Short Story Structure

I wrapped up a first draft of my next novel in early December, and I decided to make 2013 a year for building my short story skills. I love short stories but I’m more inclined toward novels and long fiction, I think in part because they’re, well, longer. I like robust stories with full worlds and deep characters.

I write 3-4 shorts a year, which isn’t a lot, and they reflect my inclination toward longer stories. In fact, one of the most common critiques I’ve heard over the years of my short stories is, “This feels like the start to a larger piece.” And truth be told, most of them were, because it’s how I think. Too big, too much.

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Reading List for 2012 

Following the lead of Chris Shearer and Heidi Ruby Miller, I’m sharing my reading list from 2012.

My goal was 40 books, and I came in just over at 41. Some of my favorites were Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, John Dies at the End by David Wong, Westlake Soul by Rio Youers, The Passage by Justin Cronin, and The Croning by Laird Barron.

My 2012 reading list in alphabetical order:

  1. Ancient Images by Ramsey Campbell
  2. Back Roads & Frontal Lobes by Brady Allen
  3. Booklife: Strategies and Survival Tips for the 21st Century Writer by Jeff VanderMeer
  4. Bottled Abyss by Benjamin Kane Ethridge
  5. Brimstone by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child
  6. Dead City by Joe McKinney
  7. Dreaming While Awake: Techniques for 24-Hour Lucid Dreaming by Arnold Mindell
  8. ECTOSTORM: Book Three of the Stanley Cooper Chronicles by Scott A. Johnson
  9. In the Midnight Museum by Gary A. Braunbeck
  10. John Dies at the End by David Wong
  11. Mama Said by Lee Allen Howard
  12. Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs
  13. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
  14. New Cthulhu: The Recent Weird by Paula Guran
  15. Pandemonium by Daryl Gregory
  16. Pyrotechnicon by Adam Browne
  17. Rage Against the Night by Shane Jiraiya Cummings
  18. Rumors of My Death by Gina Ranalli
  19. Seven Stories by Brian James Freeman
  20. Take The Long Way Home by Brian Keene
  21. Tequila’s Sunrise by Brian Keene
  22. The Bone Factory by Nate Kenyon
  23. The Croning by Laird Barron
  24. The Ghost IS the Machine by Patrick Scalisi
  25. The Inhabitant of the Lake & Other Unwelcome Tenants by Ramsey Campbell
  26. The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown
  27. The Men Upstairs by Tim Waggoner
  28. The Midnight Eye Files: The Amulet by William Meikle
  29. The Other Place by Nancy Robison
  30. The Painted Darkness by Brian James Freeman
  31. The Passage by Justin Cronin
  32. The Power of Presence: Unlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage Others by Kristi Hedges
  33. The Red Church by Scott Nicholson
  34. The Sixth Seed by Lee Allen Howard
  35. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
  36. These Trespasses by Kenneth W. Cain
  37. Torn Realities by Paul Anderson
  38. Trinity by Kristin Dearborn
  39. Veins by Lawrence C. Connolly
  40. Vipers by Lawrence C. Connolly
  41. Westlake Soul by Rio Youers

I’m keeping my goal for next year at 40 for now as I have some pretty thick books in mind, but may bump it up mid-year if I’m making good progress on both reading and writing.

The Next Big Thing

Sheldon Higdon asked if I’d do this “Next Big Thing” blog chain. I’m not particularly keen on this sort of thing, mainly because my work is so volatile right up until it goes out the door, but Sheldon’s a good friend, and my last post on this project was somewhat cryptic. So I thought I would follow-up with something a little less vague.

This is my next novel-length project. Whether it turns out to be any kind of “Big Thing” remains to be seen.

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The Duotrope Question

Over the past couple of weeks writers have been debating the wisdom of Duotrope’s decision to start charging for their service. The site’s been around for years and has relied solely on donations to keep it running. And apparently donations were not enough.

Like so many others, I’ve been considering what to do come 2013. I’ve donated to the site a few times, giving what I felt was a fair price for the service on a yearly basis. It was not, however, the $50 per year they’re now asking. I’ll admit had sticker shock on first hearing the price, and I’m not alone.

I’m not opposed to paying for a legitimate service that helps me reach my writing goals. But Duotrope’s asking price seemed a bit much at first blush for things I could essentially do on my own. After all, Ralan still provides an excellent speculative fiction market listing for free, and really, how hard is it to track submissions in a spreadsheet? Not that hard.

