Sunday, April 06, 2014
News from nowhere
Author invites readers to strange new worlds, alternate histories
By Todd Glasscock
Lou Antonelli lives in at least two different worlds. He spends most of his time in the real world as managing editor of The Mount Pleasant Daily Tribune. In that world, Antonelli presents the “first rough draft of history,” as the old journalism adage says, of the lives and events of an East Texas town. That draft might tell you about the accomplishments of a local elementary school's students or about the local police captain leaving for a new job.
Antonelli also lives in the science-fictional world--or worlds--of his imagination. These worlds may present the first draft of the future or of an alternate history--of what could be or what could have been.
Antonelli's latest story collection, "A Clock Struck None," takes readers into worlds where magic exists in a modern setting and Kodak kiosks or airships appear from, well, elsewhere, or perhaps nowhere.
"Each of the stories are alternate history, which is news from nowhere," Antonelli says.
"A Clock Struck None" ($14.99, Fantastic Books, 274 pages) debuted Feb. 14, 2014. The collection features 28 previously published stories, including 2013 Sidewise Award finalist "Great White Ship." The Sidewise Awards honor the best alternate history stories.
His previous short story collections are "Fantastic Texas" and "Texas & Other Planets," each containing a selection of his more than 80 previously published short stories. Many of these stories are set in alternate versions of his adopted state, Texas.
Originally from Medford, Mass., Antonelli came to Texas in 1985 from New York, where he had been studying history at Columbia University. While set all over, the stories in "A Clock Struck None" have a consistent theme: What could have been?
The story "Double Exposure," for instance, is about a distraught man whose life changes when a Kodak film kiosk appears in a parking lot. The kiosk happens to have photos from the man's 1976 high school senior class picnic and can't close "until all the photos are picked up.”
Carefully crafted, well-told stories, along with a prolific output have kept Antonelli in the minds of readers and peers alike. His stories frequently get honorable mentions and placement in anthologies, and he was recently entered into the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, an online compendium devoted to the genre and to those who have significantly influenced its development.
"In a spare, swift, convincing narrative style," science-fiction author John Clute writes in the entry, "Antonelli juxtaposes realities with very considerable skill, creating a variety of alternate worlds ... and making some sharp points about American history, race relations, dreams, and occasional nightmares in which the 20th century goes wrong."
Antonelli felt honored to be included in the encyclopedia. "John Clute gives a really good analysis. It’s not superficial; it shows he's familiar with my work."
Antonelli began writing science fiction in 2002 at age 45. "I had always read it," he says. "I had always wanted to write fiction but had never gotten around to it." As he recounts in the introduction to "Fantastic Texas," he took the plunge into fiction on a scorching August day with the air conditioning out, knowing that if he didn't start then he would never do it. He wrote and submitted a story to an online critique group, received some positive comments, and decided he might "have a shot at being an s-f and fantasy writer."
From that moment, he began writing and submitting stories regularly, and in June 2003, the Austin-based webzine Revolution SF published his story "Silvern." The title comes from his habit of carrying silver dollars in his pocket.
Jayme Blaschke, the magazine's fiction editor then, accepted the story because it was evident Antonelli had surpassed the novice stage as a writer. "Silvern" showed Antonelli understood that short stories became galvanized by two or more ideas resonating and playing off each other.
"I believe Lou instinctively grasped this concept, as every story he submitted to me boasted a confluence of concepts," Blaschke says. "New writers don't normally have such a sophisticated grasp of narrative structure." Blaschke also recognized that stylistically Antonelli's writing was polished and concise, a style Antonelli had developed as a journalist. "Not all journalists can make the transition to fiction, and vice versa. That Lou was able to do so, and make it look effortless in the process, impressed me."
Since Revolution SF took "Silvern," Antonelli began publishing regularly, but his breakout came in March 2004 when Gardner Dozois at Asimov's Science Fiction accepted his story "A Rocket for the Republic.” This was his first professional sale and he feels lucky about this break. It was one of the last stories Dozois accepted before retiring as Asimov's fiction editor.
In a curious twist reminiscent of his stories, Antonelli's career as a science-fiction writer blasted off because of a news item printed in the paper he was working for in 2003. "I was working at the paper in Malakoff (Texas) when ConDFW sent a news release,” he says. "I didn't know science-fiction conventions existed.”
He published the release in the paper and then attended the convention, held each February. He attended a panel of writing, and towards the end he asked “Am I too old to start?' and Jayme said, 'no.'" And so he submitted "Silvern."
Antonelli believes science-fiction conventions like ConDFW are good for beginning writers to attend because you get a chance to learn from experienced writers—not only what to do, but what not to do. "It's a great way to educate yourself."
At the conventions there are plenty of people to learn from, not only writers but also fans of the genre. He usually attends FenCon and ConDFW, both in Dallas, and the Armadillo Con in Austin. He moderated several panels at this year's ConDFW, held Feb. 21-23 in Dallas.
Antonelli has consistently published short fiction in paying markets, as well as anthologies. He also has been working on a book tentatively titled "Letters to Gardner" that uses his correspondence with Dozois as a source on writing fiction.
And while he continues to write short fiction, his next giant leap may be the one most writers aspire to—a novel. "I'm getting to the point where I feel I have time to write a novel."
As a science-fiction writer, he can only extrapolate what the future holds, but he has worlds and stories in mind, and perhaps a whole universe ready to expand.
This is one of my best ever alternate histories.