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Writing Report September 23, 2016

23/09/2016

Tallying up my recent productivity, I find I’ve had a pretty good summer, at least in terms of actual stories completed / submitted.

A lot of fictoids (i.e., poems and short-short fiction), along with four regular length short stories, one novella, and of course The Most Dangerous Man In The World which will be out by Sept. 30 God willin’ ‘n’ the crick don’t rise…

The thing is there are relatively few stable (i.e., open year round) markets for shorter (i.e., novella and under) fiction.

Some are really good about speedy responses, but I have one story out to a market that I learned after I submitted it now takes up to ONE YEAR to respond to submissions instead of the three months their website claims!

Yeeks!
Yikes!
Yoiks!
Yaboodle!

I’m really starting to lean towards publishing anything under 2K words on my blog (unless by chance I stumble across a market where the story is exactly the right length and subject matter). I’m already starting to noodle around some ideas for anthology titles so I can put them online in collected form.

The novella (the barbarian fantasy) promises to be just the first of a total of four stories about the character I’ve created. I’d love to place it at a publisher who does that sort of thing, but all the ones I’ve checked have either closed submissions or take forever and a day to respond.

Still, I’m going to do the other three novellas…eventually…then combine them into a single novel length narrative online.

I originally planned to send out every short piece I wrote at least five times before publishing it myself, but it’s looking more and more like three strikes and then self-publish may win out.

tales-of-the-acker-mansion

BTW, keep your eyes peeled next year for American Gothic Press’ Tales From The Acker-Mansion, a graphic novel anthology dedicated to stories about sci-fi’s #1 fan, the late great Forry Ackerman. While most of the stories will be in graphic format, one or two will be illustrated prose stories – and that includes “Make Mine Monsters!” by yrs trly.

More on this as the publication date nears!

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Observations On A Super Nova

15/09/2016

I saw a world burning

Too late to save

Anyone or anything

An ephemeral existence

Already gone up in smoke

Lives and love, all long lost

A trillion tragedies

None of them recorded

Who were they?

What were they?

What did they dream of?

To what did they aspire?

It matters not

They’re gone now

And we, arriving too late

Can only ponder their pyre

supernova-remnant-simeis-147-the-spaghetti-nebula-simeis147_donatiello_3502

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Writing Report September 5, 2016

6/09/2016

Almost every professional writer operates out of conflicting motives.  First off, there’s a desire — no, a need to write:  We are called to The Work and we may not refuse without risking madness and ruin.

We are not called to be successful, however.

To those lofty poets in their ivory towers freed from the necessity of earning their daily bread through any number of circumstances:  I N V U.

To the rest of us, we write because we can’t not write; but once having written, we seek to make a buck off it.[1]

If you’re a hired gun (i.e., work for hire), good for you, knock yo’ ugly ass out.

But if you’re writing on spec, when / where / how do you decide not just where to sell but if you should sell?

Backtrack a bit: 
I’ve written about writing prompts in the past.  They’re great for sparking creativity, they’re fun, they’re fast, and God willin’ ‘n’ th’ crick don’t rise, you can get a good short-short story or fictoid out of it.

Last week the writing group I belonged to did a writing prompt exercise and I had a blast writing a short story based on 4 prompts.

You won’t see that story.  Ever.

Because as much fun as it was, I realized even as I was writing it that I was drawing heavily on not only stuff I’d written for my dark barbarian fantasy (roughly 2/3 transcribed to disc as I post this) but also movies such as Angel Heart and From Beyond by way of H.P. Lovecraft and more than a little Neil Gaimen as well.

Maybe the average reader wouldn’t see all the influences, but I sure did.  As enjoyable as the exercise was, I’m not about to let it loose on the world.

But other stories and fictoids?  Some of those I want to share with the world…

…and by “share” I mean “get paid for somehow”.

