Publication: “The Traveling Fair” at Every Day Fiction

April 18, 2012

This story was written for one of the Shock Totem contests. Every few months the horror/dark fiction magazine sponsors a contest where a prompt is provided and each author submits their story anonymously, to be judged by fellow entrants. I enjoy the process and try to participate whenever I can, and it often results in pretty good stories. “Spidersong” — my first SFWA sale — was another ST contest story. For “The Traveling Fair” the prompt was to write a story under 1000 words featuring a giant monster and fireworks.

Click  here to read The Traveling Fair at Every Day Fiction, and don’t forget to rate it!

 


Publication: A Brief Respite from Eternity at Stupefying Stories 1.5 (March 2012 issue)

April 14, 2012

 

The latest issue of Stupefying Stories went live today. It includes my SF flash “A Brief Respite from Eternity.” This is a story of tragic love, post-physical existence and the heat death of the universe. How’s that for under 1000 words?

Lots of other great stuff in this issue as well. It’s well worth the $2 price tag. Please support an excellent fledgling publicaiton. Pick up a copy on Amazon or see the official blog for links to other e-book options.


“Seven Conversations in Locked Rooms” accepted at The Memory Eater anthology

April 10, 2012

 

Yay for second chances!

Last year I wrote and submitted a story called “The Take” to The Memory Eater anthology. The concept of anthology revolves around the device known as the Memory Eater. This technology is capable of deleting specific memories from one’s brain. Who would use such a device and for what purpose? There are many different stories that can be told based on this prompt.

“The Take” made it all the way into the final round of consideration but was ultimately rejected (although the editor told me it was a close call). I edited out the Memory Eater references and sent it to Daily Science Fiction, where it was accepted and published recently.

At some point in the editorial process, C.P. discovered that he had room for one more tale. So he reached out to me, asking if I would like to take another stab at the prompt. The catch? Whatever story I wrote had to match up with an illustration he had already acquired for use in the anthology. I was up to the challenge, and a few weeks later “Seven Conversations in Locked Rooms” was born. It’s a 1600-word SF story of a man willing to pay a tremendous price in order *not* to have his memories removed via the Memory Eater.

Want to know more? Pick up a copy of this anthology next month. Better yet, you can support their Kickstarter campaign, which is going on right now.

 


Night and Day

April 6, 2012

I’ve always been a night owl. From an early age I found myself to be at my most productive and creative in the evening hours. When I started writing, I fell into a routine where I got most of my new words output done at night, after my wife and son went to sleep and the house became quiet and distraction-free. Some nights I would be too tired to write–exhausted by the day job or various chores that needed doing. Writing being a hobby rather than a career for me, I accepted this loss of productivity and tried my best to make up for it on other evenings, when I had a bit more energy to spare.

Then my wife switched jobs.

She started at the new place two weeks ago. Her new office is very far away, and it takes her nearly two hours to commute there.  This means that she has to leave the house very early, before our son’s day care opens. So now I have to get up early every morning, get Josh ready and drive him to day care. No more sleeping in till 9-10am. And those late-night writing sessions? Forget about it. By midnight my brain feels like a squeezed out sponge.

So, driven by necessity, I fell into new routine. After dropping my son off at day care I get a bit of breakfast and have several uninterrupted, quiet hours in which to write. (I don’t have to be at work till noon). The difference has been night and day–pun very much intended. I am able to attack whatever story idea I’m working on while rested, fresh, and properly caffeinated.  Words are flowing more easily and quality of the output appears to have improved (says the guy who’s notoriously bad at evaluating his own writing).

In the last two weeks I wrote three complete stories from scratch. And although they’re relatively short, none of them are mere flash length, either. There’s a magical realism story I’m especially proud of called “Things We Left Behind” (2500 words) that draws heavily on my personal experiences of uprooting and moving from the Soviet Union to the United States. A 1350 word space opera-ish “The Miracle on Tau Prime” is about the Vatican miracle investigators. In space. And yesterday I wrote a 1500 word SF story “Seven Conversations in Locked Rooms,” completing the first draft in one sitting. One sitting! Normally I struggle to write 500 new words of fiction per day.

