Tag Archives: Goals

The Scribe’s Arcanum: Anatomy of an Indie Novel—Wolves of Vengeance Part 2

 

As an organic writer, I firmly believe in letting the characters dictate the narrative within the plot structure. To that end, I created the first three main characters. 

Jack Amon

Jack, much like his real-life counterpart, was a former bully in high school, a drug user, and a problem drinker. Turning his life around, he moves out of the fictional Wellington, Massachusetts, and gets a job in construction in the equally fictional Farmington, MA. When he hears about his old friends dying from wild animal attacks, he remembers the curse Michael Matheson put on all of them. A curse they had laughed off. He returns to Wellington to attend a funeral and to investigate the real reasons his old classmates are dying. Writers often use the name Jack for the quintessential hero, but I also had another reason. As I mentioned in part 1, I received partial inspiration from Flatliners (1988), and Kiefer Sunderland’s character in the film. The TV show 24 made me think of Sunderland as Jack Bauer. I decided Jack would be a good first name.  In high school, I loved King Diamond’s horror concept albums and took Jack’s surname from the house (Amon) in the albums, Them and Conspiracy. 

Michael Matheson

Michael was bullied which eventually led to him attending Gold’s Tae Kwon Do to protect himself. But Michael had a dark side, dabbling in black magic and the occult. Finding a spell in an old grimoire, he performed a ritual to awaken the Wolves of Vengeance, a corporal curse to attack his bullies. After performing the ritual, nothing happened. Michael chalked it up as a failure. Twenty-something years later the Wolves finally arrive and begin killing their marks. Michael never left Wellington and took over the school when Gold retired. Michael comes from my middle name and Matheson as an homage to Richard Matheson, the author of such works as I am Legend. Like Jack, he’s a composite character, drawn from more than one person, but he’s somewhat based on me. 

Katty LaRocque

Katty was an aspiring musician in high school (a guitarist to be exact) and a self-described rocker chick. She, like Jack, has a problem with alcohol. Unlike Jack, she’s a full-blown alcoholic. Her pet name derives from her high school persona (catty) and Andy LaRoche’s (King Diamond guitarist) last name.  She’s based on various musicians I knew in high school and a real-life rocker chick from my high school. 

 

Welcome

Welcome to Hell: A working Guide for the Beginning Writer

I had read Tom Piccirilli’s Welcome to Hell: A Working Guide for the Beginning Writer. Pic suggested newer novelists lightly outline the first half of their novels. I took his advice. Once  the outline was complete, I realized the manuscript would only reach novella length. Needing to beef up the manuscript, I asked myself this question: 

What characters do I need to tell this story?

Police involvement was a given. Adding a detective made sense. 

The only thing I worried about was voluminous research. What experience did I have that I could transfer to the character to make him believable? Turns out, I had more than I thought. 

I had worked a decade in private security, part of the criminal justice field. First, as a patrol officer, then as a security manager, and finally as a human resources recruiter. Security work put me in regular contact with police, fire, and EMS. As a security manager, I had performed investigations and later worked for a security and investigations firm, picking up interesting information directly from private investigators.  

My dad had also worked in private investigations, safety & security, special police, and fire, along with being one of the first EMTs in Massachusetts. He had been in charge of makeup and effects for emergency response training. When I was a kid he’d sometime practice the makeup effects on me. I grew up with this stuff! 

I had also recently visited my local PD to renew a license and got the nickel tour. I used my hometown police station as a model for the one in the book. 

The Writer’s Digest Howdunit series filled in many of the gaps. 

How

Police Procedural: a Writers Guide to the Police and how they work

With the research and experience in mind, I set about creating Detective Adrian Callahan. Originally, he was nothing more than a generic Irish cop. My wife would later express an idea that would help flesh out his character. More on that later. 

All in all, I consider my detective a success. I had a former law enforcement officer say as much.  He felt my  detective was accurate and believable. You can’t get much better than that.

With the decision to include a detective, I then decided that the military in some form might also be involved. I thought about adding a grizzled military captain but not wanting to  include another generic character, I cast a woman as my military captain. At that moment, Captain Amanda Rann was born. 

Next time, I’ll discuss how Callahan’s changes made him a controversial character, and how Rann becomes a driving force in the novel. 

Get Wolves of Vengeance here!

The Scribe’s Arcanum: Anatomy of Writers of the Future Honorable Mention—Blade of the Vagabond Part 3

For Part 1, click here. For Part 2, click here. 

Realizing I could resubmit Blade of the Vagabond to the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future contest, I set out to put the 8,000-word version through a final polish. I uploaded the manuscript into ProWritingAid and began making my prose lean and mean. With an even cleaner manuscript, I went through the process outlined on the Writers of the Future website and submitted it through their web-portal. 

WOTF-35-Front-Cover

Writers of the Future Volume 35

There was nothing else to do but wait and keep working on my current project. After facing rejection a few times with this story, I had no expectations. In fact, I sent it off only to keep the manuscript circulating. I didn’t feel the story in its shortest form, grabbed a top spot, and I didn’t have time to re-edit the longer version to make the submission window. Truly, I would need to add back between 1,000 and 1,500 words to sand down what I felt was an awkward transition. 

Imagine my surprise when I received this email: 

Dear Entrant,

Your story has been judged and is an Honorable Mention for the 3rd quarter of the L Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future contest. (You entered between 1 April and 30 June <2019>).

Congratulations!!! You were in the top 2% of all entries. 

Getting an Honorable Mention from the Writers of the Future contest is a big deal. There are no figures on how many enter the contest each quarter. It’s a very large number. From the information I had, we could estimate something like 14,000 entries! I’m not sure if that number’s accurate, but if it is, it’s understandable why they wouldn’t want to make it public. They want you to send in your story, and if that number intimidates you, you’ll be less likely to submit. Probably the largest and most prestigious contest in the Science Fiction and Fantasy genre. If you want to get any recognition—bring your A-game.  

