Category Archives: Writing

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

The year 2011 was a great one for me. I finished my coursework and graduated magna cum laude from UMASS Lowell with a Liberal Arts Degree with concentrations in English and psychology. I also decided to ramp up my writing and submitting efforts and ended up landing another fiction sale with a story I had written but had never planned to publish.   

The story that would become The Language of Ice was originally inspired by an article in the April 1998 issue of Discover Magazine; Entitled: New Women of the Ice Age. The article purported to recast prehistoric women as more active than passive in roles that were believed to be traditionally held by males. 

Discover 1998

Originally, I imagined the story idea as a screenplay. In my mind’s eye, I saw a group of archeologists and anthropologists standing around a table, addressing a group of reporters, and making assumptions about a female skeleton. Then the camera slowly zooms into and through the bones.  When the camera emerges on the other side, we see this ancient woman when she was alive and how she may have actually lived her life. 

I imagined the story like it was a movie. I had the opening, but nothing else. 

The idea stayed with me, but I didn’t do anything with it. 

Then sometime in the mid-2000s, I watched a documentary that dramatized the theory of early humans interbreeding with Neanderthals. They showed a neanderthal female tenderly touching the face of an early human, and that’s when The language of Ice was truly born. 

With all my college coursework mounting, I didn’t have the time to explore the idea. Then I ended up taking an advanced creative writing class to satisfy part of the requirement for my English concentration. The class was geared toward publication, but interestingly enough, the professor didn’t have any publishing credits. My puny two published stories at the time dwarfed my teacher’s experience, along with everyone else in the class. 

One student balked when I said I only had two writing credits. It didn’t seem like much to me, I had been to writing conventions where I got to hang out with best-selling authors who had published on upwards of fifty professional books. 

The professor wanted us to write a literary story with an eye toward publication. I’m a genre writer and didn’t have any ideas that boarded on straight literary fiction. Then I thought about the woman of the ice age idea that I had been carrying around since the late 90s, and it collided with the neanderthal idea exploding into a full-fledged story. 

Since it had to be literary, I wanted to make the story somewhat ambiguous. I decided to create a narrative where the main character, a museum curator, begins to think she might have been a Neanderthal woman in another life. Is she imaging the whole thing or is she having a spiritual experience? The whole point was to let the readers decide. 

When I passed in my story homework, my teacher liked it, but she wanted me to make the story ending more concrete. If she had been a paying editor, I would have been happy to oblige, but I was doing so well in the class and disagreed so fervently with the direction she wanted to take my tale, I decided to pass in my homework sans those revisions. She wasn’t exactly happy about it, but I think I still got an A. 

With school still taking up so much of my time, I put the story away and didn’t even think about looking at it until 2011. 

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After graduation, I’d have the opportunity to submit my manuscript, created for an English class, to an anthology filled with the stories written by a cadre of international authors. 

And I was vindicated! I sold that story with the original ambiguous ending!

I’ll tell you more about how that happened next time. 

GRAVEN IMAGE by David North-Martino

Graven Image by David North-Martino ©2004, 2007, 2019 

Graven Image originally appeared in The Swamp, and Afterburn SF 

“Our clients all have a peculiar fear. They’re not convinced their loved ones will stay dead,” the Director of Sanguine Mortuary said.  

Hatch fought for control, he thought he might go from smirk, to grin, to all-out laughter.  

The Director, his face as dead as any of the clients entombed in Sanguine’s walls, stared at Hatch from behind an expensive looking oak desk. The dire need for the job forced Hatch’s expression to the same state as the director’s name.

“Mr. Stone, I——”

“Jonathan, I know what I’m telling you might be hard to accept, but we provide a valuable service to our clientele.” Stone wrinkled his face into his best mortician’s smile. 

“Mr. Stone,” Hatch said. “I really need this job. Whether I believe or not, I can watch your building and everything in it.”

