A Trove of Fabulous Short Stories over at Curious Fictions!

If you’re looking for short stories to read, be sure to check out Curious Fictions. This little known gem is a platform for short story reprints. The site will ask you for credit card information up front, but all the content is completely free, though tipping is encouraged. You can also subscribe to your favorite authors.

It is a great option for short story writers who too often see their previously published stories vanish into a kind of oblivion a few months after being published. I have uploaded a few stories there and like having a no fuss place to give these stories a second chance to be seen.

Most recently, you can find my story, Short Straw, on the site. It previously appeared in the Lost Worldsanthology by Flame Tree Press (print only). The link for Short Straw in the sidebar will now direct to Curious Fictions.

While I hope you’ll enjoy the stories I’ve posted there, I know you won’t be disappointed with the site: it is stuffed with amazing stories, easy to navigate, and easy to read on a variety of screens.

Here’s a little teaser for Short Straw:

“Don’t tell the trees your name,” the wild grasses whispered as they batted their bearded heads against the linen skirt wrapped around Nina’s thin hips. Her great grandparents, the first colonists, had brought rice and wheat, barley and rye, and crossed their seeds with the new-world plants. But the grains they produced were inedible. Still, they abandoned grasses persisted, and the wild meadow won a few more inches of ground every year.

She looked up, past the settlement to where the tallest branches of the forest canopy snared the sinking sun. “I have to go,” she said.

“If you must go, take us with you,” they whispered.

Nina closed her hands capturing two fistfuls of seed heads, pulled them off their stems, and shoved them into her skirt pockets. “There. Happy?”

“No.

Hey Toto, we’re in Kansas! Readings and Panels at WorldCon!


It’s been a crazy, busy summer with lots of travel and time with family. I’ve managed to do some writing. I thought I’d take a quick break from the novel by writing a short story, but the story grew (as my stories seem to do nowadays) into a novella. I’ll finish revising it and return to the novel just as soon as I get back from WorldCon!


I have an early flight tomorrow, which is a good thing as I have a busy day coming up.

I’ll be reading at 1:30 in room 2202
I can’t wait to share a story or two live and in person.

From 5:00 – 6:00 I’ll be moderating “Knock on Wood: From Squirrel Girl to Lumberjanes” (room 2207) with fellow panelists Jason Stanford, Catherine Lundoff, Adam Rakunas, and Tom Galloway.

“What the junk?! In the last couple of years we’ve seen the growth of comics that might superficially appear to be aimed at a YA audience, however these titles are hitting the mainstream with a vengeance. Marvel are leading the pack with Squirrel Girl, Ms Marvel and Captain Marvel, but there’s also a vast amount of Indie work coming through such as Lumberjanes, Space Dumplins, Khaos Komix and Footloose. Our panel discuss why these titles are so popular, and what they have to offer both new and established audiences.” 

From 6:00 – 7:00 you can find me participating in “Cleaning Up Your Prose” (room 3501B) with C.C. Finlay(!), Randy Henderson, Rob Chilson, moderated by Alan Smale.
My love of revision is no secret. I’m looking forward to a lively discussion about how writers go about improving their work once the first draft is finished!

Then on Saturday from 4:00 – 5:00 back in room 2202, I’m thrilled to participate in Flash Fiction Online‘s group reading. This one is going to be tons of fun. Hosted by Anna Yeatts and Chris Phillips, come by to hear stories from Sunil Patel, Kelly Sandoval, Laura Pearlman, Beth Cato, and yours truly!

You can check out my schedule and more here. Hope to see you there!

Read My Post-Scarcity Day-After-Thanksgiving Tale at Devilfish Review

The idea for Black Friday came to me while contemplating the ruination of one of my favorite holidays. Thanksgiving is like the easy-going uncle of holidays, it shows up a couple months into the school year grind for a long weekend of cooking and eating while near continuous football games play in the background. Not that it can’t be tricky, centered as it is around sitting down with relations with whom you may or may not see eye to eye. If sharing an annual meal includes an argument or even a family dust up, well, that too is an American tradition. Think about how many times a family gathered around the Thanksgiving table has been featured on the stage, in movies and TV dramas? Annual ordeal, priceless family bonding, or both–Thanksgiving is a touchstone of American culture. 

