I now give you Matthew Quinn, author of the short story "Coil Gun":
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I grew up in Marietta, Ga. and attended the University of Georgia from 2003-2007. I earned two degrees, a bachelor’s in magazine journalism and a bachelor’s in history. I worked for three and a half years for The Griffin Daily News (in Griffin, Ga., which is south of Atlanta) and in January 2011, became the editor of The Johns Creek Herald, a weekly newspaper in one of Atlanta’s northern suburbs.
I have been sending out short stories for publication in magazines since 2001. My first acceptance was in 2007, a short horror story entitled “I am the Wendigo” published by the now-defunct webzine Chimaera Serials. In 2008, I sold two short fantasy stories, “Nicor” and “Lord Giovanni’s Daughter,” to the print magazine Flashing Swords, which went under before they could be published. In 2009, I sold “Skirmish at the Vale’s Edge,” a piece of licensed BattleTech fiction, to the BattleCorps web-site. “Coil Gun,” which I sold to Digital Science Fiction over the summer of 2011, is my first professional-level sale.
What got you interested in alternate history?
When I was in middle school, I read Harry Turtledove’s The Guns of the South on a Scout trip on AMTRAK. By high school — not sure when — I was interested enough to type alternatehistory.com into a web browser and I liked what I found. After lurking for a bit, I joined the site and have been there ever since, commenting on other people’s timelines and scenarios and posting my own for comment.
What is your short story "Coil Gun" about?
It takes place during the opening night of World War III in a timeline where the Dutch settled South Africa 200-odd years earlier than in our own history and their territorial expansion was not restricted by the Dutch East India Company. The end result is a Cold War between the United States and the Afrikaner Confederation, an apartheid-like regime that spans most of the Indian Ocean basin. The chief controller of an American satellite-launch field (which uses the titular coil guns) is trying to replenish orbital assets lost in the Afrikaner first-strike while an Afrikaner intelligence officer down in a bunker watches the progress of the war on an enormous screen and tries to identify trends the Afrikaner military and political higher-ups should know about.
What inspired you to write "Coil Gun"?
On the alternatehistory.com discussion forum, the user whose handle is "reddie" posted an alternate-history challenge. The challenge was to create a scenario where the U.S. is in a cold war with “a realistic quasiDraka”--the “apartheid juggernaut.” Rather than being Anglo-Saxon like S.M. Stirling’s Draka, the oppressive African superpower’s white-supremacist ideology should emerge from Afrikaner culture. I wrote several versions of a timeline with a point of divergence during the Dutch war of independence against Spain. Once I had a world, it was just a matter of writing stories taking place in it.
How did you come up with the title?
The story revolves around the coil-guns used to launch satellites, so the title made sense.
How did you get it published in Digital Science Fiction?
I’d been sending it out and revising it when it got rejected for quite some time—definitely more than a year. I took it through two writing groups I’m a member of, one in Kennesaw, Ga. and the other in Duluth, Ga., and greatly revised the American Carl Sanderson’s sections to strengthen his character. I found Digital Science Fiction on Ralan.com, sent it in, and it was accepted.
What are you reading now?
I’m re-reading Island in the Sea of Time by S.M. Stirling for a book-club meeting. I also started reading The Wolf Age by James Enge, which I purchased from Pyr Science Fiction and Fantasy at DragonCon, but I haven’t gotten very far.
What are your current projects?
My goal is to finish my novel Battle for the Wastelands, which I describe as “a post-apocalyptic steampunk Western” by Veterans’ Day this year. That’s looking less likely to happen, so I’ve set a secondary deadline of “by the end of 2011.” I’m also writing two villain-protagonist superhero short stories for an anthology my Kennesaw-based writing group is putting together. I had the idea for a new science-fiction universe at the 2011 DragonCon and I just started writing a short story set in it. Humans are part of an empire ruled by alien pterodactyl-analogues and that empire is falling…
I also blog at http://www.accordingtoquinn.com/.
Do you have any upcoming works set in the "Coil Gun" universe?
I have a completed espionage story I intend to submit to the next issue of DSF, as well as an unfinished story also set during the opening night of WWIII.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Read a lot and write a lot. If you have access to a public library, you should be able to find a lot of how books on how to write there. The Cobb County public-library system I grew up using had a whole bunch of books on things like characterization, plot, setting, etc., as well as more interesting stuff like The Writer’s Complete Fantasy Reference.
If there’s a writer’s group that meets near you, join one. “Near” can be relative — I joined both of my groups while living forty minutes to an hour away. If there isn’t, start one, and if you don’t, join an online group like Critters. None of the stories I’ve sold haven’t had critique from other people before they were submitted. “Coil Gun” and “Skirmish” went through each of my writing groups twice, while “Wendigo” was critiqued by UGA professor Dr. Barry Hollander, several people from Critters, and some people who lived in my dorm. “Nicor” and “Lord Giovanni’s Daughter” were also critiqued by Dr. Hollander and people from Critters.
If you can go to conventions, be sure to do so — they’re golden opportunities to network. If I hadn’t gone to DragonCon in Atlanta, I wouldn’t have known BattleTech was still going, let alone that I could write fiction for it. Nor would I have found a publisher who seems interested in Battle for the Wastelands.
Be sure to look for markets. The big Writer’s Market book (and its affiliated Web site) and Ralan.com and Duotrope.com are good places to look, as are the conventions.
Also, although Internet forums can be good sources for inspiration and sounding boards for ideas, don’t spend too much time on them. There’s an XKCD web-comic depicting a haggard man up at an ungodly hour of the night and when his wife or girlfriend asks him to come back to bed, he tells her he’s doing something important—“SOMEONE IS WRONG ON THE INTERNET!” That is something to avoid — there’s not much benefit to winning an argument on a message-board and you could be doing so much else in the meantime. This applies to other Internet-based distractions as well, but I used forums as an example because for me, they’re the worst.
Check out Korsgaard's review of "Coil Gun" here.