Category Archives: writing

The Voyeur – #VSS

Goliath-birdeater

Josh squinted intently at the computer screen watching every squirm and gasp. The stirring in his pants went ignored until he just couldn’t stand the constriction anymore. He fumbled his fly open.

The girl’s body was covered with a half dozen of the huge tarantulas. The guy that took the video said they were called bird eaters.

He chuckled as he thought about the “bird” they were crawling all over. He yanked his underwear out of the way. Before he could grasp the erection, a black box popped up on his screen.

Mr. Dewers,
I can't tel you how glad I am that you're enjoying my videos. They evidently excite you, based on your reaction.

Josh scooted back in his chair. “What?” The waistband of his shorts crept back into place, scraping his skin.

Watching the watchers is how I choose my next star. I hope you like leeches as much as this young lady liked my Goliaths.

Josh didn’t hear the soft coughing noise, but he did feel the dart at the base of his neck. When he woke up, he felt slimy trails on his skin. His screams echoed back from the glass walls surrounding him.

 

Who Do You Write For? Who, who? Who who?

Glasses Hang I have a friend who actually writes for a living (I have a few of those actually). This particular person writes for a game company. I’d be wrong if I told you that didn’t make me a little jealous, but that’s a WHOLE ‘NOTHER post. So he says on Facebook “One of the most oppressive yet necessary aspects of writing fiction, at least for me, is the constant awareness that I am writing for other people.” That made me raise an eyebrow.

One thing I have often been told is, you need to write for yourself. You need to create what you think is cool/neat-o/awesome. “To thine own self be true”. Etc. There’s some truth to that, but upon further questioning my friend, he said “Because, you see, if I’m writing just for myself, I have nothing to say that I don’t already know. So basically I have to think about other people actually reading my stuff if I am going to write in the first place.”

Setting aside for the moment whether or not you agree with that as a motivation for writing, this is actually good advice when you talk about the craft of writing. One issue I’ve had pop up time and again in my rough drafts is my brain taking short cuts. I know what’s supposed to happen and where and when (sometimes anyway). Trouble is, not all of those things make it on to the page. For example, in the Ginnie Dare sequel I mentioned the Perry-Gamblin drive fairly early on, without saying what that is. Part of my brain assumed that the reader would know that that was the name for the FTL drive (and in that there’s an assumption that you would know what “FTL” means). My editor, angelic demon spawn that she is, was quick to point out that I needed to clarify. That aspect alone makes my friend’s post worthwhile.

This is why you often get the advice “let your writing breathe”. You need to set aside your work long enough so that you come to it with fresh eyes. Then hopefully you’ll catch things like that. You need to read this like you’re a complete stranger to any and all most of the ideas contained within. Since that’s not completely at all possible, you need to at least get a beta reader involved. It may even be worthwhile to get someone who doesn’t read in that genre to check it out. Their unfamiliarity with the tropes may lead to changes that make your fiction more accessible.

Now, on to what I think he really meant. The purpose of his writing a story is so that someone else can read it. I grok that after thinking about it. As someone with a rich imagination, I often tell myself stories that no one else gets to see. When I get an idea that I want to share, I have to write it down to do it justice. In other words, I’m writing for other people. Am I also writing for myself? Sure. I get pleasure from the act of writing. Taking my thoughts and putting them on paper or LCD screen can help me flesh them out. In fact there are a few stories in electronic files that I’ve written almost solely for me. I may or may not ever share them. I wrote them as either an experiment or an exercise, and thus those are only for my benefit. If I ever released those I would have to go through them and at least re-write them for someone else.

So here’s the Q&A – Who do you write for and why do you write? What do you think of my friend’s notions?

The Many Faces of Publishing

Man-E-Faces_human There are more avenues to getting published these days than ever before. I’ve been through a few of these and I have friends that have been published in even more ways. That makes us “hybrid” authors and it seems to be a good path to pursue since each way comes with its own advantages and disadvantages.

Traditionally published (large publisher) – There are a few authors I know that have been published by what I would consider large publishing houses. Scott Sigler has been published by Crown, a subsidiary of Random House. Tee Morris and Philippa Ballantine have been published by Harper. In watching their careers it seems that first and foremost, the advantages involve mostly things on the book production end. They don’t have to be concerned with getting covers or editing done. The publisher takes care of all of that. There is also the matter of getting their books in major chains. It seems that that’s a given with the larger house. That doesn’t automatically result in higher sales, but the visibility can’t hurt. Depending on how large your audience is, there’s also the matter of larger advances (though from what I’ve heard those are getting smaller unless you’re already very popular).

