Saturday, March 28, 2015

Say hi to Krissy

As of this morning, the doggie adoption is finalized, and we have a new family member.

Her name is Krissy, and we adopted her from All Aboard Animal Rescue. If you're thinking about adopting a dog in the Denver or Fort Collins areas, I recommend this group. They're nice and helpful, and the process was smooth and easy. Also, I will always encourage rescuing an animal rather than buying from a breeder or pet store.

 Krissy is a beagle/hound mix, about a year old, rescued from a shelter from a state somewhere south of Colorado. She's sweet, smart and likes to give kisses. I haven't heard her bark once, though she does whine occasionally. She loves to be with her people and follows me all over the house, even when I'm not in the kitchen. She's fantastic on a leash.

We do have some training work ahead of us. Also, beagles are food hounds, which means Krissy is like a little vacuum, sniffing around every nook and cranny on the hunt for crumbs. We've done some house-cleaning in the past week to make sure Legos, marbles and such are off the floor. She also likes to chew, especially shoelaces, as my daughter learned last night when hers ended up in several pieces.

Krissy is smaller than we were thinking for our next dog. Our late and dearly missed boxer mix Buddy was about 55 pounds. Krissy is half that size. We all miss having a large dog and might get a bigger friend for Krissy a some later date.

It's a strange feeling having a dog in the house who's not Buddy. We had him for 10 years, and he really was an important part of our family. He felt irreplaceable. I want to love and appreciate Krissy for the energetic cutie she is. At the same time, I feel a little guilty about, well, replacing Buddy.

But I hope he would understand that we missed owning a dog and he would be happy that Krissy, like himself 10 years ago when we saved him from a shelter, now has a family and a home.

Friday, March 27, 2015

The "Heroes" reboot

I'm going to detour for a day from writing to television.

The casting news on "Heroes Reborn" has been coming with dizzying speed recently. I blogged about the reboot right here when it was announced in February 2014 and about my mixed feelings on the original run of the show. First season, fantastic. Everything else, not so much. More than a year after the announcement, I thought I'd share my thoughts on how the reboot seems to be shaping up.

Mostly what we know is casting news. A year ago, I said my wish list for the reboot included the characters of Peter, Claire, Hiro and Sylar. I also said I didn't think any of the actors who portrayed those characters would return, but I'm happy to find I was wrong. Today, the news came out that Masi Oka will reprise his role as Hiro Nakamura, a time traveler with childlike enthusiasm who delivered the series' most famous line, "Save the cheerleader, save the world." Hiro was the beating heart of the original show, while Jack Coleman's Noah Bennett (who has been attached to the reboot for some time) was its intellect. That both are coming back will go long way toward creating a bridge between the old and the new.

Then there are the new additions. The two I'm most pumped about are Zachary Levi and Robbie Kay. Back when I blogged about "Heroes" a year ago, I said I would love to see NBC also bring back "Chuck." Well, bringing back Zachary Levi in "Heroes" is almost as good. And Robbie Kay was fantastic as an evil Peter Pan on another of my favorite shows, "Once Upon a Time."

The other recent news is that the new "Heroes" has been pushed back from summer to fall. I don't know the reasons for the change, but I don't think it bodes well for ratings. A summer miniseries seemed just about perfect, while the show will face a lot more competition for attention in the fall.

Verdict: I'm still optimistic about this reboot but also wary because of how quickly the original series' storylines went downhill after season one. They have the acting side covered. Now the writers need to give us a self-contained story that doesn't go off the rails.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Let's talk about flash fiction

I write a lot of flash.

I also sell a decent amount of it. I haven't counted how many, but I'd guess about 2/3 of my sales are flash-length fiction, which is defined in most places as 1,000 words or less. My flash stories have been published in markets including Daily Science Fiction, Flash Fiction Online, Abyss & Apex and Every Day Fiction. My most recent flash sale is to Nature Futures.

I don't sell every flash story I write. Some are real stinkers and rightfully get trunked.

There are writers out there who sell more flash, and those who edit or read slush for magazines that publish flash-length stories, and they're probably more qualified to talk about flash than I am. I'm going to do it anyway.

For starters, I think flash is underappreciated. Example: The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, also known as SFWA, won't let you in as an associate member with the sale of a flash-length story to a qualifying, professional market. Your sale must be a minimum of 1,000 words.

Considering the SFWA rules, you'd think writing flash was easy, that anyone can do it, and that's why it doesn't count. Flash seems to have that kind of reputation, but it's wrong.

Flash isn't easy to write. No, let me revise that: Good flash isn't easy to write. It's the same as for any length of fiction. Anyone can pound out 5,000 words of crap, but writing a good short story takes skill and practice. I might go so far as to say there's an art to writing a good flash piece.

The challenge of writing flash is, of course, telling a complete story in a few hundred words. You need a compelling premise. You need characters and setting. You need an inciting incident, rising action, a climax and a resolution. That's all the things you need in a longer piece, but you have to do it in a very compact space.

