Stepping Out of the Cave

Inside a Cave

The writer, bleary-eyed and squinting, makes his halting way out of the cave in which he has spent the entire summer. It wasn’t always pleasant in that cave, but it was cool at least. Here the writer finds temperatures in the 90s, which he hadn’t counted on. Didn’t he smell pumpkin spice on the wind? Surely the leaves should be turning colors under an overcast sky, and a cool breeze should be riffling the writer’s wild hair. Instead, bright sunshine and baking heat. Shaking his head, the writer removes his sweat jacket and throws it back down into the cave, careful to miss the stack of pages from a summer’s worth of work. It’s not hard to miss, that stack: nine chapters, about 25,000 words.

The writer sighs as sweat drips from his brow. It was supposed to be a bigger stack, the kind that you’d knock over if you swung your jacket at it as a result of unseasonably warm weather. Still, it was a stack, where it might have been nothing at all. It had been dark in that cave, after all, and nine chapters wasn’t something to sneeze at. (The dust that the writer had allowed to collect in the corners and high shelves of the cave? That was another matter entirely.)

Outside the cave, trees rustle in the breeze, the chittering leaves passing judgement on the writer’s lack of progress. Or maybe that’s all in the writer’s head, which is thick with the oppressive warmth. The writer looks back in the cave, considering a quick retreat, then turns and marches away before he can change his mind, reaching the relative coolth of the shade beneath the trees. From there, he leans sideways and peers around the great trunk. A passing bicyclist sees the writer’s head pop out from behind the tree, squeaks in fright, and veers away, narrowly missing an elderly man crossing the road. The man rears back in fright, and the thin plastic bag he holds tears apart, spilling its load of canned meats and fruits. They clunk onto the road, denting and rolling hither and thither. The man gets slowly to his knees and shepherds the cans back into his arms.

The writer, pulling a face, hides behind the tree with his back to it. He is red-faced and not just from the heat. He forgets how close he is to civilization, because down in the cave it feels very far away. Maybe he should return to the cave, he thinks. After all, he knows where the book ends, and a lot of the events that need to happen to get there, but much of the book remains a mystery to him. The only way to solve that mystery is to write, even if he doesn’t know what the next sentence, the next word will be. He grimaces. Yes, back to the cave. It’s dark down there, but there’s work to be done.

Before he goes back, he carves nine notches into the rough bark of the tree, where a summer ago he had carved a rough rectangle with the words Book 3 at the top. Nine. There’s room for fifty marks. The untouched bark stares at him and the writer turns away, trudging back to the cave. On the way, the hint of a cool breeze tickles the back of the writer’s neck. Taking a deep breath, the writer pauses, stretches, tries to release some of the tension in his neck and shoulders. Then it’s back down into the cave and back to work.  This time, though, the writer tells himself he’ll check on the outside world more often. As long as the weather changes soon.

Guest Post: Samantha Bryant and Going Through the Change

Today I am happy to host Samantha Bryant on my blog. I know Samantha through Google+ (home to many a fine writer), and I jumped at the chance to have her guest post here. For me, a writer who chose to self-publish, it’s really good to see the thought process of a writer who published with a small, independent publisher, and to see the results. Food for thought.

So read on to find out about Samantha, her book, and her path to having it published. And then pick it up for free, today and tomorrow (see details at the bottom of this post)! Congrats, Samantha!


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Small, Independent Publishers: Neither a Jet Plane, Nor a Slow Boat to China
OR
My Path to Publishing

You hear a lot about how slowly the traditional publishing world moves. It’s been described as glacial in speed, and in the midst of it, that doesn’t feel inaccurate. It’s a source of frustration, especially for eager new writers who are anxious to get their words into the hands of readers. The slow pace is part of why many writers choose to independently publish their works. (Though impatience can lead to a poor product in some of those cases, too).

I didn’t self-publish Going Through the Change: A Menopausal Superhero Novel, though I was looking into it, and might well consider that route for other works in the future. For me, it came down to whether I had the money to do it right–hiring editors and artists to make my book the best it could be–and whether I had the chutzpah to market it completely by myself. I came up short on both those fronts. My day job is not lucrative, at least not in dollars. (I’m a public middle school teacher). My marketing knowledge can be boiled down to, “Well, I know what I don’t like.”

So, I took a sort of middle road, shopping my novel around to only small, independent publishers. For those considering a similar route, here’s how it went for me.

Going Through the Change: A Menopausal Superhero Novel, from conception of the idea to a book people can now buy was almost exactly three years.

