Category Archives: Writing

Submission And Rejection (For Writers)

This is a little bit especially for people in the early days of their sending-their-writing-to-total-strangers-and-asking-them-to-publish-it careers. Which is daunting. It was for me. It was every time I did it, and so far I’ve chalked up around 200 rejections for 4 acceptances, only two of which are still in print (in the sci-fi world, small mags can come and go fast).

Rejection sucks no matter where you find it, but it’s worth it. And it’s just part of the game. An editor gets hundreds of stories for every one they print. Rejection might mean you need to do more work on your story or your writing in general — but it also often means a story isn’t a good fit for the mag, the upcoming issue, or the editor just likes another story a smidge more. Just part of the game.

But anyway, I had this little exchange. Maybe you can take something away from it.

 

If you’re going to submit stories, and you might have more than one in circulation — and that’s likely if you’re steadily writing. It can take an editor a day or two to reject a story (Clarkesworld, in my experience, was always quick to reject me, and that’s not only because my stories didn’t do it for the editor, but because they have notoriously fast turnaround in general probably due to hard work and fast reading). Or it can take two weeks, or two months for some markets, sometimes even more. Take a peek at the bottom of the landing page of the Submission Grinder — they keep a running list of response times reported by writers. They also maintain a great list of markets to send stories to if you’re doing that.

It’s very easy to end up with multiple stories in play at once.

So you can use a tracker sheet like I do (below). Or keep a digital record on a spreadsheet. Or something else that suits you.

The advantage of the simple little one-story-per-sheet tracker is it’s very easy to see where a story has been so you don’t send it back to the same place twice (which is a no-no 99.9% of the time).

The weakness of this sheet is that you have to look over all the sheets for all the stories that you have out at a time to make sure you are not submitting a second story to the same market that hasn’t yet decided on the first story you sent them (also a no-no 99.9% of the time).

Personally, I can live with that. You may not be so excited, in which case I’m sorry I wasn’t more help!

The notes section gives you a place to write “send more” if the editor says send more, or anything else you think is relevant. It also gives you a place to note the exclusivity period on the story if you’re accepted so you know when you can resubmit it to a reprint market or self-publish it (which, of course, is my personal game).

Here’s the tracker sheet I use. I wanted simple, so I made simple. I just copy-pasted it here — I don’t know if you can copy it and use it in this form. If not, drop me a comment and I can email you the .doc file.

Story:

Word Count:

Submitted To

Date

Accepted/Rejected

Date

Notes

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Short Story Review: Elves of Antarctica by Paul McAuley

Review 2018 Elves of Antarctica Paul McAuley Drowned Worlds COVER IMAGE

This is the first time I’ve reviewed a short story here. I’m pretty sure, anyway. At the very least, it’s the first time I’ve done it with the intention of doing them as a regular feature of my blog-slash-authorpage. (Note: this first appeared on my Patreon page 8 days ago — become a patron and see blog posts a week-plus early, even if you pledge just ONE dollar.

So, before I begin, some notes.

I think I’ll always lead with a spoiler warning, just in case. Like this: there may be spoilers in here, because 99% of the time I just don’t care about spoilers.

And that’s true. I’m one of those weirdos who can have the ending and twists of a movie, book, or story revealed to me and fully enjoy the thing anyway. I’m kind of a fan of spoiling as a device in fiction, in fact. Stephen King loves to do that. He’ll tell you someone is going to die a hundred pages before they die, and the story of how they die is still delicious. More delicious, I think. The flavor is in the telling.

And I’m not going to give stars. Screw grades, especially when they’re nothing more than my opinion. I always feel awkward trying to give a numerical value to how much I like a thing. I’m also the person who says “well, I don’t really have a favorite, but I do like (names five things)” when asked what their favorite whatever is.

I don’t think less of you if you give stars to things, though. Or have favorites. You do you – and I’m not saying that in a sarcastic way.

Now, the actual review:

Elves of Antarctica by Paul McAuley, found in Drowned Worlds, editor Jonathan Strahan. It’s the kickoff story.

My experience: it was easy to read, but also easy to put down and finish tomorrow, which I did. Neither of those traits, speaking of “put down,” is a putdown. I didn’t find it highly impactful, but it was still worth my time.

