Monday, September 26, 2011

Writers of the Future with Brad R. Torgersen

When I began thinking of what posts fit into the SHINEonline spectrum—what would really be interesting for this blog—Brad R. Torgersen’s name sprang to mind. Brad won the Writers of the Future contest fall 2009, and his career has rocketed from there. He’s very gracious, and especially helpful to new writers. I was thrilled when he agreed to talk about his experience with Writers of the Future on this blog.

Ladies and gents, I give you Brad R. Torgersen.

Q: When did you decide to try your hand at the Writers of the Future contest?

A: Prior to 2006, I didn't pay attention to writing contests. But when Dean Wesley Smith (who is a Contest judge now, for Writers of the Future) announced that Pocketbooks would be discontinuing its Strange New Worlds anthologies, he simultaneously encouraged those of us who'd been submitting stories to Strange New Worlds to begin entering Writers of the Future instead. It's where Dean himself had gotten his start, and it's where a heap load of other professionals also got their start too. So, I went to the Web site, read through the rules, and submitted my first story to the Contest in the fall of 2007.

Q: How many times did you enter, and how did you fair?

A: If memory serves, I got three successive Honorable Mention certificates, then my first Finalist (which did not win), followed by a fourth Honorable Mention, then my second Finalist, "Exanastasis," which is the story that won me a spot in Writers of the Future XXVI. I entered for the first time in the Fall of 2007, and found out I'd won in the Fall of 2009, so it was a two-year effort. All of my Honorable Mention stories were stories I'd previously written and sent around to different markets, and which I just happened to send to the Contest because it's what I had on hand at the time. My two Finalists? Both of them were written specifically with the Contest in mind—having purchased and read a handful of the Contest anthologies, to get a better feel for what worked with the judges. My non-winner, "Outbound," went on to be published in Analog Science Fiction & Fact, eventually winning that magazine's Readers' Choice Award for the category of novelette, so you might say that *both* stories won! Just in different places.

Q: How did you react when you found out you had finally won?

A: It had already been 17 years of seemingly fruitless effort, when Contest Administrator Joni Labaqui called me in November 2009 with the news. I'd already had one Finalist fail, so when I got word that I had another Finalist in the running for the same volume, I was prepared for the worst. Only, surprisingly, the worst didn't come. I won! Externally, I was fairly calm. I happened to take the call while in the drive-through lane at a Carl's Jr. restaurant, so I was talking to Joni and ordering food at the same time. If I was a bit disappointed by placement—third place—that feeling lasted for a fraction of a second. Then I realized that I was FINALLY going to be published professionally. Oh. My. Heck. It had been my dream, since I was 18 years old, to become a professionally published author, and after 138 rejections and roughly 870,000 unpublished words, I was finally going to have my day in the proverbial sun. Returning to my desk at work, I let my burger and onion rings cool while I blitz-mailed everyone in the universe about the news. I literally couldn't believe it! Wow! The excitement and satisfaction was still strong in my heart almost a year later when I went to the Contest workshop and gala in 2010. It was THAT big of a deal for me.

A: What opportunities has winning this contest opened up to you?

Q: It's almost easier to ask, what opportunity HASN'T the Contest opened up for me? My two Finalists together have netted me thousands of dollars, two awards, a secure spot as a regular in one of the top three science fiction magazines in the English language, and the attention of and cordial relationships with many different professional writers who are all judges with the Contest. I have collaborated several times with Hugo and Nebula award winner (and Contest judge) Mike Resnick, and I've also been published in Orson Scott Card's online magazine, Intergalactic Medicine Show. I've managed to attract the interest of a top agent, and one of the top science fiction book publishers to boot. All of this in the two years since winning. Not every Contest winner can have that kind of success right out of the gate. In hindsight, I was already laying the groundwork by writing as much as I was and submitting it to the various short fiction market editors before I won. Getting the win just knocked me up above the horizon, and suddenly very good things began to happen for me in the business, very quickly. I took the ball, and I ran with it.

Q: Tell us about your winning story, “Exanastasis.”

A: Put simply, "Exanastasis," which is Greek for "resurrection," is about a man who has literally lost everything, and suddenly gets to have back the one thing he wanted most of all. Only, that thing is broken. More elaborately, it's a story about a husband and wife, estranged by millennia and the terrible events that have transpired, who are then forced to re-learn the trick of living with and loving each other all over again. It's a story about the end of the world. It's a story about finding out that maybe you're not who you always thought you were. It's a story about starting over. And, it's a story about artificial intelligences ruling and defending Earth, all from their secret redoubt on the Moon. And if that's not enough to whet your interest... well, there's eleven other very, very good stories in Writers of the Future XXVI that probably will!

Q: What plans do you have for your future career in writing?

A: More stories in Analog, if editor Stan Schmidt will let me. I have the cover story for the December 2011 issue, with a Bob Eggleton painting no less(!!) More stories in Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show, too. And novels. Definitely novels. I have a very open door with one novel house in particular, and if I can turn in a quality manuscript in the next few months, I believe my chances are pretty good of having a book or book(s) coming out within a year or two. Ultimately, I want to make writing my full-time job. But I'm not prepared to plunge my family into poverty. So, I'm learning how to write a lot while also carrying on with both my civilian job and my U.S. Army job. It doesn't leave me a lot of spare time. I've had to sacrifice certain things to make room for the word count. I think in a few years, when the house is paid off and I have some serious money in the bank, it might be time to talk about becoming a full-time freelancer. But not yet. Oh no, not yet. I'm at Step C. I have a long way to go to get to Step Z.

Q: Any advice, tips, or tricks you can offer other aspiring writers, especially those hoping to win Writers of the Future themselves?

A: I am a broken record about this, but the best possible “homework” anyone can do, if they're trying to win Writers of the Future, is buy recent copies of the Contest anthology. Read the books, cover to cover. Pick out the two or three stories you really, really like. You won't like them all. You may not even like half of them. Disregard which stories placed where. Only pay attention to the ones that you really, truly enjoyed. That made you say, gosh, that was a good story, I liked that one! Focus, when you sit down to write your own stories, on how those two or three extraordinary stories made you feel. And why. And how can you try to bring some of that to your own work. Was it the amazing or rich setting? The characters and the journey they take? Was it the wrenching dilemmas they faced? Something else? Only you will know. These will be your keys to giving your own fiction the "oomph" that can get you over the top, and make you a winner. And this will be true at other markets and with other editors, too. Pay attention to what you like, when you like it, and why, and bring that to your own work. Beyond that, just make sure to write often, try to write new work more than re-writing something endlessly, and do try to remember that this is supposed to be fun, too?

Full-time nerd by day, part-time soldier by weekend, and fictioneer by night. Read more about Brad R. Torgersen here.


  1. "These will be your keys to giving your own fiction the 'oomph' that can get you over the top, and make you a winner."

    The "oomph" in this sentence reminds me of how I used to judge stories coming out of the slush pile. If they got me in the gut--the "oomph"--then I'd do whatever I could to take them. If there was no "oomph," your prose/idea/correct grammar couldn't win me over.

    Thanks for sharing, Brad! I wish you luck with your hoping-to-be-full-time goals.

  2. Great interview with inspiring questions and answers. Thanks!

  3. Awesome interview! I want to check out Writers of the Future now and read some of Brad R. Torgersen's work. Keep up the good work Chuck!!

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