April 14, 2020

The Burroughs Moment

Well, it’s obviously been a while since I’ve updated this blog. I need to do better. To help inspire myself to do so, I want to reflect on how I started writing seriously in the first place.

I’ve loved stories all my life, but it was only in the sixth grade that I really started creating them myself and committing them to paper. My teacher that year gave a creative writing assignment every week on Friday to be completed over the weekend. What I turned in on Monday was usually two or three times the minimum length. At least. These assignments led to my first ever effort at longer fiction—a sprawling spy epic starring myself and the rest of my class (all fourteen of us). I think the handwritten draft is still in a Trapper Keeper somewhere deep in my parents’ basement.

Along the way, though, this creative urge got choked out by other kinds of writing. The essay and later the research paper took over my writing life. I may be one of the few to have ever done a non-assigned research paper for fun. I wrote maybe one short story in this period as a birthday present for a friend, but that was a rare exception.

I still read voraciously, fiction and nonfiction. But it wasn’t until late in my academic career that the itch to write fiction struck again. I scratched this itch by playing online RPGs—of the free-form collaborative storytelling model, not stats-driven adventure gaming. One was set in the Star Trek universe, the other in a fantasy setting. Developing the fantasy character’s backstory led to what became my Veldt series—a series I have more plans for.

But those stories might have remained unseen except for a defining moment in my writing path. I still remember when it happened. I was reading a book from the library by someone I consider a midlist fantasy author. I was fairly engaged in the story, but part of my brain was thinking, “I can write as well as this guy. If he can get published, why can’t I?”

That led to me taking my writing seriously—by which I mean, trying to get someone to pay me for it. I’ve not grown rich by any stretch of the imagination, but writing has definitely augmented my book-buying budget. Although I don’t publish at a fantastic pace, I’ve had stories published every year since 2007. The fact that I don’t have more credits is a reflection on my lack of discipline more than anything else.

All from reading someone else’s work and thinking, “I can do that.”

I’m not the only one this has happened to. Edgar Rice Burroughs was a failure well into his thirties. One day, someone handed him a pulp magazine. He read it and thought, “This writing is crummy, and they get paid for it. I can write as crummy as that!” He wrote the story that became A Princess of Mars. Then he wrote the first Tarzan story, and American fiction was changed forever.

I call the realization that I could write on a publishable level my “ Burroughs Moment.” I doubt there’ll ever be a city named after any of my creation, but who knows!

How about you? What was your Burroughs Moment? Or if you haven’t started writing yet, what’s stopping you?

January 23, 2018

An Experiment in Social Media

Thanks to the opinions and advice of some writer-friends of mine, I now have an account on Steemit. I'm still exploring the potential of the site, but so far, it seems like a very unique way for creative types to get their content out there, especial poets, writers of fiction, and creative non-fiction.

Although I have plans to post new content too, I've started by re-posting an older story of mine entitled "Command Performance." The story is a weird western--a genre I really need to write more in--and originally appeared in 2007 in Science Fiction Trails, edited by David B. Riley. That makes it one of my earliest published stories. I've always envisioned Mr. Smith as being played by The Wild Wild West's Michael Dunn, and perhaps Bruce Campbell as Buck Reynolds.

I hope the fun I had in writing the story is clear, even though it's over a decade old. Let me know what you think. And look me up on Steemit! My handle is the same as I use on Twitter: @haikufictiondju.

Postscript: Mr. Riley apparently did well enough with the first series of sci-fi westerns that he went on to edit a number of further volumes. I had thought that the series had died out in 2014, but I made the delightful discovery tonight that it has been revived and is now taking submissions! I'm going to have to get something in. Mr. Riley is a great editor to work with, and I'd recommend any other writer submitting their best work to him as well.

January 01, 2018

Writing Goals for 2018

Well, 2017 is in the past, and it's time to set up some new writing goals.