Standout features: the worldbuilding was excellent and detailed, as was the backstory of the main character. The story is a fine tour through the state of ecological affairs in the next century, and I found it much in the tradition of Hugo Gernsback with his worldbuilding-heavy “look! It’s the future!” stories. McAuley, however, has not built Hugo’s cardboard cutout characters. While the other characters aren’t fleshed out any more than their cosmetic roles demand, protagonist Mike Torres is a deep and rich character – if the worldbuilding wasn’t so significant to current climate change events, I’d take it for an excuse to plumb the depths of his angst, hope, and his curious entanglement with the phenomenon of the elf stones scattered across the partially uniced landscape of coastal Antarctica (which are inscribed in “elvish,” though are we talking Tolkien’s elvish? How else would people recognize and read Elvish? Maybe I missed the mention of Tolkein – or maybe not. The estate is famously litigious. I was reading this part at three in the morning jotting notes sideways in bed, so who knows what I might have missed in a moment of fatigue.

The stones are mysterious, or not. It’s hard to be sure, and that’s a fine note of humanity in the story. They’re probably placed there by humans, but the “stoners” (distracting name for elf stone enthusiasts, by the way) are happy to muse about mystical origins anyhow. They’re kind of a stand-in for stories in that way – we all know Star Wars is fiction, but there’s a Jedi church anyway. Two of them. Maybe more.

I wasn’t terribly excited to discover that this was a “something happened” story. Don’t come for the wrapup or a hint of conclusion. It’s not there. Which is a thing in the short story world, and there’s still plenty to be had in the reading. I’m just one of those people who favors a more concludey conclusion, even a “let’s just hint at what happens next” ending.

The writing is pretty spare for the most part, definitely in the “just tell the story” tradition – except when it comes to describing the natural world. There, the descriptions become more literary (if maybe prone to cliché phrases like “snow-capped mountains”), a bit closer to poetry, definitely richer and more emotionally evocative. I appreciated it as a touch that created focus on the heart of the story without dragging the reader over and rubbing my nose in it.

Overall, I found it a good read and an excellent way to start an anthology as it takes the reader through a lot of potential developments that are likely to come with a changing climate.

END

 

Should I Review Short Stories?

There are a lot of book bloggers reviewing books. But it’s rare to see them review a short story collection, and a review of a single short story is practically a unicorn.

So maybe as a short story writer I ought to step into the vacuum and review some short stories?

On the con side, I have long shied from writing reviews. I have a past of avoiding conflict and writing a review, especially if I’m not impressed with the story, has the potential to create conflict.

Sometimes that kind of conflict has gotten over the top and bizarre.

But people have probably been hunted down over tweets and I don’t pull a lot of punches as @Tao23.

I haven’t written a ton of reviews. But on the other hand I’ve picked apart plenty of stories, in constructive ways and adversarial, as a reader, as a gabber with fellow sci-fi fans, and as a student while working on my English MA.

And, on the pro side, I do have the qualifications of writing and reading a crapton of short stories.

What do y’all think? If there a place for this kind of thing?

Let’s Make A Mess…

… because that’s how rough drafts work!

I’m playing with a story that I started a year or two ago and then put aside because it was lacking something and I couldn’t figure out what.

Every couple of weeks or so I flip through my notebooks (I have a couple of dozen) and see what catches my eye.

This time, I saw what I could do with this story. I think it will pan out — it feels right.

If it does, I think “Stuck Jenny’s” will be a natural for my next collection, Doldrums. Feels like it will be 5-10 thousand words on self-driving RVs, generation gaps, and class divides.

I’m looking forward to writing it.

Bennies Of Self-Publishing: I Get To Play By My Own Rules

I get to make up words…

…and invent my own punctuation rules…

…And write the titles the way I want them.

It’s fun!

Urban Nature, Write?

We live in the middle of either a medium-large metro of close to two million people or seven mid-sized cities jammed shoulder to shoulder around the area where the James River empties into the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. It depends who you ask.

We’ve long been a family to enjoy a walk. Being temporarily carless at the moment, we’re walking more.

And walking, you’re more likely to find little oases of refreshing nature like those above.

