to save the crew of a spaceship. This story could’ve been bleak, but instead it made me happy and hopeful.

Sara Norja, "Sunday recs: Fairytale, memory loss, alien chess"

[T]his story is about an alien encounter and it hooked me in right from the beginning. Its writer’s name is Curtis [C.] Chen. As a big fan of Ted Chiang and Ken Liu (if you haven’t heard of them, you’re missing out on some awesome stories!), I was curious to see another Chinese American name.

And I wasn’t disappointed. The story was excellently crafted. The plot had tension and several layers of things going on, yet no word seemed redundant and all of the sentences were simple-yet-varied.

Natso, "A Cool Sci-Fi Short Story, A Question That Sprouted From It"

ETA (28 Mar 2016):

Although space chess is never a terribly original idea for a story, I rather liked Curtis C. Chen’s “Zugwang.” While he definitely dwells a little too much on his heroine’s insecurities about her body, and things are tied up a little too neatly at the end of the tale, it was solid enough to get me to read his other two stories [in Up and Coming].

Bridget McKinney, SF Bluestocking

(original 512: "Zugzwang," posted 29 Mar 2013)

Thanks for reading!


Review Roundup: IT'S MACHINE CODE

Hello there, readers! It's been a while. Hope you've been well.

I meant to do a "one year later" sales/stats post about Thursday's Children, but clearly that hasn't happened. I have good excuses, though, and I'll be able to talk about them soon. SOON™

Meanwhile, I'm posting this to track reviews for a former 512 piece which became a longer story and was published this February! You might see some ETA's below as time goes on...

"It's Machine Code"

[This] is a light-hearted piece without much literal ass-kicking nor anger, but Julie Nickerson is great fun anyway. She’s a bored techie, a new Portland Deputy Police Officer (this issue of Unlikely Journal contains a disproportionate number of police procedurals) and small-time criminal who, in the course of a simple data-mining investigation, stumbles upon the machinations of a much more ambitious criminal.

Julie starts out as a bit a shlubb, the sort of civil servant who is made lazy by her intelligence and has very little interest in her job or her coworkers. She has an antagonistic relationship with her friend Victor that provides some funny lines and good banter, but there’s no real loyalty or affection between the two. Julie solves the story’s original case incidentally, off-page between scenes, while focusing her real energy on a very interesting data packet she found in the course of the investigation.

Julie’s not interested in catching any criminals: she’s much more interested in the crime. She’s casually competent, having “learned how to use military-grade encryption before learning how to ride a bicycle,” but stuck in the comfortable rut that casually competent people often get stuck in. In trying to solve the mystery of her data packet, she stumbles across a much more interesting character and some inspiration to become more interesting herself.

It wouldn’t be any fun to give away the mystery’s solution, but suffice to say this is a story that gets best right at the end. Julie, Victor, and their rather hapless department are fun in a bumbling kind of way, but they aren’t particularly motivated people. It takes a criminal mastermind to show how much fun it can be to go off script and just flip off the system. This story’s real star is the criminal.

Yah, you could be a comfortable civil servant. Or you could kick ass. “A clean desktop, a blank slate, a new life.”

Charlotte Ashley, Clavis Aurea #25 (Apex Magazine)

Julie Nickerson works in the IT Department of the Portland Municipal Police. She is assigned a request that came to them from the FBI. A traffic bot had stopped a car speeding almost fifty kilometers an hour over the speed limit. The bot pulled the car over but was put out of commission just as it had activated facial recognition overlay just as it approached the driver's side of the car. Along with another techie, Victor, they check a Universal Internet broadband router in a house (owned by a sweet grandmotherly type named Margie Fisher) near the incident. It might have recorded sensor reading from the downed bot. She discovers evidence of a felony by dear sweet Margie. But things take a wild turn at this point and make for a fun story.

Sam Tomaino, SFRevu

(original 512: "CSI: Computer Science Investigation," posted 11 Jan 2013)

Thanks for reading!


17 October 2014

Flash Fiction Panel at Story Con!

Good news, everyone! I'll be moderating a panel on "Where to Find Great Flash Fiction Online" this Saturday, October 18th, at 12:30PM at the Fort Vancouver Community Library. This is part of the first-ever Story Con, a Portland-area event started by Erik Wecks which aims to help readers "find their next great book."

I managed to talk four other genre writers into doing the panel with me:
We're a pretty diverse bunch, and I expect the conversation to meander quite a bit. (In fact, I'll be disappointed if it doesn't.) I can promise it won't be boring in any case.