I’m liking this new productivity. Well, scratch that. I’m still a night owl at heart. I hate getting up early and going to bed on old people’s time. What I do like are the results.

Could something as simple as a routine change ultimately take me to the next level in terms of both quality and quantity on my writing? Only time will tell. But it’s certainly an intriguing possibility.


2012 Submission Statistics: Three Months In

April 1, 2012

March was an excellent month for me. I sold three new stories (to Nature, Nine, and-just yesterday- to Every Day Fiction), wrote a lot of words I’m happy with, and kept up with my submission, aggressively getting my steadily-increasing inventory of short fiction out there.  The three-month mark seemed like a good time to look over my statistics, and this is what my spreadsheet tells me:

Stories on submission currently (including reprints): 19
Stories still on submission from 2011: 2 (both reprints)
Stories waiting to be re-submitted: 3
Total inventory of original finished but unsold short stories: 17
Total stories sold in 2012: 6 (3 of which were submitted in 2012, the rest in late 2011)
Total 2012 submissions: 73

April is looking to be the month where  a huge chunk of my previously sold stories will finally see the light of day. By my estimation as many as seven of my ‘forthcoming’ stories will go live in the next month. I can’t wait for everyone to read some of them, especially “A Shard Glows in Brooklyn” which is forthcoming in the second issue of Buzzy Magazine.


New Sales & A Milestone Achieved

March 24, 2012

I have a couple of recent sales to report.

A new publication titled “Nine” picked up my post-singularity flash story “Putting It All Together” for their inaugural issue. “Nine” has an ambitious concept – they will buy 9 short stories per issue and pay each author a royalty of 9% of gross sales. There’s also an advance against royalties, so authors are paid something for their work regardless of the publication’s success.

Issue 1 lineup has been announced and features stories by such notables as Ken Liu and Peter Swanson, among others. It will be available for sale in April and I can’t wait to see how their business plan pans out.

Yesterday I also found out that Nature magazine will be publishing “Ravages of Time” in their Futures section. This is very exciting for a number of reasons.

First of all, Nature has, by far, the largest circulation of any publication that has published me so far, online or in print. It is a highly respectable print publication, that will not only print my story with awesome original artwork created just for it in their magazine, but will also post it online and likely podcast it as well. Finally, this marks my third SFWA-qualifying sale, which means I will be able to upgrade my SFWA membership from Associate to Active, definitely an item straight off of my bucket list.

And to make it even more exciting, the voting deadline for the Nebula awards is March 30 — so I may yet get to vote this year, depending on how quickly my membership upgrade is processed.

 


Guest Post on Write1Sub1.com

March 7, 2012

Sorry the blog hasn’t been very active lately. I was away for a family vacation in Key Largo, FL, where I enjoyed all sorts of cool stuff such as kayaking, visiting an alligator farm, and watching awesome sunsets like this one:

 

I did not, however, get a nearly as much writing done a I would have liked. And now I’m preparing for yet another trip next week, to a conference in Las Vegas. Will this cut into my writing time? Almost certainly. I’m trying to make up for it as much as possible this week, and I’m definitely keeping up with writing one new story per week so far, but I’m not racing ahead of my self-imposed schedule with submissions and writing as I have been in the first six weeks of the year.

 

 

Some of that “getting ahead” writing included penning a guest blog for Write1Sub1.com which went live today. It’s about the submission metrics and I make the case for setting yourself clear submission goals in addition to word count/story total goals. My 2012 submission total stands at 48 as of today, well ahead of the benchmarks I set for myself at the beginning of the year. If I continue at this pace, I may just have to challenge myself with a higher submission goal. Would 366 submissions be utterly insane? That’s one for every day of this leap year. I won’t commit to that just yet, but will reexamine my goals in another month or so to make sure they’re ambitious enough to make me work harder, yet achievable.

