Second 2014 Story Acceptance

The July issue of Bards and Sages Quarterly will include my story “The River Fox,” in which I get away with having a talking animal for a character.

This one was written in the middle of an “everything I write must be completely different from anything I’ve ever written before” phase, and was the result of a bit of a frustrated creative flurry. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the result; it’s sort of mythic, sort of a storybook fable, and a bit odd all round, and I’m glad it’s found a nice home.

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Story acceptance!

Just a quick update…

In the “hopefully this year will be awesome” department, I’ve recently made my first short story sale of 2014!

“Odd Leg,” a science fiction flash piece involving genetic engineering, has been accepted for publication by Stupefying Stories. A nice surprise, and I’m very happy that one of my pieces will be appearing with them in the future.

Story Picks for 2013

Some brief thoughts on my favourite short fiction of the year, though I haven’t read anywhere near as much as I’d have liked! Way too many stories and not enough time.

Singing Like a Hundred Dug-Up Bones

by Alex Dally MacFarlane (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)

This is my favourite story of the year, one I just had to revisit several times over. On the one hand, it’s a no-brainer for me, as I have something of a weakness for lost and lonely characters finding their own place in the world. But there’s more to this story, and I’m going to feel free to spoil it below:

A sad, alienated woman named Knowe comes across a community of spirits whilst digging up burial mounds near her Orkney-inspired home, spirits who share their history with her through long-forgotten songs. In doing so, they show how the voices of ancient women have all too often been silenced, their roles in history covered as surely as their own remains beneath the earth. Knowe grows while bonding with these long-deceased women, finally finding the worth in her own voice, and her own space in her community.

It’s a beautiful and warming tale, evocatively told, and filled with startling imagery of earth and bone:

Out by the mounds, the ground thaws slowly. Frost-got grass and heather crunch under Knowe’s boots. There’ll be no digging for at least another month, probably closer to two. Knowe walks alone, wrapped in winter wools and hides, but the day is mild enough that she goes un-hooded, letting the wind grasp at her long hair.

Her mound-hair: peat-dark and thick, blowing over her face that’s pale as dried-out bones after the long, dark winter.

I can’t recommend this one enough. Next up, and in the same vein…

Found

by Alex Dally MacFarlane (Clarkesworld Magazine)

I love seeing non-standard character types in Science Fiction, so how cool is it to see a genderqueer character navigating a spaceship around a bunch of asteroid colonies?

I feared many things, but this was what stuck in me like a blockage in an air supply pipe, like a star anise’s point in a throat: what if people didn’t understand me. I imagined people like Thyme being so rare that they laughed. I imagined the people whose languages used gendered pronouns insisting that I choose male or female. I imagined every one of these one million people needing to be told that I was un-gendered, a different gender—if I didn’t even know what to call myself, how could I expect to be taken seriously?—the way I had needed to tell everyone I knew in the asteroids when I was younger. I imagined giving up.

I told myself to stop being foolish. How could one million people have only two fixed genders?

Found has some thematic similarities with Singing…: aside from those the title makes clear, there’s also the matter of hidden/suppressed knowledge and identity—the main character has spent so much time already having to explain who and what they are, and is now confronted with the imminent arrival of long-lost ancestors, and repatriation to their homeworld. The fear and uncertainty of such a thing—of constantly having to justify their existence, of never feeling represented within their own people’s traditions, of possibly never finding a place to belong—is conveyed with pained, palpable uncertainty and longing throughout.

Nova Verba, Mundus Novus

by Ken Liu (Daily Science Fiction)

I won’t waste words in a weak attempt to convey what is so great and fun about this brief, brisk story. It’s only about 700 words, so no excuse not to read it right now. Go read it, now!

Sparg

by Brian Trent (Daily Science Fiction)

An adorable story about an alien pet left to fend for itself in the house when all the humans vanish. Picturing an ugly little tentacled monster making a hash of preparing breakfast is just one of the highlights:

In the empty apartment, he clutched the silver bowl with one tentacle to hold it steady. With another, he attempted the far trickier business of whipping the batter as he’d seen his owners do many, many times. The bowl was bigger than he was. The counter was sticky with flour, egg, and ink.

It’s hard not to get drawn in and find yourself rooting for poor little Sparg.

The Color of Sand

by KJ Kabza (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, July/August)

This is one of those stories where my smile just kept on growing the further I got into it. A ridiculously imaginative fantasy piece with sea voyages, magic rocks, talking cats, giant children, and with a plot so twisty-turny and an ending so sweet it’s all but irresistible. I’d wish I could read stories like this more often, but then this one one be rendered less special for it.

