Category Archives: Short Stories

For some reason I only got about three days of work done … oh, wait

And most of the three days went to working on another of my paying-gig accounting articles. So not much else to discuss.

I did rewrite Don’t Pay the Ferryman (I may retitle it Paying the Ferryman) and I think I have an ending that will work. I also finished the first chapter of my revamped Let No Man Put Asunder but I’m not sure where to go next (I’ll discuss that in its own post soon). And then came Thanksgiving and today, which I’m also taking off. so that’s about it. Though I did post at Atomic Junkshop about DC’s new characters from 1965 and my love of Sherlock Holmes.As Charon plays a role in Paying the Ferryman, here’s Ernie Colon’s depiction from Arak, Son of Thunder.#SFWApro. All rights to image remain with current holder.

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Filed under Nonfiction, Short Stories, Undead Sexist Cliches: The Book, Writing

The third axe man almost did me in

Not for the first time, I find this cover by Billy Graham embodies the way I can think I have everything handled, then discover otherwise. This week everything was going great, then Thursday and Friday rose up to bushwhack me.

Normally when Plushie has his eye checkup, TYG takes him. Wednesday she said that as she’d have to take a business call in the middle of his Friday afternoon appointment, I’d need to come along and deal with the eye-vet. As it’s some distance, that guaranteed the loss of Friday afternoon for any productive work.

That may have contributed to the stress that made me wake up a little before midnight Wednesday, I had a cup of tea, then headed back to bed, only to have Trixie wake up and insist on leaving the bedroom to join me. That, plus Wisp coming in later, killed my sleep and left me a little glazed over Thursday. I had a couple of errands, including visiting an opthalmologist to check out their eyeglass selection, but I was in no shape to drive. Friday, the schedule didn’t work out either; I can get some of the work done tomorrow but the spectacles-shopping will have to wait until next week.

Despite all that, I managed to put in a full week’s worth of work and it was good work. Impossible Takes a Little Longer is progressing slowly but the latest revisions really add a lot of oomph. Likewise Bleeding Blue looks better after another draft; Don’t Pay the Ferryman does too but the changes once again have me wondering what the right ending is. But it’s there, I just have to write and rewrite until I find it.

I also started work on a new/old story of sorts. A while back I was playing around in my head and came up with a couple of characters I liked. As an experiment I’m plugging them into an old novel I’ve been meaning to rewrite for years, Let No Man Put Asunder. It’s an odd choice as a)I really love the original leads in that book and b)the storyline started changing in other ways. Not because of the new leads, but it’s inching towards an urban fantasy/Neverwhere feel where all the magical action is going on below the surface of the seemingly placid city of Blue Ivy in 1976. I’m not sure if that’s the way I want to go, but I’ll play with it when I have more spare time and see what develops.

And, of course, Questionable Minds is now out! Not only that, but three or four people promptly bought a copy, plus a few other friends who’ve said they intend to soon. I am, of course, delighted. Thanks to all y’all, including MA Kropp.

I signed up for a blog tour through Otherworld Ink. While I have no way to measure yet whether that turns into more sales, I got extra promotion on FB and some blog tour posts done:

It feels very good. And on that note, have a great weekend.

#SFWApro. Questionable Minds cover by Samantha Collins. All rights to images remain with current holders.

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Filed under Impossible Takes a Little Longer, Short Stories, Story Problems, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals, Writing

Today was exhausting but the week was good

What was with today? TYG was out for the morning which threw my schedule off. Then at lunch she was back, plus we had the pressure washers in to clean the house, plus the dogs were freaking out because the pressure-washer team were DUDES MAKING STRANGE NOISES!!! Fortunately I woke up early enough to complete my week’s 30-hour quotient.

The week went well overall. I did a couple of presentations Tuesday night on Continual, one on small-town fantasy and another on new books we had out. I’ll share the links when I get them.

I worked on Obalus which I’m now retitling Don’t Pay the Ferryman (or maybe Pay the Ferryman) — I’d dropped that because Shadows Reflected In Darkness was titled Don’t Pay the Merryman but now that it’s changed, they’re not so similar. To my surprise when I tried writing through the parts I was uncertain about I found an ending. It’s not a good ending but unlike the deus ex machina of the previous draft’s ending, it does follow logically from what’s going on. I can work with it and improve it.

