A lame pun, I know.

But this week I wanted to talk a little bit about writing for a cause.

Very near the start of The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and very near the start of every class I teach I restate my firm belief that every book or short story is about something. The author has something to say, and this work of fiction is a vehicle for that message. And a “message” can be as subtle or as overt as you like—you can write a book like 1984, which has a rather overt political point of view, or you can write sword and sorcery in the vein of Conan, which tended to have a more oblique message about the noble savage and the nature of man, but well below the action-adventure surface.

The overwhelming majority of the time, your message is entirely personal to you, and may inspire the story, or might even be found in the story as you write. But recently I had an opportunity to contribute to two anthologies that had a theme, a cause, pre-attached.

The first, though it wasn’t the first published, is an still-upcoming anthology from Monumental Works Group. The subgenre is dieselpunk—like steampunk but a bit more current, with the internal combustion engine replacing the steam engine. This subgenre really excited me—I’d done something similar on my own, the short story “I Made a Friend.” I wanted to explore that setting some more: an alternate World War I in which the Germans won, and have invaded and occupied America.

Then Darrin Drader, the anthology’s editor, put forward the idea of donating the proceeds to charity, specifically for marriage equality.

I have gay friends, and anyway I’m an American who doesn’t think there’s anything patriotic about carving out specific rights and telling 10% of the law-abiding population that they’re not included with the rest of us, so I was in.

But I didn’t want to just leave it at that: an alt WWI dieselpunk story that might make a couple dollars for marriage equality. I decided I needed to address the issue a bit more head-on. After all, I’m already starting with a story that has a certain political point of view: How would we like it if we were subject to an occupying power? Making two of the characters gay not only spoke to the charity at hand, but also helped me bolster the idea of what it is—or what it should be—about America that’s worth fighting for. So in the story we meet two American resistance fighters who not only have to battle the foreign invaders, but the bigotry of their comrades in arms and families. More than a bit of a wink to the active duty service men and women in a post-don’t ask, don’t tell military.

Available Now!

Available Now!

The second, but already-published, anthology, is R.T. Kaelin’s Triumph Over Tragedy, the proceeds from which will be donated to the American Red Cross for Hurricane Sandy relief.

I live on the other side of the North American continent from the areas hit by that superstorm, but that doesn’t mean I can see and hear those stories and just shrug it off. What can I do? I’m not an emergency first responder, a doctor, or social worker, and I don’t have a lot of money. But I am a writer. I can write. If I can help by doing that, again, I’m in.

What Ryan told us all was simply this: stories on the subject of Triumph Over Tragedy. What I came up with was the story of a far future mercenary on the run from an angry empire, captured and on his way to a prison planet when the ship crashes. He has a chance to escape, but the ship has crashed into a whole village of intelligent beings who call this backwater planet home. Our hero finds that in order to save himself, he’ll have to save the locals from this unexpected disaster.

Generally speaking, writing short stories is not a money-making pursuit. If it pays at all it’s in double, maybe triple-digits. But I want to write more short stories, and I want to help somebody along the way, so writing for these charity anthologies is a win-win for me.

And in case you haven’t gotten the message by now, buying the anthology is where you come in!


—Philip Athans

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Or contact me for editing, coaching, ghostwriting, and more at Athans & Associates Creative Consulting.



About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Writing Monsters. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, (https://fantasyhandbook.wordpress.com/) is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
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