Selling It

I am excited to announce not one, but two recent short story sales! The first, “Junior Partner,” went to StoryHack Action & Adventure. “Junior Partner” is a little tale about Blacklight, a superhero’s sidekick who can’t get any respect–until his partner goes down and the world is teetering on the brink. Blacklight’s going to have to reach inside himself to see if he has what makes a hero. But even with courage and determination, what can a mere sidekick do…?

“How to Murder a Corpse,” is the second in a series of stories involving a nameless mid-century private eye–who raises the dead on the side. He recently raised a pal killed in an accident so he could say good-bye, but zombies don’t last long, so why would somebody bother to kill him again? And why did he have a vampire’s bite on his neck and a bullet hole in his forehead? Find out in an upcoming episode of the Gallery of Curiosities podcast.

As if that weren’t enough, my flash story “The Deadline” is coming out in the debut issue of Factor Four Magazine on April 1. A long marriage can hide many secrets, but not many of them are quite this … cosmic.

And of course, if you like my short fiction, you can check out my novel series The Stolen Future and Nemesis, by reading their respective introductory volumes, The Invisible City, and The Choking Rain, for free.

I tell you, I am the gift that keeps on giving.



Take My Word for It

I’ve recently devoted a couple of posts to advice that new authors get which may or may not be worth its weight in gold. After all, everyone agrees that there are no real “rules” in writing–except when there are. (Seriously, no. 3.) What I thought I’d like to do this go-round was offer some tips that I’ve come to value over time. These aren’t rules, so you don’t have to worry about following them. On the other hand, they might make your life easier.

  1. You don’t have to write every day. Stephen King says you do, and he probably knows more than me, but, really, you don’t have to. It would be great if you could, and you should want to, but it simply isn’t practical. We have spouses, kids, work, hobbies, friends, lives… Unless and until you’re writing full-time to support yourself, don’t feel bad if you take a day off. Or the week-end. Burn-out is a real thing. Which brings us to…
  2. If the story isn’t coming to you, walk away from it. Writer’s block is real. Staring at the screen for an hour in mounting angst isn’t going to make the words flow. (Unless that’s your process. I’ve even seen it work a few times.) But while writing should be work, it should not be combat. It’s okay to get up, take a walk, play with the dog…exercise is a great way to free your mind. But don’t feel you’re goldbricking if you take time off to charge your batteries. (See no. 1.)
  3. Do whatever you want with your first draft, because no one will ever see it. (This comes courtesy of Anne Lamott, who wrote the greatest writing book I’ve ever read, Bird by Bird. I know this isn’t a list of rules, but trust me, buy this book.) You don’t show anyone your first draft, because (a) it’s going to suck, and (b) knowing no one will see it gives you the freedom to put down any old garbage, in the interest of getting the story written. You can always edit it away, and who’s going to know? How many drafts did Tolkien take to write Lord of the Rings? Beats me, what difference does it make? You only get to read the final version.
  4. Trust your instincts. If you feel a passage isn’t working while you write it, your reader isn’t going to like it, either. Feel free to trash it. I once had to delete and re-write the first 20,000 words of a novel. It hurt, but I went on to finish the book, which wouldn’t have happened otherwise.
  5. Don’t expect perfection. You won’t get it. Eventually, you reach the point of diminishing returns. Let someone read your third draft. Submit the story to some markets. See what happens. And get started on a new story. One of the best ways to deal with rejection is to know you already have something even better working.
  6. Don’t get discouraged. You will, of course. It’s inevitable. It can take years (decades!) to sell even a single story. Even when you’ve done that, there’s always another step to climb, another plateau to reach, another market to crack. Take a breath, look behind you, and see how far you’ve come. (Or try re-reading some of your earliest stories, if you dare.)
  7. Defy rejections with persistence. Send that story out again. And again. And again. I’ve sold stories to top-paying venues that had been rejected two dozen times. I sold one story that had been rejected 44 times. “Never give up. Never surrender.”

The classic image of a writer is a loner crouched over his desk in a freezing garret. It may be classic, but it’s not true. You’re not alone. We’re all in this together; we understand what it’s like. And take one last tip from me: It never gets any easier.

But it’s worth it.

ETA: There are no original ideas, and somebody is almost always writing the same story (or blog post) as you, possibly better. Case in point.


Last time, class, we considered the question of the classic advice, “Write what you want to read.” We concluded that it was good advice, so long as one is prepared to accept that one may be the only person in the world who wants to read it. (Or one of a relatively small handful.) This leads us to wonder, however, what other timeless bits of advice have only limited benefits? And how are they limited?

