For the last couple years, I’ve been fortunate enough to be invited to contribute to the anthologies published by Zombies Need Brains each year. Well, they’ve kicked off their 10 year anniversary with another set of anthologies and, once again, you’ll find my work in their pages. What’s my topic this year? Well, I’m really excited because it is one of my favorite subjects:
Here’s the description of the anthology:
DRAGONESQUE: Since Grendel and McCaffrey’s Pern, readers have been enthralled with the magic and mystique of dragons. But it’s rare that we get to see the world through the dragon’s perspective. In DRAGONESQUE, you’ll experience an anthology of fantasy and science fiction stories told from, or through, or with, the dragon’s point of view. High fantasy, sword & sorcery, urban fantasy, dark fantasy, magical realism, and of course science fiction…DRAGONESQUE will feature a wealth of genres that even a dragon would be tempted to horde. Edited by S.C. Butler & Joshua Palmatier, DRAGONESQUE will contain approximately fourteen stories with an average length of 6,000 words each.
Now, I’ve written dragon stuff before. My story “Lord of the Cul-de-sac,” about a dragon moving to the suburbs, made it into one of Galaxy’s Edge “Best Of” anthologies. I really dig dragons and, in particular, I really like to insert dragons into the modern world.
So, by way of a sneak peak for the story I’m working on for this next year’s anthology, let me tell you what I’m thinking: a dragon who solves crimes.
A dragon detective.
A modern art loving dragon detective.
A modern art loving dragon detective who refuses to leave her lair and, instead, has her personal assistant/henchman doing all the legwork and dragging suspects to her palatial home and so on and then solves the crimes using her supernaturally keen senses and even keener intellect.
If this sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because it is a fantasy adaptation of my favorite mystery series of all time: none other than Rex Stout’s immortal Nero Wolfe mysteries, wherein gumshoe Archie Goodwin legs it all over town to help reclusive genius Nero Wolfe solve the crimes that leave the police scratching their heads.
Unlike Wolfe, my dragon (currently named “Angharad”) doesn’t collect orchids, she collects artwork. Collecting artwork costs a lot of money, and the way she sustains her habits is by recovering lost or stolen things, because I figured that there was very little that would disgust a dragon more than thieves.
In my dream of dreams, this won’t just be one story, but the first (or maybe second) of many. A linked series of dragon-centered mysteries. I’ve already written one of them (trying to sell it now) and either that one or the next one I write I hope to include in Dragonesque.
Now, I’m tempted to share an excerpt, but as I’m not sure whether the story I have done will be appearing in Dragonesque or somewhere else, I’ll just leave it at that and you’ll just have to wait. I’m excited and I hope you’re excited, too!
Want to make sure you meet Angharad and her loyal man-about-town, Sam Braun? Back the ZNB kickstarter, happening now!
I have let this blog lie fallow these last months. This has been a rough year for me and the traffic this place draws isn’t substantial, so I’ve not devoted much time to it. Moving forward, this is probably going to be a space where I primarily announce my upcoming or current publications before I (eventually) launch some kind of newsletter. That’s me, folks – getting in on Substack a full calendar year after it was cool.
Anyway, check this shit out:
I had a subscription to this magazine in high school. I read a ton of it (though I don’t think I ever managed to finish a single issue, alas) and it has always been the gold standard for my short fiction publication goals. The story in this issue is my third appearance in its esteemed pages, and my first time making the cover. I am super, super thrilled – this is the best writing news I’ve had in a while.
The story, “Prison Colony Optimization Protocols,” is about an AI convicted of a crime and sent to administer a prison colony on a terraforming planet on a distant frontier as punishment. Just your average fish-out-of-water story, you know? People who love Murderbot (like ME! I love Murderbot! Read Murderbot!) will like this one, I hope.
To get a subscription or buy individual issues of this issue, go here. Honestly, you should subscribe to this magazine even if you have no interest in reading my specific story–it’s great, and the new editor, Sheree Renee Thomas, is doing great work. Check it out!
Catch next time I’ve got something big coming!
I’m good at starting short stories. Really good, I’d say. I have snappy first paragraphs, cool set-ups, neat ideas and then…
Then they tend to stall.
I never seem to know where these damned stories are going. So what if there’s a T-rex loose in the mall? Who gives a crap, anyway, and isn’t that just going to wind up being the same as the plot of the latest Jurrasic Park movie? After that occurs to me, I get disenchanted and then stop because, well, I don’t want to be derivative. I want to be original.
Maybe I’m expecting too much out of myself in the first draft. I want the story to be brilliant. I want it to sell to the best markets and get all the praise from (whoever) and win all the awards and make me the guy who is known for writing brilliant, well-selling, praiseworthy, award winning stories. And, of course, that’s a huuge amount of pressure.
