Tag Archives: Writing

W. Somerset Maugham, A Writer’s Notebook, 1940:

“Fundamentally man is not a rational animal. It is this that makes fiction so difficult to write; for the reader, or the spectator of a play, demands, at all events today, that he should behave as if he were. We feel dissatisfied when the persons of a story do not act from motives that we accept as sufficient. We expect their behavior to be rational, and if it isn’t we say: “But people don’t act like that.” Our demand for probability grows more and more stringent. We balk at coincidence and accident. We expect the characters that are presented to us invariably to behave like themselves.

The behaviour of the persons in Othello, of Othello himself principally, but to a less extent of almost everyone in the play, is wildly irrational. The critics have turned themselves inside out to show that it isn’t. In vain. They would have done better to accept it as a grand example of the fundamental irrationality of man. I am quite ready to believe that contemporary theatre-goers saw nothing improbable in the behaviour of any of the characters.”

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No mushrooms were harmed in the making of this story …

… though some were metabolized.

My story "The Mushroom King" is out in M-Brane #12 / Ergosphere.


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For me, it’s done.IMG_0340

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New novelette out.

My one-and-only Sword & Sorcery tale "Citadel Ninety-Nine" has the cover in Theaker's Quarterly Fiction #30. It is now available as a free pdf dowload, (and in various other formats, some free and others for a nominal fee). 

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“Urban Fantasy”

Probably this is old new to everyone interested in the subject but me, but I just discovered an excellent blog post written last year by Juno Books editor Paula Guran on the evolution of term "urban fantasy" & what it now commonly means to publishers/readers. I don't like this limited definition, for what was once a useful term for a broader range of types of stories in a certain fantasy mode — but it is what it is. Guran's point that the current examples of the genre owe "more to the American hard-boiled detective genre than most may understand" is especially well-taken.

I have thought it strange that the term got attached to series books that so often use horror tropes, such as vampires, demons and werewolves, but, reflecting on it, maybe it does make sense, because those images have long since ceased to invoke the responses horror strives for, and seem to used in these paranormal detective series' for their erotic or romantic appeal.

The danger is when major publishing houses try to cram works that don't fit this very narrow set of ingredients into packaging that seeks to mislead the fans of the stuff into thinking its more of the same. When it isn't, then the fans are justifiably disappointed.


Clarify creative ideals w/ Venn Diagram

Buried in this B.J. Novak interview from the Onion's A.V. Club is a terrific little nugget about The Office producer/writer Greg Daniels use of a Venn diagram to define his approach to comedy. A simple approach to define what's import to him:

[Novak]: […] I had met with Greg Daniels, spoke to him for about an hour and a half
about his theory of comedy, and I thought it was brilliant and simple
and entirely what I believed in, too. […]
[Interviewer]: What did Greg Daniels say about his philosophy of comedy?

[Novak]: He drew a Venn diagram, and he said, “This is
groundbreaking comedy that I really respect.” And he said, “This is
what makes people laugh.” And he said, “I am only interested in the
shaded part in the middle where they overlap.” And I thought, “Sign me
up!” I thought it was humble and honest, but still with the value of
quality. I know it’s a simple thing to say, and anyone can say it, but
you could also tell that he meant it, and had proven it as he was
saying it.

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“And tens of thousands of lines of time”

 Using WordMonkey I translated Shakespeare's Sonnet 18 into Italian, then the Italian into Greek, the Greek into Chinese (because I got a error message trying to go to Hindi next), then from Chinese to Arabic, Arabic to Albanian, and finally Albanian back to English:

Summer in comparison with the first day
You are more beautiful and soft:
Harsh rocked proud shoots 20 May,
And summer, and rented a very short history:
Sometimes too hot in the light of eyes in the sky,
Often approximate the golden skin,
As well as reasonable and fair reduction in some cases,
By chance, or nature of the changes that have occurred in the course untrimmed:
But the eternal summer fadeless owner
Can not afford to lose thousands of pride,
Or just kill thousands ow'st
In eternal calm wand'rest grow'st
   Man and tens of thousands of lines of time to breathe or eyes can view
   That a long life, which make life for you. Son_b4vS


Zombies: Guidelines to Upcoming Anthologies

Here are excerpts from the writer's guidelines of various Zombie-Themed POD anthologies that will be appearing soon:

Our Union Dead:

Civil War, Alt-History, Horror, Romance, Regency. This is a
zombie-themed War Between the States anthology with a difference. I only want to see
stories about zombies who are fighting for the North. I WILL look at stories that have some
zombies in Confederate gray, but be forewarned, if you choose to submit
such a story you will have a very high bar to clear. Payment: 1/16 to
1/8 cent per word. Length: 1500 to 150,000 words. (Works longer than that may be
considered only for our online anthology supplement page at the reduced
rate of of 1/64 to 1/32 cent per word.) Be bold, be brave, innovate!
Why not set your particular tale during, say, a Civil War reenactment?
Or even a Civil War computer game — but a computer game that suddenly
gets very very real.)

