You know how your social media feed is starting to sprout all those posts about how hard this year was? This ain’t one of those, folks. Not because it wasn’t hard, but because it was totally awesome.
My (professional) year by the numbers:
Novels Published: Either 1, 2, or 3, depending on how you count. The Iron Ring was released in February, Iron and Blood in June, which are the two halves of The Oldest Trick, released in August. All parts/versions of the same book (my debut), mind you. Yes, it’s complicated. But also awesome.
Stories Sold: 3 (to WoTF, Escape Pod, and Fantasy and Science Fiction)
Awards Won: Writers of the Future Award, 2nd Place, 1st Quarter 2014 (award ceremony was in April)
Memberships Achieved: SFWA Active Membership
Conventions/Workshops Attended: 3 (WoTF Workshop, ITVFest, World Fantasy Convention)
Novels Written: 2 (3, if you count total rewrites)
Stories Written: 6 (only counting complete, saleable stories currently on submission/accepted)
Total Words Written: ~300,000 (an average of about 820 words per day)
Along the way of this bang-up year, I made a bunch of new friends, found new groups of support and keen eyes to read, made a bunch of fans (I think/hope), and even got some fanmail. Hard to beat that.
As for this blog, its followership continues to grow. I’m up over 1300 followers now, which is really cool (and thank you, all of you, for reading…assuming you do. But since you’re reading this that would seem to imply that you…you know what? Never mind.).
What About Next Year?
Well, I’ll still be posting here, of course. In terms of Writing, No Good Deed is slated to come out, though it’s been moved back AGAIN by my publisher to April (no idea why). I would expect to see a few more stories from me to come out, given the contracts I have in hand (or will have shortly). My personal goal is to write more short fiction and publish more of same, score another book deal (hopefully extending The Saga of the Redeemed by another two books, if possible), and maybe even nab myself one of those elusive literary agents.
Stay tuned, folks! I’ll see you on the other side of the New Year!
You may have all noticed that I won’t shut up about this story competition I won (preorder the anthology here! It’s awesome!). Well, for one thing that’s because the release date for the anthology is May 4th, which is also known as “this Monday,” and I’m working my little heart out here trying to make that launch a success, and this blog is probably the best way I have of doing that. That’s not all, though. I’m also trumpeting about this thing because I’m damned proud of myself and of my fellow winners, all of whom are spectacularly talented and all of whom deserve to get noticed by the reading public. This anthology is one of the best ways for our names to get “out there,” and I’m going to try and make the most of it.
However, you lovely people are probably tired of all the publicity yakkity yak, so I’m going to take a page from my friend, Martin Shoemaker, and have substantive discussion about how my winning story, “A Revolutionary’s Guide to Practical Conjuration,” came into existence.
First, listen to the dulcet tones of Mr. Scott Parkin reading the first few paragraphs:
Michelangelo once said that his sculptures weren’t things he made so much as uncovered – they had been there all along, hiding in the stone just waiting for him to chip the extra bits away. I feel that way about my story, too. I didn’t so much “tell” this story as “find” it.
The world of Alandar and, most particularly, the West is a place I have fashioned slowly over the course of more than a decade of world-building. When I create a world (and I am always creating worlds, mind you), they begin as broad, historical narratives or epic mythology – they are unpopulated, as it were. I start with the big (How does magic work here? What are the dangers of this world? Who holds the power and why? What are the world’s religions and creation myths?) and narrow it down until I get so close that, suddenly, I find I need characters to have the place make any sense. That level is usually right about at the “what kind of jobs do people do here” and “what do people eat on a daily basis” point. All of that little stuff, you see, is informed by the bigger stuff. Think of it this way: why do you eat hot dogs at a baseball game? Here’s a food imported by Germans (and adapted for American tastes) being ritually consumed at a sport descended from cricket and made popular in the late 19th century. Seems odd, doesn’t it? Yet, you can trace those things back to large religious and political movements which are themselves side-effects of things like geography, climate, and biology.
