Kevin's Blog

6.17.13

This summer, weather-wise, is already shaping up a lot better than last year. Everyone knows about last year's drought, and how widespread and severe it was. As with so many things, both large and small, somewhere around October or so the drought gave me the idea for a story. Because I was well into the final draft of The Group, I didn't have time to get around to the idea till the first of January. After spending an entire year working on three separate drafts of an 82,000 word novel, I found it rather difficult to whip myself into shape to take on a 4,000 word story.

Eventually, I managed to get the concept into some sort of shape and, after tussling back and forth with a couple of different title ideas, ended up with "So Deep You can Fall in 'Em." Granted, a difficult title to type, but one that I feel nicely summs up the basic idea of the piece. After that, of course, began the merry-go-round submission cycle.

Which ended this weekend when I received an e-mail from Dark Fire magazine accepting the piece. It should be on their web site some time in the next month or so (at some point they moved away from scheduled issues and are just doing a rotating cycle of material), and now I'm left in the position of no new short material to send out. So I'll just have to spend this week taking some time off from the new novel and pounding out another short piece or two.  

And the beat goes on.

RIP Nautilus Engine

I learned the other day that The Nautilus Engine is defunct. TNE was one of the myriad of web-based 'zines specializing in science fiction, fantasy and horror. They were also one of the first, or possibly the first, 'zine to base itself solely on Facebook. For the first few years of its existence, it was simply on the web, then they attempted the shift to Facebook a couple of years ago. Keep in mind that I'm reciting this solely from memory, and my timeline may be a bit skewed.

I'm mentioning this because in its time TNE published two of my short stories, "The Farm" and "The Turtles." And it just so happens that those pieces are, as of this writing, two of my personal favorites. "The Farm" is either a horror or mystery piece, whichever title suits you best. I got the idea for it one night while watching Fox News and they came on with a promo for an upcoming special. Readers of "The Farm" will figure out fairly quickly, I assume, the real world inspiration, but I almost immediately veered away from the facts and into my own little episode. This story took a lot of time and effort to get in exactly the shape I wanted because I didn't want to give away too much too quickly. At the same time, I didn't want any ambiguity as to the who, what, where, when, and how.  The why is beyond understanding. TNE happened to be the first publisher I sent the piece to, and they snatched it up fairly quickly.

"The Turtles" was also a particularly difficult write, mainly because the basic premise is so cliched that it's literally been done to death thousands of times. But I wanted to present a possibly new angle to a stale idea, and it took a couple of months off and on to pound it into the right shape. But I didn't want so intricate that the reader couldn't follow, and by the time you get to my favorite line of the piece -- "In the casinos in Vegas there are no windows or clocks, so the suckers aren't aware of the passage of time" -- it's all downhill from there. Or uphill, depending on your point of view.

But the primary thing I enjoyed about TNE's representation of my work was the photography that accompanied the pieces. When I first pulled up "The Farm," I literally gasped at the photo that headlined the story. It was a simple picture of a barn in the twilight, but something about the shading so captured the mood I'd worked so hard for that I almost couldn't take my eyes from it. For "The Turtles" they presented a more complex, though no less appropriate, picture that pretty much gave away the punch line. But it did so in a way that didn't detract from the reading experience at all. 

So to whoever staff person selected the artwork for my pieces, even though we're talking about three years ago, kudos and many thanks. 

I'm sorry to see TNE go, but I hope that, wherever they are, the founders/staff of that 'zine are proud of the work they did. And again, thank you.

(P.S.In a bit of shameless self promotion, I'm going to mention that I'm currently looking to reprint both of the above stories, along with "Remembering the Ape Girl," which originally appeared in The Absent Willow Review, also now defunct.)

A Question of Identity

I've been thinking a lot about labels lately. For several years, it was rather easy for me to identify myself. I was a high-school teacher, a sometime college instructor, and a writer of short stories. Not the most glamorous of labels, but there it was. Then, as of last November, I had something longer than a simple short story released, and I wasn't sure what to call myself. Most people would call a novelette, even one published in its own volume, as a short story, and I would as well. But having a piece, no matter how brief, published in its own volume wasn't the same as all those stories that appeared in magazines alongside other pieces.

