Friday, January 27, 2012

What's Next?

       So, while the novel's off with my mentor getting torn to shreds, I've decided to start something new. Though I've got a couple of short stories in the pipe, I don't think they're quite ready to be sent anywhere just yet, so I'm going to let them mellow for a bit, then come back to them for one last thorough revision before I start shopping them around. In the meantime, I'm well on my way into a new novella, which I hope to have completed in first draft form in about a month or so. Still trying to keep my momentum from this past residency going, and so far so good. Ask me in a week and I may be singing a different tune. Once the novella's completed, revised, and edited I'll probably stick it up on Kindle. I would consider shopping it around, but I'm afraid there just aren't many mags interested in 25,000+ word stories. Maybe I'm wrong. It has been awhile since I did my market research. Anyway, lots of deadlines sneaking up. Just got to muscle through it. That's all for now.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Suddenly Stonecoast

       Well, I'm back from my last winter residency at the Stonecoast MFA program in Maine, and what a time it was. It's bittersweet looking back. I've seen good friends and great writers graduate, met lots of new, cool people, including some that live nearby, overdosed on caffeine in all its various forms, and enjoyed the musical talents of one of the recent grads as he belted out a rather unique rendition of Suddenly Seymour from Little Shop of Horrors. Say what you will about Maine in the dead of winter, but Freeport can be a lot of fun.
     For anyone who's wondering, "What the hell is Stonecoast?" allow me to fill you in. It's the coolest MFA program in the U.S., one of Poets & Writers top 10 low residency programs for Creative Writing, and one of only two in the country with a concentration in Popular Fiction. They've got a hell of a faculty and if you need some one to kick you in the ass to get that novel finished, there's nowhere else quite like it. I'm entering my last semester and I'll be graduating in July.
     Nothing compares to watching people you've only seen in person for a handful of days but feel like you've known your entire life walk across that stage. It's a happy yet sobering experience. But, as they say, all good things... To all the recent grads, congratulations! I miss you already. You keep writing. I'll keep reading.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Gabble and Other Stories


        One of my favorite living SF writers is Neal Asher. He's written dozens of novels and scores of short stories, which can be found in magazines ranging from Interzone to Asimov's, as well as numerous small press collections. I first encountered Asher's fiction as a freshman in college, when I picked up a copy of Gridlinked from the local Barnes and Noble. I was hooked. From there I read every novel of his I could find (though, me being in the US and he a UK author, many had to be ordered from sites like Amazon or The Book Depository). Then I discovered his short fiction.
      Growing up, I've always had an affinity for novels and never paid much attention to short stories until I was in my first Creative Writing workshop, where I realized it was far easier to critique a complete story than a chapter. I shifted my focus to shorter works and began to read loads of fiction along those lines. Along with Alastair Reynolds, Neal Asher was one of the first SF writers to really get me interested in the short story. Many of his stories are set in the Polity, a far future civilization ruled by AIs and populated by a myriad of life forms both human and not. They're action packed, with complex plots and strange characters, exploring alien ecologies and age old themes while simultaneously maintaining the pace and energy of the latest summer blockbuster. In summation, they were exactly the type of fiction I was trying to write.
       Of all Asher's many novels and collections, one of my favorites is The Gabble and Other Stories, which brings together what are, in my opinion, his best short stories. Personal favorites include "Adaptogenic," "Snow in the Desert," and "Acephalous Dreams." One of the things I find so intriguing about Asher's fiction is how he gradually builds upon his Polity universe through short stories, creating a world that feels both organic and real. I'm a huge fan of easter eggs authors leave for observant readers, and Asher's works are full of them. Read an Asher novel, and if you've read any of his short fiction, you're liable to see a familiar character or two make a cameo, or in some cases, even steal the show.
      If you like heady, action oriented science fiction mixed with equal parts horror, thriller, and adventure, you can't go wrong with Neal Asher. If you've never read anything by him before, The Gabble and Other Stories is an excellent starting point. Just be sure to check the seals on your envirosuit, charge your pulse-gun, and watch out for gabbleducks!

Check out Neal Asher's website: Neal Asher Space and his blog, The Skinner

Monday, January 2, 2012

Reflections and Resolutions

        Happy New Year! It's hard to believe 2011 is already over. I remember last New Year's my resolution was to finish what I started. Well, I can say with confidence that I have succeeded. Since January 2011 I've written four new standalone short stories, an anthology of five stories (now on Kindle), and, as of yesterday,  finished a novel I've been working on since I started my journey at Stonecoast in the summer of 2010. It's been a long, sometimes difficult, oftentimes wonderful experience with plenty of roadblocks along the way.
      For the longest time I've been my own greatest obstacle when it comes to completing a story. I have what I'd term literary ADD. Whether I'm reading or writing, it's often hard for me sustain momentum and focus to see it through to completion. I've been working on that. And I've gotten better. When I started the novel all the way back in 2010 my mentor was David Durham, author of Acacia. I realize now how little I actually knew about writing. David had kind and encouraging comments, but as I look back I see a jumbled, confusing mess of a novel that didn't know what it wanted to be. Somewhere around the winter of 2011, with the help of SF great Jim Kelly, a real story finally started to take shape, with interesting characters, ideas, and themes. I scrapped a significant percentage of what I'd written the previous semester, did some serious thinking about what exactly I wanted to write, and tried desperately to wrap my brain around the one thing I'd never quite been able to grasp before: the ever trusty outline.
      Flash forward one year exactly and I've got 80,000 words of a first draft I'm reasonably proud of. Don't get me wrong, it's nowhere near ready for publication. It needs lots of revision, editing, and polishing. The characters need more development. The description could be better. The prose could be tighter. It needs an additional 15,000 words before it's where I want it length-wise. But at least it's a complete story, and that in itself is a milestone for me. My first real novel. It feels strange writing those words. When I was a kid, the first book I ever read was The War of the Worlds. From the first time I saw that cover, with its pulpy Martian war machines blasting helpless Brits with their heat rays, I knew I wanted to be a writer. The power to build (or destroy) entire worlds, weave complex and engaging narratives, and breathe life into characters was irresistible, the holy grail of a childhood rife with imagination. I can safely say I'm on my way to achieving that dream.
      Have I earned the right to call myself a writer? That's a hard question to answer. I've published nothing of note. After all these years I've sold just one short story, in my senior year of college, to a magazine that folded after one issue. I made 10 dollars, enough to buy a combo at Wendy's and have some spare change for a cup of coffee. But who's in it for the money, anyway? I'm doing this for one person. Me. Which brings me to my resolution for 2012. Find an agent. Sell the novel. I feel like everything up to this point has just been preparation. Now the real work begins. I've got a long road ahead of me, but it seems the clouds are finally parting and the sun is shining brighter than ever. So, have I earned the right to call myself a writer?
      I believe the answer is, emphatically, yes.