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Posts tagged ‘Short Stories’

Books that Inspire Me #1

Slipstream Anthology

In the fall of 2004, I sat in a small annex room at George Mason University, waiting for a panel discussion on speculative writers who cross genres to begin. It was the only panel I made a point to see (although I did stick around for a couple other panels on science fiction writing). The panel consisted of John Kessel, Gregory Frost, and Michael Swanwick. Kim Stanley Robinson sat in the back, along with a smattering of college students and adults. I suppose it wasn’t a popular topic. This was years before The Road, Game of Thrones, The Hunger Games, and dozens of other books and movies that infuse speculative elements became popular. Don’t get me wrong, scifi movies and books were still popular, but the idea that they could be more than a scifi book was not yet embraced. At least, it didn’t seem that way to me.

And that is why I was interested in this panel. It was sort of a moment happening when scifi authors were breaking out. The attitude seemed to be Yes this is a story about witches and warlocks, but look, I can make it about love, ambition, life, death, etc. Neil Gaiman’s American Gods arrived a few years earlier critical acclaim. Conjunctions 39: New Wave Fabulists also, got a nice mention and when I look through it now, I see quite a few writers who are still popular, such as Kelly Link, Nalo Hopkinson, and China Miéville. This panel address a growing wave that now looks so natural.

It was a good discussion and the big take away I got from it, was not that crossing genres was a new technique. That had been done for centuries. Instead it was that writers were doing this on purpose and people now noticed this phenomena. John Kessel also mentioned that he had put together an anthology that showcased many of these writers. A few months later, I bought it.

I have mentioned this book before. The stories contained are fantastic and sometimes I find myself rereading them and getting the same enjoyment. In March 3013 I reread “Bright Morning” and rediscovered a beautiful, inspiring story. This collection makes me want to right smart, ambitious stories. After reading, I want to push myself, because good stories aren’t just thought up in the air. They are crafted, carefully in my mind. (Other writers may create differently.) After so many years of writing, I realize that I’ll never run out of ideas, but an idea is not a story. This collection shows me how an idea can grow into a great story.

Also, I don’t think my reading habits have changed much. To this day, Amazon will still recommend this book when I log in.

Halfway Point — Short Story September 2014

Well, I’m half way through the month and my personal challenge (dubbed Short Story September). So far things are going really well. I finished two fiction pieces, and, for an added bonus, I also wrote an essay. Yes, I dipped my toe back into non-fiction. For those that haven’t read my bio page, I wrote an on-line column years ago. It was fun, but sucked a lot of time and I eventually quit to devote more time to my fiction writing. I don’t regret the move, but every now and then I want to venture back. I think that is why I started this blog.

So to recap, I finished three pieces so far this month. That makes my total for the year to 6. I’m behind my goal for writing a new piece every month (I should have nine by now.), but I think my work output is getting better. Considering that I still am in grad school, working full time, and writing a longer piece, I’m feeling pretty positive.

At the end of the month, I’ll tally all the stories and books I read for the year.

Short Story September Challenge 2014

I’m starting my own challenge this month. Since my goal for the year was to write a new story every month, I know I have fallen behind. So far this year, I have only written three new stories. I realize that I need to step up my game. Therefore for the month of September I will write a new story every week. I’m calling it – Short Story September. If can write more, I will, but I think one a week is a good goal. That will bring my total up to seven for the year.

I spent a good part of August working on my longer piece, which might be a novella. I’m still not done, but pretty far along. I think I will be done by the end of the year.

Still no word from any of the stories I have out at markets right now. A few said I should hear from them by the end of August, but I’m not really focused on getting responses back on time. I have sent them my best and all I can do it hope the various editors like the stories. Plus I’d rather hear a delayed “yes” than a quick “no.”

I am also about the start my last elective class for grad school. After this class, it’s thesis. In July I pulled my four best stories that will become my thesis. Two are in very good shape and might need only small edits. One is about 60% and I am working on right now. Another needs a major overhaul, but I won’t start that until October. It is a tough story, because it is not the typical type of story I tell. I really took a risk with this story, and so I want to take my time rewriting. A draft of my thesis is due the first week of class, so there is no grace period. You show up and work. No excuses.

