Tuesday, December 23, 2014

My Honor

Now Playing: THE LEGEND OF ZELDA by Taylor Davis

Exciting news! Last week I got an email from the Writers of the Future Contest. As far as I know, it's the biggest amateur writer's contest in the country, open only to contestants who've never published a novel or more than three short stories professionally. I've been submitting regularly every quarter for about three years now, and last week's email informed me that my story "Frost and Flame" received an honorable mention in this year's fourth quarter!

"Frost and Flame" is about a young witch who makes her reflection come to life to stand in for her obligation to do something unpleasant. However, she never stopped to think that her reflection wouldn't appreciate this very much, and now she must deal with the fallout.

I was very happy to hear that I'd gotten an honorable mention, but in truth it is a little bit like coming in fourth place--gahhhh so close! If you place first, second, or third, you get a cash prize, your story published in the annual anthology, and a trip to LA for a week-long writer's retreat to work with professionals and judges, culminating in a huge awards gala. It's incredible. The prize of a lifetime. Potentially a catapult into a career. And I was THIS CLOSE!

Ah well. I'm still eligible to submit since I didn't place, and the thing about receiving this feedback is that it is an undeniable affirmation of my ambition to be a writer--it's pretty objective evidence that I'm getting better, that I'm figuring out what a good story feels like. And at a time where my work ethic is pretty low and my story ideas seem daunting, that's a priceless gift.

Monday, November 17, 2014

T-12 Months

Just Read: THE CLOCKWORK DAGGER by Beth Cato--Great! A very fun adventure with lots of unique magic, and all the things that make steampunk great. Awesome book by a fellow W1S1 writer!
Reading Now: THE MAGICIAN'S LAND by Lev Grossman

So about my last post. I know, it was a little melodramatic. A little woe is me, a bit of a cry for some undeserved pity. I have owned up to it.

One thing I think successful writers will agree on is that pity doesn't fly here. Who am I accountable to as a writer? Only myself. Being melodramatic may be a common trait among writers, but I'd hazard a guess that it's rare among the successful ones.

I've done a lot of research on what it takes to be a good writer, and on what the difference is between people who write amazing fiction and sell lots of stories and win lots of awards, and people who call themselves writers but don't have the words to back up their claim. In general, hard work and persistence are the difference. Most writers go through the same stages of rejection and self-doubt, and some choose to cry "Woe is me!" while others pin the rejection notices to their wall and sit beneath it and write another story. This latter breed of writers are the ones who go on to be winners.

Thus, in the interest of taking an observation and applying it in a positive way to myself, I have spent the first half of this month reading my NaNoWriMo from last year, the one I never finished. My goal is to jump back into the sprinting mindset I had so locked onto last November and finish the damn thing.

The thing is, as I was rereading it, I couldn't help but think that I really enjoyed it! I mean, it was a fun story, and there were some parts I think were really good. So hopefully I can continue that vein until I reach the ultimate destination to a young fiction writer: THE END.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

A Novel Confession

Now Playing: SKYRIM by Jeremy Soule
Just Read: THE PROMETHEUS DECEPTION by Robert Ludlum--Not my favorite book of his. It seemed a bit more harried and chaotic than his usual plots, and the writing wasn't as strong. 
Reading Now: THE CLOCKWORK DAGGER by Beth Cato

It is with profound guilt that I make a confession: Last November I was a part of NaNoWriMo and completed over 50,000 words of a new novel . . . and I STILL haven't finished it. 

In fact, I haven't touched it since February. I think I ran out of gas on December First of last year--I knew and still know how the book is going to progress and how the climax will end, but I could no longer sit down and tackle it. Instead I moved on to other short stories and novellas that had taken a back seat to the novel project, and left the novel to collect figurative dust. 

The worst part is that I really like the story! I opened it today for the first time in forever and read the first two pages . . . and I was hooked! But still the prospect of rereading it (it's like 57,000 words, and I wrote it in a flurry, so I don't think I could pick up where I left off with much success) and finishing it is daunting. 