Above all be historically
accurate. I don't want to see any more submissions with zombies
carrying Revolutionary War flintlocks, World War II German grease-guns,
or stories featuring any variety of horse bridle in only limited use
prior to 1864. It's called research, people. Do your job. Besides, at this time, we are overstocked on stories containing anachronistic horse bridles. 

Email subs
only, to editoriusemiritus[at]thebloodofourfourfatherspress.com. No
reprints. Simultaneous submissions will be deleted at once unread. If
you do send a simultaneous submission, and I find out about it, you will
be banned from submitting to any Blood of Our Four Fathers theme
anthology for a period of one year, or the release of our next sixty
theme anthologies, whichever comes first. People, there are
consequences to behavior in this business.

ResurErection: New GeniTALEias.

you're dead, but you're not DEAD right?  This anthology is seeking
stories, poems, and Penthouse-style true letters exploring the profound effects of the zombapocalypse on
sexual organs. Does a zombie penis become erect?  Does a zombie vagina
lubricate? Word length: Microfiction: 0 – 200 words. Full-length
fiction: 225 -1200 words. Stories between those lengths will be defined as either  microfic or macrofic at the sole discretion of the editor.

ONE (1) story will be selected for the Travis Q. Zither Award of $25. This
award is to honor the work of writer and literarateur Travis Q. Zither
for his achievements within the zombie erotica sub-genre, and also to get the anthology listed as a paying market on various websites. Payment for
the other chosen stories will be Exposure AND 10% off contributor
copies (limit of fifteen per contributor). Reprints, while considered,
are strongly discouraged and will not be eligible for the Zither Award.
Fair warning: Stories written by women or that feature female
characters in any way resembling real human beings are always a tough
sell with me. When in doubt, query.

Anticipated print run: 125 copies. Send submissions to travisqzither[at]travisqzither.com

No gratuitous profanity. No rape, incest, or pedophilia except when
essential to the plot. Have some class, people. Simultaneous
submissions will be deleted unread. Estimated response time: 62 to 65

Zombie: Dark Utopias
(UPDATE #15)
Utopias: the places that are not — or so it is defined in the nomenclatura of Sire Thomas Morehouse of Great Britannia. But what if an utopia could exist — and then got taken over by zombies!
(For more information in Sire Thomas Morecoke rent the first two
seasons of Showtime's "The Tudors." It's called an education, people!)
bold, be edgy. We're starting to notice a lot of new zombie books,
novels, anthologies, collections, movies, DVD's, and BluRays appearing
on the horizonistical landscape, as it were. It is no longer enough to
write your Utopian zombie parable as if you were the only writer in the
universal pantheon.

sf/f/ss (both slipstream and sword & sorcery) alt history, alt
future history, western, mystery (no cozies — and– fair warning– cat-based whodunits are usually a tough sell with us). Urban fantasy,
suburban fantasy, neo-weird, nouveau-weird, weird, and not-weird, all
encouraged. No horror. No introspection: send that poop to The New
Yorker or someplace, we just want to be entertained, you stupid
navel-gazer. And no vampires, they are so played out.

should be in standard ms. format. Let me explain what this means:
submissions should not be in non-standard ms. format. I know a lot of
other markets accept submissions in non-standard formats, but you
should know that this market and only this market accepts submissions
only in the standard format, and you should consider that before you
submit a manuscript to us in non-standard format.

Let's talk a
little about our submissions process. We employ the industry-normative
structure of fourteen rounds of readings. In the first round we will
determine whether your manuscript conforms to standard manuscript
format. The second round will consist of a different set of readers who
will consider whether the first set of readers were correct in their
assessment of the manuscript's format. After all, we want to be fair
about this.

After the second round, if it is determined a
manuscript does NOT meet the requirements of passing the first two
rounds, the manuscript will be returned to its author for reformatting.
(Or, in the case of a female-sounding byline, discarded.) Once the author
has reformatted his manuscript correctly and resubmitted it, the
manuscript will go to round three (assuming it can this time pass
rounds one and two.)