How do you pull that off? Here's my advice:

Keep it simple. Two characters. Three at the most. A plot with one major conflict to resolve. A setting that will be familiar enough to readers that a few well-chosen, well-placed words can serve as your setup. If you get into complicated world-building, chances are the story won't work at flash length.

I read a good analogy once, though I don't remember where, which means I can't give credit where it's due, but here it is. A novel is when the writer invites you into their home and you get to peer into all the nooks and crannies. A short story is when you take in the house by standing in the doorway. A flash is when you stand outside and peer through the window.

But simple doesn't mean boring. No matter what length you're writing at, you need to hook your readers. You need an interesting premise, a compelling story.

In a flash fiction, you can't beat around the bush. No complicated setup. You have to get to the hook fast. Your inciting incident should come no later than 100 words in. That doesn't give you permission to tell instead of show simply because it's more efficient. Prose is important. So are correct grammar, punctuation and syntax.

A lot of flash stories end with a twist. I've ended some that way. If you use a twist, make sure you foreshadow it. However you end the story, closure is important. You need a resolution.

My last bit of advice: No cat stories. I've heard this time and time again. The slush readers will thank you.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Sale! "Transference" to Nature Futures

I signed the contract today, so I feel pretty safe sharing the news that my flash story "Transference" has been accepted for publication in Nature Futures. Yes, that Nature. The weekly journal of science whose articles often get attention in the media. So, this is quite awesome.

It occurred to me this morning that I sell an awful lot of flash fiction, which for those who don't know is generally defined as a story of 1,000 words or less. In fact, the majority of my sales over the years have been of flash-length fiction.

That's partly because flash is faster to write than longer stories. I can write two or three flash stories in the same amount of time it takes for me to write a short story. But it's not any easier. There's an art to writing a complete story with characters and setting, and a beginning, middle and end, in under 1,000 words. I'll do some thinking about how I go about writing flash and work up a blog post with my do's and don't's sometime in the near future.

In non-writing news ... Two months ago, my family lost our beloved dog Buddy to lymphoma. I knew at some point that we would want to get a new dog, but I didn't know how long that would take. Weeks? Months? It seems I now have an answer. We decided this week that it's time. We're still grieving for Buddy, but we're also ready to welcome a new canine member of the family, so we'll be going to a rescue group adoption event this weekend.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Stats for February

OK, I'm a few days late. But here we go.

My word count was around 11,000:
  • 7,000 on a novella
  • 3,000 on a short story
  • 1,000 on the novel

After I finish the novella in the next day or two, I plan to devote March to the novel, which I'm not nearly as far along in as I think I should be. I hope to write a chapter per week this month.

Submission stats:
  • Stories completed: 0
  • New submissions: 4
  • Stories out on submission: 5
  • Acceptances: 0

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Oscar picks

We're on Day 3 of snow here in the Denver metro area, with more than a foot in most places and counting. The wind chill is -6. The roads are a solid sheet of ice. And I'm at work, putting together the nation and world section and waiting for the Oscars to begin. Later tonight, I get to attempt to drive home in these beautiful conditions, but first, my Oscar picks.

Of the Best Picture nominees, I have seen exactly one: Boyhood. I watched it a few days ago on DVD. Other nominees I've seen: How to Train Your Dragon 2, Lego Movie and every movie nominated in the visual effects category except for the Planet of the Apes sequel. That's it. So keep that in mind when my picks crash and burn.

Best picture: Boyhood
Actor: Michael Keaton, Birdman
Actress: Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Supporting actor: J.K. Simmons, Whiplash
Supporting actress: Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Directing: Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Cinematography: Birdman
Animated feature film: How to Train Your Dragon 2
Costume design: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Feature documentary: Citizenfour
Short subject documentary: Joanna
Film editing: Boyhood
Foreign language film: Ida
Makeup and hairstyling: Foxcatcher
Music: The Theory of Everything
Song: Everything is Awesome, Lego Movie
Production design: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Short animated film: Feast
Short live action film: Boogaloo and Graham
Sound editing: American Sniper
Sound mixing: American Sniper
Visual effects: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Adapted screenplay: The Theory of Everything
Original screenplay: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Publication Day! At Perihelion Science Fiction

My short story "Loopholes" is live today at Perihelion Science Fiction.

Here's a tease of the opening to whet your appetite to read more:
Melinda Kronen slid a tablet across her desk and waved at the screen. “This is why I asked you here today, Dr. Jansen.” 
Peter took off his glasses and wiped them on his old tweed jacket. He felt grossly out of place here. The spacious office was furnished in trendy metallics without a single bookshelf or comfortable chair in sight. And Melinda, while more personable than he had expected for a business executive, wore a black suit that Peter would have expected to see in court or at a funeral. 
He glanced at the tablet screen. “It’s a man,” he said. 
“Not exactly. Look closer.”

I don't have a cool, behind-the-scenes, making-of story on this one. I got an idea for a present-day company whose business is time travel and the complications that might result if a traveler came back in time and refused to leave. Then I wrote it. And I'm very happy that I can now share the story with all of you.