They remind me of my childhood in rural Wisconsin, and reminiscence is good for writers. Right now I’m working on a novella, Carrying Salt To Heaven, and the current extended scene I’m working on involves a character from a bleak land being introduced to a huge, lush nature preserve.

Some of the sensory impressions of this little oasis, and my childrens’ reactions to them, and the childhood memories they awaken, are finding their way into the novella.

Get out and find stuff, however that works for you. Your art and life will be enriched for it.

[This post appeared a week before it posted here, on my Patreon page. Come say hello and see some public posts that haven’t appeared here!]

Thread: Mental Health, Money Stress, And It’s Hard Out Here For A Writer

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Three out of five of us in summer. Now that it’s winter, we’re fondly remembering being too hot. Oh, paradise! (Also, I grew hair since then. I’ll have to show y’all one of these days.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, there’s today’s peek into my psyche. Maybe there are some clues there into why I often write about alienation and deprivation and internal turmoil. I don’t know, it’s so subtle…  O.O

2067: First Major Metro Goes Off National Electric Grid

I’ve taken up tweeting from the future, example above, in addition to my usual political-writing-SciFi-whatevs antics @Tao23.

It keeps me thinking to turn out those tweets on a semi-regular basis. And the tweets can make a great nucleus for future SciFi News Network posts here, AKA my futurist “predictions.” Older posts are formatted to look kind of like actual articles from the future. I’m seeing more posts like this, where I let the Tweetmorrow tweet stand for the future story and then get to speculate and explain like I’m doing now. This is fun.

Predictions in quotes because who knows what monkeywrenches the future could throw into the works? Our pet Trumphole could yet start a nuclear war and derail everything…

Donald J. Trump on Twitter https   t.co P4vAanXvgm.png

Nothing like trying to provoke a nuclear war in a lame attempt to prove how macho you are, s–t for brains.

…but gee, we’d save his personal pet illusion of his machismo so win-win post-apocalyptic Mad Max hellhole, right?

rick-and-morty-gets-the-mad-max-treatment.png

50 years seems like a reasonable horizon for a major metro going off-grid and relying on locally generated renewables. Solar, wind, biogas, hydroelectric, geothermal, tidal, and more — there are a lot of options for a city to generate its own local power, and for residences and businesses to take themselves off even the local grid. Batteries like Tesla’s PowerPack (and the residential version, PowerWall) make 24/7 power availability practical even with variables like solar, and small local cooperative grids can increase that support — imagine a neighborhood grid with all the batteries and different forms of power generation contributing. Or a college campus grid. Lots of possibilities.

In the lead story of my Closer Than You Think collection, One More For The Road, the protagonist drives into an isolated, long-off-grid town on its own local grid, with nearly every home and business sending up one or more combo wind turbine and solar collector on a long mast, evoking a field of glittering flowers in her imagination. The masts are even retractable to avoid damage in strong winds and storms. They stand tall and slender in light breezes, short and stout in heavy blows, and fold themselves into protective housings during storms, dormant while the town runs on battery power.

Not too bad a vision, eh? Certainly, there will be advantages and disadvantages, ups and downs. A spell of very strange weather might leave residents rationing their power and sending out battery trucks to pick up spare power from the neighbors. But that seems not so much more trouble than the current system that leaves us in the dark if something damages the wires, transformers, or power stations, and releases more and more carbon dioxide into the air to further warp the already wobbly climate.

Tweets From Many Futures

I used to have a Twitter account that was intended to be a writing-only, no politics or social commentary, version of my primary @Tao23 account.

Does that sound like a boring idea? It was. It bored me and a few people told me it was a boring idea and I stopped using it. So it sat fallow for a few months.

And then I decided that, being a science fiction writer, it might be fun to occasionally write a tweet from the future. Which future? Any future that popped into my mind, of course. I’m the guy who has written and published over 100 short stories with hardly any occupying the same universe — I can think of maybe 2 or 3 times that I’ve come back to a world for a second story.

My writing may or may not be a reflection of my ADHDHEYASQUIRREL to some degree.

Anyway, it’s fun, and it’s kind of another brainstorming outlet and I might get a story idea or two out of it one day, and it’s a flexible enough concept that I can be political or social or silly or nihilistic or hopeful or whatever my mood is that day hour.

