Three-Pronged Writing Update

Several things happening on the fiction writing front.

My story “The Lure of Devouring Light” in the latest Apex Magazine received a very favorable review in Locus Magazine (the SF/Fantasy trade journal) this week.

If you haven’t read “Lure of Devouring Light” yet, and are intrigued enough by the mini-review to give it a look, it’s available to read for free online. Again, I’d like to thank everyone at Apex for making this happen!

Some other things coming soon…

The next issue of Black Static magazine (#34, May 2013) will contain my story “Arches and Pillars.” I’ll have more information about this as May approaches.

The next issue of Lovecraft eZine (#23, April 2013) will include my story “Nectar of Strange Lips.” The issue is not yet available to read, but you can purchase the podcast/audio version now, for just 99 cents!

That’s not 99 cents for just my story, but 99 cents for the entire issue, all the stories and Robert Price’s new nonfiction feature… almost 3 1/2 hours of great stuff!

Control Your Jealousy (For Your Own Good)

I’ve seen a few writers link to this article about professional jealousy. It’s just as applicable to aspiring musicians, artists, ballet dancers, astronauts, athletes and actors. Many of them (us) have lots of friends who are also “the competition,” at least from a certain point of view.

Go read the post, then come back… I’ll wait!

Reflexive envy or jealousy occurs commonly when someone we know, chasing similar goals, finds success that at least momentarily exceeds our own. This sense of “Why not me?” is something everyone must feel at some point.

More than a year ago, I decided to try to stop wallowing in feelings of unfairness or futility related to the struggle against rejection. I’d seen many writers suggest something along the lines of “Forget trying to get published — focus on writing better.” This may seem like the sort of platitude to which the writer replies, “Well, yeah, but…” then returns to obsessing over factors outside their control. But it’s important.

Energy and time spent this way are wasted. Not only are energy and time finite resources, they’re the very stuff out of which our work is built.

To overcome this reflex, to defeat the mindset that someone else’s success means you are now less likely to succeed, is a crucial step toward achieving the resolve, perspective and inward-directedness we need in order to improve.

Imagine if all the energy spent worrying about rejections, fellow writers, unpredictable editors, failing markets, or any other factors outside your control, could be freed-up, reallocated toward fixing plots, strengthening characters, improving voice, refining and improving your writing in every aspect. Not only is this possible, it’s what we all must do.

Next, consider accepting the notion that if we write good enough stories, we will no longer need to worry much about finding places that want to publish them.

For my part, I realized that I was not the best judge of my work’s suitability for publication. That’s something editors get to decide. They don’t have to tell me what they’re looking for, how I fell short, or what to do differently next time. But if I write a story that grabs them and won’t let go, that’s enough. That’s all I have to do.

The “Why not me?” attitude shields the writer from facing the need to improve. Tell yourself the deck is stacked, that it’s all cronyism, and you can’t get published because of race or sex or age or whatever. This absolves you of facing the responsibility to WRITE BETTER STORIES.

I finally let all that go, or at least endeavored to do so, sought that clarity of mind as an ideal, and kept reminding myself whenever backsliding occurred. This allowed me to focus on what really mattered. I improved my writing. I’m still trying to make better stories, all the time, even now that I’ve started finding outlets for my fiction. I work to make myself stronger, rather than worrying about “competition.”

Let go of jealousy. Stop focusing on someone else who got something you wanted. Instead, work harder. You’re not good enough yet to give up trying, put your hands on your hips, and whine about “Why not me?” Really, are you good enough? I know I’m not. We all need to write better stories.

That’s hard enough without worrying about things outside our control.

Weekend Update: Check Out “The Lure of Devouring Light”

Last Tuesday, the new April issue of Apex Magazine appeared, featuring my story “The Lure of Devouring Light.” I’ve already received some nice feedback, from friends, family, fellow writers, and even a NY literary agent. In case you missed my previous post about this, here’s a reminder, and a link to read the story for free, or purchase a PDF or a (Kindle) MOBI or (iPad/Nook) EPUB file of the entire issue for $2.99.