“You seem like a good fellow. Pity, companies will throw away employees after a decade of service.” Mr. Stone gently placed Hatch’s resume on the desk. “I’ll give you a chance, just keep your wanderlust to a minimum. The last guard couldn’t contain his curiosity. If he hadn’t up and disappeared, I would have had to fire him.”

Elation! At this point, any job was a good job. He made a mental note to pick up a bottle of wine on the way home. He and his wife would, at last, have something to celebrate. But behind the euphoria and relief, something nagged at him. Later, when he gave it some thought, after half a bottle of wine and with his wife in a satisfied sleep beside him, questions arose, questions he couldn’t answer. They chattered through his mind, lulling him into a troubled sleep.  

#

“Uh——what’s on the monitors?” Hatch asked. The surreal images were better than caffeine, no way he would drift off with those things staring at him. 

“Those? Oh go on, take a good look.” Michael Evans, the Second-Shift Sergeant, said. “What do they look like to you?” 

“Looks like dead people.”

“Those are our charges, three-hundred, and thirty-eight of ‘em.”  Evans seemed proud with the knowledge. “Oh, don’t worry, they ain’t gonna bother you much or entertain you for that matter.”

“Then why are we monitoring them?”  

“Just in case they wake up,” Evans said. Hatch felt a chill shoot into his groin. Soon he would be here alone——alone with them. 

Then Evans broke into a fit of heaving laughter. “Naw, they ain’t gonna wake up. I’ve been working here for five years, since I retired from the military, and I ain’t never seen a-one so much as wrinkle a nose.”

Hatch stared at the monitors again.   

“See, we have some very superstitious rich people around the world, and Sanguine helps alleviate their fear——and a good amount of their cash.” Evans shook his head back and forth in mock disbelief. “Got to show the client something right? Show the client that us security types are watching their loved ones twenty-four-by-seven. Kinda makes me chuckle. But it’s a good gig, especially on off shifts.  

“We don’t get no visitors, grieving family members or anything like that. We let the dead lay, play a little poker——you’ll have to play solitaire——and walk around a couple times. Make sure things are safe and secure——for the world outside I guess.” 

He laughed again as if the whole thing were ludicrous.

Evans showed Hatch around for the rest of the hour. He saved one piece of trivia for last.

“This is what I call the Bat-Phone,” Evans said, and Hatch understood why. The phone looked like an old model from the 1960s, rotary dial and all, and it was colored red like on the TV show. “In the unlikely chance that——something unusual happens——you pick up this phone and——well, after that I don’t know, but I’m sure you won’t find out. Damn thing probably don’t even have service.”

Evans had a pitying look on his face, like he was about to leave his favorite cat at the Vet to be euthanized. Hatch wondered if he could handle staying at Sanguine Mortuary alone for fifteen minutes, never mind eight hours.

“What happened to the last officer who worked the third shift?”

“Harold Drendle? Shoot——he’d worked here long as I did.  We used to talk a little at shift change, and he confessed to me he was having marital problems, problems caused by money, which by the way is how they always start, and then one day, I guess he was sick of it. He up and abandoned post sometime before shift change and he hasn’t been seen since. 

“He told me in confidence he was planning to go to Hawaii, had been socking away a little here and there. So, don’t you be letting your mind wander and go thinking nonsense. You’ll get used to this place soon enough.”  

#

Soon enough just wasn’t soon enough. Evans hadn’t been gone ten minutes, and Hatch was ready to abandon post. The ghoulish images only provided unwelcome company.  

Hatch turned his attention to the phone. He reached over, touched the receiver’s smooth plastic. Who was on the other end?

What was on the other end? 

The thought made him shudder. He withdrew his hand.  

He couldn’t just sit there with the monitors tuned to Dead-TV. He grabbed the Mag light, the weight comforting in his hand, and headed out for the first round of the evening.

Hatch’s footfalls echoed through the empty mausoleum. Every fifteen feet the wall receded to reveal a cluster of grave nooks. Accent lights reflected dimly off metal plates, revealing the names of the departed. They surrounded him. Outnumbered him. 

He rounded a bend and found the first key-point next to the chapel door. 