If I get that time management thing licked, I think this is going to be a really good writing year for me. I have a lot of great ideas floating around in my head. I hope I get to share most of them with you before the year is over.

I'm going to group my goals as follows:

1) Novel(s?).
This is the year I'm finally going to finish and submit a novel. I have a few ideas I'm really excited about, including one in the Eldritch Earth setting and a comedic space opera. And there's always the novel set in The Veldt.

I just need to pick one and follow through on it.

2) Stories.
In years past, I've tried to use calls for submission as inspiration and wind up missing deadlines by a mile. This year I want to write more stories just for me and find a market for them later.

Trying for twelve stories.

3) Social Media.

I want to continue the friendships I worked on in 2017 and grow more Twitter followers. I'm at just under 1400 followers today. Can I reach 2500 by the end of the year?

I'm also toying with starting an e-mail list, if I can create enough content. Thoughts?

4) Blogging.
I'm going to get back into my blog. Shooting for one a week for now. More Trashling Tales, certainly. But I'm also planning on blogging more about what exactly haiku fiction is and how I practice it.

There you go. Some goals in black and white. I need your help to keep me accountable.

How about you? What are your writing goals for the new year?

December 31, 2017

Looking Back On 2017

The year almost past has been an interesting writing year for me. I didn't do so well on my writing resolutions. Again. I'm not sure I produced more than two new stories in 2017. Certainly no novel. And you can see by the timeline here how well blogging went.

I could make excuses. Being a new father still makes budgeting time a challenge, even though Baby Uitvlugt is now a toddler. The ongoing hiatus of The Writer's Arena took away a market that at the very least demanded I produce a new story each time I competed, lest I look like an idiot. And so on. But excuses are usually just exercises in rationalization. The past is the past, and I must live with the choices I've made.

A much more productive use of my space here is to focus on the writing successes I did manage to have this last year. By my count, I had eight stories published by others in 2017, mostly reprints or stories written before this year that finally found a home. "Dole in Astolat" opened the year, appearing in the January 2017 issue of Outposts of the Beyond. I don't know how many people read this re-telling of an Arthurian story in a space opera setting, but I've always had a soft spot in my heart for this tale. The fine people at Alban Lake gave it a home. (If you don't know Alban Lake, check them out. They are a small publisher with a strong stable of quality speculative fiction magazines...)

Other older stories to find a home in 2017 were "The Canni-Ball," appearing in the cannibal anthology, Bon Appetit, and "Stannard Rock," a historical Lovecraftian tale set in my native Michigan and appearing in Fearful Fathoms, Volume 2. Although written in 2016, this year saw the first appearance of "Outlier," probably one of my personal favorites among my newer stories. It appeared among a host of other great stories in the furry sci-fi horror anthology, Bleak Horizons.

I also had the privilege to have a number of stories "reprinted" in audio form. "Butterfly Dreams" appeared on the StarShipSofa podcast in April. And "The Hour of the Rat" appeared in Far-Fetched Fables in September. (All I need to do now is get a story in Tales to Terrify, and I'll have committed the District of Wonders trifecta...) I had a great deal of fun hearing my story "Space Opera" on the 600 Second Saga podcast. 600 Second Saga is the amuse-bouche of speculative fiction podcasts. All three were wonderful to work with.

One of the other big highlights of the year was my story "Project Uncia" being chosen as the cover story for Issue 2 of Planet Scumm. They also have an audio version of the story and have been a real treat to work with. In fact, all of my experiences with small press publishers this year have been absolutely outstanding. I also received notice just today that the first story I was ever paid for to publish is excepted for an audio reprint. More on this soon.

I also released more stories on Amazon this year, including my first-ever anthology. "The Butterfly Path" is a story of mine that I absolutely love that never found a home with another publisher, so I decided to publish it myself. "Irula's Apprentice" is one of the first furry stories I ever wrote and continues the tales set in the world of anthropomorphic lions I call The Veldt. I fell in love with the cover for La Danza de la Muerte, and knew I had to create a project to fit it. I decided on an anthology of seven dark tales, and got my friend Joseph Devon to write the foreword.