 


Jake Kerr’s Eleven Rules On How To Get Great Critiques

February 24, 2012

 

Jake Kerr recently wrote an incredibly insightful post on Codex Writers–a private forum both of us belong to.  He graciously allowed me to share it here. Jake’s novelette “The Old Equations” was recently nominated for a Nebula Award. You can visit his website at www.jakekerr.com

 

1. Cast your net wide.

What’s better than two critiques? Four critiques. What’s better than four critiques? Eight critiques. When you start, your goal should be to identify a stable of people who will have a keen eye on identifying the mistakes that you consistently make but can’t seem to catch yourself. I call these blind spots, because they don’t indicate that you are a poor writer. They just indicate areas where your personal shit detector appears to be broken. These are different for everyone, which is why one person’s awesome critiquer is another person’s waste of time.

The good news is that you can find good critiquers anywhere. Ken Liu asks for people to critique his stuff on Twitter. I’ve done the same and found at least one person that has provided me with awesome feedback. That said, there are places you should ask for critiques with knowledge that the quality will most likely be better–fellow Codexians, online groups like Critters or OWW, local critique groups, etc. The point is that you’re looking far and wide for people that aren’t afraid to point out things you haven’t noticed.

I have had dozens of people critique my work. I’m down to a group of 5-7 now that I send stuff, too, but I will occasionally cast that net out again via Twitter or Codex or what have you. Because it is my belief that a few more strokes with the whetstone will always make the blade sharper.

2. ASK FOR CRITIQUES.

The great thing about the writing community is that we’re generally a supportive and helpful bunch. Our instincts are that we LIKE to help others. We LOVE to see writers improve. So you, as a writer, need to tap into that, and you can’t be passive about it. Ask someone to critique your work. Don’t be shy. They’ll say “no” if they don’t have time. Browse the Codex critique folder. Read the critiques of others. If someone is saying something that resonates as something you need to hear, contact them directly and ask them to critique your work.

Don’t be annoyed if people say, “No.” Some will, of course, and that’s their right, and you should respect that. But just because the first four people you ask say “no” doesn’t mean that they resent you for asking or that it is a wasted exercise. This is obviously not limited to Codex. I’m sure you have friends that are writers. You should ask them. You should ask them if they have someone they like using. Again, don’t be shy. This is all part of casting your net wide, and has been mentioned in another thread, fishing in the fertile waters can be very helpful.

3. Identify your weaknesses and focus on the people who are very good at identifying them.

We’re all neo-pros here. We should have at least a halfway decent personal shit detector. We know we have flaws, but it SO DAMN HARD TO IDENTIFY THEM. The good news is that when people point them out it’s like someone turned the light on in a room where you were squinting to see. It’s suddenly, “Holy shit, that’s exactly what this story was missing. HOW DID I MISS THAT?” Those are the people who will help you the most.

4. Ignore all the general advice like “If eight people point it out, it’s probably a flaw. If two do, it’s probably not.” This and similar advice is kinda bullshit.

Focus on two points: 1) Is the critical comment supported by the critiquer in a compelling way and 2) Does it just plain make sense to you. This isn’t a democracy. It’s a method of refining art where some people are just better than others.

So, it’s entirely possible that only one or two of the people critiquing your work have a halfway decent shit detector. It’s entirely possible that you have eight critiquers that just love the story and don’t mind that the characters are wooden or that the gap between scene two and three doesn’t make sense because, dammit, they just love when the princess proves to be a badass and when you did that thing in scene four it made everything else right. Uh, no it didn’t. Be happy you have a kickass scene four, but if ONE person says your scene two to scene three transition makes no sense and you immediately go, “Oh yeah, that’s true.” Then follow the freakin’ advice of the one person. OR, if you don’t understand it instinctively but the critiquer provides plenty of evidence that seems to make sense, at least take a closer look at what he or she is saying.

