Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Reflections on the writing year that was

It's always a mixed bag thinking back on the year behind and ahead on the one to come. Inevitably my 'good' list outweighs my 'not so good' one. Though that might sound disappointing, I treat it as a positive in the sense that, whenever I face the future, I hope and strive to accomplish more. Putting it differently, I dread the way my life may have turned if I ever intend to do less. That's not me, at least not the me I've grown up with.

On the writing front, I've got a couple of pluses. I made significant headway on my novel WIP, including plotting it out in my head through its conclusion. Along the way, it took a couple of exciting turns that boost the story, IMHO. I may not be an outliner type of writer, but I did learn over the last 12 months that a pure seat-of-the-pants approach is just too open-ended for me. I need some boundaries and a blueprint, at least a birds-eye version of one. I've got that in hand now for the WIP.

I placed two short stories this year. Had some nice reader reactions to both. Feedback is A Very Good Thing.

For minuses, my stable of short stories has grown thin. This is due to a heavy focus on the novel WIP, which is usurping the majority of my writing time. Need to work on that.

Speaking of the novel, it isn't progressing as quickly as I'd like. I had hoped to have wrapped up the first draft in 2013 but it looks like I'll have to try again for that in the new year. I confess that I did some rewriting this year instead of focusing on just capturing a full draft. I blame my inner editor, which can't stay silent about rough edges, gaps, inconsistencies and plot problems. They're like dust bunnies skittering across your floor while uttering a taunt of "Catch me if you can." You just gotta go get 'em.

I need to overhaul my web page. I could pay someone to do that but I'm stubborn. So I want to take first crack at it.

Lastly, I think I did a bit better using social media in regards to my writing but I've got a long way to go. With social media, Zen is mighty difficult to achieve.

That's it. Goodbye 2013. Greetings 2014.

Let the words flow.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Adam & Eve angle in my story "Scents" takes a twist

One more brief insider scoop for you regarding "Scents," my world-gone-stinky flash piece.

I've always had a soft spot for Adam and Eve threads in science fiction tales. I also enjoy dystopian stories. Quite often one outcome for those is a literal or figurative do-over, particularly at the conclusion. In other words, center the plot on thwarting the bad, oppressive society/regime/environment somehow and then give the heros a chance to start anew, the notion being this time all will be better. It's a fitting reward for a titanic struggle.

Except in my own stories. 

Being the dark fiction slinger that I am, I don't expect I'll ever spin a tale where my victors go on to found a whole new utopia unmolested. Oh sure, they might desire to. They might think they will. Perhaps it will even start out that way. But I seriously doubt I'll be able to resist introducing some destabilizing factor to undermine their reward. 

Let's face it. A true Garden of Eden is lush, sanguine and idyllic. In other words, conflict free. Add a serpent and now you have the makings of a real story. That's my job as a writer: inject conflict and tension, shake vigorously, see what falls out. 

When I conceptualized "Scents," I knew it would have an Adam and Eve theme woven into it (albeit somewhat reversed). I also knew my Eve would be fiercely devoted to her mate and never inclined to abandon her love even though Eden or, in this case the world outside their domed prison, beckoned and was hers for the taking. That's not to say she didn't want that life of total freedom under the stars. She just didn't want it alone. My Eve's bond was that strong. 

At the point where I was prepared to actually introduce Eve's mate into "Scents," I paused. This was where the typical trope would have me supply an Adam and, I admit, would be a typical storyline for me to write. 

That's when I asked myself why? Why did it have to be an Adam and an Eve? Why not an Eve and Eve? Or an Adam and Adam for that matter. After all, "Scents" was a story about love and utter devotion. Period. Biological reproduction never entered the equation. 

That was my liberating moment. The result was my first Eve and Eve story. Darkened, of course. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

The inside scoop on my story "Scents"

What if, in the span of a decade or two, Earth changed to become intolerable to humans? Yeah, I know: tired, old, sci-fi trope, right? But I don't mean excessive heat, water, cold, radiation or some kind of zombie apocalypse.

What if Earth just suddenly stank?

I'm talking a whole lot of stink here, the kind that introduces your stomach to your larynx. Repeatedly.

This is the premise of my flash piece, "Scents," which premiers on November 19 at Every Day Fiction. I thought I'd take a moment and reflect on where the germ of the story came from.

I have two words for you: paper mill.

If you ever lived in the vicinity of a paper mill, you'll know what I mean when I say the aroma one of those facilities can put forth is quite breathtaking. And I do mean that in the literal sense.

When I was a little boy, well before we had Facebook and console games, for entertainment we had something called bicycles. At the time I had a close friend and we rode a lot. Our butts were permanently molded into the shape of a bike saddle because of the hours we spent riding. This was in a Midwest town in the US heartland. For mindless trivial fun, bike riding was about as good as it got.

Except when the wind blew from a certain direction.

Why? Because the paper mill was that direction parked on the outskirts of town. On days when the wind blew into town from the paper mill, the smell was so nauseating that skunks actually complained to the mayor.

Fast forward to a recent morning when I was on a power walk not long after sun rise. The air was warm and clear. I had a good pace going. All was well with the world.

