A semi-pantser figures it out

It's the last day of 2014. I'm 50,000 words deep into my draft manuscript for Vortex. Seems like an appropriate time to pause and reflect.

What Vortex has taught me about my writing:

  • I'm not the type that can write a first draft from start to finish prior to doing any edits

  • Polished (read: edited) scenes/chapters increase my confidence in the new, subsequent ones I write

  • I'm a pantser, meaning I discover the story as I write it, but...

  • Deep into the story, I really want to know where it's going, so I do outline the parts to come

  • With outline in hand, I can't resist writing ahead--fleshing out upcoming scenes and vignettes--particularly the juicy or significant ones

  • Regarding those upcoming scenes, sometimes my exploratory drafts get tossed, unusable; sometimes it triggers me to retrofit earlier chapters I'd edited and felt were mostly baked

So this seems to be my natural writing style. Picture a chunk of virgin territory before you. Into one corner, your explorers probe. They find rich land and call in the settlers. The land is made productive and a thriving community develops. Then, it's time for more exploration, more settling. Sometimes, though, the explorers return to the established areas and cause upheaval, all in the name of the ultimate goal: total conquest. Eventually the entire territory is won over.

Which means I write like most people play the games Civilization or The Settlers of Catan. Amazing, eh?

No matter your own writing style, here's hoping your 2015 is supremely productive and richly rewarding.

Originally posted here. You can comment there or right where you are.

How a cheeseburger became a craving

This is a follow-up (finally) to the sale of my story "Cravings" and how it came into being originally as a tale about killer cheeseburgers. Read more about that here.

So I'll confess that I initially screwed up regarding the cheeseburger theme, in a way that affects a lot of writers. The problem with my original approach to the story (which I called "Cheeseburger in Paradise") wasn't with the premise. By and of itself, the essence of the tale was fine. The problem I introduced was regarding the focus. Here I made a blunder in the first version of the story by casting the cheeseburger as the star. The core. The central cog around which everything else revolved. Heck, if Jimmy Buffet could get away with it, I could too. Right?

Except... no.

Delightful as a scrumptious, gooey cheeseburger might be, sci-fi readers aren't keen to have them as the protagonist of a story unless: a) the reader has a bad case of the munchies, or b) the burger develops sentience somewhere along the way. I couldn't count on the former and the latter, while intriguing, wasn't the tale I had written. Alas.

Unfortunately, I then compounded my little problem with the story's focus. I didn't realize what I'd done with "Cheeseburger in Paradise." I got so caught up in my homage to the humble fast food staple, I totally missed the fact that the story had little appeal. Nada. Zip. Except perhaps to stockholders of certain burger-based franchises.

After I'd accumulated a handful of "Pass" replies by various editors, I decided it was time for a different approach. At this point, a writer has three choices regarding an unsold story.

Choice 1 - they can press on and keep submitting. Perhaps it's a matter of finding the right editor/publisher for the right fit. Perhaps the writer will luck out and collect feedback along the way thus enabling a bit of fine tuning to ultimately make the story irresistible.

Choice 2 - they can trunk the story. This means putting it into limbo, possibly forever. This option might not imply permadeath for the story as it could be resuscitated and circulated again in the future. Or perhaps parts of the story could find new life in the context of another tale.

Choice 3 - they can rewrite the story. Change the plot. Change the pacing. Change the characters. The setting. The conflict. All options are fair game to recast the story into a form that has more appeal.

Regarding "Cheeseburger in Paradise," something told me to elect Choice 3. I'm not sure exactly what that 'something' was. I suspect I managed to take a hard look at the story from the perspective of a virgin reader, which is not an easy thing given we, as writers, are obsessively close to our stories. Close as in parental love for sired children. These stories are our babies. They don't have flaws. Just minor setbacks to be overcome. Teeny tiny aberrations. Nothing serious.

Except... no.

Stories aren't future Olympians or Nobel Prize winners or Supreme Court Justices. They are (for some of us) commercial products to be sold and shared. As such, they cannot bear any flaws. Hence writers are constantly questing for perfection of their precious little darlings, which raises the specter of a host of new challenges -- a topic for future blog posts.

Fortunately for me, I was finally able to listen to my inner reader. I came to recognize that the story wasn't about a mythical cheeseburger. The compelling story really was about the people who were caught up somehow in that mysticism. "Cheeseburger in Paradise" thus morphed into "Cravings." The rest is history.

That's it really. I would say that writers employing a rewrite choice for an existing, unsold story are actually in quite a position of power. The heavy lifting has been done, after all. If you force yourself to be an unbiased reader judging your (currently suboptimal) story for what it most lacks, you might learn that you need recast only one of the prime elements of story to get a more appealing result. Or not, in some cases. Either way, you be the judge. You hold the ultimate power of the pen.

Originally published here. You can comment there or right where you are.

Jimmy Buffet causes "Cravings"

Now there's a blog title subject to muuuch interpretation.

I promised a short expose on how a certain Jimmy Buffet song led to me writing and selling "Cravings" to Every Day Fiction. Well here you go.

First thing you should know is the original title for my story was... (insert drum roll)... "Cheeseburger in Paradise." Which happens to be the title of yet another popular Jimmy Buffet song. And I don't think you have to be a full-fledged Parrothead to have heard and potentially enjoyed that hunger-inducing ditty. For those of you who only know Jimmy via his "Margaritaville", you might be surprised to learn how many more of his songs you're actually acquainted with. But I digress.