How long had it been since he had last attended church? He couldn’t remember. He touched the tour recorder to the plastic key, listened for the chirp, and then looked at the LCD screen. 

ChapHell, next key point inside.

Hatch shook his head, maybe when he got back to the command center he would fix the typo.  

Hatch flicked on the lights. The antiseptic nondenominational room radiated comfort, as if something from beyond could reach out and protect all those who entered.  

A feral cat’s mew? A crying child? A vocalized rush of wind raging through the hall toward him? 

Hatch crossed the threshold, pulled at the cherry-wood door and held it shut. The chapel shook and the doors threatened to pull from his grasp. Then the pounding shrill scream stopped, and Hatch stood in silence. 

“Damn trains,” Hatch said under his breath.  Then he remembered he was standing in a chapel. He looked up. “Sorry.”

Hatch continued with the tour. He came to a short stairwell that led down to the basement level. Cautiously, he descended. 

Hatch switched on the flashlight and adjusted the beam to full width. The key-point waited at the end of the hall surrounded by darkness. Hatch felt around for a light switch but found nothing. His pulse pounded in his temples.  

Making quick time, he passed closed doors on either side of the hall. He touched the tour reader to the key and waited impatiently for the chirp. 

A red door to his right caught his attention. He tried the handle. 

Locked. 

He glanced back toward the stairs, then back to the door. His curiosity got the better of him, and he tried his keys until one fit the lock. 

Match stepped inside a room filled with black metal file cabinets. The beam of light illuminated a unique cabinet——a red cabinet. 

He found a jagged hole where the lock should have been, as if someone had cut the mechanism out of the frame. Hatch opened the top drawer and then rifled through musty folders and yellowed papers. Most seemed to be nothing more than death records. Every soul buried at Sanguine must have been stored in that room. But then he found something else. 

A letter, age stained and watermarked, written on parchment with what appeared to be a quill pen, ignited Hatch’s curiosity. His eyes widened as he scanned strange sections:

Thank you again for taking this burden from me.  I am getting much too old to act as custodian any longer… 

The families absolutely insist on having guards. I know it sounds ridiculous, as if flesh and blood could really protect anyone from what is now in your possession… 

Feeding time is distasteful, but it lasts a relatively short time. I was lucky to only witness it for two full cycles in the twenty years since I acquired the collection. The dead must feed before they sleep… 

The dead must feed? 

What the hell did that mean?

A booming metallic reverberation made him jump. The sound had come from the hall. His mouth went dry and his throat tightened, but he had to check it out. That’s what he was being paid to do. 

Hatch cautiously stepped out into the hall. 

The reflection of his flashlight beam caught movement through a window in one of the doors. 

Anybody Home?

Hatch inched closer, shined the light inside——recoiled.   

A man stood, if that’s what you could call the thing that stood before him, dressed in a moth-eaten suit, bending over what looked like a metal cadaver table. 

The terrible thing that looked like a man chomped and smacked his lips as he devoured what remained of a body on the table. The head and chest were all that remained of the corpse ——everything else had been consumed. 

Hatch hacked and heaved, but nothing came up, as if his insides had turned to dust. He looked back at the window. 

The ghoul turned its head and looked at him, still stuffing flesh in-between the stitches that held his lips together. 

The ghoul grinned at him. 

Then came the screams.

Hatch raced through the halls double-time, the shrieks of the dead nipping at his ears. 

Which way out? 

He couldn’t remember. 

He passed the chapel. Sanctuary wouldn’t do, he needed the command center. 

He needed the phone!

Hatch slammed shut the command center door. 

No lock. 

The irony sent him into hysterics. 

Hatch turned around. The monitors were still trained on the coffins——some were empty. 

The cadavers that remained opened their eyes. 

Shit! 

Hatch reached for the phone——hesitated——picked it up. 

The phone automatically dialed. 

The ringing scratched in his left ear, the dead wailed in his right. 

“Pick up——damn it! pick up!”

The ringing stopped. 

A moment of hesitation on the other end of the line.

