I love a good setting.  It gets me invested in the story more quickly and it’s what really gets me excited to write a new story—a new, exciting setting to explore.  Now of course, what constitutes a good setting is as individual as a favorite meal.  For example, I seem to have a mental block on sparse settings (e.g. desert, moonscapes, etc.).  I read these and am almost immediately bored (it goes for movies as well).  The characters and plot have to do extra work to get me over that hump.  But that’s individual tastes for you.

It’s a problem I ran into recently when writing a novella (the length is comfortably outside the word limit of Writers of the Future so it’s okay to discuss).  It’s set on an asteroid cluster passing through space—a sparse setting.  I love the characters, the circumstances surrounding them, the plot, and the theme so I powered through writing it.  But I had to work extra hard to try and make the setting interesting to me so it would be interesting to the reader.
The setting is what almost always incites me to write the next scene, to explore.  The fun ones are near-effortless for me.  Which probably isn’t true, I just really enjoy writing setting so I don’t notice the work involved for the fun ones—that is, it’s not work.
In short, I love a good setting.

Doing What I love

In the last post I wrote a bit about how rejections suck.  How the adage “write more, submit more” does help some in the regards to the anxiety of waiting, but results in rejections coming at you rapid fire and how that can wear on a person.

The truth is there are many moments of self-doubt, disappointment, and subsequent listlessness that plague the path to becoming a professional writer.  But there are also the great moments of an acceptance, of an editor’s encouragement, or a fan reaching out to you.  Those are some serious highs when they come, particularly the last.
But there’s another kind of moment, that’s quieter, but even more powerful in my opinion.  And that’s the moment you realize that you’re doing it: you’re going after your dreams.  The outcome doesn’t matter.  You’re pursing that which fundamentally drives you, something you’ve dreamt about since you were a kid.  I may not ever reach that pinnacle of success I would like as a writer, but it won’t be for want of trying.
Perhaps because I came to writing later in life, pursued other degrees and livings along the way, I can appreciate what it is to circle back to a boyhood dream.  Appreciate that I’m able to pursue it.  Appreciate that in my twilight years, I’ll never say “If only ….”  That thought always warms me in the coldness of rejection—“Yeah, well.  I’m doing it.  I’m pursuing becoming a writer.  So bring on the rejections, I’m not going anywhere.”
Rejections do suck.  But the satisfaction of following your dreams is immeasurable.

Rejection Sucks

Getting rejected sucks.  There’s just no way around it, and the path to becoming a professional writer is littered with rejections.  And not even once that professional writer belt arrives in the mail (I so wish there was a belt—Texas buckle style) the rejections will continue to pile up.

The solution of course is to write more, keep submitting more, and this is sound advice.  Writing more helps you learn the craft, to experiment, and to grow.  Having multiple submissions out lets you forget and not fret about stories that are out for consideration—although managing those submissions can become like a game of cups and balls, except with eighteen cups and ten balls all zooming around (and don’t you dare get two balls in one cup [multiple submissions] or duplicate the same ball under two cups [simultaneous submissions]—career death will surely follow).
But what no one really talks about when you follow that advice, and you have ten, twenty, thirty submissions out, is that now the rejections come flying in, one right after another, sometimes several on the same day—minutes apart.  It’s a different experience really than when you only have one or two pieces out.
It’s the cumulative effect that wears, rather than any one rejection in particular.  Dear Market A, please consider my story—No.  Market B, I’m submitting—No.  Market C, Enclosed—No.  Market D,—No.  But I haven’t said anything—still, No.  Market—No.
I follow Heinlein’s rules.  The one relevant here is number four: You must keep it on the market until it has sold.  I chart out a submission map for every story so I can get it back on the market in less than twenty-four hours of a rejection.  It helps, but the cumulative effect can still wear on me at times.
Getting rejected sucks, but there’s just no way around it.
Note: This is actually a two part blog post.  The one next week will not nearly be so woe-is-me (every writer is entitled to one of these type posts, writers self-pitying about rejection is a cliché after all).

A Year in Review

October 1st marked the first day of the first quarter of the Writers of the Future contest and one year since I began to seriously pursue a professional writing career.  It’s often good practice in any career to look back over the year to see what progress has been made, both for a sense of accomplishment and to hopefully shed light on where to go next.

My goal before the start of the year was to 1) write six stories (four for Writers of the Future, entering every quarter) and two extra, 2) attend one craft workshop.  You’ll notice I didn’t set any goals about publications—that way lies madness.  I have no control over whether a magazine will buy my story, all I can control is my output and ensuring it’s the highest quality I can make it, so that’s what I slanted my goals toward.
My progress: I wrote 13 stories, more than twice as much as my goal.  Total new fiction word count: 100,148 words. I’m quite happy with that number (particularly since I didn’t have a solid writing routine until halfway through the year).  I attended my first workshop: The Character and Voice Workshop by Dean Wesley Smith and Kris Rusch, it was certainly the highlight of my first writing year (soooo much fun [and work]).  And I had my very first professional publication!
It was a great first year.  Based on some preliminary decisions for the following year I have decided to shift my writing year to the calendar year, instead of the Writers of the Future quarters (although I’m going to continue to entering every quarter).  So I have three months of in-between time to gear up for an even better second year.  I have yet to sit down and realistically set my second year goals, but I have a rough idea where I’m headed (in fact I’m already taking steps in anticipation for the second year, so exciting!).
It was an excellent first year.  I have no reason to suspect the second year won’t be even better.  Standby for second year goals, which I’ll roll out sometime in December.