In March of 2012, I was struggling to finish the first novel I ever actually finished (unpublished as of yet, His Other Mother, women’s issues fiction). It’s a dark story and it was emotionally hard on me to finish it.  So, part of my brain was trying to escape.

My husband and I were talking while we walked our dog one night about how superheroes all seem to be teenagers and if that meant that hormones cause superpowers. I said something like, “Well, if hormones give superpowers, then menopausal women should be the most powerful people on the planet!” He laughed and told me to write it down and a novel was born. I came up with the general concept and some rough character descriptions for a superhero novel, escapism at its best. I filed them away and used them as a carrot to make myself get to the end of that first book stick.

In July of 2012, I finished writing His Other Mother (that one took four years just for the writing of the first draft, and several more months for rewrites), and let myself start writing Going Through the Change. I finished the first draft in August 2013 (somewhere in there, I picked up my Magic Spreadsheet habit, a tracking tool for a daily writing word count which really increased my productivity). By the end of 2013, the book had been through my critique group and some beta readers and I had rewritten it. Keep in mind I also had a demanding full time day job (middle school teaching) and a family (husband, two children and a dog) during this time–there was only 1-2 hours per day I could get for direct focus on writing, often less.

I started querying it and submitting it in January 2014.  I won’t make you suffer through the rejections, requests for full manuscript that still got rejected, and no-answer-answers with me. But I did only try small and independent presses and found that the response time was usually a month or less. The querying process for His Other Mother at bigger, more literary focused presses, for contrast, took roughly six months each time I submitted it.

The story for Change ends happily with a book contract from Curiosity Quills Press in August 2014. I found them via an online friend who also publishes with them. I liked them because they had a focus on speculative fiction, and had published a very popular supervillain book already. The covers of their other publications looked good, and I am shallow enough to judge the quality of the product at least in part on the cover.

I also liked the transparency of their terms. You could see what the contract terms would be without even submitting anything. It made me feel like I knew what I was getting into. I also checked in with Preditors & Editors and cyber-stalked them a little to make sure no big red flags went up before I sent in my work.

CQ had a really quick process. From my initial query to a request for a full and then to my contract offer was only a space of about two weeks. Compare that to my submissions of His Other Mother to larger presses. I often waited six months for a non-specific and unhelpful “No.” The process from there was initially very busy with two editing passes, proofreading, formatting, marketing planning, and cover design, followed by what felt like a very long lull, until ARCs were released and I could start seeking reviews and promotional opportunities. Book release day was April 23, 2015, almost exactly three years to the day since I thought up the idea. In traditional publishing, I’d call that speedy-fast-quick!

For my debut novel, I don’t think I could have asked for a smoother, more comfortable process. CQ has a very family feel and the other authors, editors, artists, proofreaders, etc. have been nothing but supportive, helpful, and kind. Working with a small publisher didn’t free me from marketing responsibilities, but it did give me partners and support through that, people to ask questions of and trade favors with. It opened some doors that maybe would have been harder to open otherwise, like getting on shelves in bookstores or featured on certain blogs and review sites. Because I had a publisher behind me, I didn’t have to fight as hard to have the book taken seriously in some settings.

I’m happy with the quality of the product itself. I’ve got a wonderful cover that works much better than any of my own ideas would have (artist: Polina Sapershteyn). After all, I’m a writer, not a graphic artist. The book was professionally edited, formatted, and proofread on the company’s dime and seems to play well in all formats as a result. I’m not sure I could’ve done that on my own or afforded to hire it done.

Only time will tell if I’ve made the right decisions for my debut novel, but right now, I’m feeling good!


Going Through the Change is going through a change in price for a couple of days in early August. On August 5th and 6th you can get the Kindle edition for free on Amazon. Check it out at: http://bitly.com/face-the-change

Samantha Bryant is a middle school Spanish teacher by day and a mom and novelist by night. That makes her a superhero all the time. Her debut novel, Going Through the Change: A Menopausal Superhero Novel is now for sale by Curiosity Quills. You can find her online on her blog,  Twitter, on Facebook, on Amazon, on Goodreads, on the Curiosity Quills page, or on Google+.

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Anthology Opportunities: June 2015

Depositphotos_7200270_originalThere are quite a number of science-fiction and fantasy anthologies looking for submissions right now, so I thought I’d share some of the ones that interest me, in case you might find them useful as well. (Of course, these are all time-sensitive and subject to change.)

