Works in Progress–Russian Short Story Title Reveal

[Part of a continuing series on where my fiction writing is at.]

A very brief post as I am taking some vacation this weekend and a corresponding short hiatus from writing fiction. But, don’t worry, I’ll be back. 


HTDIKSI wrote this story in keeping with Tuchman’s advice to write what you love. There is hardly a thing I love more in this world, a place that is of more interest to me, than the great city of Moscow and its people. So, in keeping with that, I wrote this piece.

As I said last time, a first draft is done. So, it’s time to do the title reveal: “How They Did It at Kazansky Station.”

It’s a small, somewhat humorous study of white-collar crime with a blue-collar tinge. It’s not speculative in any way and is set in a Moscow railway station, which I’m a bit familiar with having passed through quite a few.

Next steps is to gather Beta reader feedback and do the 2nd draft. Then, the 3rd. And see if I think it’s good enough to send out into the world. I’ll  keep you posted.

The Man with Storms in His Eyes—In other fairly big news, this horror/satire short story is finally completely written, edited and proofed. It has even been sent to a high-power, professional magazine and…already rejected! Hey, they have a quick turnaround.  It’s actually a good thing.

So, I need to find a new market and resend it and I will do that just as soon as I return. 

AFTA—This horror novella is still with editors and I’m waiting to hear back.

Breakpoint—This SciFi story is with a new magazine, waiting to be reviewed and rejected/accepted. No word yet.

All for now, I’ve got to get out of town and onto vacation. I’ve been reading lots of Latin American literature the last couple of weeks and, hopefully next time I can share more of my thoughts on it!

Until then…keep reading, keep writing,


Works in Progress—A New First Draft

[Part of a continuing series on where my fiction is at.]

A quick overview of my works in progress and a little about what I’m reading these days.


HTDIKSBam! The big news for this post is that I knocked off a first draft of this story. It’s set in Moscow in the 90s, in the real world with no fantastical or magical elements. Strange, I know. I will send this off to my Beta readers ASAP and do the title reveal soon here on the blog.

The Man with Storms in His Eyes—I’ve collected some Beta reader feedback on this one. I’ve also printed out the 2nd draft and attacked it with my handy red pen. Deleting things here, adding things there, changing the phrasing where it got clunky. All that editing stuff I really don’t like to do.

I plan to take the edited text to the café soon and start laying in these 3rd draft changes. Then, it’s time to save it up and do a final proofreading. After that I will start searching for  markets that like longer horror short stories with a bit of satire woven throughout. If you have any suggestions, let me know in the Comments section below.

AFTA—This horror novella is still with editors and I’m waiting to hear back.

Breakpoint—This SciFi story just got a rejection. So, I got right back on the horse and I sent it off to a new magazine. It’s been there for almost a week now…The waiting game begins anew. 

A Writer Reads: Pedro Páramo.
Also, just finished up reading Juan Rulfo’s Pedro Páramo. It is a novella set in rural Mexico in the 1950’s—I’m guessing the same time it was written. The jacket blurb said it was one of the precursors to magical realism. I’m no expert on that, but it was definitely an interesting read. I’m still turning around the images, the effects, the words that Rulfo used in my head. I think it merits a longer post at some point in the future. I will try to post that here when I have a little time.

On Finding your Editors
And one last thing, Tim W. Burke, horror writer and author of The Flesh Sutra, has a great post over on his blog about “finding your editors.”

You will find an editor who will respond to what you write and give you advice. Keep sending to that editor. If that editor buys what you write, keep sending to that editor. Do not bother to send to others just to see if you can “get in”.

I thought that was a great insight and I’m going follow his advice and not worry about getting in to all the big speculative fiction magazines. Instead, I’m going to focus on sending to those magazines that publish what I like to read. I’m also going to consider re-submitting to those magazines like Fiction Vortex, that have already accepted my stuff.