Let’s begin by acknowledging that no one writer’s career path is the same. (Honestly, if we acknowledge that, we can dispense with the rest of this post, but that would be kind of pointless. So let’s simply accept it as an underlying theme.) Just as no writer is going to reach success by the same route as any other, no one set of “rules” is going to apply to every writer. But as one who has been haunting the edges of this business since submissions were made on paper, through the mail, I’ve seen a great many truisms float by my eyes, and I’ve come up with some opinions:

Write what you know. This is good advice. Indispensable, actually. As classic as “Write what you like to read,” but more philosophically obtuse. The question always comes up: “What do I know about spaceships/dragons/zombies?” The answer is that this is not what the advisor is talking about. Fiction of every kind is about people. Write what you know about Life. Then dress it up with zombies.

All authors need a web presence. Well, yes and no. You should have some kind of web page, because readers like to know about their favorite authors, at least listing a basic biography and bibliography. But you don’t need a blog, unless you want one. In fact, if you’re not into the Internet at all, don’t create a page. A neglected web site is worse that none. Same goes for other on-line experiences.

Don’t pay to be published. This is absolutely true. You don’t pay a publisher, and you don’t pay an agent. Ever.

Don’t quit. If you persist long enough, you will be published. Again, yes and no. The only guarantee is that if you do quit, you won’t ever make it. But there’s no guarantee that persistence will always win–although it is an odds-on favorite.

You can break the rules when you’re successful. Well, yes, sometimes, but you may need to break the rules to be successful.* The question is not whether people will let you break the rules, but whether you can break them well enough that people allow it. You may do that first time out; you may never do it. If the story demands it, do it, and let the chips fall where they may.

Self-publishing is the only way to go. You keep all the control, and you reap much more money. This is highly questionable.  No one really knows how self-publishing works. There are a thousand ways to succeed, and a million ways to fail. People who say that self-publishing is the One True Path are as bad as those who swear it is the wide road to Hell. It may be for you, and it may not.

Writers should refrain from taking political stances on social media. Gauge your audience. Are your views such that they will disagree with you? Strenuously? Then you should probably keep your thoughts to yourself–at least by that name. On the other hand, if you think it will help, go for it. Activists like to write; why shouldn’t writers…activate? Just be prepared to take what comes.

Show, don’t tell. We finish with another classic, one of the few real “rules.” Pretend you are the reader, experiencing the story through your protagonist’s eyes. Instead of writing that, “He came upon a village,” tell us what he saw: “A collection of one-story huts, built of ill-fitted timbers plugged with dried mud that would have washed away in the first rain, were such a thing ever seen in this parched land.”

Writing is a lot like life: The only good rules are those which are so infuriatingly vague that you can spend decades trying to figure out what they mean. Try not to think of it as “vagueness” so much as “wiggle room.” Write a story you’d like to read, and make it entertaining. Just don’t get so caught up in following someone else’s rules that you don’t define your own. (Except no. 3. Always follow no. 3.)

*Please don’t ask me to define success. You have to define it for yourself.


The third book in my neo-pulp Nemesis series, The Killing Scar, is now available for purchase on Amazon and Smashwords. (You can start the series with The Choking Rain, for free.)

Set in 1932 Berlin, where the Nazis are literally battling for power, with gunfights in the streets, Eric Reinhold and his crew have come to investigate reports that the mysterious Dr. Scar has built a weapon of great power that could bring a nation to its knees and begin a new world war! But when Dr. Scar’s power proves to be their match, Eric must re-invent himself for a second time, rising from the ashes of his own apparent death to become something more than human.


A legend is about to spread its shadow over evildoers across the globe–the legend of Nemesis.


One of the best pieces of advice for a new (or any) author is: “Write what you love. Write the kind of story you would want to read.” The theory behind this is, if you’re going to pour the effort into a work, you might as well enjoy the process. What they don’t say is, you might as well enjoy the process, because the satisfaction of the work itself may well be the only reward you receive.

Let’s face it: No matter how good you are, and no matter how much you love your story, there are only so many outlets, and they are inundated with stories that somebody loves.* Added to the hurdles facing you is the fact that the stories you love may not be in vogue at the moment.

And therein lies the rub: What do you do when the stories you want to write are not the stories that are being published? Granted, there’s a good chance that the kind of stories you like are being published somewhere (and there’s always self-publishing), but let’s assume you actually want to make money and have people read your work–what do you do?

Beats me. I wish I had an easy answer, but there isn’t one. Your choices may be selling to lesser markets, waiting for your kind of story to return to the forefront, or writing things that you believe are more commercial. (Beware–writing to commercial tastes is a very chancy business. By the time you submit your story, the popular current may have changed and you’ve done all that work for nothing.)