Thanks again to the great and talented people at Apex.

My Story “The Lure of Devouring Light” in Apex Mag

My story “The Lure of Devouring Light” is now available in the April 2013 issue of Apex Magazine. I’m very proud and excited to have a story of mine appearing in such an excellent and prominent periodical.

I’ll have more to say about this magazine and this story, but for now, here’s a link. It’s available to read for free, and you can also purchase a PDF or a (Kindle) MOBI or (iPad/Nook) EPUB file.

My thanks to Editor Lynne Thomas and Publisher Jason Sizemore for featuring my work!

Updated Stories Page

I’ve just updated my list of published and upcoming stories HERE on this blog, and color coded the publication date or “forthcoming” status. As it stands, four of my stories have been published already, and five more are coming soon.

Four of the upcoming stories should appear within roughly a month, starting the first week of April! Most likely the first will be “The Lure of Devouring Light,” appearing in the April issue of Apex Magazine, which should appear the first Tuesday in April.

You Should Write for a Specific Target

When I first started writing again a few years back, I daydreamed about various story ideas, decided which one sounded like the most fun to write, and wrote it.

In the past year and a half, I’ve increasingly written with a specific target in mind. Most of the time, this means I’ve read about an upcoming themed anthology with a deadline, and I’ve prepared an idea to work with the theme, and executed it in time to work with the deadline.

The restriction imposed by the theme, a sort of boundary line within which the concept must work, or touchstone with which the story must make contact, might sound like something that gets in the way. Artistic creation is about freedom, right? Actually, I think an excess of possible options ends up being a problem. Too often I’ve spent months considering wild variations on a story idea, never really moving the story forward as much as zig-zagging back and forth.

The theme isn’t just a restriction. It’s also an inspiration, a nudge off the ground you, as a writer, like to tread. Venture off the path just far enough to encompass the theme. You’ll end up writing something you otherwise wouldn’t have considered.

Also, the theme forces me to focus. Discard superfluous ideas, zero in, and work toward the finish line. The clock is ticking. There’s no time to waste on digressions from the main idea.

Speaking of that ticking clock, a deadline is bad thing, right? Again, I find it narrows my perspective and spurs me to work harder and faster. I’m much more productive when I’m working on something that’s due in less than a month.

The thing you have to accept is that if you write a story specifically for a themed anthology or contest, it will probably be rejected. That might seem like a wasted effort. Why write a Jolly Green Giant riff for that “Weird Beanstalk Talez!” anthology, if it will probably be rejected? What are you supposed to do with a story like that if it doesn’t make it into the intended market?

I’ve written something like ten stories intended for specific markets. I was lucky enough to hit the mark with two of them, “Diamond Dust” which will appear in the Thomas Ligotti tribute anthology The Grimscribe’s Puppets, and “May Dawn Redeem What Night Destroys” which will appear in the Current 93 tribute anthology “Mighty in Sorrow.”

Twice, I wrote a story specifically geared toward a themed anthology, and it was accepted. This doesn’t mean that the other eight, which were rejected by the anthology or contest for which I conceived them, were a waste of effort. I tried to write stories that fit the theme, but loosely enough that if I was rejected, I ended up with a really great story that might work elsewhere.

I have another story, which was rejected for a themed anthology for which I wrote it, which hasn’t been placed yet, but has received extremely favorable notes from 4 of the 5 editors who have seen it since. One of them, perhaps the most prominent and respected of genre fiction magazines, held onto it 4 months longer than usual and told me they very nearly accepted it. I consider that story a success, and I’m sure it will find a place soon.

This month, my story “Nectar of Strange Lips” will appear in Lovecraft eZine. That story, my first effort of this type, was written for a contest – not themed, but with a deadline. I didn’t win the contest, but ended up placing the story in a great online zine, where lots of people will see it.