The problem is that there aren’t that many paying markets for short fiction anymore, especially short-short fiction under 1,000 words, and what few markets there are seem to be almost entirely genre oriented.

What to do with a story like War Trophy ?  There just ain’t dat many markets these days for WWII fiction, much less short-short WWII fiction.

I could waste a few hours looking up markets online, sending the story to them, waiting weeks / months / years for a reply, and garner maybe the princely sum of $83.20 if I’m super-super lucky or more likely $24.96 if I’m only garden variety lucky or more likely wait five years as one market after another rejects it for this reason or that and then be in exactly the same boat as I am today when I opt to simply post it online and let people read it for free.

Why?

Well, for exposure, of course!

But the difference here is that I get to determine what that exposure is, and nobody else is profiting off my story.

And truth be told, let me get enough of these pups under my belt, and they’ll be online in one easily downloadable-for-a-price anthology

So with no guarantee of even a high end payout, I really have precious little to lose by just short circuiting the submission process and posting the story online for all to read.

This does not hold true to all stories I write, however.

$100 seems to be the cut off point for me, at least mentally.  If I can’t clear $100 minimum, there’s really little point of going through the time consuming labor of submitting a story to market after market after market until it sells.

Might as well just slap it up there right now and garner some eyeballs for self-promotion.

Over $100 (especially multiples of $100) and I’m more willing to take time to circulate material in hopes of finding a buyer. [2]

I don’t bother submitting poetry anywhere; too rarefied a media for me even though I like writing it.  If I saw a call for cat poems of 8 verses or less and I just happened to have a cat poem of 8 verses or less in my files, maybe.

But go looking for poetry markets?  Nahhh

So, bottom line for Buzzy Boy:
Non-genre work under 1,000 words and / or poetry?  You’ll see it here first, folks.  Genre short-shorts / fictoids?  Maybe a 50-50 chance I’ll opt to post them rather than waste time submitting them.  Genre short stories of 2,000+ words?  Definitely going to try to place them in paying markets and, failing that, maybe self-publish online for free / maybe self-publish for $$$.  Novels?  Self-publishing.

And for your patience
in wading through this,
a poem to enjoy:
stairs to the stars

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[1]  Big Steve King has written on this topic in the past.  His words hold true to this day, but he was only criticizing writing for no other purpose than to earn a buck; once words are on the page (or in a file) then the business of selling them takes precedence.

[2]  But even there eventually ya sez enuff is enuff and you withdraw the story from circulation.

 

 

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stairs to the stars

5/09/2016

stairs maxresdefault

these are the stairs [said my friend]
where the fat one
and the skinny one
delivered the piano

stairs stars hats off

actually…
it was the second time
they delivered
an incredibly cumbersome
instrument of humiliation
up those stairs
the first time
was in the silent era
when they were selling
washing machines door-to-door
but when sound came
they said “we must do it again
and this time with a piano!”

stairs musicbox1-copy

and so they did
and the glorious cacophony
of clangs and bangs and bongs and clongs
provided the soundtrack
to their biggest and weirdest hit

stairs Abb-3-Laurel-und-Hardy-The-Music-Box-1932

the stairs remain
running up the hill
but where vast manicured lawns
flanked them in the past
cheap unimaginative apartment buildings
lacking both vision and view
hem them in today

stairs maxresdefault 2

my friend threaded his way
through the narrow arcane alleys
of a once fashionable
Los Angeles neighborhood
past Mandarin restaurants
Mexican auto shops
and failed hipster venues
to the stairs
to the stars
where the fat one
and the skinny one
labored like Sisyphuses in shirtsleeves
and overalls
carting their ungainly cargo
up the steep six story climb
for all eternity

stairs stars 220px-The_Music_Box_steps_2009

what caught my eye, however
was an impromptu memorial
of flowers and votive candles
sitting on the foot of the stairs
not to honor the celluloid gods
but to briefly note
the vanishing flicker of flame
that had once been a single human life

and unlike
the gods of comedy
who climbed to the heavens above
the subject
of this temporal memorial
was already
dead and forgotten
his brief life extinguished
in a moment of vain pride
when he or someone else
tried to prove
their life mattered

that was years ago
the memorial is long since gone
the friends and family who erected it
long since dispersed across
the city
the county
the continent
and even the immortal gods of comedy
are fading from view
leaving only the steps
cracked and crumbling
under the sullen California sun

