About Writers, book sales, editing, inspiration, Literary critique, publishing, Stories, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

My First Story

 – by Adam Stump

When I chose to start writing fiction professionally (if that’s what you could call what I do–professional), I didn’t do so because I thought that I’d make money (I’ve made about $12), and I didn’t do it because I thought I was a good writer (I have yet to win my Pulitzer). I did it because I had stories to tell. If anything, I’m a storyteller, not a writer. I only write when the storytelling muse abducts me (usually at 2AM), and I feel like I have a story worth sharing. These stories usually percolate in my subconscious for months or even years before I write them down. When I finally do write them down, they come out mostly complete and usually pretty good.

As such, after my decision to write a story to be published (by someone else), I chose a story that had been rolling around without any clear definition in my brain for quite some time. I used a lot of elements from my childhood in upstate New York as well as a story I had heard while I lived in Pittsburgh. I remember furiously clacking away on my keyboard as the story poured onto the screen of my laptop.

The recipe for that story was: One part nostalgia, one part adventure, and one part terror. I produced a story that I thought was one of the best that I had ever read. It truly was one of the best I had ever read, because it was exactly what I wanted to read.

That first story taught me a lot about writing. I was so proud of it that I sent it to several friends because I thought that they would enjoy it. They, in turn, tore the story to shreds (in my mind, anyway). As I picked up the proverbial pieces of my story (and morale) from the floor, I was in shock. I didn’t know how anyone else wouldn’t find the story to be the best that they had ever read.

Then, I re-read my story and saw that the critiques (that’s really what they were, not attacks) that my friends made were accurate, valid, and necessary. I performed my first ever critical revision on my first ever story. I shaved a couple thousand words of nostalgic description, I increased some characters, rewrote a few scenes, deleted some scenes, and (most shocking of all), I changed the name of the story.

The story was originally titled “The Storm Drain.” Can you imagine reading a story with a title like that? I can’t. My best friend and inspiration for writing, N.D. Coley, told me to change the title. I wanted to scream, I wanted to cry, I wanted to punch a hole through the wall. But he was 100% right. I changed the name of the story to “Keep Off the Grass.” It’s a line in the story, and he told me that the story had named itself. In retrospect, I agree.

After learning that I’m not the best writer in the world and that I need critical feedback and revision and even title changes, I produced a decent version of the story and began shopping around for a publication to publish this electronic packet of blood, sweat, and tears. I got rejection after rejection after rejection. I knew that I could self-publish, but I thought that this story was good enough to be accepted by someone else for publication–others would view the story as something worth sharing with their readers.

Every rejection letter that came back was virtually the same: “This story is just an homage to Stephen King’s Stand By Me,” a book I’ve never read and a movie that I’ve never seen. I didn’t even know the premise of the book/movie. I’ve since googled it and can see that the comparisons are valid. However, it doesn’t negate the fact that “Keep Off the Grass” is a good story. I’d also say that, for all the valid criticism, there are only so many plots out there when it comes to general fiction. I happened to stumble upon a plot that Stephen King stumbled upon, as well. The plot doesn’t belong to him or to me, but to the consciousness–the ethos–of storytelling.

Fast forward a few years and countless rejection letters to today. I opened up my email and the first thing that I saw was an acceptance letter from an editor who wants to share my story in his magazine. He didn’t say anything about Stephen King or Stand By Me. He said that it was a good story and he wanted to feature it in the upcoming issue of his magazine.

I wasn’t prepared for the emotions that would follow from reading that email. I literally wanted to scream and shout. I wanted to pound on pots and pans and run outside screaming that I had been published. I felt even more elated than I did when I actually received my first acceptance letter way back when. Why? Because this is my first story, and it’s part of my story. It’s still nostalgic for me, even if it’s been heavily edited and gone through a couple critical revisions since the first time I sat down to my laptop to capture it in writing.

The purpose of this post, though, isn’t just to give you some history of my writing, but to encourage you the reader. Have you written a story? Has it been rejected, but you still think it’s a good story? Keep at it. If you truly believe it’s a good story, keep sending it out. Don’t give up! I thought this story would be my first published story. It’s not. It’s a few years old now. If I wrote it today, it would probably be a different story. However, it is what it is. And it’s a success story. It certainly didn’t start that way. If you’re discouraged with your writing, don’t be. If it’s really good stuff, others will recognize it. As authors, we might have little control over the body of the story–maybe it’s the muse or maybe it’s the editorial team dictating the story–but we still control how the story begins and, ultimately, how the story ends!