So, here we have the city of Illin. You can read my full treatise on the city and its environs here, if you’re so inclined, but in brief, Illin is a city built on the tip of a swampy peninsula commanding the outlet of a major trade river. It was designed as a way to control and limit the access the Kalsaari Empire (political and religious rivals to the Western nations) had to Western trade routes. Gradually, this city and principality became more militarized. As it is poor in material resources and arable land, it remained a poor nation propped up by its neighbors as a kind of buffer state. It has been invaded many times over the centuries, but this past time was by far the most successful and destructive invasion the Kalsaaris ever implemented. To win, they used sorcery in a way unseen in millennia. To win it back, the West did the same. Who was caught in the middle? Illin and, most particularly, its poorest citizens (i.e. the people who always pay the highest price when wars are fought).
Now, that’s just the tip of it all – there’s a hell of a lot more, but most of that world-building stuff never makes it to the page. It just exists in the back of the author’s mind, ready to be accessed if needed, but mostly there to fill out the picture of the place in the author’s mind. I’ve been to Illin, to the extent that anyone has been. I’ve run role-playing games with my friends set there. I’ve written poetry about it (bad poetry, mind you). I like to think I know how it smells.
But that’s just a city, not a character and certainly not a story.
In our workshop out in LA, Dave Farland (aka Dave Wolverton) said something that really struck me. He talked about how setting makes character and story more than anything else, so he always starts with the setting. I realized that I, also, do that (I just didn’t fully realize it). It isn’t until I have world that I feel like I could live in that I figure out who actually lives there. This is where Abe comes from. What would a young man from the Undercity think of his world? What would he want? How would he try to get it? All of these questions can be answered if the world is well-developed enough. And they were.
What’s interesting about the end of this story, though, is that I put the story down – trunked it, basically – for almost a year without an ending. I just couldn’t think of one. I’d painted Abe into such a corner that he was basically doomed (this, incidentally, was something Tim Powers told us was a good way to go, so, again, I was accidentally doing something right!). I had to put it down and walk away. When I (finally) came back, the end was as clear as day. Just goes to show you how fickle the imagination can be sometimes.
As a final note: for fans of The Saga of the Redeemed, this story is set about 12 years or so prior to Tyvian’s day and, obviously, in Illin and not Galaspin/Freegate. Yes, the man in the tooka den is Carlo diCarlo (a younger, thinner Carlo, though). Yes, that does mean young Tyvian (about twenty years old) is somewhere in Illin at that exact moment, doing something untoward. Yes, I do think of these things. Maybe, someday, I’ll tell that story too. Illin, though, does not give up its secrets easily.
Hey, everybody! I’m back! Bad news first: I didn’t finish everything I wanted to in the summer. Good News: I have a short story out in Analog‘s November 2014 issue, available now! Check it out here!
Presumably, at some point there will be hard copies for sale somewhere (at least I *think* so), or maybe you need to buy a subscription, but whatever. If you have a Kindle or similar e-reader (which at this point includes everybody except my mom) go and read my story “Mercy, Killer” in there! You’ll like it, I promise (oh, and being one of the top scifi markets in the business, the other stories are pretty good, too).
Stay tuned for more actual content on this blog in the coming weeks. For now, you’ll have to settle for going out into the world and reading my fiction. Life is hard sometimes.
It is August, which means the Fall approaches, which means the Fall Semester looms. My time for writing and revising grows short. The hour is later than I think, sayeth Saruman. In the next three weeks, I’ve got a small pile of meetings to attend, four classes to prepare, and most of a novel to revise. Also, my editor could shoot me an e-mail at any time between now and October in which she will give me the revision notes for an entirely different novel, which I will then need to revise by October.
Accordingly, I think it perhaps prudent that this blog goes on a little hiatus until the dust settles a bit. I will be certain to post and update you good readers on any further publishing or release news regarding my short fiction exploits, The Oldest Trick, etc, but otherwise I need to put my nose to the grindstone and get the real work done. No more pointless rambling from yours truly until I’m out of the woods.
