Interviewed by ErgoFiction

ErgoFiction visitors, welcome!

I was interviewed by A.M.Harte at ErgoFiction, a webzine about web fiction. I came to their attention through Thaumatrope.

Go comment there

On Writing

Twitter fiction is a joke

I published over 400 stories last year. The punchline is that they all averaged 22 words or less. These stories were published on Thaumatrope, the first twitter fiction magazine, and became part of the microfiction revolution and the recent trend of twitter fiction. Yes, they were all stories that were written in 140 characters or less.

In my comings and goings, introducing people to the twitter fiction concept, I’ve often heard it asked: “How is it possible to write a story that short? If a story must contain an entire plot then how can you compress all that into just a few sentences?” My answer: “Can you tell a joke?”

But seriously folks, try writing your twitter fiction in the form of a joke. Not that it needs to be funny, but that it should have a set-up (exposition, in literary terms) and a punchline (a climax and/or resolution). Consider the work of famous short-form comedian Henny Youngman:

A doctor has a stethoscope up to a man’s chest. The man asks, “Doc, how do I stand?” The doctor says, “That’s what puzzles me!”

In under 140 characters you have a complete story—the set-up: A doctor has a stethoscope up to a man’s chest. The man asks, “Doc, how do I stand?” and the punchline: The doctor says, “That’s what puzzles me!”

Even Ernest Hemingway’s six-word story contains the same elements: the exposition: For sale: Baby’s shoes, and the climax/resolution: Never worn.

Here are some examples of twitter fiction stories originally appearing on Thaumatrope that follow the same pattern:

“The truth,” I said, “is out there.” In a bus station locker in Trenton, NJ, seething, breathing, waiting, explosive. “I have the key.”

“Your first edition of Twilight gave me a paper cut!”

“Yeah, it does that to everyone sooner or later.”

If a Chronodoc says not to let paradox worry you because the math is all right this time, punch him. Punch him while you still have fists.

But the set-up/punchline format isn’t the only one that you could use. You can be even more direct. Henny Youngman was famous for his one-liners:

My doctor grabbed me by the wallet and said, “Cough!”

The one-liner concept, a story that can be told without pause all in one breath, is a bit more difficult to write. It requires that the exposition, climax, and resolution be all in one sentence. Here are some twitter fiction stories using the one-liner concept:

Lying in drag, waiting for the little girl, the wolf wonders what his own grandmother would say about how his life has turned out.

Sadly, Lillie realized the full scope of her powers the day she wished her math teacher would be hit by an asteroid the size of the moon.

The joke is just one of many forms that twitter fiction could take. Take a moment to browse the Thaumatrope archives, and see if you can recognize the format in the stories there. Hopefully this serves as an starting point for writers who want to write stories in the twitter fiction and the other microfiction forms.


Hugo Nominees Flipping the Bird

I’m only posting this because it amuses my 12-year-old self…

I forget what events transpired leading up to this, but it was at Howard Tayler’s coffee klatsch at Balticon scheduled at 11am, so (theoretically) no alcohol was involved.

Lawrence M. Schoen, Hugo Nominee, Flippin' the Bird
Lawrence M. Schoen
Short Story: “The Moment”
Paolo Bacigalupi, Hugo Nominee, Flippin' the Bird
Paolo Bacigalupi
Novel: The Windup Girl
Howard Tayler, Hugo Nominee, Flippin' the Bird
Howard Tayler
Graphic Story: Schlock Mercenary: The Longshoreman of the Apocalypse

If I can get other Hugo Nominees to send me images maybe I’ll make a collectible card game out of it.


I like broccoli

I like broccoli—No, it’s true!

When I was a little child I didn’t want to eat it. Growing up, my mother never made it fresh—always from frozen and well-boiled. I didn’t like the color of the just-slightly-cooked-too-long broccoli. I wasn’t fond of the way that it flopped on the end of my fork. I was less than enamored of the bright-green-turned-just-a-little-grey-green color.

My mother told me to pretend that I was a dinosaur and that the broccoli was a little tree. For the next several years I was a dinosaur, eating broccoli trees smothered in butter—rawr. I learned that I actually like my cruciferous vegetables. There’s a little bit of sweetness in the broccoli stalk, unlike cauliflower, that contrasts nicely with the saltiness of butter. The florets break apart in a satisfying manner when I bite into them. I devoured forests.