It's been almost a year since I started that novel, and though I've had a great writing year, accomplished a lot both in writing and life, and stayed true to my Write1Sub1 goals, I wish wish wish I had been able to finish that book. One of these days, I'll have some time to dive into it, and I know I'll get the spark again, but until then, the layer of figurative dust grows.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Now Playing: SAMWISE THE BRAVE by Howard Shore

I listen to Film Scores Radio on Pandora while I write. It does a few things for me: for one, whenever it comes on, whether the song is familiar or new, it puts me in the mind of creativity. It's a bit like smelling a scent that takes you back to a time and a place you smelled it before--once the music plays, click! It's writing time.

But also, all these tracks correspond with some story or another. Pirates of the Caribbean. Skyfall. Alice in Wonderland. Inception. They remind me of great stories, and make me want to write some of my own. It's like they're saying, "You could have this if you would just GET TO WORK!"

Getting to work is one of the hardest things to make yourself do as a writer. I have hundreds of notes on my iPhone about future story ideas, and the oldest one is from November 2012. That's a lot of stories I haven't written! Granted, it's easier to jot a note than write a story, but still, as an amateur who wants to be taken seriously and publish short fiction and novels professionally, I have to write a lot. The music helps set the tone.

My personal opinion: Lord of the Rings has some of the best musical numbers in cinematic history. Sure, some tracks of other greats are amazing, like Pirates or Star Wars or Indiana Jones . . . but overall, taking the average, Lord of the Rings is just an amazing film score. Every track . . . so good. Every time a track plays, I give it the thumbs up--writers of science fiction and fantasy can never have enough Lord of the Rings, right?

In other news, I watched Peter Jackson's video blog about the making of the Hobbit--so cool! I would LOVE to be involved with making a movie one day, maybe as a screenwriter, or have a novel made into a movie . . . big dreams here. Anyway, they won't come true unless I GET TO WORK, so gotta run, more to come later.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Pretty Cool Stuff

Now Playing: SO FAR DOWN by Creed
Just Read: THE MARTIAN by Andy Weir--So good! Funniest book I've read in a long time; I wish I had written it, because it was right up my alley and I loved the main character. Heard it's gonna be a movie!
Reading Now: THE PROMETHEUS DECEPTION by Robert Ludlum

In the past, one of my stories (Good Business, With Guns) was read on a science podcast, directed by a guy named Paul Cole. The podcast is called Beam Me Up, and they read fiction and talk about science and generally have a great time. I'm excited to say that a few weeks ago Paul read another of my stories, Skipping Stones, originally published in Daily Science Fiction.

You can listen to the hour-long broadcast here: http://www.beammeuppodcast.com/shows/bmu_416.mp3 My story is the last thing before he signs off.

It's always cool to see another's interpretation of your work. I was talking to a friend about that last night, particularly about writing screenplays and seeing an actor's interpretation. Mostly I think it's a great time, and though I know some people get up in arms when someone takes their piece in an unplanned direction, I think it's kind of fun.

In other news, I've been doing a lot of my own research on cosmic science and particle physics (because you know, I'm a sci-fi nerd and that's what we do). The coolest thing I've taught myself is how fundamentally connected we are to everything around us. How similar the DNA chains of any organism is to any other. How looking at distant galaxies is tantamount to looking back in time. And most heavily of all, how the elements that make up our planet and our bodies were forged long ago, in the distant and massive explosion of a dying star, ejected as dust until it underwent accretion and coalesced to form the unique, loved, amazing person that is you. That's spiritual. You are a spirit living in stardust.

Be mesmerized. Be imaginative. Be thankful.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Some Easier than Others

Now Playing: FLAWED LEGACY by Michael Salvatori and Martin O'Donnell

One way I know a story has a lot of potential is when it comes really hard for me.

I think Stephen King said that writing is best when it's a kind of inspired play. Well, the story I wrote for June (mostly that is--I just finished it tonight and we're a week into July . . . ) was all play until the time came to sit down and write it.

I had it all thought out: girl in trouble, girl figures way out of trouble, girl realizes her plan wasn't so foolproof after all and must deal with the consequences. I wanted it to be a longer tale, because I plan on subbing it to the Writers of the Future Contest, and in my experience the winners are longer stories. But I didn't expect the challenge this kind of length entailed.