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Tearstone Update - Dec 2012 

Here’s a quick updated on Tearstone. The manuscript is now in the hands of Tracy DeVore, Senior Editor for Belfire Press. Tracy’s a published author, freelance editor, and former newspaper correspodent. She was also founding president of the Horror Writers Association’s Indiana chapter, and I feel lucky to be working with her.

The front cover art will be handled by Bob Freeman. No ETA on it yet, but I’ll share updates as I’m able.

The timeline has shifted a little. When I originally signed with Belfire, Tearstone was tentatively scheduled for March 2013. Shortly after, Belfire rearranged their schedule and moved Tearstone up to February 2013. I now have a production schedule for Tearstone and the release has moved to March 29, 2013. I’m very excited to see a schedule in place, and I’m confident everything will move pretty much as Belfire’s Editor in Chief Jodi Lee has planned.

I’ll post more updates here as we move through the editing process. I’ll also keep my Facebook Page updated.

Tumblr with iA Writer

It’s been a while since I’ve posted. I’d like to say there’s some really good reason I don’t post frequently, but I’d be lying. Fact is, I’m just not much for jumping into my browser to write anything. One of my recent posts dealt with abandoning my word processor for something better suited for drafting a novel. In that case, I settled on using Index Card. It’s relatively distraction free, lets me work in a non-linear fashion, and works on the iPad.

What’s that have to do with why I’m a lazy blogger? It’s the tools, and how I relate to them. I love the tumblr platform, but I’m not too keen on using the browser-based editor. The surest way to distract me from writing is to throw me into a web browser. Within minutes I’ll jump from Facebook to Goodreads to Tumblr to Twitter, back to Facebook, window shop on Amazon, check news on various locations, look at my watch only to find I’ve wasted an hour and still haven’t finished my blog post, then go back to the watching dancing cats and the toilet paper gun for a while. Ugh. No wonder I have to get up early to finish anything.

Anyhow, as with the whole noveling (is that a word?) without a word processor, I started to look for ways to blog without using tumblr’s web editor. I had a few simple requirements:

  • Let me write in plain text with simple formatting
  • Don’t force me to use a web browser
  • Give me a distraction-free interface
  • Work on the iPad

I didn’t really find anything out of the box, so I wound up cobbling together my own solution. For writing blog posts, I’m using iA Writer on my iPad and iPhone and VIM on my Linux laptop. Drafts are saved to Dropbox so I can move seamlessly from one device to another if need. Both VIM and iA Writer are simple text editors that support Markdown, but neither integrates directly with tubmlr. Fortunately, tumblr provides each blog with a private email address where you can send posts instead of editing in the web browser, and by including a simple somewhere in the post, tubmlr knows to use Markdown for formatting.

This post is my way of testing my setup. I whipped this post up in under 10 minutes while hanging out with the family instead of squirreled away in the office during the wee hours of the morning.

I got a little bonus by going through this discovery. Index Card worked great for helping me draft a novel (and will continue to do so). Now that I’m finished with the first draft, I’m setting the novel aside to work on some short stories for a while. Index Card is, for me, too much for short stories. On the other hand, iA Writer works great for short pieces, and I already keep all my work in Dropbox so it’s a natural fit.

Alright, enough about me. Here, go check out the Toilet Paper Gun.

Sweet Baby Cthulhu! I’ve Been Infected!

The hip and talented writer Stephanie Wytovich tagged me in a game of author infection. The rules are simple. Search your work in progress for the first use of “look”. Copy and paste that paragraph and the ones immediately before and after into a blog post. Then, like all good chain letters, tag five other authors. Wash, rinse, repeat.

This is from the nearly finished first draft of my novel The Galvanized Man. What kind of novel, you ask? I once described it as squishing Lovecraft and J.J. Abrams into a dark post-apocalyptic cult fantasy. Yeah, I guess that works.

At least I wasn’t alone. I took Quin’s hand, something I’d not done since we were in our teens.

Quin glanced at me, raised a golden eyebrow. I could feel the tension in my face, and it must have shown, because no sooner had our eyes met than she leaned in. “Fucking worthless remnants. Part of me wishes the government would just round them up. Don’t you worry about him. Looks like he’s just had one too many.”

