Category Archives: Short Stories

The Scribe’s Arcanum: Anatomy of a Sale—Graven Image: Part 2

In 2007, marketing my short fiction had taken a back seat to everything else going on in my life. I was still planning on opening a small business, and I was working toward earning my bachelor’s degree. 

I continued to plug away on a novel, along with writing and submitting short fiction as time allowed. 

It had been about three years since my short horror story, “Graven Image,” had been published at The Swamp, and the year before, I had made my first paid sale by winning a contest at Dark Recesses Press.  I decided to try to sell “Graven Image” as a reprint to a webzine called Afterburn SF. 

Graven Image ended up  rejected by Afterburn. I put the story aside to await another viable market, and for a time it was out of sight, out of mind. 

Not long after, I received an email from Afterburn SF asking if the story was still available.  Turns out, the owner sold the webzine and the new publisher/editor, having found a copy of Graven Image among the paperwork he had acquired, read the story, like it,  and decided he wanted to publish it! 

What an amazing surprise!  I just felt happy it wasn’t sitting in some other magazine’s slush pile (that’s an old term for unsolicited manuscripts that used to litter the floor of publishing houses in the days before email and submission websites). 

Even more surprising, he paid me six times as much as I would have received from the previous editor. I agreed, of course, and not long after had my third publishing credit and my second paid story. 

After selling Graven Image, my focus went back to my studies. I wouldn’t make my next sale for another four years. Graven image would later be adapted for audio. I’ll get you a link soon. 

After graduation, I’d take a story I wrote for an advanced creative writing class, and turn it into my next writing credit. 

I’ll tell you more about it next time. 

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The Scribe’s Arcanum: Anatomy of a Sale—Graven Image: Part 1

Despite my best efforts to the contrary, I made my second fiction sale in 2007. I hadn’t been focusing on my writing. Instead, I had spent most of my time pursuing a business opportunity, and earning a long overdue bachelor’s degree. The sale itself came as a surprise. You see, the same paying market that rejected my story would accept it not long after. Here’s how it happened: 

One morning, I awoke from a nightmare. In the dream I had been staring at a monitor bank, and on each screen was a live video feed of of a corpse in repose. The image remained with me, and I ended up building  the story Graven Image around it. 

Having worked for many years in the security industry, working my way up from a security officer to a manager at a nine building Fortune 500 corporation, before being promoted into the HR department at the district office, I decided I would write about a character who had been downsized from a job in corporate America and ended up needing to take a security job to make ends meet. 

Although it’s never mentioned, to round out the setting, I decided to set the mortuary in the story in my fictional town of Wellington, Massachussets. My first novel WOLVES OF VENGEANCE also takes place in the same fictional location. A forthcoming thriller novel, YEAR OF THE ASSASSIN, has characters connected to that town, but there is no supernatural element in the story.  

Much like my previous story sale, Despair, this tale is pure horror. Some of my later works tend to mix the horror genre with crime fiction or science fiction. 

After finishing the story, I began the process of sending out Graven Image to market, starting with the top markets and then working my way down from highest paying to lowest. 

Although, this is a tried and true method, it’s not always the most efficient way to make a sale. More on that in another post. 

 Close to four years had gone by with only rejection letters to show for my efforts. I was active on a horror fiction message board at that time and noticed that some novelists, with mass market paperback deals, were submitting to a webzine called The Swamp. The  Swamp didn’t offer payment, but just like with Dark Recesses Press, I liked the people who ran it, and felt it would get my work some exposure. 

The joke is that people die of exposure. But I needed an acceptance of some sort to keep pushing on. There was no guarantee that I’d get an acceptance, even in a non-paying market. I figured it was worth a shot, and if I got in, the acceptance would place my story next to some successful writers.  

Finally, I received an email acceptance. I’d have my first publication credit, and a sample of my work that could be read for free online. I was stoked! 

 I received great feedback on that story. Readers liked the creepy atmosphere, and two family members refused to read any more of my horror stories because they said it gave them nightmares! That’s high praise when you write horror.  I had transfered my nightmare to at least two other people. Mission accomplished! 

Three years later I would attempt to sell Graven Image as a reprint to a paying market. Like I mentioned above, it would be rejected by a paying webzine before later being accepted by that same webzine. I’ll tell you all about how that happened, and how I made my second paid story sale next time. Since, like Despair, Graven Image is out of print, I just might post it here on my blog after posting Part II.

Stay tuned! 

The Scribe’s Arcanum: Anatomy of a First Sale—Part 4

The Scribe’s Arcanum:

Anatomy of a First Sale—Part 4

Unsure of who was calling me from Canada, I decided to check my email. I had just heard a notification, and the Canadian caller had yet to finish leaving a voicemail. 

