“The Story of G” First Draft: Complete

Yesterday evening I finished a rough draft of my new short story, “The Story of G”.  As I’ve mentioned here before, “The Story of G” is my follow-up to last year’s Writers of the Future Honorable Mention “PFTETD”.  (I mean follow-up as in it’s my next short story and next potential entry into the WotF contest.)

“The Story of G” is not the actual title.  I’m not indicating what the real title is, yet, because I still haven’t decided on it.  That’s one of the bits of feedback I’ll be looking for from first readers (I have a few options I am mulling).

Dear Wife has already read it.  She says she likes it better than “PFTETD”.  That’s encouraging news.  There are some caveats, of course, but I won’t publicly share the specifics of her feedback – in part because the specifics of feedback are a private matter, and in part because I don’t want to taint future beta readers.

So… if you’re got a little free time and don’t mind lending a helping hand, I’m looking for beta readers to provide a little feedback.  It’s a fairly short story – a little under 8,000 words, which is quite a bit longer than my target of 6,000 words, but it’s still not terribly long.  Let me know if you’d be willing to help.  I’ll try to make myself available for beta reads and feedback in return.

Thanks everyone!

Sundry Stories & Links

Because of the way things are for the next few weeks… today’s post is a bit on the content-free side.  Rather than me talking about interesting and cool things and you being compelled to reply to my thoughts in the comments, I’ll offer a short dose of links:

First, have you, dear reader, read and commented on some of my recent “flash” stories I’ve posted here.  If not… know that I crave comments – even negative criticism is helpful and useful to me as a writer (especially if I plan to take any of these and polish them into perfect little gems).  Therefore, go and read, if you have not already, these recent stories:

After the Quest is Done: The quest of Cadoc the Paladin is at an end, and the hero at last can rest… But what if he has no home to return to?

From that Eternal Summer Isle: Mark didn’t believe in god, or the afterlife… He also didn’t believe he could die, until he did…

The Steed and the Page Boy: In the aftermath of a terrible battle, two survivors find hope in each other – while the title leaves something to be desired, I happen to think this is one of the better stories I’ve posted here.

Okay… so now that you’ve sampled a few stories I have to offer here, I invite you to go and read the stories of others:

Dragon Shells: Aidan Fritz nominated me for the “One Lovely Blogger” award, and penned this dragon-inspired tale as a result: a knight and a priest prepare to infiltrate the dragon’s layer, seeking a treasure more precious than gold to save their ailing queen.

Glass Half-empty: T.S. Bazelli’s 3-part Steampunk Noir crossover flash miniseries magnum opus: Detective Claude Russo is engaged by an unexpected client to investigate the dalliances of the preternaturally handsome Duke Elroy, who will soon be holding a masked ball on his airship!

Red: Another Bazelli favorite.  Here’s the part of Red Riding Hood’s story that they didn’t tell you in grade-school… Rosalyn knows her father won’t accept her love for Tom… but there has to be a way for them to be together.

A Gift for Mother: The last of the Bazelli links for today, a sci-fi with a very human heart: Simon has always been cared for by Mother, the central computer on a ship hurtling through space…

The End of an Endless Ladder: J.P. Cabit tells a tale of yearning for something more: There’s a ladder that stretches from the Moon to the Earth… it hasn’t been used in ages.  But what really lies at its other end?

Happy Birthday, Facebook Friend: Eric J. Krause tells a creepy tale for a digital age: Crystal only recently started using Facebook, and now she’s started receiving strangely personal posts from someone she doesn’t remember friending.

Bite: Harry Markov takes on a classic fairy-tale: Snow White awakens at the “kiss” of her prince to a world that’s very unlike the one she lived in before the apple.

The Defeated: Melissa Webb weaves patriotism and zombies in this surreal tale: “America never dies…”

May I Come In: Another by Melissa Webb, about the stories grandfathers tell: Tom doesn’t believe the story grandpa spins about knocking before entering…

And that’s all for today.  There are many more great little flash snippets out there on the old internets, but I’ve not  had time to read them all nor to dig them up and link them here.  In the meantime: enjoy.

