Saturday, December 29, 2012


One of the things I love the most about the science fiction and fantasy community of writers is the atmosphere of support that I see daily.  I am a member of several writers groups, both in-person and online.  These are made up of writers, both aspiring and successful, who share their time, knowledge, and insights to help each other reach the next level in their development.

One of the places I frequent is the Writers of the Future forums.  There is a sub-forum there for story critique exchange.  Everyone involved is actively trying to win the contest, yet every person I have swapped critiques with does their utmost to help the writer craft their story into the strongest contender it can be.

I have friends who do not understand this.  "Aren't you all trying to win the same thing?  How does helping the competition make any sense?"

It makes all the sense in the world.

There is one completely selfish reason I could cite--critiquing other people's work makes your own stronger--but I don't think this is the reason at all.  At least, it isn't for me.

These aren't just "competitors."  These are people.  People who are striving towards a goal and a dream, just like me.  People who I have made honest friendships with, even though I have never met them in person.  People who can bring their own voices to the world of science fiction and fantasy.

I love seeing them succeed.  Oddly enough, I cried more from happiness when a friend learned she was a finalist in the contest than I did when I learned I was a finalist myself.

This doesn't just hold true with people who "know" each other through in-person or online groups.  Most conventions have writers workshops as part of the programming.  Professional writers give their time to give feedback to people who submit.  Do they need to do this?  I don't think so.  Of course, I'm not at the level yet where I've been asked to be on the pro side of workshops, but I don't think anyone wrings arms to get people to participate.

Rather, it's a matter of paying things forward.  Or back.  Or however you look at it.  When the pros who are on these panels now were learning, other professionals gave their time to help them grow.  Now, given the chance to give back, they do.

This spirit of support and giving is one of my favorite things about what I do as a writer.  I love to be involved in something so positive and uplifting, even while the daily reality of writing feels a lot like banging your head repeatedly against a wall.

To anyone out there who feels like they are alone in this writing world, I strongly encourage you to seek out other writers.  If not for critique groups or in-person get togethers, if that's not something you're comfortable with, then simply for the camaraderie and the knowledge that we're all with you, even if we're not saying anything.

To everyone out there who has "paid it forward," thank you.  You make the writing world a better place to be.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Writers of the Future Results

In very short order this past week, I learned both that I was not a winner for Volume 29 Quarter 3, and that I was also not a finalist in Quarter 4 in the Writers of the Future contest.

Am I sad that I didn't win?  A little bit.  But really only a very little.

Earning the finalist placement was a huge validation for me as a writer.  I was in the company of a huge number of authors whose work I enjoy and esteem.  Besides, not winning one quarter is not the end.  I have every intention of continuing to enter every quarter until I win or manage to "pro out."

"Pro-ing out" means that I would have sold enough to professional markets that I no longer qualify for the Writers of the Future.  If I have accomplished that goal, I have accomplished something mighty, so I don't fear that result either.

For Quarter 4, my story earned an Honorable Mention.  This was my third Honorable Mention in the contest, so my record now stands at two rejections, three honorable mentions, and one finalist.  I look at this and feel like I'm pointing in the right direction.

Right now I'm finishing up edits on my submission for the first quarter of Volume 30.  I'm excited to get it out the door and into the slush pile, to join the two stories just returned from WotF and ten other stories I have in circulation at this moment.

No looking back for me.


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

NaNoWriMo--Noveling Without a Safety Net

November, for those who don't know, is National Novel Writing Month.  A huge number of people around the world sign up at to compose a 50,000 word novel in the thirty days that make up November.  Yes, that does include Thanksgiving, which can knock out a large number of productivity hours.

I've done NaNoWriMo many times.  I've "won" three times.  Of those, only one resulted in a completed novel (at 85k words).

One of the things I noticed about my process was that I tended to try to get a big head start, so I would have a buffer to shield me if I got sick, stressed, bored, or otherwise overwhelmed by the project.  I could take whole days off and be all right.

