My First Pro Sale

 

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Hey, ho, ho!

2015 was a productive year for me. On top of finishing and selling my first novel, I sold six pieces of short fiction to various token and semi-pro paying markets. This came after six years of fruitlessly submitting and racking up over 100 rejections. The only thing I’d published prior to 2015 outside of my work in games, which mostly consists of stories about pirates, was my horror story Twenty-Four and a Bottle of Rye, which I sold to Sanitarium Magazine for contributor’s copies.

While all of that felt pretty good, and it is endlessly rewarding to see your own name emblazoned over killer artwork on the cover of a real, physical book or on the banner of an online magazine, today I hit an even bigger milestone – I made my first pro sale. My short story “Go Outside” will appear in Abyss & Apex sometime in 2017 (things move slow in the world of publishing).

A&A is a pro-paying, SFWA-qualifying market. For posterity’s sake, the story that made it was my third submission to them. I had previously submitted my dark fantasy/vaguely Ernest Clinean/”Camus’ The Fall in an underground labyrinth” novellette The Lich to them, which they rejected, but was picked up later by the horror anthology Ancient Enemiesas well as a poem.

Anyway, it’s time for a celebration.

Thanks for coming along, men.

 

Fiction: The Offering

The Dragon came when the world grew dark, and the stars drew out like hunters to end the hues of day. They left their Offerings to him underneath the Arbitrary Tower, on the beach where the river forked, and the pines bent as if weeping.

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The Dragon came when the world grew dark, and the stars drew out like hunters to end the hues of day. They left their Offerings to him underneath the Arbitrary Tower, on the beach where the river forked, and the pines bent as if weeping.

The Offering was always a girl child, no older than twenty; she was pretty, thoughtful, young and sad, the perfect sacrifice for a ravenous demi-god. That was the deal the Dragon had struck with the people of Village in the age when Village was young: one girl for one year’s peace. No more, no less.

A fair trade, it seemed to Coal, until the calling bones named Clisha.

(Read more at Trigger Warning Short Fiction)

Fiction: Gene Catcher

Tinder was a lost cause. He had over two hundred matches and none of them wanted to meet. The most recent, Dana, 22, less than a mile away, shot him down so hard Paul had to put his phone down and reconsider his life.

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Tinder was a lost cause. He had over two hundred matches and none of them wanted to meet. The most recent, Dana, 22, less than a mile away, shot him down so hard Paul had to put his phone down and reconsider his life.

Sorry… you don’t look tall in ur pics, Dana, 22, less than a mile away said.

I’m 5’7, Paul replied.

Must be 6’4 to ride, Dana, 22, less than a mile away, said before promptly blocking him.

Paul rolled over onto his side, careful to keep his feet off the bed so his freshly polished brogue shoes wouldn’t get dirt on his comforter. It was 10:24 PM.

What happened? I used to get new ass all the time, Paul thought. I might not be the tallest or richest guy in San Francisco, but so what? Tell a girl here you’re co-founder of a science fiction-themed indie rock record label, and their pants practically grow tentacles and climb off on their own. Everyone has dry spells. I just need to get out of the studio more, and back in the game.

He was walking out the door of his building to go to the bars solo when his phone buzzed in his pocket. It was a new match: a cute brunette with wide eyes and a seashell smile named Linda, 24, less than a mile away.

You look like trouble, Linda, 24, less than a mile away said.

LOL that’s my line, Paul replied.

Haha really?

That’s my usual opener.

Figures, Linda said.

So, gorgeous, are you just on this for an ego boost, or can we grab a drink tonight?

Linda took a whole ten minutes to respond. While he was waiting, Paul looked at his own pictures. He liked the one where he was drinking beer on the beach in Ko Phi Phi, Thailand the best. In the picture, he was tan and sporting an eight-week beard. His chin looked great. Paul thought it was his best physical feature, like a young William Shatner in the first season of Star Trek. His dad had a great chin, too.

Paul was about to un-match Linda when her message bubble appeared. I’m with my friend. We’re at Costarella’s. Come meet up!

On my way, Paul replied.

Linda sent him a smiling poop emoji, and Paul knew he was in.

He hailed a Lyft and was at Costarella’s in exactly twelve minutes. It should’ve been eight, but there was deadlocked traffic a few blocks from the restaurant, a line of cars rubbernecking an ambulance where a pair of EMTs was loading a pale, gasping man onto a stretcher.

Paul caught a glimpse of the man just as they were closing the door. His eyes were parched and bloodshot. His pupils looked like tiny barbed raisins. He looked excruciatingly thin, like he was dried out. His pants were covered in vomit and something else Paul didn’t want to think about. There were dozens of tiny puncture wounds covering the man’s face and arms.

