Back to the Writing

…And I’m back. Just wanted to do a little something before the old blog gets too rickety. Well, I’ve had some good cider, completed a massive road trip from the East coast out to New Mexico (with a pit stop in Memphis!) and now I’m back. barton-fink-6

….And I’m feeling a bit like Barton Fink  in this scene. A bit worn and stretched thin. After all, we’re entering one of the busiest times of the year.

But here’s the good thing: I’m off this weekend to write. I’ll be working on the 3rd draft of my new story, “The Number Thief.” I’ve been reading through the printouts of the manuscript and the story looks solid: tight plotting, compelling characters (in the two leads, at least) and some great moments along the way. So, it looks like I should have a third draft done in no time…Then it’s onto finalizing it and starting to submit the piece.

Other than that, I have a few other works done and I’m submitting those. No word yet on whether the editors like them, but I’m out there playing the game of submission and rejection.

Alright, that’s all for now. Life—and writing—call. See you next time.

,Darius

Forging Ahead with New Fiction

Well another writing week, and more fiction got done. Cider Flight

As I write this, I’m about to take off in the truck   for a long weekend of cidering around rural Virginia. We’re going to take part in that old   (and new again) American tradition of sampling hard cider. It’s good, because I’ve been busy and I need a little reward. Fermented apple juice is a great way to do that.

In fact, I’m just wrapped up the dreaded second draft of a new novelette (it’s about 14,000 words). The story is called The Number Thief and the protagonist is Yusuf ibn Yaqzan, the here of my earlier story, The Ghul of Yazd. This time, we get a bit more of the personal side and back story of Yusuf. He’s one of those kind of characters that, as a writer, you really just watch. That kind of character you can throw into a situation or a place and just watch what he does next and transcribe it, get it down fast. It’s really a joy to work with him, you might say. And it’s fun to see how a piece of fiction gets better defined and just plain better as you work through a second and third draft. The action becomes sharper, the dialog crisper and the flow more fluid with each little change. Put all those little changes together and you start finding you have a really fun, tight narrative.

So, other than that, there’s not much to relate. I’m submitting a flash piece and slowly but surely looking for markets for another story and a play. Oh, and trying to keep down my day job. So, not much time left to blog.

In fact, I think I’ll just move on, but not without leaving you with a little something. Here’s a link to the Virginia Cider Week festivities. I’ll be partaking this weekend, but if you’re in the area later this month, I highly recommend checking the festival out. Just bring a smart phone, an analog map and list of local cideries. And then head out. Next to writing fiction, there’s not many better ways to spend your time during the fall.

See you next time,

Darius

Free Form

Need to feed the blog beast, need to feed the blog beast… Need to feed…the…

I’ve had a lot of good ideas for blog posts lately, stuff about Cervantes, aikido, Poe… But I’m not motivated to write any of them today. Feeling bleh and blah. And the rain outside, in about its 40th day, isn’t helping. Free Form

So…What to write? What to say? Nothing much. So, no theme or topic comes to mind. Might I just free-form? Ron Burgundy style? No. Instead, I will tell you where my writing is at. How about that? Here it is, broken down piece-by-piece.

Sludge Ship Chronicles
Got this beast done. Plays…What a strange medium! Take the strict plotting from short stories, the length and scope of a novella and the oral elements of poetry—Mash them all together and there you have it: a play. I have to say my wonder at this medium has only grown after writing one.

Anyhow, starting to submit this to local playhouses and looking for festivals or other venues to submit too as well. This is a very chancy, risky business, but I’ll let you know where it all nets out. Wish me luck.

Pacha-Mama
Still submitting this piece. Still believe in it. Still think it’s good. Lots of bites, but no editor has really chomped down on it yet, so that I can reel them in. Time to cast again.

Breakpoint
This science-fiction story is still with consideration with a magazine, still waiting to hear.

So You Found Me
Decided on a market for this flash piece, will be submitting it soon.

…For My Next Trick
Have a good grip on a new short story, even did some good pre-writing on it. I’m fired up to write it, but have to take vacation first. Hope to get to this in the middle of June and bang it out. Its bones are good, now I just have to put some flesh on it.


That’s it. Another quick, dirty blog post. Putting the writing and submitting first. Which is important to me. I hope to be back in a couple of weeks with another post.