I had a similar experience working on The Impossible Takes a Little Longer. By moving up some of the bad surprises lying in wait for KC I was able to keep the tension high without feeling its too rushed. In several ways it’s going to work better than the previous draft, which is of course the goal.

The downside is that I’m cutting out a lot of stuff. The previous drafts have KC taking a trip to New York to meet fellow superhero Captain Wonder. It took up several chapters. Gone now because it doesn’t make sense (trust me). I’m wondering if I’ll end up with a really short novel or an unacceptably long novella but hey, in the age of ebooks and self-publishing that’s not a dealbreaker. So onward! The only way out of the crazy maze is to keep going!

And today I completed one of my for-pay accounting articles. I don’t know if there’ll be another assignment this month but if not, more time for fiction!

So that was all good. And Metastellar put up my short story The Savage Year on their webiste.

And now the weekend. Bread baking, a friend’s play, and reading a book about spiders. Fun!

#SFWApro. All rights to cover images remain with current holder. Strange Tales cover by Jack Kirby.

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Filed under Nonfiction, Personal, Short Stories, Story Problems, Time management and goals, Writing

The Story Behind the Story: The Savage Year

My short story “The Savage Year,” which came out a few years ago at Lorelei Signal (no longer online there though), goes live today at Metastellar. As I haven’t rewritten it in the five years since the first publication, I’ll take the liberty of simply reprinting my How I Came To Write It from back then (including the illustration by Lee Ann Barlow):

The story’s opening: “Walking past a half-naked couple making out next to a picnic basket, Artemis West wished she could turn invisible. I never thought my first assignment would involve working magic in front of a park full of hippies.

It’s 1968, Robert Kennedy has just been assassinated, and the country is mourning. And as Artemis soon discovers, her job as a Secret Service sorcerer is about to get much more complicated, thanks to a British black magician and a bronze-skinned, golden-eyed drifter, Diana Savage. Whose father is some kind of brilliant scientist and philanthropist, and everyone expects her to follow in his wake. So she’s run away for a summer of love before she heads to college. Only there are innocent people in danger, and in her heart she’s her father’s child …

Why yes, this is the story about Doc Savage’s daughter that I wrote about starting several years ago. As noted at the link, I’d wanted to write about her (or more precisely my version of her) since the early 1980s, but never came up with a story. Then I hit on teaming her up with Art West, great grandson of James West, the hero of Wild Wild West now following family tradition by working for the Secret Service, though as a mage.

When I reread the post at the link, it floored me: my protagonist has been Artemis West and female so long I didn’t remember ever considering a male lead (Jim West’s partner was Artemus Gordon. Descendants are stuck with the name). It’s not surprising though, as I write a lot of male/female teams. As to why I switched to make Artemis a woman … I have no idea.

The story idea beyond that shaped up early. Mages in the Secret Service actually have a dull gig. All they do is go around and touch up the bindings Native American shamans used to lock various Lovecraftian outsiders away. As long as the mages do their job, the outsiders can’t get out.Except that when Artemis goes to check the local bindings (originally San Francisco, but it eventually shifted to the Midwest) she discovers someone is letting outsiders loose. Which is, of course, bad. Even alongside a bronze teenage tornado who fights like ten men (she’s Doc Savage’s daughter. She’s been well-trained) Artemis has her work cut out for her.

Refining the concept proved a lot tougher. I had no idea what the bad guy wanted, what exactly he’d unleashed and how the creature would help him achieve his goals. Nor did I know how to stop him. Eventually I figured it out, with the help of Lester Dent’s plotting formula — appropriate as he created Doc.

I also trimmed back a lot of the in-jokes, such as a reference to Artemis’ aunt Honey. I wanted to write the story so that someone who’d never heard of Jim West or Doc Savage could enjoy it, which meant avoiding any Easter eggs that would be more distracting than amusing.

When I was done, I presented it to the beta readers in my local science-fiction writing group. They suggested I needed to introduce the villain earlier to give him more of a presence, and that I needed to make the story weirder in a few spots. It was good advice. I followed it.

I’ve also blogged about the story over at Atomic Junkshop. Feel free to check it out, but I recommend checking out “The Savage Year” first.

