Monday, November 22, 2021

Common Error #30: "She let out a breath she didn't know she'd been holding..."

Excellent assassination of this cliché:
https://germmagazine.com/i-let-out-a-breath-i-didnt-realize-i-was-holding/?fbclid=IwAR1o_w5JfcGU7-58ltOXDfZU83W4_5lCvi9_YxhAQ7b-Mkt9u0fluHympGQ

Friday, October 15, 2021

New Story Published

My short story, "The Changeling and the Bully" was published today in Mythic #17. It's the first story in my urban fantasy series: not quite the origin story since our protagonist's backstory comes out bit by bit as things progress, but this is the story where the major characters meet for the first time. (It does not go well.) Previous stories in the series have been published by First Line Literary ("Ransom and the Open Window") and Apex and Abyss ("Ransom and the Xmas Tree").

I currently have six more finished, two more that are half done....and a bunch more ideas that may or may not work out. The plan was to follow these characters from high school until old age, but they went and had kids in "Ransom and the Baby" so now it looks like the kids are going to keep the series going....

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

On Using Correct Terms

"Indigenous Peoples", "First Nations", "Native Americans", "Aboriginals", "Indians": What Terms Are Correct?

Guest Editorial Guest by Arinn Dembo

This discussion came up with a large mailing list of professional colleagues recently. When referring to the first human inhabitants of the western hemisphere, what terms are correct?

There were many responses to this, all of them illuminating. The short answer is that when you're addressing an individual, the preferred mode of address is whatever they tell you it is!

Different people prefer different labels, and they will have their own reasons for their preference. Not everyone belongs to a Nation, Tribe, or some formally organized group. And many people prefer not to be lumped in with all Indigenous Peoples of the Americas, and will identify with no label except their specific heritage--Mi'kmaq, Inuk, Métis etc..

That being said, there are some general rules that everyone can follow to be as courteous and respectful as possible.

  1. "Indigenous Peoples" is probably the most inclusive and respectful term presently available, as it covers people with many different affiliations and personal histories. Whether it is your preferred term or not, however, the word “Indigenous” should always be respectfully capitalized when referring to human beings. This is also true of any other term you may use in its stead.
  2. Most people agree that the word “Indian” has a long and troubled history, bound to an ongoing legacy of racism and genocide. That said, many Indigenous People do use the word “Indian” or “NDN” in their own daily lives--ironically, defiantly, proudly, etc.. They have the right to reclaim racist terms that have been historically used against them in any way they wish, just as Black people and other racialized people do. However, the fact that they reclaim those terms for their OWN use has no bearing on whether non-Indigenous people can use those same terms in public or in private and still be considered civilized.
  3. Many, many people have wisely pointed out that Indigenous People are not a monolith. They do not all belong to a Nation, they are not all enrolled into any government-recognized political unit, they do not share a single language or culture, and they have widely various religious beliefs and personal values. They will not all agree on ANY subject, including how non-Indigenous people should behave toward them and around them.

    If you are fortunate enough to have friends who tell you how to address them privately, that is wonderful for you. But please don’t assume that their personal choices will always put you in line with current standards of public courtesy or "correct" terminology. No individual person could bear that weight, and no one should be asked to do so.

    I can tell you for a fact that I would not be comfortable trying to teach anyone the One True Way to be inoffensive to all Jewish people, to all LGBTQIA+ people, or even to all women—even though I belong to all those categories. All I can tell you is what I personally prefer, and explain why some terms will make a lot of people in my communities uncomfortable.

    Example: many LGTBQIA+ people do not like the word “Queer” to be used by anyone, but particularly not by straight people. They find the word offensive because it is a slur that was used historically to harm them. I personally do use "Queer" myself, however, and I find it more comfortable than other terms that might be more clinically specific descriptions of my sexuality. That's a personal choice for me, and I can reserve the right to use the label myself without granting blanket permission to anyone else.

