Works in Progress–Getting There

A quick update on where I’m at.


TMWSE—When last we heard about this work (a horror short story), it was 3,500 words and I was on Chapter 3 of 5. Now, I’m about half way through Chapter 4 (the climax), and it’s about 5,200 words. So…I have to knock off the rest of Chapter 4 and then do the wrap-up chapter 5. The good thing is that I already have both chapters mapped out in my mind and I just have to bang it out this writerthinkingweekend.

Hopefully, this will be the weekend it gets done. Keep your fingers crossed.

Breakpoint—After 3 previous rejections, this is off to the next magazine. It’s been there for about 10 days, so it’s just getting started in the slush piles. My last two stories got 7 and 8 rejections, respectively. So, this Baby has a ways to go.

AFTA—This manuscript is with some publishing  houses that accept simultaneous submissions. No news yet back from them. I’ll keep you posted.

See you next time,

Darius

The Craft–Grip

[This is part of a continuing series on the art of writing fiction.]

“If it was boring to write it, how can you expect it to be exciting to read?”

– C. C., esq.

That’s my friend and sometimes editor, C.C., talking. He was razzing me ever so slightly about an article I wrote. But he was doing it to make a point. Granted the article was on a snow.0111technical subject, but the problem was, I just kept it there. I didn’t bring in the people and the story behind the technology that would have made it interesting, that would have made it gripping. And you know what? C.C. was right, it was boring to write and probably boring for readers too.

That incident happened with my writing-for-a-living job a few months ago, but it’s just as applicable to my fiction writing. Even more so. And here’s a recent example I’d like to share.

I was writing my latest story, a story called TMWSE. It’s a horror short story. The first chapter was great, gripping. Full of grip, one might say. So, I started writing the second chapter. It started well, but about half way through, I noticed the characters had spent a good deal of the chapter talking about mechanical issues and getting bogged down in a rather fruitless philosophical discussion. Now, there’s nothing wrong with philosophy, but if you’re going to put it in your SHORT story, it better serve the plot, hit its basic points and move on. Mine didn’t do that. Here’s a sample of the dialogue:

“…At that time, man was obsessed with demons. They were thought responsible for all sorts of maladies. In this more…rational age we tend to blame demons less and mechanistic causes more.”

“Where are you going with this?”

“What if I told you that all this is an illusion?” Caldicott raised his hands to indicate the room, the skies and all the firmament beyond and above them. “All. That neither the world’s religions, nor modern science truly understands the Ground, the world as it really is. What would you say to that?”

“But you do?” Don leaned forward.

“No, no I wouldn’t claim to that. I know how little I—or any man—will ever know. And how blissfully ignorant the mass of men are. But I—thanks to an accident of heredity and lineage—know more than most.”

There’s nothing wrong with what’s above, it’s just sort of long-winded and doesn’t point to anything, doesn’t drive the characters and plot anywhere. At least, that’s what I felt when I reread it later that day.

So what did I do? I hemmed and hawed and thought about what to do. I realized I had not plotted out the short story before I sat down to write it. The more I write short stories, the more I’m convinced this is a horrible mistake. Why? It’s essentially because of the economy of this medium. It’s best to plot out each chapter, even if it’s only one sentence on an index card per chapter. (I find that’s all I need). This way, you know where you’re headed and where the action should go, generally speaking. (Novel writing is completely different and I’ll get to that later).

As a result, I stopped writing, pressed the pause button. I essentially stole a device from playwriting, coming up with a five-chapter plot in long hand on a piece of paper with:

  • 1 chapter for the set up. To introduce characters in conflict with one another (the plot) in a setting.
  • 3 chapters of rising action, with the final climax in chapter 4.
  • 1  chapter of denoument or wrapping up.

That was enough, just one line per chapter. I rebooted my word processor, deleted all of the old chapter 2, but retained chapter 1 because the setup was solid. Then, I started chapter 2 over from scratch, only retaining a chunk or two of old chapter 2 that still worked. The new chapter 2 had much more “grip” and it ended on a mini-cliffhanger, unlike the earlier Chapter 2. That little mini-cliffhanger not only can keep the reader interested, but it acts as a perfect break in the writing process itself. Using that as a guide, the writer can return to a piece a day, a week, even a month later and know exactly where the action left off and know where they need to go next.