5. Mercilessly prune people who give unhelpful critiques

If someone gives you an unhelpful critique they are wasting your time and theirs. Don’t ask them again for critiques, and if it’s a group setting where you are required to hear and receive their critiques, then just thank them and toss their critique in the trash or delete it.

Remember, the goal here isn’t to make friends. The goal is also not to be an asshole. So it is perfectly fine to be firm in narrowing down who will see your work, and this can certainly be done without being a jerk. If someone takes offense to it, then you just need to be prepared for that and file it away as their problem, not yours. I know this can be tough, but it’s really the only way to handle it.

Going back to point 3, if eight people LOVE your work, and their critiques make you feel good, but they don’t really help you. Those aren’t the ones you need. If two people identify things that the others don’t, and those things make you uncomfortable or ask questions that you have a hard time answering. Those are the ones who are probably being the most helpful.

6. Don’t ever send your edited manuscript back to the people who critique your work.

When someone critiques your work, they are emotionally invested in it. It is too easy for them to feel hurt if you ignored half of their advice. Never mind that the half you DID take could have been hugely beneficial, many people will be annoyed that you didn’t listen to everything they said. The reality is that you should make your critiquers feel like they are being helpful. After all, you’ve already pruned all the unhelpful ones, right? But you certainly don’t need to justify that by showing them that you’ve taken 20% of their suggestions last time, and this time you took 40%.

This can be difficult when someone specifically asks to see the edited document, but you should still just say, “No.” There is absolutely no reason for them to see it. Their job was to help you, and they did that. They may ask you where you are submitting the story, and it’s fine to tell them, but if a critiquer becomes someone who is constantly asking you for updates, then you know that he or she is WAY too invested in your work. That’s not healthy in a critiquer, and–even if they’ve been helpful–you should consider not using them any more.

You don’t need drama and people identifying with your success as an author. You need a cold ruthless eye wielding a word scalpal who is invested in good stories.

7. Don’t give your next draft back to the same critiquers who read the first draft.

This is basically the same as No. 5, but I want to underscore that it is even true for when you go through multiple rounds of edits. When someone critiques a piece, they have just put themselves in the same role you have–they have become invested in the piece and lost objectivity. Their second glance will be more focused on “Did he or she listen to my advice” and less on “is this a better piece.” Certainly there are exceptions, but this is human nature, and it is perhaps unfair for someone to not judge a revised work based solely on how much you took his or her advice. Besides, a fresh set of eyes is always helpful.

8. Don’t focus on efficiency, focus on results.

If you have a critiquer who provides you with 95% crap advice, but on one specific thing where you have trouble, they are incredibly helpful, keep them and embrace them. There is no acceptable percentage of edits that you need to integrate into a piece. The acceptable number is how many improve the piece. The key is just that–are you getting advice that improves the piece.

So be ruthless not just in pruning bad critiquers, be ruthless in pruning irrelevant advice from good critiquers. This happens all the freaking time, and if your expectation is that you’re getting bad critiques because everyone is giving you some bad advice, then I have a secret for you: EVERYONE will give you bad advice. The good news is that quite a few people also give you good advice while giving you bad advice. Your job is to be comfortable with ignoring the irrelevant from the important.

This is another reason why not to give edited manuscripts back to critiquers, by the way. If their expectation is that you’ll take all of their advice, they’re going to be disappointed. If you took 100% of the advice of even one critiquer, you probably made a mistake.

9. If everyone is giving you horrible critiques, then you probably need to re-think your own critical eye.

Just like you should never expect a critiquer to be 100% perfect, you should not expect a large number of critiquers to be 100% wrong, too. Odds are in those circumstances that you are too emotionally invested in your work to accept objective criticism.