  4. Finally...this topic is an important one, and professional writers should recognize that use of respectful terms is an issue of craft, not just "political correctness". We should all be familiar with the basic resources on this subject that are currently available to non-Indigenous writers, agents and publishers. Here’s a few that I have looked at:
    • Elements of Indigenous Style: A Guide for Writing by and about Indigenous Peoples, by Greg Younging, is a textbook that has been recommended to me many times. I own a copy, and it has been helpful, but no single reference volume is complete.
    • The Canadian Press (CP) Style Guide for Reporting On Indigenous People can also be read for free at this link: http://jhr.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/JHR2017-Style-Book-Indigenous-People.pdf
    • Questions Agents and Editors Can Use to Evaluate American Indian Content can be read for free at this link: http://writernity.blogspot.com/2017/02/questions-agents-and-editors-can-use-to.html. It's a long and comprehensive blog post written to help non-Indigenous agents, editors and publishers evaluate content that has Indigenous characters or themes, but by extension it can also help non-Indigenous writers realize that writing about Indigenous Peoples is not a casual undertaking.

      I would also encourage everyone to make use of the free resource links and inexpensive webinars that are provided at the Writing the Other website. I watched this webinar from author Debbie Reese and found it accessible and valuable. It is worthwhile both as a chance to educate myself further, and as an opportunity to support Reese's work as an educator.

      https://writingtheother.com/public-writing-native-american-characters/"

    There are many other websites, essays, blogs and videos on this topic that are educational as well. If you've found something that was eye-opening or helpful, why not share the link in the comment section?

Thursday, September 16, 2021

My Story, "Time in the Garden" published.

My story, "Time in the Garden" was published in Lamp Lit Underground Vol 6, pp. 8-12.

The story is semi-autobiographical, but told from my Mom's point of view (or, at least, how I imagined it must have felt like for her).

Friday, September 3, 2021

Another story appearance

My short story, "Day Three", is up at Metastellar. The story is a reprint from Pulp Literature #21. (The lion on the mug in the background is by Kasia, my daughter.)

Many writers make the mistake of thinking that once they've placed a story, it's done. But there are many publications that take reprints (unless your story is freely available online--but even then, some audio markets might be interested) because their audiences seldom overlap. Putting some time into marketing your already published stories to reprint markets makes sense in terms of both potentially increasing readership and in gathering validation for your eventual collection of short stories. If I pick up a collection in a bookstore and see that all the stories were previously published, that increases my assurance that least one editor liked each story, even if the collection is now self-published...if there are reprints in "best of" collections or other journals, that's again as good as a testimonial... I still might not buy the collection if I don't know the publications or they don't seem to be my genre, or whatever, but at least I know it's not first draft vanity self-publishing.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

New short story published

My short story, "The Prince and Pauper of Bay Street" has been published in the Collection, THE FICTION JUNKIE Vol 2 (2021) edited by Daniel Hodgson.

(This particular story is mainstream, not SF.)

Thursday, August 5, 2021

Resource for Ridding Ableism from Your Fiction

Ridding Your Monsters of Ableism by Fay Onyx on Mythcreants: Fantasy & Science Fiction for Storytellers blog.

The article does a great job of raising the issues, though some additional thought may be necessary to come up with solutions for one's own characters/writing context.

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

New Story in On Spec Magazine

My short story, "Hand Delivered", (a prequel to my WIP-novel) came out in On Spec Magazine, #116, (June, 2021).

Amazing Stories' reviewer (and the editor of Polar Borealis) Graeme Cameron, called it "Enjoyably old-fashioned space opera, yet psychologically astute and offering much food for thought."

The same issue features Cat Mcdonald's in depth interview with me, which Cameron also included in his review, calling it "tremendously inspirational" and that "it’s crammed with pertinent and valuable advice on writing and editing. You owe it to yourself to read it."

So pretty pleased with all of that.

