Friday, December 19, 2014

Sale! To Flash Fiction Online

It took nine submissions over three years, but I finally wrote one that hit the bull's-eye. My fantasy story "Star Box" has been accepted at Flash Fiction Online. Persistence pays off! For me, FFO is the most discerning genre flash magazine (shhh, don't tell Daily Science Fiction that I said that ...), so having a story of mine published there is an achievement unlocked. Happy dance!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Talk about some bad timing

I've had a lot on my writerly plate lately: working on the novel, hashing out plans for a series of novellas for self-publishing with a co-writer, and writing a story to submit this quarter to Writers of the Future. In all of that, I've been putting off the Writers of the Future story, saying to myself I have time, I can write that in December. Ah, the best-laid plans ...

As of Dec. 1, I didn't know what I was going to write, but that was all right. I had plenty of time. I spent a couple of days brainstorming and came up with an idea, which I fleshed out to an outline. After another couple days, I had done the world building and character profiles.

Around Dec. 4 or 5, I started writing the story longhand in my notebook. Although the process takes longer that way, I find that I produce better prose. My theory is that my brain has more time to catch up to a pen than it does to a keyboard. Both of my best-performing WotF stories, a finalist and semi-finalist, were written longhand. Whatever the reason, it works.

By the end of last week, I had written a few thousand words. Everything was going swimmingly. And then I got sick.

I had planned to finish the first draft by this past Tuesday, which was the last day this year in which I was going to be off work and my kids were going to be in school. Next week, my kids will start their winter break, which means they won't give me much (if any) quiet time to write. Then there's the craziness of Christmas. Then it's the end of the month and ... deadline.

The flu put a big crimp in my grand plan. I had intended to plow through the end of the draft. Instead, I hardly had the energy to get out of bed. I managed to write several hundred words, but two days after my self-imposed deadline, the story is not yet done.

So here I am on the verge of the kids' winter break and the holidays, and I have a story to finish. This is what I get for procrastination.

Oh, I'll still finish the story. I might even have time to run it by a couple of critique partners before submitting it. Only now the final stretch will be more stressful than it could have been.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Writers of the Future, Quarter 4

Another honorable mention this quarter, which is what I was expecting all along. It's a good story, but not really the sort of thing that DW goes for. At least this quarter I was accurate in my prediction, unlike last time. I'm about 3K into my Quarter 1 entry, which at least for the moment I think is a better story. That doesn't mean much. I always think that whatever I'm writing now is the Best Thing Ever. Two weeks after I submit the story, I'll change my mind.

In 24 quarters (damn) of entering this contest:
  • Finalist: 1
  • Semi-finalist: 1
  • Silver honorable mention: 1
  • Honorable mention: 13
  • Rejection: 8

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

For your consideration

I've seen a few colleagues doing this, and 2014 is the first year in which I have stories that I think are worthy of attention. If you're voting for the Hugo or Nebula and you enjoyed any of my stories this year, please remember them in your nominations:

Sunday, November 30, 2014

November stats

My goal was to write one chapter per week on the novel this month, and ... success! Four chapters written, for a total about 13,000 words. I even managed to write almost 4K during Thanksgiving week, with the kids on vacation and not leaving me five minutes of peace. I also wrote through a nasty cold that turned into a sinus infection and incapacitated me for two weeks. And I wrote a slightly-longer-than-a-flash piece at the start of the month (which, coincidentally, I just received a rejection on while writing this blog post).

Next month, I need to put the novel on pause and write something for Writers of the Future. I have no clue yet what I'll write, but I have four weeks to figure it out. I'm not panicked yet. Meanwhile, I'm waiting on results for Quarter 4 of Writers of the Future. I was among the many who received a "your story made it through the first pass" email about two and a half weeks ago.

The stats for November:
  • Words written: 14K or so
  • Stories finished: 1
  • Submissions: 4
  • Stories out on submission: 7

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

"The Temptation of Father Francis" now free to read

For anyone out there who wanted to read my story co-written with Nick T. Chan, "The Temptation of Father Francis," but who doesn't have a subscription to Intergalactic Medicine Show, I have good news for you. That story and all the stories from Issue 41 will be free to read for the next month or two. So go forth and read!

Here's the link right here.

And as a bonus, here's the blog post that I wrote for the IGMS blog Side Show Freaks that, for whatever reason, never got posted there, giving some background on how this story came about.


The moral of this story is that sometimes two writers are better than one.

