WARNING: May contain naughty language.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Decisions, Decisions

Every day in my "work life" I'm responsible for a dozen decisions. 

  • Where do we need to hire technical talent?
  • What kind of training does X need to become even better?
  • Is there true technical alignment in our latest engagement?
  • Where should I eat lunch?
Making such decisions has become far easier over time. As a fan of Gladwell's "Blink" I often go with my gut and am seldom disappointed. Usually works out fine. Or at the very worst I can go back and refine my decision after the fact.

Yet I have a terrible time making decisions about my writing and where to spend the scant time I have during the day.

  • Which "A" lister publication should I try to get a rejection email from next?
  • Should I work on my novel or take a break to write a short piece for an interesting anthology?
  • Oxford comma or not?
  • What workshops to attend this year?
  • Of the seven books on my bookshelf, which one is NEXT?
I twist and turn, weighing each decision almost to the point of analysis paralysis. I sweat, ring my hands and take long walks to get a better perspective. When I finally do decide, I'm immediately gripped by anxiety that I've made a terrible mistake.

Yet, to this point, I've been cool with each choice. So, maybe I should stop worrying and just write. Yeah! That sounds like a perfect idea...but what if I'm working on the wrong thing? 

Oh, well. 

Analyze --> Decide --> ACT --> Enjoy

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Paradise Lost...AND Found in San Antonio (April 27 - 30, 2017)

    For my writer friends. "Give me six hours to cut down a tree and I'll spend the first hour sharpening the saw." - Abe Lincloln
    Need an infusion of creative energy? Need to reconnect with the penmonkey tribe? Need some professional guidance on your writing? Can't afford to go to Helsinki for Worldcon? Check out Paradise Lost in San Antonio, Texas and SHARPEN YOUR SAW.

    I've attended this workshop for the past three years and have had an AMAZING experience each time. Professional writers (Melinda Snodgrass, Chuck Wendig, WJW and many others) plus industry insiders and editors - ALL of whom are glad to hang out, toss back libations, talk shop and play Cards Against Humanity.

   Reconnect with your tribe. Learn new tricks. Make new friends - write them into your books and KILL THEM ALL! 

   Applications are open, so why wait?

   Hosted by the indomitable Sean Patrick Kelly, this is the SINGLE writing event / workshop I plan around, year after year.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Bourbon Trail

My father turned 80 years old back in June. Had a great big birthday bash with friends and family from all over the country. My brother, sister and I had the ultimate gift planned for him - an "all expense paid" (ie., we'd pick up the bill) trip to Lexington and Louisville, Kentucky to visit the finer distilleries in the state.

My Dad loves his bourbon - which likely explains my predilection for the stuff as well.

Coordinating schedules took a while, but we finally nailed the date, made reservations and made our collective ways to Bourbon Country.

Day One:
Keeneland Farms and Racetrack - Amazing early morning walk around the grounds. Beautiful rolling hills and thoroughbreds.

Woodford Reserve Distillery - Great facility and staff. FINE sampling to be had in the tasting. And most amazing of all, I've been drinking bourbon WRONG for all these years!

Four Roses Distillery - Least impressive facility. DON'T DRINK THE YELLOW LABEL. Ever.

Amazing dinner at The Merrick Inn. So tasty!

Day Two:
KAD (Kentucky Artisanal Distilleries) - Makers of top-shelf Jefferson Reserve and a few others. Had a fantastic tour of the facility. Great tour guide gave us the lowdown on all the "goings-on" on location. Was impressive. Had a nice tasting afterwards and walked out with a limited edition bottle of Jefferson Reserve aged in RUM barrels! Can't wait to sample that awesomeness.

Bardstown - Amazing little town which bills itself as the home of bourbon. Spent some time walking about, enjoying the small town charm and favorable weather. Enjoyed a great lunch at the very, very historic Talbott Tavern where Jesse James and his gang had a shootout in 1868. Oh, yeah. Its haunted, too.