 

text © Buzz Dixon

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Writing Report August 31, 2016

31/08/2016

Recently I’ve been asked by several people (at Nerd Con and on Knowing Is Half The Podcast and other places) how I write my stories.

Good question.

Excellent question.

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Wish I had a fnckin’ clue…

Truth is, I’ve used every imaginable system / non-system in / on / outside of the book.[1] I’ve spent weeks carefully detailing a plot outline, I’ve whipped stuff up on the fly without any idea where I was going or what I’d find when I got there.

Generally, for any length work I need some idea of what my story is, where it starts, and where it’s going.[2]

For novels and longer stories I need to have at least the basic story arc in my head, who the main characters are, etc., etc., and of course, etc. It doesn’t have to be written out but I do need to know what the story is.[3]

I typically do a lot of polishing and rewriting on my lengthier stories. I’ll print up the first draft on 3-hole punch paper and stick it in a notebook along with several pages of lined school notebook paper, then wait 4 to 6 weeks before looking at it again.[4]

I do my rewriting and copyediting in red ink; extensive rewrites / new scenes / etc. are written on the lined notebook paper and dropped into the printed text where appropriate. I then enter those corrections & changes into my master text (actually, into a copy of the master text; never overwrite or throw anything away) and, depending on how I feel about the manuscript & story at that point, either print up yet another copy and repeat the process or do my final copy edit by reading the manuscript sdrawkcab.

Yes, you read that right:
Sdrawkcab.

It’s an old editing trick taught to me by a tricky old editor:
It forces you to look at everything word-by-word and helps you catch errors.

Assuming everything passes the smell test, I prep it for submission (if I’m sending it to a magazine or publisher) or e-book sale.

That’s for long form.

For short form — particularly those short-short stories & quasi-poems I refer to as “fictoids” or to poetry itself — the process starts the same but generally tends to be much, much more streamlined.

This is because I find the virtue of short stories and fictoids and poems to be their quick “get in / get out / quit muckin’ about” impact.

Few things annoy me more than a three thousand word short story that tells a story that could have been delivered in 800 words or less. It’s just padding, and padding is something I hate.

As with longer forms, I need to know what my story is, where I’m going with it, etc., but as a rough rule of thumb, once I have the opening and closing lines of a short story, everything else falls into place between them.[5]

I do very little rewriting of short works.[6] Once the idea is locked then it’s just a matter of conveying it in as streamlined a manner as possible.

How long does it take to write a story? A waitress once saw animation artist Wendell Washer doodling a cartoon of me as a story telling bear and asked him, “How long does it take to draw a sketch like that?”

“Forty years,” was Wendell’s reply.

His point being that it’s all your experience of your lifetime up to that point that makes any drawing or story or creative work possible.

But from concept to execution,
well, that can go pretty fast.

Case in point:
Last week I was shopping with my wife at the Nordstrom’s in Topanga Mall.[7]

Suddenly, and with no preamble or spur to my imagination, the following line popped into me widdle head:

“He was 19 years old when he killed his first German.”

Hmmm, sez I to meself. That’s nice. Sums up the gist of the story right up front even though I have no idea where that story may take me.

I jotted the opening line down on the phone and went back to browsing, intending to pursue the matter further when I got home that evening.

45 minutes later my wife was finished. I told her I needed to use the restroom and went into the gents’ facility.

While there the closing line of the story popped into said widdle head[8] and instantly the whole story laid itself out for me.

I mean everything in the story.