Round three with determine whether or not
your name is Neil Gaiman. If so, your manuscript will skip rounds four
through six, AND round twelve. (Note: After the original version of
these guidelines appeared, we received several manuscripts with bylines such as: "by Yeah-Like-Neil-Gaiman's-Gonna-Send-A-Story-To-Your-Lame-A**."
Look people, we are working with a very tight window here, I don't
appreciate what is so obviously NOT Neil Gaiman's real byline appearing in the slush.

Updated response time:
I know that we originally estimated our response time as between
"Anon and St Alban's Day, 2008" but due to the extraordinary
volume of manuscripts we have received (six) none of which have cleared
the seventh round of the submission process yet, we are behind. I feel
I myself bear some of the responsibility for this, as I have not yet
had time to decide what goes on in round seven, or in any of the other
rounds not specifically described here. When I do that, I will post
updated guidelines. You are potential writers and purchasers of
contributor copies — you deserve to know. And I will defend to the
death my right to say that. Current response time is approximately four
months from whatever-your-watch-says-right-this-moment to never. Please
do not query before that time.

Payment: Advance: $0 against a
standard royalty contract: 0.04% on a 75/25 split paid quarterly
beginning — ah, why kid yourself? — there's no such thing as a royalty.

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A Diet of Treacle by Lawrence Block (1961) or, How to Earn Money & Acclaim Writing Fiction in Just Half a Century! Sometimes Less!

I don't usually read two books in one 24 hr period, but these 200-pager Block reissues are like pizza slices, if you're already at the counter might as well get two because you know you will be back. Block's career followed a relatively common trajectory for commercial/genre writers of his generation: semi-hard porn, then paperback originals under several names, and then a series or two (or three) that could grow an audience over a career. This is not meant to sound dismissive. It seems to me an ingenious-enough way of nature to contrive expert storytellers. I guess the closest thing we have today would be the Hollywood model: start out writing sitcom or animation scripts on other people's shows, develop your own, move on to ambitious original single stories. Most writers on either path fall by the wayside somewhere or other, but a talented, lucky (both essential ingredients) few end up having work filmed by independent, acclaimed, story-valuing directors, or become one themselves.

So if you're twenty-two, don't spend a lot of time scanning last year's Witer's Digest at the library for markets that read unsolicited novel manuscripts. The day of the one-draft, three-carbon fast-cash sale is gone, obviously, but what may be slightly less obvious is that online e-book erotica "publishers" that pay a percentage of sales on a $0 advance are NOT their substitutes. Sell off your collected manga, games, DVD's and corresponding players, and move your ass to L.A. (If you grew up in L.A. sell that stuff, buy a VW and drive to Tierra del Fuego, or take Greyhound to Nova Scotia, or contrive to do something else your career-focused, loan-swamped peers would never ever dream of doing, and them come back to L.A. with experiences undreamed of in their high-concept, franchise-brokering life plans.)

Don't be afraid of a long apprenticeship; it took Lawrence Block forty-two years to get from $20 Lust to Small Town. Exercise, eat right, and with a bit of luck and some sweat, you can do it too.

All of which has something to do with A Diet of Treacle. This one finds Block on more familiar territory than Killing Castro. We're back home with him in Greenwich Village. It's a downtown novel of sex, drugs, the yearning for art (if only in the disguise of 35¢ paperbacks), of danger, death-wish boys, and girls in tight sweaters, a novel of those things that tempted certain hungry souls to travel south of Fourteenth Street from the end of WWII until times recent. (I don't know where the boho kids go now, but I think it has to do more with web cams and the YouTubes than geography.) I don't want to oversell this book. It isn't Junky, or Hubert Selby Jr. But it has its charm, an appeal that lies in its innocence more than its darkness. If you wish Mad Men would find a way to tell more stories about Don Draper's season one artist mistress, if Val Lewton's The Seventh Victim and Scorsese's After Hours are repeat rentals for you, if you can’t wait for Pia Zadora and Ric Ocasek to show up in Hairspray, it'll do you fine.