So, in the end, ‘grip’ is not only about drawing the reader in and keeping them interested. It’s also about keeping the writer interested and, more importantly, driving the story where you want it go. And in a short story, that’s what you want to do. Grab the reader, pull them in and drive them and the story to a fulfilling conclusion. It’s very much like a sled ride or a roller coaster. You have to lock them in at the top, draw them up into the story and only let them go at the very end. (This is weak metaphor, but you get the idea).

In the following weeks, I plan to finish the story. Right now, I think it’s well in hand. I simply have to write Chapter 4 and 5: the final conflict chapter and the resolution chapter. But now, I’m excited to just write and see the end result. And I know if it’s exciting to write, there’s a good chance that it will be exciting to read too.

Wish me luck.

Until next time. Keep reading, keep writing,

Darius

Works in Progress–New Horror Story Takes Shape

All,

An update on my writing projects…


TMWSE—First, “Ta-da!” This now has a working title and it’s acronym is TMWSE. (I will reference it this way going forward).Slush

It’s a new, straight-up horror short story and it’s shaping up nicely. I’ve written three of five acts in it so far. I think it’s at about 3,500 words right now.  So, if I add another two short chapters, I should get  to about  6,000 words or so—just the right word count for a short.

Writing this was another lesson in plotting out your SHORT pieces before you sit down to write. I was midway through Chapter 2  and I just didn’t know where I wanted this to go. So, I backed up. Stopped completely. I thought about it, wrote down an actual plot (stealing the 5-Act arch from playwriting) and started Chapter 2 from scratch. I liked the new chapter so much, I junked the old Chapter 2 and moved on. Now, I’ve done Chapter 3 and I’m ready for 4 and 5 this weekend. We’ll see how it goes… 

I will return in a later post to why I don’t plot out novels before I write them.

Breakpoint—This story keeps up chalking up rejections. It just got its third. This time the rejection letter had some comments, which I’m taking as a good sign. The editor said that the exposition distracted from the story. I think this is a nice way of saying: “You need to show more, tell  less.” It’s a point well-taken and just when I think I’ve finally started to make some progress on the whole “Show, don’t tell” dictum, this shows I still have a long, long way to go.

Anyhow, I’ll be firing it off to a new magazine soon.  I think the story is solid as it stands, but I will definitely try to cut out the exposition as I write in the future.  

AFTA—I’ve decided to send this manuscript on to some more publishing houses that accept simultaneous submissions. No bites yet, but I’m hopeful. The last rejection letter said they found a lot to like in the piece, but that it just wasn’t for them. I’ll let you guys know if this one breaks my way.

See you next time,

Darius 

A Bummer Week

I was going to write another post about the Craft of writing fiction, but this is not the week for it. I’ve had some bad news.

My uncle passed away yesterday. I remember growing up across the street from him and he’s the guy who taught me how to play baseball. He also taught me a thing or two about how to bowl. I have a lots of other good memories of him growing up and in times since then. He lived a full life—just recently celebrating his 80th birthday—but it still seems sad and sudden.

In other bummer news, my good friend, B—, was rock climbing in Colorado this past week and fell 50 feet. He’s lucky to be alive. Thanks to a bush that caught him, the quick reaction of a climbing buddy and Rocky Mountain Rescue Group, he survived. He should be able to walk again and there appears to be no brain injury. Still, he has a long way to go to a full recovery. But I know he’ll get there. He’s a very focused and tough-minded person.

Please consider donating to Rocky Mountain Rescue Group here. According to the people at the scene, they did some great rescue work.


25 Rejections
Not to bring more good news into this post or diminish what’s above…But in a sure sign of my growing literary mental resilience (or is it stubbornness?) I have reached a unique milestone: I’ve received 25 rejections letters on works I submitted. This is for all my works combined, not for any single work. It also includes works I’ve started to submit recently.

