Friday, December 30, 2011

Play It Again

When I was a kid, going to a video game arcade was a big deal. I mean a big deal. Everyone ends up catching (and missing) the peak of various fads, trends, cultural icons, etc. through their formative years. I think it's fair to say that the peak of the video game arcade fell right smack dab in the middle of mine. Heck, right about the time I hit double digits in age a movie was made about a boy being chosen to help fight an interstellar war based on his prowess at one of the stand-up games like those in arcades across the country.

When I'd go to an arcade, typically with my father, my recollection is that I'd typically get one roll of tokens. Like a roll of quarters, there would be 40 tokens in the roll. For the unfamiliar, they would look something like this...

Photo by Benimoto/Benny Mazur

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Dealing with Regrets

Hello, everyone. I'm back from Christmas weekend hiatus! It was nice to have a few days away from everything and I was especially glad to not be trying to put posts together with the level of internet access I had where I was visiting. No wireless for my netbook, very little data signal on my phone, and a balky connection on the desktop PC made for a very 1990s internet experience. Fortunately, there was nothing I had to be doing, so I largely unplugged for those several days.

My phone was good for receiving/sending email, though, and I got some good news Christmas morning. Kazka Press has accepted my story "Credit Where Credit Is Due" in their December fiction contest. If all goes according to plan, it will be live on their site January 1st. I'll make sure to post a link here so anyone who wants to do so can go read it.

Given that I didn't pick back up with writing until late-July I've got to say that 2011 has been an absolutely phenomenal writing year for me. I've completed a couple dozen short stories, finished the first draft of a novel during NaNoWriMo, and made over 100 short fiction submissions to a wide variety of markets. Naturally, I'd like it if I had a few more acceptances to report, but I'm reasonably confident that 2012 will bring some more of them.

Along with feeling good about how 2011 has gone, there have been some days when I've said "Hey, why haven't I been doing this the last twenty years?" I've talked before about my sporadic writing history. In brief, I wrote a lot as a child, took my writing very seriously in 1990 and 1991 and then stopped. I picked it up every now and again -- I've got several stories I originally wrote in 2007 that I'm still circulating -- but my entire 1992-2010 output is probably smaller than my December 2011 output.

What really brought this home was a recent conversation where I was talking with my wife and daughters about how excited I was to have a couple of stories which appeared to be getting serious consideration at the pro-rate markets to which they were currently submitted. (Alas, one of those has since been rejected...) I mentioned to the girls that getting three pro sales allows one to join the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America and that this is something I’d had as a goal since I was about the age my oldest daughter is now. To which she replied, "And yet, we've only heard about this the last few months" or words to that effect.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Blog Miscellany - Contest, Award, & More

I've been given a free copy of the eBook of Emily Casey's novel The Fairy Tale Trap to give away to one of my readers. If you're interested in possibly receiving this eBook then, in honor of the season, please leave a comment below with a favorite winter memory. I'll pick one of the winter-memory commenters to receive the code for downloading the free eBook.

[Edited to add: Deadline for this contest is 11:59 PM Eastern US Time on 12/27. I'll announce the winner in my 12/28 post.]

In other bloggish news, I'd like to thank one of the other #writemotivation people, jaggedwriter, who has bestowed upon me the Versatile Blogger Award. This award calls for the following:
  1. In a post on your, blog, nominate 15 fellow bloggers for The Versatile Blogger Award.
  2. In the same post, Add the Versatile Blogger Award.
  3. In the same post, thank the blogger who nominated you in a post with a link back to their blog.
  4. In the same post, share 7 completely random pieces of information about yourself.
  5. In the same post, include this set of rules.
  6. Inform each nominated blogger of their nomination by posting a comment on each of their blogs.
I've been fortunate enough to have people present me with this award in the past as well. You can see my random facts and bloggers who I thought were worth passing the award along to in my September 11, 2011 Sunday Links post and my September 28th post which touched on several topics. Between those two pages you can find 17 random facts about me to thrill and amaze. (Or, well, something like that...)