This time, I decided to try a different route.  I have committed to writing the number of words necessary to reach 50k by the end of the month each day.  1,667 words.  By stopping very close to that number each day, I force myself to get back at the computer the next day, and the next, and so on.  The idea is that if I start training myself to write a little bit every day, it can become a habit.

No safety net forces me to have accountability every day.  I'm finding I like this approach.  I don't feel overwhelmed.  I can write 1,667 words in an hour if I'm in the groove and not worrying too much about crafting perfect sentences.  The crafting comes when the draft is done.  Usually, it's taking me a little more than an hour of actual writing time each day, but it's showing me that this is not an unreachable goal.

So, while I'm not a winner yet, I fully expect that, come November 30th, I'll cross the finish line right on target and validate my fourth "win."  There will still be more story to write, but that's all right.  All I have to do is keep going.

I'm a writer.  That's what writers do.

(If you want to see my beautiful stats page, click here.)

Monday, November 5, 2012

Finalist? Me???

On Friday, November 2nd, I received the phone call I've dreamed of for a very long time.  Joni Labaqui from the Writers of the Future contest, telling me that I am a finalist in the 3rd quarter of Volume 29.

I'd like to say that I was calm and collected.  The truth was, sadly, much different.  I believe my first words were, "You're kidding, right?"  I wonder what percentage of finalists ask that very same question.  My guess would be that it's quite high.  I mean, truly, how often does a hoped for dream become a reality?

Once I was assured that she was not kidding, my mind had gone into full-on short circuit.  When asked, "Where did you hear about the contest?" my answer was, "I don't know!"  Then I babbled on for a bit about spending a lot of time on the contest forums (which are filled with welcoming, creative, awesome writers,) and eventually I decided that I'd always known about the contest.  This is patently not true, given that the contest began in the early 1980's and I was born...somewhat earlier than that.  Still, I honestly do not remember when I learned about it, and I do remember being aware of the anthologies a long, long, time ago.

Will I win?  No idea.  Right now I'm just so thrilled to have been selected as as finalist that I'm not even letting myself think that far ahead.

In the meantime, I will await my next phone call with anxious anticipation.  I do hope that, win or not, I manage to hold an intelligent conversation without the interference of a few overwhelmed tears.

I'll know soon enough.  For now, I'm going to hold onto this feeling, and catalog it for future use, if I ever have a character learn their dreams may be coming true.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

"Days Waiting Challenge" Accomplished!

Way back in June, I set myself a challenge to see how long it would take me to rack up a cumulative total of 365 days waiting for responses to stories on submission.  As of yesterday, October 26, 2012, I accomplished that goal.  With ten stories at markets, I had exactly 365 days total of wait time.

It took me 140 days from the time I set the challenge.


Now, I need a new challenge.

To that end I've signed up, once again, for NaNoWriMo.  A 50,000 word novel in a month.  No problem, right?  Hahaha!  Novels scare me badly.  I have completed a total of one fully original novel.  One.  I've "won" NaNoWriMo several times by completing 50k words of a story, but they never did get endings.

Hoping to come up with a better result this time.

If any of you are participating in NaNoWriMo, I'd love to be writing buddies.  You can find me on their forums as Dreamer74.

Hope everyone has had a productive October, and I'm looking forward to the November challenge.

Friday, September 7, 2012

"The Memory of Huckleberries"--Behind the Scenes

Earlier this month, my short story, "The Memory of Huckleberries," was published in Penumbra eZine.  I'm incredibly pleased with the issue.  Aside from the stories, which are engaging and skillfully written, I can't say enough about the design of the magazine.  The artwork is beautiful, and the pages are full of color.  Even the scene break marks are appropriate to the theme of the magazine.  Also, my name on the cover in REALLY BIG LETTERS makes me smile every time I look at it.