See you then,

Darius

Writing Update—An Acceptance

Well…Well…Well… Prince_SelfTitled

Here we are two weeks later and I feel like I could be blogging again about the passing of another music legend. Sigh. Big Sigh. Losing Prince sucks. Just as much as losing Merle Haggard or David Bowie…But I don’t want to make this blog too much of a downer. And there are others who are bigger fans and far better placed to do a proper homage to the Purple One. And also, these guys wrote songs about “this thing called life.” And we, the living, have to continue, must continue…To live, to love and to write—great music or great stories as suits our personalities. 

So, reflecting on that, and more importantly, acting on it…Here’s a little good news: one of my stories was accepted by a magazine. That’s right, “Barabanchik” has found a home. I don’t want to get into the details, but suffice to say, the editors wrote back and are excited about including it in their next issue. I will share more as things solidify, but I wanted  to get this good news out there. Barabanchik means “drummer” or “little drummer” in Russian and it’s perfect name for the character in the story. I’m glad he’ll finally walk out of Kazansky Station and onto the pages of a magazine. Can’t wait to see him there.

And while we’re at it, here’s an update on other stuff I’m working on:

Pacha-Mama
This long short story/novelette came darn, darn close to being published by a magazine. It made it into the final round of consideration, but in the end it didn’t make the cut. This weekend, I’m going to proof it one more time and send it off to magazines again. I love the Pacha-Mama character as much as I love Barabanchik. 

The Sludge Ship Chronicles
This play…Man, it’s so close to being done. I have to sit down with a hard copy of it again this weekend, mark it up. Then, input the changes and it should be essentially done. All that will remain is a good proofreading and marketing the piece.

In fact, I have decided upon what I’ll call the “apex market” for the piece: the most selective market out there that I still think it’s got a shot at. It’s a local theater known for putting on eclectic, modern plays. And they accept submissions from local playwrights, which is rare. But it won’t be easy. I have a feeling they are very, very selective. A perfect apex market to start with and see what happens.

So You Found Me
Was waiting in the airport one day and this idea just hit me. Or should I say an idea that had hit me a long time ago finally and suddenly coalesced, popping out of my subconscious into my conscious. So, I wrote it out right there on my officially-licensed work computer. Smuggled the piece out later and have been polishing it since. It’s a short-short piece, a piece of flash fiction at under 1,000 words. Never written anything that short before.

Will be editing this further and see what I want to do with it.


A Little on Prince
Didn’t think I was going to completely short change you, did you? This is a speech Prince gave upon being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He talks about two of the most important things for artists: freedom and friendship. I especially love these lines:

Without real spiritual mentoring, too much freedom can lead to the soul’s decay. And a word to the young artists … a real friend or mentor is not on your table. A real friend and mentor cares for your soul as much as they do the other one.

But really, you should check out his music. As much of it as you can.

Until Next Time,

Darius

Writing, Submitting, Thinking

Guys, back at the blog again and I have little to say here for the time being. I wanted to do a longer piece today, but I’m just not feeling it. So instead of forcing the issue, here’s a little update on my writing.


Writing
I wrote a blown-out outline of a novella last weekend. It was part of my attempt to write more detailed outlines before I dive into a piece. I was happy with some of the scenes and the emotions they conjured…but…I feel that there is a significant logic problem with the plot, one I knew about all along. That logic problem is stopping me from moving forward with it until I figure out the problem. So…Bottom line: I’m going to put this one on the backburner for now. Going to let the subconscious work on that logic problem and see if it can figure it out. It’s usually pretty good at that.

That means that now I have to move onto a new work’s first draft. I’ll be selecting one soon and starting work on it. More on that below…

Submitting
Got to keep submitting. I’m still sending in my latest stories. I think they’re tight and well written. And I’ve noticed that the time to review them is taking longer. I think of this as a good sign: it usually (but not always) means that your piece is going through more gatekeepers before it gets rejected. Of course, a rejection is a still a rejection—whether it takes one day or 120 days. Your piece still doesn’t get published. But in the past I’ve noticed that the best pieces always take longer to get rejected from the get go than the merely “OK” pieces. They’re probably getting through the initial slush readers and moved up to editors before they are turned aside. So, if that’s any indication, these stories just haven’t found the right editors yet.