Clockwork Phoenix 5

Looking for “stories that sidestep expectations in beautiful and unsettling ways, that surprise with their settings and startle with the ways they cross genre boundaries, that aren’t afraid to experiment with storytelling techniques. But experimentation is not a requirement: the stories in the anthology must be more than gimmicks, and should appeal to genuine emotions, suspense, fear, sorrow, delight, wonder. I will value a story that makes me laugh in its quirky way more than a story that tries to dazzle me with a hollow exercise in wordplay.

“The stories should contain elements of the fantastic, be it science fiction, fantasy, horror or some combination thereof, [but] bring something new and genuine to the equation.”

6 cents/word,  stories under 5,000 words STRONGLY PREFERRED. Submit by July 26, 2015.

Defying Doomsday

Looking for stories of “apocalypse-survival fiction with a focus on disabled characters. (One of) the protagonist(s) must be a character with disability, such as physical impairments, chronic illnesses, mental illnesses and/or neurodiverse characters etc. We will consider stories with characters experiencing all kinds of disability and hope that submitting authors will be creative with the possibilities.”

7 cents/word, 3000-7000 words. Submit by June 30, 2015 to clear the July 1 Australian deadline.

Futuristica Volume 1

“We prize diversity, specifically stories that include multicultural backgrounds or lead characters of atypical ethnic origins. Basically, while we have nothing against heterosexual white American males, we feel they are already adequately represented in science fiction and we want stories about the rest of humanity.

“We are interested in character-oriented fiction.” They stress their desire for women-positive, sex-positive, and science-positive stories.

7 cents/word, 3000-10,000 words. Submit by August 31, 2015.

Hidden Youth: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History

“Your story must be set before 1935 C.E. (NO exceptions), and take place primarily in our world or an alternate historical version of our world. (Travel to other worlds, other dimensions, Fairyland, the afterlife, etc. is fine but should not be the focus.) Your protagonists must be young people (under the age of 18) who were marginalized in their time and place.”

6 cents/word, 2000-8000 words. Submit by July 31, 2015.

SNAFU: Future Warfare

“We want ORIGINAL military-style combat with strong elements of future technology/sci-fi, and we want horror. Give us fear… suspense and tension… we want originality and speculation about future aspects of war. Most of all we want action, action, ACTION! We want something jaw-droppingly amazing.”

4 cents/word AUD (so 3 cents/word USD, per Google), 2000-10,000 words. Submit by August 13, 2015 (or August 12 to be safe again, because Australia).


Header image purchased from and copyright innovari/depositphotos.com.

The Fifth House Edits: Week Four

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I’ve been so busy, I skipped the Week 3 post, but this week and last have pretty much been the same. At a pace of three chapters a day, I’m going through The Fifth House and making improvements. This includes clearing up confusing sections, cutting out redundant words, sentences and sections, and checking that the characters and their actions flow together from one chapter to the next.

That last part is no small task. When I write 1000 words a day during the first draft, I sometimes have to change my plan for the story in mid-stream. I don’t have time to go back and change what I’ve already written during my drafting stage, so I drop a comment into the document noting the change and advising Editor Andy to go back and fix it later. Other times, I just write filler describing what I wanted to but couldn’t write, or I write something and leave a note explaining that what I just wrote was horrible and could I make it better during edits.

Editor Andy hates First Draft Andy for pulling this crap, but that’s the way it goes. It allows me to keep writing up until The End without getting bogged down in repairing what I’ve already written. Still, it gets frustrating. Here are some of my favorite comments to myself, that make me curse First Draft Andy aloud.

“Confusing. Delete.” So if it was confusing and I should delete it, why didn’t I just do that during the first draft? Because then I would have had to write more to reach my 1,000-word goal for the day.

“This can all be shown instead of told, second time through.” All you have to do is snap your fingers!

“Stood stood stood” I guess I used the same word in three consecutive sentences…

“repetitive” “comma overload” Self-explanatory

“I don’t like this whole paragraph, but I’m moving on for now.” Now you’re just being mean.

“Not taking into account word count, this would be a good chapter end.” In other words, what’s wrong with a 300 word chapter if it’s got a nice hook at the end?

And my favorite: “This makes no sense to me.” In my defense, I get up really early to write.

You get the idea. At my average pace of three chapters a day, I should have this editing done by Valentine’s Day, a gift to myself. And then what? I start all over, undoubtedly finding all new mistakes and confusing sections to fix.

I’ll most likely take a one- or two-week break between this editing pass and the next, though, to work on some short stories and to get a little distance from the book.

