Friday, July 27, 2012

Free Science Fiction!

Just a heads up to all my fellow Sci-Fi freaks, there are some pretty mind blowing (and free) stories available over at Asimov's Science Fiction. I'm talking award winning short stories, novellas, and novelettes.

So far I've read Mike Resnick's Hugo award nominated short story "The Homecoming" and Seth Dickinson's 2011 Dell Magazines Award Winning short story "The immaculate conception of Private Ritter". Both were great, the latter was mind-blowing. 

I'm inspired to write some sci-fi!  

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Have You Been Saved?

Am I talking about tent revival, dance with venomous snakes, sell all your worldly possessions and tour around the country warning the public about the all-too-soon rapture kind of saved?


No, no, no. Noooooooooooooooooooooo.

I'm talking about Deadliest Catch type of saved. Have you seen this show? It's a Discovery Channel reality series following the lives of Alaskan crab fishermen. I'm pretty anti-reality show but I can't help but like this one. I find it fascinating. I've worked some pretty dangerous jobs (more on that in a minute) but nothing compared to crab fishing. It's some scary shit. Just listen to Wikipedia:

"Commercial fishing has long been considered one of the most dangerous jobs in America. In 2006, the Bureau of Labor Statistics ranked commercial fishing as the job occupation with the highest fatality rate with 141.7 per 100,000, almost 75% higher than the fatality rate of pilots, flight engineers, and loggers, the next most hazardous occupations.However, Alaskan king crab fishing is considered even more dangerous than the average commercial fishing job, due to the conditions of the Bering Sea during the seasons they fish for crab. According to the pilot episode, the death rate during the main crab seasons averages out to nearly one fisherman per week, while the injury rate for crews on most crab boats in the fleet is nearly 100% due to the severe weather conditions (frigid gales, rogue waves, ice formations on and around the boat) and the danger of working with such heavy machinery on a constantly rolling boat deck. Alaskan king crab fishing reported over 300 fatalities per 100,000 as of 2005,with over 80% of those deaths caused by drowning or hypothermia."

As you can imagine, working in such dangerous conditions involves a lot of saving. Guys are constantly pulling one another out of harms way. As dangerous as crab fishing is, it would be a lot worse if fishermen didn't look out for one another.

Which brings me to my saving moment.

Years ago I worked for Quality Beam Corp. in Salmon, ID. For a detailed description of my time at the beam plant, check out one of my oldest blog posts. In short, the work involved gluing boards together to make large wooden beams used in building construction. It's hot, dirty, dangerous work and I worked in the hottest, dirtiest, most dangerous department: the glue room.  That's where we applied glue and used huge metal bolts to squeeze the wood together so that it could dry under the massive heaters that kept the room hovering right around 100 degrees.

My first day on the job I watched a coworker lay open his side with a chainsaw. Shortly before I left I saw a guy get bent backwards over a piece of machinery, breaking his spine and rupturing his spleen. Those kind of major injuries were relatively rare though. Busted fingers was the common injury. Guys were regularly getting fingers smashed between the fast moving and heavy boards. That was just part of the job. A lot scarier was the number of guys that were missing fingers. Some guys would get them torn or cut off by a piece of machinery but the most common way to lose digits was to get them caught between the wood and one of the large metal braces we used to squeeze the glued wood together for drying. Once you hit a bolt with one of the pneumatic wrenches, anything between the brace and the wood would be ground to powder. No chance of reattachment.

We worked 10-hour shifts assembling dozens of beams a day, using the pneumatic wrenches constantly. It was one of those situations where one moment of inattention, one bad decision, could cost you big time. One day we were rushing through an order and I picked up a large metal bracer the wrong way. The guy on the other side of the 7 foot tall stack of lumber couldn't see me. He went to hit the bolt with his pneumatic wrench as I was sliding the bracer onto the bolt, my fingers between the wood and the bracer. One of my coworkers, Jared, saw what was about to happen and kicked the wrench out of the guys hands the same moment he hit the trigger to tighten the bolt. Even in the split second (literal fraction of a one second) the wrench was on the bolt it tightened enough that my hand was squeezed between the wood and the brace. Another fraction of a second and I would have lost all the fingers on my left hand. We backed the bolt off, examine my bruised but functioning hand, I gave Jared a hug (what can I say, I'm a huger), and we got back to work.

Saving is a prevalent theme in many stories. Someone is always saving someone else from physical, emotional, or mental harm. In my manuscript, there are at least 7 life-saving scenes. With something that's so common in fiction, it's easy to become complacent when writing these scenes. They can become shallow, especially in battle heavy genres like Fantasy and Science Fiction. Believe me, there is nothing shallow about being saved. The sense of gratitude that I feel at being able to sit down and type this post with two hands is profound. The sense of gratitude, relief, and obligation your characters feel when they're saved should be profound as well.