A Sample of “Southern Gothic Horror”

So, I don’t generally do “horror” – it’s my least favorite of the various “Speculative Fiction” genre categories.  I don’t have anything strong against it, but “fear” is not one of the primary emotions missing from my life.  (I’m afraid of lots of things in real life, so I don’t get as much of a thrill from being scared in fantasy life.)  Still, I thought I’d share this one example of my hand at horror.  Here’s the story of what happened.

I wrote this about 5 years ago in response on a forum on the site RPG.net as a writing exercise.  The exercise called for a short (under 1,200 words) vignette to the theme of “Southern Gothic Horror” that would be an introductory story in a hypothetical role-playing game set in the same genre.  So… I live in the South, I figured, even if I’m an “outsider” here, so why not give it a shot.  The result is a story that clocked in at about 1,150 words.  It’s really more like a vaguely Lovecraftian tale set in a Southern Gothic setting, as opposed to a true “Southern Gothic Horror“, but I still think it’s an almost-decent bit of writing.  Almost.  (And there are bits that hint at and allude to themes consistent with the Southern Gothic genre.)  Still, I think it could be cleaned up (and probably lengthened in the process to make it flow better) to make it more serviceable.  Except that I don’t generally do horror in the first place, and so this is likely to sit on the shelf where it stands.  Anyway, without further ado, I present to you:

Dispatch from the Harpston Herald

By: Stephen Watkins

Jeffrey remembered the first time he met the Right Honorable Reverend Lucas Shepherd, almost two years ago.  The Divine Grace Episcopal Church was the center of Harpston, Mississippi, and the Reverend was the holder of the keys.  The descendent of carpetbaggers who’d settled in the Atlanta area shortly after the First World War, Jeffrey Dobson had just graduated from the University of Georgia with a degree in journalism when he chanced across an obscure posting on a jobs website looking for a new editor for the Harpston Herald.  He hadn’t expected to land an editor’s job fresh out of college so he was surprised when he got a letter offering him the position.

 Harpston was one of those towns in the proverbial “middle of nowhere” except that, in Harpston’s case, it really was.  It was fifteen minutes to the nearest state road—and anything resembling cell coverage—and another hour to any town sizeable enough to make a blip on the map.  With a population of maybe a thousand, the first man that Jeffrey had met was the Reverend Lucas Shepherd.

 “Harpston, Mis’sippi, Mr. Dobson,” the Reverend had said, “In’t like other towns.  Folks ‘round here are private people, quiet people.  Don’t do nothing ta rouse or rile them, an’ you’ll do just fine.”

 If Jeffrey had just listened to him, maybe he wouldn’t be here, sneaking around the old Marwood Plantation.  Maybe he wouldn’t even still be in Harpston.  Careful for chiggers, Jeffrey pulled at a clump of Spanish moss that was threatening to tangle itself in his hair and crept forward, feeling his hand along the crumbling, moss-covered stone wall that marked the boundaries of Marwood Plantation.  He sniffed to himself, the smell of fresh-turned dirt filling his nostrils.

 Jeffrey thought he’d figured out soon enough what the Reverend had meant that first day.  Few people were willing to talk to him, and it was a tough job filling even a single sheet of newsprint with newsworthy stories.  But Jeffrey grew used to it.  That was, until the sweltering heat of summer set in. 

 It was July last year when he’d first heard it.  A sound, like someone—a little girl, perhaps—screaming in the distance pulled him from a light slumber.  He thought, at first, that maybe it was a hawk hunting its prey.  Except that hawks aren’t generally nocturnal.  He’d asked around town about it the next day, but all he’d got for his efforts were quickly averted eyes, sometimes followed by a mumbled “didn’t hear nothin’”.  It was the sort of attention he’d come to expect.  So, he chalked it up to a fever-dream, and he would’ve been content to leave it at that if he hadn’t heard it again three weeks later.  This time he knew he wasn’t dreaming, because it came earlier in the evening, while he was still working on the layout of the next week’s edition.  Not ten minutes later, he saw through the window a procession of old, dented pickups, an El Camino, and a rusty Olds Delta Royale heading in the direction of the Marwood Plantation.  Deciding that discretion was the better part of valor, he didn’t look into it.

 At least not publicly.  Careful not to ask direct questions, quietly he began his own investigation.  He stopped by the small town library and Clerk’s office to go through old records and checked through old file copies of the Herald to see if there was anything about the Marwoods.  He turned up surprisingly few little, except for one tantalizing hint in an article dated from July of 1893.  It told of Robert Lee Marwood, the oldest Marwood son, and Mabel Thomlin, his wife of three days, who were both found dead on the family plot behind Marwood Manor in an apparent double-suicide.  He didn’t know what it meant, but he never mentioned what he found.