It's difficult to keep momentum when the story is 12,000 words. You write a novel, you think, "I just have to do this sip by sip, and eventually I'll have downed the whole drink." In other words--one to two thousand words a day, and in two or three months you've got a novel. But a short story, for me anyway, usually starts with a different mindset: "Let's pound out a story, scratch it off the 'to-be-written' list, and move on to the next one."

June's story is titled "Frost and Flame." It refused to let itself be pounded out and set aside, to be crossed off as average stories are. It reached for greater depths, fished for more developed characters, and wouldn't let itself be neatly tied off, as I think I'm prone to doing (an amateur trait, I've come to think more and more). These are all good things, as they raise the bar for my quality; I can honestly say now that I've had a story idea that can hold its own against professionally published pieces I've read.

It's a bit like working out, maybe. Once you run two miles every day for a month, two miles isn't a workout anymore. You have stretch it to four or five. True, two miles is still something, and you should be proud of that. But you aren't here for a stroll--you're here to work out. So stretch it to four or five miles and be proud of how shaky your quads feel.

That's the way I feel after finishing "Frost and Flame." Like I just maybe ran a bit farther than I could comfortably handle, but here I am, and now I can't go back and run a two mile course because I know that's beneath my ability. That's wanting to stay comfortable, but working out isn't about being comfortable. Neither is writing--the good stories, the ones that tell you they want to go somewhere, leave you aching all over once you type "The End."

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Sit Down

Now Playing: World Cup, duh
Just Read: THE CAPTAINS by W.E.B Griffin--Pretty fun and historically informative. Not the most exciting novel, but funny at times and definitely enjoyable.
Reading Now: A TIME TO KILL by John Grisham

Most young writers I've spoken to agree: one of the hardest parts of being successful is finding the time, energy, and dedication to actually sit down and produce. We usually have lots of ideas and a grasp of the craft that will surely get better with practice, if only we could make ourselves sit down.

A great part of being a member of Write1Sub1 is that it holds you responsible--you committed to a story per month (or week), and you have to report in each Sunday on your progress. It's like a fabricated deadline. You have a reason, a requirement, to do your work.

I am terrible about putting things off if they can be done tomorrow. What's the number one thing that can be delayed? Writing, of course. I have to go to work. I have to go to the bank or post office before they close. I have to run to the grocery store and then cook dinner and then clean the kitchen, and since I've got the broom out I might as well clean the rest of the apartment. Then there's a world cup match on, and some friends want to get together to watch it. Well . . . you can see there isn't much time in there to write a novella.

This month's story is particularly long for me--I'm already at 4000 words and it seems like it's barely started. With five days left in June, three of which I work, it's going to be a challenge to complete it.

So I added another fabricated deadline. A girl I work with is also a writer, but she hasn't written anything new in a long time. I told her that if she could finish a story by July 1, I would too, and we could swap. So now I'm obliged twice to finish this story by the deadline.

Better sit down and get to work.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Gratified and Determined

Now Playing: SURFIN' USA by The Beach Boys

How is that every month seems busier than the last?

It's the first day of June and I'm two weeks into my new assignment, working at Georgetown in Washington, D.C. I have barely had a free minute to write, but I started a story to finish for this month's W1S1 challenge about a girl who takes a risk that later spirals way out of hand. 

I was so happy to see my story "The Ascension Song" published in Every Day Fiction; I believe I've updated the link list to the left so you can click on over and read it if you want. I was especially flattered by the number and quality of the comments on my story. I've never had such a positive reaction, and it meant a lot. Thank you all so much for reading and being moved enough to tell me about it. 

Reading people's comments makes me want to write like nothing else. I recently heard that my girlfriend's mom had shared a link to "Dancing in the Black Blizzard," and her friend who didn't know me read it and enjoyed it so much that he looked up other stories I've written and commented on those as well. What a gratifying and rewarding experience, to be on the receiving end of such high praise. Thank you!  

I don't take the fact that people read my work lightly. I know how tough it is to find time to read short fiction, especially by a young author without many notches in his belt. But know that your efforts to read my stuff have direct effects on me. Over the past week, I've been more determined than ever to write, and write a lot, and write awesome, quality fiction for people to enjoy. 