There are certainly a few perceived drawbacks. It can take a year or more to get the book out. You give up a certain amount of control when it comes to things like the cover. You also give up many of your rights in traditional contracts. Given the number of authors I know who like to do things like produce their own audio books, this can be problematic.

Traditionally published (small publisher) – The above authors also have experience with smaller publishers. Then there are folks like Jake Bible, Paul Cooley, and Nathan Lowell who are making or have made significant strides in their careers by publishing primarily with houses like Dragon Moon Press and Severed Press. This direction can often give you more creative control. You may be able to retain things like audio rights and could have some input on covers and marketing. There’s also the matter of a greater amount of mobility with them. Many smaller publishers can get your book to market more quickly. Paul’s latest book, The Black, was written, edited, and published in about seven or eight months.

Of course, since these houses are smaller you might not get the amount of visibility. You might also have to do more of your own marketing. Then there’s the matter of that publisher surviving in a very competitive market. Small publishers are more likely to fold up shop without notice or not live up to their commitments thanks to staffing or other issues.

I’ve had short stories published by smaller presses in anthologies and magazines. So, I’ve experienced both the above mentioned advantages and disadvantages.

Independently published – This is where I have most experience. Most of the authors I know have done this with varying degrees of success. It grants you the most freedom since you are the master of your own domain. With that freedom comes a greater amount of work. In order to be successful, it’s wise to do things like acquiring the services of an editor, a cover artist, and someone to do layout and design. You also have to figure out how to do all of your own marketing or hire someone to do that for you.

With that freedom though also comes a higher percentage of profit in sales. Whereas someone in the first two instances might earn a royalty from six to fifteen percent depending on the contract, an independent can see anywhere from thirty to one hundred percent of sales. All of that depends on what sales channels you use and whether or not you are doing ebooks only. The margins on paper books can be smaller. Of course, that’s also up to you.

The more I watch the careers of my friends the more I am convinced that there’s no ONE TRUE WAY. Having said that, what makes the most sense seems to be some combination of the three. As an author who’s still largely independent, I do hope to one day be published by both a large house and a smaller one. I want to experience all of the options for myself and see what works best for me.

For those of you who have experience in any of these venues, I’m curious as to what your expereinces are and what advice you have for authors like me and those who have yet to dip their toe into any of these turbid and turbulent waters. And have I left anything out?

Bond of Love (VSS)

This story was inspired by a photo taken from a collection of stock photos. Click here to see them.

IMG_1917Jurgen and Hans knew that they would receive a lot of scorn for their decision. They had been lovers for a dozen years and from the moment they first met they knew they would be inseparable. It was only a matter of time before they made that more than figurative. Finding a doctor was the hardest part. When they met Dr. Milton thanks to a referral from a friend they were hopeful. They sat in his office wearing the sweater Hans had knitted especially for their post operative life.

“So, how has your test period gone so far?”

Hans answered. “We have gotten more than a few strange looks and no small amount of negative comments.”

Jurgen picked up where he left off. “But that was to be expected. The first transexuals had to go through unimaginable pain and scorn. It will be no different for us.”

Milton nodded. “That is why I wanted you to live as near as you could to your eventual conjoined state. Are you quarters ready?”

“We have worked out all of the bugs well before we met you, doctor.”

“We are ready.”

“Good.” Milton checked his notes. “I have you scheduled for surgery the first of the month. I want you to continue wearing the band that holds you together until then.”

“I can’t help but wonder why you’re so willing to help us.” Jurgen touched Hans’ chest. “We’ve talked about it and I just have to ask. Won’t this cost you your medical license?”

Milton stood, folded his hands behind his back, and walked to the full length window. Stars twinkled in the blackness. Only an inch separated him from the vacuum of space. “There is certainly potential for that to happen. It is a risk I am willing to take. When I took a cyborg as my wife, people looked down on us. They questioned my humanity. There were death threats. We faced it all together. I don’t expect people to understand my choices or agree with them, but if all parties are well adjusted and mature individuals who are we to judge?” He turned from the window and faced the couple. “I want to thank you for trusting me to do this. Recovery will be painful and there will be hurdles that you can’t imagine. I believe that based on your psych profiles and the counseling you’ve gone through that you can come through it all okay. Otherwise I wouldn’t have agreed to this.”