As soon as I washed up[9] I dashed out to Soon-ok and asked if she had any paper with her.

She had a small note pad, not much larger than a PostIt note, but no pen.

I dragged her across the mall to the target store and bought a pen, then we went out to our car and in the space of 35 minutes I wrote the first draft of “War Trophy” by hand.

I transcribed it that night, making a few very minor changes and tightening it up, then had it ready to go.

But go where…?

Ah, that’s a topic for my next writing report:
Where & Why I select various venues for various stories.

Suffice it to say, for a wide variety of reasons I decided ”War Trophy” would be better served immediately and on my own blog than in submitting it elsewhere.

So enjoy.

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[1] I enjoy reading other people’s “rules” or formulas for writing. Lester Dent is the go to guy for writing slam back action packed short stories, Michael Moorcock knows how to whip out a psychedelic slice of sensational sci-fi surrealism in just 72 hours. As good as their advice is, however, it’s also deadly; follow it too closely and you end up writing clichéd pastiches of other authors’ earlier / better work. Use it for inspiration and hints / tips, not a blueprint.

[2] Of all the various formats I write in, I like comic book scripting best. You are bound by a specific page length; unless you’re doing something for a very specific reason you are risking readability by going more than 4 – 6 panels per page or more that 25 words per panel (including all dialog / captions / footnotes / sound effects / signage that contributes to the story). I find it forces me to think very, very clearly about my story and characters, to pace out the flow of events.

[3] Or at least what I intend the story to be. More than once I find things swinging off in an unanticipated direction once I get the story up on its feet but that’s okay, I still have my original idea and if I end up going down a blind alley I can always backtrack to the point where things went astray and re-start from there.

[4] Actually I’m skipping two steps here: Spell and grammar checks in my computer, then run it through a program or website like Expresso to look for weak verbs / repetitive phrases / other weak writing. Spell checks and Expresso are not — repeat NOT — substitutes for human eyes & brains but they sure speed the process up by pointing out the most egregious mistakes quickly. Once I’ve done that then I’m ready to print.

[5] This is the primary difference between the longer works and the short stories; I can futz around with openings & closing of longer works all the way up to completion, but short stories tend to be very precise in how they start and end.

[6] Yeah, I know, you can tell…

[7] Well, she was shopping; I was sitting in an uncomfortable chair browsing on my cell phone.

[8] Go read the story to see what it was.

[9] I’m an artist, not a fnckin’ barbarian.

 

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War Trophy

31/08/2016

Private First Class Wilbur killed his first German at 19 years of age. He was a seasoned combat vet at that point, wading ashore a month earlier at Normandy.

He never killed a man before though he fired his rifle in anger countless times and chucked his fair share of hand grenades.

But never at a human target, only at puffs of gunsmoke in gaping windows or furtive movement in bushes and trees. He’d seen plenty of dead Germans, of course, dead and disfigured by American small arms fire and artillery but never anyone he aimed at, never anyone he shot.

He’d seen plenty of dead Americans, too.

First Lieutenant Kyle had just led the patrol to the outskirts of Saint-Michel-de-Livet when they heard the bitter chatter of an MP 40 submachine gun and screams abruptly cut off. Lt. Kyle fanned his men out to enter the village down three narrow winding streets, signaling Corporal Dugan and Pfc. Wilbur to take the right flank.

The GIs on the left flank encountered the Germans first, and the air filled with the dull barks of Mausers dueling with the loud pops of M1 rifles.

As the battle raged two streets over, Pfc. Wilbur kept his eyes and ears focused straight ahead so that no Germans could encircle his position.

He turned the corner of the small street at the same instant a German turned it in the opposite direction. Pfc. Wilbur was so startled he jerked his trigger finger without thinking and, more by chance than design, put a bullet through the German’s heart at point blank range.

The German staggered back as if struck in the chest with a baseball bat. He fell on the street, cracking his helmet hard on the cobblestones.

