Saturday, March 27, 2010

Dougie's Hand

My short story, 'Dougie's Hand', has been accepted for the Spring issue of Rose and Thorn by Kathryn Magendie.

The story goes live 15 April 2010.

There are many different ways to go about constructing a story. (I think the only universal method these days has something to do with a word processor...some imagination..and I'm not always sure about the imagination). I still read a great number of 'how to do it', or preferably 'how I do it' writing advice articles. Some authors plot extensively, write notes, draw diagrams of story arcs and character interactions, maps of the place where the story takes place, etc. I did this for GOB-the short story and BEKs (see below)and I have to do it for my novels or it they turn to unintelligible goo in my hands.

Other people just start writing and see where the story takes them. You can try for a certain 'mood' or a 'voice' or just write. In short stories I can get away with this to some extant. But I still need to do some plotting of where I want to go. I have heard the writing of a story like planning for a road trip (an old school road-trip, no Garmins or Tom-Toms allowed here). You know where you will start, you've looked at the map, made some notes of where you want to go, but you reserve the right to deviate a bit if you see a Shoney's or a sign for one of those road-side museums (some of the best are along I10- the prehistoric alien in Arizona, the alligator farms in Louisiana, the Crocket county museum in Ozona Texas...ah, memories!). But every once in a while even OC road-trip planners like me just get in the car and see where they go. That was Dougie's hand for me.

I started with a voice. I knew what the main character sounded like. He was a millenial slacker in college. He was self-deluded and superficial. And he was FUN. So with that premise, I started typing away.

Dougie's hand is a story, really a 2200 word vignette, of a young man suffering from Anarchic or Alien hand syndrome (also called Dr. Strangelove hand). This is the conflict, because without conflict for the main character to overcome or deal with there's nothing happening in the story. Stories without conflict are usually called 'literary fiction'. Sounds great, but what was the point again?

After voice and conflict There was also a quality that I wanted the story to have, and this came in the rewrite, because even though I just got in and drove doesn't mean that I couldn't go back over and over and over...

So, the quality I wanted was one in which the narrator was so convicted in his obviously erroneous belief that the reader took a minute to doubt his/her own convictions. It's hard to explain exactly what I wanted, but the best example is from the movie
. Maybe not your cup of tea, but I loved it. In it there are a few instances where Gabriel Finch is so convicted, and there is evidence to support his delusion, that the audience asks...could it be that he isn't a nut?

Well, you judge for yourself on 15 April how well I did to capture this with Dougie's Hand.

The story itself was a joy to write. My critique group provided valuable feedback. I submitted it and it sat in second and then third and then fourth round review with first ASIM (Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine) for a year. Then it was bought by Arkham Tales, where it waited to be published until the magazine folded. And then...Rose and Thorn had at it.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Atlas shrugged and so did I

This is meant to be a blog about my writing life. Almost every 'how to write' book, article or interview by an author advises that the novice author read voraciously. For this reason (voracious reading is part of my writing life) it seems appropriate to include those experiences here.

My inaugural post-reading post is Ayn Rand's Atlas shrugged.

It's been long in coming.
It was a long time in the reading.
And I'm left with an ""

As with most famous works, I was familiar with it before I read it. In fact, before reading the book I had read more about Ayn Rand's objectivism than I had ever read of Rand directly. I think as a work meant to pontificate a world view, in it's time it was probably great. But for just took long to do it. The characters were either one of three people; 'looter', 'noble industrial egoist' or one of the masses with his/her hand out. No middle ground, they all sounded the same. They all gave one or the other monologue. For a long time. Didn't really care for the characters, couldn't buy into the dystopian world. I tried, honest.

The parts I really did enjoy were the datedness. The hunt for a long-distance phone connection (as I flick open my black berry), the obsession with cigarettes, the very 1950's ish-ness. That for me was fun (though I don't suspect this was the author's intent).

