All posts by Spencer Ellsworth

Spencer Ellsworth lives in Bellingham, Washington. He has published work in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Michael Moorcock's New Worlds, and a good half-dozen other markets. He teaches at Northwest Indian College, plays bass for the band Pawnbroker, has a wife and three children, and writes his little brain out.

In Which I Shamefully Admit I Had An Okay Year

I’m terribly sorry, because I’m supposed to hate 2016… but I had an okay year personally. My writing career went great. I got an agent and a book deal. I wrote a book on contract, which was such a different headgame that I haven’t been able to even blog about it! (Spoiler: it feels like trying to write under a microscope.) I finished another unrelated novel, and have started the third one in my series.

I also sold a number of stories as reprints, though I didn’t sell any original short stories this year: The Child Support of Cromdor The Condemned to Lightspeed, The Fires of Mercy to Flame Tree Press, About The Bear to Spirit’s Tincture, Five Tales of the Aqueduct to Strange California, The Ifrit’s Trial to FarFetchedFables. Blade And Branch and Stone, formerly of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, will also run at Podcastle sometime in the new year, and a novelette that bought way back in the innocent times of 2015 should be up in March.


I continue to like my job at Northwest Indian College, even when some of my favorite people retired or found greener fields.

On a personal note, though, my health is not good. As happens to many celiacs, I started to get sick no matter what I ate. I spent all of January-April of 2016 sick and tired, until I tried the Whole 30 diet and cut out soy, corn, and most sugars from my diet (gluten and dairy have been gone for years).  The rest of the year was a little better, but I am learning how tough it is to live entirely without cookies, candy, cake and ice cream. So far there’s no real solution for me other than to eat carefully. I’m having trouble getting in to see any specialists. Gastrointestinal people tend to be booked 4-6 months out.

I did a ton of home remodels. I now have a nice office to write in, a nice rec room to… rec… and a completely remodeled bathroom that ididntwanttoremodeldamnwaterdamagegrumblegrumble…

As for the world around me… well shit. We’re facing World War II levels of far-right fascist uprising, and this time, they’re coming from inside my country. Often from people I care about who were suckered by years of propaganda masquerading as “fair and balanced news.”

It’s hard to write like this. I don’t hole up and write to process; I like going out with friends and playing loud punk rock when I’m angry. (Current emotions: anger, anger and anger.) It takes me about three months to properly process any emotions for writing. And as of November 8th, I had just under three months to finish writing my space opera trilogy.

I haven’t hit on any great techniques for writing with EMOTIONS, so if you have any to suggest, send em my way.

Oh yeah, and one more writing-related thing…


(Barnes & Noble too!!) 

Mormons, We Should Talk


Up until Tuesday’s insane reversal of every single thing anyone with sense thought about the election, they were the conscience of the Republican Party.  Mitt Romney called The Big Racist Cheeto on his racism and wouldn’t support the guy from day one.  Evan McMullin gained a lot of momentum within Utah as an eleventh-hour independent who was LDS and Not Trump. Had McMullin carried Utah’s electoral votes, Mormons would be on record as having been the one demographically conservative group to defiantly reject the BRC’s sexism, racism and violence.

So what happened? Well, forty-six percent of the dang vote still went to the Big Racist Cheeto. But more than that, six electoral votes went to the BRC. This despite an outcry of conservative Utah politicians just a few months ago. What happened?

Orrin Hatch happened. He told electors to vote for the party, for the Big Racist Cheeto, despite the outcry from members of his state and religion. And they fell in line. Mormons heartened by the moral stance of Romney and McMullin seemed to forget that Romney & McMullin didn’t actually have electoral votes!

But it’s more than that. Look at those red, red results. Other than liberal bastions of Salt Lake & Park City, the 90+ percent of Mormons in Weber County, Davis County, Wasatch County, Kane County, etc… voted Trump. Even in Utah County, home of Brigham Young University, McMullin couldn’t carry the vote.

Statistically, Brigham Young University voted for Trump.

And I have a theory why. And we need to talk about that theory, Mormons. Because this election has made me feel weirdly close to my LDS roots. I don’t often attend church these days, but when I do, I am proud of my roots in a persecuted religious minority, especially one known for solidarity with Muslims.