"The Memory of Huckleberries" began gestating over a year ago when I was walking on the beach in Moclips, Washington during a break at the Cascade Writers Workshop.  I spent time just smelling the air, taking in the feel of the wet sand, the sounds of the receding waves shushing backwards down the shore.  I captured that feeling in my mind, then started wondering what kind of story could go with it.

Originally, my thought was that the story was going to be about a dying Native American woman being visited by aliens that she, in her fevered delirium, thought were the mythical beings of her people.  Then, after applying some tools I learned from David Levine at the workshop, the aliens disappeared and the story took on a different form.  This was going to be a first contact story, but the plan was to follow the young white boy who had inadvertently brought a killing disease to the tribe.

When I look at the finished product, I am once more reminded that I am really not an outliner.  Looking at my notes, I can hardly recognize the story.  It started to write itself once words went onto the page, and much of the first three-quarters of the story is materially unchanged from that first draft.

The ending, on the other hand, went through at least six iterations.  I couldn't find the right balance.  Does she die before seeing her family?  Should I switch the Huckleberry's POV when she comes ashore?  What about telling the story to the grandson around the fire years later?  I wrote all of these endings and more.  They weren't right.

I felt so strongly about the story that I just kept trying until I arrived at the final result you can find published in the September issue of Penumbra.

I don't know if there's a lesson to be learned here beyond trust your instincts.  If something is close, but doesn't quite feel right, keep trying.  Don't let almost be enough.  Of course, you'll get conflicting responses from readers.  I certainly did.  You have to find the "right" that is right for you and your story.

Have faith in yourself.  You can do this.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Dean Wesley Smith Workshop & My Story in a Day Challege

On Friday, I spent most of the day creating a 5000 word short story from scratch.  I had no advance preparation.  No planning.  No nothing, but a hard deadline that I had to write the words "The End" by the end of the day.

Part of the reason for this challenge is that I'll be attending Dean Wesley Smith's Character Voice and Setting workshop in April of next year.  This is an invitation only workshop, and I had to answer a lot of questions before I got my invitation.  I've heard lots of fabulous things about the workshop, and also that we will be doing a lot of writing while we're there.  From talking to people who have attended in the past, I'm anticipating that we will have at least two assignments to write a 4-7k words short story in a day during the week of the workshop.

I am a person who responds well to deadlines, and I know that I'm capable of writing that many words in a day, but I was less certain of my ability to write a complete story in that time.  Words on the page with no ending are great, but not the goal here.  I needed to prove to myself that I was capable of performing.

Now I know I can.  I am really pleased with the story I wrote, and nowhere near as nervous about the workshop in April.

Don't get me wrong, I still have some trepidation, but it's tinged more with excitement than dread.  I can do this.  Hooray!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Story in a Day Challenge

I've been dragging my feet about starting a new story for too long.  It's time for a jump start, and I want to do it wholeheartedly.  To that end, I'm issuing a challenge to myself to write a story in day, tomorrow, Friday, August 17th.

This story must be between 3,000 and 7,000 words.  It must end.  It doesn't have to be polished, but it does have to be done.

If anybody is interested in joining, please feel welcome to post here.  We can send each other our results, so there's some incentive not to blow the challenge off.

I realize this is short notice and tomorrow's a work day for many, but I also plan to do this again a few times a year, so if you're interested and this date doesn't work for you, go ahead and suggest a date that would.  It's words time!

Thursday, August 2, 2012


I should have written this post long ago, but I've been struggling to convince myself that the email acceptance I received and the contract I signed were actually real.  After so many years--my last story was published in 2004--I was beginning to think it was a fluke.  I hadn't written my proverbial million words of crap yet.  Shouldn't have happened.

Yet, from all the conventions I've attended, and the successful authors I have heard speak, they all say the same thing.  The people who find success are the people who don't give up.  No matter how bleak it looks.  No matter how tall the stack of rejection letters--even if you could heat your house in January with a ritual burning--each of those rejections is a step towards publication.  Every story you write teaches you something new.  No matter how often the error side of the trial and error cycle looms its ugly head, if you keep writing, and keep learning more about the craft, you're getting better.

