Friday, October 17, 2014

New Flash Fiction: A Wizard's Day Journal



Some fun for your Friday (in case it wasn't fun enough already), I have for you "A Wizard's Day Journal" over at Grievous Angel. Free online, so you can check it out whenever.

Every story has a story, or at least a trail of rejections in its wake. Normally I don't post about rejections, but I think this is a special case, because I find it a personal victory that this story got published (with pro-pay, I might add) despite some ass-hat accusing me of ripping off "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" from Disney's Fantasia. I would hope anyone with eyes could see it's not a rip-off, but a running joke. Wizards/sorcerers just seem to have a bad handle on brooms.

So here's the comment in its entirety from a slush reader over at Every D@y Fiction. The rejection itself is nearly a year old, and obviously there have been changes made to the story. Emphasis mine because the guy wrote too damn much.

I got some good chuckles out of this (my first time reading). There are a few good threads in this, though none of them really make it all the way through (as we would like to see in a plot for EDF) except the broom. And the problem with the brooms was that I saw it as a direct rip off of "Sorceror's Apprentice", the "Fantasia" broom scene where as brooms are destroyed, they come back in multitudes from the shattered parts. My other main problem here is, I'm afraid, the overall premise: this isn't a Day Planner, it's a journal. The Wizard is writing things down as they happen, not as pre-made appointments (I have never kept a day planner to jot down everything I had already done). Perhaps making this have a he-said she-said vibe where the Wizard tells us the plans for the day in the first half and then writes in his journal that night would work better? In that way, we could see the "before and after", lending even more humor to the "after" segment as things go wrong. Writing in a journal might also work better with this ending, the poor MC sittign in a motel doubting his whole occupation. Technical issue: I wasn't sure what this meant: "...must cash it in later in case it bounces." Wouldn't you want to cash a potentially-bouncing check ASAP so as to go back to the debtor and get your money? How would ashing it later make more certain it doesn't bounce?
-- Joseph Kaufman  

Now this was a rejection to a rewrite request, but EDF has a very odd policy of having completely different people view the rewrite, which I dislike. You have one person offering you suggestions on the first draft, then another person disregards those suggestions made on the second draft, telling you you should've done something else. Frustrating? Yes! See my post about rewrite requests for more on the topic.

On top of that, you got a slush reader who has no concept of etiquette. There's a lot, and I mean A LOT, better ways to convey the idea that the story is too similar to something without accusing the person of ripping off anything. For example, when I was on a forum critiquing another writer's story, I noticed the story had many of he same elements as X-Men: there was violent conflict between humans and mutants, and the main character had diamond-hard skin, like Emma Frost. So I asked the writer if she were a fan of comics, because the story reminded me of X-Men (and to some extent, Spider-Man). Writer said she didn't read comics or watch the films. So despite similarities, it was more coincidence than rip-off.

I did contact the editor at EDF about the rejection, but I didn't specifically point out the rude slush reader, which in hindsight, maybe should have. I just thought the editor, who made the rewrite request in the first place, should see it. Well, she wound up agreeing with the slush readers. She did make an offer that I could, after making major changes, query and resubmit. But if I was going to put that kind of effort into a story (again), I expected more than three measly bucks.

Interestingly enough, I haven't submitted to EDF since then. Probably because my flash stories sell to better paying markets.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Back! --and with new story

Yes, another hiatus from me. Was in Ireland for the latter half of September, and finally got the pictures off the phone, so I'll be posting about that soonish. Didn't catch a leprechaun, but did catch a cold on the returning flight, so had been out of it. Better now (yay!)

First off--new story, "Neither Heaven Nor Hell" from Bards and Sages Quarterly. Can grab the October issue here from Smashwords (because they're so much better than Amazon). If you're subscribed to Bards and Sages newsletter, you actually receive the issue for free.

A wee excerpt of the story:

She smirked. The skin around her mouth crinkled, as though it was a mask that didn’t quite fit right. She held out her hand; all she cared about was the coin.

I nodded and handed it over--thick and heavy, one of the old coins. She took the coin, held it up to her eye and... Where did it go? Just vanished! She didn't put it behind her eye, did she?


“Okay,” she said, “you’ve got half an hour. Then we’re back here.”


“Wait--the coin--”
She jerked me off the stool, and the bar whited out.

If you're familiar with Bard and Sages, then you might be thinking: "What? This is 1st-person! B&S doesn't publish 1st-person!" And you'd be correct. Originally the story was written in 3rd-person limited, but that was apparently confusing (I don't believe so, but eh), so the story was switched to 1st-person. If you wanna know what it was like originally, just replace all the "I's" with "he". That's all I did, lol.