Monday, June 21, 2021

"Birthday Barbeque" Reprinted in Best of 2020 Collection

I'm pleased to have my short story "Birthday Barbeque" reprinted in Potato Soup Journal's "Best of 2020" collection. The Amazon blurb says "These fiction and nonfiction stories from around the world range from the transformative to the inexplicable. The end of a love story hangs in a tree, a family barbecue enters the twilight zone, and a woman seeks the ultimate backdrop for Zoom meetings, with unexpected consequences." I'm rather flattered that "Birthday Barbeque" is one of the three stories highlighted in the blurb.

The story idea came to me at a family barbeque over 15 years ago but it took me a while to get it to work on paper. With Twighlight-style stories, one has to walk a fine line between over-explaining and being too obscure. Pleased that the editors must have thought I got that right.

Paperback: https://amzn.to/3gGHpaT

Ebook: https://amzn.to/3j1zYfU

Chicago Manual of Style Applied to Fiction

The Chicago Manual of Style is industry standard for North American publishing, but it was designed for academic texts, not fiction. So, that's always been problematic when coming up with questions about style while editing (writing) fiction. I was this many days old when another editor pointed out that Chicago Manual has a BLOG for fiction to answer those questions:

https://cmosshoptalk.com/fiction-plus/

Well duh! Great resource!

Saturday, April 17, 2021

New Short Story Published

Was super excited when I got my copy of the Scottish SF&F magazine, Shoreline of Infinity_#21, in which my story "Al/ice" appears, to realize I got my own interior Andrew Owens illustration! It's totally great! (I think the last time I rated custom interior illustrations was 1989 in the first issue of _On Spec_ Magazine.)

The story features Fami and his friends, previously seen in "Fami's Dissertation Defense" published _Ripples in Space_ (Spring, 2020) and in and "Detour on the 8-Fold Path" published in _Neo-Opsis Magazine_ #31 (Nov, 2020). "Al/ice" is the origin story for Fami meeting Julia. There's one more Fami and the Watch story looking for a home, and two more that still need to be written, and then I can put out a reprint collection of stories about Fami and crew...

You can get a copy of issue #21 (or other Shoreline of Infinity issues/books) at https://www.shorelineofinfinity.com/

Old Short Story Published

Received my copy of the newly released _The Chorochronos Archives_, edited by Jessica Augustsson, with my story "Sermon on the Mount" [which originally appeared in On Spec Magazine, #106, Vl 28 (3) (January 2018).] Very pleased with the cover and with everyone at JayHenge. I will definitely submit stories to them again. A class operation... recommended.

Less is More: Burger Toppings

An excellent column by editor Laura Bontje on why less is often more in fiction: https://www.laurabontje.com/blog/books-and-burgers

 :

Photo. credit: Fresh Avocados - Love One Today: https://loveonetoday.com/how-to/how-to-add-avocados-to-burgers/

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

New Short Story Published

Just received my copy of Mythic #15 with my story, "Jerry" in it. Pleased to find my name on the cover, rather than my usual "and other stories" spot.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

The Value of Pay vs Non-Paying Markets for Short Stories

On FB, someone asked “Is it worth submitting to non-paying markets, or are we just perpetuating the exploitation of writers?”, and received a good deal of sanctimonious feedback about how real writers always get paid for their work and that non-paying markets (“for exposure”) were completely unacceptable. I beg to differ. Never one to waste a good rant, I repost my arguments here.

Capitalist Ideology

First, although I certainly agree that writing should be valued, the idea that “My work is only worthwhile if paid for it” is capitalist thinking. I reject this hypothesis, as I reject the hypothesis that one is only a "real" author if one is a full time professional, professional defined as writing as their primary source of income. A hearty “Bah humbug!” to that.