So what does this mean for you, the aspiring writer, or, perhaps, regular human being? Well, here it is: Get ready to get your pieces rejected…a lot. Many others have written  about how many times great works have been rejected. If you have a yen to take up the pen, you’ll face the same struggles. Don’t look at it as a rejection, but look it as a sign that you’re putting yourself out there and giving it your best shot. The worst thing you can do is let those letters get into your head and prevent you from writing your best—and getting back on the horse and writing and submitting again. 


I will be going to my uncle’s funeral and you may not see me here for a couple of weeks. Got to focus on life right now, but I’ll be back in the coming weeks.

See you guys a little further down the road,

DJ

Works in Progress–2 Strikes

Here’s a little update on where my writing projects are at. We start off with two recent rejections and new piece I’m working on.


Breakpoint—My science fiction short story, “Breakpoint” got its second rejection. So, what did I do? I went out with my friend David and had some good MalRed_Sox_Yankees_Game_Boston_July_2012bec (Zuccardi, for the wine people out there) and some Brazilian churrascaria. The copious amounts of red meat and wine seemed to do the trick. As did being able to share the disappointment with David. He is a biologist so he has submitted to plenty of scientific journals and got some stuff accepted and some stuff rejected. His advice? Just move on to the next magazine. Know what? He’s right.

I’ll be selecting a new magazine and resubmitting this one soon.

AFTA – Got my 2nd rejection for this comedy-horror novella. That one hurt more than the Breakpoint rejection. I figured that Breakpoint would get rejected, but I was a bit more surprised by the AFTA rejection.

The good news, though, is that I got on the Dark Markets website earlier today and I already found a new, great market that’s looking for horror novellas. I plan to resubmit it this weekend.

X — Here’s the really good news. Last weekend I banged out about 1,800 words on a new horror story:

It was great to start writing a first draft again. I’ve been editing, editing, editing for so long it was great to just start writing from a blank page. Of course, after not writing for a month, I was a bit rusty. But toward the end of the writing session, it all “started clicking” and it felt good. The most important thing that it reinforced: whenever you sit down to write a SHORT story, always plot it out first. A novel is a different beast, you can let it roam. But a short story, man, you have to know where it’s going before you start. And the good news is—at least with this piece—now I know exactly where I want this to go.

See you next time,

DJ

Rare B Sides: The Jealous Extremaduran

[This post is part of a series on literary works that deserve a wider audience.]

[Spoiler Alert: This post contains plot elements from Cervantes’s “The Jealous Extremaduran.”]

And I’m back, so let’s dive right into it…Here’s another work that deserves a wider audience: “The Jealous Extremaduran” by Miguel Cervantes.


Velazquez_Lunch

I read Don Quixote a long time ago, back in high school. I found it uneven and a bit loooong. But its central idea, the characters and certain scenes were pure genius. I’d highly recommend it to anyone, as long as you have patience and can lay your hands on a good translation. The novel piqued my interest and I wanted to learn more about Cervantes and his other works. His life reads like something out of the Three Musketeers: He was a soldier who fought at Lepanto, a slave of Algerian pirates, a tax collector, a small-time conman and—last but not least—a writer. In fact, his life was much more adventurous than his famous, befuddled protagonist, Don Quixote. Anyhow, I was looking for other stuff to read from the Spanish master and about the first thing to pop up were his Exemplary Novellas—little tales mostly set in Seville, Spain. Thumbing through the Table of Contents I landed on “The Jealous Extremaduran.”

It is the tale of one Filipo de Carrizales, a Spaniard who makes his fortune in Peru and returns to his native Seville to settle down at the age of 68. He contemplates getting married, but decides against it, knowing he’s far too jealous for such business.

…he was so terrified that he felt like a mist driven by the wind. By nature he was the most jealous man in the world, even without being married; the mere thought of marrying was enough to arouse his jealousy, weary him with suspicions and startle him with imaginary evils, so much so that he resolved at all costs not to marry.

But, as fate would have it, he sees a young girl, Leonora, at a window and is smitten. He falls for her and reasons to himself:

‘She is only a girl; her youth may be sufficient to set my suspicions at rest. I shall marry her; I shall shut her up and train her in my ways, and so that she won’t know anything else but what I shall teach her.’

He approaches her parents, who after some research, agree to the match. Eventually, the parents “hand her over” to Filipo “amid much weeping because it seemed to them that she was being led off to her grave.”

