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.

Tools of the Trade

In my last post, I wrote about being a writer in the digital age and my preference for it.  Notably, how easy the internet makes research.  Here are some other tools I use for writing.

My laptop, obviously.  What’s nice about writing is I don’t need a fancy-shmancy computer with the fastest processor or huge amounts of RAM.  In fact, I once walked into a Best Buy (before Amazon dominated the market) and said I wanted the cheapest laptop they had.  I used it for years, even wrote that ill-fated first novella on it.
Scrivener–a writing software that’s the bee’s knees.  It has a host of tricks: split screen writing, easy revision saving and recalling, storing webpages and pictures, character and setting profiles, automatic compiling in standard manuscript format.  I used Microsoft Word for about a year, before deciding this writing thing was going to take.  But when I did, Scrivener is one of the first investments I made in this career path.  There’s a bit of a learning curve, but completely worth the time if you’re serious about writing.
Duotrope and Submission Grinder.  Two websites that track submissions to different markets and publish statistics on acceptance and rejection ratios; how long they take to respond; the statistics on how many people have submitted and when; and the most recent responses.  Using these two websites, it’s possible to stalk track the market to see where your submission is in the queue, when you should expect a response and in some cases how to determine if you’ve made it out of the slush pile.  I also, leverage with Duotrope for automatic updates, which I’ll write about another time (it deserves its own post, it’s awesome).
Scribophile—an online workshop.  A password protected site to workshop your writing with a community of like-minded writers.  And it really is a community.  I’ve been impressed with how supportive everyone is and when the occasional troll pops up, they’re put in their place rather quickly by the crowd.
That’s it.  There are some other things I do that are specific to trying to win Writers of the Future, but I think I’ll leave that for another time.

The Digital Writer

I’ve often reflected on what kind of writer I would have been had I been born in another era.  And I’ve come to one conclusion: a terrible one.

I’m too entrenched in the digital world.  I type faster than I could ever write by hand.  I can reword and restructure sentences in seconds on my laptop that I couldn’t do on a typewriter.  And with the internet research is a breeze along with using the thesaurus.
Typically when I’m writing, if I get to a part that needs some research, some care in description, or some vital detail, I’ll just use parentheses and come back to it later to fill in.  For example, “Paul ran toward the (cathedral).  (Description of cathedral that matches mood).”  Then I get on with the action.  In this case, I haven’t decided what kind of cathedral or if it will even be a cathedral, just that it’s a house of worship.  And that serves the plot for the moment.  My first edits are always going back through and finding those parentheses and filling them in.
The internet is particularly useful for such things.  I can search for cathedrals to get inspired.  I can search a map of the city the story takes place in and find a real one that suits my needs.  I can then look at pictures, use Google street view, even browse YouTube for tour guide videos.  I can visit a setting halfway around the world without ever leaving my couch.
I can visit museums online to research clothing in the Edwardian era.  Or search the social security database for the most popular names in the years my characters were born to give them an authentic feel.  For example, modern day: Kayla, 1940: Dorothy.  Or I can watch MIT lectures on astrology.  The internet has made the world a wonderfully small place, and for those with access and an ability to read, it presents an almost limitless learning opportunity.
I probably still would have written had I been born in another era; writing is too wired into my DNA.  But I’m happy to have been born in this era and be a digital writer.  It makes writing so much easier and interesting for me.

Types of Writers

There are universally accepted two kinds of writers: architects and explorers.

An architect carefully lays down his plans, thinking well into the night and developing character profiles and outlines.  Only once all this planning is complete, the story known, does the architect sit down to write, working methodically through their outline.  The explorer, on the other hand, thrashes ahead with their machete, with no thought to what lay ahead other than to slaughter in haste as they pass by onto the next scene.
Each represents a different approach to writing.  In more layman’s terms, a planner and a … non-planner.  Both have their virtues.  The architect typically has more involved plots and less revision.  The explorer’s story on the other hand is fresh and surprising and a ton of work to revise.  Most writers are bit of both.
Me?  I’m a bit of both, of course.  Almost all of my stories start with a scene.  They pop into my head in the shower, on the way to work, as I go to sleep, whenever.  When it happens, if it’s possible, I run to the computer and start typing as fast as I can.  If that’s not possible, I whip out my smart phone and start fat fingering it, to be transcribed later.  I write this way until I get stuck.
Then I stop.  And start architecting.  Where is this scene?  Who are these characters?  Why are they there?  What do they want, and how do they get it, and how can I complicate their lives?  This is generally how all my stories are written.  I write the opening scenes in a flash, then meditate on it and outline the rest.  All in all, it takes me about three to four months from concept to finished story.  That may seem like a long time, but it used to be longer.  I’m getting better with practice.
What kind of writer am I?  Both, naturally.

My Current Project is–

What am I currently working on? I’m currently working on—

Well, actually, I’m not at liberty to say.  My entire focus right now is on winning the Writers of the Future (WotF) contest, and the contest depends on blind judging.  Which means discussing works in progress destined for the contest could disqualify me.  If a judge can somehow link the author to the work, the author is automatically disqualified.  This includes blogs and forums.  And I am nothing if not a consummate rule follower.  Although, in this case, I’m more than happy to follow the rules so I can win.

I’ve been entering the contest since September, 2012 (in WotF speak, Volume 29 Quarter 4) and have earned two honorable mentions in two of the three quarters I’ve entered.  Honorable mentions are basically a nice rejection.  All you can really discern from an honorable mention is that the coordinating judge actually read your story–which is all I really wanted the first time I entered.  The contest gets thousands of entries (allegedly, the actual amount is a closely guarded secret–I have no idea why) so the coordinating judge realistically doesn’t have time to read all the entries.  If you do the math … let’s do the math (I am a scientist after all).