Also, first time I get to share TOC space with fellow W1S1er, Milo James Fowler. Yay!

Other news ... "Blade Between Oni and Hare" was accepted by Third Flatiron, second story they've bought from me; first time was in Universe Horribilis anthology. First time Kazuko, my chest-eyed rogue samurai character, will be in the spotlight, and first time I get to be the lead story with cover artwork. How cool is that? The cover is pretty epic as well.


TOC for the Abbreviated Epics anthology (and once again, sharing space with another W1S1er)

Blade Between Oni and Hare by Siobhan Gallagher
HMS Invisible and the Halifax Slaver by Iain Ishbel
Beyond the Turning Orrery by Deborah Walker
Heart-Shaped by Manuel Royal
A Wolf Is Made by Jordan Ashley Moore
Through an Ocular Darkly by Martin Clark
Damfino Plays for Table Stakes by Ben Solomon
The Committee by Margarita Tenser
Rain over Lesser Boso by Gustavo Bondoni
The Perfection of the Steam-Powered Armour by Adria Laycraft
Assault on the Summit by Daniel Coble
Fortunate Son by Steve Coate
Odin on the Tree by Jo Walton
Refusing the Call by Elliotte Rusty Harold
The Blue Cup by Marissa James
Toward the Back by Jake Teeny
The Lost Children by Alison McBain
Great Light's Daughters by Patricia S. Bowne
Qinggong Ji by Stephen D. Rogers
On a Train with a Coyote Ghost by Robin Wyatt Dunn

Thursday, August 7, 2014

New Stories! "Zeitschatten" and "A Beastful Hunger"

The month of a July was a dry one in terms of publications, but now I've got two new juicy stories out.

First off, a wee 100-word piece (that's 100 words exactly), "A Beastful Hunger", from Saturday Night Reader. The website also has optional rain effects, to give you the ambiance of sitting at home on a rainy day; kind of neat, I think.

Secondly, my sci-fi horror "Zeitschatten", from Wanderer's Haven Publication (free to read). Quick excerpt:
Cold pressure. Nerves on fire. Sick sensation in her stomach, as if something reached into her very soul and torn a piece off.

She squeezed her eyes shut against the pain, prayed. Please God make it stop. Make. It. Stop.

This is a retelling of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale "The Shadow", which I really enjoyed but it lacked an Event which would cause the narrator's shadow to separate; it just sort of does. So I fixed that, plus it's written in my awesome style, haha.

As for the title, it means "shadow time" in German. I know Hans Christian Anderson wasn't German, but zeitschatten sounds so much cooler than its English translation. Also the issue of trying to give horror stories interesting titles that won't give away the meat (or nasty lil' giblets) of the story. If you've noticed, horror stories tend to have the most mundane titles of all.

So watch out for those shadows, you never know where they may go off to.


Sunday, July 20, 2014

What's in a Gonad?

Title might need some explain since it's (okay, maybe a lot) odd. For the past week or so, after reading Lois Tilton's early July review of short magazines, I was thinking on what Miss Tilton had said about characters, specifically:

I notice in reading so many of these works that female characters sometimes seem only nominally women; change the gender of pronouns from "she" to "he" and there would be little real difference.

Which is interesting since some women complain that they don't see enough representation of their sex in speculative fiction. I remember reading one forum thread where a woman disliked how in the original Star Wars trilogy, the only female characters were Princess Leia and some sexy alien dancers. Why weren't there any female tie fighter pilots?  

Personally, I never really understood the issue. I don't get offended if I don't see a woman in the story. I don't even mind the oversexed females, assuming that they actually do something, rather than just being eye candy.

To me, the most important aspects of a character are a) they act on something (none of this sitting around and boo-whooing) b) they use their brain (YA has given rise to the "dumb as fuck" characters), and c) they have a personality and a history.

Nothing that I listed has anything to do with what the character has between their legs. The character should feel right at home in the story, rather than be shoe-horned in because the writer felt like he/she had a quota to keep up.

For me, I write whatever character walks onto the set, whether they be male or female, straight or gay. I do give more careful attention to nationality, because if I set a story in medieval Japan, the main character probably shouldn't be white. 

However, I thought about whether or not personalities are completely sexless. Because I like to think that a story about a woman character is more than her having a vagina, that her womaness shows through in her personality.

A nominal woman sounds uninteresting to me (as would a nominal male), like they're stock characters or something. I mean if you're going to write a character, then write a character. Not some walking generality. Because a bland character usually means a bland story, and I don't finish bland stories.