Glad I read it, because I have felt like a phoney all these years for reading about it, but not reading it. It will be a while before I dig into the vault of great tomes, I paid my dues for the near-term.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Gift of the Bouda- the short story

Even though it was the first short story I ever wrote with the intent of publishing, 'The Gift of the Bouda' was actually the fifth short story published. So that implies two stories behind the story, right? Right you are. Let's start with the what motivated me to write for publication and then we'll get to the how.

I wrote GOB because of the war in Iraq.

Sounds weighty, doesn't it?
Well, for me it was. And here's the short version.

I am a life-long Army Reserve officer. I enlisted in the California National Guard when I was nineteen, with the intent of flying helicopters. Which I did. I attended OCS and then went on to fly Cobra helicopters (as well as Hueys) while I was in college. Neat part-time gig, let me tell you.

After I finished my PhD I went to Texas for a postdoc and also transferred to the Reserves, where I flew the venerable AH-64 Apache. Really cool. I was eventually promoted out of flying, but volunteered to go back (should they need me) when the War in Afghanistan kicked off. One thing led to another and we started this thing in Iraq (you've probably seen something about it in the news) and I ended up there as an Operations officer for an Aviation Task Force. In order to go though, I had to leave my civilian job at a the world's leading non-profit provider of cell lines (in Manassas, Virginia) where I had a lab. The war blew, but I did my part. My civilian employer, though, really didn't. When I returned from a year away, serving my country, separated from my loved ones, risking my life, after all of that, my lab, my staff, my equipment and my projects had been parted out. Gone was the lab for which I had worked so hard. To shorten the long story, I ended up finding a new gig. But I didn't seem to be able to scratch that creative itch that I was able to scratch in the lab. Most people don't think of science as creative, but it really is. Especially cell biology where there is as much 'craft' as pure science.

I wondered if creative writing might be able to scratch that creative itch. 'Creative' is in the title, right. So I gave it a shot, and the story turned out okay. Two months of futzing, but it wasn't bad.

I shopped GOB around a bit and it received some good feedback. They always tell you that receiving personal feedback (as opposed to a form letter) is a good response. My first rejection was from George Scithers at Weird Tales, and yes it was hand-written and rather encouraging. So I incorporated his suggestions and then I sent it to a proposed anthology at Graveside tales. It took around 6 months to be accepted and another 6 or so to be published. It was quite worth it. Matt Hults was the editor and I think he did a great job -he also did the cover. I had the added bonus of sharing the TOC with Mike Stone who I had met through my critique group as well as some other great authors. It was fun and I was asked for an author interview ( If anyone at Graveside is reading this, I'm still on hold with my story for Beast Within II...and waiting...and waiting...

So I told you about the what and the how. How about the why?

Gift of the Bouda is the story of a soldier who is attacked by a were-hyena (the Bouda) while on a mission. He is infected with the lycanthropic curse and returns to the 'real world' of mundane America.

A place he isn't needed.

A place that doesn't understand what he's been through.

See where I'm going with this?

Yes, the story was a bit cathartic. The lycanthropy of the story represents PTSD. Not something I suffered but I can have empathy for those that do and John Rogers (the main character) is an homage of sorts. And yes, in this light the challenges I faced after being kicked the curb by the system were so much less traumatic than those faced by others. John also has the opportunity to deal with the Pre-Shinseki VA. Oh joy. I hear it's getting better.

The lycanthropy made for a great vehicle for post traumatic stress. I employed the Bouda as I wanted something that was appropriate to the folk lore of the region, as opposed to another haunted moor...with a cursed gothic manor, werewolf story. I was thinking blackhawk down with monsters. Or the movie dog-soldiers. Military horror. Fast-paced. It seems to have worked.

I really liked this character and after I finished STG-the novel, I wrote Gift of the Bouda- the novel. Again, another year. It currently sits with a few agents, so we'll see how it goes.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Party Favors

My fourth story was Party Favors, purchased by Todd Robinson of Thuglit (, a nice ezine with a penchant for hard-boiled crime.