OK, Gotta run. Until next time,


Works in Progress—Horror Short Title Reveal

Following the new regime on the old blog here of posting every two weeks (see “Write More, Blog  Less), I’m back. The good news is that I’ve been really productive in the last couple of weeks and my fiction writing has moved forward on all fronts. This is exactly what I was hoping for in cutting back a bit on the blog.

So, here’s a quick scan of where I’m at with various writing projects.

TMWSE—This  straight-up horror short is off to my Beta readers. What does that mean? First, it’s time to party (which I will be doing about 2 hours from now). Second, it’s a complete second draft. I usually wait for my Beta readers to weigh in, and then wrap  up the 3rd draft and I’m ready to start

…Oh yeah, the title. The title, Man. This one is called “The Man with Storms in his Eyes.” I hope that title will stick. I enjoyed writing this piece and felt I really started nailing it about half way through. But we’ll have to see what the readers think.

HTDIKS—Just started writing this piece. It will be a short story set in the real world, thus veering dangerously toward literary fiction territory. But don’t worry, I won’t let it get too pedantic. I will let you know what happens.

AFTA—This horror novella is still with a couple of editors and I’m waiting to hear a response. No word yet.

Breakpoint—Status quo here. Still waiting to hear back from the magazine I sent it along to. I will query them shortly if that doesn’t change.

All for now. This post was short and sweet, I know. But I’ve got to get back to life and the writing. For more details on the works above, see my Works in Progress page.

See you next time,


Writing Resolutions for 2015

I’m not a big fan of resolutions, though you wouldn’t know it from this blog. Last year I wrote a post on my writing resolutions. I met some and didn’t meet others, you can be the judge. N year

Anyway, this year I want to keep things simple. And I want to make sure they’re achievable no matter what others do—in other words, do these resolutions pass the Epictetus (as I’ve discussed, Epictetus is the Man) test? Are they achievable no matter what others, or the world, throws at me? Are they something I have control over? I think most of them pass the test, or come darn close. So, here are my resolutions for this year.

1. Write More, Blog Less.
This one is sort of a bummer, but it’s necessary. This blog is a bit of a heavy lift. What with the day job, family, fiction writing, sleep, etc. There’s little time left for other stuff. Unfortunately, this blog is one of them. And every minute I spend blogging is a minute taken away from writing fiction. I’ve mentioned this before, but now is the time to do something about it. So…

…Starting this year, instead of trying to write a new post every week, I’m going to write a new post every two weeks. These may only be brief “Works in Progress” posts, but they will go up. On the off week, or as a special post, I may blog about more substantive things: books I’ve read, the state of publishing, The Craft of writing fiction, Rare B Sides, whatever strikes me. I think, in the end, it can make the blog better by having me write only when I want to. And it will definitely give me more time to write fiction—which is what this blog is supposed to be about anyway.

2. Limit the Analysis and Let It Flow.
I wrote about this recently. The limit of reason in helping to write fiction, to explain the creative process is limited. This has crept up and up in my consciousness this past year. There’s lots in the creative process that’s must stay beneath the surface. Like a deep-sea fish, it can’t survive if you bring it up from the depths—it just melts away into nothing like some Lovecraftian beast. 

There are things I can explain about the writing process, but the most important things will always remain beyond explanation and, perhaps, beyond comprehension. You simply live the story. As a reader, we’ve all experienced this: being swept up in a narrative and forgetting your subway stop, losing track of time and missing an appointment. It’s only when you’ve been disrupted that you come back to yourself. A strange sort of hypnosis. It’s the same with WRITING fiction. When the prose is really coming, the writer gets swept up, too. You just float along with the characters, like you’re witnessing it, instead of creating it. It’s an odd sensation, very intimate, but it’s one of the best things about writing I’ve ever experienced.

So, this year, I’m going to dial back the analysis. I’m still going to try to learn, but I’m also going to let it go and just let the prose flow. That’s the way it ought to be.

3. Go to 3 “Writing” Cons.
Cons—want to go to more of those as long as they have a strong writing track. After going to RavenCon in 2014, this year I want to go to 3 Cons:

  1. RavenCon. Richmond, Virginia. April.
  2. BaltiCon. Baltimore, Maryland. May.
  3. DragonCon. Atlanta, Georgia. September.

