January 12, 2017

Kranok the Searcher (A Trashling Tale) [re-post]

The pathways of the Land of Fill shift from night to night, month to month, year to year. Only the Makers know why.

Kranok stands at a crossroad. He raises his Searcher's staff to divine his next step.

If he goes left, he will reach the habitations of artists and artisans, Tinkers and Coggers. If he goes right, the fields of Farmers and pens of Mouse-Herders. Straight ahead lie the camps of the Makers' Children, next to the furnaces of Those-Who-Burn.

He opens closed eyes and sets off over the refuse itself. He walks somewhere he has never been before.

January 07, 2017

How I Started Writing Seriously

I remember very clearly the day I decided I was going to write seriously. What do I mean by seriously? Getting paid for what I write.

I was reading a recent fantasy novel by a well-known author. I won't say who, but you've probably seen their name on the bookstore shelves.

I was enjoying the story. But I got to the point where a switch went off in my brain: I can write as well as they can. If they can be published, why not me?

That thought was all it took. 

Any success I've had as a writer found its start in that one "why not" moment.

Do you want to be a published author? If I can do it, why not you?

January 05, 2017

An Experiment in Haiku Fiction: The Trashlings (re-post)

Two of the most influential works in defining my concept of haiku fiction are Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson and The Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters. Winesburg, Ohio is one of the first examples of the "novel-in-story" genre, a lengthy narration told through a series of interconnected short stories. The stories work as individual pieces, telling the histories of an interesting cast of characters. Yet they all interrelate to recount the main character's coming of age.

The Spoon River Anthology is a collection of poems, and it does not have the "through line" of a novel. But Masters paints the picture of a single small town by presenting us the epitaphs of its citizens. The life stories told in the poems often give different perspectives on the same event. One can only figure out what happened by reading between the lines of two or more versions of the same event -- if there is a "true version" at all.

Inspired by these two works, I'm going to try a writing experiment. I am in the process of writing a series of interconnected one hundred word drabbles. I hope to create a consistent world and hopefully an interconnected narrative. Why drabbles? Because I find that the limitation of the hundred word form focuses my creativity. And they're a heck of a lot of fun.

You get to be my test subjects. I hope to post one drabble a week here at my blog. Come explore the Land of Fill with me. And let me know what you think of the Trashlings:

How It Began
My wife and I recently brought a couch to the local landfill. As we lowered it off the truck, a scrap of paper blew into my face. I cursed, snatched it off, and shoved it into my pocket.
I forgot about it until I reached for my keys to drive home. The paper bore words in a black-brown ink. I didn't understand the story at first. Not until we found more scraps of paper.
Together, they speak of a race of creatures living in the landfill. I don't know whether or not the tales are true.
They call themselves Trashlings...

January 03, 2017

Review of Cirsova 4

Fletcher Vredenburgh has a review of Cirsova 4 up at Black Gate Magazine. He is very complimentary toward my story, "The Sands of Rubal-Khali":

Jam-packed with slavers, a wily bounty hunter, and a cosmic mystery, I liked this a bunch.

 Read the full review here.

January 01, 2017

Looking Back/Looking Forward

I almost started this blog exactly as I started last year's January 1st blog, by talking about Janus, the Roman god of thresholds.

Which shows how often I re-read my blog. That post was my only post for 2016. Something needs to change there!

Needless to say, that means I didn't post any new Trashlings stories. Nor did I finish my novel. I have some good directions in which to go; I just have to make time to go there.

I didn't quite average a short story a month, but I did finish seven new stories, five of which also saw publication, and I sold a reprint or two and found homes for stories I had previously written.

Chaosium's werewolf anthology with my story "Arcadia" finally appeared in 2016. I made another appearance in one of Flametree Publishing's beautiful Gothic Fantasy anthologies, this time in Murder Mayhem with a reprint of "Mr. Ted." Flametree has qualified as an SFWA professional-level market, so in 2017 I will be looking into joining SFWA and/or HWA at their entry level.

I had another enjoyable year with the fine folks at The Writer's Arena. In addition to judging for half the year, four of my published stories this year appeared in Arena competitions. "The Lights of Wasashe Springs" won, as did my first two entrants in the annual Arena Tournament, "Good Neighbors" and "My Mother, The Superhero" (narrowly, by the popular vote).

I made it to the final round of the Tournament again this year, competing once again against my friend David Webb. Dave's story won out against "Cloudcuckooland," crowning him as 2016's champ. (I still owe him the celebratory beer...) Shortly after the Tournament, the guys in charge of the Arena announced a hiatus for the Arena. I have great faith that "that is not dead which can eternal lie," but it will be missed in 2017, not only as a venue for my work, but also as a place to meet other awesome writers.