 That had been a year ago.  He hadn’t heard the scream again after that.  Until tonight.  Once again it was an unmistakable piercing cry that tore him roughly from his sleep.  The moon was half-full, partially obscured by the branches of heavy-laden oaks towering over his little bungalow so that only a sliver of light streamed in through the tiny window in his room.  He threw off his sweat-soaked sheets and rushed to open the window, hoping to catch some clue as to what was making the sound.  The scream came again, echoing through the fens of live oaks.  It was coming from the east, in the direction of the Marwood Plantation. 

 He raced to the door, and peered out into the gathering gloom.  As expected, a procession of rusted, ill-maintained vehicles materialized in the sweltering mists, pulling off of dirt roads and onto the one-lane paved highway that wound through town.  He waited for the cars to pass before creeping out into the night.  He followed their softly glowing lights as they faded into the summer mist like will-o’-the-wisps.  It was almost an hour later before he happened across the stone wall that marked the boundaries of the Plantation.

 So here he was, slinking through the brush toward the rusted wrought-iron gate where a dirt road drifted its way onto the Marwood Plantation.  He stopped suddenly as he heard voices carrying over the stone wall, whispering loudly, and harshly, to each other.  A breeze played at the iron gate, making it groan.  Jeffrey peeked around the edge of the wall through the gate at two men carrying shovels moving swiftly down a wide avenue lined with live oaks dripping with Spanish moss.  At the end of the avenue lay the decaying remains of Marwood Manor.

 Jeffrey followed them, careful to stay behind the oaks and out of sight.  When they reached the Manor, they cut off to the left to go around behind the old building.  Jeffrey paused at the foot of the old house.  He glanced up at the graying columns, their once-white paint peeling away, supporting the sagging portico.  It was sad to think the descendents of the Marwoods still lived here to this day.  He crept around the side of the house to the old family plot out back.  There was the sound of digging; the argument continued.

 “You know, Clyde, this won’t do.  He needs a fresh body.  This here worm food won’t do no more.” 

 The digging stopped.

 “Well what you want me to do Billy?  Who you gonna get?”

 “I dunno Clyde.  But you heard what he said…”

 Jeffrey didn’t hear the rest of the conversation.  The flat side of a shovel slammed into the back of his head, dropping him to the ground.  The Reverend Lucas Shepherd loomed over his unconscious body.  “Never mind, boys,” He called,  “Problem solved.”  He looked down at the oozing wound in Jeffrey’s head.  “Didn’t I warn you, Mr. Dobson?  Folks round here are quiet folks, private folks.”

The End.

Deadlines Loom

So, we’re now less than a month out from my self-imposed deadline for completing that short story I’ve been working on for the past however many months (you’ll see the deadline listed in my “Short Story Submission Watch” above, and my current revision progress to the right).

Wow.  Would you look at that.  There’s a lot of work left to do!  Certainly, the revised version of the story is looking to be a better story than what I started with.  Especially if you go back to the original draft I wrote a couple years ago, stemming from my initial moment of inspiration.

Considering everything that’s going on (between recent events, and the off-the-books project I’m doing at school more for resumé rights than for a grade) I’m honestly not sure if I can meet that deadline.  I very rarely have enough free time to work on the story.  Sure, I’m just revising, at this point.  But that means going over the story with a fine-tooth comb, finding errors, plot holes, and other inconsistencies and fixing them.

Still, I will do what I can to try to meet that deadline.  It’s my hope that in due course of time, you readers – or those of you who have the wherewithal – will have the opportunity to read this story in a professional presentation (i.e. a pro mag, either in print or online).

Of course, realistically, even as good as I think this story is, I have to couch my enthusiasm with a dose of pessimism.  From a purely statistical perspective, chances are I won’t be able to sell this story.  Of course, it’s not a purely statistical problem, but it is a partially statistical problem, so the sheer volume of existing aspiring authors such as myself poses a certain challenge in the game of catching an editor’s attention.  So, I think it’s turning out to be a good story.  The two readers that I was able to get feedback from liked my story, but neither loved it (though that was not their role: I just wanted them to help me find the weak points so I could fix it).  Still, even if it is a good story, it’s probably not a great story.