Receiving the Honorable Mention was a nice pick-me-up during a long dry period in sales. It showed I was on the right track, encouraging me to redouble my efforts. 

It also made me reevaluate my writing career direction. Previously, I’d been submitting mostly short horror stories and writing a combination of novel-length thrillers and horror thrillers. After the Honorable Mention, I began not only working on an Urban Fantasy novel but reevaluated some of my unpublished short fiction to market it as dark fantasy or rewrite it as Urban fantasy. No matter which, I’ll probably work on more fantasy and Science fiction as I go forward. 

A list of all the Honorable Mentions and Winners for that quarter can be found here.

A great post with tips on writing for the contest can be found here. 

So, that’s it. That’s the full story of how I got an Honorable Mention in the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future contest. If you enter, and I hope you do, I wish you the best of luck. Keep plugging away.  I know I am!

 

*As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. 

BOTVWotFHM

The Scribe’s Arcanum: Anatomy of a Writers of the Future Honorable Mention—Blade of the Vagabond Part 2

In part 1, I examined the  inspiration that led to writing Blade of the Vagabond (you can read that here). In Part 2, we’ll continue as I turn BOTV into a novelette and send it out to the  L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future contest. 

Originally, Blade of the Vagabond had a subtitle. The first 20,000-word version was called Blade of the Vagabond: Heaven, Earth, and Woman. The subtitle is a play on a Confucian concept of Heaven, Earth, and Man where, in very simplistic terms, man acts as the harmonizing force between the spiritual and material realms or perhaps between the opposites of Yin and Yang. The place in-between where truth resides. That’s close enough for a laymen’s understanding, but I’m sure I’ll get some criticism for it.  If you have a more succinct explanation, feel free to post in the comments. I welcome your thoughts. 

Heaven-Earth-Man

Anyway, I changed Man to Woman in the subtitle as my main character is female. 

I was introduced to the term through my martial arts practice and have been fascinated ever since. The concept became the central focus of the story. 

Once I had finished the first draft, I put the story away, awaiting a viable market. As I mentioned in Part 1, the open submission period  ended before I completed the first draft.  Luckily, soon after, the original publisher reopened for submissions. 

I edited my draft and then gave it to Patty for a proofread. After reading the initial draft, Patty dubbed this story her favorite of any I had written.  After a polish edit, I felt satisfied enough to send it and await a response. 

Feeling this story represented my best work,  I was convinced it had a good chance of selling. I sent it to them with high hopes. What happened next would change the course of how I submitted the story. 

The editorial team from the publishing house contacted me and their response surprised me. Originally, the story had a prologue. In the opening, we see one villain, a henchman to the Big Bad, not the protagonist, as he prepares for infiltration and assassination. It was a long opening filled with action and intrigue.  The idea was to pull the reader into the action before we reached the first chapter and met the protagonist. I felt this high action opening increased the danger and tension, setting up the story for the final confrontation.

The editors, however, had mistaken my prologue (which was clearly labeled) with the first chapter and the villain’s henchman with my main protagonist. They felt too separated from the  “protagonist” as if watching a movie and weren’t fully engaged by the writing. I found this odd since my story’s subtitle was Heaven, Earth, and Woman,  how could they mistake my male antagonist for my female protagonist?  

Here’s what they wrote:

I appreciated how this began in media res, watching someone on a mission , but there was a lot of action with no motivation. Movies often open this way and perhaps it works better in cinema because camera angles and music can create emotional sensations in the audience, but with prose our connection is a little more difficult to forge. I spend too much of this story following the protagonist without sharing the feelings, which hamstrings our ability to anticipate or experience true tension. This is subjective and another editorial team may feel differently, so I wish you the best of luck placing it elsewhere.

Pro Tip: Editors are overworked and if they’re confused by your submission, they’ll reject you. They won’t give you the benefit of the doubt. They don’t have time.

Yet, there’s more to learn. Many wannabe writers base their stories on films and TV shows and use a cinematic technique throughout the whole book. Because of this, the cinematic technique may brand you as an amateur. It’s unfortunate but understandable. 

Also, there’s an important reason I didn’t share the antagonist’s feelings: he doesn’t have any. Using a potion and mind-altering meditative techniques, the antagonist blots out his feelings. 

What I thought was obvious wasn’t. Would every editor feel the same? There was no way to know. Removing the Prologue didn’t hurt the story. With a few tweaks, I annexed it. Cutting the story lowered the word count making it more marketable. 

Pro Tip: Novellas and novelettes are a harder sell for newer and less established writers. 

I also wondered if readers who liked the prologue would enjoy the main story and vice versa. Both sections had a different tone. 

Next, I sent a modified version to a top pro magazine.  The response I received was encouraging. This editor enjoyed the writing. He wrote, “some really good writing here,” personalizing the rejection letter. 

Pro Tip: Getting compliments from professional editors at top magazines is a very good sign. It may mean you’re writing at a professional level or are close. 

Here’s the thing: did I think a top magazine would buy a 16,000-word novella from a virtual unknown? No, but it was worth a try and gave me valuable feedback. You can’t win if you don’t play. 

Encouraged by the pro editor’s response, I sent the story to L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future Contest. The 16,000-word version didn’t win. 

Then I heard about another contest at a very large and popular SF and Fantasy Independent press. The problem? Their upper word count was 8,000 words. If I wanted to send them Blade of the Vagabond, I’d have to cut the story in half. Could I trim the story to its essence, reducing it to the low end of novelette form, while keeping enough plot for the story to make sense? That was a good question. Some poignant moments and a subplot or two would need to be removed, but I believed it could be done. I set out on a mission. 