In case you were wondering, yes I work on multiple projects at the same time. I usually have a couple longer pieces that I work on here and there, one active short story that I am starting, and one story I am revising, all going on at the same time. That doesn’t even count the work I have to do for class. From what I’ve read, some of my other friends are the same. They work on one thing for a majority of the time, but when they want a break they write something else. I guess I’ve never been a person who can focus on one thing for a long period of time.

In hindsight, this was a very productive summer. More so than last year. At some point I will post my total word count in new fiction for the year, but that won’t be until December.

Happy Fall Everyone!

Quick Update – End of Summer 2014

It’s been a long, but productive, summer. Class #7 is in the bag, and I just have two short weeks in between semesters. Even though I am on break, it feels like I have more work than ever.  A week ago I said to my mom (who got her master’s in 1991 when I was 14), “I don’t know how you did it with two kids, a husband, and a job.”  She just looked at me and said, “Well, when you’re motivated the stuff gets done… and I learned to deal with a messy house.”  Wise words. I am both excited and terrified that I only have one more semester until Thesis.

But I have done a few things to prepare. I gathered together the stories that will make up my thesis. Two of them I have revised in the past 6 months. The third, I am working on now; and the fourth is next.  I think they are the strongest stories, so I will pour most of my energy into working on them. I need to have between 40-60 pages. Right now the total stands at 43, so I will meet the goal.  Hopefully, after I revise the last two stories, I will have closer to 50. First draft is due the first day of class. The last thing I want to do is fall behind on this. Thank the heavens my final class is an elective and not a workshop. It is not less work, but it is less writing. I don’t have to focus on reading and critiquing other people’s work right before thesis. Instead, I can solely work on my own fiction and complete this reading elective. I won’t get burnt out.

As for other goals for 2014, I’m not doing too badly. After a slow winter and early spring, I started firing on all cylinders. I wroter 3 new stories and kept working on my longer story (a novella I think). I also have 6, yes 6!!, stories out for consideration. I revised and e-mail the stories, and if one came back rejected, I just sent it right back out again. I told myself I wouldn’t allow longer than 24 hours between rejection and submission. I think this keeps me from being discouraged and makes me feel like I am doing something. I have plans to write or finish up at least 4 more stores, so I may not hit the goal of 12 original stories this year, but I will damn sure get close. The year is not over yet, and I’m still getting the work out.

Up to 12 books to read for the year.  My goal was 25, so not too bad. It helps when you have a reading class.

As for not buying anymore books… yeah, that goal is history. I was sunk the moment I had to buy books for class and then tossed in a couple more, because I wanted them too. Don’t know why I even bothered with that one.

Still haven’t sold anything, but having 6 stories out makes me feel better about achieving that goal. I can’t get published, if I don’t get the stuff out there into the world.

The last goal about paying down my credit card has been hard. My tutition has been raised again, and it is hard to keep up. I saved for a year before I started this program, plus I still work full time, and it hasn’t been enough. Still I avoided student loans and I faithly keep my other expenses down, so I take comfort that I only have one more semester to pay for (I already paid for this fall). I’m not happy about the debt, but it is the only debt I have, so I swallow my anxiety and tell myself that it will be paid off in the next year or two, and that I can’t back out now. No sense in quitting when the goal is in view.

So that is where I’m at. I’ll try to post more during break, but no promises. Writing fiction has to come first, but still I hate neglecting this blog.  Sometimes, I think I should focus on my non-fiction just as much as my fiction.

New Goals for 2014

It’s the 15th of January, so technically it is still around the beginning of the year.  I wanted to write some of my goals for 2014 down.  I think that putting them out here publicly will be a good way to hold myself accountable.  Some of these will be easy, but others will take a lot of discipline.

Goal #1 — Finish 12 short stories a year and 1 longer piece.

This should translate into one short story a month.  In a year, I will be starting my thesis class.  I want a nice body of work ready to go before I set foot in the classroom.  Starting a year early should put me in a nice position for 2015.  By “longer piece” I mean something 10k words or more.

Goal #2 — Sell one short story.

This was my main goal for 2013.  I submitted a lot of work, but got a lot of rejections.  I’ve been trying off and on since 2004 to get published, but I stopped once I started grad school.  Last year I decided to resume my publishing quest.  Some rejections were very kind.  Some sucked.  I realize I just have to keep moving forward.  I’m never going to get published if I don’t keep writing and mailing my work out.

Goal #3 — Read at least 25 books this year.

