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Writer to be published in sci-fi anthology

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Fantasy/science fiction author to receive award, see Hollywood

By Randy Patrick

RANDY PATRICK

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rpatrick@kystandard.com

It’s a long way from the dirt road grit of Carrie Callahan’s fiction to the glitter of Hollywood, but for the young science fiction and fantasy writer, it could be a path paved with gold.

Callahan, 31, of Bardstown, is one of 12 emerging authors whose stories have been chosen for inclusion in the 35th anniversary edition of Galaxy Press’s annual L. Ron Hubbard anthology of some of the best new sci-fi writing and artwork.

As a third-place winner in the publisher’s international writing contest, she will be traveling to Hollywood for a week-long professional writing workshop in April to learn more about her craft and have an opportunity to meet some of the genre’s luminaries, including Kevin J. Anderson of the “Dune” prequel series, Orson Scott Card of “Ender’s Game” and Tim Powers, whose “Stranger Tides” was the basis for the film “Pirates of the Caribbean IV.”

“It’s amazing,” Callahan said this week in a phone call. “They pay you for your work and fly you out, and you get to meet all of these authors.”

And she will be published professionally for the first time, in “L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers and Illustrators of the Future Volume 35,” in April of this year.

Hubbard (1911-1986) was the founder of Scientology, but he was also a science fiction and fantasy writer, and the anthology named for him is a bestseller that includes the work of quarterly contest winners who earn $500 to $1,000 and have an opportunity to win a $5,000 grand prize.

Callahan discovered the contest online and wrote her story, “Dirt Road Magic,” just before the entry deadline, maybe four days before it was due.

“I didn’t really expect anything out of it because I had written it so quickly, but then I got a call … letting me know I was a finalist,” she said, and then three weeks later, last summer, she got another call that she was a third-place winner. “That was really crazy,” she said.

“Dirt Road Magic” is an example of a style Callahan calls “dirt spec,” which mixes “gritty realism with speculative elements,” according to the contest’s publicist.

The style comes from her “experiences growing up sub-working class and not seeing herself reflected in the shiny prose of high-gloss fiction,” wrote media relations employee Carmen Bartolo of Galaxy Press.

“It’s about a kid who lives in a trailer park, and he’s friends with this guy named Old Hurley, who is a wizard.”

The wizard is “teaching kids the use of powers,” and Jake, the 12-year-old protagonist of the story, realizes “there’s something a little sketchy” about Old Hurley, who lives in a double-wide behind the trailer park.

The conflict for Jake is whether he wants to “pursue this” or “say no and move on.”

“That’s kind of what the story is about,” she said.

Callahan, who lived in Florida as a child, moved around quite a bit with her family, and later with her husband, David, a former military officer, and she knows what it’s like to have lived in a trailer park. She said the character Jake is based in part on her experiences growing up, and Old Hurley is based on a composite of people she knew, but one old man in particular that she knew when she was about seven.

“My sister pointed it out, actually. I didn’t realize it, but as soon as she said, ‘that guy,’ I said, ‘Omigosh, it’s him!” she said.

The man lived in a dumpy RV and had a “taxidermy rattlesnake” he liked to show the children.

“It was real weird,” she said.

One of the aspects of the story that the author said is important to her is that “nobody’s evil.” The characters aren’t all good or bad, just different.

“I’m exploring what does magic mean to people in those situations, like disadvantaged people or people in mobile homes,” she said. “When magic happens, their perspective might change a little.”

Callahan became interested in fantasy and science fiction because her father was, and she started reading the books from his library as a little girl. She also started writing at an early age, and started thinking of herself as a serious writer in her 20s.

She read J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series when she was growing up, and was about Jake’s age when the movies came out, but she’s had many influences.

“My inspirations are all over the place, and it’s hard for me to think past what I’ve read recently,” she said, mentioning N.K. Jimisin’s “Broken Earth” trilogy.

“I read science fiction, too, especially the golden-age stuff like Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov” and Robert Jordan, she said.

Something she’s excited about is that her father as well as her husband will be accompanying her to the workshop, and he will get to meet authors he read as a boy.

“I’m really looking forward to it. … I’m excited about the whole week,” she said.

Callahan's website is  http://carriecallahan.com/