Blog Archives

New Story Published: “Upon the Blood-Dark Sea” in Stupefying Stories!

Hey, gang!

Check it out!

I’ve got a new story released! You can find it in Stupefying Stories #22, currently available on Amazon!

The story is called “Upon the Blood-Dark Sea” and its a kind of in the vein of (and a response to) the Conan stories of Howard and other sword-and-sorcery stuff, but with a healthy dollop of dream magic and boiling oceans and weapon-symbiotes and stuff. Yeah, it’s bad-ass and I’m very glad it’s in print.

And also, when I get a chance, I really have to go back to Nyxos (the world in which this place is set) and do some more world-building and storytelling, because it’s just so damned cool.

Anyway, do go and check out the anthology. Editor Bruce Bethke always puts together a great collection and he’s been a good friend and ally over the course of my (still fairly new) writing career. Support his magazine!

Be back soon with more posts, I promise. The Thanksgiving week was crazy, with copy-edits and paper grading and hosting my family and so on, so I missed.

Which reminds me: the copy-edits for The Far Far Better Thing (Saga of the Redeemed #4) are in and everything is done. The grand conclusion of Tyvian’s epic journey will drop on March 5th, 2019. Pre-order now!

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The Benefits of Distance

One of the things I always tell my students is that proofreading right after finishing something is a waste of time. You just can’t see most of the stupid typos and awkward sentences you just wrote because you just wrote them. Your brain (your lazy, lazy human brain) just kind of handwaves it all away – yeah yeah, it’s fine, pal. C’mon, lets get some pizza or something…

“Jesus, is *this* ever a pile of crap! Wow.” ~Ernest Hemingway, probably

Well, this doesn’t just apply to college undergrads, as any author or writer will confirm. Hell, it’s the whole reason editors exist – you, the writer, are just too damned close to your own work to be a good judge of it. You need distance and objectivity. There are only two means to accomplish this that I know of. One is the aforementioned editor, and the other is distance. You’ve got to put the story down, move off, let it set, and ideally forget all about it. That way, when you come back, you can look at the work with clear(er) eyes.

Of course, this means all works of writing exist in this kind of Schrodinger’s Cat-Box space where what you wrote is simultaneously brilliant and terrible until, at long last, you open it up to check, at which point the quantum wave function collapses and you’re suddenly cursing yourself for not having a keen grasp of syntax. This is painful – acutely painful, actually – but it’s also a necessary part of the writing process. “The first draft of everything,” says Hemingway, “is shit.”

But then there’s that other possibility.

You write the draft. Heck, you revise the draft. You revise it again. And still it’s garbage. You don’t know why it’s garbage (if you did, you could fix it), but you know it is. You put it in a drawer in disgust and resolve never to look at it again. But then, one day, you do anyway.

Or this version:

“By all the gods…this…this is freaking GREAT!”

You write a story. At the time, you think it’s pretty good and, whaddya know, you actually sell the damned thing! It’s going to be published! But, of course, the publication sits on the story for a while – maybe even longer than a year – and you, of course, have been writing other stuff. Better stuff, you think, because you’ve been working hard at leveling up your craft and pushing boundaries. And sometimes you think back to that story you wrote and assume it probably wasn’t that good after all – it was so long ago, and you are a different writer now, and you kinda-sorta dread it coming out. But then…then the copyedits come in and you read it again for the first time in over a year…

And it’s actually pretty goddamned awesome. Like really awesome. Like “wow, I actually pulled this off, didn’t I?” awesome.

That right there, friends, is among the best feelings you ever get in writing. Because what it means is that, despite all your insecurities and doubts and bouts of impostor syndrome, it means that you, author, actually have some idea of what you’re about and, by all indications, maybe you always have. That makes you feel like a million bucks, let me tell you, because if there’s one thing – one consistent thing – that all writers have to struggle with, it is fighting that never-ending, nagging possibility that you are out of your goddamned mind and living in a deluded fantasy world where your stories are worth the paper they’re printed on.