I lost a lot of time over the past eight years.  Some of that was through divorce and the emotional upheaval that goes with it.  Some of it was from choosing to spend my time in unproductive (if enjoyable) pursuits--hello, World of Warcraft!  Some of it was plain, downright fear of failure.

I wonder where I would be now if I had made different choices?

The truth is, I'll never know.  In the meantime, I am happy to announce my first sale to a pro-paying market.  My short story, The Memory of Huckleberries, will be the cover story in the September issue of Penumbra ezine.

I am only just now letting it sink in that, yes, this is real, and yes, I can succeed if I keep working and don't give up.  We never know how long the journey will be, but if you're passionate, the journey is worth the effort.  Enjoy the process, have fun, and (cliche alert!) keep your eyes on the prize.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

'Days Waiting' Challenge & Submission Progress Updates

I thought I'd give an update to my 'days waiting' challenge.  Before receiving a rejection from Asimov's earlier this week, I'd managed to pump my wait time up to 258 day, according to my calculator.  I checked it twice, because it didn't seem possible that the number could have jumped so far in the course of less than a month.  Turns out that having multiple stories on the market really does make a big difference.  You would think this would be obvious, but math has never been my strong suit.

Basically, if you have one story and it sits for thirty days, you've got 30 days of waiting.  If, on the other hand, there are five stories all waiting those same thirty days, that's 150 days of waiting.  Color me educated.  There is a real world mathematics application!  (I kid--but this was still eye opening to me.)

Unfortutely for my numbers, the story that came back had been in the queue for fifty-one days, so that knocked my acculumated days waiting back quite a lot.

In the meantime, I now have two stories that have made it past their initial round of readings.  One, at Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, has made it to the second round, and I should hear back in the next week or two with whether I have made it into the third and final round, where the editors make their choices from all the stories that have made it that far.  The other is at Musa Publishing: Penumbra, and it has reached the final round.  This story is for their September issue, which is Native American Folklore themed.  According to what I've read, they finalize the issues about a month in advance, so I should be hearing back from them probably within the month as well.

After a long dry spell, save for one nice personal rejection from a senior editor at Beneath Ceaseless Skies, this is making me feel like I'm headed on the right path.  There's every chance that neither of these stories will make it into the publications they are waiting to hear back from, but the fact that I've made it as far as I have is encouraging, and I'm looking forward to continuing to get stories written and submitted.

As I've been explaining to my son, the only sure way to fail is not to try.

I'm not going to go down that way.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Internet and Productivity

Recently, I asked the helpful folks at the Writers of the Future forums for suggestions on how to develop a business plan.  Martin L. Shoemaker, two-time WotF finalist and one of the most helpful people I've had the privilege to know, replied with a fabulous list of links.  I went to the first one on the list, Kristine Kathryn Rusch's Freelancer's Survival Guide.

The Freelancer's Survival Guide is available at that link as a series of blog posts, but as soon as I started delving into it--it's huge--I knew that I needed to have this in a more portable and permanent form, so I bought it for my Kindle.

I take a bath before I go to bed every night.  It's my downtime/reading time.  One of the few places where I can focus for an extended period of time (note the lack of an internet in the bathtub).  A perfect place to learn about writing as a business.

There is so much information in the Freelancer's Survival Guide that it is sometimes overwhelming.  I'm also not at a point where I'm ready to consider quitting my day job to rely entirely on my writing as my income.  Not by a long shot.  A lot of what I'm reading isn't immediately applicable, although it's knowledge that will come in handy when I'm ready for it.

What really speaks to me, though, is the necessity of focused, distraction-free writing time.

"But I write!" my little mind protests.  "I sit at my laptop and I open a word document!  I think about words.  I even write them!"

What I've been ignoring is how the instant I hit a snag--a plot point I don't know exactly how I want to approach, a scene that's uncomfortable to write, or I simply don't like the way the words look on the page--I immediately retreat to my happy place, the internet.