Standard
About Writers, blogging, inspiration, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

A Year In Review

 – by Adam Stump

Looking back over 2019, it was a pretty successful year for me, as a writer. I had eight pieces of fiction published and edited several works, including an anthology that spent a month as the #1 bestselling anthology on Kindle (I wasn’t the sole editor, or even head editor on that project, though). 

However, when 2019 was chugging along, it certainly didn’t seem very productive. Eight published pieces doesn’t even equal one per month, which means that there were far more rejection letters than acceptance letters. To add insult to injury, my family of six spent 18 weeks and 3 days (but who’s counting?) homeless because our previous house was filled with toxic mold and chemicals. In the first two months of 2019, my family lost our health and nearly all of our possessions due to contamination. We literally lived out of a garbage bag suitcase that contained two outfits each.

But we got through it. We received a lot of support and encouragement from a handful of very good, very true friends. We were able to stay in two rooms of a home that belonged to people who started 2019 as acquaintances but ended 2019 as family. We were able to put a down payment on a safe house that was free of mold and other toxins. I was able to remodel said house (some projects still aren’t completed–just ask my wife), and we were able to move in and start replacing some lost possessions (we still don’t have dressers and lamps or bookcases in most rooms, but that’s ok).

Through all of this, I carried my laptop with me and faithfully clicked away at the keyboard, sometimes at 2AM while my family slept. I definitely produced more than a dozen stories during 2019. Some of those are some of my best (in my opinion), but all have a different feel to them than the stories I wrote in 2018 or even the ones I’ve written so far in 2020. They’re raw, gritty, dark, and often pessimistic. They’re not a reflection of who I was in 2019. In fact, I would say that, through everything, I was pretty optimistic and hopeful in 2019. I had to be for my family. However, those stories allowed an outlet for the terror, anger, and frustration that I felt so that my family didn’t have to experience it.

Looking back at that time, I can honestly say that it was not just productive, but therapeutic. I would never want to relive 2019, but I’m glad that I lived it once and that I made it through. In hindsight, it was just as bad as it seemed while living through it, but it produced a phenomenal amount of personal growth.

Perhaps you’re going through a difficult time or a dry spell. Maybe you’ve experienced staggering loss. I would encourage you: don’t give up. Don’t stop writing. Don’t stop living, even if you feel like you’re dying. If you bottle everything up, you probably won’t make it–I know that I wouldn’t have made it. Let it out. Hammer away at the keyboard. It’s cathartic. Not only that, your writing will produce a psychological journal of your life’s journey that, on the other side, will produce a cohesive whole.

In retrospect, 2019 was like living through the testing of purgatory, but the benefit of going through purgatory is that it purifies you for heaven. I’m a stronger person and, I believe, a stronger writer because of 2019. I hope that my readers will feel the same way and be encouraged to keep writing their stories. On the other side, I think that they’ll be glad that they did.

Standard
About Writers, blogging, inspiration, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

The Power of Perspective

– by Christy Moceri

I once spent 19 hours arguing with a guy on the internet about a subject that touched me personally. I admit that’s a little extreme – but who among us can’t relate, at least occasionally, to the feeling that we’re talking to a brick wall? People seem more resistant than ever to understanding where we’re coming from. They are committed to their one narrow version of reality, and our arguments, however impassioned, are unlikely to make an impact.

Perhaps there is another way.

In 1906, an American journalist and novelist wrote a book about an immigrant man named Jurgis Rudkus struggling to make ends meet in the meat-packing district of Chicago. The author, Upton Sinclair, formulated his argument carefully, layer by layer, not in the form of academic discourse but through construction of a character who would be the living embodiment of the immigrant plight of that era. Rather than appealing to their logic, he transplanted them into the worn-out shoes of the immigrants themselves. Readers rose early in the morning, worked themselves to the bone in unsafe, unsanitary conditions, and came home with little to show for it but an aching body and empty pockets. Just by nature of inhabiting Jurgis Rudkus and his unfortunate family members, readers were challenged to consider how they might endure similar injustices – and if anyone ought to endure them at all.

The Jungle turned out to be one of the most influential novels in American history. While Sinclair intended it as an attack on capitalist abuse, the result was sweeping change in the working conditions and sanitary practices of the meat-packing industry. Sinclair did not consider this a perfect win. As he famously said, “I aimed at the public’s heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach.”

Still, I can’t help but view Sinclair’s work – and others like it – Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, for example – as prime examples of the power that we have as writers. With well-wrought stories, readers can’t help but drop their guards. We lead them to inhabit other bodies and realities, and to see the world in a whole new way. This is one reason it’s so important to embrace diversity in the publishing world. Journalists and school-teachers will do in a pinch, but stories are best told by the people who lived them. Who knows how The Jungle might have transformed society if the story were told by someone who had lived the immigrant experience? Every one of us has a unique perspective and the power to bring that perspective to the page in a way that nobody else can. How will we wield that power?