Now, it just so happens that this very thing happened to me just today. I got the copyedits back for a story I sold a good while ago to Stupefying Stories. They have a new anthology dropping soon and I’m in it, and the story I’ve got in there – “Upon the Blood-dark Sea” – is honestly a really solid tale about pirates and dream magic and boiling oceans, an homage to the work of guys like Robert E Howard and Edgar Rice Burroughs. I’ll announce when the book is out, but for now you can check out the table of contents on their website.  Bruce Bethke, the editor, always manages to put together a hell of an anthology and I’m looking forward to this one. Go and check it out!

My Writing Summer (Thus Far)

One of the truisms of being a writer is that you never, ever feel as though you are working hard enough. You could always be writing – you should always be writing – and everything else you do can quickly seem a mere distraction.

Like this, but with a laptop.

For me, my most important productive period is during the summer, when I am not teaching, not grading tons of student work, and not prepping for my four classes each semester. From May until late August, I write as much as I possibly can (while also doing some work for my day job, but that doesn’t involve teaching or grading).

I get a lot done in the summer. I just have to watch the altitude of my colleagues’ eyebrows steadily rise as I tell them how much I’ve done. But it never feels that way to me because there is so much I have left undone.

So, in the interest of enhancing my own sanity, I am going to list off the things I have completed, sold, or published this summer. This is not meant to make people feel bad about their own production – just remember that I produce just about nothing between the months of September and April, and hopefully you’ll feel better.

I’ve Written:

Like this, but while scribbling in a notebook.

1 Novel Rough Draft: The Day It All Went Sideways – A Novel (~85,000 words)

3 Short Stories: “Life in Death, Death in Life” (~6000 words), “Three Gowns for Clara” (~6000 words), “The Dragon’s 13th Virgin” (~6000 words)

3 Op-Ed Pieces: one for Analog’s blog, 2 for Stupefying Stories’ blog, a total of about 4000 words.

Blog Posts: I’m not sure how many, but about one a week – so perhaps ten of them? They average about 1000 words apiece, too.

I’ve Published:

1 Novelette: “A Crystal Dipped in Dreams” in the July/August issue of Analog

2 Op-Ed Pieces: the one mentioned above in Analog and one of the ones in Stupefying Stories. The second one for Stupefying should be out soon.

I’ve Sold:

1 Flash Story: “What the Plague Did To Us” to Galaxy’s Edge

1 Short Story: “Applied Linguistics” to Analog

So, in total, I’ve written between 115,000-117,000 words and published or sold a total of 5-6 other works. That is a respectable amount of work. I should be proud of it. I am proud of it.

Like this, but with me running dialogue in my head.

But the fall is returning. I’m getting e-mails talking about syllabi and meetings I have to attend. The real world is invading again. I may be able to tick these numbers up a bit more before the end, but not by much.

But that’s okay. I’m still working. I haven’t failed to do anything I set out to do this summer. And there’s always semester break and next summer. Anything I didn’t finish will keep. I press on.

Maybe your word count is lower than mine, and maybe it’s higher. But the whole point here is that it isn’t about word count. It’s about setting goals and achieving them and being satisfied with yourself. I struggle with it – all writers do – but you need to take the time and appreciate what you’ve done. Give yourself permission to congratulate yourself. You deserve it.

Now, back to writing.

 

Talking about Villains on Stupefying Stories!

Hey there, Haber-fans (which is what I’m calling you all now. Yes, all ten of you. No, there is no appeals process)!

I’ve got an op-ed up on Stupefying Stories’ “Talking Shop” that’s all on how to go about creating a great villain. Go there (click those links!) and check out my five rules for writing the best (worst?) baddies. Go now!

Also of note: I’ve got a story coming out in Stupefying Stories soon. How soon? I don’t know, exactly, but soon! I’m very pleased. Stupefying Stories published some of my first work about six years back and editor Bruce Bethke always puts together a quality anthology. If you’re looking for a market to submit to or, more importantly, a underappreciated short story market to read, I recommend them highly.