There you have it. Writing, editing. It’s work and it’s not always pretty, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Photo credit: Translator’s Revenge by Daniela Vladimirova.

5 Tips for Aspiring Self-Published Writers

Begin One Way by Andy Arthur

I am a self-published writer at the beginning of my career. I’m not a master passing down wisdom from on high. I’m just another traveler on the same road as everyone else, and these are some of the tips and reminders I give myself from time to time. Maybe some of them will speak to you, too.

1) You’re at the beginning of a long road. You know that old saw about enjoying the journey and not the destination? You better be ready to believe that, because the journey is the only thing you’re in control of. You can write, and polish, and publish, improving your craft with each cycle, but no matter what you do, there’s no guarantee you’ll become a bestseller or even make enough to pay your bills at the end of the road. Which brings us to point number two:

2) You gotta have faith, a-faith, a-faith-ahhh*. Trust yourself. You’re doing this for a reason. You’re passionate. You have stories fighting to escape from your mind and burrow into your readers’ imaginations. Finding those readers can be difficult at first. You might feel like you’re writing into the void. Keep going. If this is something you are passionate about, and you’re willing to keep improving your craft, it will find an audience. Someone will read your work and be transported to another world. How cool is that? Which reminds me:

3) You are awesome. And you stink. Both, really. At the same time. You have to be able to hold both of these thoughts at once, in balance, and not succumb to the dangers of excess belief in either. If you think you’re completely awesome, you might risk not getting some second opinions on your work before you publish, at which point finding out you are not the next Stephen King can come as a tremendous blow to your ego. If you think your writing stinks worse than last week’s beef and broccoli, you’ll paralyze yourself before you can bring a story to completion.

Remember, you are awesome, but you’re not perfect. Some of what you write will be downright horrible. Allow yourself to stink the place up in your first draft. Polish it. Share your writing with some trusted fellow writers or complete strangers and get some feedback. Polish it again. Try to have an objective eye for your work and, if you think it’s ready, put it out there.

4) Write, publish, repeat. No, I haven’t read the book of the same name, although I think I bought it in a bundle a while back. But I digress. I don’t need to have read the book to agree with its mantra. I know too many writers who have never pulled the trigger on publishing their work. They have so many unfinished projects, but for whatever reason, they won’t actually release any. If your goal is to grow as a writer, I suggest that you finish what you started and publish it. It feels good to have accomplished something, you’ll have proven to yourself you can do it, and most importantly, you can move on to the next project. And the next one, and the next one.

5) There’s a lot about selling books that is out of your hands, so for the things you can control, make them as excellent as you can. Note the italics on “as you can.” I’ll come back to that in a second.

The biggest item you can control is your writing, but don’t make the mistake of striving for the perfection of some ideal Book or Story. Write the best work you can. Get it edited if you can. Get beta readers if you can. Have it proofread by a professional if you can. Get an awesome cover if you can.

If you can. Notice I’m not saying you must or you should. I think we all, given the choice, would have a team of experts assisting us with every aspect of our book. Many of us aren’t at the point where this makes financial sense, however. We can afford some experts, maybe. Or we can’t afford any but we have some trusted associates we can trade with. Or we can trade beta reads, or find a writing group, or an online community.

Produce a work you’re proud of and accept that there will always be those who will tell you what you must do and what you should do, but in the end, do what you can do. Keep doing what you can do for long enough, and maybe you’ll be able to afford all the things you must and should do.

Bottom line: if you believe you have created the best work possible for you at this point in time, publish it. Then listen to reviews and pick out the constructive criticism. Use it to improve your next work.

Whatever road you’re on, I wish you the best of luck along the way.

*If you don’t get this reference, you’re probably starting on the road to self-publishing much earlier in life than I am. :)

Photo Credit: Begin One Way by Andy Arthur.

The Only City Left: One Month Post-Release

Photo by Lies Van RompaeySince it’s been one month since I released The Only City Left, I thought I’d do a review of how things have gone.

Sales

Full disclosure. I didn’t set the world on fire with the release of The Only City Left. I sold 7 ebooks and 9 paperbacks in the first month. For all but a couple of these, I know to which friend or family member each copy went. So it goes.

Reviews

I’ve done two things to garner reviews. 1) I offered 100 ebook copies to LibraryThing members through their Member Giveaway, with a request that they provide honest reviews in exchange for the book. 77 people took me up on the offer by the end of the two-week giveaway period. It is not required that any of them actually provide a review, however. 2) I contacted book bloggers that review books in my genre and requested reviews from them in exchange for a copy of the book. (See end of post for two great lists of book reviewers.)

