Behind the Stories – Agenda

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In my continuing series where I describe the inspiration behind my stories, I have one that’s hot off the presses. (It felt old to type that. Do kids these days even know what a printing press is?)

My story “Agenda” appears in Planetside: Science Fiction Drabbles, which was released yesterday! As the anthology’s name suggests, mine (and all of the other stories in the anthology) are 100 words–no more, no less.

It’s hard writing exactly 100 words. There’s a lot of counting for starters. For this particular story, I took a work that was 160 words and cut it down to 100. I think that was even harder than setting out to write only 100 words from the start–killing your darlings an all.

This story has a very unique, and I dare say experimental, format. The title gives it away, but the story is in the form of a meeting agenda. I wrote this a couple of years ago when I was president of two volunteer organizations, both of which required me to prepare agendas for the organization’s monthly meetings. At some point in doing this every month, I had the idea of trying to tell a story solely through a meeting agenda. I’d seen other authors tell stories through lists or even recipes but never an agenda. I thought using an agenda format was creative at the time and still do.

I plan to include the 160 word version of this story in my forthcoming short story collection of related tales. (I say “forthcoming,” but I haven’t made much progress on putting it together.) This summer I realized over the last several years that I’d written at least three stories where aliens invade Earth, and it didn’t go well for us humans. I decided those stories should all be in the same universe, so I plan to harmonize several details, such as the name of the race of alien invaders. These I’ll include in my short story collection, along with several other groups of related short stories, i.e. each story in a group is related to the other stories in that group but not related to stories in other groups.

And that’s “Agenda.” Have you ever tried an experimental format in your writing? Did it work or not? Let me know in the comments.

3Q22 Update

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It’s that time of year again. Yes, the Halloween decorations need to go up. Yes, the decorative gourds need to be put out. Oh, and I should provide an update on my writing progress during the third quarter.

Words written = 6,591
Submissions = 42
Rejections = 32
Acceptances = 0
Shortlists/Holds = 0
Publications = 1
Rewrites = 0
Withdrawals = 0

Those numbers on the top look amazing. Outside of a quarter with NaNoWriMo, I haven’t written that much in ages. Even more impressive, only about 1700 words of that were additions to existing stories, which has been where a lot of my writing has gone this year. Instead, I actually wrote 5 new stories – 4 flash and 1 short story. I had an awesome vacation in August to thank. Not only did the family go out west to see some amazing national parks, but work left me alone enough that I could write in the evenings rather than catching up on things.

Also, that submission total is one shy of my all time quarterly record. I’m basically sneezing distance from reaching my goal of 100 submissions this year already.

On the other hand, the big fat zero in the Acceptances column hurts. While I still have 3 acceptances on the year, thus meeting my one acceptance per quarter goal, that zero in the Acceptances column looms large. Thankfully, a ton of markets opened to submission as of October 1, and I’ve already fired off 5 this month. I just need one to hit to meet my acceptances goal.

The sole publication snuck in at the end of the quarter in the Virginia Writers Club Journal. I wrote about that here including the inspiration for the story. If you like humorous science fiction or are a fan of dad jokes in general, give it a read. You won’t be disappointed.

Now it’s time to look forward to an exciting time of the year. Yes, there is Halloween, then Thanksgiving, and then Christmas (at least in my household), and I love all three of those holidays. But the 4th quarter also means NaNoWriMo in November. I already know the book I plan to write, and I’ve been plotting it in my head all year. Honestly, I thought I’d have the entire book mapped out by now, but there are still a couple scenes missing. If past experience is a guide, those will come to me while writing what I’ve already got.

I’m excited. The book I plan to write during NaNoWriMo is the third in a middle grade series, the first two of which I wrote during NaNoWriMo 2020 and 2021. Chronologically, this one will be the second in the series. It’s just how things have worked out. Next year I plan to have them professionally edited, and then I plan to make the tough decision of whether to query agents or move directly to self publishing. I’m sure I’ll be blogging about that next year.