I hope to have more published stories for you soon! 

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Story Accepted!

Now Playing: SOLAR SAILER by Daft Punk

Happy to report another story acceptance!

My piece "The Ascension Song" will appear in Every Day Fiction on May 25. This is a flash fiction piece with which I tried to focus more on the writing, the nuts and bolts of the language, because the story came to me pretty simply and completely.

I submitted it to some pro magazines with some positive rejections, but only when I got a rewrite request from EDF did I realize the problem that comes with a story plot's arrival in your brain seemingly complete.

It had some gaps. I fell victim to the same trap that gets me so frequently--unwillingness to break apart the plot and send it in another direction. But the editors requested I do just that, and that was all the push I needed. I worked on it for a day, resubmitted it, and they bought it!

I'm looking forward to seeing my piece in print there. This is my first publication at EDF, hopefully the first of many. If you get a chance to read it, let me know what you think! 

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Happily Home

Now Playing: YOU KNOW NOTHING by Ramin Djawadi
Just Read: FOOL by Christopher Moore--Very fun, super funny and witty. I loved the language and the humor. Good example of a book I don't have the talent to write, haha.
Reading Now: THE CAPTAINS by W.E.B. Griffin

Successfully back on the East Coast!

It was a long drive all by my lonesome, but I gotta say, it was a great time. Just me, my Camaro, and the open road, from California across the Nevada desert, through the Utah rock structures, up into the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and down in the rolling plains of Kansas and Missouri, back to the forests of Kentucky and the Appalachian Mountains of winding West Virginia, down through the hills of Virginia and finally the Piedmont of North Carolina. Home!

I think everyone should drive across the country at least once in their lives. Take some time to see the land flying by your window and realize how far people have come, how much work they did, and how much wonderful wilderness is still out there to enjoy. The American cities are amazing and cultured and have so many secret details. The memory pool I can pull from for settings now is so much more detailed.

As soon as I got home I was gone again. It was my best friend's birthday, and we went to Disney World to celebrate and to watch his girlfriend compete in Dance World's 2014--a great and fantastic show, so proud and happy for them! In between shows we got to drink beers at every country in Epcot, ride super rides, and watch live music. So hard to beat Disney, and one of my favorite parts--the fireworks show--I can remember watching as a ten year old kid and wanting to write stories as exciting as that show. It was the same at twenty-four.

Lots of work ahead of me--I made a list of stories to edit, and it's a long one. I still have to pound out April's W1S1 story, and I got a rejection from my story that was on hold at the Writers of the Future contest, so that story has to get back out there somewhere. One thing about writing, there are always more stories to be written. The work NEVER stops. But I wouldn't have it any other way.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

On Your Mark

Now Playing: STAR WARS THEME by John Williams

The time has come to say goodbye to the West Coast. 

I've been out here since September, and made more friends and more memories than I can fit into a simple blog post. More than a few might well end up as characters and stories one day. Have a beer out with me one night, and perhaps I'll share some. 

I'm really looking forward to being home for a while, and to starting my next three-month adventure stint in Washington, D.C. 

 I wonder what new stories the nation's capitol will present? Only time will tell. 

I'm starting the cross-country drive in the next few minutes. A middle of the night departure to avoid LA and Vegas traffic (if I'm lucky), stop tonight in Boulder, CO, then on to St. Louis day 2, and home in Raleigh, NC Saturday night. I feel like a main character setting off on a quest.

A wise hobbit once said: It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and you never know where you might be swept off to.

Let's find out, shall we?

Saturday, April 12, 2014

New Story Published!

Now Playing: SEVEN NATION ARMY by the White Stripes
Just Read: THE GOOD NURSE by Charles Graeber--Frightening in how easy it was for someone to commit something so heinous in a place of trust. Great book, but lots of heebie jeebies. Made me feel insane myself a few times.
Reading Now: FOOL by Christopher Moore

My story "Dancing in the Black Blizzard" was published this morning!

