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Saturday, July 28, 2012



What is the Cliffhanger 250?

Open Mic Saturday

Good morning all, and welcome to Open Mic Saturday. This is the place to share your news and perhaps do a little bragging. If you're writing a novel: how much progress did you make this week? If you're writing short stories: did you finish anything or submit anything this week? If you've sold or published anything recently, when is it coming out and where can we find it? In short, as a writer, what kind of progress did you make this week?

Or what else is on your mind, that you feel like sharing with the group here?

Friday, July 27, 2012


Wag the Fox reviews the March 2012 issue of STUPEFYING STORIES and has some pretty nice things to say about us, and then follows up with an interview with yours truly.

Read! Enjoy! Tell your friends!


Saturday, July 21, 2012

Open Mic Saturday

Good morning all, and welcome to Open Mic Saturday. This is the place to share your news and perhaps do a little bragging. If you're writing a novel: how much progress did you make this week? If you're writing short stories: did you finish anything or submit anything this week? If you've sold or published anything recently, when is it coming out and where can we find it? In short, as a writer, what kind of progress did you make this week?

Or what else is on your mind, that you feel like sharing with the group here?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

World Enough, and Time

Eye-Opening Research

Several Friday Challenges back, we were tasked with writing a children's story.  I had one on the back burner at the time, and the Challenge gave me the kick in the pants I needed to actually finish it.  "Quinn in Trashland" received high marks, has gone through some revisions, and just might be ready to release to the wild.  At least, that's what the First Reader, Final Reviewer, and Chief Editor all agree on (and who am I to argue with Her?).

I shared the story with a handful of test readers.  One of those, an online friend and substitute teacher, claims that every time she returns to sub for the class she read it to, they beg her for a copy of the book and demand she read it to them again.  All of the test reader responses came back with glowing encouragement.

So.  Then...the big question.  Traditional publishing or self-published ebook?

I admit, I was leaning towards the traditional route.  I still read to my kids at bedtime, even though they're all more than old enough to be reading to me instead.  I just couldn't quite picture curling up on the couch with an e-reader or laptop instead of a book, and Quinn is definitely a story that begs to be read aloud to younger kids.

I grabbed my 2011 copy of "Short Story and Fiction Writer's Market" and a highlighter, and started my research.


Quick summary?

A fairly large portion of the children's book listings simply say something to the effect of "if you don't have an agent, you're not worthy of our attention."

The general overview of the rest?

  • Generally only accept submissions the old-fashioned snail-mail way.
  • "Please cool your heels for six months" waiting for a response from us, and then--
  • "We won't even bother to contact you unless we want to publish your stuff."  Because, after all, they receive "more than 1000 submissions per month."
  • Receive payment on publication--which, in general, is eighteen months to two years after acceptance.
Okay, I admit, these aren't a huge surprise.  Perhaps I've been spoiled by Stupefying Stories, or I'm just totally and completely clueless about the publishing world  (which is true, I am).

...but the idea of putting Quinn on a shelf for the next two to three years is not a pleasant one for me.  And that's assuming a quick acceptance, first or second try; if five or six companies reject it before it hits that two year wait for printing, none of my kids will be young enough to enjoy it when it finally hits the bookshelves.

I do not understand how the publishing world can function this way, in the days of the Internet.  Sure, the writer is lining up a paycheck two or three years down the road, but what does he do about next month...?  I just don't find this to be an acceptable, functional business model.

If I were to go that route, it would mean giving up three years' worth of sales opportunity.  Granted, I lose the big "super publisher" logo on the side of the book...and the odds of my seeing it on a store shelf next to Curious George or Willy Wonka are fairly slim...and I'll have to do all of the advertising and sales myself, just like with the other ebooks I've got in mind.  Is there a huge difference between the two?  Would I really be passing up a huge opportunity by doing it myself rather than wait three more years to see it in print...?

Okay.  I give.  

The Writer's Market goes back on the shelf, to collect some more dust.

I am contacting some artist friends I know to work out a deal on illustrating "Quinn in Trashland" for a self-published ebook.  If anyone knows of any poor starving artists...send them my way.  

If it sells enough copies, perhaps it will work its way to a self-published print-on-demand project...?  Or one of those big-name publishing houses will come to me...?

Regardless...wish me luck.  I hope you're all interested in curling up on the couch with your kids, and Quinn, and your digital e-reading device of choice.


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Now playing on StarShipSofa

"Return to Earth," by Ryan M. Jones, first published in STUPEFYING STORIES 1.1 (October 2011), is this week's Main Fiction feature on StarShipSofa, the Hugo Award-winning SF podcast. Check it out!