It's so easy to feel like reading or talking about writing is writing.  I've been able to convince myself that it counts.  But it isn't, and it doesn't.  My productivity has been low for years.  It was time to make a change.

I tried to set up parental controls on myself, to limit my internet access.  That led to frustration and a laggy computer, so I deleted the program and tried again.  What I found instead is called Freedom.  I can block myself off the internet for a length of time of my choosing.

Since I started using Freedom, for a minimum of one hour per day, I've experienced a significant boost in my productivity.  I've gone from 1,000 words every two weeks, if I was lucky, to closer to 1,000 words a day.

I'm forcing myself past the hard parts.  Those uncomfortable scenes get written, and it's amazing how the uncomfortable scenes are usually the most powerful.

So thank you, Martin, for pointing me to the Freelancer's Survival Guide, and thank you Kristine Kathryn Rusch for writing it.  It's been a sorely needed kick in the pants.

Now it's time to get this posted, then turn on my Freedom and get some real work done.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Hurry Up and Wait

Last night I submitted my entry for the third quarter of the Writers of the Future contest for 2012.  The deadline isn't until the end of the month, but since I had a story ready that I felt good about, I decided it wasn't going to serve any purpose just letting it sit on my hard drive.  Besides, last quarter's heart-attack-on-a-stick of not finishing my submission until there were only four hours left before the deadline isn't something I'm keen on revisiting.

That said, my quarter two entry is still waiting in the slush pile there, so I now have two stories waiting at the same market.  And, there are people still waiting for results in quarter one!  Normally, this contest is much faster with its turn-around time, but the sad passing of K.D. Wentworth, the coordinating judge, near the end of the first quarter has caused a backlog.  The new coordinating judge, David Farland (Dave Wolverton), is now on the job and I'm sure we'll start seeing results soon.

It got me thinking, however, about how much of this writing world is a hurry up and wait proposition.  Admittedly, most short story markets don't have the same deadline system that the WotF contest does, but we work hard, write the best stories we can, send them out into the big world and wait.  Some markets, notably Lightspeed and Clarkesworld, have very quick return times.  I really appreciate hearing back within the week, as tends to happen in these markets, but most are much longer.

I decided to add up how long all of the stories I have currently under submission have been waiting.  Answer--one-hundred fifty-nine days.  That's for five total stories.  I'm not a speed demon writer, and I know there are many people who have significantly higher numbers, both of stories at markets and total days waiting.

So here's my challenge to myself--get more stories at market and increase that total wait time!  I wonder how quickly I can bring my wait time up to 365 days?  As I hear back from my current submissions, I'll lose days, so I'll need to get more stories out there in decent numbers to make that goal.

Time to get writing!

How many stories do you have at markets?  What is your combined wait time?

Friday, May 25, 2012

Outlining Update

I promised to update my adventures in outlining in my last post, so here you go:

Wow, this outlining thing is difficult!

I've spent a lot of time with a notepad and a pencil jotting down ideas and the questions those ideas bring to mind.  Instead of starting into the story, I'm making myself contemplate different directions the story can take and evaluating them to see which would be best.  As of now, I do not have an outline, but I do have a much more developed idea than the seed that I began with.  A sprout, I guess you could call it.

I've been playing "What If?" in a much more formalized way than I've done it before.  One of my first writer friends, Suzie Quint, was the person who introduced me to "What If?"  Basically, it involves asking that question over and over.  It helps jog your brain to come up with answers that are in there, but don't want to leap forth of their own accord.  You have to ask the question to get the answer.

So I now have a partially developed plot, which started its seed life as a short story idea and now has grown towards novel-length.  I have characters and a setting that didn't exist in the beginning.  I have an idea of where I want the story to end.  It's not where I'd hoped to be by now--I'd hoped to already have a fully realized outline and be ready to start writing--but it's something, and it hasn't hit a dead end yet.

How do you feel about outlining?  Is it a way of life for you, or is it more like pulling teeth?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Adventures in Outlining

I've been saying for years that I am a certified "Pantser."