Junkies, Paul thought.

As if reading his mind, the Lyft driver, an Indian man named Patel, said, “San Francisco… beautiful city, but it has a bad homeless problem. This is the third overdose I’ve seen tonight.”

Paul shook his head in disgust. “I know. I hate it. Why can’t they do that shit somewhere where people don’t have to see them?”

The Lyft driver shrugged.

It didn’t occur to Paul until later that night that the man he’d seen being loaded into the ambulance was dying.

 

***

But wait – that’s not the end. This post is only the first half of the story! Want to know what happens next? You can read the story in its entirety in the new Ancient Enemies horror anthology, out now from Good Dog Publishing.  Buy it here –

… and be sure to leave a review!

Ancient Enemies is Out

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Do you like villains? Monsters? Evil eldritch entities? Spooky things that skulk in the mordant mires of the world? YES? Then you NEED to check out this new anthology ANCIENT ENEMIES, which just dropped today from Good Dog Publishing.

ANCIENT ENEMIES is a horror anthology featuring short stories and novellas by the freshest, upcoming voices in horror, all riffing on the theme of monsters… whether from folklore, religion, or pop culture, these are stories are about the supernatural antagonists that have plagued mankind since the beginning of our days.

The anthology features two stories by yours truly: “Gene Catcher,”  and my dark fantasy novella “The Lich.” The Kindle version costs $3.99 and can be purchased here.

Gene Wolfe on the Art of Short Stories

“If you mean the voice in which each character speaks, each must be different. The butler mustn’t sound like the footman, even though neither is an important character. This is one of those truths that students reject out of hand. They reject it because everybody sounds alike. To them.”

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In this oldish, but incredibly candid interview from the August 2008 issue of Clarkesworld Magazine, Solar Cycle author and general master of science fiction, fantasy, and every other genre Gene Wolfe discusses some of his experiences as a teacher of speculative short fiction workshops. I’ve been doing some digging lately, ever since finishing GW’s latest novel, A Borrowed Man, and this interview – despite being almost a decade old – is the best collection of words I’ve ever found on the subject of writing short stories.

It’s not a how-to, but rather a philosophy, summed up with GW’s usual cutting wit, bluntness, and elegance. I highly encourage you to read the whole interview, particularly if you’re a newer author (like me) desiring to sharpen your short story tools, but since we live in a busy world, I’ll copy and paste some of my favorite tidbits here.

No joke, this shit is more quotable than a white girl’s Instagram.

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“I struggle against easy writing. Long ago somebody said, “Easy writing makes damned hard reading.” He was right. “Nick was a bad man and a cruel man.” That’s easy. I know I can’t say it at all. I have to show [Nick] being bad and cruel in the context of the story. That’s always hard.”

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“…The voice in which each character speaks, each must be different. The butler mustn’t sound like the footman, even though neither is an important character. This is one of those truths that students reject out of hand. They reject it because everybody sounds alike. To them.”

 

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“There comes a point at which I’m no longer sure that what I’m doing is improving the piece. That’s when I stop working on it and send it in. Usually – not always, but usually – I get there after four drafts. A fifth draft may find me reverting to the second or the third, and that’s a bad sign.”

 

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“One young man was writing pornography under the impression that he was writing fantasy; that is to say, the main interest in his stories was in sexual adventures which had little to do with the fantasy background. I explained to him that he was writing one genre under the impression that he was writing another… 

… A man of sixty or so was clearly avenging some wrong (which I suspect was largely imagined) done him by a middle-aged woman. I told him that his writing might be therapeutic, but it could not be sold. To put it briefly: I Made Enemies. I’m not sure how many.”

 

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“[Dialog] must entertain the reader, forward the plot, and characterize the speaker. All pretty much at the same time. It must not be too wordy or too telegraphic; it must sound natural – that is, like something that speaker might say at that time to that person. Dialogue is action.”

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And my personal favorite…

“The worst student stories as far as I’m concerned are the PC ones. All southerners (sometimes, westerners) are mindless gun-toting slobs and all military officers are evil. So are all corporations, etc. The students have learned to write these because they get good grades from their creative writing profs. The stories get published now and then, too. I read one not long ago in which Italians hated President Bush so much that they killed American tourists to get even with him. In the hope of escaping, some tourists wore buttons: I AM A DEMOCRAT. I’m not terribly fond of Bush myself, but come on gang! Get real.”

 

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Anyone interested in short fiction writing, be it speculative or otherwise, owes it to themselves to read the full interview.