And I don’t even like turkey! Our family tradition, in fact, is to create our own quirky meal (alternatives have included quail, octopus, and lobster). Of course we prepare so much food that we can eat of the leftovers for the rest of the long, lazy weekend. We also make a point of not shopping at all for the entire weekend. All that mindless consumerism, the crowds chasing after phyrric savings–it’s bad for the digestion.

While the Black Friday tradition is fading, it’s only because stores are starting to open on Thanksgiving day. Sad. 

So, that’s how this story got its start. Although I’m not exactly sure how the tooth fairy got involved.

I’m delighted that this story found a home in Devilfish Review among so many other great stories and poems!


The ArmadilloCon Writers’ Workshop is just around the corner!

I have participated in the wonderful ArmadilloCon Writers’ Workshop for several years, last year I volunteered, and this year I’ll be sitting on the other side of the table as a pro! I’m so excited to be giving back to the Workshop, as it has been a staple of my progress as a writer.
ArmadilloCon has always been a writers’ convention, and through the years both the con and the workshop have hosted a variety of excellent writers. I’ve personally benefited from the advice and wisdom of writers such as, Paolo Bacigalupi, Lou Anders, Cat Rambo, Ian McDonald, and StinaLeicht. This year’s workshop pros will include Ken Liu and James Morrow, and Marshall Ryan Maresca.
But, the Workshop isn’t just about the big names. The pros contributing their time to the workshop represent today’s diversity in writing and publishing. These are men and women writing across a variety of styles, formats and genres. There are writers who are traditionally published, and writers who successfully self-publish, and everything in between.
The all-day workshop costs $79.50, which includes lunch and a full (3-day) Con membership.  The ratio of pros to workshop attendees is excellent (usually two pros per three to five attendees), so it’s a true small-group workshop experience.
The workshop isn’t only about collecting critiques on your brilliant work of genius. It’s participatory. Once you sign up and turn in your piece you will be placed in a group of fellow workshop attendees and receive your group-mates brilliant works of genius to read and critique.
If you are new to workshopping, learning to assess someone else’s work is an excellent way to develop your own writing. I’ve learned at least as much from putting together a coherent, constructive critique of someone else’s work as getting feedback on my own . Putting together your thoughts about your workshop mates stories can also take the edge off waiting to hear how your own piece went over. In the end you’ll go home with written and verbal critiques by the other writers in your group along with critiques by at least two of the attending workshop pros.
I enjoy group critiques. I regularly participate in online and in-person critique groups, but it is not for everyone. Some people do better with, say, a single beta reader, some people do just fine without any critique of their works-in-progress at all. The ArmadilloCon Writers’ Workshop is a great way to experience a group critique situation at a fraction of the cost of some of the big genre workshops like Viable Paradise, Odyssey, or Clarion.
So, dust off that story that isn’t quite working or get cracking on something brand new. The deadline to submit a short story or first chapter is June 15. The maximum word count is 5,000 words firm (i.e. they mean it). Go here to check out the specifics.
The Writers’ Workshop will be on Friday July 24th, ArmadilloCon 37 runs from July 24th through the 26th
Watch for my next post: Workshop Survival Guide…

The Golden Hour

The Obliteration Room by Yayoi Kusama

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Way back in 2011, when Paolo Bacigalupi was my pro at ArmadilloCon, I mentioned that I was worried about keeping up with my blog. He said, “Don’t worry about your blog, you’re a writer not a blogger, right?” This is seriously good advice, and it’s only taken me four years to begin following it.

I have had a productive spring, and find myself with over a dozen stories in submission – more than ever. The more stories I write, the more I value my fiction writing time. That said, I still need a place to park my random musings, so this blog isn’t going away. But, I will be updating less frequently.