So far, 4 LibraryThing members have provided reviews. All 4 of them posted their reviews to LibraryThing, 3 copied their review to Amazon, 2 copied their review to Goodreads, and 1 copied the review to their personal blog. Since the LibraryThing members have only had the book available to them for two weeks, I am hopeful that more reviews will come of this.

Regarding book bloggers, I have contacted 48 reviewers so far. 8 bloggers have stated that they will read the book for a possible review, although timelines for the review may be months out due to their large reading queue. 2 more showed interest but have not confirmed their plans. 2 bloggers have declined to read the book, 1 offered an Author Spotlight feature in lieu of reading the book, and the rest have not responded. 1 in 6 bloggers showing interest is actually a positive ratio in my book, and I will continue to request reviews from new bloggers as I discover them.

Marketing

Other than a couple of mentions on my social media streams and the requests for reviews, I haven’t really had a marketing effort. This is a judgment call on my part. I don’t think I should put time and money into marketing one book. Once I have more books published, I will have to look more closely at book marketing efforts. I also haven’t inundated my social media stream with requests for people to buy my book. Again, with only one book out, I don’t feel it’s worth nagging my social media friends about my book over and over.

I did have some book business cards printed, for those times when I’m talking in person with someone and the subject comes up. This way, I can leave them with a physical reminder of the book. They were relatively low-cost, but time will tell if that expense was worth it. toclcards

Thoughts

I appreciate all the friends and family who bought my book, but of course I have to reach farther afield if I ever want to supplement my family’s income by writing books. Since I’m not going all out trying to drum up sales on Book 1 of The Only City Left, I need to focus on writing Book 2, which is what I am doing. I also hope that after a certain number of reviews, Book 1 might gain some traction in and of itself. There’s a long road ahead and I’m only at the beginning, but I’m happy to finally be here, looking forward to the future again.

Links

The Only City Left on Amazon (Note: The ebook is free with purchase of a paperback. Also, the ebook is DRM-free.)

The Only City Left on Goodreads

The Only City Left on LibraryThing

Indie Reviewers on The Indie View (Note: Check back frequently and sort by date to see when new reviewers are added. Contact them quickly as I get the sense that reviewers become inundated with requests in a short amount of time.)

List of Online Reviewers Who Accept Self-Published Books (This is a great list that was published on 8/6/14. Thanks to Erica Verrillo for putting it together. There are no dates attached to the entries and I’m not sure it will be updated, so its long-term usefulness might be limited.)

Image of baby tortoise by Lies Van Rompaey.

The Evolution of The Only City Left: Part One

Cover by S.A. Hunt.

The Only City Left has been a long time in the works, and has been through three phases of existence so far. In this post I’m going to talk about its origin and the first phase of its life as a serial.

The Only City Left was inspired first and foremost by the many fine independent webcomics I was reading. I was impressed that artists, writers, and artist/writers were throwing their work out there for all the world to see, and often learning and improving as they went. I thought, “Why can’t I do the same thing with my writing?” I hadn’t written consistently for a while, and it seemed like a great way to encourage myself to write more: write for fun, set a schedule, and don’t worry about mistakes. (That last part turned out to be the most difficult of course.)

My first entry for The Only City Left was posted on 2/26/12, and there wasn’t that much preparation that went into it. In my writing notebook for 2/24/2012, I have this entry: “The entire world is underground to the level of the tops of skyscrapers. (Think Trantor, but run-down and dying.)” Yup, The Only City Left was invented and begun in less than two days. This lack of lengthy world-building meant that I didn’t get stuck on the details, but it also meant that I had some sections of the story that were bogged down while I spun my wheels trying to figure out what happened next.

In my 2/24/12 notes, I went on to list every trope, cliché, and straight-up stolen idea that I could throw into the mix: “Vampires, kung fu, robots, werewolves, nano-swarms, aliens, mutants, mutated animals, treasure caches, ghosts, guns, lasers, swords, martial weapons, avatars of gods, underground oceans w/ preserved cities, twisted gravity, portals, bad air/no air, undead/zombies, charms.”

Several of these items made it into the first draft of The Only City Left, especially early on as I struggled to write 1,000 words each week to get the story started. One goal I had, though, was to put a twist on my use of familiar tropes.

Yes, there are werewolves, but how do they transform deep underground without moonlight?

There are ghosts, but there’s a pseudo-scientific explanation of their existence.

