200 Likes!

My FB page has reached 200 likes! Thanks to all my old fans, and all the new people who have just wandered in. As promised, here’s the celebratory short story, never before published. Titled “Unerring”, it is set in the Abyss Walker Universe, the same as my upcoming release, “The Wererat’s Tale: The Collar of Perdition.” At only 1300 words, it’s short, but packs a punch. I hope you enjoy it!

Unerring

Brain Droppings

If you’ve always wondered about what sort of sake writers drink, what they do to maintain their stellar physiques, their opinions on superhero movies, or the slow homogenization of the entertainment industry, wonder no more! Thursday’s interview with the Damsels of Dorkington is up, and it was a lot of fun. Look for these screwballs and their improve nerd comedy at conventions throughout the country.

Also, if you haven’t already, please like my Facebook Author Page. I’m trying to crack 200, and as a reward, I’ll be uploading a never-before-published short story! Only a few more to go, so spread the word.

J.J. Abrams Assumes Role of Emperor

So, it’s been confirmed that J.J. Abrams will direct Episode VII. Okay, let me start off by saying AAAAAHHHH! MASSIVE GEEKGASM! Look, folks, Disney taking over Star Wars could ONLY be a good thing for the franchise. Just looking at what they did for Marvel’s second string of characters, (let’s be honest here, few cared about Thor, Iron Man, or Captain America before they awesomed them back up in the movies) there was no way they were going to let us down. This confirms it. Disney is willing to throw whatever money and talent is necessary to stroke us all to pop-culture climax.

That said, as a writer and creative, I worry that our entertainment industry is becoming too top-heavy. With J.J. helming the reboot of Star Trek, (masterfully, btw) and now doing the same for Star Wars, that leaves the two most important and popular franchises in the history of sci-fi under the direction of the same person’s creative vision. I can’t help but feel like something approaching a merger of two huge banks just happened. A pop-culture monopoly, if you will.

Couple this news with folks like King of the Nerds Joss Wheadon in control of Avengers, Seth McFarlane dominating prime-time animation with three shows, and James Cameron owning most of the billion dollar range movies, I’m concerned that a whole generation of writers, directors, and artists of all stripes are being middled out. I am in no way saying that these immensely creative men, (all men, btw) don’t deserve their success, because they totally do. Their popularity is not an accident. They have consistently turned out superior products that audiences clamor for.

However, what’s being done to cultivate the next generation of creatives? In writing fiction, one used to be able to make a decent living as a mid-list writer. Those days are dying off fast, as the chains and publishers focus their advertizing budgets and display space on a shrinking pool of best-sellers that sell by the millions, instead of thousands of books that sell merely very well. I feel the same may be happening throughout pop-culture.

The Blockbuster is here to stay, mainly because of risk-averse studios who only want to gamble on bets they know will win in the end. But, it’s easy to forget in this era of massive budgets and superstar directors that the dawn of this age happened because a studio took a chance and threw a paltry sum of money at a virtually unknown director, who then cast a bunch of actors no one had heard of, including a carpenter who had once worked on his house, and went on to make the single most famous movie in the history of film.

That studio was Twentieth Century Fox, the unknown director was George Lucas, and the movie was Star Wars.

I’m glad J.J. gets to realize his dream of working on a Star Wars franchise. It’s a dream I’ve had my whole life, first as a model builder, and now as an author. I’m certain he will do an excellent job. But, in the future, I hope to see some of that adventurous spirit return to the entertainment industry. Take risks on new talent. Help develop them. They are the real wellspring of your success, in the end. And if any Disney or Lucasfilm people happen to be looking for that new talent to pen a Star Wars book, for fuck’s sake, pick me!

One Art, please…

I have some covers to share today! First up is the artwork for Sarah Hans’ first anthology, “Sidekicks”. The deadly looking lady in purple is Stiletto, a character in my short “Coffee and Collaborators.” I’m honored she made the front. “Sidekicks” is being edited now and should be available soon.

sidekicks_cover

Next up is the final cover for my first novella, A Wererat’s Tale: The Collar of Perdition. Painted by Disney artist, Terry Naughton, it has perked interest and raised eyebrows, as well as started a few interesting conversations. WRT: III is being printed now and will be available for sale by the middle of February. Volumes I & II are available now, so snag them today and get caught up!