I saw the newest email in my inbox and sighed. It was a response from Dark Recesses Press regarding the contest I had entered. In that moment, I believed I had received another rejection. How could it be anything else? I had suffered rejection for six long years, and knew nothing else. I was getting used to being disappointed. 

Pulling up the email, I scanned it quickly. 

“Blah, blah, blah… Rejection,” I said to my wife who was reading over my shoulder.  

“Wait!” Patty said, sounding excited. “I think you won.” 

“Yeah, right,” I said. “There’s no possible way I won that contest. Don’t you understand? I only get rejections.”

“No, read it again,” Patty said. 

Sure. Sure. Let’s prolong the misery. 

I began to read the email again. This time I did so slowly, methodically, and once I saw the part where the publisher had congratulated me on winning the contest, time seemed to slow. 

The room got brighter. I really couldn’t believe it. Out of something like 90 submissions, the editors had chosen my story. 

Then I realized that the publisher lived in Canada. Had she tried to call me? That certainly would make sense. 

I dialed into our voice mail and listed to her message. She wanted to personally congratulate me on winning the contest. 

I had to call her back! I had to call her back immediately!  Getting her number off the caller ID, I frantically dialed, but still felt I was living in slow motion.

When she answered, and after I introduced myself, time not only snapped back to normal, but accelerated. I have no idea what I said to her, but I do remember she was quick to get of the phone with me. I had gone from slow motion into manic overdrive, barraging her with a rapid fire word salad. At least she could tell I was excited!  

In the weeks that followed, I received a $500.00 check, a $40.00 Shocklines’ Edition of The Priest of Blood by Douglas Clegg (“Read that book, David!” Clegg would later tell me on the message board. And I did. It’s a fantastic novel.), and received a handwritten note from the publisher. 

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I would also receive publication on the Dark Recesses website, and in the PDF version that was available on CD ROM. This was all before the e-book revolution. 

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Of course, I also had bragging rights, and for the first time felt like a real writer.  And that’s how I became a paid, published author, and made my first sale. 

You can do the same with just a little talent, a lot of hard work, and plenty of persistence. 

In the final part of this story, I’ll tell you about the aftermath, and how I made the sale count for more than just a writing credit. 

DRP Graven Image

The Scribe’s Arcanum: Anatomy of a First Sale—Part 3

The Scribe’s Arcanum:

Anatomy of a First Sale—Part 3

Just about to give up hope on my vampire short story, “Despair,” I spied a contest at Dark Recesses Press. Time was growing short for getting a sale that would qualify me to remain a member of the Horror Writer’s Association. 

Dark Recesses Press had their 2nd annual Deja Vu Horror Contest coming up. This contest was all about familiar horror tropes.  For a small entry fee, I could submit a story that was either a parody of a genre trope or do something new and unique with the trope. I had just the story… or so I thought! 

I had no illusions of winning this contest, but with the story off working in the background at least I could dream.  As such, I gave it a quick read through and sent it by email to my wife for a quick proofread.

My wife reviewed the story. Having grown as an editor since her last revision,  she realized I had a character who served no other purpose than to die. She advised me to extricate the character from the story.

Impossible! There was no way I could remove the character. She was integral to the story. I was overtaken by frustration. I had a novel to get back to and new short stories to write. I didn’t have the time to complete a total rewrite nor did I have any way to get rid of this character without the structure of the story collasping. 

Deciding to sleep on it, the next morning I awoke with an answer. It was certainly one of those eureka moments. 

I realized I could employ a technique filmakers use when adapting a novel. They take two or more characters, and make them into a composite. In this way, they’re able to have one character do the work of two or more. This is necessary sometimes when condensing a long novel into a two-hour movie. 

The reduction of this character would shorten my story, but it would still be well within the bounds of the required word count. I went to work in earnest. 

In the process, I had to revise and rearrange the story, making it much tighter in the process. 

Patty read my new version and completed another proofread. We were both happy with the final results. Essentially, with all the changes, it was a new and improved story. 

Now, not only would I be breaking the rule of sending to the top markets first, I was also going against the advice of paying a fee to enter a contest. Money is supposed to flow to the writer. But the entry fee was small ($11.00 I believe), and I had interacted with the publisher, and one of the editors, on a horror message board. They were good people, and I knew their hearts were in the right place. In the coming months they were bringing  Dark Recesses Press from a micro-zine to a semi-pro web magazine. They were doing everything right, and I wasn’t going to let any well meaning advice get in my way of getting another rejection. No, sir! Not me. 

With nothing to lose, I paid my fee and sent the story off through email. Then I tried to forget about the whole thing. There was no way I was going to win, anyway. I just wanted to keep up my momentum. Maybe someday I would make a sale. Either way, I couldn’t stop writing. I had the bug, and I had it bad. 