#SFWApro. Illustrations by Barlow and James Bama, all rights to images remain with current holder.

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Filed under Doc Savage, Short Stories, Story behind the story, Writing

That is a little more like it

Which is to say the week went much better than most of October did. Relatively few interruptions and most of those went well. We took the dogs for a checkup at the physical rehab place and the stiffness and pains they were experiencing a month ago (nothing horrifying, but still there) have faded. We can ease up a little on their painkillers and some of the at-home therapy. More importantly, it’s always good news to hear they’re okay. Below is Plushie with his new teddy bearish cut.I met with yet another gutter-repair professional but this one, recommended by a neighbor, was a vast improvement. No sales pitch and the price for a gutter repair plus some upgrades was only slightly higher than the straight gutter repair job we’d gotten from one of the other bidders. So yay!

As to writing, I think that well. I rewrote my short story Bleeding Blue and switched the protagonist from a rookie cop to someone drafted for temporary duty (this makes sense in the setting). This really helped the character and simplified a number of story choices. It still needs a lot of work but there is a story there now.

My work on Obalus was less satisfying, but I did make progress. I have a clearer direction for the story, which may stretch out to novella length; if not, it’s going to be a long short story (then again, I may cut much of what I’ve written in later drafts). But I still don’t know exactly what Eleanor’s going to face in the Tower Without Doors or how she’s getting a prisoner out. Hopefully by the time I resume writing, my subconscious will have dredged something up.

I completed another chapter of Impossible Takes a Little Longer but I realized at the end that the shocking twist I’d developed to pull the action forward didn’t work. Now I have to think of some way to keep the tension going until the next big hook.

I also submitted three short stories — one of them came back the next day but such is life.

Wisp has started coming in at night, though not consistently. She also came in a couple of mornings and took a nap on her pillow. The cats do throw off my morning routine, but they’re worth it.#SFWApro.


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Filed under Impossible Takes a Little Longer, Personal, Short Stories, Story Problems, Time management and goals, Writing

Standing alone

When I was a younger writer, I thought a lot about series. My second book would have kicked off a series if it had sold; a couple of later ones would too. One of my earliest published short stories, Where Angels Fear to Lunch, looked like it had potential to be a series; it did eventually generate a sequel short story, No Good Deed Goes Unpunished (the first story isn’t out anywhere online — well, not at the moment).

Unsold novels, however, do not turn into series. And few of my short stories generate enough interest to feel a sequel is particularly sellable. The exception is Atoms for Peace: I submitted the tenth story in the collection, Instruments of Science (actually the first chapter of a then current WIP) to Big Pulp more than a decade ago as a stand-alone. They asked for more. Ironically, the changes I made to the stories changed the original novel so much (titled The Brain From Outer Space) I was never able to get it back on track.

As I’ve grown older, my mind seems to generate stand-alones, not potential series. I look at stories that could generate sequels like One Hand Washes the Other, and nothing comes to mind. Partly because that story is an intensely dramatic turning point for the protagonist; I can’t make every story a turning point but I don’t usually want to write Just A Story about the characters. And partly, I suspect, because I’m older and I’d sooner write whatever fascinates me at the moment than just whatever sells. Of course, I don’t sell that much (yet!) so it’s not like there’s any overwhelming pressure to provide a sequel; as I’ve joked before, I’ve never been forced to choose between the magical realist novel I want to write and the lucrative werewolf raunch comedy movie script.

I do not think, however, that I’ve left any unresolved cliffhangers. I don’t think anything I’ve written doesn’t have a satisfactory ending concluding the arc, even if there are clearly more stories ahead. At the end of One Hand Washes the Other, my protagonist starts a new life as sidekick to a wizard, but his character arc for the story is complete. Atoms for Peace has an unresolved plot thread or two — will Steve ever find his brother? Will Dani and Steve tie the knot? — but I can’t see anyone feeling frustrated there’s no follow-up.

Which brings us to Questionable Minds. When I wrote the original “finished” draft more than twenty years ago, I thought that if it sold I could do lots of sequels. Maybe even follow Sir Simon Taggart’s daughter Ann growing up and becoming a hero in her own right. But it didn’t sell.

