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The Soft, Gooey Center

I was thinking about the kind of fiction I write today, and it struck me that I predominantly science fiction. And it's not hard sci-fi, either; it's soft, sociological science fiction, the kind of stuff you see on Star Trek.

And then it hit me.

Star Trek is why I write science fiction. Specifically, Star Trek: The Next Generation. Now, I wasn't a Trekkie or anything, and I've never been or felt any particular urge to attend a Star Trek convention, but I really did love the show. Not because of the phasers or away missions--I tended to roll my eyes whenever they did things that were too "Trek-esque"--but because of the personal struggles of the characters. The whole arc of Data and his "father" isn't really about an android and its long-lost inventor, it's about an orphan wishing he could meet his parents.

That was the beauty of the series. The stories were only sci-fi because the characters weren't all human, and they lived on a starship, and they carried laser weapons and had their food prepared by a replicator. Take away the sci-fi decorations, and you've still got a great story. And if you go back and watch, the writers and producers knew it; how many episodes took place in the Old West, or in the Victorian age thanks to the holodeck? How many took place on other planets that looked eerily similar to ours, with similar political issues and social strife?

And that's where my science fiction comes from. I don't write about the intricacies of sub-field particle ion drives because I don't even know how to PRETEND to know the intricacies of it. I write about people in in extraordinary situations, and surround them with extraordinary (albeit vague) technology, but you could strip it all away and still have a story about people with real emotions, and the decisions they face are the same ones we all have to face.

I was looking at potential markets to submit my latest story to, and I start by checking their guidelines, which tell a writer what the market is looking for, both in terms of format and story. And I came to one that said that writers should "avoid treating FTL (faster-than-light) travel like they do in TV and movies", and I wondered, why? In what way does it hurt the story for a starship to move faster than the speed of light with at least some relative easy? Faulty logic aside, the people who run this and other like-minded magazines owe their existence to the stories that do exactly what they're now warning against.

The Space Opera lives, both in the harder-sci movement of today, and the soft-si genre that made science fiction a worldwide success as a genre and sparked such classics as the original Star Trek, and the original Battlestar Galactica, among others. And I only hope my own stories can do it justice.

This and That

It looks like I'll be able to resist the temptation to revisit "The Machine" for a second straight day. I know, I know, I should leave it alone for a week or so, create some distance between us, but it's difficult, especially when I only have one story on the market right now. If I had five or six making the rounds, then it's a different story. But still. Art can't be rushed.

In other news, I tried starting the superhero story today, and fell flat on my face. In a literary sense. This is the third time I've tried this story, and the third time I've failed to get anything down that I actually like. I keep changing my mind about how I want to approach it; at first, he was just a wanna-be vigilante in our world, but then I started toying with the idea that he's an actual superhero. Then I went with a world where there are superheroes, but he's not one of them. Don't worry, none of this gives away the plot. Anyway, despite my "Just Write the Damn Thing" mentality the last couple of months, this one just isn't working. And instead of wasting time on it, I moved on.

...and I moved on to a story about an pair of young boys in an underground civilization who are charged with the task of retrieving a treasure deep within "the mines" as they're called. Once again, the idea came from the website Writer's Beat, a forum for writers and by writers. They're having a contest with the theme of "Subterranean", and I decided I'd play along. Now, as is my general rule with these things, if I can adhere to WB's guidelines of keeping it 2,000 words or less, then the story is theirs for consideration. If it goes beyond that, then it's getting shipped off to a magazine or anthology. I hate stealing ideas from them, but...well, no, I actually love doing it! And they love it when I do!

OK, well, I'm about to pass out from lack of sleep.


Remember what I said yesterday about this blog being about the journey, and that you shouldn't pretty much take what I say with a grain of salt? Well, today we have a perfect example of why.

This morning, I finished the first draft of "The Machine". I have to tell you, it was one of the most amazing experiences I've ever had as a writer. In the wee hours, when everyone else was sleeping, before the sun came up, I was white-knuckling my way through the big climax of the story, and it was fantastic. I cried a little, and not because I finished the story, but because I cared about one of my characters so much. In all the years I've been writing, I finally know what that feels like.

And there are edits to come, and I don't know what's going to stay and what's going to go. You know how these things go. Given my history, I'll probably rename the fucker a time or two before sending it out. What I WON'T do is rush through it. No, I've learned my lesson there. I learned that with "The Bright Walk", which was sent out before it was ready, just because I am too impatient to wait. Well, I've already learned that if you feed that impatience, you just end up waiting longer, because your story will get rejected. It's like quicksand: Don't fight it.

I was getting to word counts...I said I wanted to keep the story under 4,000 words, but alas, I failed miserably. I came in with a count of 4,982, which all of our mathematics majors out there can see is 982 words more than I wanted. But honestly, the story demanded it.