In the end, I’d opt for writing the best story I can, even if it’s not what I’d truly love to write. After all, just because it isn’t in your preferred milieu, that doesn’t mean you can’t write a great story. One of the biggest problems with beginning genre story writers is that they concentrate on “genre” instead of “story.” While it’s true that the SF in an SF story has to be integral to the plot (although that rule can be broken later on in your career), the SF should aid the plot, not the other way around. For example, Star Trek is not popular because it’s cutting edge SF (or ever was, with a few notable exceptions), but because people love Kirk, Spock, McCoy, et al. It could have been a Western, or a cop show, so long as it had those relationships.

So write a strong enough story and people will read it. If it’s really strong, people will read it no matter the genre or setting. And at that point, as they say, you will be able to write your genre and read it, too.

*Pro tip: Watch for new markets and get something in quickly before the editor becomes jaded. It doesn’t always work, but it has for me.


Mid-course Correction

One of the bad things about being a writer is that you are your own workforce. If you take time off, no one picks up the slack. You also have to live with your decisions, good or bad.

One of the good things about being a writer is that you are your own boss. You set your own goals, your own hours. You want to take a week off, you don’t have to ask anybody. And if you want to change your business model, you don’t have to run your new plan by a committee.

So I’m changing my business model. And while I don’t have to run it by a committee, since it’s sudden and runs smack into the plan I was publicizing as late as a week ago, I felt like I should say something.

I am taking an indefinite hiatus from self-publishing. It’s for the obvious reason: economics. I have proven to myself that, given the proper motivation, I can write a lot faster than I had been, which is essential to self-publishing. You have to push a lot of product to the market. Unfortunately, this is only half of the equation, in that once you have put product on the market, someone has to want to consume it. And therein lies the rub.

The most formidable obstacle to successful self-publishing is discoverability. This is not a writing problem, this is a business problem. According to the numbers, I do not have the business acumen to make a go of self-publishing. It takes about twice the time I was putting in before, and it provides about the same money. I may not be a business genius, but even I can see this makes no sense.

So I’m going back to writing short stories, and with any luck I’ll be able to apply some of the lessons that I gleaned while learning to write a novel in two months. My backlist will remain in print, of course, so theoretically I will soon have two income streams.

Being the boss means sometimes you have let go of an employee. Or a business. I’ll miss being a self-published writer; I just won’t miss being a self-publisher.

Okay, I’ve got to go. My boss is yelling at me to write something. Short stories or novels, some things never change.


When I was writing The Scent of Death, second in the Nemesis series, I posted irregular reports on “the Experiment,” i.e., whether I could write a book in three months. (I could.) You can find some of them here and here. I even did a “Son of the Experiment” as I started out the next book, The Killing Scar. These posts, however, were mainly concerned with charting progress through word counts, not so much about the nature of that progress. This time I propose to do something a little different.

I am currently working my way up to starting Marauders from the Moon, the fourth book in the series. And when I say “working my up to starting,” I mean that I haven’t written Word One. It seems, then, that this would be a good place to start with regular Progress Reports–not only to document where I am, but how I got there and where I think I’m going. (As you will see, where I think I’m going is an important caveat.)

Convention-goers are familiar with Progress Reports, and know that PR 0 (zero) is the very first, before the committee really has a lot to say. And that’s where I am, so I’m going to talk about the process so far.

I’ve been trying, with some success, to outline before I write. Many writers outline, and no two of them do it the same way. My approach has four steps:

  1. Write a blurb. Like for the back of the book. A book blurb contains your entire story in a few words. Once you write that, you know what the book is about.
  2. List every thought, concept, setting, character, and plot device you can possibly think of, in no particular order. Just throw a bunch of stuff at the screen that you think might be fun or useful to include.
  3. Begin what resembles an outline. Lay down a few plot lines, pencil in some character interactions. Try to work up a paragraph for each chapter, more or less. Get as far into the book as you can before you start writing so you can get a running start.
  4. Start writing the book, ignoring half of step 2 and most of step 3.

I like to write the book from the inside out, which is to say, I’m a pantser who uses an outline as a crutch. There’s only so far I can outline before I lose track of where I am and how many words I have covered. At that point, I have to start writing the book itself so I can see where it’s going. If I’ve jotted down 12 plot points and cover them all in the first 15,000 words, then I’m going to need a lot more plot points–but I can’t know that until I start writing. And yes, this is a messy process; you should have seen it before I got organized.

The plan is to write about 5000 words a week and be done by April 30. I will also try to post at the end of each week how I’m doing, and why it’s going well or poorly.

That’s it for PR 0. See you in a week. At least, that’s how I’ve outlined it…