I hope see you there. Drop me a line if you’re going to any of these—I’d love to meet up. Who knows? I might even buy you a beer.

4. Learn More about Speechwriting and Sinology.
It’s no secret: I write in my day job, too. I’ve been assigned to new projects in the next year. One involves writing speeches and the other involves China. I don’t know much about either.

So, I’m going to use it as an opportunity to learn a little more about each. Maybe pick up a book about Demosthenes and read that book about Chinese history I have on my shelf.

5. Translate a Poem.
I’m been thinking, again, about Russia and Russian stuff. It may just be that it’s come up more in the news lately. I’m not sure. I used to live there and speak some of the language. Anyway, as something new and a sort of exercise, I’d like to translate a Russian poem (it’s number 419 on the link) for you. It’s by Georgy Ivanov and is about a favorite topic of mine: Persian carpets.

Отвлеченной сложностью персидского ковра,
Суетливой роскошью павлиньего хвоста
В небе расцветают и темнеют вечера.
О, совсем бессмысленно и все же неспроста.

Голубая яблоня над кружевом моста
Под прозрачно призрачной верленовской луной
Миллионнолетняя земная красота,
Вечная бессмыслица -- она опять со мной.

В общем, это правильно, и я еще дышу.
Подвернулась музыка: ее и запишу.
Синей паутиною (хвоста или моста),
Линией павлиньей. И все же неспроста.

That should be a fun exercise for the coming year. I’ll post it here when it’s done.

Alright, all for now. I’ll post a hard copy of this to my wall and try my best to keep to it. Until next time…

Keep Reading and Keep Writing,


A Look Back at my Year in Writing–2014

Wrapping things up here on 2014. So, I wanted to look back at my year in writing and talk a little about what I accomplished and maybe a bit about what I didn’t. Next week, we’ll look forward to 2015. But this post is about the year that was. Here are the highlights one-by-one.

1. I saw my name in print for the first time.  Never_Look_Back
If I had to single out one highlight of my writing year, it would be seeing my novelette, The Ghul of Yazd published in Strangelet Journal. It was so great to see this story get accepted and finally see my name in print on, you know, an actual page of paper. And I almost fell off my chair when the editor asked me to put footnotes back into the story, thus preserving my original vision for the story.

It was doubly nice to hand a copy of the magazine to my parents as a Christmas gift this past week.

I also enjoyed the protagonist, Yusuf, in this story so much I wouldn’t mind visiting him again sometime by writing another story with him in it. I miss him.

2. I got a response to a query letter for the first time.
I finished writing my comedy-horror novella (AFTA) and got an editor interested enough to respond to my query letter. It’s too early to see if it gets picked up, but, hey, it was still fun to have another “First” even if the editor ultimately decides to pass on the manuscript.

3. I attended my first Con.
This was a resolution of mine last year and I stuck to it. This April, I attended my first Con (convention), RavenCon, and it was great. I learned a lot about writing, but I also learned a great deal about the publishing business and what editors look for—thanks to my fellow fiction-writer attendees and a handful of editors from Tor. If you’re a speculative fiction writer and you haven’t done this yet—get thee to a Con! You won’t regret it.

And, FYI, I will attend RavenCon again this year, so hope to see you there.

4. I finished a novella and two short stories.
It’s tough to fit writing into the daily grind, you know? But somehow I was able to finish a novella  (completely) and two short stories (almost).  A short synopsis of all three is now on my “Works in Progress” page. That’s not bad output, considering I have a full-time job that isn’t writing fiction.

(Truth be told, I still have to wrap that 2nd short story, but I should have that done in short order.)

5. I kept the blog  going.
It was no easy task, but I managed to write something for this blog at least every 2 weeks. Toward the end of the year, I was able to post something every week.