Father Francis started out as the protagonist of a flash story. The only real-life inspiration for that story came from the mysterious deaths of honeybees. I imagined a solitary priest traveling in his dirigible (because dirigibles are cool) across a dystopian West with an AI who thinks she's Annie Oakley and a cargo of pollination bots, a.k.a. mechanical bees

The flash was published a couple of years ago in Every Day Fiction (here's a link to it) to a positive response. I liked the idea of writing more about Francis and Annie. I tried. I had a few false starts. The right story didn't come to me. So Francis went onto a back shelf in my mind, something to revisit someday, when a fellow writer and friend, Nick T. Chan, suggested we co-write stories using worlds or characters we had already created.

I knew exactly which character to use.

The addition of Nick's creative input was what Father Francis needed. Together we came up with a story in which Francis is experiencing a crisis of faith when he arrives in the town of Temptation. He makes his usual offer to use his mechanical bees to pollinate the crops, but he soon discovers that he might need the people of Temptation more than they need him.

This tale was a lot of fun to write and turned out so well that Nick and I have talked about continuing the adventures of Francis and Annie. Because when you have a dirigible, the sky's the limit.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

"Alias" and journalism

I'm currently writing an urban fantasy novel in which one of my protagonists works for a weekly newspaper in Denver. I've worked in newsrooms since 1998. I know how newsrooms operate, and I know how a lot of popular culture portrayals of newspapers get it wrong.

This past week, as I've been fighting off a nasty cold, I've been semi-binging one of my favorite 2000s television shows: Alias. In the first season, one of the main characters, Will Tippin, played Bradley Cooper before he became an A-list movie star, is a reporter for an unnamed Los Angeles area newspaper.

Alias gets a lot of the journalism stuff right. The newsroom looks about what newsrooms look like. Busy, close quarters, and a little worn-in and messy. The relationship between Will and his editor strikes me as pretty realistic.

There's also plenty that the show gets wrong.

The little things:
  • Journalists don't dress that nice unless they have to. Ties every day? Dress pants and skirts? Most of us wear jeans to work. A few of my colleagues prefer sneakers and hoodies.
  • There's a scene in which Will's editor bugs him for a story on deadline, and he pulls out a folded-up bundle of papers and slaps them onto her desk. Uh-uh. We have these things called computers. We write, submit, edit and lay out stories electronically. Even in the dark ages of the early 2000s, we did this.
  • The Alias newsroom has no televisions. What's with that? How are you supposed to keep up on major national and international stories, and watch the local sports teams play, without TVs?
Those are nitpicks, but then there are other things that make me want to yell and throw things at the television.

Will has an assistant. She's a pretty 19-year-old named Jenny who has a crush on him, and fetches him coffee and phone numbers. Reporters don't have assistants. No one in a newsroom has an assistant with one possible exception: the editor-in-chief of a Top 10 circulation newspaper. If you want coffee or a phone number, you get it yourself.

But then it gets worse. A few episodes into the first season, it's mentioned that Jenny isn't an assistant. She's an intern.

I was an intern right out of college at a major metro paper, and I've seen dozens of interns come and go over the years. If you're hired as a reporting intern, you report. You get assignments, cover events, do interviews and write articles. If you're a copy desk intern, you edit and write headlines and other display type. Interns do the same things that staff writers do, carry the same work load, only for half the pay (or less).

If that poor girl Jenny is an intern, it's no wonder she's so sarcastic and bitter all the time. She should be writing articles and instead is fetching coffee for Will Tippin.


Here's the other big error in Alias. Will spends the entire season investigating the murder of his best friend's fiance. Of course we the audience know why Danny was killed. His murder is what initially fuels Sydney to take down SD-6. Poor Will is completely ignorant of the spy game, which means the audience knows more than he does, which turns the audience against him. But that's a different issue all together.

Under no circumstances should Will's editor be letting him pursue this story. He's too close to it, too personally involved. Any decent reporter would have interviewed Sydney and Danny's friends and family, but Will doesn't. Because he doesn't want Sydney to know he's investigating Danny's death. When Sydney does find out, she begs Will to drop it, which in turn makes Will question whether he should do just that, even though he has stumbled onto a larger conspiracy than a man murdered in his bathtub (which is a big story in itself).

And don't get me started on how quickly Will seems to get a hold of things like Social Security numbers, traffic camera footage and information linked to license plate numbers.

Despite all this, I still love Alias. Probably because Will's newspaper plot line is secondary to Sydney's spy stuff and lasts only one season. Then he gets fired, and that's it on this show for the unnamed L.A. newspaper.