WARNING: May contain naughty language.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Off Balance

So tired.

Not from work, not from writing nor the act of living as opposed to existing. My fatigue stems from the never-ending barrage of intolerance, senseless violence, stupidity and a surge of "groupthink" not seen since the days of the Weimar Republic.

This is juxtaposed by the wonderful experience of sharing my father's 80th birthday over the weekend with family and friends not seen in decades. A celebration of a full-life and respect.

Too much of the good and too much of the bad leaving me swaying in the wind.

I won't chime in on my opinions on the horrific shootings in Orlando - there is ample text found on the Interwebs already. It does, however, remind me of a quote from Walter Jon Williams;

"I'm not afraid of werewolves or vampires or haunted hotels, I'm afraid of what real human beings to do other real human beings."

The shootings at Pulse leave me cold yet furious. But what really scares the shit out of me is the "business as usual" attitude displayed by so many in positions to actually change things. The NRA, the politicians on the take from them, the rigid and narrow minded views of Muslims by so many and just the rampant idiocy one sees on the news every night.

In the past I've voted both Republican and Democrat. I consider myself a "Rationalist" as best I can be. As such, I take on the responsibility to actually think for myself, to research and seek facts, not paid endorsements by expert pundits. I seldom like what I find under such rocks, but that is the trade-off of free thought.

Knowledge comes with a price if you're doing it right.

When I think about voting in November (and I WILL vote in November) I'm reminded of the "Would You Rather?" game we used to play in middle school as a kid.

"Would you rather go down a slide of razor blades and land in a pool of alcohol or have a 16 pound bowling ball drop on your nut sack?"

And so on. This coming election could be a lot like that...

Too many Americans are frustrated and angry at our government and are lashing out like villagers armed with pitchforks and torches, seeking a non-existent monster. We should be instead directing that energy towards other pursuits; pursuits which just "might" have a positive outcome despite the odds.

Just please don't ask me what those things are. I'm at a loss.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Leveling Up and Punching Water

To be honest, this has been a tough month as far as submissions and rejections go. Hot on the heels of attending an invigorating writing workshop in San Antonio, I promised myself to follow Uncle Jim's (Jim MacDonald - teacher extraordinaire from Viable Paradise) advice on writing and submitting one's work.

"Submit, submit and submit - until the Devil himself won't take it."

That particular strategy has met with less than successful results.


In the spirit of finding a silver lining, I have realized one important aspect about the rejection emails. They are NOT the dreaded "form R" in all the cases. Don't get me wrong - I'm not receiving detailed instructions on how to fix a particular work nor am I getting guidance on where to send the next work I create.

But what it means is that Very Busy People are taking the time to not only read my work, but take that extra 60 seconds to craft a more personal response. Which I'll take any day.

It means I'm "leveling up" - my skills are improving, I've adopted positive writing techniques at the unconscious layer and am incorporating lessons learned into my new work. It is still a struggle, no bones about it.

To borrow from eastern martial arts, I've mastered the basics of the form and must now redouble my efforts to transcend to the next tier. I can punch water with perfect form, but must learn to do so without making a ripple.


And that might take a while longer...


Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Old School

I never really studied English while I was in college. Thanks to some AP credit from high school, I was able to skip most of the intro classes. The only English class I ever took was on Creative Writing. I enjoyed it, but it was more of a "just one more thing to get done" class than anything else. I got my degrees, moved on in life and here I am - 24 years later.

Now that I've gotten into writing once more, with intent to actually sell my words, rather than amuse friends, I feel as though I've got a great deal of catching up to do. While I've always been a voracious reader, there are a lot of "classics" which I thought I was missing. After some weeks of research I'm pleased to discover that I'm not in that bad a shape.

I did, however, pick up a couple of books with intent to study and have just finished that exercise.

"Becoming a Writer" by Dorothea Brande (1934) and "The Rhetoric of Fiction" by Wayne C. Booth (1961)

There were some hilariously anachronistic words of advice in both of them, yet the fundamentals remain the same, even today.

I spent hours turning yellow page after yellow page, typing up notes into Evernote. Took a fair portion of the long weekend, to be honest.

When I finished with both books, I realized that while the "specifics" of writing may have changed a great deal in the past 80 years, the foundation has not;

1. Be original
2. Use good grammar
3. Make compelling characters
4. Make the reader care about them
5. Tension is the only thing which will ever force a reader to turn the page
6. Make the story worth the reader's time
7. Repeat as needed

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

How Honest is an "Honest" Review?

As some of you know, I am more than a little OCD when it comes to Goodreads. If I can't actually talk to somebody about a great book or a not-great book, I turn to the next best thing -- posting my thoughts for thousands of strangers to view.