But that can’t be it, because I try to do the same thing with novels and I have no problem diving into writing a novel. I just sit my ass in my chair and start churning out words, day by day, bit by bit, until a draft is done. Even revision in novels seems easier – there are so many moving parts, so many modular pieces, that altering it seems almost intuitive. Well, at least compared to short stories.
The source of all this whining is that I just finished a novel draft and now it’s an opportunity to write some more short fiction and get it out the door before the semester begins and all my writing time pretty much vanishes. I mean, how long can it take to write a 4000-6000 word story, right? I cover that in about two days while writing novels – no sweat!
I sit down, crack the knuckles (not really – just a metaphor) and start typing and I get about 500-1000 words in and…
I feel like I should be able to write a draft of 2 short stories per week. The reality is that a single one takes me weeks, sometimes months, sometimes goddamned years to see through.
Right now I have seven or eight stories with openings and no middle or end. I’m stalled on all of them. I’d call it writer’s block, but I don’t really believe in writer’s block. It’s not that I don’t have ideas, it’s that I just don’t think any of my ideas are any good. I find them boring. I don’t want to write boring stories.
I guess that’s what people mean when they say “writer’s block.” I should just put my head down and power through. That’s what I do in novels. Why is it any different for short work?
Well, it’s short – there’s no time to waste, no room to spare. I can’t dick around for twenty pages and then go back and cut it out. Well, no wait – I can dick around for twenty pages and then cut it out, but I don’t want to. I want short fiction to be a faster process than the longer stuff. I want to churn out stories every week. But writing short fiction is work every bit as much as writing long fiction is – more, if you ask me. People ask how long it took to build Notre Dame Cathedral, but do they ever ask how long it took to perfect the wheel? Sure, it’s smaller. But smaller doesn’t mean easier.
So, I’m going to go back and read the start of a bunch of stories now, see if any new ideas have developed. See if I can get these things through to the end.
Don’t hold your breath.
The release date of Book 4 of The Saga of the Redeemed, The Far Far Better Thing, has been pushed back to November 20th. Though a copy of the text has been on my editor’s desk since March, he’s swamped with work, it seems, and I’m pushed back in the queue. We thank you for your patience.
It’s release day! My friend Zach Chapman has just put together a ripping collection of Time Travel Tales, just in time for the holidays, and it is now available in both paperback and e-book.
But don’t just take my word for it! Consult with your FUTURE SELF who is, right at this moment, emerging from my time machine. Here we go…
Just some…well…technical difficulties. I’m sure you’ll be fine. That you probably wasn’t even from this timeline. Right.
Ahem. Also included are such luminary authors as Sean Williams, Robert Silverberg, Martin Shoemaker, Stuart C Baker, SL Huang, David Steffen, and many, many more!
So go and get it! Go! Time is wasting!
Well, unless you have a time machine, in which case you can get it now whenever you like.
Got another story published and released for public consumption. It’s free, too! Shuffle your internet consciousness over to this month’s Perihelion SF and read “When It Comes Around” – my dark and gritty tale of the hard life of a space pirate. Let me tease you with the first line, if I may:
You ain’t been there ’til you’ve clocked a knife-fight in zero-g.
Eh? Ehhhh? Pretty cool, yes?
I’m pretty proud of this one. It *just* missed some of the bigger markets (the narrator’s patois just didn’t do it for some editors), so I’m very glad it found a home. I have been in love with this voice I came up with for some years now (my first publication, “The Spacer and the Cabbages,” used it, as well, and that was about seven years ago now). With any luck, I’ll be able to do more with it in the future. Anyway, I hope you like it.
Go! Read! If nothing else, it ought to discourage you from a life of space piracy.
In addition to novels, I also write short stories. Once I’ve got a story I think is good, I submit it to various publications, starting with the pro-level scifi/fantasy magazines (F&SF, Analog, Asimov’s, Clarkesworld, Galaxy’s Edge) and then moving down the list until I get to the semipro markets. If I can’t sell a story at at least one cent a word, I don’t sell it. It goes in a trunk until I either stumble across an anthology that it might fit in or until I figure out a way to change it into a new story.
As you might imagine, there isn’t a vast array of pro-rate short fiction markets and, furthermore, not all pro-rate markets will take the story I’ve written. Analog, for instance, only wants scifi, and I don’t write scifi quite as often as I write fantasy. A bunch of markets want stories of 3000 words or less, and I tend to write stories that land in the 5K-7K range. This, again, limits the number of places I can send things. So it comes to pass that, after I’ve gotten rejections from the three or four ideal pro-markets that might take the story I’ve written, I’m left with fewer and fewer publication options.
That leads me to my topic of discussion for today: Young Adult fiction and what is appropriate. See, there’s a couple smaller markets out there that pay pro rates and cater specifically to a young adult audience. There are a few markets out there that insist upon a “PG-13” rating. There are others that simply describe themselves as “wholesome.” Now, I don’t typically write YA, exactly, but I do occasionally write stories with Young Adult protagonists dealing with Young Adult problems which, to my mind, ought to qualify. But I also write without any real regard to whether the language or subject matter is “appropriate” for younger readers or not and, as I honestly don’t read a great deal of YA, I’m often left wondering where the line is.