You can also find links to a total of eight bloggers to whom I passed along one or more awards. Today I'm going to add four more bloggers to the rolls. Linking to 15 at once seems a bit overwhelming, so I'll just say I'm doing this part of the award requirements on the installment plan.
One more bloggy bit -- I received (and deleted) my first spam comment today. Umm.... Yay?

Finally, just a reminder that I'm taking a Christmas hiatus from blogging. I'll be back a week from today with a new post. I hope that all of my readers who are traveling this time of year have safe journeys.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Life of a Story: Idea to Publication

I've received some questions in the comments to recent blog posts about my story-writing process. I provided replies on several specific details, but thought that the topic as a whole was large enough that it really needed its own post. So, as promised to the person who left those comments, this is that post.

First, a disclaimer. I've written about 30 stories this year, and maybe 75 or so in my lifetime. I've also never had more than a low-end semi-pro publication. So, take this advice for what it is, the comments of someone who's still striving to make a mark in fiction.  That out of the way, let's talk about what I do when writing.

Most of my stories start with a plot idea rather than a character or setting idea. Sometimes that idea is very general, other times it's quite specific -- such as the central clue of a mystery story around which everything else will depend. Where do these ideas come from?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Sunday Links: December 18, 2011 Edition

After today there are 13 more days before we turn the page from 2011 to 2012. A lot of people are thinking about goals for next year. A couple of efforts along these lines have cropped up in the twitter-blog-o-verse recently. I heartily endorse both (for whatever that's worth).  @kthanna and @I_Am_LadyJai are leading the charge for #writemotivation and @caramichaels is rounding up people looking to write 500 words on their works-in-progress every day via #WIP500.

Speaking of goals, this is a good time to talk about my December goal progress.

1) Write and submit a new short story for each weekend in December. On-pace and I think I'll be in good shape for the next two weeks as long as I don't let the holiday weekend trip me up!
2) Keep my regular blogging schedule with the exception of a possible Christmas weekend hiatus. On-pace. As mentioned last week (and below) I will indeed be taking a Christmas weekend hiatus.
3) Make decisions on how to proceed with four stories written earlier this year which are not yet on submission and act on those decisions. Some progress. First of all, it's three stories -- not four. I don't know where I got the count of four from... Of the three, I've taken a last pass through one and gotten it out the door. Another, I've decided what I want to do next with it. But it involves trying to trim about 1000 words or 20%. Eek. The third one, I think has a decent core but needs a lot of work. I'm still struggling to decide what to do with it.
4) Read at least fifty short stories which are new to me.  Slightly behind pace. At 50% complete but we're about 60% of the way through the month. No excuse for not finishing this one up, though.
5) Draft January goals to align with my second pass through "Adrift." Already done.

And now, on to the links...

Friday, December 16, 2011

A Juggling Act

Today handling my writing has felt like a real juggling act. I felt this way a bit once before, back around late-September, early-October. In brief, I’ve got so many short stories out on submission and so many new ones that I’m working on that my head is spinning. I had to sit down at one point and make myself some notes on what I was working on and prioritize things. Even after that, I felt like I was looking at quite a lot of things that were high priority!

I generally follow the dictum of “start at the top, work your way down” and also try to avoid having stories sitting around unsubmitted for any serious length of time. I’ve got 27 stories out on submission right now. That feels like a lot, to me. At least at the moment, it does. It also means that when I get a rejection in, it can be a bit of a struggle to find a market that I don’t already have something out to which would be appropriate for the story and which I want to submit to.

This led to me needing to do something embarrassing today.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Just How Big Is a Billion?

Today's post has nothing to do with writing, really...

But I had a fascinating conversation with our six-year-old son a couple of nights back, and I've returned to thinking about it a couple of times recently. It's stuck with me enough that I felt compelled to write about it.