6. I said I would write short stories and I stuck to it.
As I said in my writing resolutions last year, I wanted to write “short or long,”that is, to write short stories or novels. Well, I did. I’ve written two short stories so far and I’m planning more to come in 2015. Who knows? I might even work on a novel next year.

7. Reading was the weak link.
Talk about not having time. After the day job, writing fiction and keeping up the blog, there isn’t a lot of time left. I resolved to read all sorts of things this past year, but it didn’t happen. That’s the way it is. I’m not going to loose any sleep over it, especially since I kept the fiction writing rolling

8. I kept submitting stories.
I’m proud of this last one. This is tough. You write your heart out, you take care of a piece. You write a solid first draft. Do the major polishing lift in 2nd draft. You polish some more in the third and/or fourth draft. Then, you proof it. And maybe somewhere in between, you workshop the piece. Finally, you research markets to find a place it might fit.

And then, in a sense, comes the hardest part of all: sending it to some unknown editor to see if they like it. Man, that’s never easy. But I’ve gotten to the point where I just go automatic. I say to myself, “this is a good piece” and I bring up my Gmail and press “Send.” It’s never easy, but after about 25 rejections, it’s becoming much more fluid. It’s a small but very significant milestone and I feel this year I’ve come to accept submission as a natural, integral part of the writing process. It wasn’t easy. 

Alright, see you next time when I’ll break down what I want to do in 2015 in writing. That should be a fun one.


Works in Progress—A Bite on the Line

An update on my works in progress.

AFTA—An editor wrote back in response to a query letter I sent, saying he would like to see the full manuscript of this comedy-horror novella. That’s the first time I’ve Fishinghad a positive response to a query letter. Ever. That’s good because there is a lot of advice out there on how to write a good query letter and I’m not sure I had exactly rang the bell with this one. The fact that at least one editor’s interest was piqued is a good sign.

Now all I have to do is wait. I’ll let you know what happens.

TMWSE—Last time I updated you guys, I had finished a first draft of this horror story. I was sick last week, so I just did some prewriting on my writing Sunday, instead of finishing off the 2nd draft. I didn’t want to do serious work without being at my best. The good news is that I’m about 2/3 done with the 2nd draft, counting my work over the previous week as well.

The upshot? I should have this done soon—taking into account a little break for the Holidays—and then it’s off to my four Beta readers. I’ll give them a chance to get back to me and then head into the 3rd (usually final) draft. I will do a reveal of the title of this short story when I send it off to the Beta readers.

Breakpoint—Status quo here: three rejections so far and it’s still with the same magazine. No word from them yet. It’s getting a bit above the average response time for this particular magazine according to Duotrope. I’m hoping the magazine’s staff is just taking the Holidays off and will dive back into the slush pile come the new year. They have a 90-day limit before sending a query and I’m nowhere near that. So, time to wait and see…

Stay tuned. In the coming weeks I will have a look back at my 2014 in writing and a look forward to what I’d like to do in 2015.

See you next time,


The Craft: The Ends of Analysis

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

I’ve talked a lot on this blog about the craft of writing fiction. About my five top rules for writing from “Get Black on White” and “NO CRITIC” to “Stick to What Works.” I’ve talked about “Grip,” about making your characters endure often painful conflict andDemotivational Death Star metamorphosis and about writing what you love. But there’s a limit to what you can figure out about writing. What you can, alas, put into words. Some things in writing, you just have to let be, without explanation. I’ve felt this especially keenly lately. I feel I’ve learned a tremendous amount about writing fiction this year, especially about writing short stories. But I feel most of it is incommunicable. These things are hard to characterize, but they’re things like:

  • Knowing you’re coming up against a word limit and writing to it. You just sense the story needs ending and you condense action to hit that limit.
  • Writing a section of dialogue and just KNOWING it’s not right for that character or situation. And then deleting it.
  • Getting a feeling that a story is getting off track. And then stopping. And putting it on the shelf for awhile or deleting the chapter(s) and starting over.
  • Smiling when you know that a certain character’s turn-of-phrase or unspoken action is just spot on.