I’ve always written about the issues closest to my heart, not really with any sort of agenda but as a natural expression of my own worldview. I’m a social worker, and I spend much of my time engaged with issues of poverty, sexism, racism, exploitation, and so-on. This stuff naturally crops up as a major theme in my work. I can try to explain what it’s like for someone to be marginalized, to be financially destitute or sexually assaulted, or I can just let readers experience it through my characters’ lives. Which is going to have the greater impact? I think the moral of the story is that the next time I feel that hot-button internet drive to set someone straight, I’m best served by popping open Scrivener and getting back to work.

Christy Moceri writes romantic thrillers in alternate worlds. Her WIP is a futuristic fantasy novel about a revolutionary spy and the violent degenerate who loves her.

Standard
Uncategorized

Children, aging and the joy of videogames

Note: I saw this post on a videogame forum last week.

– by Andreslamantis

Let me tell you a little story:

I found a couple of kids (no more than 12 years old) near my camp the other day. Even when the Hobo is my favourite character, my main is an old retired Brotherhood commando, kinda like paladin Brandis in Fallout 4. White hair, glasses, scars. Rarely one of my characters reaches a high level (this one is 77) because I start new characters all the time. I get the fun from that, and roleplaying it. This one is, certainly, a survivor.

It was late at night (in game, not the real world) and I was resting (sleeping, because my character is old and needs to sleep) and they were outside, checking the wares on my vending machines. Suddenly, one of them entered the house and asked on the mic if I could give them something for 40-50 caps. Even their characters looked super young. They were carrying a machete and a short hunting rifle, one of therm was wearing the vault suit and a ranger hat, the other was wearing pastor’s vestments. And it hit me:

It looked like Halloween.

I got up and dropped a bag of missiles, half-empty cores and mini nukes to make space, some protective undies nobody was buying plus ten US supply requisitions, and they gave me loving emotes for 5 minutes. I went back to sleep.

“Thanks, mister, we’ll remember this. Call us if you need us.”

I imagine them talking about it at school the next day.

I am 36 and I remember being 10 and rocking my Genesis. In fact, I remember being 5 and rocking my Commodore 64. I remember being 3/4 and my dad holding me up so I could play “Crossbow” at the arcades (my earliest videogame memory). I cannot help thinking that one day I will be old (I hope) and remember being 36, and playing this game, bugs and all.

<><><>  <><><>

It strikes me that there must be many true stories  in cyberspace. (Not talking fan fiction here.) A Google search turned up only scary stories about bad things happening to people on the Internet. But over two billion people play videogames.
https://newzoo.com/insights/articles/newzoo-2017-report-insights-into-the-108-9-billion-global-games-market/

Who’s writing their stories? Two billion real people are interacting with strangers in make-believe worlds! Are we missing a market, a huge, incredible, untapped market?  In what genre would you even put this -or, would it make more sense to create a new genre to appeal to videogamers? What do you think?

Standard
About Writers, Stories, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op, writing technique

Playing the Field with Syd

Sydney Alvin Field (1935-2013), acclaimed as “the guru of all screenwriters,” was a leading American screenwriter and author who wrote several influential books on screenwriting.

by Linda Myro Judd

Have you ever been the recipient of helpful comments and critiques that come dribbling in one at a time? And do you have a muse who lives with you? I have to admit that I sometimes write things backwards, chronologically, and sometimes inside out. I’ve become better over the years at catching these pieces of writing before they get too far out of hand. But when I’m all excited about what I’m writing these habits creep in. My writing partner, who still wants to be careful of my toes during these exciting times, will dribble his edits to me. We’ve edited each other’s writing over three anthologies. His writing is powerful and less wordy than mine. He doesn’t like to beat around the bush. But I have a knack for tackling word flow. I love the pattern and rhythm of words. So we’ve learned from each other.

 Lately, I’ve been using writing contests as a source for writing deadlines. Since I work best under deadline, I figured that if I could actually finish my short story before a deadline arrived then I would submit my work. With that personal stipulation in mind, I sailed past three deadlines before I got to the one that brought my work up to speed.

During the past year, I wanted editorial feedback to coalesce and so I asked several more writing friends to help. And I still got a little here and a little there. It was time for some professional help.