But it’s also a religion that has a deeply sexist tradition. Any Mormon over the age of 25 probably remembers the chastity lessons where church leaders were encouraged, by official Church manuals, to lick the frosting off a cupcake and explain that the now bare, saliva-covered cupcake represented a girl–never a boy–who’d had premarital sex.

Elizabeth Smart has rightfully critiqued these teachings and this attitude, but years of lessons that reduce womanhood to virginity/marital sexual fidelity and years of rhetoric about “our mothers and daughters” instead of language of equality, and now look… the most LDS state in the nation voted mostly for a man who is defined by treating women as objects.

A lot of Mormons, with their votes, said that they didn’t care how many sexual assault allegations Trump had against him. And he has a lot.

One can’t help seeing a trend. Years of objectification of women in church ≈ an excuse for an objectifier & abuser, as long as he’s Republican.

It’s time for Mormons to get up in Elders Quorum and Relief Society and not just condemn sexism, but find a different way to talk about sex and women. It’s time to have that awkward conversation about Helen Mar Kimball and say that maybe we need to be more critical even of Church founders in regards to sexism, and that’s okay; it won’t destroy our faith in Christ.

If you’re a Mormon who is horrified that the Big Racist Cheeto won, well, a lot of your fellow Church members helped elect him. And they weren’t just hicks out by Bryce Canyon. They were people like Orrin Hatch. They had the same lessons and the same leaders as you.


Hey people who read this blog! I have been trying to finish a book, a process about which I have MANY THOUGHTS. Most of those thoughts are OHMYSWEETMONKEYTEATS



BUT in the meantime, my story “Five Tales of the Aqueduct,” which originally appeared in the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, is in the Strange California anthology.

The story is a paean to Palmdale, where I grew up. If you haven’t heard of Palmdale, yeah, there’s a reason for that. It’s north of the LA area, north of Vasquez Rocks, the desolate area that serves as an alien planet for every classic Trek episode. That’s the part of California where no one goes. And there isn’t any water there naturally. Governor Pat Brown’s massive California Aqueduct irrigation project brought water down from Mount Shasta all the way to my house, creating The Concrete River On The Hill, along with Lake Palmdale.


The aqueduct always felt a little strange and alien. It was a giant river! On a hill! In the desert! As teenagers, we’d crawl through the teeny little drainage tunnels underneath it, hike along it and… uh, definitely never went swimming, nope that’d be dangerous and why would teenagers do anything dangerous…

So I celebrated the weirdness of water in dry places with this weird story. I’m absolutely thrilled that it was picked up for this anthology, which highlights a number of other weird things about California.


Not yet is it paid!

We have a few more days to go, and a little bit to go to make our Kickstarter goal. So if you have a few bucks, please throw it at the Kickstarter.

The We Sold A Trilogy Trilogy Part 3: The Wrath of Practicality

I keep hearing people say variations on this theme:

“You made it!”

“You worked so hard and now you did it!”

“Yay! You finally got there!”

I like these things. I like it when people congratulate me. We should celebrate! Eat that chocolate! Buy that Transformer! Fill a bathtub with premium Whole Foods brand peanut butter and sit in it while reciting Hamlet to a gummi bear. I mean, if that’s how you celebrate.

“You’ve made it” isn’t quite accurate, though. The publishing business is really fickle. As proof, I offer you the NY Times’ Notable Books of 1996, and your consequent, “Who?” Though Tor cut me a nice check, it wasn’t quit-your-day-job money. Lots of things could happen at this point. Kirkus could pan the book. PW could pan it. Barnes & Noble’s buyer might hate it. Iiiii… might be kept up at night by anxiety about these sorts of things. Ignore this part, actually. NOTHING TO SEE HERE CERTAINLY NOT ME CHEWING MY NAILS IN A CORNER MUTTERING “PLEASE LOVE ME”

Anyway… The first novel deal is less “full-time 401k and benefits” as “independent contractor wins a big bid.”

I’ve been producing a product for many years, and making a small amount of money off it. Now I’m making a larger profit, and hopefully going to be able to produce more, eventually reducing my other freelance commitments. So yes, that’s awesome. It’s nice that I sold something through traditional publishing channels, which gets around a lot of the work self-pubbers have to do.