Anyway, I now return you to your regularly scheduled internet.

Messing Around With Ancient Greek

I went to Boston Comic-con this weekend. This was the first time I’ve gone to a comic-con, and I went mostly to check it out and see what it was like. I wasn’t there in any official capacity, either – my publisher had no formalized presence there and there wasn’t really much going on that a fantasy author could edge in on. It wound up being me and a buddy of mine walking up and down the aisles of vendors, checking out the costumes and browsing. The only really interesting thing to report is that I picked up a very nice leather-bound sketchbook with a cool, eerie cover. It was pretty expensive (considering I could go to an art supply store and get four sketchbooks for the price of that one), but this wasn’t a practical purchase. I was hunting for inspiration.

If only all my notebooks looked as cool as this!

If only all my notebooks looked as cool as this!

I’ve got a lot of notebooks, mostly full of world-building notes and novel or story ideas, spaceship sketches, scraps of fantasy-themed poetry, and the like. If a world of mine gets to the point where I’m going to write a lot of stories in it, sooner or later it rates its own map-book and master notebook. I’ve got one for Tyvian’s world, Alandar. It contains fifteen different full-color maps of various places all over the world (many of which, incidentally, have changed since I drew them and need to be re-done). This new notebook – this expensive, leather-bound book with its cotton-paper pages and crazy eerie cover – is going to be my bible for a new world. A world called “Nyxos.”

I’ve set two stories in Nyxos so far. The first one, “Dreamflight of the Katatha” was published in Deepwood Publishing’s Ways of Magic Anthology.  The second, “Upon the Blood-Dark Sea,” is set to come out in Stupefying Stories at some point this year. Since the genesis of the world-concept (Ancient Mediterranean technology/culture, dream-magic, a post-Ragnarok-esque mythology, etc.), I’ve started adding more and more to the world. This time, I’ve started primarily with the terminology. I want the world to sound exotic and ancient. To do this, I’ve started messing around with Ancient Greek.

I don’t actually know very much about Ancient Greek, but I don’t think that matters very much (Nyxos isn’t actually Ancient Greece in any real sense, anyway). What I’m looking for is a sound. So, I take a concept I want to give a word: a dream-asp, for instance (a predator that lives in dreams and can dominate minds and souls by eating away a person’s subconscious).

Step 1: Go to an Internet Translator

So, I take a word like “snake” or “viper” or “asp” and I translate it into Ancient Greek. Unhelpfully enough, it comes out in the Greek Alphabet. That brings me to…

Step 2: Find a Translator from the Greek Alphabet to the Latin Alphabet

This takes my string of Greek characters and makes them into a Latinate word I can pronounce (probably badly, but whatever).

Step 3: Aesthetic Judgment

Then I see if the word is “cool” enough. Often it is not. For instance, the word for demon in ancient Greek translates as daimon, which is lame. It also comes up anytime you want to find a word pertaining to ghosts or spirits. Boooo! Back to the drawing board I go!

In time, you develop a burgeoning vocabulary. Here’s some of the words I’ve got so far (note: there are a variety of accent marks I can’t make this blog create, so just imagine them in certain places):

  • Onierarch (the Dream Tyrant)
  • ekhis (dream-asp)
  • The Plains of Sigalos (the world of dreams)
  • The Mountains of Khanos
  • Arkhe (the origin, primordial chaos, The Watery Abyss)
  • dakos (a symbiotic weapon-creature)
  • the Hemithere (bestial half-men, abominations of the gods)
  • Entheros (a wild, jungle-choked land infested with monsters)
  • the Skie (shades, people of the Dead World, invisible by daylight)
  • herpeton (a six-legged beast of burden)
  • Arkhestatos (the Broken Lands)
  • The Khersammos Wastes (a desert)
  • doru (spear)
  • aspis (small shield)
  • hoplon (large shield)
  • xiphos (a kind of sword)

And so on and so forth. I’ll keep you updated as more aspects of Nyxos become clear to me. My hope is you’ll be hearing a lot more about this place in coming years.