The only goal I’m worried about for the 4th quarter is finishing my NaNoWriMo middle grade book. Last year, I got a great start during NaNoWriMo but didn’t finish the first draft until the calendar rolled over to 2022. This year, I’d like to finish the first draft in November. If I can do that and then give it a very rough first edit before the Christmas break, my first reader for these middle grade books (my 8 year old daughter) can read it over the holiday break.

That was my July – August 2022. How’d yours go?

Behind the Stories – Dyson Vacuum Sphere

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A fellow blogger Lady Jabberwocky on her own writing journey that I recently discovered gave me the idea to discuss the inspirations for my stories. I’ve sometimes mentioned in this blog snippets of the inspiration for certain stories when I announce their publication, but I thought it’d be interesting to revisit a little and do a deeper dive. I still only plan to discuss those that have been published. I simply need to keep those acceptances up to continue this line of blogs. 😀

Luckily, for this first installment, I get to announce a publication and give a behind the scenes tour of the story. And do I have an interesting one for you!

First, the announcement – my story, “Dyson Vacuum Sphere,” appears in The Virginia Writers Club Journal 2022 released last week. I am a proud member of the Virginia Writers Club and its Northern Virginia chapter. A couple years ago the Virginia Writers Club began publishing a journal of works by the club’s members. I’ve appeared in a prior issue of the journal. However, since then, there has been a revision to the editorial standards. Let’s just say the barrier to entry rose.

Now on to the fun part – the backstory.

I had recently written my first comedic story in response to a publication’s extremely detailed called. Though that story wasn’t accepted by that publication, it was later accepted but by a market that then went defunct. That story hasn’t found a home yet, so I’ll have to talk about that one another time.

After practicing my comedic chops, I wanted to keep going. The Dyson Sphere episode from Star Trek: TNG was one of my favorites. It brought back Scotty! Combine that with the similarly named Dyson vacuum, and I had a story that essentially was one long dad joke.

I’ve always liked a good dad joke, but I’ve come to appreciate dad jokes even more now that I’m a father of two. Mixing my love of sci fi and dad jokes only seemed logical.

I enjoy writing most of my stories (or why would I be doing this), but I especially enjoyed writing this one. Not only does the premise include several dad jokes, but one of the characters tells a couple more dad jokes in the story. I’m proud of those since I made them up myself! Maybe I have a future in standup comedy. After Bob Saget’s death, I tweeted about how comics at their core are writers, and I still feel their writing talents are underappreciated.

If you want to groan at a couple of dad jokes, give “Dyson Vacuum Sphere” a read in the The Virginia Writers Club Journal 2022.

1Q22 Update

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I’m a little late on this. I’m not going to lie. The first quarter of this year was tough, probably tougher than any quarter the last two years and those involved a global pandemic. An extended family member passed away; one of my kids was out of daycare for nearly a month, reeking havoc on work and family life, and I ended up in the hospital briefly. Still, it could have been worse. I could live in a country that was invaded and now lays in ruins while its people continue to fight off the foreign aggressor. It sounds like a great story idea if it weren’t so sad and too soon. Still, I am a horror writer now, so maybe there is an idea to be mined there.

Let’s move on to happier thoughts, if my minimal writing exploits can be considered happy.

Words written = 3,509
Submissions = 27
Rejections = 18
Acceptances = 2
Shortlists/Holds = 0
Publications = 1
Rewrites = 0
Withdrawals = 2

I wish I had brought my laptop to the hospital. For those of you who have had the pleasure, you know there is lots of downtime. I could have gotten some more writing in. Most of those words this quarter went toward the current middle-grade sequel WIP. I also managed to sneak a new flash story in there and add to an existing story in an attempt to raise its words to drabble length. For those not in the know, a drabble is an exactly 100 word story. Yes, I took a 50 word “dribble” and increased it to a 100 word “drabble.” That drabble wasn’t accepted, but that same market accounted for one of my two acceptances discussed below.