[For you writers out there keeping score: we now have the full set up. Two main characters, a setting in Seville and a plot with an inherent conflict (between Filipo’s desire for control and Leonora’s independence).]

Filipo buys a house for 12,000 ducats with “running water and a garden with lots of orange trees.” He shuts up all the windows facing the street, creating skylights instead. He creates high walls about the level of the roofs of the city so that everyone inside can see only the sky, not the rest of the city. He hires an “old, black eunuch” and servant woman to guard the only entrance to the house: a revolving door. Through this revolving door all food for the household must pass. Filipo locks Leonora away in this fortress inside the city, bringing two girls of her age into the house to entertain her. With that, Filipo locks the door.

By day he would be thinking; by night he would lie awake, patrolling and guarding his house…His whole house had an air of virtue and seclusion; even in the stories which the servants told in the long winter nights by the fireside, nothing lascivious was ever mentioned when he was present.

Time passes and all is well for a time. But a new character shows up, a young man named Loaysa. The narrator explains:

There is in Seville a class of useless, idle people usually known as men about town; these are the richer young men from every parish. Lazy, showy, plausible people, about whose dress and manner of living, and whose customs and rules of conduct a good deal could be said.

“Plausible.” I love that turn of phrase…Loaysa is one of these men, a virote, or young bachelor. Loaysa catches wind of the rumors about the beautiful Leonora and resolves to storm the house “by force or by cunning.” He leaves the town for a few days and returns disguised as a lame beggar with a guitar, stationed in front of the house’s revolving door. He begins to sing “cheerful Moorish ballads” and soon the prisoners of Filipo’s castle like a “flock of doves” come to “the lure of the guitar.”

I won’t reveal what happens in the end, but I found it particularly well-played by Cervantes. Suffice to say that the fortress is breached having tragic consequences for most everyone involved. Being Cervantes can’t help but insert a moral into his story (much like the last 5 minutes of every Brady Bunch episode).

This affair…illustrates how little one should trust in keys, revolving doors and walls when the will remains free.

It’s a trite ending, but “The Jealous Extremaduran” is a great read, full of little details from 16th century Seville and deftly drawn characters. It’s a heavier read than Don Quixote, but well worth your time, especially considering it’s a shorter piece. Check it out at your local library, bookstore or online the next time you’re itching for something new to read.


The track for today’s post isn’t exactly a “Rare B Side.” In fact, it was a number one hit in 1969. Still, it fits the subject matter of this post. So, here we go…Ladies and Gentlemen, The King of Rock and Roll:

Somethin’ ‘Spicious

See you next time,

Darius

A Writer Marries

All,

Some tremendous news of a non-literary nature:

I’m getting married this Saturday! I’m about as happy as a man can be and can’t believe I’m going to marry the woman of my dreams…wedding-car-007

In recognition of this life-altering event, I’m going to be, alas, taking a bit of a blogging break. Look for more of my blog later this month  (October).

That’s about all for now. I have to run. In fact, right now I should be heading to the rehearsal dinner the night before the wedding. I’ll be back later with a few more details on the wedding and more of “A Writer Begins.”

Stay tuned, things could get interesting.

Works in Progress–Ghul on Amazon, SciFi Story Gets 1st Rejection

Sorry, I’m a bit late with the post this week. So, to get right to it: here’s a quick update on the stories I’m working on. 


The Ghul of Yazd— Strangelet Journal’s first issue with my story, “The Ghul of Yazd,” and a host of stories from other new writers, is now available on Amazon Kindle.

Breakpoint—My science fiction short story, “Breakpoint” got its first rejection last week. So, what did I do? I turned it around and resubmitted it. I’m still submitting it to the pro magazines listed on Duotrope as having a less than .5% acceptance rate—that’s .5—as in less than 1% of stories sent in are accepted. Strangelet Cover

To put that in perspective, Stanford University had an acceptance rate of 5.7% in fall 2013, making it the most selective university in the country—if not the planet. That means that top speculative fiction magazines are ten times more selective than Stanford. (Some are even 20x more selective!) I realize it’s a bit of a ham-fisted comparison—but still! Come on!