In April, my story “The Lure of Devouring Light” will appear in Apex Magazine. My first professional sale! I wrote this story for a small-press themed anthology, and received a form rejection. Not a lot of people talk about the anthology, and as it turns out, I’m glad it didn’t make the cut, and found a home at Apex, which was the second place I sent it.

In May, “Arches and Pillars” will appear in Black Static, a great British magazine of horror and dark fantasy. Another high profile sale, for a story form rejected by the anthology for which I crafted it.

I also have a few other stories still under consideration by the editors of anthologies for which I’ve crafted them, so those are still in the “maybe” category.

Overall, I feel this new approach, aiming for themed anthologies with deadlines, has helped me produce more and better work, and to explore areas I might not otherwise have ventured. I plan to continue, though of course every writer hopes eventually to receive invitations to submit by editors who have seen their work. Maybe that will be my next phase.

2012 Summary of Writing and Publishing

The past year has been a time of significant progress. I’ve continued to work very hard. That additional effort has helped me improve, and I’ve started to see the results of improvement, with a good series of story acceptances and publication starting with a burst this summer. After seeing my first story published in 2011, I had started to wonder around mid-year why I was having so much trouble seeing that second acceptance. I knew the stories were better, and had assumed I’d start to have an easier time finding homes for my stories. It was quite a relief to have a series of five acceptances over a couple of months this summer.

I’ll end 2012 with a total of 118 submissions during the year. This is actually fewer than in 2011, when I was a bit looser about what I considered worthy of submission (I’ve since voluntarily withdrawn a handful of stories from circulation). Also, having stories accepted means fewer remain to send out, so while I hit quite a pace in the first half of the year (13 subs in April, 14 subs in May, 12 subs in June). I haven’t maintained that level, not because I’m failing to resubmit stories promptly when they come back to me, but simply because the number of stories I have available to send out is smaller.

As of the end of 2012, I’ve had seven stories officially accepted for publication, which makes 1 acceptance/publication in 2011, and six acceptances (and three publications) in 2012:

“Montalov’s Box” in Phantasmacore. PUBLISHED OCT 2012

“The Lure of Devouring Light” accepted 8/2012 by Apex Magazine. FORTHCOMING

“Nectar of Strange Lips” accepted 8/2012 by Lovecraft eZine. FORTHCOMING

“May Dawn Redeem What Night Destroys” accepted 7/2012 by Jordan Krall for the Current 93 tribute anthology Mighty In Sorrow to be published by Copeland Valley Press. FORTHCOMING

“High Desert, Starless Sky” in the post-apocalypse themed anthology Carnage: After the End PUBLISHED NOV 2012

“The Need to Desire” in Phantasmagorium as a weekly web feature. PUBLISHED AUG 2012 (Now available to read HERE).

“Remodel With Swan Parts” in Electric Spec (free to read here). PUBLISHED MAY 2011.

I have one other tentative acceptance I can’t mention until the editor determines whether there’s room. If that one works out, it will be a big one for me, so I’ll announce it as soon as I know whether I’m in or I’m out.

I consider the past year a success overall. It’s funny how this writing endeavor works — well over a hundred rejections measured against a handful of acceptances, and that’s considered a good year. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t a lot of frustration and disappointment. At least there was some good news in the mix to let me know I’m on the right path.

For the next year, my writing goals are similar. I want to continue to finish and submit about one new story per month. Now that I’m a big surer-handed, I might be able to spend less time spinning my wheels, or working in directions that don’t pay off. I completed twelve new stories in the twelve months of 2012, so I see no reason why I couldn’t do at least that many in 2013. I’d also like to mix in a few longer works, at least a novella, possibly a novel.

As for publishing goals, of course I hope for even more acceptances and publications than this year. If that happens, I’ll be approaching the level where just about everything I write ends up finding a home. It would be a relief to spend less time wallowing in slush piles, possibly get some anthology invitations. But the degree to which I’m accepted by publishers is out of my control. I’ll work on the writing, try to improve, and keep sending out work. I’ll   worry less about things I can’t control.