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Escaping the Pile: Part VI

Good morning internets. Before we wrap up the slush pile series, I have a couple of housekeeping announcements to make. First, and most excitingly from my perspective, I’m going to be Thursday’s guest for the Damsels of Dorkington weekly video chat. I’ve hung out with these crazy kids at places like VisionCon and GenCon. They are an absolute blast, and living proof that geeks can break every tired old stereotype without selling out what makes us different and awesome. We’ll be talking about… I have no idea; these people are ADHD as a sack full of ferrets and cocaine. But I’m fairly sure we’ll talk about my upcoming book launch and my experiments in stand-up comedy at some point.

Also, over the weekend, I recorded a brief interview for the Roundtable Podcast which asked a very simple question: What do you want in an antagonist? I’ll put up a link as soon as the podcast goes live.

But you’re not here to hear me drone on about my grinding journey down the road to success, you’re here to learn how to shorten your own grinding journey. So, without further delay, here’s the final entry into my series to shortcut the slush pile:

Haven’t I read this before? Here is where the rubber meets the road. Above all else, short fiction needs to be original. That is the deathblow for many stories I have read. They can be well written, with full characters and a complete story, but if it doesn’t feel new and fresh, then it will almost invariably fall flat.

Several times, I have read a story, only to find it is a well-known tale with the serial numbers filed off. One stands out in my memory. It was well-executed, with snappy dialogue, clear visuals, and convincing action. Alas, it was a carbon-copy of Blade Runner. when I asked him about it, the writer in question had never heard of the movie, or even the classic book it was based upon.

The best way to avoid this trap is also the most time-consuming; read lots of books and magazines, watch loads of movies and T.V., and play video games and RPGs. The only way to learn the tropes of your genre is to immerse yourself within it.

This is not to say that a story cannot include familiar elements. Sci-fi will always have space ships, aliens, and ray guns. Fantasy will always have elves, dwarves, and wizards. Your job is to find ways to tweak the conventions and make them your own, unique version. By defying expectations, you will grab the reader’s attention. Think of all the successful authors of vampire or zombie fiction.

If you follow these relatively simple steps while crafting and preparing your work, you will have positioned your story ahead of as much as two thirds of the deluge we have to wade through every time we open our inboxes.

Of course, you still have to get past the Senior Editors. But that’s another article.

ConFusion Report

Happy first-day-back-after-a-con day, everyone! I spent the weekend in Michigan, surrounded by a brick wall topped with a barbed-wire fence. Sadly, or happily, the rest of the story is not as dramatic as the opening might make it seem. I was a panelist at Immortal Confusion, and for a smallish con, (around 850 attendees) it really packed in the quality. This was the first year in new digs for ConFusion, in this case the Doubletree in Dearborn. Usually, when a con has to move, they take a hit in attendance, but the organizers did their jobs well and wrangled up enough talent to pack the house.

The panel selections were varied and excellent, with enough going on at any given moment that everyone, regardless of their flavor of fandom, had a place to go and be entertained and educated by friendly, knowledgeable people. Stand-out moments for me included a testy, but necessary exchange on a panel about greater inclusiveness in geekdom between Mary Robinette Kowel, and a panel member who’s opinions regarding new fans could be summed up with “Get off my lawn.” Although I couldn’t attend because of scheduling conflicts, Myke Cole led a three-hour D&D campaign played by other authors. I heard nothing but good things about it from other attendees.

My favorite panel was probably the one I moderated with Charles Stross, Michael R. Underwood, and two other lovely people whose names I’m embarrassed to say I’m blanking on at the moment. We talked about Taboos, in both society and fiction, the relationship between the two, and the artist’s responsibility to balance the desire to pull the curtain back and start conversations about “off-limit” topics, and the real danger of normalizing or desensitizing people to them. But I was most impressed by our audience, which remained remarkably calm and civil, despite the fact we were talking openly and frankly about such charged topics as race, gender roles, rape, income inequality, and sexuality. There had been real potential for the panel to go off the rails from the beginning, but thanks to the maturity of everyone involved, it never did. Bravo.