I forget the particular circumstances but there was a day some time ago when I had a long string of quiet and reflective moments on tap, which quite often prove to be fertile ground for new story ideas to take root. At least they do for me. Instead, though, like any good ear worm, this particular Buffet song came to mind and promptly took up residence in my forebrain. Normally, such an event would herald the utter demise of any quiet, reflective moments remaining. Vicious ear worms can be a real bitch.

Not this time.

Some twisted, macabre part of my brain went to work on Jimmy's little number. "Yeah, yeah," it said. "Anybody but a staunch vegetarian could delight in a decent cheeseburger consumed in some lush tropical setting. But what if that wasn't allowed? In fact, what if the darn things were illegal? Even better, what if...instead of killing off your body slowly year-by-year... one cheeseburger could make you drop dead right on the spot? And yet, faced with almost certain death, what if there were social misfits who would eagerly and wantonly make that sacrifice just for one fleeting moment of experiencing this contraband food?"

See what I mean? Twisted to the extreme.

Thus, a new flash piece was born.

Things didn't go well to start with. In fact, I made a classic writer blunder with the story. I rushed it out the door to prospective editors. Prematurely. More on that, including how it morphed from "Cheeseburger in Paradise" to "Cravings," in another blog post.

Look for "Cravings" to go live on the Every Day Fiction site the morning of July 27.

If you'll excuse me, it's time for some Buffet, a burger, and a Margarita.

Originally published here. You can comment there or right where you are.

Sale! "Cravings" to Every Day Fiction

With some much appreciated help from the editorial staff at Every Day Fiction, I've sold them another flash piece called "Cravings." It's a tale about a future Earth when eating has become nothing more than a prescription diet of nutrient gels. A medical implant monitors and rigidly enforces the prescription for each individual. But some kids have access to ancient, illegal documents that glorify the foods people used to enjoy and they can't resist experimenting with those contraband delicacies. Even though it kills them in the process.

I'll post more in the days ahead to share a bit of the background and journey that "Cravings" took. As a small teaser, let me just say that a certain Jimmy Buffet song was involved. Not "Margaritaville" either. Stay tuned for that.

Meanwhile, "Cravings" is scheduled to publish on Every Day Fiction on July 27.

Originally published here. You can comment there or right where you are.

A bit more insight into The Master's Voice

My story, "The Master's Voice," is scheduled for posting on The Colored Lens website at the end of August. Woot!

Or, rather than waiting 4 grueling months for gratification, why not enjoy it now by purchasing the Spring 2014 edition of The Colored Lens?

And now for a little story behind the story...

I went through a stretch there where I churned out a few tales that involved dogs in some way. Several didn't make it very far but one, called "Chaperone," was ultimately published in Fusion Fragment, which sadly can't be found on the web anymore but is still available via my short story collection, Dark Doses.

I'm going to make a comment about "Chaperone," but if you intend to read it, here's a SPOILER ALERT. Stop here and go read the story first.


So in "Chaperone" things don't work out so well for ole Tiberius. The poor thing finds itself in a time when dogs are mere training tools and not part of the family. Tools can tend to suffer abuse at the hands of the tool wielder and that was certainly the case for Tiberius.

Which left me feeling absolutely crummy.

Being a dog owner, I needed to reverse that feeling and strike a balance. I wanted a story that turned the tables and put the dog back on top, in true, devoted fashion. The result was "The Master's Voice."

When I completed it, I raised a toast to Tiberius and thanked him. He helped me write two stories and now everybody will get to enjoy the second one.

Originally posted here. You can comment there or right where you are.


My story is now available for Kindle in the Spring 2014 edition of The Colored Lens

"The Master's Voice" can be yours along with 11 other speculative fiction tales in The Colored Lens, Spring 2014 edition. If you own a Kindle, grab a copy and enjoy.

While you're at it, show the hard working folks at The Colored Lens some love by liking their Facebook page or following them on Twitter.

Nice cover for this edition. Sort of feels like you've splashed down right into a Terry Gilliam movie.

Originally posted here. You can comment there or right where you are.

Sale! "The Master's Voice" to The Colored Lens

I'm a sucker for speculative fiction that involves animals or nature as a prominent element in the theme. All too often it can seem that technology hogs the spotlight, particularly in shorter pieces where there isn't much runway or time to make a strong impression. Do both beasts with a little beastly tech though, now I'm a happy reader.

Which is why my tale, "The Master's Voice", has just enough tech to make it a speculative piece but without losing sight of the fact it's a dog story at its core. With a murder mystery thrown in for good measure. Intrigued? You'll get to read it in The Colored Lens in a few months.

I'll have more to add about the story when it runs.

Originally posted here. You can comment there or right where you are.

You may be a writer if...

With a nod to Jeff Foxworthy, I've been enjoying quite a few giggles coming up with these over on Twitter. From the reactions, I'm not alone.

Read all of the following starting with the opening line: "You may be a writer if..."

  1. You get the most brilliant ideas the farther away from a keyboard you wander.

  2. A spare 15 minutes isn't a quick break. It's a whole new scene.

  3. Every real person you meet has something to use in a story. You just have to figure it out.

  4. Sleep and dreams require a notepad be stationed for rapid access.

  5. World building and world plundering are typical things you do before breakfast.

  6. Word Count to you is like the Gravitational Constant is to a physicist.

  7. Instead of people watching for fun, you do it for juicy ideas.

  8. You ache to edit your uneditable stuff. Like tweets, e-mails, scribbled out grocery lists.

Feel free to add a few of your own.

(Originally posted here. You can comment there or right where you are.)