This may seem like a small goal, but this past year I barely read 20 books.  Some books I started and just couldn’t finish.  Plus I tend to read a lot of short fiction on line.  Still, I need to read more.  So far this year I am off to a good start.  I just finished Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn and am now reading Warbreaker.  Next up will be The Well of Ascension.

Goal #4 — Buy no new books, unless I get some gift cards.

During the holiday, I realized I had an insane amount of books waiting in my “to be read” pile.  I’m going on a year long hiatus of book buying to trim down the pile.  The only way I’m getting any more books is if someone gives me a gift card that I can’t spend anywhere else.

Goal #5 — Get my credit card bill down.

Grad school is expensive.  Root canals are expensive.  For the first time in two years I got a modest raise at my day job.  I need to start making a dent in my debt.

Those are the big ones.  There a few small ones like hang some pictures, exercise more, etc.  Honestly, I’m not too worried about those.  I’m in a regular routine for exercising and others are just chores I need to take care of.  These main goals are the big ones.  These are the ones I need to focus on.  I’ll return to these goals periodically over the year to record my progress.  For now, it feels good to have them out here in cyber space.  This gives me a real solid ideas to strive for.  Let’s see how 2014 goes.

April 19, 2013

It’s been a busy 6 weeks or so.  I’ve got to catch you up.

First, I don’t have a new fiction piece for this month.  Last month I started writing a new short story, which has now become a monster story.  It is bordering on novella length, something that completely surprised me, so all of my effort has been focused on writing and finishing this story.  The piece that I planned to post I presented to my grad class back in Feb.  I got wonderful feedback and now need to rewrite it before I post.  I only have a few more weeks left of the semester, so the rewrite will happen soon! First order of business is finish the novella (or novelette, not sure yet), then rewrite.

Then, I’ll start on the thousand other stories that are patiently waiting in my head.  Sometimes I wish I was more like Ray Bradbury.  The man wrote an new story almost every week…

I was once asked where I get my ideas.  Lot’s of people always think about writing, but when they go to sit down and write, their minds go blank.  My advice, if this happens to you, is to do one of three things:

1) Use a writing prompt.  If you Google this, you will get plenty of ideas for a story to write.  I heard a good one last week.  It read, “There once was a __________, who ___________.”  There, now you have your first line! Don’t worry about whether it is good or not.  That’s what rewriting is for!  Just get the story down.

2) Write a story like someone else’s story.  This is only an exercise.  If you like Lord of the Rings, try writing something like that.  Don’t try and publish it.  Technically, you are committing plagerism, but if you just keep it for yourself and don’t try and publish it, why not?  It will get your creative mind working.  Then you will be surprised how the ideas will flow.  Soon you will have your own unique story and you will dive right in.

and finally 3) Write somethig from your real life.  We all went to school (or maybe you were home schooled), have family (or not), or go to a day job.  You may think your life is dull, dull, dull.  So what are the strange funny moments that make your life unique.  Maybe you live somewhere odd.  Maybe you know someone interesting.  If nothing interesting is happening, write about that.  In college, I once wrote a page and a half about how I had nothing to say.  LOL!  I kid you not…

Open yourself up and don’t be afraid.  It’s just you and the page.  No one else is there.  If you really hate it, to the recycle bin it goes!  Then start on something new.  One great thing I have learned since being in grad school is to open yourself up to everything.  Read everything and try writing it.  That’s why I’m posting a lot of the books I read.  You can see I read a lot of different people.

Here’s what I have read since my last post:

1)Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
2)A Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
3)Cover Her Face by PD James
4)”Hell is the Absence of God” by Ted Chaing (short story)
5)”Smooth Operator” by Darnell Cansilla (short story)
6)”Bright Morning” by Jeffrey Ford (short story)
7)”Lull” by Kelly Link (short story)
8)”You Have Never Been Here” by M. Rickert (short story)
9)”Answering the Call” by Brian Freedman (short story)

Some of the short stories were out of this anthology.  I read it a few years ago, when it first came out.  The stories are so good, I find myself revisiting them every now and then.

Currently I am reading Karen Russell’s St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves.  A friend lent it to me, before I decided to buy her other collection Vampires in the Lemon Grove.  After that, I will start on 50 Shades of Grey.  Yes, you read that right.  I want to know what all the fuss is about!

Happy writing, and I will post again soon after the semester ends.

P.S. — I got my book mojo back.  I found Harry Potter #2, first printing, first edition on the shelf at the thrift store last week!