So, by way of example: I wrote a story once with a YA protagonist undergoing a struggle with his mother. It involved duels, intrigue, and some sorcery, but basically that was the main conflict – would this kid defy his mom or not and go dueling with this jerk. The story had a little bit of violence (somebody gets stabbed) and, at one point, I describe this kid’s rival as “miming fellatio at him.” So, here’s the question: Is the term “fellatio” (not the act – the word) sufficiently racy to knock it out of the PG-13/Young Adult rating?
Second example: Wrote a story pretty recently that was about some truly vile cyber-bullying and how this kid gets out of it (there’s a troll involved). His bullies, being nasty examples of adolescence, apply some very filthy and cruel language to this kid. There are f-bombs dropped, sexual situations described, and public discussions of this kid’s genitalia. Now, what about that one? Is that out of bounds?
From my perspective, I really don’t feel that it should be. Hell, it might actually not be, but I’ve had stories rejected because I had a guy lose his arm in a booby trap and that was too violent for them. And yet, in the PG-13 Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, a guy gets his heart ripped out and his body lit on fire and nobody batted an eyelash (well, perhaps not entirely true – they did invent the rating just for that movie because of the gore).
As for profanity, I pretty much learned everything I needed to know about profanity by the time I was in 8th grade, and most of it from the mouths of bullies. I learned everything I needed to know about sexual terminology in high school locker rooms. I was harassed just about every day in middle school by nasty little assholes who said all kinds of vile things about my mother. In high school, it wasn’t quite as bad for me – I was a varsity athlete my freshman year and that gained me a modicum of immunity – but a lot of my friends got it bad and I heard about it or saw it. In my role as “stealth nerd” I also got to hear how the alpha males of the school talked to each other, and it was hardly pristine. There was one guy who said “fuck” at least twice every sentence, and regularly used its verbal form to brag about which girls he’d had sex with and where and how often.
But can you put that in a YA story for 14 year olds to read?
I mean, I think so. Hell, these kids are living it anyway. I’ve always preferred the John Hughes approach to teenagers – treat them like real people with real problems. Don’t flinch because they’re “innocent” – they aren’t half as innocent as you think, anyway.
But, ultimately, it’s not up to me. And if I want to get paid better than .06 a word for some of these stories, I actually have to care about where the line is (or isn’t). Which is a long, round-about way of saying I’m worried some of my stories are going to offend somebody and I don’t think they really ought to.
I submit them anyway, though. Worst they can say is “fuck off.”
Having a crazy week, so here’s just this quick link to a guest post I made over on Ragnarok yesterday. It’s about how writing novels/stories differs from tabletop RPGs, which is something I feel I know a bit about, as I’ve spend a good 25 years parsing through the differences.
Check out the post here, and check out Ragnarok, too – they’ve got a lot of cool things going on over there and they’re relatively new, so wander around.
Talk to you next week!
Just out this weekend, my story “Lord of the Cul-de-Sac” can be found in this month’s Galaxy’s Edge. It’s a charming, light-hearted tale of a dragon moving to suburbia and the collapse of the housing markets in 2008. You can read it here. It’s free online, but you can also order it (and the rest of the issue) in dead-tree format by going here and following the links beneath the cover art.
Galaxy’s Edge is a great venue and I’m very proud that my work has made it there, sharing a table of contents with the likes of George RR Martin, no less (!). Go read the whole issue – good stuff!
In other publishing news, I’ve got at least three stories coming out in the next few months (well, at least one, but as many as three – the other two aren’t exactly upfront about their publishing schedules, shall we say), so stay tuned.
Also, a reminder that NO GOOD DEED, Book 2 in the Saga of the Redeemed, is coming out on June 21st! Pre-order your copy today (available everywhere fine e-books are sold)!
My semester is wrapping up and I’m starting to gear myself towards what my summer writing project will be. It’s a bit up in the air (currently talking with an agent about best career moves – exciting stuff, but I can’t really say more yet), but there are good odds I’ll be looking to dig into Book 3 of the Saga of the Redeemed and possibly plan on having a solid draft finished by the end of August. Either that, or giving the Saga a rest for a bit and working on a new stand-alone or maybe series. Hard to say at this point, as I’m at something of a crossroads in my career. My contract with Harper Voyager is complete with the delivery of NO GOOD DEED, but I don’t feel the series is finished – it’ll take two more books, I think. However, the series, while selling modestly well, isn’t selling anywhere near enough and isn’t getting enough attention to necessarily warrant 2 more years of my time to completing, as much as I love it. If there are better options, I might be better off taking them and circling back to this series later on.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. For now, go and check out the May 2016 issue of Galaxy’s Edge!