Finished the day at Jim Beam, the very largest of all the distilleries visited. Much more commercialized than the others but still enjoyable.

Dinner at the Butchertown Grocery for some remarkable high-end cuisine to finish up the trip.

All in all, a great trip worth repeating.


Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Luke Cage and Some Random Beers I've Tried this Week

Like millions of other viewers, I binged on Luke Cage over the weekend. As a fan of Netflix's prior projects like "Daredevil" and "Jessica Jones" I was looking forward to this series.

And it did not disappoint. 

Filled with action, tension and some amazing music I thought the series did a great job of depicting Power Man, Luke Cage.

Was it perfect? Nope. 

The plot was about as straight forward as one could envision. Very, very little in the way of genuine surprises or twists. Another aspect which kind of irked me was the lack of creativity during the fight scenes. Most of Cage's moves involved hurling bad guys about the room ala "The Incredible Hulk" TV show or even "The Six Million Dollar Man". Even the final showdown was little more than a super-powered slugfest. I was hoping to get a taste of the famous Daredevil "Hallway Fight Scene" which is up there with the very best combat choreography ever filmed.

Those minor flaws aside, it was a powerful and well-acted series. And the scenes of everyday life in Harlem were exceptional to view. 

I also drank some beer while watching it, which should come as no surprise to anybody who knows me.

Atwater Dirty Blonde: Watery, golden, fizzy with hint of citrus. Pretty weak. (2/5)

Diabolical IPA (North Peak Brewery): Pine and citrus, bitter aftertaste, bottle looks like a recycled Red Stripe. Average IPA (2.5/5)

Atwater Decadent Chocolate Ale:  What can I say? Dark Chocolate + ale. Nasty stuff which I'll never try again. Killed my sense of taste for the rest of the night. (0.5/5)

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Satiated Bookworm

For the past decade, I've meticulously maintained a list of books. Books I've read, books I've heard about and books I want to read. I figure I add half a dozen or so every month. Last night, as I finished the final page of "Dinosaur Knights" by Victor Milan, I checked my queue for the next target.

It was empty.

All the bestsellers I wanted to read, works by friends and interesting titles, not to mention the novels from my wife's book club.

Done. Nothing. Nada.

Guess I have NO excuses for not writing now...bummer.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Pause for Process - My Approach

I've written about 3 novels over the past seven years. One of them is buried in my backyard, another is imprisoned in a 3.5 inch floppy disk and the last is in a perpetual state of starvation, locked in the trunk like a desiccated vampire, fed once every 6 months with red ink.

I do a lot of software stuff for a living. And a lot of project management work to go along wth the coding. Countless articles, magazines and books talk about methods of writing. But I think I've finally created a process which I'll try for a while.

Now, if I can only MAKE the time needed to write the ten or so novels I've outlined, I'll be off to the races! Right...wish me luck.

Double-click to enlarge - formatting is TERRIBLE!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Insidious (and Expensive) Delight of Reading a Great Anthology

I'm currently engrossed in a great collection of urban fantasy short stories called "Urban Allies". Relatively new book, it contains a number of authors whose work I've read before but more writers who are new to me. The concept is simple but VERY KEWL.

When I was much younger and most comic titles sold for 35 to 45 CENTS each, one of my favorite monthly titles was the Marvel Team Ups. Two traditionally "solo" heroes would find themselves having to work together to combat the latest menace. Thus, the Punisher would fight side by side Ghost Rider. Or Spider-Man and Man Thing (which never failed to BLOW MY MIND).

"Urban Allies" does the same thing to equal effect. Take two protagonists from an established series, mix 'em together and see what happens.

I'm enjoying it immensely. But there is a problem...

I'm a methodical planner when it comes to my reading. I aggressively use Goodreads Want To Read tag on a great many books. At this time, I'm 75% finished with "Urban Allies" and noticed that my Want to Read List is growing. Fast. Every time I read a short work with an author I don't recognize, I add them to the list.

