Sky McKinnon’s career as a writer probably has almost had a storybook arc. An avid reader as a child with big dreams, their initial attempts at breaking through in mainstream publishing were unsuccessful. But persistence paid off.
McKinnon, who was born in Soldotna and grew up in Kenai, was recently named a winner of the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest. The award comes after McKinnon had more or less given up submitting to traditional publications but never quit writing.
“A lot of the starry-eyed plans I put down when I was in college, ‘Oh, I’m going to write this book. I’m going to be a bestseller and make a living writing.’ I’d kind of put by the wayside is like an unrealistic thing,” McKinnon said. “I kind of kept writing as a hobby. And now it’s kind of re-presenting itself in a way that I have to take seriously and very professionally.”
The recognition comes with some exciting opportunities: They will be flying to Hollywood for a weeklong, master class workshop with a number of writers and industry honchos and an awards gala. McKinnon’s story along with those from other winners will be published in “L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future Volume 40.″
Hubbard, a prolific author and the founder of Scientology, started the Writers of the Future contest in 1983 after the publication of his science fiction novel, “Battlefield Earth.” The contest was launched as an opportunity for promising science fiction and fantasy writers to have their work judged and exposed to a greater audience. A contest for illustrators was added in 1988.
McKinnon’s winning short story, “The Edge of Where My Light Is Cast,” is an exploration of artificial intelligence. A programmer whose cat has passed away creates a simulation to memorialize the cat and keep it in her life. When the cat’s owner goes missing, the cat who has power and capabilities within its digital existence asks “What do I do now?” Despite the AI theme, there’s also a strongly human element.
“At the end of it, it’s just a story about death and loss and grieving,” McKinnon said.
While AI has been in the news lately with the metaverse and ChatGPT, McKinnon said it’s been a topic long-investigated in sci-fi books.
“You look back at (the work of) Philip K. Dick all the way back to Mary Shelley and Frankenstein,” they said.
McKinnon had initially planned to submit a different story but the response from friends to “The Edge of Where My Light Is Cast” forced a reconsideration.
“I changed my mind at the last minute and pivoted, and I guess my instincts were right because I ended up getting passed in second place,” they said.
McKinnon, who now lives in Seattle, was a veracious reader as a child. Initially started Little Golden Books, they grew to love heroic fantasy books like the “Narnia” series and “The Hobbit.”
“Back in those days, if you put it in front of me, I’d read it,” they said.
McKinnon earned an MFA in Poetry from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and a master’s in library and information science from the University of Washington
This story is dedicated to the memory of Derick Burleson, who was McKinnon’s mentor at UAF.
“He was the creative writing professor there in poetry,” McKinnon said. “He took an interest in me and pushed me and recommended me for the MFA program.”
McKinnon continued to write after graduating, including self-publishing short stories on Kindle Direct and other projects. The win has already opened up more opportunities and has had McKinnon busier than ever with writing.
“I’m working on manuscripts with a very similar theme and setting as the short story, which I’m hoping to have done by the time the workshop rolls around and start pitching that to publishers,” they said.