I whittled it down to 9,000 words without losing the main plot, but I had to do without some poignant moments and some of what made the first two versions of the story unique. 

Now to shave the manuscript to 8,000 words, I had to lose a connector scene. The story still worked well enough, but I wasn’t happy with the transition between one chapter.  If I wanted to submit to the contest, I’d have to live with it. 

Once sent, I returned to my novel (working title: The Tower) already in progress. 

When the contest ended, and they announced winners,  it was time to send Blade of the Vagabond somewhere else. 

WOTF-35-Front-Cover

L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future Vol. 35*

I received an email notification from the director of Writers of the Future that there was still time to submit a story for the 3rd quarter. Could I send a different version of the same story to the contest? I’d have to find out. If allowed, I figured it was worth a shot. 

Next time I’ll tell you what happened, how I edited my manuscript into shape, and what I learned in the process. I’ll see you then.

*As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. 

The Scribe’s Arcanum: Anatomy of a Writers of the Future Honorable Mention—Blade of the Vagabond Part 1

 

Today I’d like to discuss how my story, Blade of the Vagabond, was created and how it was ultimately awarded an Honorable Mention in the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest. 

The idea to write Blade of the Vagabond came when I noticed an open call from a major science fiction and fantasy publisher. They were looking for fantasy novellas inspired by non-European cultures. An idea hit me so powerfully that I stopped work on my novel in progress to focus on this new project. 

At the time I had no hope of making the deadline, but the idea wouldn’t leave me alone. I put everything aside and pushed on. 

The first inkling of a concept for this story began to sprout while taking an Arthurian Literature class at UMASS Lowell. The professor, Dr. Archer, assigned a paper where we were to write about any topic on the Middle Ages we wanted to explore. I knew exactly what I wanted to research and became excited by the prospect. 

Having been a martial artist all my life, and having years of training in a system centered on Japanese Feudal combat, I decided to research Medieval fighting systems. My focus was on sword schools as there was ample woodcut evidence through surviving woodcuts that depicted the techniques. 

I used books like Sigmund Ringeck’s Knightly Arts of Combat: Sword and Buckler Fighting, Wrestling, and Fighting in Armor by David Lidholm. 

Knight

Knightly Arts of Combat: Sword-and-Buckler Fighting, Wrestling, and Fighting in Armor

As I crafted the paper, I thought about how interesting it would be to include realistic combat dynamics into fantasy fiction. The concept stayed in the back of my mind but remained just a potential idea jotted down in my notebook. 

When I learned about the open call for non-European inspired fantasy fiction, I thought it would be fun to create a world based on ancient Japan. Although, I also drew from ancient Korea and China. 

Conan

The Comming of Conan The Cimmerian*

Wanting to create a swashbuckling sword and sorcery epic fantasy drama, I drew upon many inspirations including Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian and Kull the Conquer series of stories. Inspiration also came from the Seven Samurai (1954) and the Jidaigeki (period dramas) and chanbara (sword fighting Amurai cinema). 

Samurai

Seven Samurai*

However, I didn’t want to include the samurai or the ninja as this had been done to death. Instead, I used an obscure book as my inspiration for a fighting wizard character: Leung Ting’s Skills of the Vagabonds. The book had capitalized on the 1980s ninja boom comparing the  Chinese Vagabond assassins to Japan’s ninja assassins. Marketing at its finest! The glowing eyes on the cover of the book had stayed with me over the years and I thought it would be great fodder for fantasy fiction. 

Skills

Skills of the Vagabonds 

Delving deeply into Japanese mythology, I began to craft the story into a 20,000-word novella, the low end of the word count required for submission. 

For the title, I decided on a mixture of Skills of the Vagabond and a variant of the “Swords” titles prevalent in the fantasy genre like Swords against Wizardry (Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser sequence) by Fritz Leiber and Sword of Destiny (Witcher Saga) by Andrzej Sapkowski.  Blade of the Vagabond sounded like a fantasy story to my ear. 

Witcher

Sword of Destiny (The Witcher)*

Despite the open call ending before I finished, I soldiered on completing the first draft and then shelving the project until, six months later, they opened for submissions once again. 

Next time, I’ll delve into the submission process that led to receiving an  Honorable Mention. I’ll also reveal the original title and how and why it changed. I hope you’ll follow my blog to find out what happened.

*As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. 

 

Year in Review 2019

Each year I create a list of goals for every area of my life. Throughout the year I work on my goals, track my progress, and then commit to posting my top accomplishments. I hope in doing so it will inspire you to do the same. 

Writing

Novels

Finished the third-draft of The Tower of Abandon, a horror-thriller novel that is hovering around 75,000 words. 

Entered the St. Martin’s Minotaur/Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel Competition. 

Participated in the National November Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). 

Began writing Black Magic Bullets (Urban Fantasy) during NaNoWriMo and published 16 (first-draft) chapters on my blog.

I FREAKING LOVE THIS. It fills a void that Harry Dresden has left. –Review from a Twitter follower. 

Began utilizing ProWritingAid to tighten my prose. 

Black Magic Bullets

Short Stories

 

award-honorable-mention-wotf

 

Awarded an Honorable Mention in the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest putting my story in the top 2% of all entries.

My story Shattered (3,200 words) was shortlisted for inclusion in an anthology. 

Submitted to 11 fiction markets including 2 submissions to WOTF. 

 

Reviews 

Wrote and posted a review of glass slipper dreams, shattered by Doungjai Gam.

Wrote and posted a review of Ararat by Christopher Golden. 

Read through a manuscript and gave input to a pro/Indy writer.