Writing Flash Fiction

In a previous post, I made the comment “if you count flash, and I do ….”  I’d like to expand upon that.

First and foremost: flash is hard, damnhard–and absolutely delicious to read.  By its very nature, there is no room for error.  It’s a story: in under a thousand words.
Story is the key word here.  Story: a character in a setting with a problem that comes to some kind of resolution–sounds easier than it is.  A lot of flash I come across is really story fragments or a scene or a vignette, which has its place, but mostly I interpret it as a miss.  It’s not a story.
Now I can easily write a thousand words in a day.  I cannot easily write flash in a day.  Why?  It’s very difficult to conceive of a story that can be told at that length.  When I do hit upon an idea that might work at flash length, it almost always runs over a thousand words, and I have to spend time cutting.  In short stories you have more room to explore and develop characters and plot, but not so in flash.  Every sentence, every paragraph has to be doing multiple things at once for it to work—and that’s hard to pull off.  I have more failed flash than successful flash.
And that’s why I count it in my story totals for the year.  It’s hard, damn hard.

Quantity and Quality

In the previous post I wrote a bit about attending the Character and Voice Workshop by Dean Wesley Smith and Kris Rusch. Again, run there, run there now. Seriously. It’s that awesome, so much so I’m willing to violate grammar to make the point.

I want to talk about one other thing this workshop drove home for me. I am capable of writing quality stories in considerably shorter time frames than I ever thought possible. Let me say that again: I can write quantity and quality. Whoa. This has very interesting implications in the new future of self-publishing—but more on that later.

In a previous post, I wrote it took me three to four months to write a story. Well, present-Jeffrey wants to smack past-Jeffrey. It’s a myth that a story has a long gestation time–one I bought, until I was forced to prove myself wrong (seriously, run there, run there now). Before I left for this workshop, my 2012-2013 writing goal was to write six short stories: four for Writers of the Future and two extra on the side. After, my goal is twice that and the only reason it isn’t higher is that I’ve lost the first half of year to that myth (my writing year is slaved to Writers of the Future Contest, October to September).
How am I doing? It’s September, and I’ve written 12 stories for almost 100,000 words. If you count flash, and I do, it’s actually 13 stories.

There are many myths in writing. Debunk them: read both Dean’s and Kris’s blogs, get to their workshops, talk to them. These are seasoned pros on the leading edge of publishing–soak up what they have to teach. My writing would still be stuck in restrictive, confining myths without them.

Dare to be Bad

Back in April, I had the amazing opportunity to attend the Character and Voice Workshop by Dean Wesley Smith and Kris Rusch.  It was an incredible and defining week for my career.  I cannot stress enough how awesome this was, and if you ever have the opportunity: run there, run there as fast as you can.  It’s taken me this long to blog about, because it’s taken me this long to reassemble my mind from the damn near continuous blowing up of it that week.  The wealth of information was just unimaginable.  I could blog for a year about that week, but it just wouldn’t be fair—it has to be experienced to be believed.
One of the ideas Dean talked about was dare to be bad; don’t be afraid to suck.  And given the amount of work that workshop was: you had no choice but to shut down the part of your brain that worried about sentence flow and story structure and is my character identifiable?  I just wrote that week as fast I as possibly could, hoped it made sense, and then started the next assignment.
But a curious thing happened: it didn’t suck (mostly—and believe me, Dean was more than comfortable saying we as a group blew an assignment).  But by removing the fear of writing something bad, it removed the impediment to unleashing the author’s voice—that distinctive style that readers fall in love with, that undefinable quality that creates fans and wonderful stories.
I learned many, many things at that workshop.  But one of the most important was to trust my instincts and not let my left brain interfere in my stories.  So if you’re a writer, dare to be bad, let it loose.  The result might surprise you.

My First Worldcon

This past week, I went to my first ever Worldcon, the largest science fiction convention (I think) and the one where they present the Hugo awards.  It was also the first time I ever rode a bus to travel between cities–I liked Worldcon better.

Worldcon moves every year (next year is London, England),  and the location this year in San Antonio was the primary driver for my attendance.  It might be another fifteen years before it travels back to a location that is a two hour bus ride from me.

It was a wonderful, but tiring experience.  They have what they call the “5-2-1” rule: 5 hours of sleep, 2 meals, and one shower a day.  Sounds ridiculous, but after the experience, I get it.  I missed many meals (but always had plenty of snacks, I get grumpy and can’t focus if I’m too hungry) and was in panels, lectures, and discussions starting usually at 9 am until 9 pm.  Five, twelve hour days in a row can get a little tiring, and some nights it went longer with going to parties.  However, in the Texas heat, I was well above 1 shower a day.