The men stood. “Thank you for your faith in us.” The took his outstretched hand in each of theirs and shook. “We will see you in a few weeks.”

Paladin Trap Detector (#VSS)

Ulrich the Strong looked from Rabith the Mouse to the door and back. “You checked this for traps, yes?”

Rabith nodded, shaggy black hair shaking. “Thoroughly, yes.”

Ulrich sheathed Demon’s Bane and placed one mailled palm against the door. “I pray to the almighty Elrath, keep your servant strong and whole.” He pulled back his hand and balled both into a single, massive fist. The iron braced wooden door shivered in its frame and cracked down the middle. Before the halves hit the floor he had re-drawn the enchanted sword at his hip.

The room beyond was cloaked in inky darkness. Igthan the Wise held forth his wand. “There is danger beyond.”

Even Ulrich couldn’t restrain an eye roll. “Thanks wizard.”

He inched forward into the darkness, Demon’s Bane glowing brighter with each step. He almost stepped off of the lip of the stone floor. He drew a silver coin from the purse at his belt and tossed it to the floor in front of him. He counted for a full three seconds before he heard it strike the ground below. A low rumble followed the ringing of metal on stone. “All is well. You can join me.”

Rabith’s step was almost inaudible. If Ulrich hadn’t been travelling with him for years he may have missed it.

“Watch out for that…”

Rabith screamed as he fell.

The blackness subsided as the demonic creature below dropped his concentration to advance on the morsel now in its lair.

Ulrich smiled as he saw the little thief crouched below, both daggers drawn.

“That was a nasty trick, Ulrich.” Rabith shouted, not taking his eyes off of the creature.

“I just wanted to see if rogues were as adept at finding traps as you believed paladins to be.” He smiled and leaped out into the room below, sword point down and aimed squarely between the demon’s shoulder blades.

Ightan shook his head and readied the first of many healing spells he would need that day.

A Prickly Fellow

This story was inspired by a photo taken from a collection of stock photos. Click here to see them.

IMG_1895 Chip had always been unusual. Even as a boy he’d been drawn to things that others found difficult to understand. The perfect example was the picture his mom kept of him embracing and sniffing a cactus. He didn’t remember if it was the smell or the way that the pressure of the spines against his skins. It wasn’t about pain. He’d never really pricked himself. Still, it was just odd. Or so people told him.

All of his life he’d had a hard time finding, making, and keeping friends. He wanted companionship and even people who could accept him for who he was often didn’t appeal to him at all. Eventually he decided that the best thing to do would be to make a copy of himself. He didn’t have any expertise in biology so cloning was right out. Technology wasn’t advanced enough to make an AI version of himself, so even that was out.

Ultimately, he decided that the only way to make it happen would be time travel or magic.

If there was anything that time travel movies told him, it was that meeting yourself led most often to disaster. That left finding a spell that would do the trick. This was where his oddness came in handy. He didn’t have an opinion one way or another when it came to magic’s existence. People that had strong feelings about its existence were often as strange as he was. He was able to find and make friends with them as a result. After enough networking with the oddments and outcasts, he found himself standing in the basement of an apartment in Turkey. Candles lit the room and a woman in little more than a bathrobe, her skin covered in arcane glyphs, chanted wall passing her hands over an ancient text.

This had been going on for an hour, when he started to feel an uncomfortable tingling in his chest. He would have been concerned, but Morgana, the bathrobe woman, had told him to expect this.

“The process,” she said in her unique and potentially faked accent, “is not easy or comfortable. You might pass out from the pain or from boredom. Don’t.”

He hadn’t been bored. She was attractive to look at and the more she passed her hands over the book, the more her robe opened. He was so glued to watching her at work that he failed to notice the air shimmering in front of him.

“What do you want?” His own voice asked him from beyond the veil rent in space and time.

His head turned and looked at himself. He appeared to be in good health and was of the same apparent age. “I don’t know how things are on your end, but in the process of looking for a friend I’ve never quite figured it out.”