I squeezed Quin’s hand. “He’ll hear you. Let’s just get this over with, okay?”

There you have it. Although what you have doesn’t really tell you anything. Oh well, hope you enjoyed it anyhow.

Now I’m off to spread this disease to five other lucky writers, like the undulating tentacles of the god who dreams in his sunken city.

Look, Ma, No Word Processor!

A couple of weeks ago I posted about how I needed to get back to planning. My current project—a novel that’s probably too complex, but fun to write—stalled and I couldn’t find a way back into the story. I needed to put the word processor aside and revisit the fundamental structure of the story.

I also mentioned in that post how I like to use index cards for planning my DIY projects around the house. (By the way, the closet organizer we were working on only needs a couple of coats of polyurethane and we’re done!) Index cards are relatively portable, they constrain and force me to think about what I need to capture, and I can easily rearrange them to change the structure of whatever I’m working on.

But… when it comes to writing—my current project is always on my mind—index cards aren’t very practical for me to carry around despite their portability. When I have a few minutes between meetings at work, I can’t exactly pull out a deck of index cards and play with them on the floor. I mean, I suppose I could, but I’d get some pretty strange looks…

I went on a search. I’d heard of apps like Scrivener and Storyist, but I wasn’t quit ready to dump a ton of cash into something I wasn’t sure would help. I don’t have a Mac, and even if I did, I wanted something that either integrated with or worked only on my iPad.

Enter this wonderful iPad app: Index Card.

Within two days (a mere handful of hours), I finished planning out the last dozen or so chapter of my work in process. This worked just as well as when I did a similar activity for my last novel using real index cards. Here’s the result:

The green cards are complete, the yellow is where I was at a few days ago (when planning this post), and the white are still to be done. You can visit the app’s website if you want a full feature run down, just know you can rearrange cards by dragging, stack them together (like that first stack in my photo), exclude them from draft, and tag them with a color.

The app has an additional feature that’s allowed me to abandon my word processor entirely while working on a first draft. Each card has a long text area. You can toggle whether to show the field, so I hid it while working on structure then showed it when I was ready to work on the draft.

The app will also export to Dropbox in RTF, plus a few different formats. The resulting RTF is in a generic format, and when I looked at it my heart sunk a little. It’s rather generic (understandably so), and I was looking at a lot of work just to integrate the finished work back into the manuscript. Fortunately, Index Card also exports an XML file. If this app was to become my standard for putting together a first draft, I needed to have an easy way to produce an RTF in manuscript format. Fortunately I’m no stranger to working with XML and writing code, so I whipped up a little script that’ll transform the XML into a workable format for revising a first draft.

Now my first drafts can happen in an environment that keeps me focused on structure, eliminates any formatting concerns, and can be quickly transformed into a manuscript suitable for revising. It’s a throwback to my younger days when I would write long-hand in notebooks, but without the laborious process of retyping the first draft. I’m in heaven.

I’m also convinced that Word (or any word processor) isn’t the right place to write a draft. It’s great for formatting and revising, but lacks a way to keep the writer focused on structure, which is essential to drafting a novel or any work of significant length.

So if you’re like me, and you find yourself constantly distracted by your own word processor, take a look at Index Card. And…

If you’ve abandoned your word processor in favor of some other writing tool, I’d love to hear about it!

fuckyeahabandonedplaces:

Remnants of a Cemetery by Marcellina. on Flickr.
Via Flickr: Exploring Howard County Maryland September 2012

fuckyeahabandonedplaces:

Remnants of a Cemetery by Marcellina. on Flickr.

Via Flickr:
Exploring Howard County Maryland
September 2012

No More Sleepy Posts

Just a quick announcement  I no longer plan to blog regularly about my polyphasic sleep. I have a few different reasons, but the biggest is that frankly I don’t think my personal experiment is all that interesting. I’m still interested, but I can’t get all that excited about it. My sleep data goes back to the middle of July, and what I noticed is that even when I sleep in, I usually only sleep about six hours. I didn’t need much sleep to begin with, so I don’t see how I can keep this interesting. My experiment will continue, and I may occasionally bring it up in posts, but there’s just not enough material to keep my own interest let alone someone else’s.

What will I write about? Well, I’m going to fall in step with other writers I know and write about my writing process, my challenges and experiences. Hopefully what I share can be of help to other writers out there.