See you, hopefully, in September. Or, perhaps, I will lose you to a summer love. Either way.
I bid you all a temporary and fair adieu. Fare thee well, wherever you fare. Peace out.
I never intended to write much short fiction in my writer-ly life. I, like a lot of writers out there, set my sights on the big prize – the novel. The thing is, though, that in the time you write one decent novel, you could have written at least a half-dozen short stories. As I journeyed down my long road to professional publication, it occurred to me that writing short fiction was a good way to get your toe into the market, so to speak. It was a good way to hone your craft, get publication credits, and make connections in the industry without having to wait years and years between novel drafts and agent responses and so on.
Short stories, though, aren’t really anything like novels. Well, not really, anyway. Some of the basic writing craft is identical – a good description or a good character in a short story and a novel are more or less the same. The trouble with short stories is, though, that they’re, well, short. What’s more, the shorter they are, but better odds you have of getting them published (as they represent less investment and less risk on the part of the publisher and, furthermore, everybody these days has short attention spans for such things). If you tend to write stories in the upper end of the story world (7500 words), publication opportunities dwindle. God forbid if you’re most comfortable writing short stories in the novelette range (7500 to 14000 words or so), because then you’re looking at a rather short list of markets, especially if you write science fiction and fantasy, as I do.
The difference between a short story and a novel is analogous to the difference between a joke and an anecdote. An anecdote has many ups and downs, several good laughs, several turns of phrase, and so on. A joke has, essentially, one moving part. Maybe two. You don’t edit it from the inside out, you just rewrite the whole damned thing – it’s like building a bicycle frame: there’s not much to it, but every last part of it is important. That’s pretty damned hard, when you come right down to it. I can plot out epic adventures across a couple hundred pages of a novel, but a twenty page short story can stump me like nothing else.
Then, of course, there’s the interesting fact that people just don’t read a whole lot of short fiction, on average. Even in the science fiction world, which has a very healthy short fiction market, sales are low and competition for publications is very, very high. You won’t make a living at this. These days its tough to even make a name for yourself.
So why do it? Well, because short fiction gives you an opportunity to experiment in ways a novel doesn’t. You don’t have to worry about sustaining a new voice through hundreds of pages – just a few dozen. You learn a lot about what you’re capable of as a writer. While I still don’t consider short fiction my first love, I have come to appreciate how much it has done for me, both in my career and in my personal development. Yeah, I’m not exactly sitting on top of the writing world (yet…), but a lot of where I am has come from deciding to buckle down and really take a serious swing at writing the short story. I’ll keep doing it, too, as they let me grow, and growth is essential for any healthy artist (if that’s what I’m calling myself these days, which seems pretentious for a guy writing about robots and wizards).
Now, I think I might have to take a crack at the short-short. That, I fear, brings me down a road that strays so close to poetry I’m might burn myself. Still, if Daily Science Fiction wants it…
The Writers of the Future Contest has been running now for 30 years. It seeks to publish the best in new science fiction and fantasy writers each year and only those who haven’t yet become full professionals (as defined by the contest) may enter. It is designed to find the new voices in the speculative fiction world and give them a platform off of which to build their career. Its judges include folks like Dave Wolverton, Jerry Pournelle, Larry Niven, and other luminaries in the field. Each year, only twelve people win.
This year, I’m one of them.
This is the tenth or eleventh time I’ve entered the contest (each year you can enter four times, once for each quarter; I’ve been entering about twice a year now for five-ish years, maybe more). I’ve racked up one Honorable Mention, two Semi-finalist finishes, one finalist, and now this: Second place in the First Quarter of 2014/Volume 31. This is a huge, huge deal. My story will be published in the anthology next year, they will fly me out to LA for a week long writing workshop with the pros, there will be a party and an awards ceremony and I’ll get to wear a tuxedo and so on. Oh, yeah, and I win some prize money, too.