One night in 2006 my wife and I were sitting on the couch with our laptops, the TV buzzing white-noise in the foreground.  The phone rang and I got up to to check the caller ID. To my surprise, someone was calling us from Canada. Who the hell was calling us from the Great White North? Most likely a wrong number, I thought. Yet, I wondered if it could be some long lost family member, my dad has people in Canada. I had also interacted with some Canadian writers on the horror message board. Why would they be calling me? I could daydream about someone wanting to collaborate, but the idea seemed absurd. I didn’t even have a first sale yet.  It was fun to dream, though. 

I returned to the couch, and then I heard the chime of an email notification. I clicked through to check it. Both the phone call and email were about to change my life. 

I’ll tell you about it next time. 

 

The Scribe’s Arcanum: Anatomy of a First Sale—Part 1

The Scribe’s Arcanum

Anatomy of a First Sale—Part 1

How do you get published traditionally? A lot of newer writers have this question. I can tell you how I did it, giving you some insight into the process. This will be a longer post, probably the longest of the Anatomy of a Sale series since I have to start from the beginning. I’ll try to work though the background information quickly. 

I wrote my real first short stories back in junior high. I had the opportunity to read a story to the class, and once I did, I become known as: The Writer. There was another classmate who was known as: The Artist. I was envious of him as I had wanted to be an artist myself, a comic book illustrator to be exact, but found what I really wanted to do was tell a story. I discovered in short order it was easier to tell a story with words than with pictures——at least it was for me. 

Then in high school I wrote a short story for an English class. At the time, I was trying to sail under the radar. I couldn’t help but take up the challenge, and once my teacher saw I had talent, I lost the ability to remain invisible in that class. There’s a lot more to this story, but I’ll save it for another day. 

Fast forward to late 1996, early 1997. After a couple years of marriage, I felt settled down and focused enough to try my hand at writing again. This time I wanted to see if I could make a fiction sale. I told my wife as much, asking her to buy me a Writer’s Digest Short Story Market  for Christmas/Hanukkah. 

I made her a promise that with that tome by my side, I would write a story and send it out.  If nothing else, I’d get my first rejection letter. 

I had researched enough to know that even top writers like Stephen King had spent a great deal of time collecting rejection slips. I felt that getting a “thanks, but no thanks” letter was an achievable goal, and it kept me from worrying about the results. The worst that could happen was that I would be sent an acceptance letter and not get my goal of a rejection. That would have been a “failure” I could live with. 

I wrote my first story, with an eye towards making a sale, on a Brother word processor, sending out a hard copy in the mail and waiting breathlessly for the post office to send me a response. Instead of a rejection, I was surprised to read a short note informing me that that the magazine had just gone out of business. 

Immediately, I sent the story to a small press magazine. A few months later I received a very nice note written on a form rejection letter stating: “Good story! Just too traditional for this publication.” Not a bad first rejection. In-fact, it’s extremely good. Much better than I realized at the time. 

Most of my rejections were like this. I had immediately received encouraging letters and notes, but no sales. It was a better sign than I could have known. I was close, but life was getting in the way. By the end of 1997 I had transitioned into a  management position in the security industry. Producing reports and policies and procedures manuals kept me writing, and a  24 hour pager and 16 hour shifts kept me exhausted and with little time for anything else. 

In the year 2000 I completed a transition to a human resources position, regaining some of the time I had lost. With extra time came an emptiness I couldn’t seem to fill. I had returned to martial arts over a year earlier (having left my old school in 1997) and even though I loved my training, it wasn’t enough to fill me up. It was only when I returned to writing that I felt whole again. 

That year, I found a message board frequented by horror writers who had been popular in the 1980s. These authors had been my writing heroes, and they inspired me to return to my horror roots. Before that, I had spent most of my time writing science fiction. I figured I understood the horror genre more than SF, and that I would have a publication credit in no time. How wrong I was! 

In 2004 I placed a short story, “Graven Image,” with a webzine called The Swamp. I didn’t get paid for that “sale” but I did get an acceptance, something I sorely needed at the time. 

It wouldn’t be until 2006 when I made my first sale. Yes, It would take me six years to make my first paid sale. Persistance pays off. Persistance and practice. I’ll tell you how that happened next time. Stay tuned. 

Review of American Nocturne

American Nocturne

Hank Schwaeble delivers the goods in this collection of short noir fiction. Each story is compelling and masterfully crafted. There isn’t a bad story in the bunch. Plus you get to read the amazing introduction by Jonathan Maberry.