There are a million other things like that in writing. Times when I just feel like the right approach could be something different, something intuitive that I’ve missed, that just needs to be included. This usually happens when I’m caught up in a story, just floating down the surface of it, like some great river.  I’m dodging all the rocks and whirlpools and just gunning down the chute to the end of the run. In such situations you can’t—or don’t—think. At moments like that the kayaker is completely immersed in the moment and making decisions naturally without the filter of rational thought breaking in.

It’s the same thing with writing. When the day’s going well, I’m making the decisions without thinking as I go. It’s only when my concentration is broken through—usually by a loud noise or some particularly clunky writing—that I fall out of the trance and start THINKING again. And thinking like that can ruin an entire day of great writing. So where am I going with this? What am I trying to say? That I learned a lot this year and I’m not sharing any of it? No. I would if I could. But this is beyond teaching and beyond knowing. It’s the pruning back of a jarring, clunky metaphor, it’s reining in some dialogue that got too long winded, it’s throwing the right detail in (even just the turn of a hand or a sigh) at the right moment, or ending a scene at just the right moment. Those things which, in the end, are the essence of Craft.

So, what to do, fellow writers? Despair? Fret? Give up? No. No. Never. Rather, persist. Pick up the pen again and take it to the blank page once more. For if I can not communicate what it is that will one day make you a master craftsman, I can assure you this: if you persist and if you have some God-given talent, you will win the contest. Experience alone must be your teacher. It may not be 5,000 words that gets you there. Or 50,000 or 100,000 or more. But if you keep going, persist, and write day-after-day, the Craft will come to you. You, too, will float along the river, gliding by, making decisions on the fly as everyone watches from the banks. And you will learn when the time is right for a character to be silent rather than speak, to act resolutely but too late, to have someone say it all with a half-seen, insignificant gesture.

All these things will come, but they require two things: talent and hard work. I wish I could say there was another path, but there never has been and never will be. That said, I hope I see you there, a little further down the road. I’ll be there, plodding along.

Good luck! And happy writing,


Works in Progress—Getting It Done

An update on my works in progress.

TMWSE—Well, finally knocked this one off. It was about 5,000 words two weeks ago. Now, it’s 7,500 words and the first draft is done. This makes it a perfect length for submittal to magazine markets. But I think it could be trimmed down a bit. You know, hit the gym and shed some pounds so that it’s fighting fit. So, this weekend, I’m going to edit this one and get it on its way to a The Endfinished 2nd draft.

I’m especially happy with the richness of the protagonist in this piece. He’s my favorite protagonist since Yusuf in The Ghul of Yazd and has some characteristics in common with him—most clearly his stubbornness and intellect. But otherwise, he’s quite different.

And, as always, it’s a big thrill to get to to the end of a new manuscript and type the words:



Breakpoint—Three rejections for this short story so far and it’s still with the same magazine. No word from them yet.

AFTA—This manuscript (a comedy-horror novella) is still with several publishing houses and I’m waiting to hear back from them.

That’s all for now. I’m off to relax for a bit and then hit the writing/editing on Sunday.


On Keeping the Day Job

We’ve all got to make a living somehow. Some of us have to write, too. We can’t help it.  It’s a kind of compulsion. It would be great to have all day to create, to edit, to do some social media duties and never have to worry about paying the bills. But if you’re likoffice-spacee me and weren’t born independently wealthy, you’ve got to work.

So what to do? How should you make a living? And how do you square making a living with pursuing your creative avocation? Here’s a few things I’ve learned along the way. Most apply to writing, but they could apply to any creative line of work.

Rethink that Super-High-Stress Career
Maybe becoming a lawyer or a surgeon isn’t the best path for you. If you’re really dedicated to becoming a writer or an artist, you might want to consider putting away that LSAT, MCAT or GMAT test book. There’s nothing wrong with being a lawyer, doctor, etc., but you have to think realistically about work-life balance. Sure, those are fine ways to make a living, but you have to put in a lot of time (measured in years) and money (measured in the $100,000s) to get a career in those fields. And even when you get there, being a top-notch lawyer, doctor, or business manager will probably not give you lots of free time to write.