Monday, July 2, 2012

The Old Goat Learns a New Writing Trick

As many of you know, for the last five weeks I've been working on my serialized novel at the Cliffhanger 250 (stop by and check it out, if you haven't already).  Chapter 16 went up today and is going to be used as an example for my new writing trick.  And it's not just any trick, either.  My new trick is the most important trick a writer can learn.

What is this amazing, new writing trick?  It is the trick every editor in the business wishes every writer in the business would learn.  It is the trick of making my prose leaner so every word serves to advance the story.  It is the trick of cutting words from my story.  Lots of words.

The idea of the Cliffhanger 250 was to force me to write and publish short, 250 word installments of the story.  The short length (equal to approximately one typed page of manuscript back in the days of typewriters and snail mail submissions) was to keep each installment from feeling daunting to me (a guy who's never written any single story longer than 5000 words) and to use cliffhangers at the end of each chapter so I would have a goal for each installment I wrote.  While writing those chapters, I found the first drafts of chapters had anywhere from 300 to 400 words; well above my targeted word count.  I didn't want to change the title of site -- the "Cliffhanger 300 to 400" doesn't have quite the same punch -- so I really only had one choice.

I had to cut words from my chapters.  Ruthlessly.  Even if you consider that each chapter tends to be 270 to 280 words in length, I found myself faced with cutting 10% to 30% of the words from my first draft.  When you have so few words to work with in the first place, that should be really hard.  It would be really hard, too, if I didn't have that target word count.  By making the number of words more important than the specific words in the first draft, I found it much easier to do what needed to be done.  I cut words, phrases, even entire sentences from the story and deleted them with ruthless abandon.  Along the way, I found better, shorter ways to say what needed to be said.

Want an example?  Preparing for this column, I marked up my changes to show what I deleted and rewrote for Chapter 16 of Scout's Honor.  Just for the record, the first draft was 353 words in length.  The published version, not counting the italicized lead-in and wrap-up lines, is 269 words in length.  Eighty-four words -- twenty-three percent of the word count -- gone in less than half an hour.  Here's the example.  Highlighted words were added, struck out words removed.

          Scouts receive extensive training for handling all sorts of situations we may face.  Our implants are loaded with further data covering virtually everything else.  Somehow, the experts who designed the training never considered my current situation.  That's why, When the princess's lips locked on mine, training fled and instinct took over.  I pulled her close and returned the kissed her back.  Enthusiastically.
            We jumped apart, brought to our senses by Rob's interruption.  We cast our eyes downward like two scolded children eyes downcast, unable to meet Rob's stern gaze.
            "Highness, go to the stern of the airship," Rob ordered.
            The princess bristled at his tone, "Rob, you will not-"
            "Callan, do as I say."
            Chastised, she stalked aft.
            Trying to forestall what was to come Hoping to avoid a rebuke, I said, "Rob, I promise-"
            "Silence, boy!" hissed Rob.  "You just took an oath this morning to protect the princess with your life.  That includes protecting her from herself, from her flights of fancy and her infatuations.  That includes protecting her from your base instincts.  Do you understand?"
            "Yes, sir!"
            His gaze bored into minee stared intently into my eyesApparently Satisfied by what he saw, he relaxed slightly.  "Many guards develop strong feelings for those they guard, David.  Burying those feelings, especially if they are returned, is your duty"
            "It will not happen again, sir."
            "Good," He nodded, dismissing the matter.  "Now, can that...thing...in your head teach you how to fly this airship?"
            My implant was feeding me informationIt could.  As Rob marched aft, toward the princess, I concentrated on the airship controls, trying to ignore ignoring the heated discussion at the stern.  We needed altitude to reach the prevailing winds and forward speed to generate the little bit of lift required for the airship to rise to gain altitude.  A clever steam engine mechanism provided power for propulsion and also vented exhaust into the gas bags for lift.
            Looking up from the controls, I saw spotted a dark smudge on the horizon.  Happy Rob has brought my Grabbing the survival pack Rob brought aboard, I grabbed took out the binoculars and trained them on the smudge.  Ice lanced my gut as the smudge came into focus.
            A sandstorm stretched across the distant horizon, and it was coming straight for bearing down on us!

Is this perfect?  No.  Is it better than the first draft?  Definitely.

The point to remember is that the words are there to serve you.  Words don't get to stay on the page simply because you put them there sometime in the past.  Words have to earn the right to stay on the page.  They do that by serving the story, propelling it forward.  Any word which doesn't do that is not serving the story and deserves its fate.  Delete and don't look back.

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