I've ventured into the realm of self-publishing through Amazon's Kindle Direct service. "In the Days of the Witch-Queens" and "Serpent's Heart" haven't had many sales yet, but when I offered them for free a lot of people did pick up copies. "Witch-Queens" is gathering some good reviews. I plan on releasing further KDP books in the near future, and perhaps having a larger library available will help sales. More on this soon.

Two of my proudest writing accomplishments for 2016 are my appearances in Cirsova Magazine. "The Hour of the Rat" ran in the very first issue--something I'm quite proud of. Cirsova was a perfect home for my tale of sword and sorcery told from the point of view of one who might normally be considered a minor character.

"The Sands of Rubal-Khali" is a spiritual sequel to "The Hour of the Rat," and appeared in Cirsova's double fourth issue. I'm even happier with this story, especially in its solid grounding in the planetary romance tradition. One of the most enjoyable parts of being a Cirsova author, however, has been getting to know the circle of writers and fans that have quickly grown up around this magazine. Think no one still writes adventure yarns in the tradition of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, Abraham Merritt, or Jack Vance? Get to know Cirsova!

My biggest blessing in 2016, however, has nothing to do with writing. In August, after years of trying to get pregnant, my wife gave birth to our first child. Baby Uitvlugt has changed our lives in so many ways, but there's one thing that he reminds me of each and every day:

Time is precious.

I can remember holding Baby Uitvlugt by my forearm alone with room to spare. Now I have a hard time managing him in his car carrier for extended periods of time. I remember wakign up to feed him every two hours. Now he sleeps through the night--once we can get him to fall asleep. Every moment with Baby Uitvlugt is precious in a different way, and no moment will ever come again.

I have less time to write than before he was born, so I have to make the time I do have count. We have formula and diapers to buy, and every little bit of extra cash helps, so I have even more motivation to write well. I need to become a better writer because Baby Uitvlugt is counting on me. I want him to be proud of his Daddy.

With that in mind, here are my goals/resolutions for 2017. I've broken them down into four headings.

1) Short Stories.
I will write at least twelve short stories this year, averaging one a month. I will publish at least half of these. At least two will be in professional venues.

2) Platform.
I will blog at least weekly. I will revitalize the Trashlings series. I will obtain at least 2500 Twitter followers.

3) Self-Publishing.
I will publish at least one new Kindle Direct story a month. At the end of this year, if self-publishing is still not profitable, I will re-assess it as a strategy.

4) Novels.
I will finish my fantasy novel. I will get it beta read. I will begin to market it. I will plan a second novel.

There you have them. Written down for all to see. Will I fulfill them? Stay tuned.

What are your goals for 2017, and what will motivate you to succeed?

January 01, 2016

Thoughts on January First

January takes its name from the Roman god Janus, usually depicted as having two faces: one looking forward and one looking back. Having crossed the threshold of the new year, I want to take a little time to do both.

Last year was a good year for my writing. I had over a dozen stories published or republished. Highlights include "The Tale of the White Tiger" appearing in Cast of Wonders and "Butterfly Dreams" running in Flame Tree publishing's beautiful science fiction anthology.

Perhaps the greatest personal satisfaction I received was winning the first-ever tournament at The Writer's Arena. Everyone involved at that site makes writing so much fun. My thanks once again to you all. And more thanks to all the editors who liked my stories and all the readers who keep me writing!

I have lots of big things planned for 2016, and I'd like your help in keeping on track:

  1. I want to finish and be marketing a novel by the end of the year.
  2. I want to write at least one new short story every month.
  3. I want to pick up the Trashling Tales again.

I have a few other ideas too, but more on those as they develop.

How about you? What are your plans/dreams/goals for the year ahead?

I wish you and yours a happy and blessed New Year!

December 20, 2015

Victory Tastes Like Butter


It’s been a quiet few months here at the blog. Most of my writing efforts since the end of August have focused on the first-ever championship tournament at TheWriter’s Arena. For those of you who don’t know, The Writer’s Arena is a weekly one-on-one writing competition in the spirit, say, of Iron Chef.

I’m usually involved in the Arena as a judge, though I have competed twice before. In round 3, I lost to Arena regular Albert Berg. In round 34, I lost to JosephDevon.

So I was extremely flattered when I was asked to compete in the championship tournament, one of four outside writers against the four Arena regulars. I accepted without hesitation, thinking that, win or lose, it would be a fun time. But, in the back of my head at any rate, I did go into the competition with a great deal of writerly insecurity. I serve as an Arena judge, but I’m not a famous author. I don’t have a novel to my name. I hadn’t even won a round against one of the Arena writers.