The parties are a highlight for many people, but they didn’t really hit it for me.  Part of this is the problem of flying solo at these things, the other is many of them are in cramped hotel rooms with windows that don’t open—in San Antonio, Texas in August.  Loud and hot, it was a bit of sensory overload for me.

The highlight instead for me was the kaffeeklatsches, although it took me several days to learn how to pronounce it.  For those that don’t know, it a small group of people (maximum usually around 10) that sit around a table with an editor or author and are able to meet them and listen and ask direct questions.  It was a wonderful and informative experience.  I was able to meet Sheila Williams (editor of Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine), Neil Clarke (editor of Clarkesworld), Dave Wolverton (author and coordinating judge for Writers of the Future), Steven Brust (author) and John Scalzi (author).  I learned a lot and my many thanks to those people for taking the time to meet with us.

I enjoyed the experience of my first Worldcon, something I won’t ever forget.  London may be a bit far for me next year, but I’ll be back after that (and that time take a day or two off to recover afterward).

For my Obessive Duotrope Trackers …

Often a writer, when lamenting about a story stuck at a market and confessing to obsessively tracking Duotrope, will hear advice along the lines of, “Just keep writing.  Ignore it and write another story and submit that one.”  The first time a writer hears this, it sounds reasonable.  The fiftieth time, you just want to strangle the person.  The advice is equivalent to the dentist telling you to floss your teeth. Yeah, I get it, can we move on please?

So here’s some practical advice on the matter by way of James, a friend of mine.  If you belong to Duotrope you can set up a service at to send you emails or texts or whatever, when someone updates their submission on Duotrope.  For example, I currently have stories under consideration at Fantasy and Science Fiction and Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show.  Every time they send out a rejection or acceptance and Duotrope is updated I get an email telling me of it within fifteen minutes.  This frees me from having to obsessively check Duotrope every day and try and discern patterns.  I set up my email to automatically sort them, and now I have a history of it going beyond the thirty days that Duotrope currently logs.

It’s very easy to use.  It’s all done with button clicks.   I set mine up on my smart phone in less than a minute.  Here’s how:

1. Sign up.
2. Click “Create Recipe”
3. Click on the blue “This”
4. Click on the Yellow icon “Feed”
5. Click on “New Feed Item”
6. Navigate in a separate window to the RSS feed of the market you’re interested in.
7. Copy the URL from that page into the box “Feed URL” and click “Create Trigger”
8. Click on the blue “That”
9. Select “email” or “gmail”
10. Open a separate window and open your email account.
11. It will ask you to activate email account, do so.  The email client will throw a warning; I was ok with it.
12. When on the page “Choose an action,” select “send an email”
13. Enter the email address to send the update to.  I changed the title of the email to say the market name “Writers of the Future Update” and left the body of the email alone.  I didn’t put in a URL attachment.
14. Click “Create Action”
15. I recommend putting in a description so you can tell all the different markets apart.  Mine are just “Writers of the Future Duotrope Update,” so I can tell them apart.
16. Enjoy!

Disclaimer: Keep the recipes private.  Duotrope is a paid site and part of the user agreement is that you will not make the RSS feeds public.  I found this out the hard way after I made one public in an effort to be helpful.

My First Professional Sale

My first professional sale released this week, a short story in Fiction River: Time Streams.  And while an exclamation point on that last statement seem appropriate, it doesn’t quite match my personality and seemed oddly lacking when I tried it out, almost lonely.  But do know, I am thrilled.

For those of you that don’t know, Fiction River is a new anthology series by Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch that releases every other month.  Each volume is themed and contains some of the best fiction around.  That isn’t a self-serving statement.  A number of the authors are well-known, seasoned pros.  The volume I am in contains stories by (in alphabetical order, too hard to rank order them): Lee Allred, Scott William Carter, Robert T. Jeschonek, Mike Resnick & Lou J. Berger, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Dean Wesley Smith, Michael A. Stackpole, J. Steven York.

And if that weren’t enough, the volume also contains new professional writers on the rise; writers I am honored to say I know personally and admire: Ken Hinckley, D.K. Holmberg, Sharon Joss, and Michael Robert Thomas.

Honestly, it’s all bit heady for me to be included in such company.  And then I got to read the other stories … .

I was pleased with my story “The Highlight of a Life” when I wrote it; thrilled when it sold; and humbled when I saw the company it would keep in Fiction River: Time Streams.  To know my story will rest alongside such great fiction is deeply satisfying and a reality check for me.

It’s my first professional sale and Fiction River is professional in every sense of the word.  If you’re fond of time travel stories, then this volume is definitely for you.  If you’re fond of well-written engaging fiction, then this volume is definitely for you.

It was a great experience for me, from writing the story to the editing process for publication to reading the volume.  It was wonderful.

I can’t wait to do it again.