It still doesn’t quite seem real to me. I keep expecting them to call me back and explain that it was some giant mistake and that, actually, they meant to call the other guy named Auston. I haven’t gotten that call, though. This is the real deal. It’s like winning the American Idol of science fiction writers, except nobody is going to make me sing some crappy song written by a bunch of monkeys with typewriters. Well, at least I don’t think so.
Anyway, come next April, I’ll let you all know.
The next month is going to be full of great news for my writing career, so let’s kick it off with the release of a short fiction anthology featuring my story “Dreamflight of the Katatha.”
The Ways of Magic anthology, released by Deepwood Publishing, is now available via Amazon as well as Barnes and Noble and Kobo. I encourage you to check it out, as I’m proud of the story within it and have every confidence the whole thing is a good read. If story anthologies are your thing, then you’ve got a lot of good news coming your way, as I’ve got two more like this coming out in the next couple weeks (one of which has an advance copy sitting on my desk right now).
And then, of course, is my Big News, which is still under wraps, but never fear – you’ll find out soon enough!
Enough listening to me gab, though – go out and buy this book!
A few months ago I started a short story. It went like this:
Once upon a time, a dragon got a good deal on a modified, split-level
ranch with aluminum siding and a big yard—2.9% APR for a 15 year fixed, no
points, no closing costs. His credit was mighty indeed.
It went a little further than that (by a few pages) until I had a bunch of gossipy neighbors playing poker on the other side of the cul de sac. That’s as far as it got.
There are a lot of jokes inherent in this premise. I think it could make a fun story. Maybe.
If only it would go somewhere.
A friend of mine asked me once why it took so long to write a novel. He wasn’t being facetious – he was honestly curious. “If I were you,” he said, “I’d just write all day long for a couple months and have it finished.” He wanted to know why I didn’t do that; if that was what I wanted to do (write novels), why not put the pedal to the metal and just grind them out.
The idea has merit. Indeed, most writing advice you’ll find involves some variation of ‘write every day’. Not all of us, though, are Isaac Asimov. Even when I do write everyday (and I do whenever I can), much of what I write just doesn’t go anywhere. I have, at last count, six short stories that I’ve started but not finished. It isn’t because I don’t want to, but rather because I don’t have them figured out yet. It’s uncharted territory, as of yet. If I blunder onwards, without notion or care of where I’m going, the story is going to wind up in the trunk – I’m going to have to rewrite the whole damned thing, anyway. Why go through the motions when I can trace this stuff out in my head beforehand? Short Stories are great like that – you can fit them all inside your brain at the same time and weigh each and every paragraph against its neighbors. I can, anyway.
I’ve been thinking a lot about my writing process, lately, and how it varies when I’m writing short stories as compared to writing novels. When I write a novel, I’m a machine – I churn out pages at a solid rate, week-by-week, month-by-month, until the first draft is in the can. Then I go back and do it again. And again. It’s a sculpting process – chipping away pieces of stone here, chinks of rock there, smoothing and polishing, until the David is revealed from the block of marble that encased it.
Short fiction is a different animal, though. You can’t blunt-force your way through a short story (I can’t, at least). For me, they come out mostly fully-formed. I write it and there it is. I do edit, of course, and I change endings, delete characters, etc. Most of that, though, is less like sculpting and more like smoothing the icing on a cake. Once the cake is baked, it’s baked – you can’t fix it except to start all over again. So, what I do instead is I dump my ingredients out on the counter (dragon, suburban house, cul de sac, etc.) and let them sit there. I stare at them. Sometimes I have the ingredients to five or six metaphorical cakes sitting there at the same time. Occasionally I see new things I can bake from the morass and, in a twinkling, I’ve got a cake I never expected. It isn’t, though, a matter of sweat and blood. Not really. It’s like catching fireflies – not about the running, but about a certain kind of bloodless patience, waiting for the moment to strike where BAM – the story becomes clear.
It’s worked for me thus far. Is it the right way to do it? Hell if I know. I’m not sure I want to know. Perhaps some questions are better left unanswered.