 

Notable Books Read

The Chinaman (The Foreigner) by Stephen Leather 

Eaters of the Dead by Michael Crichton 

Ararat by Christopher Golden 

The Big Bopper Rises by Reb MacRath 

Dr. Sleep by Stephen King

Without Remorse by Tom Clancy 

Storm Front by Jim Butcher 

Writers of the Future Vol. 35

 

Marketing/Platform

Wrote 21 plus Scribes of Arcanum Anatomy of a Sale blog posts.

Reposted 2 of my out of print stories on my blog. 

Posted 16 (1st draft) chapters of Black Magic Bullets on blog. 

Family & Friends

Introducing our adoptive cat, Diesel! 

Desielgift

We adopted a five-year-old tuxedo cat from the Woonsocket Cat Sanctuary. He had gone semi-feral and they thought he might never be adoptable.  Surprisingly, to all the staff, Diesel took to us very quickly. Although, once we got him home, he hid for almost a month. Now he can’t get enough of us and has made it his mission to become a lap cat. The main challenge we had with him is that at some point, as far as the vet can tell, he bit the inside of his cheek and he had to take meds to heal his wound. We brought him to the vet 4 times this year for checkups and it seems he has finally healed. Diesel has made himself at home and has become a part of our family. 

I drove my dad (and my mom) to an eye doctor appointment the day after his cataract surgery and then we went to lunch. 

I met my parents for breakfast at Foxwoods. 

Met briefly with friends at the New England Whiskey Fest. 

Saw Rambo: Last Blood with my dad. 

Went to New Orleans for our Anniversary. 

Had Thanksgiving dinner with the In-Laws. 

Kept in touch with my friend and former English professor through email. 

Martial Arts and Other Training. 

Kuhapdo

I was Patty’s plus one at Planet Fitness. Most of my time there was for leg days. I spent 30 minutes on either the treadmill or incumbent bike and then performed weighted leg lifts and squats among other exercises. 

Celebrated 32 years of formal martial arts training. 

Had the opportunity to take a couple Hapkido and open classes this year. 

Attended the Chung Suk Kuhapdo (Korean sword) seminar taught by Master May of the Blue Stone Dojang. 

After the seminar, I was invited to have lunch at Arisu Korean Restaurant in Leominster, MA. Had Sujeonggwa Cinnamon with Ginger Punch, Bulgogi beef with white rice and some appetizers, miso soup, and either Seafood Paijeon or Kimchi-jeon.

KoreanRes

Home training included shadow boxing using JKD attack by combination (ABC) and Bas Rutten Boxing and Tai boxing HITT training, Kali double and single stick, stick and dagger, Bunkai and forms training, and Kunhapdo sword draws and 100 cuts. 

Health

Had my annual physical and am the picture of health. Although, I could use to drop a couple pounds. Haha! 

My doctor wanted a spot on my forehead checked by a dermatologist. I went to the appointment but it was a false alarm. No issues. Whew! 

Began calcium and magnesium supplements. 

Saw my ophthalmologist twice and my pressure has been down. 

Had two dental cleanings. Dental exam showed a cracked tooth and I had to have a root canal that took three appointments to complete.  

Cars

Had to replace tires on my car. They were nearing the end of their tread cycle and had dry rot. 

I went through the process of replacing my driver’s license with a Real ID. 

Patty’s struts failed and were replaced under warranty. 

A small piece of composite worked it’s way inside one of Patty’s tires and was fixed for free. 

Patty’s vehicle needed brakes and rotors. 

Updated Patty’s out of date Mazda infotainment system firmware. 

Cord Cutting

To save money we hooked up a Clearstream antenna to receive free Over The Air TV. 

At the same time we switched to Philo for live TV streaming. 

During the year we utilized free and discounted premium streaming services including Showtime and Starz. Starz is still ongoing. 

Utilized free 30 day free trial for Netflix that is still ongoing. 

Shopping

Utilized various discount stores and got loyalty cards for Ollie’s Bargain Outlet and Ocean State Job Lots. 

Utilized a discounted BJ’s membership that is still ongoing. 

Finances

Refinanced our mortgage 

Leveraged taxes again to a tax preparer. 

House

I put everything aside for about a month to do some much-needed house repairs.

We brought in an electrician to replace wired smoke and CO2 alarms along with adding a heat detector in the garage. 

The electrician also updated lighting in the dining area, kitchen, and upstairs hall. We also had them replace the broken exhaust fan in the bathroom. 

As part of the bathroom refresh to prep for the electrician and plumber, we painted the ceiling and installed a stick-on backsplash.  

We had Victory Plumbing come in and rebuild shower fixtures in both the upstairs and downstairs bathrooms. The downstairs had seized and needed replacement and the upstairs was going. Also, I had to refresh the downstairs bathroom faucet and the kitchen faucet which was leaking. 

I replaced the downstairs toilet innards to stop it from running. (I was tired of chasing after it! Haha). 

I replaced the doorbell with a wireless doorbell. 

I also changed out the garbage disposal. 

We replaced our old stove since two of the burners no longer worked, and our old fridge since it was dying. 

We had the electricians add an outlet in the garage ceiling to be up to code and then replaced our broken garage door and automatic door opener. 

Travel & Fun

New Orleans

Patty&amp;DaveNOLA1

We hadn’t been to New Orleans since the year 2000 and it was nice to return to the Crescent City. It was very hot and muggy and we decided not to venture too far from our hotel, but still had a great time. 

Stayed at the Wyndham French Quater – it was fine but would not recommend. The Concierge tried to pressure us into a timeshare presentation. We had trouble getting the maid service to clean our room but they were right there on the day we left looking for a tip. I have a tip for them—do your job! 

Deuce Mcallister’s Ole Saint Kitchen & Tap was right next door, and very convenient when the weather became too oppressive for walking. 

Started many a morning (or afternoon) with Chicory coffee and beignets at Cafe Beignet. 