C’mon. Read the whole thing. Don’t skim. Let slip a smarmy chuckle or two. Sponge  in the knowledge of a man who has not merely mastered the art forms of the short story and the standalone novel in pretty much every existing genre, but also those of the trilogy, the tetralogy, and the twelve-goddamned-book behemoth series that does not contain a single bad entry. Once you’re finished, take five minutes to read Neil Gaiman’s short primer on how to read Gene Wolfe, if you haven’t already, then go read one of the author’s many brilliant novels or short stories.

*Tangential thought, but I’m not sure why GW always gets shafted by his publishers when it comes to covers. I can’t help but think that part of the reason the author remains in somewhat-obscurity by people who aren’t widely read in SFF is the fact most of the English-language covers for his books are awful, or at least don’t do justice to the timeless, incredible stories they contain. Although Bruce Pennington’s UK cover for Shadow of the Torturer was pretty bad ass:

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Wallpaper-worthy.

Fiction: The Girl in the Blue Dress

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My new story, “The Girl in the Blue Dress” is out today in this month’s issue of NonLocal Science Fiction! Here’s the blurb:

A mysterious stranger in a blue dress can be found in the crowds surrounding nearly every great disaster in human history. What is she doing, and what does she want?

Check it out here.

 

 

Your Words Are Yours, and They Are Sacred

Editors, proofreaders, beta readers, and in our modern Amazon-dominated world where published manuscripts can be changed with the single click of a mouse, even reviewers, all hold the power to change our work for the better or worse, depending on how much access we give them.

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A recent post in an online writing forum I participate in got me thinking about the role others play in our creative process.

Nobody writes a story completely, 100% alone. Even short stories only consisting of a few thousand words have, or should have, someone else’s eyes on them before they reach the final draft, and this is exponentially more important with longer works, such as novels. The opinions of friends, parents, loving spouses, boyfriends and girlfriends, fellow writers, and random strangers who think our work shows promise are invaluable to the writing process.

Writing fiction of any length is like building a house from the inside, with a blindfold on; no matter how good the blueprints you start with are, there were will always be holes and awkward things jutting out that will be impossible for you to see or fix without outside help.

However…

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Not all help is Good

Editors, proofreaders, beta readers, and in our modern Amazon-dominated world where published manuscripts can be changed with the single click of a mouse, even reviewers, all hold the power to change our work for the better or worse, depending on how much access we give them.

For the sake of brevity, I am going to lump all of these monumentally important people together under one name, and call them Suggestors. I am not choosing the name Suggestors because it makes anyone who tries to help your writing sound like some flying, demonic banshee from Harry Potter who wears black and wants to give your precious hard work a bone finger enema – quite the opposite. 

Suggestors are people who suggest changes to your work. Without them, you cannot survive. But at the same time, their suggestions are only that. They are offering you ideas that will change your work. Because it is your work, you have every right to take or leave them.

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You must filter the good from the bad

To preserve the artistic integrity of your work, it is of monumental importance you learn how to filter good suggestions from bad ones, but more importantly, how to filter good from bad Suggestors, early on. Granting and limiting the correct amount of access to others can be what turns a good story into a great one, or what turns a piece of writing you are proud of into a steaming pile of unreadable poop.

Take the case of the guy in the forum post. The writer who made the post had a “friend” he hadn’t seen in years blow up at him on social media for promoting his book, because, wait for it, the writer didn’t seem open to taking creative criticism. Note that the problem wasn’t that the writer in this example was given criticism and took it poorly, or even simply stated he wasn’t open to it. A potential Suggestor slammed him for merely appearing not to be open to it at all. Which seems to suggest one thing: that the potential Suggestor felt entitled to change the author’s work.

Here was my response to the writer’s forum post:

…it’s kind of weird he felt entitled to give you criticism in the first place. It’s your work of art and you’re not obligated to let anyone else influence it. 

I work in games, and one thing I’ve seen countless times over the years is the tendency for writers and other creative types to criticize, or straight up change, someone else’s work for no better reason than that they had a different vision about it, and felt their own superseded the other person’s. In fact, killing that urge has been an ongoing battle whenever I edit another person’s work… something I have been doing daily, professionally, for six years.

It’s only natural that others want to participate creatively in a piece of art or entertainment they see promise in. But fiction is also one of the only places left in the world that the artist has final say over the work – in fact, that is what makes fiction fiction in the first place. It is a mind-to-mind transmission between you and your audience.

You should treat that relationship as sacred, and so should everyone else who works with you. If they don’t, I would say their intentions are not to make the work better, but to make it (partly) their own. And there’s no reason you need to share that role with them. You can if you want – it’s your work – but, you are not obligated. Just my $.05.