Which I'm sure is one of the goals of the anthology.

Glad I fell into their target audience so easily. Time to borrow from my 401(k) in order to fund my next round of binge-reading, I guess.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Essentialism: A New Way of Looking at Everything

I first heard about this book from a co-worker who read it and gained a lot of insight. I thought it sounded intriguing, so I picked up a copy that day.

While it is a fast read (not a lot of pages - falls into the category of LBB (Little Business Book) - it is chockfull of goodness.

The primary point of the book is that all people are stretched too thin - whether at work, at home, at play or all places in-between. It is too easy to go from a challenged and happy "winner" to a disgruntled, disillusioned burn out without proper guidance.

While reading the book, I had several "aha" moments and knew PRECISELY what the author was getting at.

Just to be clear, like most books of this nature, I don't agree with 100% of his statements. But I can appreciate and (even better) adopt 90%+ of his recommendations. I was delighted to find that I was already doing more than a few of his process steps on my own. Reading this book allowed me to further refine, define and adopt better approach to work and life.

I took copious notes (in pencil, in the margins) and suspect I'll be referring to it many times in the future.

"Essentialism" is a quick book, but well worth your time.

I've already started to apply some of the lessons to my writing. For example, under the category of the fallacy of sunk-cost basis. For close to two decades the Concorde flew transatlantic flights between North America and Europe. While it trimmed the time of the crossing to 2.5 hours, it literally lost millions of dollars on every flight! Yet, the owners of the company were CERTAIN that if the just waited it out, things would turn around.

20 years and 20 BILLION dollars later, they stopped operations. Why did they continue? Sunk-cost basis, that's why. The irrational feeling of "well, we've come this far. We can't stop now."

WRONG! You can and should continually inspect your results, make corrections, change strategy and if nothing else works - STOP IMMEDIATELY.

I have a short story I wrote six years ago; one of my first ever. Took it to Viable Paradise where it was promptly shredded by instructors and peers alike.

Ouch. But I continually tinker with it, knowing that there is a great story in it. I just have to chip away all the crap surrounding it. BUT in the time I've spent re-jiggering the work, I could have written at least 3 or 4 new things. Reading this book explained my irrational desire to continue working on a dead horse. I might end up recycling scenes or even the basic premise, but that story is DOA.

"Essentialism" is filled with such wisdom and each day I find a new method to apply to my work and home life.

Give it a read. You won't be sorry.

Monday, August 1, 2016

10 Things I Learned Watching "Sharknado: The 4th Awakens"

For the past several years I've cleared my calendar in late July / early August to await the annual extravaganza which is Syfy's Sharknado. 

Combine the most talented actors of this century with cutting-edge special effects, a top-shelf script, touching dialogue, complex and subtle character interactions and add a swirling vortex of sharks and you may start to appreciate the spectacle which is SHARKNADO.

After watching the premiere last night, I found myself unable to sleep. I was too amped up from the 120 minutes of pure, unrefined awesome I'd just experienced. So I reflected upon the lessons learned from watching the movie.


#1: Sharknadoes DO occur, so best be prepared. Always have an industrial-strength chainsaw fueled and ready for action. A chainsaw is the ONLY thing which can save you in the event of such a disaster. 

#2: If a sharknado passes over a nuclear power plant, it gets upgraded to a NUKENADO and the sharks within will glow with radioactivity. Instead of just devouring you on the fly, they can explode like finned gamma ray bursts! Very dangerous!!!

#3: A sharknado passing over high-tension electrical wires will absorb the energy and transform into a LIGHTNINGNADO! (Google it - there is such a thing) Almost as dangerous as a NUKENADO (see #2 above), the maelstrom of large carnivorous fish will also discharge gigavolts of electrical energy below, electrocuting everything in its path. I know, right?!