So was I still a short story writer, solely, or was I something more? I settled on fiction writer as being more inclusive, if a bit clunky. Then, just as I got accustomed to thinking of myself as a fiction writer, along comes Barbarian Books offering me a contract for a novel. So even though it hasn't seen print yet, does that make me a novelist? According to Ty Drago of Allegory magazine, it does.

Yet I don't feel like a novelist. At least not yet. See, The Group, due out this summer, is actually my fifth completed novel. The other four just never got in print. So somewhere between the time that I began the first one, Baytown, and finished the fourth, Regress, was I a novelist? Even with no books in print? For that matter last year, while I was working feverishly on a novel that would eventually be accepted, was I a novelist for that endeavor?

I'm not sure.  I do know that twenty-some years ago I didn't consider myself a short story writer until I had a piece appear in print. Even though I'd been writing short stories for a couple of years before that first pub, I didn't feel as if I could legitimately call myself a short story author. Afterwards, even with just one little story appearing for no money in a little regional publication, I could.

Yet if I follow that line of reasoning an awful lot of people, most of them probably more talented than myself, couldn't identify themselves by their talent. After all, if someone writes poetry almost non-stop for years, but never is lucky enough to get their work in print, does that mean they aren't a poet? Is a musician, no matter how talented, not a musician until and unless they get a record deal? (See my age with that term?)

I'm still working my way through all this, even though it probably doesn't matter to anyone but me. For now, I'm just going to stay with the inclusive term of "fiction writer." Yes, I've written a novel (five in fact), and I have a contract for one to come out, but until I actually see the darned thing out and about, or at least the cover art, I'm not going to feel as if I can legitimately claim the title.

But that's just me, and I'm not about to apply the same stringent standard to anyone else. After all, I work around teenagers during the day, and over the years I've known some exceptionally talented kids who neither had a record deal nor received payment for their art.

But they were still damned fine musicians and artists. 

 

 

Short to Long

I’m not by nature a writer of novels. True, I’ve written five items over 40,000 words in length (though one just barely), but it’s not something that comes easily to me. I’ve spent the majority of my writing career, what there is of it, writing short stories. In my early years, I did primarily flash fiction. (And to show you just how long I’ve been skirting around the edges of this, I was writing flash fiction before it was called that. The accepted term back then was “short short.”)

After a few years, I tried my hand at a couple of novellas but with no success. So I shelved that idea and never even considered novels. I figured if I couldn’t write a decent work of 15,000 words or so, then I had little chance of doing something longer. 

Eventually, I found myself writing longer and longer stories, to the point that now it’s difficult for me to do anything under five thousand words. I’d have to check my records to know when the last time was that I wrote a publishable piece of flash fiction. At least fifteen years or so. And as my stories got longer and more complex, every couple of years I would take a stab at a novel. 

All told finished four of them. Didn’t sell a one.

But I kept coming back to the longer forms. Last year I managed to sell a novelette to Vagabondage Press, and just about the time that happened I’d begun what I told myself would be my final attempt at a novel. After working on it all last year, I managed to sell it within a month of its completion. 

I still like short stories, got an affinity for them that will probably never die. But I may, just may, have finally gotten the hang of the longer forms, so much so that I’m right now in the middle of another one, currently projected to be around 100,000 words in length. 

I just hope somebody likes it. 

A Point to Outlining?

I go back and forth on outlining. For shorter pieces, I don't mess with it at all. I just start with a basic idea, a good ending, or sometimes just what I think is a cool title, such as "Fat Man in White," and I go from there. For my longer works, I've experimented with outlines of different types and styles. For my newest project, which in my head will end up as around a 100,000 word suspense/horror novel, I did more outlining than I ever have.

I started with about a five page general outline. Then I did another five or six pages of a chapter by chapter outline, with the original form having thirty chapters. Took me almost a week to do that plus some ancillary material. At which point I felt ready to begin the actual manuscript.

Now, a little over twelve thousand words in, I've already scrapped about a third of that outline, going off in two different tangents I hadn't even considered when the original story came into my head. Which leaves me to ponder if all of that work was worth it, or could I have done just as well with a half page to a page treatment of the general plot?

And, of course, the other looming question is by the time I'm finished, or even halfway through, how much of that original outline will remain?

 

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