For those of you who don't know what that means, it's a writer who does it by the seat of their pants.  You get an idea and you just start writing.  Sometimes the magic works and you end up with an amazing story that you never dreamed would have appeared from the little idea you had to start with.  Much more often, for me, at least, you end up a few thousand words in with no idea where you are going, lost in a hazy blur of confusion and paths that circle back on themselves as if they're magnetically repelled from a coherent, satisfying ending.

Reaching this point time after time becomes disheartening, frustrating, and can develop into a self-fulfilling prophecy.  It's gotten to the point where when I start something, I assume it's going to hit that wall.

It's time to do something about it.

I've tried outlining before.  It's like speaking a foreign language.  (Harder, actually--I'm pretty good with languages.)  Once, I completed an outline and used it to finish a novel.  There were a few spots where I veered off the outline-dictated course, but I managed to reroute myself back onto it with some actual improvements.  Because of this example, I know that I can do it.  What's difficult is finding the discipline to wait.  No saying, "Wow!  What a neat idea!  I need to write about that right now."

My last adventure in outlining lasted approximately a month.  I had the core idea, then I spent the month of October walking in parks, sitting in the bathtub, or simply lying in bed before falling asleep, thoroughly thinking through the ramifications of the idea.  What characters go with it?  What is the beginning?  More importantly, what is the end?  How do they get there?  What changes do the characters go through on the journey?

Utilizing patience, a concept that eludes and fuddles me to this day, is the key.  It's time to embrace a change.  If I want to write another novel--and I do--throwing myself at it blindly isn't going to work.  I have several files full of permanently stalled beginnings as evidence.  It's time to slow down.  Time to think.  Time to approach writing in a different way.

I'll report back on my progress.  And in case anyone was wondering, yes, this is scary, but I believe the rewards will outweigh the risks.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Norwescon 35

I spent this last weekend at Norwescon 35, held at the Doubletree Hotel in SeaTac.  Norwescon is a vibrant convention full of creative, enthusiastic people.  It's something I look forward to each year (although if it were held on a weekend other than Easter, it would be even better.)

I had two short stories in the Writers Workshop hosted by the Fairwood Writers, both in round robin sessions.  The level of comments was high and I found myself both encouraged with the responses people had to my work and eager to incorporate many of the suggestions I received.

What was an eye-opener for me was just how many people I actually know in the local writing community.  When I started attending Norwescon many years ago, I felt like a complete novice--shy, unconfident, and solitary.  Now, I recognize many of the people around me at the panels and can greet them by name.  I've read at least some of their work.  I'm more confident in my own writing and I'm no longer a wallflower.  It's been a slow transition, but I really noticed it this year.

The best thing about Norwescon, aside from the actual workshopping process, is simply being in company with a large number of people who share the same passion and creative energy.  It's like plugging yourself into a psychic battery.  I come out fully charged and ready to forge ahead with my writing at full speed.

One of my two workshopped stories has already been edited and submitted and I expect the next to follow by the end of the week.  Then, it will be time to focus on new production.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Potlatch 21

I've spent most of this weekend attending Potlatch 21, a literary event for readers and writers of speculative fiction.  On the first day, I participated in a writers workshop led by David Levine.  There were six authors involved, and I was impressed with the talent and creativity represented around the table.  The stories were well-written and the critiques were insightful.  I discovered that it may not be as difficult to fix the broken story I submitted as I'd first thought and I'm encouraged to give it a go.

I've enjoyed the company of a group of writers who are dedicated to their craft, and I've been soaking up the energy.  Writing is a very solitary art when you boil it down--you sit by yourself and type (or scribble) in the pleasant company of the voices in your head.  Finding other people who understand this, and being able to spend some actual time talking with them, is refreshing and rejuvenating.

I'm looking forward to focusing that influx of energy into new stories.  Ideas are already percolating.  One of those ideas even has an end in sight.  Hooray!