I also must send out a real thanks to Wesley Chu and Mary G Thompson. Wes proved himself again to be a great travel companion, and Mary was a fun and understanding roomie, once she got over my gun and snoring. Both are excellent writers in their own right and either have work out now, or will very soon. Please take some time peruse the links here and consider supporting the work of all of the authors. Building an audience is the main reason we go to these conventions, to connect with fans and grow our brand.

And if you find yourself with some time to spare around this time next year and are looking for a great, low-key fan convention without all the hustle and bustle of the big boys, take a few days and check out Immortal Confusion. We’ll see you there.

Escaping the Pile: Part V

Hello again. I’m cramming in as much work as possible this week ahead of Immortal ConFusion this weekend, so let’s get today’s post rolling.

Last week, we talked about the critical importance of crafting a killer opening. This week, we’re delving deeper. Once you’ve hooked the slush reader with a brilliant line or introductory paragraph, you need to take them somewhere. There needs to be a destination.

A weakness that plagues many of the submissions that I read is a simple failure to tell a complete tale. Short stories are a challenging format, because scene-setting, character introduction, conflict, resolution, all of it has to happen inside a very small space. Like conducting an orchestra from inside a closet.

When writing short fiction, many new writers fail to include one or more of the elements that makes a self-contained story. To be complete, a tale needs characters the reader can relate to, a conflict, and a resolution.

For example, little Suzy is eight years old. She has lost her cat. She embarks on an epic journey to find her cat that will span many years, several oceans, and every imaginable mode of transportation, while being pursued by her parents, and some Somali pirates.

So, scene, characters, and conflict are all present. Now there needs to be a resolution. If Suzy spends the rest of her life in a futile search for her lost cat, which any reasonable person would know had died many decades ago, that isn’t really a story.

There needs to be some satisfying resolution to the central conflict; Suzy finds the cat under her bed. The resolution doesn’t have to be what the reader is expecting; Suzy finds the cat, but it has died. Suzy finds the cat, but an evil scientist has set up Shrodinger’s box experiment, and she can never open it out of fear of collapsing the wave-form. Suzy finds the cat, but it turns out that it contained the reincarnated soul of a man that Suzy had murdered in a past life, and traps her in a Rube Goldberg-esque contraption lifted from the Saw franchise. Whatever tickles your fancy, but the resolution has to be there.

That’s it for now. Check back next week for the grande final, Part VI!

You Can’t Stop the Signal…

Hey gang! Couple things to report today. First, please take a moment to boost the signal on Sarah Hans’ Blog and read a short interview about her debut anthology project, “Sidekicks!” She says nice things about my story, “Coffee and Collaborators.”

Now, it’s just over a week before I pack up the rental car and head to Immortal ConFusion in MI, and my panel schedule has been finalized. Here’s what I’ll be up to:

Saturday 10:00:00 AM The Future History Of Science Fiction

Saturday 1:00:00 PM Population Pressure And Space Colonization: Where Do We Go From Here?

Saturday 3:00:00 PM Reading: Patrick Tomlinson & Wesley Chu

Saturday 5:00:00 PM Mass Autograph Session

Saturday 8:00:00 PM What’s Still Taboo?

Sunday 2:00:00 PM I HATE My Genre

I’m really excited to be sharing a slot with Wesley Chu. He’s an up-and-comer in the sci-fi world and an all around great guy. That, and he’s an even stealthier geek than I am. If you’re going to attend, swing on by and say hello, maybe even sit in on a panel or two. And don’t worry, Part V of escaping the pile will be up before I leave.

Escaping the Pile: Part IV

Good morning, internets! I hope everyone’s New Year’s is getting off on the right foot. It’s another week, so it’s time for the next installment of Escaping the Pile.

Everything we’ve talked about so far: cover letters, formatting, word count, compatibility, has been about preparation. These are things you can do to improve the odds of any story being accepted, without changing a single word of text. Now, we’re going to dig into the content itself, and teach you the importance of avoiding…

Slow starts: Novels and short stories are a fundamentally different reading experience. With a novel, the average reader will gladly plough through the first chapter or two waiting to get snagged by the ‘hook’. People commit to reading books and realize that character building, back story, and scene-setting takes time.