Writers of the Future, Volume 31, featuring ME!

Some years ago – say around 2007-ish or thereabouts – I decided to start seriously writing short fiction. “Auston,” I said to myself, “you should get serious about writing short fiction.”

“But,” quoth Evil Auston, my brain-mate, “why waste your time in a form that few people read and that pays virtually nothing? Novels! That’s where the glory is!”

“True,” I said to my alter-self, “but short stories take less time, are easier to submit, and enable me to hone my craft through experimentation on a small scale. Plus, any success you garner there can translate to improved success with novels!”

“Touche.” said Evil Auston, and he retreated to his desolate manse in the dismal moors of my psyche.

And so here we are.

Since that time, I’ve written probably around 20-ish short stories (that I’d consider showing in the light of day, anyway) and published six. Published story number seven will be the one published in this upcoming Writers of the Future Anthology, which is available for pre-order now. (Oh, and additional news flash: published story number eight will appear in an upcoming issue of Stupefying Stories, who consistently put out a great anthology and of which I am proud to once again be part).

Now, in order to get into the Writers of the Future Anthology, I had to become a winner of the Writers of the Future Contest. For those of you not in the know, it is one of the biggest and longest running short fiction competitions in the world, drawing an international crowd of budding science fiction and fantasy authors numbering in the thousands every quarter. It is, in a sense, the American Idol of science fiction/fantasy writing and, after years of entering, an honorable mention, two semi-finalist finishes, and a finalist finish (ooo! So close!), I won in the first quarter of 2014, beating out who knows how many others for the coveted top three spots (I placed second). Now, in addition to having my story in the antho, I will get flown out to LA in April to participate in a week-long writing workshop with some top names in the genre and my eleven fellow winners. I’ll also get to be in a red-carpet awards show, I’ll get a little speech, a big party (I assume), and so on and so forth. W00t! Go me!

So, first off, I recommend this contest to anybody writing scifi/fantasy and looking to break into the business. Even if the award itself doesn’t pay off (and it’s my understanding that it does or can – I’ll let you know) and even if you never win, it gets you writing (you can enter four times a year!), you are only in competition with other starting-out writers, and you are being judged by real pros (judges include/have included Jerry Pournelle, Orson Scott Card, Anne McCaffrey, Larry Niven, Mike Resnick, Frank and Brian Herbert, and on and on and on…). Even an honorable mention or a semi-finalist finish is huge! It lets you know that YOU AREN’T CRAZY – you are talented! The rest of your success is just a mix of hard work and perseverance! For me, those early nods meant a hell of a lot to me. It can to you too.

Now, on to the plug portion of this post:

BUY THIS BOOK! MUCH STORIES! VERY EXCITEMENT! NUMEROUS TALENT!

Do it! Be inspired today!

Do it! Be inspired today!

Please Stand By…

Okay, so I haven’t been posting this week. There’s a lot of reasons for this, but chiefly it is because of something very exciting that I really ought not talk about yet until all the details are ironed out. Suffice to say that I am very, very excited and also stand to be very, very busy in the coming months. Yes, it is writing related.

Big news is inbound...

Big news is inbound…

Also in writing news, I have a story coming out in Stupefying Stories on April 1st (I’ll link to it when the issue is available), I’ve got a story coming out in the Ways of Magic anthology from Deepwood Publishing (and my story inspired the cover art!) on March 31st, AND I’ve got a story in the Sword and Laser anthology (check out the cover art!)  that should be coming out in late April/early May.

So, you know, just doin’ what I do – writin’ stories, kickin’ ass, etc.. I’ll check back in probably next week with the full update and clue you in to the exciting stuff in Habershaw-town. (Well, maybe not all of it. I’m being informed the details may take a while. Anyway…)

Hmmm…I might also update my blog to buy the ‘aahabershaw’ thing, sans wordpress. The time seems to be drawing nigh.