We were talking about big numbers, specifically about a googol (a one followed by 100 zeros). He asked if anyone had ever counted to a googol. I said that I didn't think so, and then we go to talking about how high a person could count in a lifetime.

Here's what we said:
  • Assume you can count one number a second. (Probably aggressive.)
  • And you start the moment you're born. (Obviously not happening.)
  • And you never sleep. (Ditto)
  • And you keep going until you're 100. (Optimistic)
Obviously, that's a ridiculous proposition, on any number of levels. But, still, let's go with it. How high do you think you could count? Don't cheat and do the math. Just guess. Ready?

Follow me below the jump for the answer.

Monday, December 12, 2011

2012 Goals and How I Plan To Meet Them

Regular readers of this blog will know that I post, track, and report back on monthly goals here. This is a very powerful tool in my writing toolbox. Setting the goals gives me direction for the month, and reporting back helps keep me "honest." Choosing how to set goals is also important. If they're too easy to reach, then you're not really challenging yourself and if you are satisfied with "just" meeting easy-to-reach goals, you're not living up to your full potential. On the other hand, if they're too hard to reach, then it's a simple thing to get discouraged and give up on meeting the goals. Again, you've missed the sweet spot and are robbing yourself of your ability to be productive.

I can honestly say that I think I've been operating at pretty darn close to my full writing potential (given my other obligations) since I delved back into the writing pool this summer. I've written and sent out for submission 23 short stories since late July, totalling a bit over 50,000 words. I wrote a first draft of a novel during NaNoWriMo, another 57,000 or so words. If you include various WIPs and the few things I've started and shelved, I've written a total of about 135,000 words in that time, pretty much spot on a 1000-word a day pace on average. And I've been regularly blogging here; I'm coming up on my 100th post soon. I've also exchanged works with probably close to a dozen other writers for critique and been actively networking on various social media sites.

The point of this really isn't to brag. (Honest!) The point is that I am sure I wouldn't have done half of that if I hadn't set goals for myself in advance and that the act of setting those goals and then following through on them has giving me results which I'm very happy about.

With that as prelude, I want to talk about my 2012 goals and how I plan to go about meeting them.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Sunday Links: December 11, 2011 Edition

I got the second of my "Write 1/Sub 1" stories for the month out earlier this week. It was a short one, an entry into Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine's monthly "Mysterious Photograph" contest. I've been working on a couple of other stories this week, too, though so I've gotten quite a few new words written. I also went back and took a final pass through one of the stories I'd done preliminary drafts on pre-NaNo and got it out on submission.

A quick blog announcement, I'm planning to take a brief hiatus from posting over the Christmas weekend. So that will mean no Dissecting the Short Story post on 12/23, no Sunday Links on 12/25, and no Monday post on 12/26. I'll have Wednesday posts on both 12/21 (though it won't be a DtSS preview, naturally) and 12/28. And, of course, if I have a burning desire to share something between the 21st and 28th, I may pop on long enough to put up a quick post.

And now, on to the links...

Friday, December 9, 2011

Dissecting the Short Story: "Calculus for Blondes" by John H. Dirckx

This week's entry in my Dissecting the Short Story series is, unless I'm mistaken, the first I've covered from Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. As with all entries in this series, my intention here is to look at a story which was sold to a pro-rate fiction market, generally one of the large digest magazines, and see what we -- as writers -- can learn from it.

As always, I won't be shy about including spoiler material in this analysis, so if you have a copy of this magazine, it might be worth your time to read it first.

"Calculus for Blondes" by John H. Dirckx
Published in:
January/February, 2012 Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine
Approximate Length:
3200 words
Third Person with Multiple POV Characters, Chronological
Summary [WARNING: Spoilers Included!]:

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

New Story Online and Dissecting the Short Story Preview

First off, some good news to share. A (very) short story of mine was published today by Nanoism. Nanoism is a site that publishes tweet-length fiction (140 characters or fewer). It's a format I dabbled a bit in a couple of years ago. The one they published today is my favorite of those tweet-length stories, and I'm thrilled that it was chosen to be added to their site.