Ah well.  Time will tell.  Wish me luck in finishing this (hopefully final) draft, and meeting my deadline.

Happy writing.

Writing Quote: The Long and Short of it

Yes that’s right, folks.  It’s time for another episode of “Writing Quotes”.  I  missed last week’s episode due to various circumstances, but I’m back with a vengeance*.

This week, in answering the call of Bazelli’s Author Aerobics challenge to write a story in 3 acts in under 1,000 words, I responded by writing a story that was…

2,000 words!  That’s right, I wrote a story that was double the length suggested in the challenge [the story is perma-linked in my “Stories and Scribblings” page].  In thinking about that, this quote caught my eye:

I have made this [letter] longer, because I have not had the time to make it shorter.
~Blaise Pascal
Apparently this quote comes from a rather wordy letter written by Monsieur Pascal, and what he’s trying to say here gets to the heart of the matter I was approaching above.  Brevity is hard work.

I don’t say that facetiously.  It’s serious.  Writing doesn’t come easy to a lot of people, but it’s always come easy to me.  But what’s hard for me is writing succinctly.  You can see that in my progress meter to the right on the short story I’ve been working on.  I originally targeted 6,000 words on that story.  It’s not pushing 11,000, and I imagine it could come close to 12 before I’ve finished revising.  And I’m about to say I’m prepared to accept that it’s length will make it unpublishable (few markets will accept a short story that long) even though it’s one of the best stories I’ve ever written, rather than try to cut out stuff that I really feel is integral both to the plot and the character development.

And that’s writing for you.  It’s not as easy as you think, and one of the great ironies is that fewer words often will take more work and more time.

Which begs the question: if fewer words are actually harder work, why do most short story magazines pay for stories by the word?  Does this not motivate short story writers to put less work into perfecting their stories?

The answer, I suppose, is: it doesn’t matter.  There’s such a huge supply of people trying to break into the story markets that only the ones who do put in the work will actually succeed, word-count questions notwithstanding.

So, I’ve gone on overlong on the topic (*snicker*).  Get to work!

…Brevity is the soul of wit,
And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes…

~William Shakespeare, via Polonius, Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2

*Vengeance not valid in all areas.

Writing Projects

So, it’s been a while since I’ve talked about my writing.  The last few weeks have been so busy, between work and school, that I haven’t even looked at the short story I’ve been working on.  That means there’s been no progress on the revision, though this was not unexpected

Still, whatever else is going on, this is a blog primarily about writing, after all.  So, even though I’m not yet near finishing work on this short story, I thought I’d talk a little about what I plan to do next, after I finish this story.

You’ve heard talk and blather on about that novel I’ve been writing, but I don’t plan to switch gears to that any time soon.  I keep my idea journal with me, and every once in a while an idea zaps me about some aspect of how I want that novel to go or some aspect of the background, and I write it down there, but in the short term that’s all I plan to do with it.  In the medium term, I’d like to focus some attention on some of the other novel ideas I’ve had lately.

But in the more-or-less near term, what I’d like to do with my career if focus for a time on short stories.  So, job one is finish this story I’m working on.  Then I have a handful of other short stories I can turn my attention to (including, potentially, the one mentioned yesterday).  Two are currently vying for primacy as the next story I will write.  One is a somewhat political story set in a socratically outlandish future.  It wants to be the next story I write because it fears that the issues it addresses will recede in everyone’s memory and cease to be relevant if it is not written soon, and because its about another issue on which I have some rather strong views that I am silently screaming to share.  The other is another contemporary fantasy story that is based loosely on some events that happened in my life several years which, even without the fantasy elements, would normally make a decent story.  This one wants to be written next because it considers itself a more interesting story, is more personal and “real”, will be more fun to write and is probably more publishable than the other.

For the past month, the two stories have been locked in a life-or-death struggle inside the Thunderdome of my mind, and neither as yet has come up with the upper hand.  I’m currently content to let the struggle continue, because I won’t need to know the winner for quite some time yet.  My current thoughts on the issue are that if the somewhat political story gets written first, the other story will still most definitely be written (mostly likely right in queue behind the somewhat political one).  However, the reverse is not necessarily the case: if the personal contemporary fantasy gets written first, there is some chance that the issue being addressed in the somewhat political story will be so far under everyone’s radar (it’s an issue that already almost is under most people’s radars, as I write this) that the story will seem utterly silly and pointless, to such a degree that I might be embarrassed at that point even to write it.