A bartender at B.B. King’s turned us onto Hochstadter’s Low & Slow Rock & Rye and Old Fashioned cocktail in a bottle. 

We marched in a popup parade. 

NOLAParade

We ate at Oceana Red Fish, had Muffulettas at Central Grocery & Deli, and a farewell meal at Acme Oyster House.

Hung out at Jackson Square, toured St. Louis Cathedral and the Old Ursuline Convent, and walked around Frenchmen Street. 

Watched Steamboat Willie at the Cafe Beignet at Musical Legends Park. 

I performed Karaoke at The Cat’s Meow. Hey, someone has to entertain the people visiting the Big Easy! Watch my performance here! 

Whitesnake Concert  – Twin River Casino in Lincoln, RI 

Whitesnake1

Patty took me to see Whitesnake at Twin River Casino in Lincoln, RI for my birthday. 

We had a blast. Birthday dinner at Texas Roadhouse and washed it down with Slow & Easy whiskey sours at the concert. 

P&amp;DWS

New England Whiskey Fest – Twin River Casino in Lincoln, RI 

Here’s a list of what we tried at the New England Whiskey Fest, along with initial impressions. If it wasn’t so busy, I’d have taken more pictures.

Glenfiddich Bourbon Barrel Reserve 14 – We both prefer the 12 or 15 Solara cask. Sweet arrival with a dry spicy finish.

Eagle Rare – Very sweet. Would make a good mixing whiskey.

Sazerac Rye – one of Patty’s favorites. Very spicy. Probably better in a Sazerac, but no problem drinking neat.

Whistle Pig Straight Rye 15 – Okay, would try again.

Highland Park 12 – Lightly peated. Nicely balanced. One of Patty’s favorites. I liked this a lot.

Auchentoshan 12 – I tried this. Very nice. Floral and sweet. Enjoyable.

Laphroaig 10 – Patty didn’t’ try. Either my tastes are changing or this whiskey has mellowed. Still has a strong taste of cough sweets, but I swear I was hunting for peat. Maybe tasting so many spirts changed the nature of this whiskey on my pallet.

Jameson Black Barrel – Patty tried. She wasn’t impressed.

A mixed drink with Bully Boy white whiskey. Patty tried and enjoyed it.

West Cork Port Cask finish – Patty tried and did not like.

Food

Bourbon infused cupcakes. Awesome!

Fred and Steve’s Steak House Steak Sandwich (I ate two!).

Shipyard Pub Truffle Fries.

Wicked Good Chicken Cheese Waffle or something. I had this but didn’t like it.

Wrapped Scallop w/ Bacon. Patty had one. She thought it was awesome.

Fiji supplied the water.

Popa Chubby provided the music.

A good time was had by all!

 

2019 Movies Watched in 2019 at Home

Triple Threat BluRay

 

The Foreigner **** Starz – This is from 2017 but watched after reading Stephen Leather’s novel.

Captain Marvel ** Movies Anywhere. 

The Curse of Llorona *** Amazon $.99 rental

Avengers: Endgame **** Movies Anywhere

Avengement **** DVD

Triple Threat ** /Blu-Ray 

Annabelle Comes Home ** Prime rental 

Kill Chain *** Prime

John Wick 3: Parabellum **** Blu-Ray

6 Underground *** Netflix 

Men in Black: International * Starz 

Spiderman: Far From Home **** Blu Ray 

Brightburn ** Starz

2019 Movies watched in the Theater

Rambo: Last Blood **** Cinema World Fitchburg.

Ad Astra **** Providence Place IMAX 

 

That’s it for 2019. I’ll see you in 2020!

Happy New Year!!! 

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

I was hoping to tell you by now that I made a short fiction sale this year. Although that hasn’t happened yet, I’m pleased to report that I received an Honorable Mention for the 3rd quarter of L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future contest. I’m also told that it puts me in the top 2% of all entrants. I’m awaiting my certificate and will tell you more once it’s posted on their official blog.

award-honorable-mention-wotf

Last time I mentioned I would talk about giving your work away or, in this case, gambling on the potential for royalties, and a free electronic copy of the anthology. Think long and hard before you give up “first rights.”  Once you give those rights away, you can never get them back, and the next time you sell the manuscript, you must do so as a reprint. Reprint sales are not as lucrative as new story sales. 

Pro Tip: It’s never a bad thing to give your work away to a legitimate charity anthology.   

The idea for The Hours of Sleep began as, of all things, the original lyrics to a song. Back in 1996, I was working an interim job, and I had some extra time on my hands. My wife had purchased an entry-level keyboard/synthesizer for me to mess around on and burn through some of my creativity. This was a year before I began writing and submitting short fiction. I decided I wanted to write a progressive rock/thrash metal/goth-pop album. All I had to work with was a boombox with a double tape deck, an omni-microphone, the synthesizer, my voice, and a coffee can for reverb and echo. 

Back at my parents’ house, I would have been able to use my dad’s DJ and production equipment. But here in our new apartment, I didn’t have access to those niceties.  I no longer had a drum set, and I wasn’t hanging around musicians like I had in the ‘80s. Still, I was determined to make an album. 

Without going into the full story, I ended up writing a song called Vomit Dirt Cascade. Haha! I know… Great title, right? The title meant to call up the image of the undead exploding from a fresh grave. 

The Lyrics that inspired The Hours of Sleep short story:

Numbness kills the pain

The night was black in vain 

Latent Precambrian 

Urges to kill and win

I’ll make you my slave

Steal your blood from vein

When there is nothing left

You will be twice dead

Thirst in your black hole soul

Carrion has claimed his toll 

Now you’ve become the naïve 

But if I was the grave

Vomit Dirt Cascade! 

Vomit Dirt Cascade! 