I learned a lesson about trying new things and I don’t need to pretend that I’m a dinosaur anymore… I don’t need to.





Proof that no one reads the program book biographies (or at the very least, proof that no one read mine)… here’s the bio as I submitted it and as it ran in Balticon BSFAN, the Balticon souvenir program book:

Nathan E. Lilly is an unimportant web developer and editor of three online magazines of little consequence. publishes short stories weekly for a dead-end sub-genre of a genre that is itself dying. Everyday Weirdness publishes weird flash fiction daily in an obscure corner of the Internet. Thaumatrope is the oldest and longest running twitter fiction magazine, and it publishes fiction shorter than this bio on a daily basis. He’ll give $5 to the first person who tells him that they read his bio in BSFAN. In his spare time it’s rumored that he builds websites for SF/F/H professionals via GreenTentacles. I swear, it’s only a rumor.

The $5 went unclaimed.


Balticon 2010

I had a wonderful time this past weekend at Balticon, as always. I roomed with Lawrence M. Schoen, met Howard Tayler, and was on a panel with Paolo Bacigalupi (among others). Some photos coming soon.

I was able to give a reading—a sampling of fiction from Thaumatrope, Everyday Weirdness, and Space Westerns Magazine. It went rather well, I was given a pretty good time slot: Saturday at 11am. I’ll announce when the recording makes it to the Balticon podCast.

Sunday night I had dinner with Lawrence, Howard, Jane Jewell, and Peter Heck, and was invited to the SFWA party. After dinner I moderated Because It’s Cool. On the panel were Joshua Bilmes, Larry Hodges, and Paolo Bacigalupi.

Starting in the 1960s, SF began aspiring to literary greatness, over the next decades producing books which enthralled critics while market share imploded. Meanwhile, fantasy had fun with quests, dragons, evil wizards and epic increases in market share. Today, Space Opera is still defined as a guilty pleasure at best by critics who frown at interstellar battles and heroic characters. Has SF taken itself too seriously for too long?

After a bit of a false start, we tackled the subject. I was fairly well able to keep the conversation moving and evenly paced. Joshua and Larry felt that it was a well-moderated panel. Paolo was mobbed by fans.

At breakfast with Lawrence, he threw an idea at me—curse him!! The last time I had an idea like this thrown at me I created Thaumatrope (inspired by Mary Robinette Kowal), and the time before that it was Containment (a geek event finder inspired by John Joseph Adams).

I went to Howard Tayler’s coffee klatsch as a prelude to my final panel. I enjoyed getting a behind-the-scenes look at Schlock Mercenary. He was wearing some awesome boots.

Overturning Preconceptions: Doing New Things with Old Myths was Monday at 12pm. I’m afraid that, before the panel even started, I was off on a rant about space westerns. On the panel were, Bernie Mojzes, Leona Wisoker, Alexander B. Potter, and Vonnie Winslow Crist.

What are some of the old myths we’re seeing new treatment of in today’s speculative fiction?

As we were waiting for the final panelists to arrive I was discussing space westerns with the audience, and got carried away. Luckily Alexander reminded me that we were here for the panel, and that we should probably get started. It was a pretty lively discussion to a packed room. We touched on various cultures and sources of myth.

I was approached at the end of the panel, and one or the audience members let me know that they were enjoying my original space western rant. Another audience member approached me to let me know that they were pleased that I was familiar with Captain Video and his Video Rangers. Western-genre influence on Science Fiction definitely seems to be a weak spot in programming at current cons. I’ll have to do something about that.

Aside from the panels I was able to enjoy the room parties (it’s likely that I’ll be at the following upcoming cons: Philcon, LunaCon, RavenCon, Renovation). I did discover a new con that I’m excited about: Intervention (A Convention with Webcomics, Videos, Gaming, Vendors, Music, and You) scheduled for next September in Washington D.C.

I returned home from Balticon weary, yet rejuvenated.



My first memory is from when I was about three or four. My father woke me up by scratching me with his mustache while trying to give me a kiss on the cheek. He was on his way to his first day at his new job.

My first science fiction memory is of seeing Star Wars in the theater with my father. I vividly remember the large green riding-lizards, dew-backs, in the desert of Tatooine; and the escape from the trash compactor, Darth Vader, and the Death Star. I took my first steps into a larger world.