I’m hoping in time they will and I’ll be able to share them with you.

Thinking
As always, I’m thinking, thinking, thinking. Thinking up new ideas and writing them down. Fleshing out older ideas and writing up their plot points. I’ve even created a new “Story Ideas-Ranking” to help me rank my story ideas according to their ripeness. It’s a short list with two categories: Stories that are pretty much ready for a first draft and those that need more work. I don’t rank those in the second part, but I do rank the ones in the first. What makes a story ripe is the passion I have for the story idea, how well-defined the story is, and whether I’ve done a full formal prewrite (describing the plot, setting, characters and research needed). I take all those factors, push around the ideas on the page and one emerges on top. That’s the theory anyway.

So, this weekend, I’ll take a look at the ranking, think about which one deserves to be done next. And dive in.

Hey, “Get Black on White,” right? That’s the only way to get it done. Always has been, always will be.

Alright. See you next time,

Darius

Forging Ahead—with New Stuff

“Silence is a source of great strength,”—so says Lao Tzu (or something like that). And yet here I am blogging… Anyway…Laozi

Wow. 2 weeks have passed by in a flash. It’s frustrating when my day job gets out of control like it is right now. It means that the fiction writing suffers. And the blog? Well, it becomes just an afterthought. This was the first time in a long time when I really drew a blank on what to write here on the blog. Thus, the Lao Tzu quote. So, in a nod to the time I have had to sacrifice to earning a living, I’m just going to give you a quick cut on where my writing’s at. Here are the stories I’m working on right now:

Barabanchik
Finally got this down to where I like it. On the recommendation of an editor (of a magazine I sent it to), I axed the entire first chapter. And I’m finally pleased with where this ended  up. I’m still waiting to hear back from various editors on an earlier version of this story. In the meantime, I’ll be submitting the new version to see if it garners any interest.

Pacha-Mama
Got to input some changes on the draft of this piece and then decide what to do. I think it will need a little more work before I start submitting it. But overall, I’m pretty pleased where it ended up.

New Stuff/Project Selection
After I figure out what to do with those two stories above, the non-fun act of selecting what work to begin next starts. I like to begin new projects, to write first drafts, but it’s tough to select new stories to start. I dip into my pre-writing notes on my computer. It’s often difficult to decide which stories are ripe for the plucking. It’s not a science, that’s for sure. You have to judge how good the idea is overall and how well-formed it is in your mind. That is, how close it is being a blown-out, mature story. Just the seed of an idea—no matter how good—is enough to start a story. It’s not easy deciding which story idea to finally commit to.

So, wish me luck. I will put Pacha-Mama to bed somehow, and then decide on my next fiction piece. I’ll let you guys know what I decided next time I post in a couple of weeks.

See you then!

A Writer’s Equipment

Thought I would do something a little different today. I spend a lot of time talking about what I write, the craft of writing and all that stuff. But I want to take a play out of the musicians’ playbook and tell you what I write on. Guitarists in particular, will often list what guitars and amps they use. For example, there’s Slash’s preference for Les Paul guitars and Marshall amps. Bill Writes

But what do writers use these days? Surely, they don’t use quills and parchment, always sure to keep their pet monkey near by?

To put it simply, what does this writer use to write? Well,  here is a list of everything I take with me in my backpack when I go writing at the café each weekend:

  • Computer—A Dell Inspiron N411Z. With Intel Core i3 processor at 2.3 GHz with 4 GB of RAM. Nothing too fancy.
  • Operating system—Windows 7 Home. I’ve used Windows PCs for a long time and don’t see stopping now. I’m used to them and I feel I get better value for the money than with Apple. (Sorry, Mac lovers!). And no, I don’t think Windows straitjackets my creativity.
  • Writing software—Word 2010. Again, nothing fancy. It gets the job done. I might want to use something different if I go into writing scripts/plays, but I don’t think I would.
  • Red pens(2)—Uni-ball Micro red pens. I only use these when I have to markup/edit/proof the hard copy of one of my manuscripts (for more on that, see below). They seem to work well and, most importantly, don’t leak.
  • Pencils—A couple of Number 2 pencils, the brand doesn’t matter.
  • Chocolate—Chocolate, to me, is the most amazing stimulant ever created. It gives you energy, mellows you out a bit, yet sharpens your mind. It puts your right where you want to be for serious mental work. I have about 2-3 squares of my favorite chocolate bar with a dark coffee or black tea and I’m ready to get writing. I prefer something with a lot of cocoa, like Scharfen Berger’s 82% cocoa bar. So good.
  • A random book—I almost always bring a book (or sometimes, my Kindle) to read to get my brain warmed up for writing. After about 30 minutes of reading I’m usually ready to start writing my own stuff. The whole time I’m reading, I’m marking up favorite passages with my #2 pencil. In fact, I can’t read a book without a pencil anymore.
  • Print outs (when needed)—When I get to a third or fourth draft, I print out the manuscript and bring the sheets (single-sided with wide margins for easier editing) to the café and set to work proofing/editing them with my red pen.

First, NONE of these are endorsements and no one has paid me to mention the products above or to use them. They are simply what I prefer. I just want to list them to satisfy my (future) curiosity about the tools I use to write.

As you see, I like to keep it simple. I have written on computers since I was about 15 years old (that should date me, right there!) and can’t imagine writing on anything besides a notebook PC or tablet. I’ll post this list on a new section on the website which I will update over time. Look at this as a first cut to list the equipment I use to write and a sort of time capsule for how we wrote in 2015.


A writing update

Before I go, I wanted to give you an update on my writing.

As I previously said, I’m almost done with a new story “Pacha-Mama.” I hope to wrap editing on that piece up this weekend.

I’m also still sending two short stories around to editors. I have a number of rejections piled up, but no acceptances yet. I’ll keep you posted on the progress on all of these.

Finally, the clouds at work have cleared, so I should be able to write more freely and often now. Which is a great thing…So, until next time…

Keep reading, keep writing,

Darius

Short Story Title Reveal: Pacha-Mama

…and I’m back.

Back to work, back to writing, back to civilization, which after all, is simply writing + fermentation, like Faulkner said(?). It’s true that it’s hard to think of a civilizacelebracion_pacha_mama_01.jpg_2033098437tion that didn’t have BOTH. Just think about it. The Mayans, the Babylonians, ancient Chinese, ancient Persians, Egyptians. They all had the two…but I digress…

What have I been up to? Writing-wise that is? I’ve finished off a new short story…It actually runs a bit long to about 8,000 words. It’s called Pacha-Mama and I’ve sent it off to a few of my Beta readers. Initial feedback has been good: I need to polish the work and figure out a few of the transitions a bit better. Overall, I feel pretty good about it. I’m going to give my B-readers a little more time to get back to me and then I’ll hit it again. Smooth out those remaining parts, proofread it and then start the submission process. I don’t want to talk too much about it here, I’ll only add that the idea came to me after a trip to Peru a couple of years ago. I was sitting on the deck in our hotel on Taquile Island watching a big storm blow in from the Amazon across Lake Titicaca and it hit me. Or should I say the kernel of the story’s main idea began there?

Anyway, more on that later. I just wanted to get down a few things I think I got right on the latest story. The common thread in the two is that I did what worked for me—Darius—as a writer. Some might be able to write a story without plotting it first. Some might be able to write a piece thinking “This is going to be young adult urban fantasy” or “This will be Islamic steampunk.” And good for them! They can do it and should. But for me, I know it would never work.

So, here are two things I did with this story that I’m proud of:

1. I plotted the hell out of it.
I wrote a detailed plot arch outline before I started writing. You know, with an introduction, rising tension, climax and resolution. As I wrote, when I got caught or something didn’t make logical sense, I stopped. One day in particular, a day I was intending to keep jamming on the first draft, I realized something didn’t quite make sense. I didn’t panic. I just came to a full stop. I stared at the screen, thought about the consequence of the action on the page and worked out a solution. I spent an hour or so doing that. Once I had the solution, I went ahead and kept writing.

That’s how this story went. That strict plotting let me write more freely once I had it in place. That structure helped guide my writing and how far it could go before I had to reel it in.