I'm very excited to see this story in print . . . finally! Like I mentioned in my last blog post, this story is one of my old favorites, and it's been through a lot of revisions and rejections (even some personalized ones) before the final draft found a home at a great new magazine: Perihelion Science Fiction.

The word "perihelion" describes a place in a planet's orbit where it is closest to the sun. Appearing its pages makes me feel like that--warm and prosperous. It's an addictive feeling, having a good story published in a good magazine, and it makes me really want to continue having stories accepted the rest of this W1S1 challenge. I have some good drafts out there that need to be revised, and hopefully, with some perseverance, they'll find homes like "Dancing in the Black Blizzard" did.

Take a moment to savor this . . . now, back to work!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Story Acceptance to Perihelion SF!

Just Read: A DANCE WITH DRAGONS by George R.R. Martin--So, so good. Sometimes exhilarating, sometimes devastating, it's everything I want an epic fantasy to be. A real role model for a writer like me.
Reading Now: THE GOOD NURSE by Charles Graeber

My story "Dancing in the Black Blizzard" was accepted at Perihelion SF!

This is an old story of mine with countless rejections and rewrites in its history. It remains the only story ever to receive a personalized rejection from Fantasy and Science Fiction, and holds a special place for me as one of my all time favorites.

Couldn't be happier to receive that email today. I'm really looking forward to seeing my story in print! I haven't had a publication in about a year, so I'm hoping this will jump-start my creativity and drive a bit. I have lots of stories that need to make the rounds.

In other good news, I received an email from the Writers of the Future contest saying my story was on hold...not sure what the means, exactly, but it wasn't a rejection letter!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Simple Competence

Now Playing: IT NEVER ENDS by Bring Me The Horizon
Just Read: GREAT EXPECTATIONS by Charles Dickens--A good story, though there were parts I thought could be happier. I don't like rooting for the MC only to have him lose. Usually I don't like the old English classics, and there were definitely parts were the language bogged me down. Overall, enjoyable.
Reading Now: A DANCE WITH DRAGONS by George R.R. Martin

Got two rejections back this week from hopefuls. I send all my stories out with hope, but some of them I feel have a much better chance than others. I read the magazines I submit to, and when I write something I think fits along their vein, coupled with being a good story, I can't help but get my hopes high. 

Rejection is part of the writing career. I've always known this, and it's never yet held me down, nor will it. But getting these rejections is a cause for some introspection. What held those stories back? Why didn't they reach publication? Why might I get a note that says my story is good but not great? 

It's where I am on the ladder of a writer's progression. I am confident in labeling myself a competent amateur writer. I understand what makes a good story, and I can recognize when it's done well. It's executing it that still presents a monster challenge. 

My stories are still too simple. I get letters that describe them as predictable. Others, incomplete. Some I think are ambitious, and fall short of what I want them to be, because I don't have the skills yet to hammer them out. I am like a sketch artist who has a beautiful scene in front of him and when he looks down at his canvas sees only a pale ghost of the beauty he attempted to capture. 

The remedy? The only answer I can come up with is practice. Read a lot, write a lot. I don't have enough natural talent to do it any other way. I don't mind, necessarily. I don't mind paying my dues if it means that one day I will climb to the top. Delayed gratification might be the toughest part of this career. I mean, I have SO MANY stories in my writing folder, and none of them will see publication because they are merely competent. The kid who wrote them knew words and knew plots, but not to a degree to earn himself a place in a professional's table of contents. 

Being a writer is like being trapped at the bottom of a deep dry well. You have to produce all this junk, all these stories that will never see the light of day, pages and pages and chapters and whole novels, and eventually you have enough trash to stand on that you can climb out of the well. Only when you reach the top will your stuff be good enough to publish in a pro magazine. And the well is deep and dark and lonely. Only the toughest make it out. The others, well . . . they just sit and stare at the sky and wish and wonder. 

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Limb Less Traveled By

Now Playing: SKYRIM SOUNDTRACK by Jeremy Soule
Just Read: THE SHADOW OF THE WIND by Carlos Ruiz Zafon--A great read. A bit slow at parts, but definitely one of the best written books I've read in a while. His prose is masterful.
Reading Now: GREAT EXPECTATIONS by Charles Dickens

After a slow January (see previous post), February went off like a rocket. I got into my groove, got excited about something, and spit out thousands of words in a matter of hours.