Friday I will be posting this week's "Dissecting the Short Story" entry. If you're interested in reading ahead, the story I'll be discussing this week is "Calculus for Blondes" by John H. Dirckx from the January/February 2012 issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Why So Few Short Mystery Fiction Markets?

Yesterday I mentioned that I had ended up doing a bit of freewriting to start my "Write 1/Sub 1" story for last week. The path that led me there actually involved realizing I had a bit of a roadblock on the "Sub 1" side of things for the story I had started earlier in the week. That roadblock was that it was a mystery short story and, while there are literally dozens of markets which pay Pro or Semi-Pro rates for speculative fiction short stories, there is a relative dearth of markets for mystery short fiction. And the places I'd submit that particular story first all have one of my stories under consideration already. So, I set that aside for the moment, started on my freewriting, and came up with a new story. All's well that ends well.

But, darn... I like writing mystery fiction and this was a reminder of the difference in the market for fiction in the two genres. The discrepancy can be illustrated by looking at the lists of approved short fiction markets for the Mystery Writers of America and the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. Not only is the SFWA list nearly twice as long, but it includes a much healthier representation of open genre-specific publications while the MWA list includes a couple of closed markets and quite a few general-fiction listings. You can get a similar sense by querying the Duotrope writer's market website. Search for "Fantasy", "Pro" rate publications for "Short Stories" (excluding closed markets) and you get back 28 selections. Change "Fantasy" to "Mystery/Crime" and you get back 9. Ouch!

So, why is there this big gap between the two?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Sunday Links: December 4th, 2011 Edition

As part of my writing goals for December, I finished up a new short story Saturday and got it out on submission. This was the first of my "Write 1/Sub 1" stories for the month. This one ended up developing sort of interestingly. I ended up just starting freewriting with a setting and some characters and saw where it took me. That's something I basically never do, but it seems to have worked well in this case. So the lesson here is that sometimes breaking out of your existing writing routines can work well.

I also got a little pleasant surprise in my email this afternoon, word that one of my story submissions already out has moved on to a second round of consideration. Not a sale yet, but a nice little bit of encouragement for a Sunday afternoon.

And now, on to the links...

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Power of "Can" - My Biggest NaNoWriMo Lesson

OK, so it's December but I'm still brain-deep in thinking about the NaNoWriMo which has just passed. Don't worry, I already have some thoughts about blog posts that are less focused on my NaNoWriMo experience soon -- honest!

I've thought of myself, admittedly off and on, as a writer for most of my life. But never as a novelist. I've written dozens and dozens of short stories. I had thought about doing NaNoWriMo years back but never committed to it -- heck, I never even really did anything more other than learn it existed.

Thinking honestly, I'm not sure that I'm going to pour tons of energies into novels in the near future besides the one I've already completed a first draft of. I think that, for me, one of the pieces of enjoyment I get out of writing is building up something new quickly and concisely in the form of a short story. Who knows, maybe I'll feel differently once I've gotten into the second and third drafts of "Adrift" next year. There was a certain exhilaration to charging headlong through 57,000+ words of new prose in November, I'll admit. I got into the world of those characters in a way that let me write very, very quickly at times and there were times when the story felt like it was moving along in interesting, unexpected new ways that gave a real high.

Still, the big thing I learned here -- the one overarching lesson for me from NaNoWriMo is that I can write a novel. If I have some inspiration strike me someday for what seems like a great novel, I will never ever have the excuse again of "Oh, I don't know how to write novels. I just know short stories and everyone knows they're two different forms." Yes, they are two different forms. But I've worked in both now and know that tackling a novel isn't something which I have to shy away from if I want to do it in the future.

That's an incredibly powerful thing, when I think about it and if I somehow end up with nothing else from this NaNoWriMo besides a trunked novel after going through revisions and critique and more revisions, I believe it will have made the experience completely worthwhile.