And thinking back to some of my favorite stories, I've noticed the characters feel distinctly male or female. (Unfortunately, I haven't encountered much in the way of transgendered characters.) The stories weren't even about gender issues; it was just the way the character talked or behaved--and not in a stereotypical fashion, but like real people.

So yes, I believe a character's sex is an important influence on personality. You might argue that the personality of a man and the personality of a woman are not that different, and whatever differences that exist are because of gender traits that society has placed on men and women. That's a tough one to say, especially when we're still trying to figure what is "man" and what is "woman" outside of gender roles. But I feel the difference has to be deeper than our genitalia. We do after all manufacture different amounts of hormones which must play a role.

Anyway... Thoughts?

(And if you haven't guessed the title, it's a rift on "What's in a name?")

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Editorial Requests: Vagueness vs. Specifics

Anyone who's been in the writing business for a time will be familiar the the old rewrite request; their story is close, but not quite there. Sometimes editors are really cool, and will tell you what part(s) of your story need fixing up. While others sort of don't. And I think that makes a huge difference between turning a rewrite request into either an acceptance or rejection.

In my experience, a vague or unclear request has never resulted in an acceptance. I understand editors want to give the writer some leeway and not dictate how the writer should write their story, but at the same time, writers aren't mind readers (Sorry, that's not a super ability you get when writing.) And it's often the case that I didn't interpret the editor's request the way they wanted it to be interpreted. Again, I'm not a mind reader! Also, interpretation is a frustrating process, more time-consuming than writing the damn thing, and when you receive the rejection, it honestly feels like a punishment for misinterpreting. Like this was your chance to save the story and in the editor's eyes, you failed. 

When an editor can pinpoint where the story needs improving, that helps to open the writer's eyes and go: "Oh, is that what needs redoing?" Because let's face it, writers are often blind to their stories own flaws. For example, Sam Bellotto Jr. of Perihelion SF made this request for Mapping in the Darkness:

I truly enjoyed this story, but it needs a much more satisfying ending (not necessarily a happy ending) than the throwaway "Creepy" comic book trope of "EEAagghh!"

Please consider coming up with a more inventive conclusion and resubmitting the story.

 Ah! Now I know what needs fixing. (And if you're curious about submitting to Perihelion, here's W1S1's interview with the editor.)

Another example, Brian Lewis of Spark: A Creative Anthology made this very detailed request for Spirit Flare:

More important to clarity of the story is much earlier mention of Spider Woman if you're going to mention the her at all, and perhaps at least a little snippet of the Hopi creation story and the Spider Grandmother's role in it. This is necessary to create a connection for those readers who don't know it—and most of Spark's readers won't know it.
         
         For example, the conversation about the spider-shaped scar on Kasa's grandmother's should be a perfect point to say something. Grandmother could even launch into a retelling of the story, Kasa could respond dismissively by rolling her eyes (because she's heard it a thousand times and because she believes primarily in the modern world), and that would add to the justification for Grandmother getting upset.
         
         Since the presence of Hopi ancestry and culture is, in fact, one of the things that set this story apart, I think bringing a couple more hints—but not overdoing it—of how that culture has continued into the future, even into space exploration, will really bring home the piece. (I even wonder if you missed an opportunity by not having Grandma refer to the pirates who left her with a scar as coyotes.)
         
         The take-away from this is that if you're going to mention Spider Woman at the end as part of Kasa's change of heart, there needs to be more to help the reader make a connection to Hopi culture and religion, and these are just a few suggestions on how you might accomplish that.

Holy crap, actual suggestions! That's great! Not to mention it shows that the editor has a genuine interest in your story succeeding.

So I guess this is one writer's request for editors to be conscientious when asking for rewrites. The more clear and specific you can be, the more likely the writer will meet or exceed the editor's needs for the story.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Updates from a Slacker

Not entirely slacking, but I do feel like I haven't written as much lately. Partly because I've been editing/writing for an indie game Hellenica--a steampunk JRPG set in ancient Greece, hopefully coming out at the end of the year.You can check out the developers' blog here if you're interested to find out more.


But there's been some news in the past few weeks.

First off, publications!

"Astreya's Fish" over at Chrome Baby, which is free to read. If you've read By the Stars You Will Know Her or Oh Deity, My Deity, then you've encountered Astreya before. At some point, I'll get around to writing the fourth installment that'll wrap all these stories together. I just haven't gotten on it since none of those stories have been big sellers. *sigh* But it'll happen...one of these days...