So. Go look and follow and enjoy, or not, as the urge moves you. Also, I might take suggestions or retweet your tweet from the future if you’d like. Especially if accompanied by bribes — I accept cash, pizzas, or chocolate.

Flash Fiction: Meet The Thunder

This is, uh, a thing. A thing I wrote. A thing that’s not really a story, thought there’s plenty of story suggested before it and around it and after it. And something, after all, happens in it. So it’s story-ish.

It felt pretty good to write it. It’s got a hefty dose of autobiography in it. S.A. Ophelia Barton, the Mad Scene (Sorry, Shakespeare. I don’t mean to imply I’m as interesting as one of The Immortal Bard’s characters. That’d be something like hubris).
It was originally posted on my Patreon page on August 10th, where it was exclusive to patrons until now.
 
Meet The Thunder
S.A. Barton
Copyright 2017
 
I came to the beach looking for Death. Not to confront it. Not to make demands. No, I hoped to be surpised. I wanted to schmooze up to Death like a fan buzzing around a minor celebrity at a party. I wanted to annoy death with my proximity until it snapped and swatted me.
In my last second on Earth, I wanted to protest that it was totally unfair that I was dying soooo unexpectedly and it wasn’t, really, my fault at all. I wanted it to be just one more indignity life had heaped upon me. Maybe I’d pass into the mysterious beyond and demand to speak to a manager. If I could screw my courage up to the sticking point as a ghost – a problematic proposition, as I had enough trouble doing that sort of thing with the benefit of a fleshly body.
It was the peak of summer on a long beach closed to tourists by main force of lack of parking and an irregular defensive picket composed of dozens, perhaps hundreds, of sun-bleached towing company signs.
It was scorching hot, the shadows driven to their cowering minimums and only just beginning to creep longer into afternoon. In the distance to the west there was a different sort of shadow on the horizon: a black and blue bruise of thunderstorms rolled down the flat waters of the Chesapeake Bay, roiling them in its wake. Flicking white snake tongues of lightning shot out one after another from the boiling edge. Some of it was over water already, but the end nearest me was still over land to the west, land separated from the sand I lived on by a strip of bay. Soon it would cross.
Hearing the approaching thunder over the laboring of my overwhelmed window air conditioner unit (the fan had developed a metallic whine after a hurricane the previous year, but it still ran), I peered out the front window of my lonely efficiency apartment to catch a glimpse of that black horizon between the three story condos across the street – giants of the spit; there was virtually nothing taller anywhere near that beach.
Already a few herald raindrops spattered the window, squeezed out of the isolated puffy white clouds the storm drove ahead of it like frightened sprinting sheep.
The clouds were speeding; the front itself would arrive in minutes; the steady drumbeat of distant thunder and the gray smudge it dragged along under it like a density of jellyfish tentacles promised a wild downpour.
Suddenly an urgency came upon me and pushed my normal morbid lassitude out. I would meet the storm and see what it brought with it, like I said above. But I wouldn’t meet it at the convenient, tiny sheltered beach out back of the aging brick block I lived it, buildings that had perhaps once given young officers on their way to Korea a place to rest their heads while they waited for their ships and planes. No. I’d head across the spit, not a long walk, across its long doubled road that looped at the end where the sand finally gave way to sea and the bridge-tunnel that reached across from the end to the land to the west, walk though the spit’s lines of little houses and cabins and weather-bleached apartment buildings.
And then I’d walk down a block to the elevated steps of the beach access that arced over the long stiff grasses and wandering vines of the single line of dune that separated beach and street. On to the beach that faced the rushing storm, into the mouth of the oncoming winds, to the place where the main force of the black steamroller in the sky would  break on this single finger of sand thrust into the bay.
I did not dress for my meeting. I undressed. Off shirt and shorts and underwear. On tiny swim trunks and flipflops. And out the door into the freshening wind.
Outside the heat still lingered, but it was leavened with less-hot, not yet cool, heavy shoves of great invisible hands of wind. The few little trees scattered about the spit, already sculpted with heavy leans away from the beaches by years of weather, danced in spurts as the invisible hands slicked them back again and again.