He was dead but still conscious, at least for the moment. He looked at his chest in dismay, realizing his injury was fatal, then his eyes rolled back in his head and he lost consciousness and the last bit of life seeped from him.

The shooting on the other street stopped and Lt. Kyle began checking his men’s status. The patrol had been lucky: No dead, no injured, and three Germans killed.

Four, counting Pfc. Wilbur’s.

Pfc. Wilbur’s dead German seemed to be in his mid-thirties, husky with sandy brown hair. He was an unteroffizier, the rough equivalent of an American buck sergeant, and he carried an MP 40.

Cpl. Dugan, the platoon scrounger, stepped up and began rifling the German’s uniform. “Good shooting, kid,” he said to Pfc. Wilbur. Cpl. Dugan was 21.

Pfc. Wilbur stood there, somewhat dumbfounded. He didn’t know what to think, much less what to do. The possibility of killing a man face to face had always been present in his mind, but the possibility was now a reality and he didn’t know how to process it.

Cpl. Dugan handed Pfc. Wilbur the MP 40 submachine gun. It was a valuable souvenir and by right of combat, Pfc. Wilbur’s trophy.

Cpl. Dugan rolled the German over and opened his backpack. There was nothing of value in it, just a Bible in German.

Cpl. Dugan handed Pfc. Wilbur the Bible. Pfc. Wilbur slung his M1 over his shoulder and took the Bible in his free hand. It felt very similar in texture and weight to his own Bible.

He let it fall open in the palm of his hand. There was a snapshot tucked between the cover and first page, a picture of the dead German smiling with his wife and son and daughter. Father and son wore uniforms, there was a Christmas tree in the background. They seemed like a happy family and the enormity of what he had done struck Pfc. Wilbur at that moment. That particular family had now ceased to exist, and the family that survived would never know their happiness.

Lt. Kyle radioed for backup then came over to check Cpl. Dugan and Pfc. Wilbur. He glanced at the dead German without acknowledgement. Killing Germans was their profession. Lt. Kyle was 25.

“The rest of the Krauts retreated,” he said. “Company is sending up two more platoons to reinforce us. We’re going to take perimeter positions in the houses at the edge of the village ‘til they get here.”

Pfc. Wilbur, Bible in one hand, MP 40 in the other, followed Lt. Kyle. They passed a small public square where the bodies of three children and four women lay. Two of the women seemed to be scarcely out of their teens.

The four women were naked; they had been raped then shot as they tried to protect the children. Thirty-two 9mm shell casings nestled between the cobblestones, there were no 7.92mm Mauser rifle casings.

“Did anybody else carry a submachine gun?” Pfc. Wilbur asked.

“Nah, the other Krauts just had rifles,” said Lt. Kyle.

Later, Pfc. Wilbur traded the MP 40 for a bottle of scotch. He kept the Bible because it was hard to find toilet paper in the field.

WWII GIs

text © Buzz Dixon

 

 

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Knowing Is Half The Podcast: “Arise, Serpentor, Arise!”

29/08/2016

Mi amigos Ray Stakenas, Robert Chan, and Gina Ippolito prove to be real gluttons for punishment and invite yrs trly back to the Knowing Is Half The Podcast to discuss “Arise, Serpentor, Arise!” Part One.

They shoulda known better, because only I can take a discussion on a single 22-minute episode of a five part serial and turn it into 90+ minutes of random gibberish.*

We start talking about Part One here and finish talking about Part One there.

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knowing is half the podcast

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*  AND I’M STILL NOT DONE YET!!!

There’s more coming re my new novel
“The Most Dangerous Man In The World:
The Lost Classic G.I. Joe Episode”

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H. Somerset Maugham On Why We Write

26/08/2016

somerset maughn on writing

“We do not write because WE WANT to;
we write because WE HAVE to.”
— H. Somerset Maugham

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dragon on the hill

23/08/2016

the new road
curls around the dark hill
like a fiery golden dragon
ascending to heaven

a year ago
it was just an idea

a year before that
not even a thought

what will it be
a year from now?

text © Buzz Dixon

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Writing Report August 21, 2016

21/08/2016

A productive weekend.