A huge indicator of this is if you get defensive over specific critiques. It’s certainly acceptable to laugh when someone incorrectly changes the spelling of a word you used, but if you find yourself getting upset over an issue and the critiquer is presenting you with a logical reason for his or her critique, you really need to take a step back and examine whether you actually are right. Ultimately, if you are going through critique after critique and getting frustrated at how bad they all are at misunderstanding your skillful narrative complexities or how it is just sad how biased every critiquer is in defining a character as a stereotype when you created her to be a robust anti-stereotype, then you should take a hard look at yourself.

10. If improving yourself isn’t a big goal, then don’t bother with critiques.

If it is more important (and fun!) for you to just write a story and toss it out there, devil may care, then you probably shouldn’t even embrace critiques. They are time-consuming and clearly add a layer of effort to your writing that wouldn’t exist otherwise. If they kill the fun, then just don’t do them. The joy of writing should always be paramount, at least to me.

11. Return the favor

While you should treat critiques with ultimate selfishness, you should not treat the relationship with your critquers that way. In fact, you should be just as responsive to them as they are to you. And remember the rules above–do your best to provide the best critique possible, but don’t become invested in the critique to such a degree that you feel that their work is yours. It isn’t. They may take your advice or they may not. Don’t sweat it. Just keep helping others as they help you. That’s the real spirit of the writing community.

 

 


The PEST Method

February 3, 2012

Ask an experienced writer where you should submit your stories, and they’ll invariably tell you to “start at the top, and work your way down.”

The logic behind this is perfectly solid. Even if you suspect that your story isn’t amazing, you may well be suffering from a common writer affliction: underestimating the quality of your work. So why do an editor’s job and self-reject? Let them see the story and decide for themselves.

But where, exactly, is this “top” you should start at? Is it based purely on the amount of payment offered? If this were the case, TOR.com would get to see every story first. Yet I have never submitted there, and possibly never will, because I can’t imagine waiting a year or more, at any venue. Instead, I consider a combination of factors when trying to decide which publication should have the privilege of rejecting my next story:

Prestige – How reputable/popular is the venue
Exposure – How many people will read the story if published
Speed – What’s the likely turnaround time
Terms – Which rights are sought

Let’s examine the PEST method, keeping in mind that I’m discussing speculative fiction only, which is why The New Yorker and its ilk aren’t mentioned below.

PRESTIGE

What publishing credit would you be the most proud of? In terms of respect, nothing comes close to the big three: Fantasy & Science Fiction, Asimov’s and Analog. They’re the gold standard, and it’s hard to make the case for sending a story which might be appropriate for one or more of those magazines elsewhere first.

The big three all pay professional rates, but prestige isn’t necessarily tied in to payment. There are a number of magazines that pay only a penny per word that are highly respected. Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, Shimmer and Andromeda Spaceways are a few notable examples. I often submit to ASIM and Shimmer before sending the same story to higher paying venues.

New publications don’t get completely ignored under this method. Instead of considering the magazine/anthology’s history, I consider instead who the editors are and what their track record is in the industry. I was interested in aggressively submitting to Stupefying Stories right from the start, because it’s edited by Bruce Bethke. If there’s ever an open call for one of Mike Resnick’s anthologies, I’ll be eagerly writing a new story from scratch just to have something I can send in.

EXPOSURE

I care about how many people will ultimately read my story. Every author does. So when the time comes to submit, I am more likely to send my work to a publication with a large readership than a higher-paying but obscure journal or anthology. Every Day Fiction pays token rates, but they provide more exposure than most online markets. I gladly submit to them, and will continue to do so.

On the other hand, be wary of non-paying markets that boast about how appearing on their web site will help promote your brand and advance your writing career. It won’t. Most of those markets are read by a few hundred people, at best. And you won’t be doing yourself any favors mentioning the fact that you’ve been published by such in your cover letter. Things are a bit different on the literary fiction front, but when it comes to science fiction and fantasy, there aren’t any non-paying markets I can think of where I’d be interested in submitting original work.