If you're in the Portland area tomorrow, come check us out!


08 August 2014

Situation Normal, All Flacked Up

As you know, Bob, I have a short story in the military horror anthology SNAFU, published by the nice folks at Cohesion Press.

And, as you further know, I am not above a bit of shameless self-promotion. Here are some of the very nice things readers have said (minor spoilers below):

"SNAFU is a very strong horror anthology with plenty of compelling tales... My top favorite stories of this collection include: ... Making Waves by Curtis Chen: Another WWII tale, but with a Mythos theme."
- RichardPF, Amazon.com review

"Let’s look briefly at a few of my favorite offerings [from SNAFU]... Curtis C. Chen, 'Making Waves': When a magician teleports aboard an allied submarine off the coast of Japan during World War II, her objective is simple and direct—to awaken the Kraken hidden in the depths and thereby keep the Japanese too busy with defense to mount an offensive; the task becomes more intricate, however, when she discovers that instead of one Kraken, the area harbors two Elder Things."
- Michael R. Collings, Collings Notes

"Curtis C. Chen’s Making Waves adds magic and slumbering things beneath the sea to World War II, and uses them to provide an alternate explanation for the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It also makes good use of gender and racial themes. Plus, submarines. I’m actually surprised that it’s the only submarine story in the book, given how easy it is to make that environment tense and creepy."
- Paul Douglas, A Comfy Chair

ETA (31 Mar 2015):
"Curtis C. Chen's 'Making Waves' is another fun monster story, this time dealing with...Elder Things. It should be enough that it has humongous and terrifying monsters of the sea, but throw in some magic, an alternate reality of World War 2 (I'm a sucker for alternate reality stories) and you have a grand old time. This is a tale that's begging for [a] film version, preferably directed by Guillermo del Toro."
- Steve Pattee, Horror Talk

ETA (03 Apr 2015):
"‘Making Waves’ by Curtis C. Chen manages to maintain the quality with an engaging story set within the claustrophobic confines of a nuclear submarine. A Lovecraftian tale of creatures of the deep with magic and teleportation thrown into the mix, the author creates a believable environment that makes it possible for the reader to assimilate these more outlandish elements, rather than them seem jarring. Characterisation is strong and the only criticism would be that the final section causes the story to rather peter out after the excitement of the final confrontation and seems only to be there to suggest that there are further stories to be told."
- Ross Warren, This Is Horror

ETA (28 Mar 2016):
"'Making Waves' is a Lovecraft-influenced piece that has a lot of potential, but never quite manages to capture the tone of creeping horror that characterizes the best Lovecraftian tales. Its best ideas are actually its characters—Hatcher in particular has a very compelling story—and its WWII naval setting. There’s enough story seeds here to carry a novel, and I think the characters could definitely benefit from more room to grow."
- Bridget McKinney, SF Bluestocking

So feel free to go buy SNAFU, if you like that sort of thing. Thanks for reading!


11 July 2014

More Than 512 Words

Hey look, another of my stories has been published! This one is in SNAFU, a military horror anthology:


My story is "Making Waves," and yes, it's based on the 512 of the same name. Among other things, you may notice that I changed the name of the main character, and I made the magic system a bit more specific to this world.

The SNAFU Kindle eBook is on sale now for just six American dollars. Hardcover, paperback, and other eBook formats to follow soon.

BTW, here are two other stories that grew out of 512s and got published:

"Somebody's Daughter" (based on "Who's Your Daddy?") appeared in Leading Edge Issue 65. Buy it on Kindle for just $3 and find out how Jake & Andy deal with a woman whose mother was a clone, and who thinks Jake is her biological father!

"Don't Fence Me In" (based on this 512) appeared in Song Stories: Blaze of Glory, which is FREE for Amazon Prime members to borrow.

Happy reading!


20 June 2014

512 eBook now just TWO DOLLARS


As you may know, Bob, I'm going to Clarion West on Sunday. I'm hugely excited about this, and to celebrate, I've reduced the price of the Thursday's Children Kindle eBook to a paltry $1.99 (cheap!).

I've also slashed the price of the trade paperback edition to $11.99. That's a mere 10¢ per story (you get 117 of 'em), not to mention awesome cover and interior art by Natalie Metzger! However, I just submitted the pricing change yesterday, so it may take up to a week to propagate through to Amazon and other booksellers. Apologies if you have to wait to order at the new price.

In related news, lending copies of Thursday's Children are now on the shelves at the Multnomah County Library and Fort Vancouver Regional Library! And I can't tell you how ecstatic I was when I found out about this. Seriously, it's the second best writing-related news I've had in, like, a month.