Party Favors began life as 'Being Sullivan Brown'. Almost everyone that critiqued this one at thought that was an incredibly lame name. I guess that they all saw "Being John Malcovich" or something. Anyway, it was meant to be a fairly straight forward hitchhiker-killer-with-a-twist story. And that's how it came out. I had the added bonus of getting a cover for the mag with my second favorite iconic handgun; the colt python with the 4 inch barrel. I don't know who the tongue belongs to...

Monday, March 15, 2010


My third short story sale was a story titled BEKs (for Black Eyed Kids). I shopped this story around for a bit before Tim Deal at Shroud publications bought it. Tim's a great guy and is putting out a nice magazine (

I had thought that the magazine was what I was being considered for, only to find that instead Tim wanted to place it in his new print anthology 'Abominations'. One of Tim's other anthologies had made the Stoker short list, so that was fine by me. It's doing pretty well in the low five-figures in sales rank on Amazon (ISBN 098018701X).

BEKs was inspired by a Texas urban legend about preteen boys that seek assistance from strangers, who are in turn never seen again. I took these creatures and placed them into a crack-house in Baltimore. Then I sent in a DEA agent and a special forces support team to route them out. The story was meant as a military-horror short, with the war on drugs taking a slightly different tack.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Succumbing to Gravity- the short story

I thought it might be interesting to those of you new to writing, or who enjoy reading, to have some insight into how a story comes about. The second story I sold, after OB, was Succumbing to Gravity (STG). It had been sitting with an anthology called holy horrors for some time before it was released (and then HH was actually was never published).

I queried Nossa Morte. which was at the time new (and I thought a bit vulnerable to a new author like me). They liked it, but requested a rewrite. I liked their suggestions, made the adjustments and viola, STG made it into the Feb 2008 issue ( . Melissa et al were a joy to work with and I am glad to see the magazine continues to put out great stories.

So, the inspiration for STG? Well I had read 'The Year of War' by Steph Swainston (ISBN 0060753870- I recommend it, except for chapter 22, what was that?). In it the main character, Jant, is a winged drug addict. I thought how very much like a tragic sort of fallen angel he was. And that idea went to work somewhere in the back of my brain...maybe anterior thalamic nuclei.. I'm not sure, but there was nuclei fermentation. Then I was doing some light reading through the Apocryphal book of Enoch and thought those poor angels, what would it be like to live in the grace of God and then be cast out?

Could you help but despair?

Could you find drugs?

And that's how Greg was born. A fallen angel, walking the earth, avoiding responsibilities of any kind and trying to find solace in drugs. More to come on this one as I liked Greg so much I spent a year writing the rest of his story. Nihilism, drug addiction, demon combat and redemption (of a sort), STG is now a novel-length tale that recently sold to Reliquary Press and should be available summer of 2010.

But the story of that story is a different story. One to be saved for later.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Outsourcing Blues

My first short story sale was "Outsourcing Blues", purchased by Adicus Garton for the May 2007 issue (Issue Seven) of Atom Jack online magazine.

OB was a fun little science/horror story that was inspired by two things; the trend in business toward outsourcing of costly, rarely needed services requiring a unique skill set and a heating grate on the floor under the desk at which I write on my trusty Mac.

So I started there and penned out a first draft which went to my critique group ( worth a look if you like to write speculative fiction and don't mind people telling you how poorly you write it, at first, it gets better) for review. Many of the reviewers didn't care much for the protagonist, and to be honest I didn't really like him either. So I exercised him from the text and imported a Janeane Garofalo-inspired software engineer (as she played Heather Mooney in Romie and Michelle- which may have not been the pinnacle of her career, but was my personal favorite). Viola- second query resulted in a sale. And this in spite of the fact I misaddressed the query letter- note to self and others, always proofread letters!

Oh, and I hear it's also not a good idea to let your wife read a story about a monster sucking a woman typing at a computer, through a heating grate, while she's sitting at a computer with her feet on the heating grate...just a thought.