Short stories are another matter. In the short format, the first page, even the first paragraph, is critical. This is doubly true for getting past slush editors, because if the first page of your story doesn’t make us want to read the rest of it, most of us aren’t going to. We don’t have the time. Odds are your story is one of anywhere from five to ten that we need to read that day, in addition to our own writing, paying jobs, and families. You have to show us that your story is worth the time we’re going to spend reading it, and you need to do it fast.

I know what you’re thinking, and I agree. As a writer, I find it appalling that someone would pass judgment on my work before finishing it. But as an editor, I found myself doing exactly that. Here’s why; if a story can’t hold the interest of an editor, odds are it won’t hold the interest of their readers either.

There is a simple test to determine if your story suffers from Slow Start. Find a five-to-ten year old. If this is a rare species in your vicinity, a teenager with ADHD or a twenty-something with a hangover can act as a substitute. Corner them in a room with only one door, and stand in the exit. Start reading. If they sit in rapt attention, you’re probably fine. However, if they are trying to escape through the window before you’ve finished the first page, then there may be a problem.

A slow start isn’t the end of the world, however. Fixing one is as simple as trimming the fat from the beginning of the story and coming to the point more quickly. The first page and paragraph shouldn’t be about back-story or world-building, those details can come later. You should be focusing your opening on getting the action moving. Don’t explain the where’s and why’s of the story until later. Often, correcting a slow start is as simple as moving exposition deeper into the story. This has the added benefit of building mystery and suspense in the reader’s mind, perking their curiosity and pulling them into your story further still.

Incidentally, this advice applies equally to novel-length work, only over a proportionately longer amount of text. The best stories trickle out details, letting the reader learn as they go instead of forcing them to sit through an introductory course in the first chapter or scene.

That’s it for now. Next week, we’ll be talking about making sure your work is a complete story. Now go write!

Escaping the Pile: Part III

Well, the two week long fugue of parties, presents, food, ball games, and drink is over, and it seems we’ve stumbled into another new year without too many casualties. So it’s time to return to real life. While we were all busy, Sarah Hans accepted my short story “Coffee and Collaborators” for her debut anthology effort, “Sidekicks”. Sarah is funny and whip-smart; I’m confident she’ll assemble a first-class collection for you all to read. Check back here for updates.

But back on track. Last week, we talked about the importance of respecting a publisher’s submission guidelines. This week, we’re moving on to talk about Market Compatibility:

There are many hundreds of paying literary markets, each trying to carve out their own audience. Think of it as a market ecosystem, with every magazine, website, and anthology series acting as a unique species.

Just like in nature, markets evolve to fill specific niches in their environment. Some are generalists that publish work from diverse genres. However, most markets are specialists who have built a reputation around a specific genre, be it high fantasy, hard sci-fi, urban supernaturalism, steam punk, space opera, etc.

The market I read for established a reputation for horror and suspense stories with a fantastic or supernatural bent. It’s what their subscribers have come to expect. Yet still I was sent stories every week that contained no horror elements. Many of them are quite good, but were incompatible with our goals; so back they went.

Before you hit the ‘Send’ button, or lick a stamp, take some time to read a handful of selections from the market you are considering submitting to. Figure out the genre and tone of the stories the editors liked enough to print. If your story feels like it’s in good company, send it along.

However, if it doesn’t mesh, then don’t send it to that market. This wastes not only your time, but the time of the reader on the other end, which won’t endear you to that editor should you send another story in the future. Some of us have surprisingly long memories for that sort of thing. As I said earlier, there are hundreds of paying markets. You can always find one that will be a good fit for whatever you choose to write.

One of the best tools I’ve found for sifting through markets is the excellent website, Duotrope. With over three thousand markets to search, and a super-handy submissions tracking system, Duotrope will slash anyone’s market research time, and help you keep your queries organized. As of yesterday, they have moved over to a pay model, whereas before they had worked on donations only. Still, I believe it’s well worth the cost.

Now if you’ll indulge me, I’m going to take a moment for a shameless plug. Last year, a couple dozen of us writerly types got together and wrote a World-Building textbook of sorts for authors and game masters of any stripe. Each chapter deals with a specific aspect of crafting a realistic world setting, from ecology, to economy, religion, geography, even the physics of building whole solar systems. It’s called Eighth Day Genesis, and you can pick it up in eBook or trade paperback. Give it a try.