Tag Archives: short stories

The Story of the System

Gah, another missed post, and this time I don’t even have an excuse! Whoops.

It’s been a good week writing-wise, though. As I mentioned in my last post, I submitted my story “The Mind Killer,” and even though I haven’t heard back yet, I’m kind of addicted to submissions right now. All I want to do is write stories and send them out. It’s done wonders for my motivation, that’s for sure, although not necessarily in an optimal way. I mean, I want to write–yay!–but I don’t really want to work on my novel. I want the immediate gratification.

Really, though, compared to the problems that I’ve had in the past, this is nothing. I’ll take this problem over most others.

And I did get a fair amount of work done on Fugitives from Earth. I’m very nearly finished with the first part, just one more scene to write on this revision. Definitely seeing the light at the end of the tunnel here, and if I can maintain motivation, I think I can easily finish by my deadline.

So I’ve got a plan: on weekdays, I work on Fugitives from Earth. I’ll sometimes casually think about short story plots, but when I actually sit down to do the heavy-duty writing, I work on the novel. The weekends, on the other hand, that’s short story time. I’m hopeful that I can finish shorts at the rate of one a month for the foreseeable future, increasing in pace once FfE is on its way out the door.

I’ve had great success in getting involved with other local writers, thanks largely to writing get-togethers arranged by Mary Robinette Kowal and Shanna Germain. Excellent writers and excellent company, they really encourage me to get my best game on. When I’m writing with published authors, I’m able to utterly focus on my work. It works very much in the same way that a hangout does, but meeting in person is always better than meeting online, even if the online part works well.

Also, I didn’t mention it last week, but my Hugo votes are in! I voted for The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms¬† for best novel; it definitely was new enough and different enough to grip me. For short stories, “For Want of a Nail” by Mary Robinette Kowal. To be honest, I was a little underwhelmed by the entrants in this category, and two of the stories disqualified themselves for either excessive mundanity or excessive weirdness. For the Campbell award, Dan Wells’ I Am Not a Serial Killer. This book did a better job of getting in the head of a smart but “different” kid that I could really identify with.


A Stiff Shot in the Arm

Jay Lake made me late for work this morning.

This might not be entirely fair. It’s not like he was in my apartment keeping me from showering or eating breakfast. He didn’t call me at a bad time, or send me a Twitter DM, or anything like that. On the other hand, it was entirely his fault that he wrote a fascinating piece of advice for new writers that hit me right where I live. I couldn’t not finish reading. Check it out here, at Shimmer magazine.

Seriously, if you’re into creative activities at all, I’d highly recommend you read it before continuing.

Done? Okay. I’ve been thinking lately about goals. I pretty much have just one right now, which is to finish Fugitives from Earth before OryCon, and then to start on the next novel. That’s all very sustainable, but it’s slow. Very, very slow. And right now, I need to do something, even something emotionally risky, to show myself that I’m making progress on my career.

So I’m going to throw caution to the wind and submit a damned story. I’ve written a full dozen shorts in the last year of varying quality, and a few of them are even what I might call “finished.” But I’ve got too much emotional attachment to those; we’ll just call those practice. What I’m going to do instead is take this weekend as a break from FfE, finish a half-written story that I feel is really workable, and submit it somewhere, anywhere that’ll pay.

It’ll probably get rejected, but that’s the point as much as anything. I feel like there’s a glass ceiling of possible rejection that forcing me to stay close to the ground. Rather than being afraid of the possibility of rejection, I want to feel its certainty and know that it can’t kill me. And like Mr. Lake says, with every rejection, the next one gets easier to take. I want to have that trunkful of rejection slips he mentions, because that means that I’m making progress. I’m still writing, and if I’m challenging myself, I’m probably getting better. And hopefully before that trunk fills up, somebody will decide that one of my pieces is worth buying.

I know that writing probably won’t ever make me much money, but sitting around waiting for the “perfect moment” doesn’t pay much at all. So, time to throw caution to the wind, damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!


On a slightly more prosaic note, one reason I feel comfortable doing this is that I’ve been making excellent progress with Fugitives from Earth. I’m probably 15% done at this point, I’d say. I have about 5,000 words to write before Part I is complete, and I expect that Part II will go somewhat more quickly. The last half of the book will be the real sticking point, so I want to build up as much momentum as possible before charging into it. Still, things are going well.

So, 5,000 words to finish my story by this weekend, with the final email going out to some market by Monday night. Wish me luck.

Short Story Week Multikill!

