By willalex

Stuff I Wrote in 2014


Ambassador_featuredThis is my first science fiction novel. I babbled about it on John Scalzi’s blog. Kirkus gave it a starred review. The great Héctor Tobar reviewed it for the New York Times. You can find a few sample chapters here.

Short Stories

“The Only Known Law,” Fantasy & Science Fiction, July/August 2014. I chat about the story with C.C. Finlay here.

“Welcome,” Kaleidoscope: Diverse YA Science Fiction & Fantasy Stories, August 2014

Death Comes Sideways to the Mall,” Apex Magazine, March 2014

“The War Between the Water and the Road,” Unstuck #3, February 2014. The Minnesota Center for Book Arts just reprinted this one in an absurdly gorgeous, handmade edition illustrated by Amanda Ritchie, Chan Chau, and Amaya Goldsmith. Here’s a woodblock print of the ghost.


This picture might show up sideways in your browser. I don’t know why. It’s probably haunted.

So far the only thing I know about 2015 is that Nomad, the sequel to Ambassador, will be out in September.

Happy New Year, everybody. I hope this next circuit around the sun treats you splendidly.



“We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries—the realists of a larger reality…Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art—the art of words.” – Ursula K. Le Guin, 2014 National Book Awards


“I love how much love there is in the world of young adult and children’s literature, and how much deep respect we have for each other, how we know the world wouldn’t be complete without all of our stories in it.” – Jacqueline Woodson, 2014 National Book Awards 


This mission is what’s been passed down to me — to write stories that have been historically absent in this country’s body of literature, to create mirrors for the people who so rarely see themselves inside contemporary fiction, and windows for those who think we are no more than the stereotypes they’re so afraid of. To give young people — and all people — a sense of this country’s brilliant and brutal history, so that no one ever thinks they can walk onto a stage one evening and laugh at another’s too often painful past. – Jacqueline Woodson, “The Pain of the Watermelon Joke”



Book Launch Countdown

Ambassador will launch at the local planetarium! Join me for stargazing and snag a copy of of the book before anybody else does.

Wednesday, September 17th @ 6:30 pm at Como Elementary Planetarium

The official publication date is the following week, at which point I’ll celebrate further with Addendum Books and the splendid Stu Gibbs.

Monday, September 22nd @ 7:00 pm at Addendum Books

Addendum is an excellent place to find books for kids. Come find books if you happen to be a kid, or if you know any kids, or if you’re wise enough to remember your own kid-hood and still savor such stories.




July was a month of mostly teaching, and it was good.


First I joined the faculty of the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. The on-campus residency was an intense fortnight full of warmth, welcome, and an exacting dedication to literary craft. Writers need community, and VCFA is an amazing place to find it.

Next I taught at Shared Worlds, a writing camp for teenagers. Students create worlds in the first week and write stories set in those freshly minted places during the second. My classroom of kids came up with a brilliant setting and a nuanced way to write about violence. I wish this workshop had existed when I was fourteen. Writers of all ages need community. You might find yours here.





After Shared Worlds I went on a virtual classroom visit with journalist and 6th grader Grace Clark. The video is here. (Scroll down a bit.) Don’t miss the Kathi Appelt interview on the same page.

Now July is over. The next thing on my calendar is the Mythopoeic Award Ceremony, though sadly I won’t get to be there in person. Myth-makers, world-builders, and scholars of the Inklings will be honored. One of the following novels will win in the kidlit category:


Shadows by Robin McKinley,
Conjured by Sara Beth Durst,
Killer of Enemies by Joseph Bruchac,
Doll Bones by Holly Black,
or Ghoulish Song by me.

This is thrilling and intimidating. Holly Black is a friend, mentor, and one of my Clarion instructors. Joseph Bruchac has written approximately a bazillion badass books. Sara Beth Durst has won the Mythopoeic Award before. And I’ve read and loved Robin McKinley’s novels since eighth grade.

Feels good to stand in such company.




I caught a meme from Delia Sherman. She is wise, and kind, and a wonderful writer. She won the Mythopoeic Award in 2012 for The Freedom Maze, a book that absolutely everyone should read. (I’ll have more to say about the Mythopoeic Award in my next post.) She tagged me with a meme, and I couldn’t say no.


This is Delia’s contribution to the great, internet-spanning Writing Process Blog Tour. She says blush-inducing things about me there.

For the next stop on this tour visit Kelly Barnhill, to whom I have passed on the meme-germs. I got to read an advance copy of her next novel, The Witch’s Boy. You are insanely jealous of this, and you should be.


Kelly will be posting answers to these selfsame questions early next week. Meanwhile, here are mine:

1.  What Am I Working On?

Science fiction! As a kid I always assumed that I’d grow up to write science fiction. I wanted to tell stories that made sense of things. The universe is unsettling, but we can always count on Spock, or Data, or the Doctor to tame otherworldly terrors by making them make sense.


This did not go as planned. At some point during adolescence the world ceased to make sense to me. (Adolescence usually does that to people.) I started to prefer stories that followed sideways and associative sorts of logic. I went back to reading fairy tales, and books based on fairy tales, all of them filled with unsettling and otherworldly terrors—but not the kind you can just explain away. And when I started writing, I wrote fantasy.


But now I’ve come back around to more omnivorous reading habits. Now I like splitting my time between the two hemispheres of speculative fiction’s hivemind. I also write for kids, and I still need to tell stories for the young reader that I used to be—the one who craved science fiction in particular, the one who wanted to fight monsters by making them make sense.

Ambassador, my first SF novel, comes out in September. It’s about Gabe Fuentes, a kid who becomes the ambassador of our planet. Right now I’m writing the sequel.


2.  Why Do I Write What I Write?

Because I’ve never needed books more than I did when I was eleven, and because I love stories that unriddle the world, and because otherworldly tales are always necessary for changing the shape of our own.

(The phrase “unriddle the world” is me quoting Susan Cooper quoting Alan Garner.)

3.  How Does My Work Differ From Others Of Its Genre?

I stared at this question for a long time. Then I tried to answer it. Then I gave up, because this isn’t really a question for writers. This is a question for readers.

Books and stories make up a vast ecosystem. As I writer, I can’t see the shape of the landscape while I’m trudging through it. As a reader, I’m more interested in shared conversations and similarities than the differences that set each book or author apart.

4.  How Does my Writing Process Work?

First I need my own small children to nap. If the kids are awake and at home, then I’m not writing. Maybe this is just a parental time-management issue, or maybe I siphon off my books directly from their napping dreams. I don’t know. You’ll have to ask them.

Step One: Pour stolen nap-dreams into a large flask or cauldron. Step Two: Add espresso. Step Three: Slowly stir while adding instrumental music. Step Four: Continue stirring until the mixture thickens into ink.

I usually start a book with notebook and pen, because the pale glow of a blank computer screen is unhelpfully hypnotic. Then I transcribe those messy, scribbled first drafts. Then I move words around to shrink the distance between what I said and what I meant to say. Then I read it aloud. It’s good to know what your own sentences taste like.

Whenever I get stuck I abandon my computer and return to my notebook and my bubbling cauldron of nap-ink.