But I haven’t made it. Independent contractor won a big bid. Here’s to many more.

Music Monday: Coldplay’s Last Album Before Their Tragic Disappearance

It’s a real shame that, after Viva La Vida, Coldplay, as one, decided to brave the bears, rabid reindeer and Vikings on a remote Norse fjord, and disappeared into the wilds.

I mean, Viva La Vida was a great album, and totally redeemed them from X&Y. It’s just such a shame that they haven’t done anything since. I mean, it’s possible that they would have just put out some middling, boring albums that made X&Y look good, but I think we all know that’s unlikely.

That darn fjord.


The We Sold A Trilogy Trilogy Part 2: AKA Part Eleven

K, time for some honesty.

The novel I just sold? My eleventh. The sequel to it will be my fifteenth. They weren’t all finished, and they certainly were not all revised and submitted, but all of them crossed that 50,000-word-mark that defines a novel.

I wrote a novel my freshman year of high school, in 1994. One. I wrote a very bad, very long book my senior year, in 1998. Two. I revised it over the next four years and sent it to Tor and Baen, the only houses with open sub calls, after my awesome dad copyedited the whole thing.

Revisions and all, Tor and Baen still rejected my second novel.

What part of 280,000 words, written by a teenager imitating Robert Jordan, wasn’t there to love? Srsly Tor.

I wrote Three in 2002, but it got mired. Four in 2004, which I revised and sent off. Twas roundly rejected. Started two in 2006 that both petered out quickly; I count them both together as Five. Six, in 2008, descended into a 225,000-word mire. Seven, completed in 2009, took four years to revise, then made the rounds and collected personal rejections from many places, including Tor, Harper Voyager, and my current agent. A small press is currently interested in it. Cool new soon.



In 2010, I wrote Eight to re-do the 2008 mire… and ended up in another mire. In 2011, I wrote Nine, a prequel to pre-empt that… another mire.

(I was producing, submitting, and being crushed repeatedly by short story rejections by this point, too. In case you forgot that part.)

During 2013, I was sitting in a talk by the dorkily dashing Randy Henderson about long-term career planning. At the time I was struggling with Ten, yet another giant epic fantasy novel, a different mire than the last three mires, which had a million story threads and once it was done would take years to rewrite, and I thought…

Gasp. I should just write SHORT novels for a while.

Fifty, sixty thousand words takes a month to write in first draft. And a month to revise. Why was I breaking my brain over books three times, four times that length? I knew how to do short fiction, and all I had to do was expand those skills. What’s more, the problems in fifty thousand words would be proportionally smaller.

So then I wrote Eleven, Twelve and Thirteen in 2014. (My agent also rejected Twelve before she saw Eleven.) I just managed to finish Fourteen’s first draft earlier this year.

That’s a lot of words before I got decent pay for any of them. I’m glad I stuck it out, through tons and tons of rejection. I can only imagine how much more difficult that amount of rejection is for writers from marginalized groups, who put up with a level of BS and aggression I don’t.

Any craft has a “journeyman” period, in which a professional does quality work while still mastering the craft. A lot of good journeyman novels get published–Everything Is Illuminated, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Patternmaster–even The Name of the Wind, I think, could be defined as a journeyman piece. But very often in your journeyman period, your flaws still show through.

I think Four was a decent early journeyman piece. Had self-publishing been viable in 2004, I probably would have thrown it up on Amazon to see what happened. I’m glad I didn’t. I’m not putting down self-publishing. But I’ve seen a lot of journeyman writers, who have more raw talent than I did in 2004, write a flawed book with good parts, watch the rejections come in, get frustrated, and self-publish it. Self-pubbing is great if you can pour all your time into it, or if you write something niche enough to sell itself.

It’s not what you should do with your first (or fourth) decent, wide-appeal book because people rejected it. Chances are, if mainstream publishing didn’t want it, it’s not good enough to be a breakout self-pub hit. It’s more likely another journeyman piece.

When I look at all those failed novels, and those wrong turns, and everything I’m learned, I’m not mad at the publishing industry that rejected me, I’m mad at myself for taking so long to learn from my mistakes.