It’s short story week here at The Tenth Word once again. Yesterday, I finished the final, pre-copyedit revision of “A Descended Man” and submitted it to the NIWA board. I don’t know what it is, but despite the fact that I wrote it in literally five hours idea to end, it’s probably the best story I’ve ever written, and accommodating the revision ideas of two commenters took only twenty minutes or so. I didn’t even have to rewrite the end as I’d feared; I just needed to add a few paragraphs. Bam.

I spent this morning thinking about my rewrite for my as-yet-untitled “hopeful cyberpunk” story. Since the first draft was banged out pretty quickly, it’s not surprising that it’s going to require a total rewrite, but I think I laid a pretty solid foundation. Compared to a short story a year ago that might’ve taken six or seven rewrites until I was happy, this one might only be one or two. Sometimes it’s hard to think this way, but I am getting to be a better writer on both an instinctive and technical level.

This will be the last week of short stories, however. By next week, the beta readers will (hopefully! hopefully!) have some comments for Fugitives from Earth, and then I get to go into overdrive. In order to meet my hard deadline of mid-November, I need to do all of the rewriting in no more than 8 weeks. That’s a little intimidating.

What’s even more intimidating is the more technical aspects of releasing a book. I need to get an ISBN. I need to decide on a printer. I need to–deep breath–get a cover. Oh, and do the layout, find some way of getting it copyedited, and probably a million things I can’t even think of right now. Thankfully I’ve got NIWA around to answer at lot of my questions. Unfortunately, all of this is likely to cost money that I can’t really spend; a full professional copyedit can cost thousands. Hopefully, I can network a better solution.

Finally, I’ve been deeply engrossed in the audiobook version of Alfred Lansing’s famous 1959 book Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage. It’s a very intimate chronicle of the men who took part in Ernest Shackleton’s failed 1914 Trans-Antarctic Expedition and the bitter privations they suffered over the next few years. I love the history of exploration; the vicarious thrills of any adventure story are always magnified when you know the story actually happened.

If you’re wondering why this isn’t on Goodreads yet, it’s because I’ve given up on Mira Grant’s Feed, and I’m loathe to admit it.

Anyway, I’ll get that fixed up and you can check it out later. Other than that, see you Friday at the latest.

Godspeed Onward

As a few of you probably know, today was the launch of the very last Space Shuttle mission, STS-135. The shuttle Atlantis lifted off from Cape Canaveral at about 8:45 this morning. I tuned in for the last few minutes of the countdown and launch, and let me tell you: I was seriously tearing up. I didn’t expect to be affected by it at all, but there’s just something iconic about the shuttle. It’s been running missions my entire life, and now this is the very last one.

The president had better be serious when he’s talking about Mars missions. We’ve been jerked around enough before.

On the writing front, I more-or-less finished another short story this week. I planned to write 4 during by July 15 and instead I got only two, but that was probably a more realistic number anyway. I’m not done with either, not by a long shot, but they’re both solid platforms for revision, and that’s really what you want out of a first draft.

The second one, which I just finished this morning, I’m particularly interested in. It takes place in the same universe as the story that’ll appear in the NIWA anthology and in a genre I like to call “hopeful cyberpunk.” Basically, you take all of the technological trappings of cyberpunk–the mind/computer interfaces, cloning, genetic manipulation, corporate dominance–and you place them in a setting that’s not particularly punkish. Picture Star Trek‘s United Federation of Planets crossed with Neuromancer and you’ll get the idea. For whatever reasons, my stories tend to work best when they’re set in tech-heavy universes. Go figure.

Speaking of the NIWA anthology, I’m about halfway through my final edits for my story. The comments have been overwhelmingly positive, and not a ton needed to be changed. I think I’m going to rework the last scene, though; what I’d hoped was a climax didn’t seem to be serving its purpose, and there was a bit too much implication in the denouement. It’s got to be made more specific. Endings are hard, man…reading through the NIWA submissions really drove that home. Out of a dozen stories, all could stand some tweaking in the ending, and a few of them just plain failed in the last quarter. It’s hard.

With that, I’ll leave you with another tear-jerker of a video, produced by NPR:

NaShoStoMo, Part I

As promised, now that my novel is with the beta readers, I’ve jumped right into a little thing I like to call National Short Story Month. National might be putting it a little strong, because I’m the only one who’s actually, you know, doing it. But my long-held strategy is to pretend that I am the man until I actually become the man. You dig?

Anyway, week one, short story one will be completed this evening. For those of you keeping track, that’s two days behind schedule. On the other hand, I did spend two days planning out a short story that I didn’t actually end up writing, so there’s that. This was my submission for the Machine of Death anthology that I mentioned last time, so yeah. I’ll probably still end up writing it, or at least a version of it, but the way I had it plotted out involved a lot of talking and not a lot of doing. Bureaucracy is a hard thing to make interesting.