There are mutated animals, but they’re more civilized than the remaining humans in this tired, battered Earth.

I described my planned story to myself as “Trantor meets Cube meets Mad Max meets monster movies.” While that vision of the world and the story has changed over time (and through rewrites), this description has stayed essentially the same: “1st person viewpoint of young man, orphaned, only goal is to see the surface once before he dies, but he has no idea how far down he is, and there is no clear path up.”

That young man is Allin Arcady, whose name is a nod to Arcadia “Arkady” Darell from Isaac Asimov’s Second Foundation. Asimov is a big influence on The Only City Left (see my The Caves of Steel re-read for more discussion on that), and there were even some subconscious connections I made that I didn’t realize until later, such as Allin’s mother being named Jessie, the same name as Lije Baley’s wife in The Caves of Steel.

From February to November of 2012, I wrote The Only City Left as a 1,000-word-per-week cliffhanger serial. I used NaNoWriMo to write the last 50,000 or so words, but continued to post the story one week at a time. I figured that by the time the story ended online, I would have a second book in The Only City Left series ready to go. (That didn’t happen as planned, but more on that next time.)

During that time, I learned some of the ropes of the online serial game. Share your post each week at Tuesday Serial, submit it to the Web Fiction Guide (which also gets it added to the Top Web Fiction list), respond to every comment someone leaves, and keep to your schedule as much as possible.

For a while, I posted links to each new post on all the regular social media sites, but over time I felt like this was too much bluster for too little results. (Your mileage may vary.) Most of my visitors found me through one of the sites I shared in the previous paragraph.

If I had it all to do over again, I don’t think I would change a thing about the serial. I met my goals of finishing a book, I had fun, and I earned some dedicated readers. Even without new entries, people continue to find and read through The Only City Left, which is immensely gratifying. I was even invited to have the first three sections of The Only City Left made into a podcast by Webfiction World, which was a very cool and unexpected accomplishment.

The next step in the process was to convert the serial into a novel and work on the second book in the series. More on that next time.

Webzines: SF/F/H Markets (2 in a Series)

I have been researching SF/F/H webzines again, so today I have four more to share with you. I picked a recent short story from each one to read to get a feel for each webzine (I would of course read more stories before submitting one, to get a deeper sense of what the editors are looking for), and I will share my thoughts on those as well. Click here for my first post in this series, or check out my Links page for quick links to the webzines I have researched.

Abyss & Apex: Magazine of Speculative Fiction accepts a wide range of genres, but make sure to check out the Submissions page for the ones they are not looking for, such as horror. They are looking for short stories up to 10,000 words in length, and especially flash fiction up to 1,500 words. Payment is 5 cents a word up to 1,500 words or $75.00 for longer stories. As of the writing of this post, they are currently overstocked on stories, but their next reading period is open again starting 5/1/12, so now is a perfect time to read through the stories on the site and then have a story ready to submit on May 1st.

The story I read from Abyss & Apex was A Time to Weep by Daniel Huddleston. It is about humans doing business on an alien world, with human and aliens working together in the same office. One of the alien workers has a tragedy in his family that affects his work, and for good or ill, his human boss intervenes to try to help him out. Mr. Huddleston really gets across the future history in the story and the alien beliefs and behaviors in a remarkably short amount of time, so that even though I was dropped into the story with no reference points, I was able to appreciate the central conflict without needing a ton of exposition beforehand.

The Future Fire describes itself as publishing social, political and progressive speculative fiction, and you can see the site for more examples of what they mean by that. 10,000 words is the upper limit of what they are looking for and they pay a flat rate of $35 per story. The next Call for Submissions is for the theme of Outlaw Bodies: “stories about the future of human bodies that break boundaries—legal, societal, [and] biological…,” and the deadline is 5/1/12.
From The Future Fire, I read Bilaadi by S. Ali, which is about a river god who is forced to change with the times. It has environmental and socio-political themes to it, as one would expect given the focus of the webzine, but it was touching and personal at the same time. A snapshot of our modern world as seen through the eyes of an ancient being.

Quantum Muse is interesting in that to submit stories, you have to first sign up to critique stories that other writers have submitted. To cut down on their workload, the editors rely on this method of peer review to weed out stories, with only the top-ranked stories being forwarded to the editors for possible inclusion in the magazine. Interesting. Registration is free although they do ask for your address and phone number. I signed up and there are currently three SF, five fantasy, and six alternative stories to critique. You have to critique three stories for each one story you want to submit. I will have to try this out and let you know how it goes. Note: Flash fiction stories of 1,000 words or less can be submitted without going through the whole process described above. The word limit for longer stories is 8,000 words. Payment appears to be publication only plus the chance that a reader might “tip” you through PayPal. If Quantum Muse itself pays for the story, I am somehow not seeing that on the Submissions page.