#4: Despite being a Chicagoan for the past 16 years and never seeing them before, there are apparently a lot of palm trees along Michigan Avenue and Millennium Park. Not sure how I missed those...

#5: A blue whale will have no problems devouring a giant Great White Shark. The unfathomable strength of a sharknado is more than enough to keep the 120 foot long, 40 ton mammal in the air. In fact, during such an event, it is common for the sharks to eat each other in rapid succession like Russian nesting dolls.

#6: Cutting edge scientists of tomorrow will all wear Google Smart Glasses, use rubber bands and velcro to attach iPads to their forearms and have not one, but TWO Bluetooth earbuds. They will science the shit out of any problems we might face.

#7: Comcast is very subtle about their clever product placement ads. This includes Xfinity, NBC, Universal studios and myriad other holdings they own. As a corollary to this, when Comcast essentially owns the rights to every movie or TV show produced over the past decade, there is no shame (or legal problems) with plagiarizing (...that word just LOOKS wrong, doesn't it?) your own intellectual property.

#8: Ignore #1. The very best weapon one can use in the event of a sharknado is actually a mechanoid suit of powered battle armor, armed with not one, but TWO chainsaws affixed to where one's hands should be. Opposable digits are unnecessary in the event of a sharknado. But such suits are hard to find in an emergency...

#9: Fireworks are an effective method of nullifying a sharknado. Simply stuff the pyrotechnics in the barrel of a cannon (such as the kind frequently found on pirate ships), toss in a match, take aim and BOOOM! No more sharknado.

#10: Carrot Top is now an Uber driver in Vegas. Always wondered what happened to him...

Now I have another year of waiting to get my next fix. Oh, well. At least I recorded it on the DVR.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

"Stranger Things" - A Brief Review

I was eagerly awaiting the launch of Season 1 of "Stranger Things", a Netflix original television program on Friday, July 14th.

Based on trailers and what I'd read of the show, it sounded like it was directly in my wheelhouse. Consisting of just 8 episodes, the show chronicles the life of several citizens of Hawkins, Indiana and how they cope with "strange goings-on" in their town.

Set in 1983, the show captured the look and feel of the time very well. Watching the young protagonists hanging out in a basement, riding their bikes in search of clues and the general sense of adventure reminded me a lot of my own youth during that time.

The Good:
- Interesting story
- Well-cast
- Nice serial feel to entire Season
- Several AMAZING surprises
- the soundtrack was pure 80's John Carpenter

The Not As Good:
- Exceptionally tropey in all ways
- Winona Ryder's "enthusiasm" for her role
- A blissful ignorance of tensions in a small Midwest town
- Scenes, dialogue and plot directly procured from approximately a dozen works by Spielberg and Stephen King. Unapologetically so at times.

While I enjoyed the show (yep - binge watched over 3 days) the finale was a bit of a head scratcher. It seemed to me that the writers and directors were expecting one or two more episodes in the season and were caught by surprise at the end.

"Well, we have a lot of plot arcs to complete, characters to punish and 'hanging chads' to punch. Let's see how many we do in 60 minutes!" Or so I imagined the conversation.

Still, "Stranger Things" is the worth the time. As I described to a couple of friends:

"The perfect mashup of 'The Goonies' meets 'ET' as written by Stephen King, shooting for a PG-13 rating. And a dash of Lovecraft for seasoning."

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Heavy Price of Insider Knowledge or How a Tour of the Jerky Factory Ruined Me

There are several authors whose work I've read faithfully for years. Think of it as "comfort reading", if you will. Series which have gone on for decades or more. Clive Cussler, Tom Clancy and numerous others fall into that category. On some level, I was well-aware that the books were not "literary tour de force" material, but I enjoyed the stories and reading about familiar characters was like visiting with old friends you've not seen a while.

In short, I was blissfully ignorant.