And then I entered a stench zone. It was revoltingly bad. Gave me the dry heaves (breakfast hadn't occurred yet, thankfully). I think it persisted for like a hundred yards or so but it felt more like a hundred miles. When I finally emerged and gulped fresh air, the memory came roaring back of those miserable days downwind of the paper mill.

Odors can be one of the most powerful exciters of deep memories. In my case, it worked like a charm. I was a young boy back on a bike again, desperately trying to get home after the wind had shifted on a warm summer day. Then, barely making it alive, I barricaded myself there, trying not to let the foul fumes suffocate me.

That's about the point where my muse said, "Hey, what if the whole world stunk like that? Cool story, eh?"

Half a second later, the muse came up with, "Wow, what if the world stunk and one person didn't have a sense of smell? What would that be like?"

You can read one possibility on Every Day Fiction starting November 19.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Sale! "Scents" to Every Day Fiction

Though it's a dark piece, "Scents" probably qualifies as one of my palest dark works. It's a 1,000 word spec-fic flash tale of love and devotion set in Earth's near-future, a time when it stinks so horribly people can no longer go outside.

I received some delightfully warm and encouraging comments about the story from the Every Day Fiction editorial team. More to come when it publishes on their website.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The sound of rain being caught

Ma Nature is giving our new rain barrel and gutters a test drive. So far, we're passing the test with flying colors.

"Rain drops keep falling in my barrel..."

Besides the sound of rain being caught and preserved for future use, that other sound you are hearing is our vegetable garden kicking off a massive party.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Rain barrel now on duty


Glad it was a 3-day weekend. Because this was definitely a 3-day job.

It would have been a lot faster if I didn't have to hang the gutters too but that would have taken all the fun out of it. As it is, 3 sides of our 2-car garage will be caught and delivered to the barrel. Since it holds 60 gallons, I'll be interested to see what kind of rainfall is required to fill it up.

Just need a day for the gutter sealant to cure and we should be all set for a cloudburst. Both I and our thirsty vegetable garden can hardly wait.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

It's raining. It's pouring. Wait... not just yet!

On this long Labor Day weekend here in the US, I'm taking time off from writing to install a rain barrel. That's right. A catcher of nature's gift, which we'll use on our vegetable garden. For years, my wife has farmed a small plot behind our garage. Peppers, onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini and squash have all come out of the garden. Soil and water have gone in. Lots of water. So I decided some time ago that a rain barrel would be a splendid addition to the garden.

Silly me.

What I should have told you is I'm spending the weekend putting up gutters on the garage. The rain barrel is just an extra that comes at the end.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

You are writing... even when you aren't

Just got back from a summer vacation with the family. We took our two boys on their first ever cruise to the Western Caribbean. All of us had a blast and enjoyed getting pampered, spoiled and catered to 24x7. No serious sunburns or significant seasickness resulted, so I'd call the trip a resounding success.

During our packing stage, my wife asked how much of my writing I planned to tote along. I said zip. This was a full vacation, time-off from both the day job and from the writing job. I totally blew that plan even before I finished packing. How did I manage that?

My TBR pile.

For my current novel WIP, I have a small set of books on various technical topics that constitute research. Guess what the #1 choice of book was that accompanied me on the cruise. Yep. Ditto book #2 (which I didn't actually get to). 

So basically I performed research on behalf of my writing during my summer vacation. Admittedly all of that happened in a lounge chair either on the ship's fantail or else pool-side, usually with a frosty beverage or two involved. Have to say that a writer could get seriously used to that caliber of research. Alas the same cannot be said for a writer's bank account.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Self vs. traditional publishing. Tastes great or less filling?

If you're into self-publishing, you're probably into articles about it. While it's easy to get caught up in the hype, the straight answer is: there is no easy answer as to whether self-publishing is the 'right way to go' for any given writer.

The real answer is: it depends. (Yes. Those cop-out answers just suck. Don't they?)

When I get asked, I generally advise writers not to be quick to limit themselves. Stay flexible. After all, the traditional publishing industry is undergoing change at warp speed, all thanks to the digital era. Writers must too. We have to adapt as the industry shifts around us.

So go ahead. Read the advice columns. Devour the How-To articles. But use what you learn to build up a map of all the directions you can go, instead of picking just one path and locking that one in. This trip to writing success is about the journey, not the destination. Might as well enjoy it.

Humor me a bit more while I further milk my metaphor.

On your journey, don't speed. Meaning, don't try to rush things along. Plan and be deliberate about the steps you take. Backtracking might be involved. Accept that, if it happens. Haste just leads to stress, frustration and disappointment, as it would on any cross-country expedition. Don't be hasty. Your vital signs will thank you.

Okay, I'm done with the cheesy metaphor. But I do want to make one more point, the most important thing you can do no matter what.


That can't be said enough. The more writing you do, the more it might lead to. There aren't any guarantees, of course. That said, the members of the one-hit-to-instant-stardom club are precious few. You'd have much better odds in the lotto than trying to win that way.

So write. And then repeat. Repeat some more.

Much of what I've said is emphasized in this nice article, Freedom isn’t Free—5 Common Tactical Errors in Self-Publishing, by Kristen Lamb. Check it out.

Then add all this lovely data to that big, writerly map you're building up. After all, quite a journey lies ahead.