I frequently submit to literary magazines, almost none of which pay in coin. Instead, I look for quality work with which I would like to be associated; high production values; and/or a fabulous community which one joins by contributing; and/or an interesting call for submissions. There are themes I wish to explore, so if there is a nonpaying literary market featuring that theme this month, I will go there. I do not mind not getting paid if it is for non-commercial markets (i.e., where all the staff are similarly unpaid volunteers putting their time, energy, and frequently money into producing art).

On the other hand, there are commercial markets that range from decent pay (I'm not Atlantic Monthly market worthy yet, so I won't say 'pay well') to those that pay nothing. I will not submit to a commercial market that makes money and pays authors nothing. I will consider low paying markets if I believe the editors are similarly investing more sweat equity and they are receiving $, and then the same criteria applies as for literary markets.

I have also donated stories to anthologies for good causes, such as a story I donated for an anthology to raise money for a women's shelter, or to support a writing charity, or etc. (I can usually sell those to a reprint or an audio market later, since the charity volumes are usually strictly local.) I donated a story to one anthology because the editor asked and I owed them a favour for a beta read that went miles beyond that definition to a full edit of the first 1/3 of the novel, which provided me the insights to do the next 2/3.

Therefore: there are lots of reasons to submit to literary journals or anthologies besides cash, and no reason to look down upon quality non-paying markets. I only eschew for-profit markets which are clearly rackets, where the editor/publisher is making $$ while the authors do not get an appropriate share. or where people try to con me with "exposure" nonsense.

The Referee Function

I frequently send out stories on simultaneous submission to gauge whether I have accurately assessed the story's quality. I start, of course, at the highest paying market and work my way down and sometimes my trunk stories end up in a non-paying market because that's still better than the trunk. If the other stories in that issue are of sufficient quality that I am happy to join them, then I appreciate the publishing credit.

This is not about ‘exposure’ (because exposure markets don't bring one any credit among people who recognize those are either hopeless or a racket) but because I appreciate the REFEREE FUNCTION. I often love my writing unconditionally (as one should always love one's children) but a bit of a reality check doesn't hurt. Having had at least one editor appreciate and publish a story I was a bit ‘iffy’ about (and throw in a Pushcart nomination while they were at it) gives me the confidence to include that story in my self-published reprint collection. In contrast, that nobody has taken my favorite story--now approaching its 70th rejection--gives me pause to consider that one might not be one to put in my 'best of Robert' collection.

Occasional Feedback

Further, some few (literally, very few) send back rejections with very helpful feedback. I find this especially true of respected non-paying markets, who make up for lack of funding with sweat equity of a couple of sentences of feedback. That feedback is precious--even when it's wrong (e.g., misses the point), it tells me that I am not getting my point across clearly enough. Were I to PAY for that level of advice, it would cost considerably more than even the higher paying markets pay me.

So...I'll take the feedback, the refereeing and the support of (and support for) a community over coin.

Privilege

Of course, I recognize that I am speaking from a place of privilege. The few dollars I could make writing SF&F could never approach what I got paid in my day job, or even what I make in retirement. To make the sort of money I need to maintain the life style to which I have become accustomed, I would have to sell a short story about every six hours. That is just never going to happen. I certainly appreciate the $200 or $300 a short story sometimes brings me, but I only sold 12 stories last year and $3000 is not an acceptable annual income.

It’s different for novels and nonfiction books, of course, though it remains an open question of whether I could position a novel to make significant coin, but at least that’s theoretically possible. But when it comes to short stories, it hasn’t been possible to make a living in that market since before Television. (Professional pay rates have stayed roughly what they were in the 1930s.)

Conclusion

I certainly support anyone who restricts their output to paying markets both as a measure of ‘having made it’ to that level, and as a source of income. I do not accept, however, that that gives them the right to look down upon those who choose to join a community of writers, seek feedback from a respected editor, support a charity, or choose literary prestige over a dubious paying market. (Correspondingly, I don’t let my literary friends get away with sneering at commercial genre markets either.)