None of these have had stellar sales, but I plan on moving forward on my various Amazon projects. I'm encouraged by the people who took advantage of the giveaway days, and the reviews are generally very positive.

So, some very good things to report on from 2017. But I think my greatest success has come in connecting with more of my fellow readers and writers. Two circles are increasingly important: the members of the Furry Writers' Guild and the circle of people I've come to know through Cirsova Magazine. No matter how down I've felt about myself or my writing, all it took to cheer me up was a few interactions on Twitter with these fine people.

So I want to close out 2017 with a big Thank You!

Thank you to all the editors and publishers who took a chance on an emerging author. Thank you to all the readers who picked up a free story, and especially to all those who bought one. Thank you to everyone who's enjoyed a snarky comment on Twitter or an update on Baby Uitvlugt. And an especial thank you to all the other writers in my life. We're all in this together: I couldn't have made it through this year without you.

I have lots of big things planned for 2018. Stay tuned for more!

October 01, 2017

Is the Term “Light Novel” Helpful in the American Context?

The wave of anime and manga coming from Japan to America (now a set of phenomena decades old) has brought with it a concomitant interest in and market for other aspects of Japanese pop culture. Iron Chef. Gas station sushi. The light novel.

What are light novels? Light novels are books written to be read simply for the sake of enjoyment. While many of the people publishing light novels in this country also publish manga, the light novel is a primarily written medium rather than a comic. They are often illustrated with manga-style illustrations, but they are written stories not comics—though the most popular quickly find themselves adapted into manga and anime. Though the individual volumes may shorter than “serious” novels, they are often serial stories running to a dozen or more volumes. They have the same targeted focus that manga do: “boys,” “girls,” “young men,” etc. Yet there is the same sort of cross-over readership.

In other words, “light novels” are the modern Japanese equivalent of traditional “pulp fiction.”

So far as I understand it, then, literature in Japan exists in two streams. The “serious” (or “literary,” “socially relevant,” “heavy,” “fill-in-your-adjective-here”) novel and the light novel. You can read your Kawabata and Murakami, and you can read your Heroic Legend of Arslan and Vampire Hunter D. Each stream of literature has its own set of expectations, its own awards, and its own readership.

Should American speculative fiction be heading in a similar direction? I think it’s perfectly fine for science fiction novels to strive for “social relevance,” but does every novel to be of that sort? Why can’t The Handmaid’s Tale exist alongside A Princess of Mars? To call both simply “science fiction” I think does a disservice to both works.

Perhaps a way to ensure that everyone can play in the speculative fiction sandbox is to make separate sandboxes. It seems to work for the Japanese. Is it helpful to start thinking that way in the American context?

March 30, 2017

Old Udek (A Trashling Tale) [re-post]

The first snowfall is always a festal night in Fill. Great drifts blanket the mountains a pure white.

Every year, when the first flake is sighted, Old Udek dons his winter robes. He makes his way to the top of the tallest mountain, ignoring aching bones and his frostbit nose.

Once there, he opens the flask around his neck. He catches a single snowflake within it, stoppers the flask, and makes his laborious climb back home.

When the revelers ask why he does this, knowing the flake will melt, he always replies, "I'm storing up hope, against the dry season."

March 23, 2017

Kiara's Quest, Part I (A Trashling Tale) [re-post]

Deklan the healer shakes his head. Kiara's pet bird is sick and there's nothing more that he can do.

Mistress Verta says the Makers will the beginning and end of all things. Master Ember says that such is the way of all flesh, to be calcinated and perish.

The Cogger 53211 promises her a clockwork bird that will sing and never tire. Barilla the Tinker promises a hand-carved grave maker in bronze that never tarnishes.

Her parents—cruelest of all—tell her it's just a bird.

After they leave, she takes her pack and sets out to find a cure.