(BTW, you're welcome to also recommend Thursday's Children as a purchase for your local library. There's no guarantee they'll acquire a copy, but it can't hurt to ask your friendly neighborhood librarian.)

So, to sum up: you can now buy the Thursday's Children Kindle eBook for just $1.99, or the trade paperback for $11.99. Please spread the word!


07 February 2014

Making Book: A Great Reason to Throw a Party

(With apologies to Teresa Nielsen Hayden)

Time for some numbers! Are you ready? As of today--Friday, February 7th, one week after Thursday's Children officially went on sale--here's how many copies have been sold:
  • 8 Kindle eBooks
  • 13 paperbacks
Of course, that doesn't count the 15 copies I purchased to give away as gifts--10 of them at last week's launch party--or the free downloads: 120 PDF and 11 plain text. (Creative Commons wins, amirite?)

There are now over 160 copies of the book in the hands of readers, and that's fantastic.

None of this is at all record-breaking, but it's not bad for a single-author short story collection by an obscure writer, with no marketing budget and no promotion aside from a handful of Twitter, Facebook, and e-mail messages.

Besides, this was never about "sales velocity." (I'm a terrible salesman, and I learned years ago to just stop trying.) It's not even really about sales. Honestly, nobody who doesn't know me has any reason to care about this book, and not even all of my friends or family will be interested in it. I appreciate all the congratulatory messages I've received, but I don't expect anyone to rush out and buy the book just because I wrote it.

I wrote these stories because I wanted people to read them. You can still find all of them online, but most people prefer their reading material packaged in some kind of book format--because that process implies editorial intervention and approval. Presenting something as a book is the publisher telling the reader that people who care about its content have looked at it, reviewed it, curated it and made it the best they could before actually publishing it.

When you pick up a book, you're trusting that its author and publisher have worked for months or years to ensure that the book you're about to read is something you'll enjoy. And that's why it feels like a betrayal when a book doesn't fulfill that promise.

Thursday's Children is not for everyone. (I pointed out to one friend that his grade-school-aged daughters should definitely not read it until they're older.) I hope the variety of stories included will appeal to a wide audience, but like I said, I'm a terrible salesman. I have no idea how to identify those "leads" and "target" them for "acquisition."

I'm playing the long game here, hoping that by putting my stuff out there for free, the people who find it and love it will help spread the word. (If you happen to be one of those people, the best thing you can do to support the book is to tell two friends about it, and ask them to tell two friends, and...) It might be a very long game, but I can wait.

Meanwhile, I'll keep writing.


31 January 2014

Making Book: Happy New Book!

(With apologies to Teresa Nielsen Hayden)

Today's the day! You can now buy Thursday's Children in paperback or Kindle editions:

Attack of the stacks of paperbacks

My friend Kenna checks the eBook

I know traditionally published authors may wait as long as two years from the time they submit a finished manuscript to when the book actually goes on sale, and I imagine that's rather torturous. It's been maybe five months since DeeAnn and I started working on Thursday's Children, and though I'm very happy with how much we accomplished in such a short time, this final week has been a real crunch, and I'm ready for the production process to be over. (Mostly. I still have to produce an EPUB file to push to other, non-Amazon eBook distributors, but that's always been lower priority.)

Today is also the the start of the Chinese New Year, traditionally a time for celebration and hope (and red envelopes). It's now the year of the horse. In Chinese, the characters for "horse" and "mother" are very similar, and in fact, they're near-homophones in Mandarin, differing only in inflection. I don't know why I mentioned that. It's not really relevant. I may be a little punchy. Did you know my mom worked for many years as a public librarian? It's true.

One last thing... I may not have mentioned it before, but I'm releasing Thursday's Children under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license. (You can download PDF and plain text versions of the entire book for free, and re-share them as much as you like. Please. I'm begging you.) I started the 512 Words of Fewer project with the same license, and I still believe it's a good idea. Because I am pretty much a nobody in the wider writing world, and making a name for myself is more important than making money at this point.

Sure, my friends and family and other acquaintances who like me are extremely supportive, but the few hundred people I know personally isn't a big enough audience to build a career. If I ever want one thousand true fans, I'm going to need an even greater number of casually interested readers, and I want as few barriers as possible between them and my content, for that fraction of a second between pictures of cats with pork products adhered to them.

Hi! I'm Curtis Chen. I write science fiction and fantasy. Would you like to read some of my stories?