So, yeah. There are over 1,500 ratings I've left and almost 550 reviews written over the years. I think my Average Rating of 3.73 is a bit on the high side, but that's cool. I've always been an easy grader.

As of late, I've received a lot of requests to read and review ARCs (Advance Reader Copies?) or books which may not have been published yet. The typical caveat is "...in exchange for an 'honest' review..."

90% of the time, I'm delighted to tear into the words, enjoy the ride and toss out my opinions on the Internet. Easy peasy.

The trouble with the other 10% usually starts around pages 1 to 3. It is right around that point that I get fed up with horrific grammar, non-stop cliches, ridiculous formatting, implausible characters or any of the myriad other things which make my "Inner Editor" jump to his feet and scream incoherently.

My Inner Editor's name is Cletus and he is a total bag-o-dicks but what can you do?

The challenge comes next. What should I do? I've given more than my fair share of 1 star reviews in the past. And I felt terrible about it; to such a degree that I now just stick my head in the sand and pretend I never read it.

I suspect there are better, more nuanced ways to handle such a thing. Or perhaps I'm making a big fuss over nothing. By the same token, if an author is sincere in their desire to get feedback on their work, I sort of feel obligated - no matter how bad it might be.

As I stated above, it doesn't happen often and never a work by somebody I actually know - but I live in mortal dread of the day that will happen.

How would you handle this kind of thing?

PS: The image above (from a Wii game console) does look a lot like me.

PPS: I do, in fact, own a gunmetal-grey body suit in which I patrol Chicago nightly, clinging to the shadows, ever-vigilant for the threat of...no.

That's a lie.

Monday, May 16, 2016

So, there was the Horror Writers Association "THING" in Vegas this Weekend...

Right. So there was that. And it was awesome for a variety of reasons.

I've been writing with "intent to sell" for about 5 years now. I've made;
- 12 publications
- several major "events"
- numerous contacts in the industry
- countless friends
- Viable Paradise, Taos Toolbox and Paradise Lost (several times)

I feel like I was baptized once gain in the Font of N00B this weekend at HWA.

Yep, I'm still gathering my far-flung thoughts but will report back WHEN ABLE.


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

A Matter of Pespective

Fresh off the heels of an invigorating workshop (Paradise Lost - San Antonio, TX) I hit the ground running with regards to my dozens of "works in progress" and submittable content.

Just being in the presence of twenty-some-odd pros and semi-pros was enough to get my gears turning and my fingers typing. In the span of 24 hours, I revised at least four (4) short stories I've had in the trunk. I polished them to a shiny gloss, gave them each a tiny sack lunch, patted their collective heads and sent them into the WYLDE to seek their fortunes.

48 hours later, I'd collected an impressive number of rejection emails. While one or two of my works are still at large in the Interwebs, no doubt trapped in some slush reader's Inbox, most came home - bedraggled, soaking wet and bruised about the head and shoulders from editorial pummeling. I took them in, gave them some hot soup and sent them off to bed.

A few years ago this would have been a severe disappointment. The (inner editor / Imposter / self-critic / negative Muse named Noyoucantia) would have a field day with it. The usual self-doubt, crippling lack of external validation and YOU SUCK buttons; the whole nine yards.

But this was different. There were no "FORM - R" (template rejection letters) in the responses. They were, in fact, encouraging. Sure, my work was not right for them due to various and sundry reasons, but the editors (very, very busy people) took the time to read the WHOLE THING. Words of advice, valuable feedback and encouraging requests for future submissions were the common denominator in every single rejection letter I received.

So what?

Well, that means I'm getting better at the craft of writing. I'm improving.

I prefer to label rejection letters as "Notices of Not-Quite-Acceptance" and will continue to do so as long as I keep working at it.

Now. Onto the next submission. Its a little chilly out there - my manuscript will probably need some mittens and a jacket.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Chuck Wendig's Latest Challenge (April 30th, 2016)

A couple of weeks ago, one of my favorite writers, Chuck Wendig, posted a challenge at his popular blog site "Terribleminds."

He asked for submissions of the title of reader's current WIP (works in progress) so I decided to play along.

I shared the name of my current work - "Malwhere" - and lo and behold! It was selected as one of the Top 10.