From Quantum Muse, I read The Zitzing Man by Harris Tobias, which is a very short story about a great invention that would have worked if only the mundane world hadn’t intruded.

Electric Spec focuses on science fiction, fantasy, and the macabre and accepts stories from 250-7,000 words. Their next reading period ends April 15 for the end of May issue. Payment is a flat $20 per story. Check out the Submissions page for full details.

From Electric Spec, I read Seasonal Fruit by Kathryn Board. It was a fun short story about modern mortals interacting with divine beings. At first I thought it was going to be a clichéd horror story but it took an unexpected and pleasant turn and actually sent me to Wikipedia to look up some background information (the story is self-contained, so you don’t need to do this, but it caught my interest and made me want to research further).

So there you have it, four more cool science-fiction, fantasy, and/or horror webzines to check out, either as a reader, a writer or both. Every time I research these webzines my mind kicks into high gear about stories I can write. Hopefully once I recover from my recent move from Southern to Northern California, I will be able to carve out more writing time!

Final note: I am using a new-to-me website called Readability to help me read stories and articles from the web more easily. I am using it to send stories to my Kindle and Android tablet for easier reading in more comfortable environments. It looks like it works for the iPad and iPhone, too. It is free and I have no stake in it, but I wanted to share because every time I get to read a story on my Kindle in a comfy chair or in bed rather than sitting in front of the computer, I think, “This is so great!”

Until next time, thank you for reading and please let me know what you like about my blog, what you don’t like, what you want to see more of, sites/books/comics I should check out, etc. Thanks again!

The Only City Left: Part Four

Welcome back to The Only City Left. Head back to Part Three first if you missed it. And here’s the Table of Contents.

The Only City Left: Part Four

I threw myself into the utility shaft and grabbed hold of the ladder. Above me, the shaft continued beyond the reach of my light, but the only way I could ascend would be to chimney-climb it, and big, blue, and ghosty was not going to give me the time to do that.

Snarhworgrowl!, came its howl as if in agreement. Time to go.

The nice thing about heading down-ladder, even though it was the opposite of the direction I wanted to be heading, is that it’s easier to climb down than up. I gripped the vertical poles of the metal ladder in my gloved hands and slid a few rungs at a time, keeping my descent controlled. As long as I was in the utility shaft, I was safe from the slavering ghost-beast above me, so I felt no need to rush. No need, that is, until the sound of howls and gnashing teeth from above me was joined by the sound of metal straining and tearing as the creature forced its bulk into the shaft. Just great.

I gave up on slowing my descent and just let myself slide down. I could feel my palms heating up through my gloves from the friction, but that was a small worry compared to what was coming after me. It continued to force its way down, buckling the metal walls of the utility shaft as it went. Meanwhile, I didn’t know at what point the shaft would dead-end, and I hadn’t seen any exits yet.

Splash! I hit water and was submerged before I knew what had happened. Air bubbles escaped my mouth as I gasped and clamped my mouth shut again. I twisted left and right to look around, trying to get my mind around the fact that the utility shaft was flooded. Water below, monster ghost above. My options were running out.

I pulled myself back up the ladder and out of the water to get some air and to see if ghosty was still coming after me. Sure enough, his glow was getting stronger, his growls and the sounds of the shaft being destroyed getting louder. Well, not much of a choice then. I took a few quick breaths and then one deep one, blew it out, and dropped into the water.

With no air in my lungs, I started to sink, but not quickly enough for my tastes, so I flipped over and started pulling myself down the ladder as fast as I could. Even with my coil illuminating the water around me, it was still a dim, murky, and above all, freezing hell in there. My pulse pounded in my ears ever louder, and I already yearned for fresh air.

When a small cross-corridor showed up, I pushed off the ladder into it without a spare thought, even though the shaft also continued downward. If I didn’t get some air soon, I was going to open my mouth, gulp some water that my body only wished were air, and drown. The side corridor was the better bet to find a way out of the flood zone.

I seemed to kick and pull myself along that tighter corridor forever, in slow motion. The light of my coil dimmed until the world was only a thin tunnel in front of me, and I began to feel removed from the whole experience. The person being chased through the flooded ductwork by a monstrous ghost-beast was someone else. I watched him from a comfortable distance, pitying him.