Perhaps self-publishing and putting in a modest amount of promotion will sell enough copies that a sequel becomes practical. I do have ideas for another book, maybe two.

But if not, I don’t think anyone will walk away frustrated. While Simon’s hunt for his wife’s killer remains a loose end, the ending does resolve some of his trauma over her death. As a character arc, I think that works to make it satisfactory even if it’s a standalone. And the main threat of the book, Jack the Ripper, is well and truly dealt with. I think I’ve stopped where it encourages people to want more (I can dream) but it doesn’t require more. Even if I write nothing more, I don’t think it’ll leave readers frustrated.

Less than two weeks to launch, woot!

#SFWApro. Covers by Zakaria Nada (t) and Samantha Collins (b) all rights remain with current holders.

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I’m afraid the ducks won this round

I’d looked forward to this week as one where I could do some concentrated fiction with only minimal distraction. That’s not how it played out. It was in, short, one of those weeks where I was nibbled to death by ducks.

Monday went okay but Tuesday I had to work around some contractors doing a job upstairs. I’d also contacted a couple of companies for a small gutter-repair job and dear lord, it seems that’s one cut-throat industry around here. I received multiple calls and text from various companies besides the couple I’d actually contacted; as I was working on a stretch of Impossible Takes a Little Longer that required deep thought, the repeated distractions killed my momentum. I ended up canceling plans to go to writer’s group that night so I could relax, then  make up for lost time.

Wednesday, I had two appointments with gutter salesmen and sat through long description of why their Total Gutter Remodel (no mere repairs for me, nope!) was the best ever. Sales pitches automatically get my back up; one of them kept texting me repeatedly later to emphasize the Low, Low Options for financing or discounting the price, which didn’t put me in a better mood. Plus we had a contractor uproot and sand the stump of a holly bush out front — I thought we’d stump-sanded it when we had it chopped down a few years back, but apparently not. And we have plans for that spot.

These and similar little chores ate up the week and disrupted my ability to sit and think. I do have almost all of my promotional stuff for Questionable Minds done and Draft2Digital helped solve the formatting problems plaguing the text. However I didn’t have time to make all the adjustments; I’ll get that done Monday.

I did a big rewrite of one chapter of Impossible Takes a Little Longer and it definitely added to the tension. I’m not sure how some of the changes will play out but I’ll trust my gut on this one.

I also worked some on Obalus and made very slight progress. I know the broad outline of what Eleanor Holt has to do to redeem herself but I’m drawing a blank on the details still. In a better week I might have made more headway.

Overall, I fell well short of my goals for them month too. But November begins next week. A fresh month, a fresh chance to get it right.

#SFWApro. Covers by Frank Brunner (t) and Samantha Collins, all rights remain with current holders.

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Filed under Impossible Takes a Little Longer, Personal, Short Stories, Writing

First week NOT working on Aliens Are Here

It went okay, given that I was off Monday for Labor Day and took most of today off for social activities.

With Aliens Are Here in the bag, I figured the thing I needed most to catch up on was the promotional activity for Questionable Minds. I’ve signed up for a blog tour and spent much of Tuesday and Wednesday prepping materials for that — book blurb, blog posts, stuff like that. I also contacted a couple of book bloggers to ask for reviews, though I think I’ve left it too late.

I also submitted a couple of stories and two queries for nonfiction articles.

Thursday — wait, I forget if I mentioned I’d submitted my short story Impossible Things Before Breakfast to a friend’s anthology. It’s a collective anthology with all of us giving feedback on each other’s stories, selecting the cover, etc. Based on the feedback I’ve been rewriting the story, and it’s done. I didn’t agree with all the suggested changes, but the ones I did follow improved the story. The others, not so much, but that’s typical with more than a couple of beta-readers.

However there were multiple disruptions Thursday so I lost my focus after that. I’d hoped to work on Don’t Pay the Ferryman — I’m thinking the final title will be something like Smiles in Dark Mirrors — but no. Next week, for sure, unless I get some Leaf articles to work on.

I was also slowed down by my computer keys sticking a lot. We ordered some compressed air and I gave the keyboard a blast this morning. I think it’s done the trick so I can postpone buying a computer a bit longer.