The original title of my story was Twice Dead, but I took another song called The Hour of Sleep (inspired by John Carpenter’s Brotherhood of Sleep in the horror movie Prince of Darkness) and made it plural. 

I’ve been thinking about posting the audio on YouTube. If I do, I’ll provide a hyperlink here later. 

 Back 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 in 1995. We stayed at the Bourbon Orleans, and a bellhop had given us some advice on where to visit and which areas to avoid. The dark and dangerous streets of the French Quarter excited my imagination. Then, in our youth, being adventurous, we had drinks at a vampire bar, as part of a tour led by a self-proclaimed “real-life vampire,” living in what is known as vampire reality, who called himself Vlad. In the center of the space, there was a cage large enough to hold a human standing upright.

NOLA1

When we returned home, this experience (along with my song lyrics) coalesced into the story I eventually titled The Hours of Sleep. 

After finishing the manuscript, I sent the story out and began collecting rejection slips. One editor said he thought The Hours of Sleep was the most original vampire story he had read in ages, but he didn’t take vampire fiction any longer and wouldn’t be buying it. 

I sent it to the now-defunct Dreams of Decadence and got a great rejection letter.  The editor thought the story was original and well written but she also passed. I would later study her magazine to discover why it wasn’t such a good fit. I talk more about this in my posts about the story, Despair. 

dreams_of_decadence__15

 

With The Hours of Sleep returned to my virtual trunk on my hard drive, I gave up on the story and moved on. 

In 2012, I noticed an open call for You Can’t Kill Me, I’m Not Dead Yet: a Vampire Anthology and tried my luck. 

I’ll tell you what happened next time.

The Scribe’s Arcanum: Anatomy of a Sale—Phantom Chasers Part 2

Having noticed the From Beyond the Grave anthology’s open call for submissions, from Grinning Skull Press, I sent out Phantom Chasers, and received an acknowledgment on September 26, 2012. 

During this time, I was finishing up the final edits of a novel I’d been writing, a reimagining of the original manuscript, and coordinating with a cover artist and a professional editor for a self-publishing effort. 

On December 25, 2012,  an acceptance from Grinning Skull Press hit my in-box. I couldn’t believe it! With the help of excellent editorial feedback and my wife’s brilliant proofreads, I had edited Phantom Chasers into print! 

GSP

The work that came after the sale: I signed the contract, provided the publisher with an author bio, reviewed and approved the galley proof, and received payment. Then, as with every anthology or magazine where I’ve been published, I assisted with promotion. 

I was included with a very noteworthy group of writers. 

Brent Abell

Gordon Anthony Bean

Rose Blackthorn

Tim J. Finn

Scott M. Goriscak

Marianne Halbert

Jeffrey Kosh

Lisamarie Lamb

Mark Leslie & Carol Weekes

Edward J. McFadden III

Adam Millard

David North-Martino

Jeffrey C. Pettengill

Nelson W. Pyles

Michael Thomas-Knight

Robert W. Walker

Cynthia Ward

Jay Wilburn

Jennifer Word

 

Description: 

For some, death is not the end. There are those who are doomed to walk the earth for all eternity, those who are trapped between one plane of existence and the next, those who, for whatever reason, cannot or will not let go of the lives they left behind. These are the vengeful spirits, the tortured souls, the ghosts that haunt our realm. Welcome to FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE, a collection of 19 original ghost stories.

You can buy From Beyond the Grave here. 

From Beyond The Grave cover 2

The editor contacted me with an opportunity for feedback. Turns out an author he admired, on the condition of anonymity, offered to give a critique to the writers in the anthology. This author read the stories and commented. If we were interested, the editor would send the author’s comments and suggestions for future improvements. You bet I was interested!

Pro-tip #3: Always take feedback. You don’t have to use it, but constructive criticism should always be welcome. You don’t get better through praise; you get better by accepting that you’re not perfect and neither are your stories. Then you get to work making them better, learning with each experience until you reach a professional level. It doesn’t happen overnight. It can take a long time. For some, it never happens. All you can do is work as hard as possible to reach your potential. 

I’m having a hard time finding the original un-redacted comments. Here are the positives I’ve shared publicly. I pulled it from an earlier blog. I’d love to know who this author is, but I respect his or her privacy. 

“Another good one. A very unusual idea which was extremely well executed. Even as short as it is, the character development is pretty damned good. We know who these people are in just a few lines. The foreshadowing… is a mite obvious, but it doesn’t matter. We KNOW that someone’s going to… die from very early on, but the author makes it work anyway…” 

Okay, first, what can we take away from the anonymous author’s comments? The author felt the story was unique and well constructed. This reinforces my proficiency with story structure. Also, character development is noted as a strength. I’ve been told that previously by other editors. Always concentrate on your strengths. I’ll write a blog on why that’s so important in the future. 

On the negative side, I telegraphed the ending. Yet, the anonymous author thought the story worked anyway. Not a big deal, since genre stories often follow a pattern. The idea is to make the story so enjoyable that the reader forgives formulaic structure. Readers will excuse your deficiencies as long as you excel at other elements of the story. 

If memory serves, the anonymous author took umbrage with my description of behind-the-scenes television. He felt that I didn’t know that TV shows need plenty of people off-screen to produce a TV program. Fair enough. That is how I present the pre-production in the story. 

I am taking liberties. Ghost shows, especially Ghost Adventures, make it appear as if the main people are alone during the investigation. This might just be TV magic, but isolation is a big part of the show. 

ghostadventures2

The same with crafting a horror story. A sense of isolation, a feeling of being trapped, is important. If there’s avenue for escape, why don’t the characters leave? 

You must also condense a short story’s narrative.
For those reasons, I didn’t fret realism.  