As a result, I imagine these magazines must be taking in a tsunami of stories that end up in the slush pile every day. Hats off to the slush readers and magazine editors who keep slogging through. 

AFTA – Still waiting to hear back on this comedy-horror novella. It’s slowly ticking up the “days submitted” counter, recently passing 40 days with the publisher. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

X – As for my next piece, I’m not sure what I want to write next. I have a lot of great ideas, but limited time. It’s tough to decide which fruit to pluck from the tree. You look for the ripest and juiciest—but you can’t be sure until you have it in your hand.

I’ll be thinking about that in the next couple of days and then hitting it. I can’t wait to get back to writing first drafts. I’m done with this editing stuff already!


That’s all see for now. See you next week.

,Darius

Five Reasons Marlowe Is Better than Shakespeare

I didn’t discover Christopher Marlowe until a couple of years ago. I had heard his name vaguely related to Shakespeare and didn’t think much more of it. I guess I felt another playwright full of “thees” and “thous” wouldn’t be my thing.

But one day, I was in one of my used book store haunts and “Dr. Faustus,” one of his plays, caught my eye. The play begins with a chorus focusing on the Doctor:Marlowe-Portrait-1585

And glutted now with learning’s golden gifts,
He surfeits upon cursed necromancy;
Nothing so sweet as magic is to him,
Which he prefers before his chiefest bliss:
And this the man that in his study sits.

The action cuts to Dr. Faustus sitting in his study where he rejects the professions of minister, lawyer and doctor one after the other, finally settling on becoming a “magician.”

These metaphysics of magicians,
And necromantic books are heavenly;
Lines, circles, scenes, letters, and characters;
Ay, these are those that Faustus most desires.
O, what a world of profit and delight,
Of power, of honour, and omnipotence,
Is promis’d to the studious artizan!
All things that move between the quiet poles
Shall be at my command: emperors and kings
Are but obeyed in their several provinces;
But his dominion that exceeds in this,
Stretcheth as far as doth the mind of man;
A sound magician is a demigod…

I was hooked. Here was a guy writing BEFORE Shakespeare that had way more interesting subject matter. I read through the play that day and ended buying his collected works (always a sign a writer has hooked me) shortly thereafter.

Like most high school students in the U.S., I had to read Shakespeare and he’s a fine writer, there’s no doubt. But my personal tastes are much more in line with the mercurial Marlowe. In honor of that obsession, here are five reasons that Marlowe is a better writer than Shakespeare.


He was the original literary Bad Boy.
Marlowe lived a life full of intrigue, daring and adventure. He was a probably a spy for Elizabeth II, was accused of counterfeiting, was party to a deadly brawl in 1589 and was a free-thinker/atheist at a time when it was a serious criminal offense.

I always imagine him pulling up on Harley (can’t I throw in anachronism?) with a girl (or two) on the back, lighting up his tobacco pipe (Sir Walter Raleigh was the one who introduced him to the new vice), ordering an ale and warming up for a long night of carousing with the lads.

Shakespeare? Not so much. He was listed as arranging a marriage in a lawsuit. He lived in London while his wife remained in Stratford and gave her his “second-best bed” in his will. If that’s not love, what is? He also bought some farm land an apartment in London as his literary career took off. An alderman’s son who did well for himself. Like Balzac, he seems to have lived a sedate life and saved all his passion and verve for his writing.

He died young under mysterious circumstances.
Marlowe died at 29, stabbed to death in a brawl in a tavern or countryside inn. The three characters with him at the time were various assorted conmen loosely connected to Elizabeth I’s spymaster, Francis Walsingham.

The official inquest said that there was a dispute over a bill and that in the ensuing struggle, Marlowe was fatally stabbed. But an air of mystery has always hung over his death especially since the only witnesses were the aforementioned con men.

Shakespeare lived until middle age, apparently putting down his pen for the last three years of his life. Marlowe burned out, while Shakespeare slowly faded away.

He had compelling, original subject matter.
Shakespeare was a great writer, don’t get me wrong. But the guy didn’t have an original idea in his head.

Shakespeare was the rewrite man Hollywood can only dream of. Give him Plutarch’s 80-page essay on Mark Antony and he’ll give you the 3,500-line tragedy “Antony and Cleopatra”. He was unencumbered by modern anxieties of originality, only inventing the plot for “The Tempest” and one or two others.