The followup challenge was to create a < 1,000 word piece of fiction. So here it is.  ; )



The ominous tones of Darth Vader’s theme music erupted from Lucretia’s laptop and echoed throughout her corner office. The Director was Instant Messaging her. She squinted at the message box. All she could make out was the sender’s name in bold red font, followed by lines of strange symbols.
“Oh, for Pete’s sake,” she muttered and responded back to the instant message.
HIGGINS, L:  My Aramaic is a bit rusty. English, please.
DIRECTOR, THE: Ms. Higgins, the Board requires assistance from you. They need information on estimated effects of a locust swarm in Madagascar, cross-referenced with the profits and losses in commodity quinoa trading markets, aggregated by potential impact of a global dengue fever pandemic. By COB today, please.
She glared at the message on her screen. This was an impossible task, especially given the recent budget cuts. 
DIRECTOR, THE: The Board is concerned about certain activities from The Competition. This represents an existential threat to AsurasTek.
Lucretia closed her eyes and counted to five before typing her response.
HIGGINS, L: It will be challenging. Our systems are maxed out. To model something like this will take more resources. If I could re-bind some of our other daemons-
Her screen flashed an angry red and the stench of brimstone filled her office. A peal of thunder rattled the windows.
DIRECTOR, THE: Unacceptable. The Board is adamant. The earthquakes in South America, the drought in Europe and never-ending sequels to “Fifty Shades of Grey” are the only initiatives generating enough MPP to keep us solvent.
HIGGINS, L: I understand Misery Product per Person is what keeps us out of the red but if we don’t have enough daemons for the incantation, what am I to do?
She mashed the Return key with enough force to break the nail on her index finger. She gasped at the sudden pain and stuck her finger in her mouth, but not before a single scarlet drop of blood splashed onto the keyboard. It hissed briefly and vanished in a curl of copper-scented smoke.
DIRECTOR, THE: Precisely, Ms. Higgins. It will likely take blood. Our soothsayers agree that you’ll think of something. I suggest you do so. Need I remind you that, as per your contract, should the company go under, your soul comes with us? Good day.
Lucretia leaned back in her chair and exhaled slowly. Her mind was racing, awash with desperate plan after plan. For the next few hours she lost herself in the pages of musty tomes, tattered grimoires and scraps of Gnostic incantations written on cocktail napkins. Even Google couldn’t provide any answers. Filing an SRO - Soul Requisition Order - would take days to complete. Days she didn’t have.
Shortly before noon, Lucretia slumped into her chair. She was fresh out of ideas. Conjuring a daemon powerful enough to run the computation wasn’t the problem. That was the easy part. The hard part was binding the infernal creature to one’s will, forcing it into a computer server and making it do what needed to be done. That was the challenge.  Well, that and keeping one’s soul where it belonged. Daemons did not enjoy being summoned and could get fussy from time to time.
Lucretia started as her phone beeped. She stabbed the TALK button.
“Karen? Didn’t I tell you to hold all my calls?” she snapped.
“Ma’am, your 12 o’clock is here. Mr. Riordan?” answered Karen, her assistant.
She’d completely forgotten about the interview. Had meant to cancel it, in fact. Riordan had a bad reputation in an already rotten industry. While a talented infernal technology professional, he was regarded as self-serving, conniving, homicidal and ambitious. The last thing she needed was some backstabbing -
Lucretia smiled as the last gear fell into place.
“Sorry, Karen. I forgot. It’s been hectic today. Why don’t you send him…” She looked around her office. Piles of books were strewn across the floor and the stench of sulphur was still in the air.
“Karen, could you please send him to the data center? Summoning pentagram number four, I think.”  she asked.
“Yes, ma’am.”
“Thank you.” Lucretia hung up and rummaged through her desk.
“Where did I…” she muttered.
Her fingers finally found the ice-cold steel of her sacrificial athame, a gift from the Director to mark her 30th anniversary of employment. She examined it with a critical eye and pursed her lips. The edges were still plenty sharp, but it could use a little polish.
Hours later, back in her office, Lucretia stared at the IM window on the cracked screen of her laptop with glazed eyes. She was exhausted; her right foot ached, her back was sore and her left knee was swollen. Riordan had been a lot tougher than she figured.
DIRECTOR, THE: The Board is pleased, Ms. Higgins. The models are working out perfectly and the daemon you procured to work the incantation seems uncommonly zealous. We surmise the Competition will be too tied up unraveling our latest project to even consider a counter-offensive of their own. Well done.
HIGGINS, L: Thank you, sir. Glad I could help.
DIRECTOR, THE: Furthermore the Board, in their infinite generosity, has decided to award you with a spot bonus, pursuant to your contract and terms of employment. Five years, Ms. Higgins. I personally believe it too much, but was outvoted. Thank you again.
     The chat window vanished and Lucretia leaned back in her chair, staring at the pad of Post It notes on her desk. She removed the note with the number “23” on it and tossed it in the wastebasket. With a black Sharpie she wrote the number “18” on the fresh note.
Less than two short decades before she could reclaim her soul and be free of AsurasTek forever. But until that day, if it ever came, Lucretia had no choice but to keep working; conjuring infernal beings, binding them to her will and exporting despair around the globe.

At least it paid the bills.