I know this may seem like a weird example, since the writer didn’t actually do any filtering himself – the passive aggressive Gods of Internet Communication did it for him – but it illustrates the point I want to make perfectly, which is what you probably have already guessed…

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“Good” and “bad” are mostly questions of intention

In my six years of experience as a game writer, I have learned that, 100% of the time, it is a bad sign when someone else feels entitled to change your work simply because it is their role to do so (as the Suggestor in my example did). Typically, these types of changes do nothing to improve what you originally wrote, and in fact, can oftentimes break it, or at least compromise what you were trying to say. That’s because the act is symbolic, not functional – when someone who feels entitled to change your work does, their intention is not to bring out the best version of your words, but to make the words their own, like a dog lifting his leg over another canine’s scent.

These people are everywhere: in games, TV, book publishing, and yes, even in those enthusiastic messages from your friends and family when you make open calls for beta readers on your social media. In a professional setting, you have no choice but to play the office politics game and humor these people (sometimes).

In fiction, though, you have no such obligation. In fact, if we’re talking self-publishing, hybrid publishing, or small-press publishing, chances are you’ve got some of your own money on the line and would actually be investing in their foolishness if you let them into your creative process. i cannot be dramatic enough when I say that this can lead to catastrophic consequencesor at least, a massive headache as you scramble to pick up the pieces of a good piece of writing that someone with different ideas has flown in and shat on.

The question you must always ask yourself when involving a new Suggestor on your project is: is this person’s intention to bring out the best version of my work, or to cover my words with their scent?

 

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A Parable About Good and Bad Suggestors

Remember, good Suggestors can make terrible suggestions, and bad Suggestor can make great ones. But the net effect of having a good Suggestor help you will always be that the writing improves and is constantly growing closer to the ideal version you had in your brain, while the net effect of having a bad Suggestor help you will always be that the writing less and less resembles your own.

To illustrate the difference, let’s do a thought experiment.

One day, Writer Guy (or Girl) starts working on a project. He pours his heart, soul, blood, skin flakes, and a few hair follicles into it. When the first draft is done, he decides he wants to hire an editor. Maybe he’ll self-publish and maybe he won’t, but he knows he doesn’t have a good enough manuscript yet to decide, and he needs outside help.

Writer Guy finds an editor online. He doesn’t know her, but she has a good reputation. The editor reads and returns the manuscript with a ton of markup. Writer Guy’s first reaction is that he wants to murder her, because she screwed up his totally cool and awesome but far from perfect story. But when he goes for a walk, catches his cool, sits down with a beer and looks at the editor’s comments again, he realizes most of her edits actually bring out what he was trying to say much better than he could himself. Maybe 25% of her edits, especially the added dialog, didn’t quite hit the mark, and leave Writer Guy scratching his head, so he decides not to accept those changes. But, for the most part, her edits are subtle, and make the story a better read. Not only that, but Editor Lady was fast, professional, and doesn’t trip on Writer Guy when he declines to use some of her edits.

Editor Lady is a Boss-Ass Suggestor, and exactly the kind of person you want on your team.

Now, cut to a few weeks later, when Writer Guy is preparing the draft he hopes will become his final manuscript, and wants to send it out to a few close friends and family for feedback. One friend who Writer Guy hasn’t seen since grade school responds to his open call for beta readers on Facebook. Beta Reader comes off as a bit overly enthusiastic and eager to help, which raises a red flag for Writer Guy – he’s seen Beta Reader’s posts, which are usually about contentious political issues and combative in tone. But he ignores his better gut and sends Beta Reader the manuscript, anyway.

Months later, Beta Reader sends the first several chapters back with massive rewrites, including new dialog, changes to narrator and character voice, and a general air of smug superiority that doesn’t make Writer Guy angry as much as it makes him nervous. He doesn’t want to burn the bridge, but he also can’t use 90% of Beta Reader’s suggestions without changing his original vision for the story. A few of the edits highlights things Writer Guy didn’t see, but should have, so he uses those. But he simply can’t accept the vast majority of edits. Predictably, Beta Reader’s response to this is passive aggression, followed by fading on Writer Guy as well as the project, and the bridge is burned, wasting months of time for everyone involved.

Beta Reader is a Bad Suggestor. While he may be a good person in other aspects of his life, and while his heart may be in the right place, when it comes to making suggestions about other people’s writing, he is a clown.

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Conclusion

You need other people’s suggestions to bring out the best version of your own words. Involving other people in your writing process is unavoidable. Just make sure the ones you do involve are actually there to help.

Your words are yours, and they are sacred. Keep them away from clowns.