So that is the state of my writing world.  It’s been a pleasure taking a moment to breathe and step away from the myriad projects pounding down my door.  Please do share your thoughts, dear reader, and, as always,

Happy Writing.

Writing Quote: Worth Writing About

Today’s writing quote comes from a name well-known in poetry circles.  It concerns the writability of our every-day lives:

And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise.  The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.

~Sylvia Plath

In all honestly, I have mixed feelings about Miss Plath’s comments.  For one point, few of us have lives so interesting that, even if significantly dramatized, they can be made into a motion picture.  (And, to that point, few of us, I think, want lives that can be made into the sort of motion picture as was made of Miss Plath’s life.)  So, really, what to make of this quote? 

I was attracted to this quote, today, because of the phenomenal boringness of the last few days, vis-a-vis my work and what you’ve seen here in my blog (a series of references to the Decision Modeling class blog that I’ve submitted there as part of my class participation).  Okay, so I personally think the blog about NASA was pretty interesting, but then I’m a nerd, and that was really more about my reaction to reading about that news than it was anything active or interesting in my life, personally.

So, class projects and long works-days during that special time of month at my day job have consumed me this past week.  Is there something “writable” in that?  How do you turn that around, and make it interesting and engaging for other people?  How do you take something that’s fundamentally… well… boring and make it seem interesting and worth reading about?  (I don’t mean that entirely in a negative way; I enjoy my Decision Modeling class, especially, but it’s not a topic that’s typically going to engage your average reader.)

A few years ago, I was struggling with this, as I was trapped in another even more boring and even more dead-end of a job than what I have now.  It was during a time before I met Dear Wife.  I had a bit of free time on my hands, and a few short stories came out of that time period (one of which was the original draft of the short story I’ve been working on and for which you see a progress bar and a “Submission Watch” on this page).  One of those stories addressed the fundamental boringness of my job, and quickly became a very dark fantasy addressing a topic I wouldn’t ordinarily consider.  (It’s a story that’s potentially on my revise/rewrite list, but it’s not near as good as the one I’m working on, and its fundamental premise is less interesting by far.)  Honestly, I’m not sure it’s a story that will ever be publishable or salable – I mean, it might be with a lot of revision and work, but that’s a long shot, I think.

Well, regardless, it’s something to think about, I suppose.

The Character’s the Thing

I’m still working on the character studies to help me in rewriting this tale.  How I’ve approached this is to take each character and write a short paragraph (about 250 to 300 words each) written from the point of view of the character’s subconscious mind (so that the paragraph is written in a way that it’s voice is aware of motivations that the character himself may not be) that reveals the salient events that came before the start of the story that will influence what the character does during the story.  Were this a novella, or a full-fledged novel, I would likely need a more robust character study – and one that was evolving as the story progressed, so that I could keep track of how the character changes over the course of the story.

Because this story is a contemporary tale, I’ve also been doing a bit of research to try to give the setting a little more verisimilitude.  For instance, if I’m writing that the main character got an education in a certain field, the next question I had to ask myself is “where did he go to school?”  Was it one of the top schools in his field?  What are the top schools in his field?  Little bits like that, I believe, if layered in with a certain tact and craft can make the story come alive all the more for the reader.   At this point, then, I have two options: make up a school, or research real-world institutions that may have a reputation in this field.  The latter will more likely produce results that ring true to the reader.  The former, to my way of thinking, will be more valuable at points where the story intentionally diverges from our contemporary reality.

Beyond that, I’ve already figured out a new opening line that more clearly lays out the tone of the story and sets the hook.  I’m also playing the opening scene in my mind, with new characters and a better explanation of the opening impetus that’s driving the plot.  But I haven’t written any of this down, yet, because I want to make sure the scene I have in mind is in line with the characters I intend to populate it with.

So, the work progresses, albeit slowly.  I expect the holidays may put a minor damper in progress, simply because I’ll be spending more of my free time enjoying the company of my wife and family and less of it on writing.

For you and yours: happy writing, and happy holidays.