The two acceptances last quarter were appreciated. One I discussed here. Alien Dimensions #22 contained my story “Field Log.” I’m still pleased that story found a home. It was difficult writing a “found footage” story, so I am glad an editor appreciated the effort.

I was pleased with the second acceptance, as well, which was the drabble market mentioned above. The story itself also was an experimental piece. Titled “Agenda,” it is told in the form of a meeting agenda. Plenty of markets ask for experimental forms, and I’ve seen plenty of stories told in the form of lists, which I enjoy. This was my attempt at something similar but different. Oddly, the story clocked in around 160 words, but to qualify for the market that accepted it, I needed to get it down to 100 words. That was another challenge altogether. When the publication date is released, I’ll share the details.

I also oddly had two withdrawals. One was a mere oversight. A certain publication had a lengthy submission window. Toward the end of that window I submitted a story forgetting that I’d submitted a different story at the beginning of the window. The submission guidelines clearly state multiple submissions are not allowed. Always read and reread the submission guidelines!

The second withdrawal was more bittersweet. I had submitted a collection of short stories for a book contest that I qualified for and that only comes around every two years. A story in that collection fit a market perfectly, the submission window for which opened a little after I had submitted the short story collection. I submitted a sim sub and went about my day, but then the standalone story was accepted! I spent days agonizing over whether to withdraw the short story collection, trying to determine if the exclusivity period for the short story would expire before the winners of the book contest were announced. The numbers didn’t add up. I hate math. Otherwise, I have no regrets. “Field Log” found the perfect home, and I can submit my short story collection in another two years.

What goals do I have for the current quarter? I already added 1000 words to the middle grade WIP. I’m maybe a scene and a half from finishing that book. I plan to complete the first draft, give it a good edit, and then have my oldest daughter read it while on vacation over the summer. She’s the right age group, so it’s great to get appropriate feedback.

Of course, I will continue submitting – always be submitting! I’d also like to finish a short story a friend and I started years ago. Such is life. Finally, I want to brainstorm the book I’ll write during this year’s NaNoWriMo. I have the germ of an idea for a story set between the two middle grade books I wrote the last two years during NaNoWriMo. Now all I need is some good running time before November to hash out the plot.

That was my first quarter of 2022. Let me know in the comments how yours went.

International Publication

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I am pleased to announce the next publication of one of my stories. “Field Log” will appear in Alien Dimensions #22. The ebook version will be released February 22 and is available for pre-order on Amazon here.

For some reason, I have it my head that this anthology series originates in Australia. That’s international to me as I sit on my couch in the United States. However, with the internet, aren’t all publications pretty much international these days? (*Stop stealing my thunder, Rational Self!*)

I’d wanted to submit to this anthology series for some time. It has exceptionally specific submission guidelines as to its content. The editor wants stories involving aliens in a futuristic setting. Nothing should be set on Earth, unless that version of Earth is unrecognizable, and the story should be adventurous and fun.

Luckily for me, I had such a story. I wrote it three years ago and had submitted it to a couple publications but with no takers. I suspected my story would fit this market well, with one exception. For the longest time, the maximum length in the submission guidelines was lower than what my story clocked in at. I thought about doing a little cutting but ultimately decided, in this case, it would do the story a disservice. (Trust me, I don’t always think that with my work. I have found on several occasions that having to cut a story down to meet a submission criteria has benefited the story.)

Finally, my patience paid off. The editor upped the maximum story length. I was in business! Thankfully, the editor agreed that “Field Log” was a good fit for the anthology.

This was a challenging story to write. First, the story involves a human interacting with members of two alien species. The idea for the alien species came from a couple science articles I read in the newspaper. So some of their stranger characteristics are taken from actual animals here on Earth.

Second, the story is in the “found footage” genre. Think The Blair Witch Project. It is told solely through what is seen in a series of recordings. While I typically write in close third-person or third-person limited, I had never written something that completely eliminated the narrator. I enjoyed the challenge but probably will not repeat it.

I am excited to start the year off with a great publication. I hope there are more to come, and I hope you will check out Alien Dimensions #22.