THE GOLDEN HOUR

Even letting my blog slide, it’s a daily a struggle to carve out writing time. Anyone who’s tried to fit their creative endeavors around the beautiful chaos that is life knows that some days (or weeks or months) this harder to accomplish than others. When I get busy, I fall back on what I’ve come to think of as my “golden hour.”

In medicine, the term refers to the first hour after a trauma or medical emergency. The theory is that if the patient receives treatment within that hour, their chances of survival are significantly increased. A neglected story is like a casualty laying on the side of the road, vitality ebbing, waiting for the ambulance to come roaring up.

If I get caught up in the day-to-day and ignore my current story for too long, it dies a kind of slow death. When I come back to it, I have to backtrack, retrace my steps, rereading until I can revive it. This is time that would be better spent on the next story. Also, Something important happens when I touch the work daily. A story in progress is a living thing inside my head, and I need to keep the characters, the tone and emotion present.

I’ve found that one hour a day is enough to keep a story vital, present and workable. Luckily, since no lives are actually at stake here, I’m free break this hour up any number of ways. I’ll jump in for 30 minutes in the morning and grab another 30 while my kids watch videos in the afternoon. I’ve done four 15-minute chunks of revising. I plunge into the work quickly and immerse myself for however many minutes I have. 

During busy times, my golden hour is the lifeline that will keep my story alive – one hour at a time. 

Illustration from Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid

BTW: My dark mermaid story, The Gyre, was mentioned on K.Tempest Bradford’s column on io9 alongside two other fantastic stories – one written by the award-winning Ken Liu! So, that is thrilling and an honor!

The Game Plan: Story Structure for Football Season


Telling a story in three acts – or not.
(Bear with me: I’ll get to the football soon, promise!)

As a storyteller, the concept of the three-act story form is unavoidable. The idea is particularly popular among screenwriters, and is found in numerous books, featured in lectures, and on countless websites. It is often applied to narrative storytelling regardless of the form. But wait! FILM CRIT HULK presents a counter argument to the idea of the three-act structure in his epic take down, The Myth of the 3 Act Structure:

 HULK HAS NEVER SEEN SOMETHING SO UNHELPFUL BECOME SO WIDELY ACCEPTED. SURE, IT MAKES SENSE AND IS A SIMPLE WAY TO SEE STORIES FROM AFAR, BUT IT’S ALSO SO SIMPLE THAT IT’S TAUGHT TO ELEMENTARY SCHOOL KIDS WHEN THEY’RE FIRST GRASPING THE CONCEPT OF NARRATIVE. AND WHILE HULK ARGUES THAT THE SIMPLE TRUTHS ARE OFT TIMES THE MOST IMPORTANT ONES, THE EXPRESSION OF THOSE TRUTHS SHOULD BE FAR MORE COMPLICATED. AND THE 3 ACT STRUCTURE IS NOT EVEN “A TRUTH.” IT’S A WRITING MODEL ATTEMPTING TO HELP YOU GET AT ONE. SO HULK THINKS THAT HOLLYWOOD COULD MAYBE STAND TO DO A LITTLE BETTER THAN A THIRD GRADE GRASP OF STORY.

Oh, preach it brother! Seriously, read the whole essay.

Of course, Aristotle laid down the foundation of narrative theory in his Poetics where he describes a story as “a whole [that] has a beginning and middle and end.” This is absolutely true, all stories have these three parts in some degree, but I think confusion arises when we conflate the idea that these three parts of the narrative will align with a story’s acts. In other words, all stories have a beginning, middle and end, but they can have any number of acts.


A story should have exactly as many acts as it takes to bring it to completion. That could be five acts or seven or twelve or more. I’m currently writing a short story with two acts (and of course, it still has a beginning, middle, and end).


For a practical guide to narrative structure (and a survey of popular theories of narrative structure including three-act and the Hero’s Journey) read John York’s Into The Woods: A Five Act Journey Into Story, which is one of the best books that I’ve read about story structure in, well, maybe ever. * In it, York defines an act as:

“A unit of action bound by a character’s desire.”