But since making a serious run at learning the craft of writing, my tastes have changed. There are some authors among my favorites who I cannot really read any longer. The writing style hasn't changed, but I'm no longer able to dedicate hours of my life to completing a book which is only mediocre, no matter how much I love it.

For example, yesterday I finished a book in a very long-running series. Fact is, it has long been among my favorites. But after just a few chapters, the inner editor in my brain started analyzing what I was reading, noting all the "choices" made by the author. Choices I'd have not even noticed a few years ago, were highlighted in my brain. I eventually had to "turn off" that part of my head and just enjoy the ride. Which I did.

While attending Taos Toolbox last year (a bucket list item for ANY speculative fiction writer) I had a conversation with the great author and mentor, Walter Jon Williams. I asked him about this situation and he offered me a rueful smile. 

"It sucks, doesn't it?" he said.

Its a lot like knowing all the secrets of a magician's act - you can enjoy the showmanship, but the illusions don't have the same magic they used to.

Almost a decade ago, I was working with a customer interested in the software I was peddling at the time. They made beef jerky. Part of our standard process was an on-site visit and behind-the-scenes tour of their facility to better learn how our software could help them in different areas.

This included up-close and personal visits to the RENDERING ROOM. With great pride, they showed us, from start to finish, how a dead cow ends up as a thousand strips of teriyaki or BBQ flavored jerky, vacuum-sealed and safe to eat for the next 500 years.

Since that day, I've not been able to look at beef jerky, let alone take a bite. 

In a similar fashion, I can no longer just pick up a book, dive in and enjoy the story. My right brain still craves the story, the characters and the overall COOLNESS of the tale. But my left brain will immediately start noticing all the elements of theme, motif, grammar, syntactical construction, three or five act construction, dialogue/action tags, rising tension/stakes and the myriad other components that go into a good novel.

Now, I have to muzzle the snarky bastard just to enjoy a good yarn. I have to keep quiet during movies with my wife so as to avoid pointing out foreshadowing, act breaks and other petty details. I'm unable to sit down, turn on the TV and turn off the brain. 

It sucks, doesn't it?

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

More on Rejection

I have the pleasure of working for a very progressive software company which places a high degree of value on hard work and having fun. A very open organization, my employer hosts a HUGE event every September for our 12,000 customers. Each year they solicit employees for ideas and abstracts to present during the event. For the past 4 years, I've been accepted and had a great time presenting my content in front of hundreds of customers.

Until this year.

I got rejected. By work. To present on a software package I helped create! Following Kubler-Ross to a tee, my reaction was as follows:

DENIAL: "What? I think they sent this email to me by mistake."
ANGER: "Fools! They'll rue the day they did not choose me to present my material!"
BARGAINING: "Ok, what if I make it shorter and include a section where I'm juggling flaming chainsaws? On a unicycle?"
DEPRESSION: <surly silence>
ACCEPTANCE: "I think they're doing the event in Vegas next year! I should probably start preparing now."

When I think how many rejection slips I've received from various publishers and editors over the past 5 years, I have to grin. This? This is nothing.

"You have to know how to accept rejection and reject acceptance.” – Ray Bradbury

“I love my rejection slips. They show me I try.” – Sylvia Plath

“Rejections slips, or form letters, however tactfully phrased, are lacerations of the soul, if not quite inventions of the devil – but there is no way around them.” – Isaac Asimov

“Every rejection is incremental payment on your dues that in some way will be translated back into your work.” – James Lee Burke


“Rejection has value. It teaches us when our work or our skillset is not good enough and must be made better. This is a powerful revelation, like the burning UFO wheel seen by the prophet Ezekiel, or like the McRib sandwich shaped like the Virgin Mary seen by the prophet Steve Jenkins. Rejection refines us. Those who fall prey to its enervating soul-sucking tentacles are doomed. Those who persist past it are survivors. Best ask yourself the question: what kind of writer are you? The kind who survives? Or the kind who gets asphyxiated by the tentacles of woe?” – Chuck Wendig

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.