One of my best and oldest friends in the world, Spencer, had this dream about a stranger in a hybrid land of old west and science fiction. He imagined this stranger being the main character in a television show, one done well like a Starz or HBO original series. Spencer is a great idea-man, and a great actor, but he came to me for thoughts on how to write it.

When he first told me the idea I knew it was a winner. It's original, complex, deep, and rated R. February's W1S1 piece was Episode I, and I'm incredibly excited about it. My kitchen table is overflowing with papers bearing jotted notes, character sketches, and episode plans. I am eagerly awaiting Spencer's thoughts on it, because I can't wait to dive into Episode II.

I didn't have the first clue about writing a screenplay when I started (and, let's be honest, I still don't, really). Apparently there's a very strict format, much like standard manuscript formatting in prose fiction. I had to research all those rules and configure Microsoft Word to work for me. Then I had to read a few examples, get a feel for it, and take off. I still don't know what we're ultimately going to do with it. It's called a "Spec Script" I believe, meaning we could submit it to someone like HBO on the speculation of them liking it and wanting to produce it. Way in the future, sure, but I want to know where, ultimately, we'll take this thing.

It's always been a dream of mine to have my novel turned into a movie, but this screenplay idea is really taking hold. And the best part is that it jump-started my creativity, and now I have a few other projects ready to be tackled while I wait to hear from Spencer. So wish us luck! And if you have some insight into screenplay submission, leave me a comment! It will be much appreciated.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Ebbs and Flows

Now Playing: SKYFALL by Thomas Newman

Ebbs and flows--that's how art goes sometimes, no? Feast or famine. Drizzle or deluge. In October-November, I could barely keep up with myself. I had ideas that leaked out into completed stories even if I didn't feel like writing them. Now, I've got three or four good story ideas, and they don't want to leave my brain in search of a new home on paper.

It's been a busy January--moving to Southern California, starting a new job, getting used to a new area, making new friends and keeping up with old ones. And in times like these the first thing that suffers is my writing. The thing is, it's always something you can come back to or do later or do tomorrow. When you're a young writer, without an agent or deadline, you are the only thing that keeps you writing.

My muse is in the mirror. I write for myself, because I love it and because it's cathartic and because I wouldn't be me without it. I'm in the ebb stage now, the famine, the drizzle. Not writer's block--that's something else entirely--just writer's neglect. It's not okay, not a great way to start off the new year or my 2014 W1S1 challenge.

Listening to the Skyfall soundtrack right now, all I can think of is the new M asking, "Now then, Devin. Are you ready to get back to work?" and my response, "With pleasure, M. With pleasure."

Monday, January 6, 2014

New Year: Carte Blanche

Now Playing: ANOTHER SONG ABOUT THE WEEKEND by A Day to Remember
Just Read: BLOOD OF THE FOLD by Terry Goodkind--A solid read, nothing too complicated. This isn't my favorite fantasy epic series but I don't want to stop reading it yet either.
Reading Now: THE SHADOW OF THE WIND by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

I'm looking forward to a great 2014!

I had goals and big dreams for this past year, and they're resurfacing now in the first week of the new year. I wanted to write a new novel, edit an old manuscript, and stay true to my Write1Sub1 commitment of writing one story per month. Each of these goals were (pretty much) accomplished. I did a drawn-out edit of an old novel that cut out several thousand words, wrote in general longer stories than 2012 each month, and won NaNoWriMo to end up with a new 50,000+ word manuscript.

My goals for 2014 are similar--patch up this newest novel and make it presentable, send out some query letters with blessings, and my main goal, to submit more vigilantly than I did in 2013 and give my stories more chances to be published.

The new year is a time to be optimistic. In hindsight, some 2013 goals and dreams fell short--I wanted to publish more stories than I did. But ultimately I don't have control over that--it's up to the slush readers and magazine editors. All I can do is write the greatest story I possibly can, and trust that one day, maybe soon, I will be rewarded for it.

Here's to 2014! Cheers, friends.