“I told you to curb your curiosity, Jonathan.”

The door buckled. Glass shattered. All went black.

***

Even with his eyes closed, Hatch could sense that Sergeant Evans stared at him, stared at the monitors. Curiosity could be a terrible thing, recognition worse.  

 The high-pitched chatter from the others Hatch only heard in a sanguine whisper, but he could understand what they wanted, what he also wanted. One last time before the sleep.  

The hunger rose in him—-in them——and in unison——and to the terror of Michael Evans——they all opened their eyes. 

-FIN-

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. 

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 5: The Aftermath 

The Scribe’s Arcanum:

Anatomy of a First Sale—Part 5: The Aftermath 

I had spent six years working toward my first short story sale, and in that time, many things in my life had changed. Many things were about to change. One of the biggest: I was now a paid published author. 

In this day and age of self-publishing, being accepted and paid by an editor is a distinction worth mentioning.  Although, there’s nothing wrong with going the indie route, I’ve done it myself, it’s just a different situation. 

The sale also meant I could keep my HWA affiliate member status. I had completed a huge goal, and I felt like I was on a roll. 

Before making my first sale, I had committed myself to researching the opening of a small business. Of course, as soon as I made that decision, I ended up making my first fiction sale. In hindsite, I probably should have marshaled all my efforts into my writing career. Instead, I put most of my time resources into pursuing a business while also earning a Bachelor’s degree. With all that, we also visited California and Florida. Yes, 2006 was a very busy year!!!

Even so, I began attending author signings and conventions to jumpstart my networking. Feeling like a real writer for the first time allowed me to connect with other writers without feeling so much like a poser. 

One of the signings I attended was of a local writer who had had success in both the mass market and the small press. He told me that his first small press book had earned him an advance of $250 and seemed genuinely impressed that my first short fiction sale had earned me twice as much. It was certainly a great confidence booster. 

I also attended the Northeastern Writers Conference (NECON), a cozy and informal Rhode Island convention where the convention goers are welcoming and treat you like family. 

PNMDNMNecon

An amazing beginning, but it wasn’t going to get any easier. In the next installment, I’ll tell you what it took to make my second sale and how it was a sale that almost never happened. 

See you next time. 

Greatshell

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 2

The Scribe’s Arcanum:

Anatomy of a First Sale—Part 2

In 2006 I made my first short story  sale. It was hard won and an amazing experience. Here’s how it happened:

I had joined the Horror Writer’s Association (HWA) as an affiliate member in the early 2000s. For various reasons at that time they were looking to jettison members who didn’t have any sales. They now required a semi-profesional sale of not less than $25 to retain affiliate member status and stay in the organization. They gave us a year to make affiliate or be cast out. 

There were rumblings from some members, but having an interest in setting goals with  deadlines, I took this as the perfect opportunity to do whatever it took to make my first sale. I had a year, and a year could go by quickly. I knew I had to get started right away. 

In addition, to complete this goal I would have to break a rule I was taking way too literally. That rule: start at the top market and work your way down. The problem with that strategy is it takes a long time. Especially when some top markets were holding stories up to a year (sometimes longer) before sending a rejection letter. On the plus side, if you made a sale it was going to be a big one. 

However, to achieve my goal, I wouldn’t be able to use that strategy any longer. At least, that is, until I made my first semi-pro sale. 

As part of this new strategy, I looked at semi-pro magazines that had sent me encouraging notes along with a rejection. Then I wrote stories specifically for that market.

I had done this at least once before, written a story specifically for a magazine that showed interest in my work.  One such magazine was Dreams of Decadence, edited by Angella Kessler. 

In the year 2000, my wife and I made a return trip to New Orleans. We hadn’t been back to NOLA since our honeymoon. We had stayed at the Bourbon Orleans, and a kindly bellhop had given us some advice on where to go and which areas to avoid. The dark and dangerous streets of the French Quarter excited my imagination. Then, in our youth, being adventurous, we found ourselves having drinks at a vampire bar, as part of a tour led by a self-proclaimed vampire who called himself Vlad. 