For the sake of coming back to earth a little bit, I should say that this is always the trickiest time for me as a writer. I often times want to jump right into revisions, but know I can't, and also have a hard time starting anything new after having just, well, climaxed. It's like sliding the last black of limestone into place on the Great Pyramid, then being told to start the Great GREAT Pyramid the same day.

I think I'll nap on it.

Still Clickity Clackin'

Just thought I'd drop by and give a quick update. For what it's worth, I don't just write about stories that I know are going to pan out. That would be obvious to anyone who has bothered to read this, but it's worth repeating. I talk about my journey, and that includes stories that I start, stop, restart, stop again, throw in the trash, dig out of the trash, rename (and rename, and rename, and ultimately abandon for one reason or another. I'm EXCITED about writing, and I like chatting about my craft. I will tell you about a story I'm hot for, even if I'm not to the Point of No Return with it (that's where you know it will be finished, it's just a matter of when).


I mentioned the other day that I was going to flesh out an old(ish) flash story that I wrote for Flash Fiction Online. "The Machine" blossomed from 997 words to 3,271 words in just over two days. And I'm very excited about the story. I'm not done yet, but it's close. I would like to keep it under 4,000 words, but we'll see. I like to keep all of my short fiction around the 2,500-3,500 range, and I do so for a few reasons...

One, I like the idea of a story a person can read in one sitting. At this point in my writing career (which is to say, I don't HAVE a writing career) it's all about getting my work out on the market and getting it read by as many people as possible. My theory is, if it's short enough to read in one sitting, then more people will be willing to read it.

Two, that word count range seems to be the sweet spot for the paying markets. Even in this age where 90% of the markets are exclusively digital, and even the old standard print magazines have digital editions, there are still pretty strict word count upper limits, and they seem to range from 3-5 thousand. Even the magazines that publishes on their website, and not in an e-zine form, "prefer" lower word counts. I want to make it as easy as possible for the editor to buy my story.

Let's see, what else? Oh, I have an idea brewing for another story. I hate to give away plot details...so I won't. But I will say that it's Superhero-related, and it's an idea that I've had a few years now, and I want to write it. I don't know if it will be the next thing I write, but it'll definitely be this year.

OK, that's all for now. At some point you have to stop TALKING about writing, and start writing. See ya!

A Musing...

I want to talk about George R. R. Martin.

I am a huge fan of his work, especially his A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE series, but I've also read just about all of his best short fiction, which runs the gamut from science fiction to horror, with some fantasy that obviously informed his later epic fantasy series. I feel like my life is richer for reading George's work, and I'm more grateful to his ongoing series for opening my eyes to the rest of his work than for the series itself. I also feel like I'm a better writer for reading him, because it was through him that I learned that no matter how you dress them, good stories are about people.

But like everyone else, I'm disappointed that it has taken so long for George to complete the next book in the cycle, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS. I'm in love with the series, and it's natural to feel frustrated that the thing you want to read isn't done yet. I frequent George's Not A Blog and post thanks for every update on the book, and wish him luck. I don't tell him to hurry up and finish because it wouldn't help. Not only that, but I think it's rude, and mean-spirited, as a fan, to tell a writer to do their job better.

Which brings me to the growing community of readers who have shed their fandom and resorted to vitriol.

I won't name the sites here, because, frankly, they don't deserve what little readership a mentioned here might garner. But you can take my word that they're disgusting. Instead of discussing potential plot twists, character foibles, or style, they make crude remarks about Martin's weight and looks, and even predict when he'll die. They criticize his decision to write a series, and make wild assumptions about his methods.

What about his other stories, you say? Well, these clowns will tell that George has never written another word of readable fiction. That's right, they'll spit on his DREAMSONGS retrospective anthology, and they'll tell you that his WILD CARDS series is "trash". They ignore the logical conundrum of having an opinion on something they've never actually read, of course. Why would that stop them?

But George is a grown man, and doesn't really need me defending him (though I'll do it anyway). What's perhaps worse than the attacks they've made against the author are the attacks they've made against his fans.

They call us idiots and fanboys for supporting our favorite author. More than that, they call us these names for not HATING our favorite author. Go figure.

The point of this post is to say that if you ever read a post by one of these douchebag fools, smack them with your words. They deserve no quarter for their rudeness. They criticize an accomplished writer despite having never written a word of fiction themselves. They can, to quote myself when reading their posts, go fuck themselves.

They Grow Up So Fast...

Well, "The Bright Walk" (the vampire story with a thousand titles) has been trimmed and tucked in and sent out for consideration.

I don't know if it's taboo or not to mention which market you've sent to, so I won't. I'll just say they are featured on Duotrope's "Extremely Challenging Markets", meaning there have been no reported acceptances. If a site the size of Duotrope doesn't have any acceptances for it, then it's safe to say that the magazine is REALLY HARD to break into.

I hope to the be their first!

...but I expect to be just another number.