SPEED

How long does a market take to respond to your submission? Some of the very best markets are also the fastest—Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, Daily Science Fiction, F&SF are among publications where most submissions are handled within days rather than months. There are dozens of other great markets that manage a turnaround of 4-6 weeks. It’s logical to submit to all of those before sending your story to Dark Discoveries, GUD or TOR.com where your submission is likely to languish for a year.

TERMS

In their desire to get published, writers often ignore the finer details of their contracts. There are a number of important details you should consider, before signing on the dotted line.

First, never give up the ownership of your work. Very few publications ask for it, but stay as far away as you can from the ones that do. Maintaining ownership will allow you to eventually sell your story to reprint markets, Best Of anthologies, Podcast ‘zines, etc. You might even hit a jackpot and have your story optioned for a movie or a screenplay. Or, perhaps, you simply want to make the story available for free on your blog. If you aren’t careful, you could forfeit all of those opportunities with a stroke of a pen.

Most reputable publishers won’t attempt to grab full rights. But you should read the contract carefully to see exactly which rights they do want. They’ll typically ask for a certain period of exclusivity. Obviously, you can’t do anything with your story until they publish it. In some cases, the rights will revert to you immediately upon publication and you can begin to submit elsewhere. In most cases however, they’ll want a period of exclusivity that can range from anywhere between a few months and a few years. I think anything up to a year is pretty reasonable. My personal upper limit is 18 months.

It’s very important to note that this period of exclusivity (be it 0 days or 2 years) typically begins on the date of publication, not when the contract is signed. In these cases you must make sure there’s a reversion clause in your contract.  A reversion clause states that the publisher has a limited amount of time to print your story. Without such clause, a publisher could hang on to your story indefinitely and you won’t get it back – even if you didn’t sell full rights.

This sort of thing doesn’t happen often. Most publishers mean well and operate in good faith. However, it doesn’t hurt to make sure reasonable terms are spelled out in the contract. If there’s something there that doesn’t sound right to you, it’s perfectly OK to ask the publisher if they’d be willing to alter it. After all, agents negotiate novel contracts with publishers all the time.

 

So there you have it – my method for ranking short story markets. Nothing earth-shattering, but hopefully there will be some glimmers there to help you figure out which editors to PESTer with your own submissions next.


“A Thousand Cuts” accepted at One Buck Horror

January 27, 2012

 

I’m pleased to announce that One Buck Horror will be publishing my short story “A Thousand Cuts.”

This story was originally submitted to a Cafe Doom horror writing contest. The top prize for this contest was publication at One Buck Horror. Although “A Thousand Cuts” comfortably made it into the top 10 (based on anonymous popular vote by the entrants) among 50 or so entries, it was not ultimately selected as a finalist by OBH editor Christopher Hawkins.

But then, a really cool thing happened. Mr. Hawkins was kind enough to offer feedback to any of the top 10 finishers who asked for it. I contacted him and, upon reading the story again, Mr. Hawkins offered some suggestions and invited me to resubmit an updated version to OBH.

I was happy to comply. I spent a few days working on the rewrites and ended up with a slightly longer story that followed the same general plot, but was different in tone and feel. I then submitted this new version of the story, and waited.

Six weeks later Mr. Hawkins got back to me, letting me know that he did not like the rewrite as much as the original. He felt that the longer version lost the dreamlike quality of the original. However, he was willing to make some edits and send them to me, so I could try again.

For those of you who don’t submit stories I must explain that this is a rare thing. Most of the time editors are going to either accept or reject a submission. They rarely have the time to work on the story that’s *almost* there, and a second rewrite request is exceedingly rare. Needless to say, I was thrilled to work with him on the changes.

Turned out, the changes he wanted were smaller and more subtle than I was shooting for in my original rewrite. However, they did smooth out and further improve the story! Over the course of a couple of days we had a version we were both happy with. I’m proud to announce the upcoming publication with special thanks to Christopher Hawkins. who believed in the story enough and had the patience to work with me to make this happen.