When we returned home, my experiences coalesced into the story, The Hours of Sleep. I’ll talk more about that story in another post. Suffice it to say, I sent this vampire short story to Dreams of Decadence and received a rejection letter. Still, Ms. Kessler wrote back telling me she thought the story was interesting and unique. No easy feat for a well worn trope. 

I decided to try my hand at writing a story specifically for her magazine. To do this we traveled to Pandemonium Books and Games in Boston to pick up some sample issues. It could have been Man from Atlantis, but I think it was Pandemonium. Either way, I grabbed issues from a handful of genre magazines.

Bringing them home, I read each magazine cover to cover and analyzed them to see if I could understand what made that particular editor tick. 

I discovered some simularites between the stories. In Dreams, the majority of the stories were written in the first person point of view, the protagonists were overwhelmingly female, and if I’m remembering correctly, the stories all had a dark ending. 

I set out to write a story with these qualities while retaining what I felt the editor thought unique about my story. I entitled the story, “Despair.” Aptly named, for as soon as it was ready to send out, Dreams of Decadence had closed up shop.  My dreams were dashed. 

I had also learned in the interim, most magazine editors, and those stalwarts who still read short stories, were sick of vampire fiction. Seemingly, no one was buying vampire fiction any longer.  What to do? What to do? 

I ended up putting the story away in what is sometimes known as “the trunk.” Yes, a trunk story, as it’s called, is an unsaleable story writers would place into a physical wooden trunk before the digital age. Today, writers usually just store the story on their computer hard drive (keeping a backup in the cloud), and move on. 

Eventually, in 2006, I took the story out of mothballs, performed another light edit, and then sent it out to a small press magazine that, surprise of all surprises, was actually looking for vampire fiction. 

This time I received another personal rejection. The editor said she thought the writing was excellent, but didn’t like first person narration and decided to pass.. I’m not that big a fan either. I figured that was the end of that story’s marketability. No one was looking for vampire fiction… or so I thought! Stay tuned for more in the next thrilling installment. Haha! 

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. 

The Scribe’s Arcanum – Intro

I’m reinstating The Scribe’s Arcanum. 

Wait!

What is The Scribe’s Arcanum, you ask?

Great question! 

The Scribe’s Arcanum is just a tongue and cheek way of saying: the writer’s secrets.  

Back in the early 90s, as a young man transitioning into my early 20s, I felt I needed a way to regain my focus and steer my life in a successful and prosperous direction. Having lived life for the most part scattershot, I began keeping a journal on the family Commodore 64/128,  utilizing a rudimentary word processor in an effort to motivate myself to take action in every area of my life. 

Interestingly, I wrote this journal just like a  modern blog in a time before the internet as we know it (I think there were some newsgroups and such available using very low baud modems, but I didn’t have access to this nascent technology at the time). That’s right, I wrote it as if people could somehow read the journal I was creating on a giant floppy disk. I’m a futurist! Haha! 

Writing the journal/blog helped me to set goals and take action toward my dreams. In short order, I returned to school, earning an associate’s degree (I would later go on to earn a bachelor’s degree and graduate magna cum laude), earned a black belt in old school Korean Karate (Tae Kwon Do/Tang Soo Do), back in a time when a black belt meant something, and met the woman of my dreams, who would later become my wife. 

Today, I have decided to return to The Scribe’s Arcanum  as a way to share my goals and accomplishments as I continue to work on my writing career, while sharing any tips, tricks, or secrets I may have picked up along the way. This time The Scribe’s Arcanum is not so much for me as it is for you. I hope I can give you information along with some encouragement to help you with your writing goals. I  also hope you’ll stick with me through this  journey. Be assured that I’ve already written a group of blog posts yet to be published, so if you follow my blog, I’ll be able to update the content on a consistent basis. 

I hope you’ll get a lot of value from this blog and wish you all the best with your hobby or career.

Welcome to The Scribe’s Arcanum! 

Until we meet next time…