Anyway, this is part and parcel with my new philosophy. I feel like I am a talented writer, talented enough to be published in professional, paying markets. I also have big plans, one of which is to be able to write for a living. So I have decided that I am going to submit to the biggest markets first, then go from there. I know that probably seems like common sense to you, but to me it was a revelation.

Anyway, that's one story on the market. I should hear back within 90 days. Time to put the wraps on another story.

On The Good News Front

OK, now that the depressing stuff is out of the way, let's get everyone (all none of you, hah) up to speed on where I stand with my various writing projects.

The "Wizard" story I spoke so much of early in the year never ended up seeing the light of day, sadly. Looking back on those old entries shows me just how all over the place the story was. It really wouldn't sit still. The good news is that story has grown into the idea for a full-fledged novel. It's still in the plotting stages, but it's promising.

"His Bright Walk" is being trimmed and almost ready to hit the market. I'm convinced its the best thing I've ever written.

"The Machine", after receiving a personalized rejection from Flash Fiction Online, will be expanded into a full-length short. Actually, I'll probably start that tonight. I love the premise, I love the plot. I just need more room to flesh out the characters. The elements are there.

I'm also about 5700 words into an unnamed space drama that was inspired by the horrors of the Bataan Death March. I've hit a bit of a roadblock here, though; I intended this to be around 3,000 words in length, but it has grown well beyond that now, and I'm struggling to bring it to a close. If the final dramatic sequence could be compared to a baseball player on his sprint from third base to home plate, my story is stuck halfway between second and third--no man's land.

Hopefully, a few days of working on other projects will get the juices flowing.

That's about it, so far. I had a brilliant idea for something else today, as well, but I made the mistake of assuming I'd remember it...and now it's gone. No worries, because these ideas never really go away. It's just a matter of remembering it again.


Missing In Action

In my last post, I tried to excuse an absence of less than two weeks. In this post, I will try to excuse an absence of nearly four months.

The reasons seem to be similar. I have not written much in the last three months. Well, that's not entirely true; I have written plenty in the last month. Prior to that, though, there just wasn't a whole lot going on.

If you had asked me why I wasn't writing, at the time I would have given you any number of reasons. I might have said that I wasn't sleeping enough, or I was working too much, or I was depressed. I would have had enough excuses to fill a book, ironically.

But the truth of it is that I was scared.

When things had really started to take off, and I was finished a short story every two weeks or so, I inevitably started sending those stories out for consideration at different magazines and websites. There was one magical acceptance, and a pair of encouraging personal rejections, and a whole bunch of impersonal form rejections. That's all standard fare for the aspiring writer, but I wasn't ready for it, apparently.

Anyway, I can't run away from this. I've tried shutting myself down and pretending I'm not a writer, but it's as much a part of me as breathing. Or, more precisely, it's as much a part of me as my thoughts; I can't stop and think without imagining some world or monster of conflict, and it's not long before that idea is screaming to get out.

I hope things are different. I hope I'm more able to handle the rejection, but that's not important. What's important is that it doesn't matter if I am or not.

Well Hello There!

Geez, I'm starting to slip on this blog again. Can't let that happen.

The reason for my week+ absence is largely because I haven't been writing much. The wizard story I started needed a rewrite, so I took a few days off and started again. Thankfully, this version feels much better, and I have a much better idea of where I'm going with it. It might run a little long, we'll see, but I'm still optimistic about hitting the WOTW deadline of March 31.

Other than that, not much has been going on in my lifezone. I'm back on with my on-again, off-again ladyfriend, and it feels pretty good this time (that's what SHE said! BOOM!). Still working everyday. Still wishing I was a full-time writer who didn't have to answer phones every day.

The grind continues.


So that wizard idea I've been marinating for the last three weeks or so is finally ready, I think, to be realized. I've got nearly 2,000 words of the first draft complete, and I like a lot of elements of it so far. It hasn't arced yet, and I'll be honest and say that I'm really not sure where it will yet, but it feels pretty good. My prose is lacking today, though, which isn't entirely uncommon. This draft is always about getting it on paper, so to speak, so I'm not concerned that the language is a little flat. There's plenty of time for polish later.

And I really think this is the one that's going to go to John Joseph Adams for the currently-open Way of the Wizard anthology. I know I've been saying since I started this blog that I was going to submit one story or another, only to send said story elsewhere, or give up on the story entirely, and trust me, I've been saying that about every story I've written or considered writing since last summer. But this one feels real. It's a story about wizards, it's got a unique--or at least uncommon--spin on it, and the writing feels pretty solid, even if it is, as I said before, a little flat right now.

The only hurdle is that I'm not entirely sure where the story is going. I have the premise and the general plot, and the characters became alive enough in my mind that I had to write them, but I still don't know where this one is going. If there is another writer reading this somewhere, you obviously know what I'm talking about.

Anyway, back to the grind!