I walked fast. I had a rendezvous to keep. I looked up every dozen steps or so, not pausing, just glancing to see the enormous black-robes I hurried to meet, spreading its cloak wider, wider, the gray rain spilling out of its hem behind the rows of houses and surely into the bay water now, drumming the waves and pressing the fish down deep with healthy fear.
The thunder rumbled louder now; I was beginning to feel it as well as merely hear it. The lightning had grown close enough to throw faint stroboscopic shadows. Ozone gusted thick like brash cologne in a young nightclub.
I didn’t run. It didn’t seem fitting or dignified. This meeting demanded a certain gravitas, one that apparently, somehow, was not offended by showing up wearing bathing trunks too short to hang all the way down to mid-thigh.
I crossed the road, two lanes each way, clover on the median making tiny respectful bows away from the storm. There were big empty spaces between the cars; most people had sense enough to be somewhere already when a big storm met land. At least, they did when it wasn’t rush hour, and it wasn’t. The few cars that passed seemed to hunch down low over their wheels, feeling the pressure in the air.
And then up the steep stairs and along the boardwalk of the arcing beach access. The bushes and grasses beat the wooden handrails as the gusts came faster and harder, and the wind still blew strong where there had been lulls only a few minutes before. The spike tips of a yucca whistled faintly in a hard gust that pushed me sideways despite the aerodynamic nature a small body and near-total lack of clothing gave me.
Halfway across. The storm hove in close, filling the left half of the sky as I speedwalked, flipflops ThwackThwackThwacking over the boards. Ahead, shrinking shafts of sun mottled a scrum of whitecaps the front pushed ahead of it, showing them down the bay toward open ocean.
plat
An enormously obese drop of rain made a big dark star on the wooden railing worn silvery-gray by years of sun and salt.
plat platplat plat platplatplat platplat
Constellations began to draw themselves all over the wood, the parched boards drinking in cool water after their long bake in the searing sun. A faint steam struggled to rise from them, curling back down upon itself as the meteoric raindrops penetrated it.
The cool splashed on my chest, my shoulders, my bald-shaved head, runneling down through my eyebrows and beard and the waistband of my shorts.
Waking me.
Thunder growled close, and now I could feel it deep in my chest, shaking my ribs from the inside.
Lighting pealed and now the bolts were glaring bright, leaving dark lines and blots in my vision, taking my photo again and again, flash flash flash, driving thought and fear and sense and guile from my head.
I wasn’t here to meet Death after all.
I was there to be. There to see. There for what happened. Whatever that was.
Down the steps fast, slowing into the sand, I walked halfway to the water that rolled and crashed harder than bay water crashed any day except a full-on hurricane before the quiet eye rolled over.
I spread my arms to the storm that filled the sky horizon to horizon now. Behind me the very last of the white cloud and sunlight shafts fled into the distance, but I did not turn to see them. I left it behind.
And the front of the storm rolled over me with a fusillade of thunder booms like I’d been caught in God’s wild bass drum. Great ribbons of electricity stabbed the water of the bay, some so close my scalp tingled and the thunder boxed my ears like a thug. Lightning struck the beach itself and I flinched. But my feet stayed put, and I did not turn away. I stood, arms still spread, the warm water scouring my face like the battering tongue of a lion so large it might plant its feet on either side of the spit with its trees and cars and not disturb the three-story condos that rose under its belly.
Rain poured into my eyes. The world blurred, a watercolor scrubbed with a sponge. The lightning blazed all around until the watercolor was more black afterimage than gray rain and tan beach and white water.
The lightning burned jagged skeins all around. I self the hairs on my arms and legs rise despite them being slicked down with gushing rainwater. The thunder was all the sound; the broken seconds of no-thunder were deafening.
And then, suddenly, it was past. The black rolled on by behind me, still growling and booming and hissing its wrath.
And in front of me was sand. All sand, and around it curling white-topped waves. The trees still leaned and the grass and yucca and vines were thick.
There was not a house or a road or a beach access bridge over the dune. No bridge spanned the water. No cars murmured.
Tears cut through the rain on my face and I did not know if I was weeping because I was dead, or because I was alive.