Thursday, January 30, 2014

Sending Words into the Void

I recently found out that "In the Cool of the Day" was the most popular story of 2013 over at Abyss & Apex.

Which is flattering and amazing and I'm completely thrilled by that.
It is frequently a very lonely thing having a story published. Sometimes you get feedback or comments or see your links retweeted, many times you don't. (Well, I suppose Neil Gaiman doesn't have that problem, but for the rest of us...)

I tend to focus on writing the next story more than trying to figure out if anyone is reading the current one, but it's hard not to sit and wonder if anyone is actually reading what I write? Some days it feels like I would have a better chance of having my words read by standing on my front porch and throwing pages out into the wind. (Not today because snow and I'm not standing outside for any length of time, thank you very much. But most days this would be a viable if somewhat ridiculous option.)

So, finding out that people do indeed read some of what I write is just an amazing feeling. It's like having my story accepted all over again.
Scratch that.
It is having my story accepted again. By every one of you.

Thank you.
Thank you. 
I deeply appreciate knowing that y'all are out there.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Growing Pains and the Endless Middle

I've known for a while that I work better when I have an idea where a story is going. Sometimes that means writing a detailed outline. Sometimes it's as simple as a sentence or two. But the words come more easily when I can see where I'm headed.

Then comes a day when I suddenly realize that the thing I thought I was aiming for will not work. Maybe it's because the ending no longer fits the characters. Or maybe it's simply that the route I thought I would take from point D to point E doesn't make any sense. Not even when I squint a little or look at it upside down.

This is the painful middle of every project, when I struggle and flail and ask myself the enduring question: Am I just writing shit?

Trying to write a story or a novel or even a piece of flash can be discouraging. Because it's damned hard. Communication between humans is always hard, but especially when we don't have those normal cues like voice and expression and body language. The only thing we have is a million some-odd words and these emotions and ideas swirling around in our brains and we're trying to get that out onto the paper in a way that not only makes sense but also makes someone else feel those same emotions and understand those same ideas. Just thinking about it makes me want to give up.

But I have come to understand these growing pains are a part of the communication process. It's the same as a toddler realizing that crying and pointing is no longer good enough. It's the point where you know that there are words and each of those words means something but it will take work and effort to hear anything other than noise.

So, I sit and stare at this seemingly endless middle, flailing about with trying to figure out if I need to make this story longer. Or cut it back. Add more sub-plots. More characters. Burn it and sprinkle the ashes on my vegetable garden. (At least then it would be productive, right?) And I have to remind myself that these growing pains are a part of the process of communicating. And the middle, which seems so stupid and never-ending, is a chance to do something more than just point and cry.

One word at a time, I am learning to communicate better and better.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

WIP Wednesday: Survivor

From a future steampunk novella-in-progress.


The wind came in from the west, sour with blood and agitating the gorillas.
Izzy stood at the rail and scanned the horizon. Then again with the telescope. “No sign of smoke. And there aren't any settlements this far out. Are you sure what you smell is blood?”
Kiirahk grunted, flat nostrils flared as she crouched on the rail, the fur on her back bristling. Her fingers wrote words in the air.
“Travelers? Maybe.” Izzy rubbed her head, thinking. “Prolly not worth the effort of looking.”
Ganagh, pacing a circle near the bow, stood upright, showing his teeth and slapping his chest, insistent.
“Nyraaagg.” The female, agreed, signing at Izzy more rapidly. /Convoy. Merchant train. Smugglers./
“There would be smoke, Keery. The mechs don't leave transports undamaged.” She shrugged. “I guess we should check it out. Might find something useful.” There was no point in voicing hope for survivors. The machines never left anyone alive.
She smiled, bitter. Almost never.
“Make sure the engines are hot. I don't want to be dead in the air if it was more than just a skirmish.”
Kiirahk chuffed in agreement and loped toward the stern of the airship, hurrying Ganagh down the steps ahead of her.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Take What is Useful

In November of 2012 I was working on a major overhaul of the Steampunk novel. This was the one that took my mediocre second draft and transformed it into the novel I spent the next fourteen months querying.

Although the pull of NaNoWriMo was strong, I had promised myself to finish the rewrite of the novel and tagged along with a local group of eager NaNoers as they plunged into the mess and excitement of first drafts. Quite frankly, I was rewriting so much of my novel it was kind of like a first draft, but it was still technically a revision.

During one of my Sunday writing sessions, I asked the other two NaNo folks there that day if they ever used photos to help them build a picture of their characters. The response was immediate and dismissive. "No. I like to leave the protagonists appearance up to the imagination of the reader." And there was a kind of look they gave me. Like maybe I wasn't a "real" writer at all.