Shakespeare would have had a hard time making it as a writer today. I could just see editors saying: “But we’ve heard this story a thousand times, Bill! What’s original here?” Bill then would have to explain the story isn’t always in the idea and plot, but the telling. It’s not exactly what an editor wants to hear.

Marlowe on the other hand, while sourcing his ideas from historical figures and older tales,  had an original streak. His play The Jew of Malta is an original story. Dr. Faustus is the first dramatic work based on the Faust legend. And Edward II was, apparently, one of the very first historical plays in English.

He cut the path for Shakespeare to follow.
Name almost any genre and it was Marlowe (and a few others) who brought it to the English stage first. Historical drama? Marlowe wrote Edward II. A hubristic protagonist who sows the seed of their own destruction? There’s Doctor Faustus. A play with a distant and exotic setting far from England? You have Marlowe’s Tamburlaine the Great. What about excessive blood and gore? Just count the murders and bodies piling up in The Massacre at Paris.

Robert Butler, a drama critic, went so far as to call Marlowe “Shakespeare’s role model.”

Marlowe threw down one challenge after another: “The Jew of Malta”, “Dido Queen of Carthage”, “Edward II”, “Dr Faustus” and “Tamburlaine Pts 1 & 2”. Shakespeare responded with “The Merchant of Venice”, “Antony and Cleopatra”, “Richard II”, “Macbeth”,  “Henry IV Pts 1 & 2” and “Henry V”.

Oh, and the use of more realistic blank verse instead of rhyming lines in drama? That was a Marlovian innovation too. The only genre where Shakespeare excelled and Marlowe didn’t, was comedy.

He was a bad poet.Handwriting-Marlowe-Massacre-1
As a prose writer,  poets have always struck me as odd creatures. They seem more like they’re closer to musicians than they are to us prose writers. Maybe it’s just jealousy on my part, but I usually tend to steer clear of them.

And here’s where I find Marlowe still more charming: he was an atrocious poet. Here’s one of his better known poems, The Passionate Shepherd to his Love:

There I will make thee beds of roses
And a thousand fragrant posies,
A cap of flowers, and a kirtle
Embroider’d all with leaves of myrtle;

Not quite doing it for me. Well, what about Bill? He seems to have had a natural aptitude for poetry. Take his well-know sonnet 116:

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:

Not too shabby. But somehow, the fact that Marlowe was a second-rate poet makes me love him even more. But then again, what would you expect? I’m a bit biased.


If you want to learn more, the Marlowe Society is a good place to start. They have information on the playwright, host events and have a newsletter. They also host a similar event to the Poe Toaster, when they lay a wreath at his grave in Westminster Abbey. The next wreath-laying is this Nov. 22, if you’re in London that day. 

Also, they have a post on why that picture of Marlowe above is most likely a fake.

The Ghul of Yazd Gets Published

My short story, “The Ghul of Yazd” just got published today in Strangelet’s Journal’s first edition. Click the link to order the print or epub version of the magazine.

800px-Tower_of_silence_Yazd

So, the Ghul finally made it…And just to whet your appetite, here are the first 100 words of the action in the story.

Bashar, Alisher, Yusuf, and Hasan carried a funeral bier. It was little more than a pallet with handles. A child’s body, wound tightly in a sheet so that its body was not exposed, lay in the center of the bier. They rested the handles on the top of their shoulders and carried torches in their free hands. A full moon shone down on the slow procession, casting enough light so that the men could see their next step. On the crest of the hill, the white circular walls of the dakhma, the Parsi burial ground, glowed in the moonlight.

That’s it. The start of the journey. To read the rest, you’ll have to click the link.


A Word of Thanks
I just want to use this opportunity to thank all my Beta readers who gave me encouragement, criticism and help along the way. Daniel, B—, Laura and Matt, I couldn’t have have done it without your reading and critiquing. Your editing—and friendship—mean so much to me.

And thanks to Casey, editor at Strangelet and all their staff readers and editors. Thanks for seeing something in the Ghul. And for believing in my original vision and working with me to see it through to completion. It was a great ride.

,Darius