Here are some of my favorites:

American Nocturne – A dime store detective attempts to solve the most baffling case of his life. This tale will leave you questioning reality.

Midnight Bogey Blues – How do you get rid of a boogeyman? Read this story and find out. You might not like the answer, but you’ll enjoy reading it.

Gomorrah – A story about the darker side of destiny. An initiation ritual gone wrong leads a participant down a very dark path.

Bone Daddy – This twisted tale goes into very dark territory. Made me feel a little queasy while reading it. A guilty pleasure for sure.

Phantom Hill – A weird western with a unique and compelling twist.

A Murmur of Evil – Who doesn’t like an officially sanctioned Kolchak: The Night Stalker novella?

Nurture – The argument between nature vs. nurture played out literarily and in the darkest sense. A bleak and disturbing tale with just a touch of politically incorrect humor.

There’s plenty more to enjoy. I can’t recommend this collection enough. Absolutely fantastic! If you like noir, have at it. You won’t be disappointed.

Buy american Nocturne here.

January in Review

In an attempt to keep some sort of momentum going with this blog, I’ve decided to give you an update on what I’ve been working on during the month of January. It’s been a pretty good month. I’m hoping to make a couple videos soon that will show how I go about goal setting and planning my year. Until then, I give you this…

Writing

Short Fiction

  • My SF/Horror story “Sat Down Inside Her” was accepted into the untitled 3rd annual New England Horror Writer’s anthology slated for an early summer release. More information to come.
  • I received a rejection from a top market with a “hope to see more stories from you in the future” from the editor. As one writer commented on FB, “I hope you know that’s a fabulous response.” Some of my non-writer friends don’t understand how a rejection can be a good thing. Suffice it to say that when an editor from a top pro market says he’d like to see more of your work, you know your writing is near or at the level of that market. All that it will take is writing a story that catches the editor’s fancy to get an acceptance letter. Maybe that and a little luck.  As you can well imagine, cracking this market has been put on  the top of my goal list.

Novels

  • Year of the Demon (Conspiracy/Crime Thriller): I began working on the 3rd draft of this 90,000 word novel.
  • The Tower (Paranormal Haunting/Woman in Jeopardy Crime Thriller) : I’m approximately 15,200 words or 61 pages into the first draft of this novel. Currently, I’m projecting that it will run about 90,000 words when completed.
  • Proxy Mate (Dystopian SF) : I’m approximately 11,250 words or 45 pages into what most likely will be a novella. At present, I have no idea how long this story will run.
  • Wolves of Vengeance (Multi-Genre Supernatural Thriller): has had an uptick is sales and borrows this month. Updating the book description, changing the genre descriptors, and gaining a couple more glowing reviews has seemed to help.

Reading

Family & Friends

  • Called my parents at least once per week.
  • Kept in contact with my aunt through email.
  • Celebrated Patty’s birthday.
  • Kept up with friends on social media.
  • Contacted my friend and former Gothic & Arthurian lit professor through email to stay in touch.
  • Lit a candle for my sister on the anniversary of her death.

Martial Arts

  • So many good seminars this month, and I wasn’t able to attend any of them. At least I got plety of training in at home.
  • Five or six rounds of shadowboxing at least 2x per week with Patty using the Bas Rutten MMA Workout audio CDs.
  • Practiced Kali sinawali
  • Continued practicing Naihanchi forms

Fitness & Health

  • Lost a half inch from my waist and about a pound of fat since I began tracking again.
  • Began using myfitnesspal again to track my weightloss and fitness goals.
  • Utilized the original P90X DVDs a few times this month, doing about 30 minutes each (focused on Core Synergistics and Back & Chest).
  • Had my semi-annual dental cleaning.

Cars

  • Had D service on my car, along with an oil change.
  • Had my car inspected and a parking light replaced.

Thing Goals

  • Bought a set of precision screwdrivers at Ace Hardware. I’m going to upgrade the memory in my Mac. That’s the plan, at least.

House

  • General cleaning and maintenance.

Whisky Tasting

  • I’ve enjoyed drinking Glenmorangie The Original and Glenlevit 12. I’m very new to the world of whisky snobbery, but I find that it suits me. Haha! I enjoyed a sample of Glenlevit 15, but didn’t notice much difference from the 12. Tried Talisker at the recomendation of some writer friends and have found it a very acquired taste. I’m not used to the smokey/peaty taste, and not sure I’ll ever like it. All is not lost, though. I’ll be bringing whatever is left to AnthoCon where I will be very happy to share!

General

  • I survived the Blizzard of 2015.
  • I got a haircut. I look almost human again. Almost…

Movies Watched:

  • World War Z ***
  • Escape Plan **
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier ****

I’ll create an addendum if I think of anything else.

Until next time…