Now, just because it’s fun to write about, I have some experience in television. In the early 90s, for a few semesters, I completed a work-study program in the broadcasting department of a local community college I was attending. I worked with students on their projects, including taped TV programs shown on a local cable channel. 

I ran audio and worked as on-screen talent. I even had the chance to learn old school linear editing. I ran audio and lighting for Dr. Timothy Johnson (ABC) at a lecture he gave in the college auditorium. I performed the job of many people that night (yes, I did it all alone). It was hectic, but it was a lot of fun!

abc_gma_johnson_121207_wg

Anyway, the anonymous author was right. Anyone who has worked in TV would shake their head at how I presented the production in the story. Most readers don’t know what it takes to create the shows they watch so it’s safe to keep the story as is. Most will never know.

Yet, it is important to acknowledge where the weaknesses in the story lie, and then to weigh dramatism against realism. Bruce Willis loves to squeeze through air ducts in the movie Die Hard even though it’s not possible to do this in real life——and we love it. For 90 minutes we believe he can do it! Drama wins out!

die_hard_prequel-2048x1152

In our next thrilling episode, I’ll go over the judgment call of giving away your stories. Is it ever worth not getting paid for your work? We’ll talk “sharing pages” with the cool kids. When you’re starting out, can association be as good as money? I’ll try to answer these questions next time. 

Thanks for reading. 

Hey, feel free to give me feedback. I’d love to hear from you. Tell me about your own attempts at publication and about any successes. I’m sure readers of this blog will benefit. Better yet, blog about your experiences and leave a link. We can never have too much information. 

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

Epitaphs: The Journal of the New England Horror Writers was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award, and I was still receiving small royalty payments from Extinct Doesn’t Mean Forever. I had found some momentum and was riding it for all it was worth. 

One night I was watching a TV program called Ghost Adventures. Now, before I continue, I am a believer in the paranormal. Although, I don’t automatically accept what I see on these ghost-hunting reality tv shows. But for the sake of argument let’s assume we all believe in ghosts (even if you don’t). Now, if you accept that spirits could contact you from beyond the grave, the last thing you would do is antagonize and make them angry at you. Well, the main guy on the show had been doing just that, and now according to the program, these spirits were pissed at him and calling him out, telling him through voice recordings that if he returned, they would kill him! So what does he do? Yup, he’s going back to confront the ghosts. Stupid? Absolutely! But what a great idea for a story! 

Ghost Adventures

Using that premise, and without a market in mind, I began a new manuscript. A classic style horror story, a cautionary tale if you will, began to develop. 

Pro-tip #1: When you have a story you’ve written without a market in mind look to anthologies. Magazines need to follow the structure and tone of the other stories. Many times there’s a house style, intentional or not. You must decipher the house style and write something that matches. With an anthology, editors accept a wider range of stories. As long as it’s a good story, and it meets the theme of the anthology, you have a better chance of being accepted than if you submit that same story to a magazine. 

Anyway, I sent the story out a couple times to various markets and the editors passed. Then I sent it to the open call for Epitaph’s: The Journal of the New England Horror Writers. The editor liked the story and told me it was publishable, but not strong enough to get past the shortlist once they had read all the stories. The editor had best-selling writers on tap slated for inclusion and experienced small-press writers sending her submissions.

Pro-tip #2: If you’ve been shortlisted, your story is publishable with no or little need for extensive editing or rewrites. You have a good story and the editor would have no problem publishing it if no other stories struck their fancy. The problem is, despite being well written and crafted, your story is not compelling enough for the editor to purchase on the spot. The editor puts it aside and if some other story comes along and knocks their socks off or is a little more interesting; they send that author an acceptance letter and you a rejection. When this happens with a pro or semi-pro market, you can pat yourself on the back for crafting a well written publishable story and get to work strengthening the manuscript in a rewrite. You want to make sure the reader can relate to the narrative or the main character and is wowed by the ending. If you can’t figure out what’s wrong, focus on the ending. Think of ways to make it more impactful, raise the stakes, make it personal, give your main character a lot to lose. 

As I mentioned in a previous blog, the editor asked me if I had anything that was timeless or had a gut-punch ending. I had neither but wrote a story that included both requirements. 

I relate that story of how I sold Malfeasance, my second attempt, in my blog post——here. 

Based on what I had learned from editorial feedback, I set about fixing the story.  I had decided on the name Phantom Chasers as I was looking for a title similar to Ghost Hunters, a very popular show at the time. (I hear that it’s coming back in another incarnation.) Here’s the question I wanted to leave in the reader’s mind: are the Phantom Chasers in the story hunting ghosts or are they in fact, well, chasing phantoms? Ultimately, the reader has to decide. 

gh2

To revamp the story, I made a separate Word document, cut and pasted the original manuscript into the file, and began to read with an eye for weaknesses. Some scenes didn’t connect well. Some scenes needed editing for clarity. I went about fixing those areas. I punched up the ending, making it darker, scarier, and more impactful. 

The only thing left to do was send it out. I’ll talk about that next time. Also, stay tuned for more pro tips!

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

With my SF story The Mesomorphic Woman in mothballs and some short fiction sales under my belt, twelve years had elapsed since I’d completed the first draft. 

I noticed an open call for submissions for a new anthology with Pink Narcissus Press. With some strong Google-fu, I’ve been able to locate the original submission call and am posting below.