THE GAME
Last Monday night, I was sitting on the couch watching the Monday Night Football with one eye (as I do) and thinking about story. Recently, a friend asked me what I found appealing about football. As a writer, I enjoy watching sports because it reduces drama to its essential elements. Two teams take the field, both want to win, only one will. This is conflict in its purest form. When watching scripted dramas, I often get distracted second-guessing what the writer was trying to accomplish, or thinking about how the director’s choices affected the scene. I can’t help myself. While this has its own pleasures, a football game, with its direct conflict overlaid with the commentators’ patter to give a little color to the characters on the field, is just the thing after a long day in the word mines.

It’s this no strings attached narrative that draws me in. By observing a football game’s narrative, we can see how its structure contributes to dramatic tension. We can see, with a just few rules to provide a framework, how flexible the parts that form the whole can be.


THE CLOCK

This is the most artificial construct of the game and the most necessary. It’s the running time of a movie, the word count in a short story or novel. Everyone can relate; the Clock itself is a kind of antagonist, ever present, stalking us all to our dying day. The winning team will try to run out the clock. The losing team is playing against, not just the opposing team, but time itself. This arbitrary limitation is the essence of what shapes the game. And it’s time and its limits that shape the stories we tell. But within the constraints of any given time frame there are an infinite number of variations.

THE DRIVE

When a team gets the ball, it tries to score with a series of plays that together form a drive toward the end zone. Like the act, a drive is a unit of action bound by the team’s desire to score. A drive is made up of a series of plays, and an act is made up of a series of scenes. A game can have any number of drives. A drive can end in failure after one broken play or a fumble, or in success with one magnificent Hail Mary pass. A drive can consist of dozens of running plays and short passes, making downs by inches, moving the chains just enough to keep the drive alive. A drive consists of exactly as many or few plays as it needs for the team with the ball to either achieve their goal (touchdown!) or fail (because they couldn’t make enough ground or they turn over the ball).

THE PLAY

Drives are made up of plays just as acts are made up of scenes. Each play is the very soul of conflict, the lines smash together, the linemen try to sack the quarterback, the quarterback sends the ball sailing toward a receiver – will it be caught and held, or fumbled, turned over for a reversal? Scenes are the basic elements of story. The binary code of success/failure that drives narrative.

THE STORY

Each game is bounded by the same rules, but no two games are alike and they can contain any number of plays that make up any number of drives. Yet, each game tells a story, one that we recognize as such on an elemental level. So, when you’re writing, while you know that every story will have a beginning, middle, and end, consider all of the myriad ways that you can travel that road.

 

* and believe me I’ve read more than a few.

The New Novel Plan or I’m Making This Up as I Go Along.

U of Louisville puts entropy to work…
How do you plan a novel? I wish I knew; yet I keep trying. A plan is a comfort even when I know that it is no more than a container. A vessel that I fill with both my dreams and my commitment to chase them, a fragile clay pot to stand against the universe’s inevitable urge to entropy and all the myriad ways that manifests in my everyday life. For more on that go read Pamela Zoline’s Heat Death of the Universe (PDF). 
I was all set to blast through this novel in about three months. The outlining is finished, and I’ve been drafting the new first chapters to work with the material I’d already written. Then, a couple weeks ago I got word that I’ve been invited to attend the Turkey City Writers’Workshop later this fall. I’m thrilled, and I really want to write a shiny new story for it, so that I can get the most out of the workshop.
Yet, I don’t want to completely abandon my novel, so I’m changing my plan. Instead of drafting it at white-hot speed, I’m going to work on it super slowly. I’m going to use the “Don’t Break the Chain” method and write at least 25 minutes – and no more than one hour – a day, every day. This will probably get me about 350-500 words a day. At this pace, I should have a finished draft in about six and a half months. Of course when I get to the other side of this workshop, I’ll decide if I want to change my plan again.