One good thing: based on the amount of time I put in proofing and indexing The Aliens Are Here, I figured I might be able to up the time I spend writing during the day. I managed six hours both days which is only a half-hour more but that’s 2.5 hours a week. However it does make it harder to get blogging done.

And speaking of blogging, I posted at Atomic Junkshop about indexing and why Marvel’s Sgt. Fury doesn’t measure up to even a bad WW II movie. Jack Kirby’s cover is for Sgt. Fury #5, the focus of my post.

#SFWApro. Questionable Minds cover by Sam Collins, all rights to images remain with current holders.

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Filed under Nonfiction, Short Stories, Time management and goals, Writing

It’s a trap — and I walked right into it!

Not really trapped but I do perhaps feel a little hemmed in. As it’s by good stuff and I had a good week, perhaps it’s more that I’m a bird in a gilded cage?

Yesterday McFarland mailed me the PDF of The Aliens Are Here for me to proof, edit and index. This is quite a job, especially the unimaginable tedium of indexing. Due by early September (the book comes out late that month). And wouldn’t you know, after a couple of months of quiet, Leaf suddenly has a ton of articles available. And one of my other clients wants me to do an accounting article.

I think this will rule out any chance of writing any more fiction this month. But that’s okay: I knew the proofs would arrive, I know from experience how much time it takes so I was prepared to drop everything. Well, except the paying stuff.

Oh, and I have a story I need to approve the edits on. I got an email Monday offering to buy Death Is Like a Box of Chocolates and of course I said yes. I got the email today saying they’d done the edits, would I take a look please? But hey, that’s a job I’ll do with pleasure.

I’ve also got some work to do on promoting Questionable Minds. That’ll have to wait, but it can’t wait too long.

But that’s a boatload of sudden deadlines when I normally don’t have any. I’m not really complaining because it’s all good, I just wish the timing had been spaced out. Still, having too much work as a freelancer is better than not having enough work.

Prior to everything heating up, I went over Don’t Pay the Ferryman and I think it’s in good shape. I’m ready to give it a final edit, but obviously not right now. And I finished this draft of Impossible Takes a Little Longer. It’s not looking as good but a first shot at replotting went surprisingly easily. Possibly the problems are more fixable than I thought. Again, not something to tackle right now.

Oh, I also had a filling adjusted yesterday. And posted a couple of articles at Atomic Junkshop, one on the debut of Marvel’s SHIELD and another on comic reboots that missed the point.

#SFWApro. All rights to image remain with current holders.

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Filed under Impossible Takes a Little Longer, Nonfiction, Short Stories, Time management and goals, Writing

Sleepless, again

The past week my sleep has been very poor. I’m not sure if it’s bleed-through stress from TYG getting stress or summer heat, which often messes up my sleep patterns. Of course, I have the option to start work early, then nap later, but I’m still feeling rather worn out right now.

That contributed to becoming very disorganized this week. It didn’t help that first thing Monday morning we took the dogs to their physical therapy (feel free to laugh, but it really helps them). Then I’d planned a relatively light day of work because I was also taking Trixie in for a checkup to see if her UTI had gone away. As she was still on antibiotics I had to cancel but somehow I couldn’t cudgel my brain into making effective use of the free time. Then I had to go in to pick up the pee collection syringe, then bring it back in after collection. Little stuff like that wouldn’t, I think, have been a huge problem normally, but I was already out of sorts and tired, so …

But Trixie seems to have recovered. And I love her.I did get work done, though. I completed another Accounting Seed article. I continued redrafting Obalus, but ran out of steam — annoyingly, late enough in the afternoon I couldn’t bring myself to switch and work on something else. I suspect I’m going to need to lengthen it — the opening scenes are great, but once we transition to a fantasy setting, everything in the old draft wrapped up too fast. Doing it right will add length, I think.

I put in some work on revising the cover copy for Questionable Minds. I looked for book bloggers who are into steampunk but the list I found turned out to be a)they weren’t into steampunk; b)they charge; c)not taking reviews. Back to the drawing board.

That was pretty much it. The article took longer than it should have, and I’m off today. I shall spend some time this weekend thinking how to cudgel my schedule back into shape.

#SFWApro. Book cover by Sam Collins.


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Filed under Nonfiction, Personal, Short Stories, The Dog Ate My Homework, Writing