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.

March 16, 2017

A Dialogue Between Mistress Verta and Master Ember (A Trashling Tale) [re-post]

"I cannot let you preach what you preach."

"We are the physicians of Fill. We must tell the truth when no one else will."

"You want to set the world on fire."

"Yet you destroy what you don't understand."

"I could never understand your view of life."

"You are naïve children. Your name reveals everything."

"You are prophets of gloom and destruction in a world hungering for hope."

"You forget the point of it all. The meaning of existence."

"We must build. We must bring order from chaos. That's why we're here."

"Everything must end in fire, even the Makers."

March 09, 2017

Burge, the Mouse-Herder's Son (A Trashling Tale) [re-post]

The songs of Giatolo called out to him in the tavern. Sick to death of mice, he wanted adventure.

He kissed his mother and left before his father came home from the pens. Brigands took his bread and cheese before the end of the first day, outlaws his staff and pack before the end of the next.

He grew stronger. He learned to fight with the sword and the pike, with the axe and the mace. He defeated fierce monsters and saved many maidens fair.

But to the end of his days, his fingernails still smelled to him like mouse-dung.

March 02, 2017

Lord of the Bugs (A Trashling Tale) [re-post]

Nobody talks about us much. The troubadours sing about Mouse-herders, but Mouse-herders buy their ale. The Children preach the virtues of the Farmers' life, but Farmers make up most of their flock.

We purvey protein to the most desperate. Grubs, worms, beetles, flies. Did you know the flavor of cockroach steaks depends on the beast's fodder?

Trashlings of every tribe have eaten in my shop. Penurious Tinkers, traveling Coggers, absent-minded Scribes and mendicant Children of the Makers. Farmers returning from a poor night at the market, and yes, even Mouse-herders.

Those-Who-Burn eat here often. They say turnabout is only fair.

February 23, 2017

Paroxetine, Eater of the Orange Lotus (A Trashling Tale) [re-post]

 Deep in the lairs, they told stories of gifts of the gods to make one immortal and wise.

Paroxetine didn't want the Orange Lotus at first. He trained himself to sleep at night, to endure the light of day. He dared to walk under the gaze of the sun.

He wanted to see a Maker.

After that day, he sought out the Eaters in their lairs. He dared to open the orange flowers and partake of the fruit within. Pale imitations of ambrosia and soma.

None of his companions ever asked him whether he ate to remember or to forget.

February 16, 2017

53211 the Cogger (A Trashling Tale) [re-post]

He levered the back panel off the artifact on his workbench and peered at its inner workings.

"A Chipper would see what I'm doing as sacrilege. An effort to pry into secrets the Makers never meant us to know."

He withdrew several gears and wrote down their sizes and number of teeth.

"But why would They give us all these things, unless They wanted us to use them?"

He polished the gears and fastened them onto his latest invention. He wound the mainspring.

"We do the Makers' work when we create."

His creation smiled and nodded her head in agreement.

February 09, 2017

Tu-va-illa (A Trashling Tale) [re-post]

She is ancient, even for a Trashling. She saw the Great Avalanche. She witnessed the crusades of the Makers' Children against Those-Who-Burn-Forever. Some whisper she is older than Fill itself.

They come bearing bones from mice and birds and strange beasts only the Makers know. They bring their hopes and fears, their hates and loves.

"Return on such-and-such day."

She sings as she shapes the bones into charms. Every customer is satisfied, though perhaps not in the way they expect.

No one knows why she keeps certain bones for herself. No one knows the language of the songs she sings.

February 02, 2017

Ariela the Cloud-Dancer (A Trashling Tale) [re-post]

She stands atop Mount Washdry and gazes at the shrouded moon. Dark bands trap its silver light.

She undoes her hair and sways skyclad to the song that sounds within her soul. Wrists and ankles move, knees and elbows. She closes her eyes as the dance overtakes her completely.

Limbs whirl. Wordlessly, she keens her song. Slow, fast, loud, soft. Her dance flows gracefully and without effort as the wind.

When she is finished, she opens her eyes. The moon shines pure blessings on all Fill.

Does she know whether or not her dance moves the clouds? Does she care?

January 26, 2017

Quicknib the Scribe (A Trashling Tale) [re-post]

When I was young, a distant glimpse of the Makers set me on my path.

To find the Scribes is sufficient call to our way of life. I spent years as an apprentice Paper-Reclaimer, slowly working my way up to Ink-Confector, then Pensmith. Invested at last in my sacred robes as Scribe, I labored a month on my first composition.

Master Truehand led me to the very top of Mount Cheforiac and took my work from me. I wept as he let the paper go.

We cast our tales to the winds, O Makers, hoping that you will notice us.

January 19, 2017

Giatolo the Sell-Sword (A Trashling Tale) [re-post]

Cardboard crunched. Giatolo drew his twin blades and kissed bone charms made by Tu-va-illa herself.

Green eyes glowed in the shadows—the beast killing the Mouse-Herders' flock. A grey tomcat launched itself at Giatolo. Teeth snapped so close that he felt its hot breath. His blades flashed. The cat snarled and batted him to the dust.

The grinning beast grabbed him by his mouseskin vest and tossed him into the air. The sell-sword laughed, somersaulting and landing on the cat's back.

His blades sang until the tomcat ran off howling. Giatolo chuckled and gathered severed whiskers to re-string his lute.

January 18, 2017

The Butterfly Path: Cover Reveal!

Well, I'm running a little behind on my story series at Amazon, but things *are* moving forward with them. The next one to be released will be "The Butterfly Path." I'm hoping to have the final formatting done in time to release by the end of January.

I'm *very* proud of this story; I consider it one of my personal favorites of all the things I've written. Hopefully you will agree. While you're waiting on the story, though, here's a sneak peek of the cover:

The awesome Carey Abbot did that for me. If you're a writer releasing e-books, check out her pre-made covers--very reasonably priced, and she runs sales from time to time as well.

More on "The Butterfly Path" when it hits Amazon. I'll have a couple of other announcements then too, regarding the next Tale from the Veldt and a few surprises.

Until soon!

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?