I stumbled across a writing prompt that initially struck me as being pretty damn useless.

Writing prompts are tricky things.  Too often they’re just meaningless generic ideas (“Write a story about a cat!”) or too gimmicky (“Write a story about a cat but don’t use any vowels!”).  Finding a source of good writing prompts is always a blessing since a good prompt will light the fuse on an idea that can turn into a good, quirky story.  Most people / books / websites that offer prompts fall into the first two categories, but some of the better instructors / coaches can find or create prompts that give you just enough specific details to generate a vivid idea yet remain vague enough to let you explore that idea on your own.[1]

This particular prompt was a pretty generic one, but as I turned the phrase around in my head, I saw a not-very-obvious opening, one that I’m pretty sure violated what the original intent of the prompt was but who cares, it got the creative juices flowing, right?

I had the idea Friday night; Saturday we were visiting Soon-ok’s mom.  I took along a collegiate notebook with me[2] and starting writing at her apartment.

I completed about half the story there and the other half when I came home,[3] clocking in at about 2,000+ words.

It’s not a good story — not yet, anyway — but it’s a good idea for a story and the skeleton is there and mostly fleshed out, so it’s going to be merely a matter of transcribing it and working on it on the computer.

I have several other stories in my notebooks awaiting their turn at beings transcribed:  The aforementioned barbarian fantasy story, a one-act play, a couple of closet dramas[4], several fictoids, poems, and essays as well as a ton of free floating notes, all of which need to be transcribed and transferred to the particular story folders where they belong.

All this on top of the various books in their various stages of development.

Speaking of which….

I printed up the first draft of The Most Dangerous Man In The World so I can start polishing it over the next couple of weeks.  I did a very light format / grammar / spellcheck on it as I was prepping it to be printed, but not nearly as detailed as the one I’ll do on the manuscript itself.

I’ve found for longer works it’s better to print out a hard copy and then work on it with a red pen.  I print it on three hole punch paper and put it in a notebook with a number of lined school notebook paper in the back.

This was as I’m writing if I have any edits or additions that can’t be scribbled in on the margins, I write ‘em on the lined notebook paper and stick ‘em into the manuscript at the appropriate place.

(Short stories tend to not get that kind of attention from me; their virtue — at least in my eyes — is the primacy and immediacy of the story telling.  I do go back and proofread and polish, but typically just on the computer, not a hard copy.)

Anyway, I’m all lined up for The Most Dangerous Man…  I’ll tackle it as soon as I finish my edit on The Rustlers Of Rimrock.

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GI JOE 1st draft

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[1]  Back in the day we used to buy a copy of The World Weekly News, the ultra-low grade black and white red-haired stepchild to The National Equirer tabloid, and read it aloud at Ruby-Spears.  TWWN was the home of Bat Boy and such insane headlines as DOCTORS SUCKED THE FAT FROM MY BODY (which — surprise-surprise — actually turned out to be a factual piece on liposuction, which was just then coming into vogue); it was always good for a laugh and at least three or four story ideas.  Not a bad deal for $.25.

[2]  If I’m working in an office for a studio or publisher, I prefer yellow legal pads; you can scribble stuff out quickly, tear it off, and pass it along to the poor schnook who has to decipher your writing and enter it into the document or script.  For personal use I prefer the collegiate notebooks; you can’t tear the pages out easily, which discourages anusoids from helping themselves to something, and they’re easier to carry.

 [3]  I’ve discovered that whatever media I start a story in, I tend to prefer to finish it in that media even if I’m going to transcribe it to another format for final use.

[4]  That’s the technical name for ‘em:  Short stories that are told almost entirely through dialog.

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