Quite frankly, I was puzzled. It wasn't like I described any of my characters in minute physical detail, but I found I wrote them with more emotion, more soul, more... character, when I could picture them in my head. And that usually meant that somewhere on my computer there was a photo labeled as Character X. For me it was, and is, a tool to help me connect with these people that I bring to life on the paper.

Over the years I've met folks who have complex soundtracks for their novels (songs for every character, songs for every chapter), who have massive collections of photos of locations, people, clothing, accessories, artwork, etc., even folks who draw their own maps and create a library of historical documents to build their worlds. And I've met folks who do none of those things. Folks who outline. Folks who don't. Folks who interview their characters. Folks who get their inspiration from dreams. Folks who won't write one word until they've completely researched every aspect of a historical period or a real-life place. Folks who make it all up as they go along and fill in the rest later.

And here's the thing: none of those things is the "right" or "wrong" way to go about writing a book. In fact, the only "wrong" way to go about writing a book is to get so bogged down in the periphery methods (inspiration, research, development) that you don't actually write anything. All those things (music, artwork, photos, maps, documents) are just tools. If they work for you then by all means USE THEM. If they don't, then put them aside.

Take what is useful, leave the rest.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014


More from the Magicpunk Novel-in-Progress.


While we wait, I take stock of the situation. Though I do not know Archer, something in the way he keeps his distance at this point tells me he will not side with Gormhen if things turn any worse. Gormhen himself is unlikely to be a threat. Not it a cold, dank building like this. He must conserve energy or wind up catatonic. As it is, he edges closer to the brazier, soaking up as much warmth as he can get.
And the lieutenants are clearly tough, but nothing I can't handle even tired as I am. But I'd rather not have to come to blows with them.
Vin returns carrying a bucket. “The collateral.” He sets it down at my feet with a clatter.
In the bottom is a hand. The skin is a kind of green-white, most of the blood drained out, but it seems otherwise undamaged and of the right size to be Brandon's. But I nudge him with my foot, just in case. “Is this yours?”
He squints into the bucket. “Yes.”
Here.” I toss the Master Key to Vin who promptly passes it to Gormhen and they spend a moment examining it.
All right.” Gormhen nods to indicate the Key is in the same condition as when it was leant out.
I suppose you'll be wanting to keep the bucket?”

Monday, January 13, 2014

Goals for 2014

Usually I post my goals for the upcoming year before we hit the end of December. This year I spent the month of December A) recovering from the sinus infection that ate Chicago (AKA my bout with The Blob) and B) neck deep in edits on the Steampunk Novel. (Plus all the normal holiday stuff.)

So, on the one hand, I'm a little late with this list because I've simply been busy. But I also found myself wondering what my goals for this year really were. Previous years have been pretty straightforward; I wanted to write and submit more and I set goals accordingly. (And then failed to meet them in spectacular fashion.)

This year... Well, the goals are much the same, but I'm rethinking my approach to how to meet them. Well, trying to rethink my approach.

The concrete things are still the same. 
1. Acquire an agent.
2. Keep working the short story front.
3. Finish up more of the novellas.
4. Write more novels.

Not necessarily in that order.

But the approach... I'm starting with organizing the back-log of stuff I already have. This includes outlines, sketches and trunked material that needs to be evaluated and grouped with like entities.

And then there's the whole putting my arse in a chair and writing bit. The past couple of years have been rough on the Real Life side. Chaotic. Unplanned. Unorganized. I've fallen out of the habit of setting aside time on a regular basis to write. Not because I didn't want to, but simply because I've had other commitments that must take priority. But this year I'm going to work harder at finding those little snippets of time that I'm not doing anything else and putting them to use hammering out words.

So, organize my shit, then work 'til it's done.

Maybe that's not so different after all.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

WIP Wednesday: "Damsel"

From a Sword & Sorcery novella-in-progress.


There is only one Null practitioner in Vaanal.”
There is only one.” His shoulders slumped. “The others have been done away with.”
Her hands grew cold. She had only ever known one other Null practitioner. Mother. She had disappeared years before; long before the blight. But Yarrow was certain there were others. It was possible sometimes to feel the pull of energy being turned to different purpose. Possible, but she had not felt any practice save the King's in many months. Nor years even. “They are dead?”
Null-practice is a power that turns quickly to abuse. Silencing them was for the good of the kingdom.” His voice was low and hoarse.
And yet the King -” She stopped as his hand dropped to the hilt of his belt knife.
Saying such a thing is treason.”
It is truth.”
The leaves whispered overhead, trembling under the touch of destiny.
Yarrow didn't move, hoping there was still a glimmer of the boy her father had loved inside the jaded warrior. She had seen a future in which Murdoc was already too far gone, his conscience grown dull from years in the service of a king who had none. And that path ended under the willow with warm blood spilled on damp ground.
Murdoc sighed. “There is still good in him.”
She had her doubts, but she did not wish to break his heart further. “Then we will find it.” She set the mug to one side and laid her hands over his. “But first, the dragon.”
He nodded. “There, at least, is a beast we can slay.”
Her heart pattered, fast and nervous. Had the King moved beyond death?
Against her heart the ash-baby turned and sighed. Perhaps not undying, but protected. She took a slow breath. First the dragon. Then the king.