Other publications:  "Detergent" in Bete Noire issue #15  --a black comedy sci-fi flash piece. Need to buy the issue, but here's a snippet: 
“We need detergent so--”

“How could you?” She frowned. “You should at least wait until she dies.”

He sighed. “But that’s taking too long. We need soap now.”

“Absolutely not!”

“I think we’ve kept her long enough, past her usefulness anyway. What does she do now? Except cost us credits. I mean, how many hips do we have to replace on her?”

“She’s not a refrigerator.”

“I agree, our fridge has never given us trouble.”

In space, you gotta get your soap from somewhere, right?

And yet another flash piece, "The Last Old House," in Horror D'oeuvres.


Some acceptances, one from an awesome anthology called Unfettered--stories which revolve around illustrations by Terry Whidborne (I chose the one with gnomes on stilts crossing tentacles). The same publisher is open for another neat anthology idea: The Lane of Unusual Traders. The pay is really good, so it's something worth checking out. 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Story Analysis: The Mothers of Voorhisville

I'm going to try something new here, and may or may not earn me the wrath of some author. But I figure if these stories are up for reviews and critiques, then playing the analytical game isn't so bad and it's something I already do when reading, so...yeah.

So going to take a look at "The Mothers of Voorhisville" by Mary Rickert, published by Tor.com. Story is available for free online so you can read you won't be left out.

I'm going with this story because it's actually a pretty decent psychological horror, and it's becoming increasingly hard to find those that don't sound like a dreamlike sequences the author had while hopped on cold medicine. I also disagree with Lois Tilton in her review, but we'll get to that. The story is certainly (in my opinion) flawed, but not in the way that she thinks.

Voorhisville is a small town that gets turned on its head when "The Stranger" comes and seducers several of the woman--woman who range from married to widowed, underage teens to some reaching into their forties. The result of the seduction leads to pregnancies and the birth of blue-eyed boys...with wings. So yes, there is a Village of the Damned vibe to this, however, instead of creepy kids, we get crazy, overprotective mothers.

The story is told from multiple perspectives, individual mothers and "The Mothers" who is a collective voice. The Mothers try to chronicle the events while individuals share their personal experiences, which are the most powerful scenes. To read how each woman came into contact with the stranger, how they instantly "did it" with him, pregnancy, the terrible labor, the discovery that their child could fly--and the paranoia if anyone else finds out.  

No, what had sealed her fate was that moment when she decided to lie to her husband about the baby’s wings. It was no longer the three of them against the world, but mother and child against everyone else.

And from there, we see these mothers' sanity slip. But consequences reverberate, and we see the husbands having to bear the brunt of this, while not understanding why their wives shut them out. Hell, in Pete's case, husband of Theresa Ratcher and father of Elli, he gets accused of molesting his own daughter!

Now the text isn't clear if this is a case of mass hysteria, bewitchment, or maybe something in the water. Lois Tilton took issue with this because the ambiguity was more frustrating than interesting. If it's bewitchment, why did the Stranger do it? I don't know, but the fact that he drives a hearse should give you a sense of foreshadowing.

To me, it didn't matter. The Mothers are insane, so nothing they do is going to make much sense,  even when they act in self-preservation for the sake of their babies--and granted, they have some reason for this because people like Pete see the babies as sick animals that need to be put down--they go waaaay over-the-top.

There in lies some of the problem. The ending goes completely off the rails, almost to the point of a farce. It's just ludicrous. I can sort of understand why, not in terms of the story itself, but rather, the limits of the horror genre. There can only be so many conclusions to a horror story: the protagonist defeats the evil, the protagonist succumbs to evil, or the protagonist is the evil. As a result, I think horror writers have been struggling to come up with new ways to wow editors, and not fall into predictability. In this case, perhaps the author was trying to go out with as much of a bang as possible, despite the soft plea of the Mothers at the end.

For me personally, I would've preferred seeing the consequences extend, first the mothers, then the family unit, then to society overall. I pictured the Mothers becoming a secret society--probably because I find secret societies creepy as hell--lording over the town, sending their babies to terrorize any who dare speak out. After all, something like this must have had an impact on small town life, and if the foreshadowing is true, then the Stranger may have intended to end such a way of life.

And no, I don't think the babies were perfectly innocent. They may not be monsters yet, but they seemed to have the potential, seeing as they did chew two human beings to death, one of them being a mother. Still, the Mothers protect their young.

So I think that wraps things up. If you read "The Mothers of Voorhisville" and have any of your own insights, feel free to share them in the comment section. I wouldn't let the ending deter you form reading this (in case you haven't), because of course that's my opinion. All I know is that I didn't feel it worked for this particular piece.