You First Meet the Devil at a Church Fete

by Shannon Fay (Interzone, #246)

Here’s the thing: I hate stories told in second person. Hate them. It’s a gut reaction. Usually I can’t get more than a paragraph in before becoming irritated beyond belief, no matter how well-written, no matter how intriguing the premise. And yet…

This one works. Hell, more than that, I couldn’t imagine it being told any other way. You First Meet the Devil… charts the life of a certain fifth member of a certain band as he is offered a Faustian bargain, and then follows the repercussions of the choice he makes. A great, imaginatively told story, and winner of 2013’s James White award, with good reason.

Some others that stuck with me for one reason or another:

The Barber and the Count by Michael Haynes (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)

Boat in Shadows, Crossing by Tori Truslow (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)

City of Chrysanthemum by Ken Liu (Daily Science Fiction)

Dysphonia in D Minor by Damien Walters Grintalis (Strange Horizons)

The Flight Stone by KJ Kabza (Daily Science Fiction)

The Revelation of Morgan Stern by Christie Yant (Shimmer, #16 (also at Drabblecast))

The Siren by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam (Strange Horizons)

Tell Them of the Sky by A.T. Greenblatt (Daily Science Fiction)

Theories of Pain by Rose Lemberg (Daily Science Fiction)

The Urashima Effect by E. Lily Yu (Clarkesworld Magazine)

Tell Me a Fable

Now available from Dark Opus Press: Tell Me a Fable, an anthology of dark short fiction retelling Grimm’s fairy tales, edited by A.W. Gifford and Jennifer L. Gifford. Included is my story, “Eyeless Old Gothel”, based upon the story of Rapunzel.

Once upon a time… These words begin one of the most enduring forms of literature, the fable. Timeless in its history and simple in its morality, it’s our legacy, passed down in written form. Of all the fables, Grimm’s fairytales hold a special place in our collective hearts. Favorites like Rumpelstiltskin, Rapunzel, Snow White and Little Red Cap are retold in this collection with a modern flare. Stories by: K. Trap Jones, Danielle N. Gales, Wendy N. Wagner, Kristal Stittle, Vivian Caethe, Anne Bean, David Turnbull, Marie Michaels, Mark A. France, Benjamin T. Smith, Jason Barney, Wendy Nikel and Brenda Kezar

Rapunzel she shall be called, after the least of the herbs the thief had stolen. A girl born with sin deep in her heart, just like her mother. Just like old Gothel.

Old Gothel takes the infant, as is the price. The demon wretch mother, see how she begs with her hollow words, how she cries her empty tears for her child. Old Gothel slams the door on her, trapping her inside with her lascivious deceits. Others with keen eyes can watch her close now that the truth of her shame is revealed.

The father–her little sneak-thief–he begs her so. “Must it be this way?” he pleads.

He’s tall, this one, his body the product of long, heavy hours under the sun; such strength is but a trifle before the weakness in his soul.  Gothel sees him from a great distance before swooping in with her sight, sees the nights he lies with his demon woman, flesh all twisted and glistening and excited and mounting and full and ripe and bursting and, and, and… Oh, how she hates him. She sees it and it burns, scolds her deep. Look upon his eyes now, all wet weakness and regret. See how he averts them from her hideousness–her scarred face, her hairless head, the strip of coarse black cloth wrapped where her eyes once sat.

To read the rest, as well as check out all of the other stories, pick up a copy below!

Buy

HELLO WORLD

So what do terminal insomniac writers do at nine in the morning when they’ve had no sleep, can’t think of any decent story ideas to get going, and are bored out of their brains? Write a first blog post, apparently. I hope the three of you that read this all the way through can resist the urge to shoot yourselves.

I’m not entirely sure what to put on this thing or how often it’ll get updated, but I’ll give it a shot, and at least stick something up when I’ve got new stories on the horizon, or perhaps some random burblings about writing that I need to get off my chest.

To start with though, I might as well put some things down concerning where I’ve come from as a writer. Some self-absorbed scribbling about what led me to where I’m at now.

I think writing must be in the blood. It seems like no matter how long I go, no matter how far I travel, I always come back to it eventually. Possibly because it’s the only thing in the world that I ever felt I might be remotely good at.

Once, back in school days, we were all given a homework assignment for English: go write a story. Mine ended up being some terrible Predator clone. There was a jungle, and a monster, and lots of disposable Viet-Cong soldiers. Not quite sure where the Viet-Cong guys came from (maybe it was a terrible Platoon clone as well), why the monster was hunting them, or if there was any purpose to the story other than Monster kills people, then hero kills monster, but I thought it was pretty awesome at the time. Hell, it’s good enough for half the screenwriters in Hollywood, so why not a 12-year-old me?

My next homework story was an Alien clone. There was a spaceship, and a monster, and lots of disposable crew. But when I finished it, as much as I’d enjoyed working on it, I realised something: it wasn’t good enough. The characters didn’t have enough personality. The story didn’t have enough meat on its bones. The monster wasn’t scary enough. So I scrapped it, and started from scratch.