Give saving the weight it deserves and your stories will benefit from it.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

McCaffrey Letter Update: The Reply

I'm not the type of fella that writes a lot of fan mail. In fact, in my life I've only written one piece of fan mail (well, now two but I'll get to that later). In August 2011, I wrote the author of one of my favorite fantasy/science fiction series of a time, The Dragon Riders of Pern series, Ms. Anne McCaffrey.

Please take a moment and check it out.

As you know, Ms. McCaffrey passed away a mere three months after I sent my letter. I very much hoped she got the letter but since she lived in Scotland and it had to be routed through Random House, I figured the odds weren't good. Regardless, I resigned myself to never knowing and moved on.

That is until I got back from a visit to my field site in early April and found a reply letter in a stack of mail my wife had left on the counter. I'm sad to say it wasn't from Ms. McCaffrey but happy to report it was from her son, Mr. Todd McCaffrey, who has picked up the torch and written a number of the Pern books with his mother and several on his own.

I won't go into the details of his letter since they were rather personal but suffice it to say that Todd was good enough to take the time out of his busy schedule to write a full page response. He even shared a couple antidotes about his mom and passed on a great tip about writing that I would like to share with you.

"If there's any time in your studies, you might want to add at least one acting class to your courses - Mum's sense of place and placing were very much developed from her love of the theater and, as she called it, "off-off-off-off-Broadway" productions."

Of course I replied to Todd's letter thanking him for his generosity and asking him, as a fan, to continue what his mother started and keep the Pern series alive. I hope he does.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Another Colorado Mass Shooting

I remember April 20, 1999 very well.

My friends and I were sitting on the "senior steps" during lunch, even though we were only juniors, when my wrestling coach walked up and told us that some kids with machine guns were shooting up a Denver high school. He had actually been on the phone with the Columbine wrestling coach trying to set up a meet when the whole thing started. For about an hour that's all we knew. Gradually classes ground to a halt as portable TVs and radios showed us what was happening just an hour to the north. We had a track meet that evening which continued as normal except that they played live news radio over the loudspeaker the whole meet. It was very surreal.

For a Colorado highschooler it was a pretty earth shattering day. Everything changed after Columbine.

What makes me sad today is all the things that haven't changed.

As most of you know, another mass shooting took place last night in a Colorado suburb. As Coloradoans, and as a nation, we'll go through the same "post-massacre routine" over the next few weeks as we did last time, as we've done every time.

The news media will make wild speculations about every detail of the case until the authorities finally release some information. The victims, their families, their neighbors, the shooters neighbors, teachers, relatives, and everyone in a 3 mile radius of the theater will be interviewed by CNN.

The anti-gun people will come out and say, "This wouldn't have happened if nobody had guns!"  The pro-gun people will come out and say, "This wouldn't have happened if everyone had guns!"  

Politicians will make grand speeches about how important public safety and responsible gun ownership are. They'll make promises about what they're going to do to make sure this kind of thing never happens again. They'll point out that their opponents aren't doing enough to make sure this kind of thing never happens again.

Some religious figure or another will come out talking about moral decay. There will be prayer groups and candlelight vigils.

And every one of us will dissect the shooters life. We'll look at his childhood, his CD collection, his internet search history, every little thing we can find in order to separate this man from the rest of us. We'll remove him from society because that makes this kind of thing easier to deal with. We'll point out his abnormalities. We'll de-humanize him. It's easier to label a monster and an outcast than it is to deal with a member of our society that has serious issues. That might mean that there's actually something wrong with the collective "us".

In a year there will be an anniversary with miniture versions of all the above. Then a 5 year and 10 year aniversay.

Of course, by that time there will be new mass shootings and new massacres. The cycle will repeat.

I'm not trying to be grim, that's just the way it is. My heartfelt "prayers" (I don't pray but sometimes there just isn't a better word) go out to my Colorado family. Hang in there.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Best Rejection Ever and Two Contests

Rejection is part of writing.

It certainly isn't my favorite part or something I look forward to, it's just part of the game. It comes in many flavors; everything from super bland form rejection letters to burn-your-face-off-spicy public critiques. Every once in a while though, rejection can be pleasant or even sweet. For me, all it takes is a little personal touch for a "No" to go from hard-to-stomach  to easy to accept or even encouraging. I know that everyone in this industry is super, crazy, can't-find-my-pants busy and it's not realistic to expect personalized rejections on a regular basis. But for those who can pull it off, even the briefest personal touch can make a huge difference to us aspiring writers.

I've told you before about one my bucket-list contests, the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future contest. If you write science-fiction or fantasy I seriously suggest you check it out. It's SUPER competitive but also super cool. Plus, entering a story into one of their quarterly contests is free!