The story I did actually end up writing is tentatively called “The Desert Beyond the Water,” and basically re-invents “humanity’s first spaceflight” as “renaissance-era cephalopods take a trip above the surface.” I’ve always wanted to write a story about aquatic sentients, and now, thanks to NaShoStoMo, that dream has come true. The worldbuilding was just as intense as I expected it to be, but I don’t think it came out too bad for all of that. As scary as it is to say this, I think I’m going to shop the story around some after I fix it up a bit.

That’s right: my very first submission. Little Brad is growing up.

I’m not counting my submission to the NIWA anthology, of course. I was on the submission committee, so there’s no way it wasn’t getting accepted. We ended up accepting 13 stories for the anthology, which I’m pretty proud of. Half of those people had never heard of NIWA when we first announced the anthology, and it means that over 20 people are either NIWA members, in the anthology, or both. Not bad for a five-month-old organization that started with two people. I’m really looking forward to getting this one in print.

Beta Readers, Away!

Yesterday afternoon, I finally released Fugitives from Earth into the wild lands of the beta readers. Five gentlemen (and one lady) of discretion and class¬† now hold in their hands my labor of the last two thirds of a year. It’s pretty fulfilling to finally get to this point; I was starting to think I had Zeno’s Curse. On the other hand: terrifying. The novel isn’t good, at least not yet. I know that. I told them that in the email. But still…holy crap. It’s hard to escape the fact that I’ve made myself very, very vulnerable.

Still, I need the criticism badly if the novel is going to succeed. I can only hope that the two to three months between getting the critique back and reaching my deadline are enough to fix whatever it is they find. Crossing my fingers.

So, now that I don’t have to work on FfE for four weeks, it’s short story time! First up is a little piece I’m calling Finagle’s Law, that is being written with an eye for submitting to Machine of Death Vol. 2. I’m intrigued by the concept of the anthology; basically, there’s a machine of some sort that can, with 100% accuracy, determine one’s cause of death from a blood test. It’s not realistic, sure, but it’s a good jumping-off point for stories, and the first volume did pretty well for itself. Here’s hoping!

I want to get the first draft of that story done in a week or less. Hopefully, I can get three full (that is, possibly publishable) stories done over the next month. Certainly, I’m very much looking forward to writing something a little different. Fugitives from Earth is fun, but man cannot live on bread alone, you get what I’m saying?

In future plans, the wife and I are going to Mary Robinette Kowal’s book signing on Wednesday, at the Cedar Mill Powell’s, feature the Oregon Regency Society and a puppet show. I’m really liking all these book signings I’ve been going to; they make me feel more connected to the community.

Finally, the submission deadline for the NIWA anthology is Wednesday! If you want to submit something but haven’t, now’s the time! Better something than nothing, certainly. Tomorrow evening the submission committee is having a short meeting to hash out the review process. I’ve only read about half of the submissions, but don’t tell anyone.

Background to the Project

I’ve been writing for many years. I’m not a writer by profession or education, although I wrote a lot to get a history degree, and my job as an IT administrator does require me to write bullet-pointed documentation and snarky Skype messages. Instead, I’ve written for fun off and on for the last decade, with an extremely variable level of commitment. Maybe once a year I’d try to write something, and sometimes get as far as the second page before taking a 300-day break.

Two things happened in my life that disrupted this cycle. First, NaNoWriMo showed me that I could, in fact, write at least 50,000 words if I put my mind to it and consumed enough coffee/tea/sugar/amphetamines. The second thing was that I failed to get into graduate school.

I spent six months working on getting into a graduate program in history, even working with a member of the admissions board to make sure that my application was as good as it possibly could be, and I still failed. This led to something of a crisis of confidence, and I frankly I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life. I’d been banking on graduate school for months and when it was gone I needed something to fill the life-vacuum.

But while I was feeling sorry for myself, my pleasant memories of frantic novel-writing were piping up from the back of my brain, hollering at me to remember them.

So I started writing again. I’ve put together a few polished short stories, with the first of these going out to a market near you soon (dear heaven). So I might succeed or fail there. Whatever. Writing short stories is fun but there’s no way that I can achieve my maximum writing potential (as measured in sleepless nights) without writing a novel. And as long as I’m writing a novel, I might as well do it really quickly.

So, I’ve decided to write a full, publication-worthy (to use the phrase extremely loosely) novel in six months. Hey, if Danielle Steele can put out three novels a year and make more money than a Rockefeller, who says I can’t?

This website is a chronicle of that journey. Hopefully, you and I can look back on this first post in three months and laugh, saying how stupid I was to even think that I could be successful. Or something like that.

Anyway, good to have you aboard.