Writing Updates!

wizard_bookAs an addendum to my last post this week, which referred to a couple acceptances at various magazines, let me give you good folks a few specifics, more or less. Working under the assumption you care one way or another about my writing career, of course.

Update #1

My story “The Great Work of Meister VanHocht,” accepted by Stupefying Stories a couple months back, is nearing publication, potentially as early as September.

Update #2

My story “Dreamflight of the Katatha”, accepted in Deepwood Publishing’s Ways of Magic anthology, is slated to get edited sometime in September, as well. Hopefully the book will be out a month or two after that. This story deals with the world of Nyxos, which I am in the process of developing for a potential novel and more short stories in the future.

Update #3

I landed my short story “Partly Petrified” – a Tyvian Reldamar tale involving a heist gone wrong and a haywire wand of petrification – for publication by Sword and Laser in their upcoming anthology. Also good stuff.

Update #4

Now for the really big news: I landed my story “Mercy, Killer” with Analog Science Fiction and Fact just last week. For those of you who don’t know, Analog is one of the oldest and most prestigious short fiction markets for scifi in the business. Stared in the 1930s as Astounding SF, Analog has discovered folks like Robert Heinlein, Poul Anderson, Anne McCaffrey, and Frank Herbert. They’ve won a mountain of Hugos over the years and the Campbell Award is named after their original editor. Getting a story in there is tough and I’m immensely pleased that I pulled it off. It means a lot. It means that, on some level, I do in fact know what I’m doing.

It may be a few months before any of this stuff actually makes print, but fear not – I will gladly be tooting my own horn about the whole thing when it happens.

On top of all that, I still have two novels (The Oldest Trick and The Rubric of All Things) under consideration by Harper Voyager, a host of short stories submitted to various markets, large and small, and I’m now about 2/3s of the way through a new novel, Lych, about a Russian lych hiding out in Boston’s South End and how a nosy medical student blows his cover and causes untold mayhem. Anyway, things proceed well, and I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing. There is, of course, nothing else I would rather do.

Posit your Sorceries, Oh Human, and Unfurl Thy Universe

I came across a post on the Facebook Page of Stupefying Stories the other day that got me thinking. The editor, Bruce Bethke, made the following statement:

Why it’s so hard to sell me computer-related SF:
We see a lot of stories that revolve around human/computer|AI interactions and that seem to have fallen out of time warps from the early 1950s, or else about “the Net” that seem to have fallen through similar time warps from the 1980s.
My old college roommate went on to do post-doc work in A.I. and his subroutines are now on the surface of Mars inside Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity. Meanwhile, the linked article is the sort of thing I deal with every day in my day job.
If you want to sell me a computer-related SF story, forget Clarke’s computers and Asimov’s robots, try to become conversant enough with the current state of the art to write something at least slightly ahead of it, and for Deep Thought’s sake, no more rewrites of Kurt Vonnegut’s “EPICAC.”
The article he linked to is here.
Damn...where's that owner's manual...

Damn…where’s that owner’s manual…

Mr. Bethke makes an important point. Science Fiction is a moving genre, ever-changing. As technology marches ‘forward’ (though we must be careful in discussions of technological development as linear), the fiction that explores the reaches of our scientific potentials must keep pace. This is something of a challenge, as you might imagine, particularly if you are not a scientist or engineer by trade (such as I am not). I, personally, have the advantage of a robust liberal arts education, and thus am conversant (though not necessarily fluent) in most fields. Still, research and legwork must be done to achieve technical authenticity in works of science fiction.

Right?

Well, I’m going to put forward a ‘yes and no’ answer here. In the first case, if you want to write any kind of fiction and do it well, you need to read widely in your genre (and beyond) to see what has been done and be able to take it a new direction. That’s fairly obvious and not really under discussion here. Let’s focus, instead, on the idea of technical authenticity within the context of science fiction.