Monday, January 6, 2014

2013 In Review

2013 was a year that felt like I spun my wheels. A lot.

I was deep in the query trenches for the bulk of the year, trying to find an agent for The Steampunk Novel. That search also led to two different R&Rs (one in June and one in November), taking even bigger bites out of my limited writing time and reducing my short story output drastically.

In fact, this is my slowest year to produce new shorts since I started W1S1 in 2011. In fact, by my count, I only finished two new stories this year. (Although, I did revise several things, including two which sold. More on that in a minute.)

So, lets look at my submissions stats for the year. (These numbers cover micro-fiction through novella length. The numbers on the agent quest are larger. Much larger.)

Submissions: 44
Rejections: 37
Acceptances: 4 (There are still a few out there that haven't come home yet.)
Publications: 4

The acceptances were:
"The Spider-thief and The Sorcerer" (forthcoming, Crowded Magazine, April 2014)
"Vessels for Destruction" (forthcoming, Nature Magazine's Futures)
Brass Stars (Eggplant Literary Productions, November 2013)
"Love Like Dysphoria" (Southern Gothic, New Lit Salon Press, October 2013)

The publications were:
"Caught" (Stupefying Stories Showcase, June 14, 2013)
"In the Cool of The Day" (Abyss & Apex, July 2013)
"Love Like Dysphoria" (Southern Gothic, New Lit Salon Press, October 2013)
Brass Stars (Eggplant Literary Productions, November 2013)

The two new stories written for the year were "Made" (a contemporary fantasy with a cowardly vampire) and "Kraken" (creepy flash about a man becoming a monster). And I revised "The Spider-thief and The Sorcerer", Brass Stars, and The Steampunk Novel. (I've also been working on "All That is Precious" and "Damsel", but those are not done yet.)

Looking back I think it was a productive year, but more time was spent on improving my craft by refining existing work and less on creating new work. And that's okay. But this year... this year I want to start putting more out on submission again. Which will mean not only refining my work, but getting new words on paper in the first place.

(More on how I intend to accomplish that shortly.)

Happy Twelfth Night, folks! 

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Technical Difficulties

So. I received word that there may have been some sort of error with the ability to leave comments on the blog.

It may take me a bit to figure out why and how to fix it. Once I DO get that sorted out, I'll run the postcard giveaway again. (Or figure out a better way to collect entries.)

In the meantime, stay tuned for a (belated) 2013 wrap-up and goals for 2014.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

WIP Wednesday: The Clockwyrm

In celebration of the holiday season, a bit from the opening of The Clockwyrm (which takes place between the winter solstice and Twelfth Night, more or less).


Despite Sylvie's protests that there needn't be any greens hung for Winter's End, she emerged from the cellar to find the main hall glistening with freshly cut magnolia branches and Michaelmas perched atop a ladder to string a cranberry garland from the central chandelier.
“Evening, Miss Sylvie.”
“Didn't I say all this was unnecessary?”
“Yes, Miss Sylvie.”
“And if you felt the need to decorate you should limit the... festiveness to a wreath on the front door?”
“I did that first, Miss Sylvie.”
She shook her head. Michaelmas was a fine butler, but a creation of habit and that meant there would be decorations for Winter's End whether she told him no or not, because Master Redden had been fond of hanging the greens. She could hope that as the years passed – much like Redden had – Michaelmas would move on to new traditions. As likely as a true end to winter at Winter's End.
“I don't suppose you had time to fix...”
“Dinner is in the study, as usual, Miss Sylvie.”
“Ah. Thank you.” She said it sharper than she meant, guilty over doubting him. Guiltier still for taking it out on him.
“You are welcome, Miss Sylvie.” His tone, she noted, was the same as always, unperturbed by her petty feelings. It came with the territory of being clockwork. He would continue to hang the greens before Solstice E'en until the end of time. He would never notice her sarcasm or anger or bitterness based merely on the pitch of her voice. And he would serve dinner just after sundown forever and ever or until she ceased to exist, whichever came first.
Sylvie pushed an unruly curl of hair back from her face and strode into the study. It was not that she hated the winter celebrations, by all remembrance she was indifferent to the magical holidays and always had been. But her body, though governed more completely by her will than when she was living, maintained patterns more closely associated with daylight and darkness. In the winter, when the days were short and the nights dragged on, she would rise at dusk cranky from too little rest and remain uncompromisingly awake until the sun crept above the horizon in the morning.