Assumptions: 1,000 entries, the judge reads 300 words per minute, an average story is 5,000 words.  This gives us on average approximately 16.5 minutes per story.  At a 1,000 entries that’s approximately 278 hours.  Assuming a 40 hour a week job, that’s about 7 weeks of non-stop reading, not counting any seconds to actually think about the story, sort through entries, rub his eyes, etc.

What does this tell us?  The judge doesn’t read all the entries: there isn’t time.  The coordinating judge, Dave Wolverton, is very active in the writing community: blogging and teaching, as well as prolific in writing.  There just physically isn’t enough time.

So, the fact that he read the whole story is (or was) a big deal to me to the first time around.  I had spent hundreds of hours on that story, from writing to revising to workshopping.  A rejection would have had me seriously doing a cost/benefit analysis of time spent.  But I love writingso it would have probably put me in a down-spiral  But the hard work paid off, and now I’m more determined than ever.

I’ve already written a story for the current quarter and have planned my next two entries.  I’m determined to win, which means in the meantime, I won’t be blogging about current stories I’m working on.  But there’s plenty of other stuff to write about.

Speculative fiction writer?

I am a speculative fiction writer:  Could you be more specific?

Speculative fiction is a broad term, an umbrella used to lump science fiction, fantasy and all of their sub-genres (steampunk, dystopian, cyberpunk, etc.) under one term.  Telling a person you’re a speculative fiction writer lets them know what country in the literature world you’re a citizen of, but doesn’t tell them the city or the town or any of the specifics.
So, more specifically, I write hard science fiction and dabble from time to time in fantasy.
Up to the point when I began writing science fiction, I had read only fantasy.  So while I wrote science fiction, I had never read it.  And while I read only fantasy, I couldn’t write it.  For a while this little paradox didn’t trouble me at all, and I continued on my merry way writing science fiction tales.  But after writing some stories I identified why I couldn’t seem to grasp fantasy: I’m a scientist.  This manifests in my writing as a need to understand magic on the most basic level.
It’s not enough to say these three components and chanting these words and because of these rules it will produce this result.  My response is always the same: Okay, but why?  If there’s an explanation  at that level, my response is then the same: Okay, but why?  Like a four-year-old whose curiosity cannot be quenched, there’s a never ending game of Why  and down the rabbit hole I go, when trying to write magic.  Sometimes I can step back and be successful, but generally I don’t write magic.
I’m much more comfortable in science fiction where I’ve found a wonderful second life for my college textbooks.  In addition to learning new things (or relearning as the case may be), I get to calculate things like terminal velocity of a body rising in water or the impact force of a body in free-fall hitting the ground to help work out time lines in a story—and that’s just plain fun.
Therefore, when pressed I say I write hard science fiction, but really I just like to write whatever seems fun to me at the time.  Sometimes that’s science fiction and other times it’s fantasy or steampunk.  So for the moment, I more comfortable with the nebulous and comfortably vague term: speculative fiction writer.

Why I’m a specutalitve fiction writer

When events in my life piled up to the point that I thought I’d explode, I sat down and puked out a novella on my laptop.  This is how I started writing.

At first it was furious typing, expelling out a story at breakneck speed with no idea of where it was going or when it was going to end.  I only knew I had to keep going.  The story was drawn heavily from my life, and the process leeched out a toxicity that had been building for years.  I felt invigorated.
Naturally, as I finished that story and searched for more to write, I chose to write in the same genre–mainstream fiction.  Which is not be confused with literary fiction.  I never even approached that, but do confess to thinking I did at the time out of ignorance.  No, I left my life behind and wrote stories about everyday people set in the modern world with the conflict centered on some type of dissonance between the way they viewed themselves and reality.
I did this for about a year and a half.  Until one day I sat out on my porch (my preferred writing spot) and realized the problem with the current story I was working on: I was bored, not only reading it, but writing it.  This wasn’t a one day funk to work through; boredom pervaded this piece from beginning to end.  I diligently finished the piece and half-heartedly sent it out (if I was bored writing it, who would be excited reading it?).
The idea of not writing anymore never even entered my consideration.  Instead, I thought about the stories that I’ve read and were fun to read and what made them awesome.  My mind naturally went back to all of the fantasy I consumed as a kid: to the epic battles of good and evil, to magic systems, to floating castles and underwater cities, to all of the things that make fantasy awesome.  Soon, I had an idea.  Two weeks later I had a story.  I felt invigorated again, and I knew exactly what kind of writer I wanted to be.
I am a speculative fiction writer, and I haven’t been bored since.

Consummate rule follower

I am nothing if not a consummate rule follower.

So here I am, as directed, launching a website and blogging about becoming a writer.  The landscape of publishing is changing in strange ways.  Writing, normally, attracted by those types that prefer quiet and solitude (myself included) are now told they must have an online presence.  They must build a following and do their own marketing.  This used to be the role of the traditional publishers, but now they’re doing less and farming more onto the beginner writer.

The introvert writer that needs that daily quiet time writing to stay sane, is now thrust in front of a faceless horde that could number anywhere from hundreds to thousands to millions.  The first one might not sound so bad, but have you ever spoken in front a crowd numbering in the hundreds?  And then do it on regular basis?  But from publishers to authors, both large and small, they all seem to agree that an online presence is necessary in this new age of publishing.

Despite this, I am determined to become a professional writer.  I write daily, study markets, attend workshops; I submit, get rejected, and submit again, and again, and again.
And now I blog about it.

I am nothing if not a consummate rule follower.