Sure, there are people who have “shot the moon” in those professions, making a lot of money and cashing out. But this is unlikely and a risky proposition. And it requires incredible self-discipline and a long wait for the payoff.

Consider a Job that Pay the Bills, but Is Flexible
Instead, you might want to consider the middle path. Not a job that’s a dead end or meaningless for you, but something that pays the bill and allows for the max time for other pursuits.

One of my best writing gigs (and realistically, probably a relic of the 90s) was as freelance ad copywriter. It paid well and left me a decent amount of time to write. On those days when I wasn’t writing ads for money, I could have a long breakfast, a couple of cups of coffee and go for a walk along the beach. Around 11 a.m., I’d hunker down and start writing for the day. It was epic.

Or take my friend, Daniel. He’s a neo-natal nurse. It can be stressful, no doubt. But the great thing? It’s three-days on, three days off. You get three solid days to recuperate and write. A nice writing gig.

I’ve heard teaching can also be a great writing gig: lots of time off in the summer and a stable income. A great combo for writing. I always personally thought that being a security guard at a car park or a warehouse down by the docks or some other low-priority target, would be a great gig for a writer. There are other great gigs out there too. Anything that lets you turn off completely, is stable and gives you the flexibility and energy to write is ideal.

Consider a Day Job that Includes Writing (or art, music, etc.)
Also, don’t forget to consider a job that makes use of your talents. If you’re a writer, consider a  writing gig. If you’re artistic, consider something artistic.

For example, Mario Vargas Llosa worked for years as a journalist, before writing his first novel. If you’re someone who’s considered writing fiction seriously, it’s probably because you have some talent at writing to begin with. Why not take advantage of that talent and look for a job in that field?

For years, I’ve made a living off of writing. Not fiction writing, mind you. But writing for companies and clients. If you get some experience you can actually make some decent money at it.

The same thing goes for artists: consider working as a graphic artist at an ad agency or company. Or for a musician: consider being a session musician or teaching. There might be a way to make a living at what you love to do though you’ve never considered it.

When to Make the Jump
Of course, there may come a time when you decide to ditch your real job. A time when you feel you’re close to success or have already achieved it. It’s hard to say when the right time will come.

But, for a writer, it’s probably when you’ve got the contract for your first novel signed, if not later than that. After all, it’s your life here and it seems to be getting harder and harder for writers to make it these days…which brings us to our last point.

Don’t Forget: Jobs Can Give You Great Material
Sure, it would be great to move to Europe, get bankrolled by your parents and write the great novel we’re all waiting for. Though it’s usually glossed over, that’s what Hemingway did when he wrote The Sun Also Rises. I can’t not support this. Hey, man, if you find a sustainable way to bankroll your creativity (parents, lovers, a sponsor) I’m all for it. You just have to make sure that it’s sustainable or that you have an escape plan for when the funding dries up.

But don’t forget one important point: you need something to write about. Some of the greatest books ever written came from experience out there working. Would Melville have written Moby Dick if he had stayed at home in Nantucket? Would Dashiell Hammett have written The Maltese Falcon if he had only read stories about detectives? Would Chekhov ever have been able to capture the despondent ennui of provincial Russia if he hadn’t been a village doctor in the same? If Ken Kesey hadn’t worked at a mental hospital, would he ever have written the brilliant One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest?

Conversely, would Lovecraft have kept writing longer if he had a sustainable career outside of writing? And would Hemingway have written a broader, more interesting set of novels, if he had not struck the jackpot in his mid-20s?

Of course, we’ll never know. But  it’s something to think about while you’re slaving away at that day job. Just remember: keep going.

Until next time,


What else could it be for the musical conclusion today than “God Bless the Child” by Billie Holiday?

Mama may have, Papa may have
But God bless the child that’s got his own
That’s got his own

Sing it, Girl.

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,