 

Authenticity is important, certainly. The mantra “write what you know” (as horrible a mantra as that can be for the creative process) is important in that it forces you to explore and even inhabit alien territory before you can efficiently write about it. Nothing rings more false than somebody writing about the government who has never met nor spoken with anybody in any government, and the same goes for the military, or for college, or what-have-you. Computers, technology, engineering, and so on are not exceptions to this rule. You have to talk the talk before you can walk the walk, if you follow my reworked metaphor. So, yeah, if you’re going to write about AIs and computers you better damned well do a little bit of AI and computer related homework.
But not too much, mind you.
The scifi author is Neo, not the Architect.

The scifi author is Neo, not the Architect.

There is a danger in reading and evaluating scifi where you wind up saying to yourself ‘that’s totally unrealistic’ and it knocks you out of the story. The more you know about a topic, the more particular you become in an area of scientific and engineering lore, the smaller and smaller the scope of the science fiction you will tolerate becomes. What ‘can be done’ in science becomes the shackles which bind your own writing. Science fiction, though, exists in the peculiar position of needing to look past the ‘write what you know’ thing and voyage into the totally unknown. Granted, science is our only guideline in those wide, unexplored places, but we cannot let known science (or even theoretical science) wholly dictate our dreams. There is a point where ignoring or bending the rules becomes ridiculous, but there’s a lot of leeway before that happens.

On a further note (and this is probably a topic for another day, but still), we ought to be wary of a world in which our scientific achievements are mystifying and incomprehensible to the common public. We, in our technological wonders, are drifting further and further towards Arthur C. Clarke’s imagined division between technology and magic. Technology is a tool, but magic is seen as fearful and wicked. As science fiction authors, part of our duty is to take the bizarre and esoterically technical and make it wonderful and accessible. If we wish ourselves to be a species supported and driven forward by science, the storytellers are at the forefront of that task. The further we go down the technobabble rabbit hole, the further we get from being able to attract the masses that made science fiction the popular storytelling genre it began as.
Still, though, remember to do your homework. Just don’t forget that you aren’t just a student of theoretical science, but also a kind of teacher.
Edit: In a sort of cosmic irony, the formatting in this piece is being atrociously idiotic, hence the weird font stuff. My apologies.

Another Story Picked Up!

Down the path I continue apace...

Down the path I continue apace…

In the wake of last week, I slacked off a bit on work, blogging included (insofar as this is ‘work’). This was primarily due to the fact that, on Friday (when I had intended to do my second post of the week), my city was turned into a Batman movie as crazed, gun-toting suspects were shooting up police and chucking bombs out the windows of their hijacked car(s). Crazy stuff, and my heartfelt congratulations and to the Boston Police Department and its allies which managed to nab the surviving crazy person alive.

In more personal news, however, I received word that another story of mine will soon see print. Deepwood Publishing has offered to publish my story “Dreamflight of the Katatha” in its Ways of Magic anthology. No word on a release date just yet, but I’ll keep you posted.  This makes the second story in a month, as my story “The Great Work of Meister VanHocht” (an Alandar tale) will be published in Stupefying Stories soon (or so I hope).

Of course, with this good news comes some bittersweet news, too: I failed to make the semifinalist round of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest. My deepest gratitude to those of you who read and reviewed my excerpt online; I’m glad you all enjoyed it. For now, though, The Rubric of All Things must pursue alternate publication options. I’m nearing the point where I may self-publish it, but I’m not sure. I haven’t a whole lot of money to throw around to prepare it for the big, bad world myself, anyway. Back to querying.

Anywho, that’s me. My semester is almost ending, so I hope my own writing pace (woefully inadequate of late) will be improving substantially soon. Of course, I will be spending my summer days caring for a very loud and very insistent infant, so we’ll see. How on earth do writers with small children do it, I wonder.

Well, I guess I’m about to find out.