Over the past couple of years I’d been reading Syd Field’s book, Screenplay, The Foundations of Screenwriting, for my bed time reading when I could read for an hour. If I’m too tired when I start to read, I’ll fall asleep too fast and don’t remember what I’ve read. So I played the field with Syd, I loved his writing style, and friendly banter. He conveyed his experience and wisdom in a folksy, yet concise way.

Even though Syd focused his book on the screenplay, his ideas are great for book writers too. I’m a short story writer, so I was curious if he could help me. Short stories are an American invention, a slice of time, usually one scene, with few characters and mostly about one incident, one plot point. So I read Syd’s book with this filter in mind.

Chapter 5, Story and Character, helped me the most with my short story. “There are really only two ways to approach writing a screenplay. One is to get an idea, then create your characters to fit that idea. Another way to approach a screenplay is by creating a character, then letting a need, an action, and, ultimately, a story emerge out of that character.”

In this chapter, Syd walked through how he and his students created a character and then proceeded to create a story based on that character. This was one of his favorite classes to teach. Can you imagine the energy created by having such participation in class? This second approach appealed to me, where character development dovetailed into story development.

 As I read more of Screenplay, I found it didn’t matter what I was writing. Syd’s style of imparting his experience is so inclusive, and entertaining, about storytelling that any writer can use his wisdom. He gives examples left and right. He emphasized knowing the ending of your story before you start writing. He talked about Chinatown, and the three screenplay rewrites that took place. Each had a different ending that affected the start of the film.

I finally read enough to know that I needed to be specific about what I wanted for feedback from my live-in muse. I also had a pending deadline, only two weeks left! So I got on his case for dribbling his feedback and that I wanted it all at once. He warned me that I wouldn’t like it. But I said go for it. Well he was right. I frowned, but I pulled up my big girl panties, and got to work. I had a lot to do.

Over the last six months I had expanded my original short story. The new stuff had my famous out of order writing handicap. With Syd’s help, I looked at how to formulate the order of the action. I moved major pieces around, and found that little blips were cleaned up from the reordering. My knack of sentence flow expanded to a bigger scale. I was excited.

I’ll keep reading Screenplay for more insights. Syd’s a good teacher. Everyone who offered feedback helped me see the pieces of my story that needed help. Syd gave me the grand picture of how to rewrite my story.

My hope to write a book has been rekindled. I see a glimmer of rewriting a couple of my longer stories into novels. It’s just a matter of time to gain speed on story development. My muse doesn’t like to read about writing, doing is his style. I tend to eat up books on writing, but I’ve been choosy about who I’ll use as a reference. There is one other writer who has great tools for digging out important events for writing memoirs. Keep doing research and putting pen to paper, or, fingers to keyboard!

Standard
About Writers, Amazon, book promotion, humor

The Birth of Bill McSciFi (It Involves Porn)

SuccubusFinal(LargeWings)Once upon a time, in a land far far away, it was a dark and stormy night. This is not that story. Nope, this is the story of how I wrote a book, one that I got some people to read, and then used their helpful insights to polish. The experience was fun and enriching. I learned a lot. Mostly I learned how not to blow a hole in the solar system and how there are geneticists today thinking about chimeras.

That last part should scare the hell out of you.

If you want to know more about that just click here to read Eric Klein’s interview of me. Lots of science and some profanity.

Anyway, like I said, I wrote a book. Specifically THE BRITTLE RIDERS. It’s a fun look at human hubris, genetics gone wild, and the death of all things.

And, much to my surprise, I found a publisher, Azoth Khem, who liked it, offered me a contract, and set it on the path for human enjoyment.

Now the fun began.

I had commissioned a cover from Jiba Molei Anderson. It’s the image above and to the left of this article. As you can see it’s a dystopian succubus. As you may not have noticed, it signals that my book is porn.

You didn’t notice that? Well, neither did I, the publisher, or anyone involved, until Amazon flagged it and moved it to the erotic ghetto.

I have nothing against erotica. But if that’s what you’re looking for you were doomed to be disappointed by my book.  And if you were looking for sci fi you weren’t poring through the copious amounts of mommy porn and dino-erotica (yes, that’s a thing) to find it.

Suffice it to say sales sagged.

Then, after almost a year of screaming at clouds, it got moved out of there and into … you know what’s coming, don’t you? …. African Women’s studies.

While I tend to wear black, and do like funk, I am not now, nor have I ever been, an African woman. I’m so pale I’m nearly translucent. Once again, this was a bad fit. And, once again, I wasn’t in the right search categories.

Obviously I didn’t belong there either. Nice people, amazing authors, but not really what I do or am. And I doubt they would want to be associated with my dubious ilk.

After another round of screaming at clouds I finally got moved into the sci-fi dystopian categories.

YAY!