2. I wrote without a thought about what genre it would fall in.
I originally thought this was a horror piece, but going along I realized that wasn’t quite right. It makes sense much more as a fantasy piece or, if you will, a piece of urban fantasy. The bottom line is that the story and the characters come first. They dictate what your story is. They had to bring forth the truth of this story and, in tone at least, I had to follow where they led. (Yes, I’m aware this contradicts 1 above somewhat). So, I just wrote it. And you know what? As soon as I wrote the last word of the last line, I knew it wasn’t horror. I knew it was something else. After a little thought, I decided what it was: fantasy.


So, that’s it. A little recount of the writing of my latest story. Like I said, I’ll be working on it in the coming weeks and then submitting it. I also am continuing to submit my earlier works. No editors seem to be biting yet, but I’m confident it’s only a matter of time.

Until next time,

Darius

Writing Update and…Short Stories Reconsidered?

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

Another update today on my writing and a little introspection further down the page.

I’m a little over half way done with a second draft of my new short story, “P.” I’m going to hold back on the title reveal until the second draft is in the can. That’s partly  because I don’t know if I’m satisfied with the story’s working title. Also, I would like to get the second draft (for me, always the hardest draft) done and off to Beta readers before I start promoting it. I just want to make sure the piece hangs together and works, before I start promoting or talking about it.

Which brings us to…

The Other Stories
I have three other stories I’m submitting now to magazines. I’m going to keep submitting those until they reach about 20 rejections. (This is based on some earlier feedback on my “rejection tolerance”). Then, it’ll be time to think about retiring (“trunking”) the ones which pass that threshold. So far, none of them have reached it. There is one, however, that’s getting close.

So much for the writing update…On to more interesting matters…

Short stories—reconsidered?
I may be getting a little “burnt out” on short stories. I have always felt I’m a writer who likes to write long. I have a lot of difficulty keeping my tales to the 7,500 words (or less) standard limit for short stories. I simply want to expand on scenes, characters, etc. to what I consider a “natural” length. Even my short pieces tend to be long: “The Ghul of Yazd” was over the 7,500 word limit for a short story.

In addition, many of my ideas tend to be for longer pieces. If you’re looking for someone to blame for this, blame my characters or Russian novelists. I can’t seem to stuff the best characters into a 7,500-word story. They just won’t have it. They’re always there in my head saying:

“What about this, Darius?”

“Oh! Don’t forget me in that scene! I would be fabulous!”

“Oh, and what would I do if you only placed me in that situation? Just imagine it!”

leo_tolstoy

I also blame Russian writers for this. I do. In high school, I got hooked on Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and the like (those wordy bastards!). And as you probably know, they write very long, dense books. Their influence on me was huge. These books (The Brothers Karamazov, Anna Karenina, etc.), in fact, are one of the reasons I became a writer. (But that’s a post for another time).

So, I blame them collectively: my characters and the Russians. I can’t say I’ve decided to act on this impulse to write long, but it’s there. Right now, I have a couple more short stories I want to get done, including “P.” But that doesn’t stop me from pre-writing or researching or thinking about how to plot out a novel…

Now does it?

See you next time,

Darius

Done with New Short Story

Hi, Everybody. Getting ready to take off on a trip for the long weekend, so I’m going to keep this one really short.

I’ve just finished a first draft of a new short story. It’s kind of late here, so I’m not feeling up to the whole “title reveal” thing tonight. It’s simply just another story done and I wanted to let you know. ecuador-andes

A basic overview of the story: It’s about 8,300 words and a bit too long to sell to a typical fiction magazine. I’m hoping to shape and sculpt the piece and remove some of the fat—and I have an idea just where that is. Namely, any part that doesn’t move the plot forward or develop a character. I’m hoping that simple cutting operation will get it down to around 6,000 words. A big part of the problem, you see, is that I’m finding more and more that I like to write LONG. But, I’ll address that whole thing a bit later here on the blog.

A few more details about this piece: It’s set in our world in the present day, mostly in Peru. It does contain some fantasy elements, so I’m calling it “urban fantasy” since that seems to be the hot genre these days.

That’s about it for now. I’m off to the Appalachian mountains tomorrow morning for some fresh air and hiking. When I come back I should be near a final second draft for the piece and ought to be ready to do the title reveal.

See you soon,

Darius