This time, it turned out better. The crew were actual characters who were capable of having conversations with each other about something other than the monster. I tried to put tension and suspense into the attack scenes. The ship the whole thing took place on had a definable layout and space to it. Oh, and they all had a reason for being on the ship in the first place, not that I can remember it now.

But it was long. When the homework was due to be handed in, I told the teacher that I hadn’t quite finished, I’d just need a couple more days. At the next lesson, I said the same thing.

And the next.

It must have strained credulity. Best I can remember, the story topped out at 19 single-spaced double-sided pages before I finally gave up. Never finished it. Could never make it good enough.

So if that English teacher happens to be reading this, now you know: it wasn’t because I was lazy, it was because the damn story just Wasn’t. Good. Enough.

Writing came sporadically since then, though for a long while I was fixated on the idea of getting into the film industry, and spent my time writing terrible screenplays instead of terrible prose. I’m delighted to say that not a single word of those screenplays exists anymore. At least, I hope not.

The turning point for me came about ten years ago. I was off work sick with some lovely cocktail of depression and anxiety, and just about at rock bottom, when a strange little thought barged its way into my brain: Write a novel.

Huh.

Why not? It wasn’t like I was doing a whole lot else at the time. I didn’t know if I was capable of it, but was sure willing to give it a go. It became the focus of my existence for a while. I’d wake up in the morning and pull out notebooks, scribble down every little thought I had. There was a dining room table perpetually covered with 3×5 cards outlining every inch of the plot.  I ate, slept, breathed that novel, and thanks to it, I picked myself back up and got back into work, and into life.

Working on it, I felt renewed. I’d sit at the keyboard for hours each day, pouring scene after scene onto the screen and watching in amazement as this huge frickin’ story that I had created sprung to life before my eyes. I felt more optimistic and energised than I had in years, enough that I even decided why the hell not? I’ll study for a degree too.

So I was working full time, studying for a degree with the Open University, and also trying to write a novel. In retrospect, it’s no surprise that something had to give.

Between working and studying, writing fell by the wayside. I didn’t have the time to deal with studying, writing essays, and stressing out over exams, while also worrying about getting the necessary words down. It didn’t help that I was stuck in an annoying rewrite phase that was draining all of my enthusiasm away. So, I made a deal with myself that once I’d polished off the last assignment, I’d return to writing immediately.

That didn’t really happen. After I’d collected my degree, I was out of work, but with a healthy redundancy payment and all the time in the world to play video games. Rather than writing, I spent my time playing RPGs and whining about how terrible the ending to Mass Effect 3 was. And by God, was it ever terrible. Just… horrible. Worst ending since Battlestar Galactica.

But that’s not the point.

It was a good seven months before I finally returned to the keyboard, and started back on the rewrites. A month or so later, I was finished. The damn thing was close to ten years in the making! I could proudly proclaim that I had finished a novel! A bad, bloated, overwritten, 153,000 word Fantasy Doorstop of Doom that will never, ever, ever be sent out anywhere, but still! A novel!

(And at least it was better than the ending of Mass Effect 3. No, I’m not letting it go. I don’t care if it’s been 21 months, it still stings.)

So I’d caught the bug again, and was determined to improve. Short fiction seemed like a natural, sensible option. I figured that it was better to mess up lots of smaller pieces with shorter time commitments than sink a whole load of time and effort into another mammoth undertaking that was destined to stink.

That was April, the time that I first made the concrete decision to write as many short stories as I could, with the aim of publication. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing and committed every newbie mistake in the book, but that’s the way it goes, I guess.

I received my first form rejection on the first of May, and even though I’d been fully expecting it, I’ve got to admit, it still hurt. But one after the next they started to come through, and while I’d never say that I’ve gotten used to it, they don’t sting so much nowadays.

My first taste of publication came at the beginning of July, with “Things Found”, a piece of flash fiction that took all of three hours to write, from initial idea to submission. Ray Bradbury had a neat little idea about writing a new story each week, reasoning that it didn’t matter how terrible you are, at least one of those 52 stories should turn out well. I figured that since I’d somehow managed to pull a complete story out of nowhere in three hours, finding a new one each week should be quite doable.  I had a good thing going for a little while; five out of the first six weeks’ stories were accepted for publication at one place or another. It soon burned me out though, and I had to relax my goals or risk having some kind of breakdown. I figure one story a month rather than a week is a more reasonable goal, and will help a lot more with quality too!

Now the year is coming to a close. It is eight months on from when I first started writing short fiction, and here be the stats:

Stories written: 18

Rejections: 22

Acceptances: 8

All things considered, I don’t think that’s a bad start. Next year will be better though! I’m planning on hitting 100 rejections. Why count the rejections instead of acceptances? Because receiving those rejections and getting the stories back out into the slush means that the game is being played. To get that high a number also means that quite a number of stories need to be out to markets at any one time, which encourages constantly adding to the inventory with new stories.

Plus, unlike acceptances, rejections are guaranteed!