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Outline, 2nd half of book

Here's my outline for the second half of "The Entrepreneur" (working title). 3 x 5 index cards bound with rubber bands and the cover of a spent moleskin. (I don't spring for leather covers!) I've been using this little packet in coffee shops to get away from distractions.IMG_0336 IMG_0337



I heard the cronching of the snow made by the step of a long-headed
farmer, who from far through the woods sought my house, to have a
social "crack"; one of the few of his vocation who are "men on their
farms"; who donned a frock instead of a professor's gown, and is as
ready to extract the moral out of church or state as to haul a load of
manure from his barn-yard. — Thoreau, Walden.

Reading Walden via the excellent email reading service DailyLit, I googled cronching which yielded 1160 hits, mostly misspellings, nicknames, and discussions of this very neologism, so Thoreau's  invention which didn't catch on. Still, is there a more perfect word for the sound of snow packing underfoot by a  winter hiker's approach? Thoreau's a wondeful writer.

(One interesting hit came up to the Chicago Manual of Style Online, which uses this sentence from Walden as an example of how to use the term "sic.")

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200 days writing.

I've worked on my fiction 200 consecutive days now, definitely blowing away my premillennial record of 175 days or so.

Here's what I managed in that time:

  1. One draft of a short  novel, "Red Jacket," 51,000 words last November during NaNoWriMo. (It's got superheroes.)
  2. One revision, and sale, of a 600-word short-short, "The Odd Poem." I'm told it will appear this summer on  How to Write Stories About Writers.
  3. Two new stories out now seeking homes: "The Language of Monsters," 6800 words (rejected once so far), and "HappYness by DeXign," 4000 words.
  4. One workshopped revision of the now even shorter "Red Jacket, " 42,000 words even with two additional chapters added. (It's still got superheroes.)
  5. All but the final draft of a third story, "The Solid House," now around 8500 words, but that'll come down below novelette length. Should be able to get this out by day 209.
  6. A couple days work on a long-incomplete novella,  and a week's work on a long-incomplete novel.

This list probably sounds ridiculously thin to some, and just a ridiculously bloated to others, so thanks for your indulgence!

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Manuscript format guides online.

Most ms. format articles I've found online have at least one author quirk (like put title in ALL CAPS !?!? so it will "stand out." No, it'll just look weird. I think most editors can suss out that the title in the word group centered halfway down the first page, and directly above the byline.) Or the guy who uses one dash for hyphenated words (correct) but also uses a single dash to indicate dashes between words. Also, he doesn't leave spaces before or after his en dash, which makes scanning his line confusing.

The best I've found is this one by Robert Sawyer, which is also available as a .pdf. He does a few things I'd call quirky, like bold his address information and use a different font than the in the text, which makes for an aesthetically displeasing first page, and insisting on two blank spaces after every period, which is an unneeded hold over from typewriting, since WP apps make a slightly wider space after periods anyway,  but he covers all the details — like how to type a frakking em dash. Robert Sawyer's Manuscript Format Checklist.


Characters in isolation

It's comforting to hear about very accomplished writers struggling (and solving) with the same kind of story issues I have. In this post, Nicola Griffith comes up with a solution for the common problem of having a character in her current project spending a lot of time alone, thinking. How to maintain tension, engagement?
Here's the snip:

Ever since I started writing Hild I've been searching for a way for her to have alone time that wasn't just wandering about in the woods. (Personally, I love wandering about in the woods, in real life and as a writer, but it is difficult to maintain any kind of narrative tension/reader engagement.) The other day the solution presented itself: Hild climbs trees. (I have Anthony to thank for this: I downloaded a sample chapter of Robert Macfarlane's The Wild Places and, bam, there was the solution.) So now I going through the ms. looking for places to feather in her tree climbing habit. Along the way I'm researching a variety of tree species and growing conditions, and the beasties that live amongst them.

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Post some quotes

…when you need to remind yourself you have a blog.
These are the same one's I stuck on my facebook, and are inspiring, and kind of linked in my mind — despite the now-archaic misuse of the word "man" for "person." 

"A man's got to know his limitations." – Harold Francis "Dirty Harry" Callahan

 “Let their work be to them as is his common work to the common laborer. No gigantic efforts will then be necessary. He need tie no wet towels round his brow, nor sit for thirty hours at his desk without moving, — as men have sat, or said that they have sat.” — Anthony Trollope on writers. 

“Is there anything more beautiful than a beautiful, beautiful flamingo, flying across in front of a beautiful sunset? And he's carrying a beautiful rose in his beak, and also he's carrying a very beautiful painting with his feet. And also, you're drunk.” – Jack Handy 

I especially like the last clause of the Trollope quote, 'cause it's never a good idea to trust what writers say about writing.

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