Ultimately, the quality of one’s professionalism must be judged by the quality of one’s output. Commercial success/popularity is one reasonable measure of quality, but not the only one and one which is not necessarily reliable, luck and an appearance on Oprah playing as big a role as quality. Believing that coin is the ONLY acceptable measure is to buy into capitalist ideology.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Common Mistake #23: The Difference Between Omniscient POV and 'Head-Hopping'

A question that frequently comes up is “what do you mean by ‘head hopping’?” so let’s talk about the difference between ‘omniscient’ point of view and ‘head-hopping’.

A rough analogy with film would be omniscient POV is voiceover narrating the action… like color commentary watching a football game or described video over a battle scene. The camera’s always a little distant from the action so the reader can see everything happening at once. This contrasts with third person POV, where the story is told from one character’s point of view at a time. It’s placing the camera on one character’s helmet, so we see what that character sees, but only what that character sees and from that perspective. (With first-person POV, the camera is behind the character’s eyes, and we have a mic inside there so we hear that character’s thoughts too.) Head-hopping is where the story is written third-person, but the director keeps cutting between helmet cams so we see this part of the scene from character A’s point of view, and then this part from character B’s POV, etc. It can be done (you’ve seen it in a few movies) but…it’s almost impossible to pull off without making the viewer/reader dizzy. So…basic advice to anyone not currently in the million-seller category: don’t even think about trying it. It will suck.

It is way easier to stick to a single character’s pov so that your readers come to empathize with that character, adopt that character’s perspective, become engaged with the story. Switching too frequently throws the reader out of Character A’s story, which (a) becomes confusing for the reader to figure out whose head they’re seeing this from at this moment, and (b) interrupts Character A’s story. If I was invested in A’s story, interrupting that not only throws me out of A’s POV but out of the story itself. That is, the reader stops reading and picks up the next book on their ‘to be read’ shelf.

On the other hand, it is okay—often advantageous—to have different POV characters in alternating chapters. That allows you to have two different perspectives, each with their own motivations, goals, frustrations, etc, but sustained enough to keep the reader engaged and committed to that character in that chapter. Alternating chapters means you can leave each character on a cliff-hanger as you pick up the action with the other one—but moving the story forward so you can skip the boring bits in each character’s storyline. You’re not head-hopping because each chapter is only from one POV and a sustained storyline to which the reader commits. Some writers can do this with scenes within chapters, but I don’t recommend it because, again, really hard not to screw up.

The most manageable book to write is the single POV. Readers identify with that POV character and become engaged, invested. Omniscient can too easily become distancing—too much emphasis on longshots without close-ups, too much reliance on color commentary rather than the reader watching the action and figuring stuff out for themselves, and way, way too much risk of the omniscient narrator switching from showing to telling. Omniscient POV lends itself to expository lumps—and unless really careful, the writer slips into telling us the book’s outline rather than showing us/writing the story. Whereas, all you have to keep from breaking the ‘show don’t tell’ rule with the single (first- or third- POV) is ask yourself “what is my character seeing at this moment”, “how do they know that”, and “would they be thinking about that NOW?”

So nothing inherently wrong about omniscient, and you probably read others doing that all the time, but the % of my clients getting it wrong is way higher than those who go third- or first-person. My advice is always to keep it simple, manageable, and go third-person, but one’s mileage may vary.

But there is no question that head-hoping is almost always a fatal flaw. It almost always represents a lack of command over POV, and editors will stop reading the manuscript the first time it happens. As a reader, I’ve only encountered a single published book in the last twenty years that had head-hoping, and I ended up throwing it across the room, and looked askance at other books from that publisher from then on, because the editor should have caught that was happening and fixed it.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Pushcart Nomination

I am honoured that editor Janna Liggan nominated my story, "Weathering" for a Pushcart Award as one of the six best of the year in Lamplit Underground Magazine.

The story is free to read at https://online.fliphtml5.com/dnitz/jtai/#p=12