He cocked his head at himself. “So you decided to try and find yourself?”

He shrugged. “I would hardly be the first one.”

“Is your intention to play with yourself, or just get to know yourself better?”

“More of the latter. Maybe if I truly knew myself I’d have less problem knowing others.”

“I can only hold this portal open for a few more minutes. Either you two will need to talk faster or one of you should join the other.” Morgana interrupted her casting for the recommendation.

Chip looked from her to his double. “What do you say?”

“I’m fine with staying on this side of things. I’ve got a lot of friends and my social calendar is full. You could come here I suppose.”

He considered his tone of voice and didn’t think he was being genuine with himself. “No, I think staying apart for now is the best course of action.” As much as he wanted to spend some time with himself, he didn’t want to run the risk of being stuck in a strange place.

He nodded. “Fair enough. Is… Is there anything you can recommend once I go home?”

He stroked his chin.  “No matter how easy or hard a thing might be, there’s always an opportunity to make things better for the next person. You should do more of that and less worrying about how you look to others. That’s always been what’s held us back, more so than the other things.”

The connection between the two halves disconnected.

“Your other self is a pretty smart cookie.” Morgana noted from her book.

“Let’s start here and now.” He extended a hand to her. “I’ll make you some pancakes and then we’ll see how I can make the world a better place.”

Love Stinks (#VSS)

Love stinks. Yeah yeah.

The lyrics to the song played over and over in my head. I’d tried passing a note to Suzanne in third period. Naturally the note was intercepted by JD. He and I had been rivals for nearly everything since we’d been in Kindergarten. Now that he knew I had feelings for Suzanne he’d probably try and put his hat in the ring. I slumped against the tree just outside the lunch room and cradled my head in my hands.

“Dude.”

It took me a second to register that I was the dude in question. I looked up and JD stood there with a dumb look on his face. “What?”

He held the note up between two fingers. “This.”

“Give it.”

He shook his head. The desire to jump straight out and catch him at the knees was strong. “You don’t want to put this in her hands. She’ll post it in the girls’ bathroom and you’ll be the laughing stock of the school.”

I had heard that most of the girls declared him persona non grata. I didn’t want to believe that she who held my heart could be so cruel. “I’m s’posed to believe this why?”

He sailed the note to me. “Believe me, this is one I had to learn the hard way. I passed her a note a few weeks ago. It happened to me. Granted my poetry was a little less Hallmark and a little more ee cummings.”

The note fluttered to a stop near my Vans. “Now you’re in the business of doing me favors?”

He waved his hands. “Not at all. This isn’t a favor, though. This is how people are supposed to be.”

I chewed that one over for a second. We were both sixteen. Had he grown up before me? I stuck out my hand.

He grabbed it and pulled me up. “Course, you could be different. She could be ‘hot for you’ too.”

I scowled at the now obviously horrible line he brought up. I’d have to give this some more thought. “Look, we’ve known each other for eleven years?”

“Since Mrs. Thunderbottom’s class.” We shared a smile.

“Why is it that we don’t get along?” I looked at the way he was dressed and thought about his last book report. We had a lot more in common than a lust for Suzanne.

He shrugged. “Wait, you aren’t hot for me, too?”

I smacked his arm. “No, I just need someone to hang with.”

“Come on. We’ll go drink away our troubles.”

“Coke’s on me.” We walked into the building, the first of a thousand drinks we’d share after being scorned, losing a bet, or just a hard day at work.

Great Big Bunghole

320px-Foam-bunghole (Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons) My creativity is like a cask aged foaming, funky, sour Belgian beer. It’s unpredictable and “interesting and doesn’t suit everyone’s taste. That’s not what this post is about though.

Last night I had a bit of family drama. In a house with three kids, one of whom struggles with what we think is bi-polar disorder and the another of whom is on the autistic spectrum, this is nothing at all new. The only problem is this, it was my intention last night to finish a story last night. When this sort of drama rears its head, rather than this heady mixture pouring from the tap into a glass, it blows the bunghole (heh bunghole) from the cask. Beer spews everywhere, onto the floor and down the proverbial drain.