I saw that person scrabbling against the ceiling of the duct and then falter when the space was unexpectedly empty. He looked up and saw a circular gap. With the last of his strength, he got his feet underneath him and pushed up into another vertical shaft. That shaft didn’t have any water in it, and there was a ladder heading up. He grabbed at it, sucking in great gasps of air, and I thought, Good for him. He made it. I closed my eyes and fell further back into the tunnel.

* * *

I remember when I was 15, that’s when I really started to question the life I was living with my parents. There were still a lot of communities around then, or at least there were in the parts of the city that we moved through, but my parents, my dad especially, refused to let us settle down with them.

“But Dad! It’s safe here,” I protested, upon hearing the news that we were moving on again. “They have light and food, heat, good air, clean water. They even have books!”

The encampment was called Glin’s Rising, for no reason that I could tell. It probably wasn’t as great as I was making it out to be to my father, but it was better than constantly tramping from community to community, never resting.

My father couldn’t look me in the eye, so he grabbed the lantern coil that hung on his chest and rolled it between his fingers.

“This is about a girl, isn’t it?” he asked, his voice sad.

“No!” Yes, of course it was about a girl.

“Look, Allin,” he said, letting the coil go and raising his head to look me in the eyes. “If we could stay, we would. I want you to be happy, but you know what’s even more important?”

I mumbled the answer, looking down. With a firm hand he grabbed my chin and forced me to look up at him.

“Louder.”

“Stay alive.” I spat the words at him. “Always. Stay. Alive.”

“That’s right. Now go find your mother and tell her we’re ready. If she still needs something, we’ll get it at the next town.”

I glared sullenly at my father for a moment and then turned to go find my mom.

“Yes, father. I’ll try to stay alive while I’m at it.”

If he heard my lip, he ignored it, and I’m pretty sure I heard a weary sigh as I stalked away.

Continue to Part Five.

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Writing Research: Sword Fights

I enjoy fight scenes in movies, whether it is some gun-fu or a long martial arts battle or an awesome sword fight, which got me to thinking about how well I can pull off writing one of these scenes for a story. I would love to write a really cool sword fight, for instance, but I a) have never held a sword much less fought with one, and b) am not really familiar with sword terminology. Of course, as writers, we make stuff up all the time, but it is nice to at least sound like we know what we are talking about. So I turned to my pal Google for some help on the subject, and here is a round-up of what I found.

Martin Turner of martinturner.org.uk had two interesting posts, the first about the difficulties of writing a sword fight and how other writers have handled them, and the second a more hands-on how-to. The difficulties of writing a sword fight, per Mr. Turner, are that fights take much less time to occur than they do to describe, most readers don’t know the vocabulary of sword-fighting (so at least they’re in the same boat as I am), the fights are repetitive, and there must be real danger for the characters involved for the fight to be believable. Mr. Turner is a fencer, and in his second post he explains a lot of fencing terminology, but I like that he does not recommend using it. Instead he focuses on what can make a fight interesting to read, such as accidents and reversals, cheating, and crowd interactions. He also discusses the conditions that can lead to a fighter winning and losing. All in all, this is a great article with many inspirational tips.

This interview with R.A. Salvatore also has some helpful tips. He says that fight scenes are about the dance between the characters and also having an interesting environment for them to fight in. Like many others, he references the Inigo Montoya/Man in Black sword fight from The Princess Bride as an inspiration. His final piece of advice in the interview is “And most of all, make sure that the first fatality in any fight scene is the verb ‘to be.’ If you’re using ‘was’ and ‘were’ and ‘had been,’ well, the first fatality will be your reader’s interest.” Duly noted!

Over on kimkouski.com, I found an interview with Darrin Zielinski titled “How to Write Sword Fighting Scenes.” I liked his ideas about how weapon types can be used to define a character. (Mr. Salvatore also discusses his different characters and matching their weapons and fighting styles to the characters. I liked his description of the dwarf with spiked armor who charges into battle head-first: “How can you not love a furious dwarf hopping around with a dead goblin flopping around dead on his helmet spike?”)

I found this list of the parts of a sword and types of swords at the My Literary Quest blog. While I might not go into detail on all this in a story, it is handy to know and a nice, quick reference.

Now I want to write a cool sword fight scene more than ever, and I got some great ideas from these sites. I hope this post points one or two other people toward some helpful advice as well, and if you want to recommend any other sites or books, feel free!