Playlist for Ambient Music Storytelling

Working on a new story built around dark ambient music, in particular the experiences of a record label owner who receives a strange demo in the mail.

Here’s what I’m listening to while I work.

A Produce / M Griffin – Altara
Thomas Koner – Nonatak Gongamur
Thomas Koner – Permafrost
Steve Roach – The Magnificent Void
Lustmord – The Place Where the Black Stars Hang
Zoviet France – What Is Not True

Updating on Writing and Submitting, Aug 2012

Busier than ever on the writing/submitting front, as this hot August winds down. This summer’s been a crazy time for my writing, with all kinds of new story acceptances, and the appearance of “The Need to Desire” in Phantasmagorium’s weekly online feature.

Most of my efforts lately at creating new stories have been aimed at themed anthologies. This past month I finished three new pieces intended for markets of this type. We’ll see if any of those are successful.

My current tally of 22 finished stories (not counting stories I had previously considered finished, and submitted, but subsequently withdrawn from circulation) breaks down as follows:

2 published
4 accepted for future publication
16 in active submission (oldest 370 days out, newest 1 day out)

Of the four accepted stories pending publication, I’m not sure which will appear next. I’ll certainly make a lot of noise whenever the next one’s coming along.

Updated State of the Writer

Most of my recent posts to this blog have been book reviews. I’ve been reading a lot lately, and it’s fun to write a review of what I’ve read, and even more fun to receive feedback from some of my favorite authors who have seen and appreciated my reviews.

I didn’t intend to drift away from more frequent posts about my own writing, not because I perceive there to be a large number of people anxious to know more about the author of a bunch of stories they haven’t read, but because it’s useful for me. This is a way of keeping track of my progress and forces me to think about my own situation and status as a writer from the outside. It’s a way of forcing a bit of (at least slightly) objective self-evaluation.

So, let’s see. It’s been about 10 months since my first fiction publication, “Remodel With Swan Parts” which appeared in Electric Spec. The kind of thing I’ve been writing this past year or so is quite a bit different from that, but unfortunately I haven’t had anything else published yet so I don’t have any visible-to-the-public examples to show in order to give an idea of what I’m up to.

On top of changing, as far as genre or “feel,” what I write in the past year or so, I’ve also changed focus in a couple of other ways.

First, I’m challenging myself to write shorter pieces, somewhere between flash fiction and very short stories, at least once a month. I find it’s fun to start something and finish it fairly quickly. A new creation of 600-1500 words allows me to experiment a bit with different voices, styles, point of view. I’ve come up with a few interesting pieces like this recently, and so far reaction to these pieces has been positive. This is something I plan to continue, at least for now. I’d actually rather focus on writing longer, rather than shorter, but I have to face the fact that I’m still in the mode of learning, trying to improve and to break through. It’s more important for me to get stronger, to create a broader diversity of stories, and to create shorter pieces which might be more acceptable to a larger number of editors and venues than the longer stuff I might rather do. 

Second, I’ve been writing for submission to themed anthologies lately, rather than just writing for myself and then sending to any and all periodicals that fit what I’ve created. I find it stimulates me to move in different directions, to try thinks I might not otherwise have done. I took a first stab at “writing to order” when an editor I know gave me an opportunity to create something for such an anthology, and enjoyed the experience so much I’ve since written and submitted to a second such venue (story already rejected and resubmitted elsewhere) and I’m currently working on a third. This shift is not just about a desire to launch myself toward a different kind of publishing venue, but also challenging myself to create to order, within certain limits or parameters. It’s good practice for if my work ever ends up in some kind of demand, and it’s also good inspiration. I can cerainly say that the two completed stories along these lines would never have been written if not for the impetus provided by the theme.

Still working, still submitting. Still going through occasional periods of thinking it’s just so tough to break through and get my work a chance to be notice. Hanging in there, though. Perisisting.