Not to abuse the metaphor even further, when this happens I spend the night cleaning up and nothing gets done. I’m left feeling aggravated, frustrated, and hopeless. An okay night’s sleep has recharged my batteries a bit, but I still hate the fact that I didn’t get the work done. I know I shouldn’t feel bad. I should just mount up on wings of eagles (why didn’t they just fly over Mount Doom and drop the ring in?) and overcome and all that happy horse hockey.

What do you do in these kind of situations?

Toxic Latte

8053841955_96641bcd72_m Bud sniffed at the pumpkin spice latte. It smelled a little off, but he attributed it to the allergies that always hit him this time of year. He needed the caffeine, so he took a long draw of the scalding liquid. Something small and hard passed through the cup’s sipping hole, through Bud’s lips and down his throat.

Pain shot up and down his throat, like the object had suddenly grown spines. In a panic he tried to cough it out, but it wouldn’t some. He stuck his finger in his mouth to wretch it back up. Before he could another wave of pain short circuited his consciousness. He didn’t feel his nose mash flat against the pavement.

A few seconds later he was helped to his feet by an older man who sported a stylish mustache and white straw hat. “You okay, dude?

Bud’s voice had a metallic rasp to it. “I am well, citizen. I hope that you are.” The being that had been Bud turned on his heel and walked towards traffic.

“This is unit three-twenty. I am online and receiving orders.” It would only be a few more days before all the units were online and the conquest of Earth could begin.

Photo by Julia Frost

How To Train Your Mustache

659 Every year for the last few I’ve elected to sacrifice all facial hair in a sort of ‘stache reboot called Movember. For those not in the ‘Mo, it raises money for prostate cancer research and other men’s health issues. A couple of years ago I decided that I wanted to do the handlebar. To grow a truly righteous handlebar mustache requires a few things.

A Blank Slate – I find that with growing a new style of facial hair it’s good to start with an empty canvas. You need to do away with any previous hirsute projects and take it down to the bare skin. You can move from a fu-manchu to a chevron, but honestly, they take different growth patterns and it’s just easier to pick a style and commit. If you want to change it can be a bit of a disaster to do so in mid-course.

Support – When you first decide to wander down the road of learning Mustach-Fu, you are going to need support. In the case of a handlebar this is true in the form of wax. I recommend something neutral in color and odor, made of mostly beeswax. It will give you a good soft hold and with a bit thicker application you can do cool things with it. If you go to extremes with your handlebars you may even resort to using hairspray, glue, or other non-standard pomades. The more daring you are, the more creative you may need to get.

You’ll also need support from your friends and significant others. Frankly the whole process can make you look a little silly. Even with a good end result you will still stand out and even the most stalwart of facial hair farmers shouldn’t have to face the snickers alone.

Patience – There’s going to come a time in all lengthy commitments like this when you’re going to want to give up. Trust me. It will itch. It will be hard to manage. You’ll get soup and other bits of food in it, and hairs will get in the aforementioned food and beverage. With a little patience you will be rewarded. Facial locks, just like those on the top of your head, will eventually get with the program. I’m at the point now where I can comb out to the side and the tips will defy gravity.

Pruning – My ‘stache is long and luxurious. The temptation to avoid scissors is strong. And depending on the style you go with it may be wise. Generally though, I believe it helps the over all structural integrity to remove some of the hairs in the middle and shape the remaining hairs to accentuate the over all appearance. Not every hair will grow at the same rate, so it may also be neccessary to trim individual ones back to length. You’ll also run into rowdy ones that will want to point everywhere but the right way. I recommend plucking those out completely. It will hurt, but improve your look.

Independence – This may be the most important part. As I mentioned above, you’ll need people in your corner. When you make a fashion choice that may not be popular or that may be too popular among groups like the Hipsters, it can be a hard row to hoe. The DIY spirit must be strong among those who want to go all the way.

If you pay heed to these few points, one day you may have a project to be proud of. Upon consulting my own list I think these points can also be helpful in producing a novel or any other creative work. As a novelist, I recommend picking a story and genre, or genre mashup, early on. You will certainly need the support of friends and family. Creating is hard and lonely work. Patience in producing the first draft and judicious editing are both challenging but necessary. And finally when you make the choice to become a creator, you need the strong independent streak to pull all of this together. Even if you don’t self publish as I have, this is your baby, your vision, and you are the one responsible for bringing it into the world.

I hope this advice is useful and I hope you’ll share the fruits of these suggestions, be they pilary or literary.