I entered a short story into the 2nd quarter contest a while back. I didn't expect to win but hey, you don't know until you try, right? I had been a little disappointed about how long it took to get the results but I was pleasantly surprised that when I did get the notice that I hadn't won, it was a personalized email from the Contest Director. The email was brief but polite and obviously written specifically to me (as opposed to a form). She was even good enough to attach a word document of some quality writing tips by author David Farland (the tips were copy and pasted from a post on his website).

It was still a no, still a rejection, but one that was very easy to stomach. A little humanity can go a long way and I sincerely appreciate it when a professional takes the time. 


A heads up about a couple cool writing contests going on write now (ha, I'm punny).

Writers Digest has their monthly short story contest prompt up and it goes something like this:

"A nosy man eavesdrops on his co-workers and immediately regrets it."

You get 100 words to tell a story. It's always a SUPER competitive contest but it's fun and it's free! Entries are due by August 27, 2012.

The other contest you need to check out is WRiTE CLUB. It's like fight club but slightly less bloody and with more metaphors. Check out the like for full details.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Two Weeks of Learning

I've learned a lot over the last two week.

As you may remember, I was fortunate enough to have my query letter posted for critique on MSFV. I received a lot of good feedback and I learned that my query isn't as good as I thought it was. Put simply, it's FAT. It needs to slim down, trim up, and SHOW ME THE BEEF!

I was also lucky enough to have my query picked as one of the Authoress's top 5 which meant that I was able to post the first 500 words of my manuscript. I got a ton of quality feedback on this as well, some of it difficult to hear, all of it important. After these exercises and some serious thought, I've figured out 3 big issues with my story.

  1. My Setting is Confusing - My story is supposed to be set on some other world (which one isn't supposed to matter) at some unknown time (when isn't supposed to matter) which bears a superficial resemblance to ancient Rom. Unfortunately, it appears that the world I've created is TOO similar to ancient Rome. Every beta reader that's read the story has ended up confused because the world seems like ancient Rome but the characters (and their mannerisms, language, etc.,) doesn't fit in ancient Rome. My setting is taking my readers out of the story because they're trying to figure out when and where the story is set. I need to make some serious changes to show that the story is not set on our world, past or present.
  2. Genre Confusion - This problem is directly related to the first problem. It seems that, largely due to the setting, the first part of my story comes across as historical fiction or historical fantasy rather than epic fantasy. I've put in a lot of thought about this and actually, with the exception of some exotic critters and one non-human character, there isn't a lot of fantasy in my epic fantasy story. With some minor changes it could easily be historic fiction or even science fiction. I need to add/clarify some story elements to further define my story, even if that definition isn't what I originally had it mind.
  3. My Story Starts Too Late - Crap. Ever since I started paying attention to writing blogs I've been aware of one of the cardinal sins that every writer cautions about: starting your conflict, your actual plot, too late in your story. I thought I heeded this warning. I only included NECESSARY BACKSTORY...except that maybe I didn't. Even if it my backstory is necessary, it should be worked in later in the story. I need to re-work my beginning.
As you can see I've decided that my story needs some serious work. On the one hand this is exciting because I think I've identified several important ways to make my story a lot better. On the other hand, I really liked the idea of being done with this story. I know, until your story is published there's no such thing as "done". But I liked the idea of finally, after 5 years (I've been working on it off and on since 2007), that my story was finished. Which brings me to one of the most important things I learned this week.

I have this...idea...expectation...whatever, that my story SHOULD be done. Five years is a long time to work on a story so it SHOULD be done. I just turned 30 so my story SHOULD be done. I have other stories I want to work on so this story SHOULD be done.

Or should it? There are no external expectations or demands for my story. There is no logically derived deadline. All of these "shoulds" are arbitrary. They're constructs of my imagination. They're a glitch in the matrix.

My story is done when it's done, not one word before. Whether I choose to continue working on it is a different issue. But there is no should.

Do you let "shoulds" creep into your writing? Can they be a good thing? What do you think?

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy 4th and a Short Story!

Happy Independence Day everyone! I hope everyone has a fun, sunny, and safe fourth, whether here in the good ol' U.S. of A or somewhere else in the world.

I have something else to celebrate as well: I have a short story up at On Fiction Writing! Please check it out and let me know what you think!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

MSFV Baby Slushpile First 500

You may remember that last week I was lucky enough to have my query letter randomly drawn (from 125 queries) to be critiqued on Miss Snark's First Victim.

I got a ton of great comments on my query, most of them saying that I need to do some serious cutting and pruning. I thought my query was solid (obviously, or I wouldn't be sending it out to agents) but it turns out it needs some serious work. I'm hopeful that with some revision, I'll start to get more of a response from agents.

Despite its rough reception, my query was chosen by The Authoress as one of her top 5 which means that I have been invited to post the first 500 words of my manuscript!

I've got to be honest, I've been feeling less and less confident about my story lately. Frankly, I'm expecting my first 500 to get torn to shreds.

BUT if it's going to get shredded, I would prefer it get shredded by my blogging family. So please stop by MSFV and tell me what you think!