And then my book disappeared. On my Amazon page I was now credited with books on golf, a sport I loathe, tennis, one I know nothing about, and a country song. Oh, and a treatise on the Bible. That last one has since disappeared forever, but for one brief shining moment I looked like an author with wildly different interests and no way to tie them together.

A quick run through their search engine showed there are multiple people named Bill McCormick and Amazon had somehow, despite different account info for each, mixed them up.

This time I wasn’t going to yell at a cloud. I wanted a fucking human I could unleash my wrath on. So I called Amazon, found a human, he turned out to be nice, and we were off to the races.

He quickly understood the problem. So he started ticking off the titles into categories so he could straighten them out online. Bill McSports, Bill McCountry, and so on until he hit Bill McSciFi. The light bulb that went off in my head, when he said it, could have been a beacon in a dust storm.

I had the domain name within a week.

Now, with the books on the correct author pages, and me in the right categories, we were off to the races again …… right?

Wrong.

You see, Azoth Khem doesn’t just publish on Amazon. They deliver to stores, multiple online sites, and so on.  And some of those nice people, finally able to see what I hath wrought, thought the cover was too racy.

So I said FUCK, loudly and often, and got Brhi Peres to do a new cover for me. She’s wonderful to work with and tends to create images without people. Scandalous or otherwise.  Using silhouettes created by Brian “Bigger Lion” Daniels, she designed a pleasant dystopian hellscape that made everyone happy.

YAY!

Yeah, this time it is.

Nearly two years to the day from when it was originally published it is now headed to brick and mortar stores in the U.K., some in the U.S., and being added, internationally, in as many places as they can find to take it.

So there’s hope yet.

Now, if you buy me a drink sometime I’ll tell you the story about how a Russian site snagged a Kindle copy and sold 35,000 copies of it over there before we could stop them.

Yeah, that was entertaining. And, no, we never saw a penny.

Being an author is fun.

Standard
About Writers, inspiration, writing technique

Be Ready When She Comes

The other day, this article, a speech on racism and science fiction (dating back to 1998, no less), surfaced in my Facebook feed. I’d never seen it before but, being a Samuel Delany fan from way back, I dug right in.

Before I had even cleared the first third of it, I found myself hurriedly putting it aside to work on the second draft of my own current WIP. The damned thing had been fighting me hard—not because the plot or characters were in any way unclear in my mind, but there was simply no consistent voice yet. WIP’s come in all forms, and they all fight us to some extent, but this one had been particularly tough—petulant, thorny, recalcitrant—it had resisted all my efforts to get a groove going. The novel, typically, didn’t care about what I was trying to do. I hadn’t gotten her attention yet.

Somewhere between George Schuyler’s horrific and ironic description of a lynching and Delany’s own telling of his first pointedly racist rejection letter, I hit pay dirt. All at once, I had a new beginning for the first chapter, and with it, a new sense of where I was going and why I was going there. My bristly companion was suddenly purring and eager, both soothed and enlivened by the fact that I was finally doing something it liked.

What had changed? There is nothing in my book that relates directly to what Delany was talking about. It is not about racism. It certainly isn’t science fiction. It doesn’t take place during the time period he is mostly talking about. (The article, by the way, is well worth the read.) Yet somehow, despite the lack of relevance, something sparked. Some bit of current leaped a nineteen year gap and jumpstarted my always dubious creative process.

That’s an off-the-cuff metaphor, but it’s an apt one.

My admiration for Delany is nearly boundless. Indeed, I think he is one of the finest writers of the second half of the 20th Century. His voice was both clear and curious, earnest and playful. He wrote beautiful sentences. He took science fiction seriously while still regarding all labels warily.

The muse (and I use the term reluctantly) cannot be coaxed or coddled. She appears when she will, without warning or reason, in whatever motley garb the moment might supply—a blaze of light, a scrabbling at the window, the tickle of hairs rising on the back of your neck. Being divine in nature, she rarely speaks anything like sense. In fact, she often says nothing at all. But her mere presence, even fleeting and uncertain, can awaken that starburst of astonishment. You do know what you’re doing. Actually, you’re doing it already.

It has been said that the only way to court the muse is by doing the work at hand. Let her find you writing. I’m not sanguine about that. It seems to me, we often labor along without her help for long dark days or seasons. Writing when you are not inspired is the norm, not the exception, at least for me. But at the very least, if you are writing, then maybe you will be ready when she appears, if she appears. Try being in the right place at the right time. It couldn’t hurt.

Meanwhile, inspiration goes as abruptly as she comes. So when she shows, burn whatever oil you have to keep the lights on. Give her anything she wants. And write.

Standard