What right did I have to sit in judgment on other storytellers?

The second week of the championship again paired me against Albert Berg. Not only had I lost to Al before, I also consider Al to be probably the best all-around writer in the Arena. It’s a delight to see how he rises to every challenge, varying his writing style to suit the story. He’s good.

The semifinals paired me against Joseph Devon. Joseph is, to my best knowledge, the most published of the Arena regulars. His comments on my second-round story floored me. I knew I was taking a risk with “Snapshots,” but I had to submit that story. It split the judges, and I narrowly won thanks to the audience vote.

“Snapshots” put me in the final round of the tournament, pairing me against David Webb. Dave and I have gotten to know each other over the last year thanks to The Writer’s Arena, the Human Echoes Podcast, and several insane Twitter conversations. A very weird experience finding myself matched against a friend.

There’s not a lot one can do to prepare for the Arena, so I just tried to keep myself as open as possible for anything. But no matter how open my mind was, there was no expecting the diabolical specificity of the final prompt.

I think I spent the first couple of days in a fugue. How does one write a story about butter? How does one make butter the star? “Snapshots” had been praised as a story about the prompt using the prompt itself as a narrative technique. But I figured that there was no way on earth I could write a “buttery” story. (More on this later...)

To use a culinary metaphor, I soon decided to write a story I categorized in my mind as “Butter Three Ways.” The idea of a horror story involving butter as a survival food in arctic conditions came first. Knowing of the importance of ghee (clarified butter) in Hindu rituals, my next thought was to have a fantasy section set in India. The third strain was to have been a science fiction story with a female lead, and perhaps cooking a buttery treat such as butter tarts or chocolate croissants. I even had the idea of giving Dussala two children, with the protagonists of the other two narrative strains being reincarnations of these children.

The more involved my research became, the more I realized that I had way too many balls in the air. (Or dishes on the stove, I suppose.) The science-fictional thread was the most nebulous in my mind, so I dropped it.

This set up a narrative strategy that, as David Webb so perceptively saw, is very yin and yang. There is a depiction of male versus female energies. The two storylines contrast a rationalistic view of the universe with a faith-based worldview. The Antarctic part of the tale might be considered a descent into Lovecraftian despair. (I had less The Thing in mind than Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness.) I mean Dussala’s story to be a magic-realist depiction of the birth of hope. The title of the story is meant to evoke this dichotomy: the mystery story of what happened to the butter versus the invocation of Krishna, one of whose tradition titles is The Butter Thief.

While I wanted the connections between the two stories to have been subtle, I wanted them to be there—like the drop of black or white in the opposite color in the traditional yin-yang symbol. Sometimes, to paraphrase my wife, I’m too ass-oteric for my own good. Maybe if I had had another week, I would have been able to draw out the connections better.

Knowing myself as I do, I probably would have just procrastinated for that extra week.

Anyway, here are the points of connection between the two storylines as I see them: I deliberately chose names that began with D for both protagonists. I envision the world of Dussala’s story to be the direct result of the events that happened in Drake’s world—thus Dussala’s story is set in Drake’s future. The biggest point of connection was meant to be Drake’s dream. I meant for the dream to suggest how Dussala’s world came to be. The soldier that chases him is meant to be the same guard that Dussala kills.

I think that the fun I had writing the story does come through, but yeah. “TheButter Thief” is ass-oteric. When I read Dave’s story, I knew I was in trouble. I was completely drawn into the taught mystery that he wrote. I admire the aplomb with which he pulled it off. While I liked my story slightly better (an opinion I shared with only two other readers), I understand why twenty-one people voted for his over mine. I spent most of the week after the stories went live steeling myself to be gracious in defeat. If I had to lose, how awesome to lose to a friend.

Except my story edged out Dave’s in the opinions of the two judges. I won.

I’m still in shock over the verdict. I did not expect things to turn out that way at all. Thank you again, not only to the judges, Rich Alix and Thomas Mays, but also to Dave for being such a great competitor. A big thank you to everyone who read all of the stories throughout the tournament (all fourteen of them!), and especially to everyone who took the time to comment.

I especially want to single out Arena creators and regulars Albert Berg, DannyBrophy, Joseph Devon, and Tony Southcotte. I’ve had the privilege and pleasure to be part of this experiment celebrating the short story since almost the beginning. It’s been a crazy ride, and I’ve loved every moment—even on days when I’ve gotten my judgment in late.

Thank you all. Here’s to many more years celebrating creativity under pressure!

Oh, and the night I turned in my story, the following thought occurred to me. Without consciously intending it. I had in fact written my butter story in a buttery way. Butter is an emulsion, and one might consider Drake and Dussala’s stories to be similarly united without being compounded.