Daughters of Icarus

A brave new world of feminist science fiction

Pink Narcissus Press seeks short feminist science fiction writing for its “Daughters of Icarus” anthology. Submissions must explore gender roles in society; hard science fiction is not appropriate to this anthology. So long as your submission takes up this challenge, the only other requirement of authors is that the work has an original and creative voice. Authors would do well to acquaint themselves with the likes of Ursula K. LeGuin, Margaret Atwood, Octavia Butler, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman to obtain a sound footing in the genre and a better understanding of previous work in the genre. Stories housed in new, unique worlds are preferred, as are those describing fantastical societies. Stories of any length will be considered. Deadline: May 31, 2012

The sentence beginning “(S)tories housed in new, unique worlds are preferred” caught my attention. With its setting of the Audallis biosphere orbiting Venus, The Mesomorphic Woman seemed a perfect fit. It was originally written with an eye toward feminist SF, explored gender roles, all the hard SF had already been removed from a previous draft, and I was already familiar with the authors listed. 

I looked through my stories folder and found the most recent version of the manuscript. Pulling it up I read through.  I could see mistakes in structure and pacing I hadn’t noticed before. Over the intervening years, I had increased my understanding of creating salable fiction. Creating a new file, I went over the story again. With an edited manuscript ready I gave it to my wife for a final edit. 

With the story polished, I figured I had nothing to lose by sending it out to Pink Narcissus Press. My trepidation, however, stemmed from placing a story in a political anthology where only those of the same political persuasion would ever read it. 

I hadn’t written to make a political point. I had written it as entertainment with a subtext the reader could ponder if they so chose.  The readers would be left to decide what they thought about the social issues presented in the story. In that, I meant for the story to encourage thought, not to preach. In that way, the story is ambiguous, allowing the reader to agree or disagree with the main character’s actions. Who is the good guy? Who is the bad guy? It’s never black and white when you’re dealing with human motivation.   

I assuaged these feeling knowing I would most likely receive a rejection anyway. Although, some part of me knew that if I sent the story in it would be accepted. 

I submitted the story and moved on to other things. Four months later I received an acceptance. Despite my previous apprehension, I was over the moon! 

The editor loved the story and asked me to include a 100-word bio with links to my blog, along with some basic information and my Paypal email to send payment. I signed the contract electronically. No further edits were required. My wife had edited me into print once again. 

I was flabbergasted to discover that The Mesomorphic Woman was the lead story. For those not initiated, anthologies usually open and close with their strongest stories. It was an absolute honor to represent Daughter’s of Icarus: New Feminist Science Fiction: Women’s Wings Unfurled. And to date, it is one of my most prestigious anthology sales. We were reviewed by the Library Journal and Publishers Weekly. 

“Strong pieces offer memorable takes on the notion of feminism in speculative fiction.”

—Library Journal 

“…on par with Pamela Sargent’s Women of Wonder Series…” 

—Publisher’s Weekly

Although out of print, Daughter’s of Icarus is still available in ebook format here. 

Next time I’ll talk about how I fixed a rejected story and sold it to another market. 

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

When I returned to writing fiction, the first thing I did was pull out the manuscript for Violent Fall and give it a reread. I liked it, but the story was too long for a “beginning” writer to get published and the story itself was incomplete. 

Incomplete as a manuscript. I had the ending sketched out in my mind for years. 

One thing I forgot to mention last time was that in 1996 I had just watched the movie Titanic. In that film, as the story unfolds, fictional characters Rose and Jack brings us on a tour of the whole ship from top to bottom.  

Titanic4

I wanted to do the same thing with Violent Fall. My central character Irina Kira would bring the reader through most of the Audallis sphere from the city of New Boston East to the forest and farmland at the top of the biosphere where she would have a “violent fall” returning to where she started in the narrative. The lower portions, the bowels if you will, remained mainly unexplored and only hinted at in various drafts. 

As I reimagined the story, I also changed the title. I had come across Somatotypes; the ectomorph, the endomorph, and the highly muscular mesomorph.  Somehow I put Mesomorphic with woman and a new title was born: The Mesomorphic Woman. I thought the title sounded like a science fiction story. I worked at erasing subplots, cutting to the heart of the narrative. 

female-body-types

I also wanted the ending to be hard-hitting. This is a secret of good storytelling. The resolution should have some impact. Think Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery. With this story, I wanted the ending to have the emotional resonance of Amy Tann’s The Joy Luck Club.

 

When I finished the new draft, I put it away for a while and worked on other projects. After a second draft, I asked my wife to proofread. Then I began the submission process. 

Back in 2000, most magazines, especially the science fiction magazines (the old SF writers had a distrust for technology), required the old method of submission. This meant I had to print out a copy of the manuscript (after putting it in proper manuscript format) along with a cover letter,  clipping a SASE to the package, placing it an 8×10 envelope, and then driving to the post office to send it off.  Then I would wait a week and run to the mailbox every day for months while awaiting a reply. 

Responses came. They were all rejections. One prominent SF mag complimented me on my world-building skills but they didn’t like the story. Eventually, almost everyone began to use email for submissions, the years had gone by without a sale, but another prominent small press SF magazine said the whole editorial staff loved it but had decided not to purchase my story. And so it went over the years. I had some anecdotal evidence that The Mesomorphic Woman was a good story. A tell-it-like-it-is receptionist, who was also a frequent reader where I worked, read it and identified with my major character Irina Kira. Despite positive feedback, I wasn’t able to sell the manuscript.

It wasn’t until six years later in 2006 when my short fiction began to sell. Yet, for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why The Mesomorphic Woman wouldn’t sell. I got better at my craft and over the years tweaked the story, tweaked the language, hoping to make the manuscript salable. 

I finally decided I had to put the manuscript away. I could write new stories in the time it took to polish old stories that weren’t selling. I abandoned The Mesomorphic Woman, consoling myself knowing that I might include it in a future short story collection. 

Later, with the manuscript secured in my virtual trunk (my hard drive) an open call for submissions for a new anthology market caught my attention. They were looking for stories just like The Mesomorphic Woman. Was it worth resurrecting the manuscript one last time? I figured I’d give the damn thing one final edit and send it out, but not without some trepidation. 

I’ll talk about this more next time.