Tag Archives: short stories

The Byline

You may be unaware of this, but when I started this blog six years ago, I wanted it to be a writing blog. As a matter of fact, the blog’s byline is “From writer to published author . . . and the long, winding road between.”

Over the years, though, I’ve written less about writing and more about pretty much everything else. That is for two distinct reasons:

First, my writing life hasn’t been all that interesting. I’ve written a handful of short stories here and there, and I’ve made progress in outlining a few novels. Outside of that, though, there really hasn’t been much to tell. I’ve been writing this entire time, but I haven’t done a thing with any of it. And that’s mostly because of the next reason.

Second, my non-writing life got a little too interesting. My family and I spent years living in crisis mode. First, there was Liam’s birth and its many complications. Then there was the time that it looked like our marriage might come to an early and unexpected end. We made it through, but we were anything but unscathed. We thought that escape was our only option, so I packed up my family and moved us all to Nashville to chase a job opportunity and a fresh start.

While we were there, I continued writing, determined to use the extra time I had to really make something of it. That didn’t happen. It wasn’t the happiest of times for us. I was constantly stressed about money, and the addition of Dexter meant we were adjusting to having a new baby again. Almost all of our weekends were spent traveling to visit friends and family, leaving little time for anything else.

There were times when we felt like we were drowning. Still, we kept on. 

It wasn’t all bad memories and longing, though; that’s just how I remember it most days. I am nothing if not an unreliable narrator.

I started writing about Rory’s birth on this blog last year, and I intend to complete that story, so I won’t go into too much detail here. Nevertheless, he brought us home.

Becoming a published author just wasn’t the priority it once was for me. I was too busy surviving. I was taking things day by day.

One of my many faults is that I tend to be a short term thinker. I make plans for here and now without much regard for the future. I solve the problems that are in front of me, not the ones that could potentially come up months or years from now. This kind of thinking has both caused me problems and served me well. It’s not that I don’t acknowledge that I should plan for the future; it’s more that I trust in my ability to solve problems as they arise rather than work them out with a detailed plan ahead of time. This is funny to me because I am also someone who relies on routines and checklists to keep my daily life straight. In addition to being an unreliable narrator, it seems I am also a walking contradiction. Surprise, surprise.

But we are in a comfortable place now. We’re back home in the city we love. I have a job that is both reassuring and fulfilling. We aren’t in the financial straits of yesteryear.

Things are good. The pendulum swung back.

So now it’s time for me to get serious about this whole “published author” thing.

A little over a year ago, I started submitting short stories to literary journals and fiction magazines. The first one I submitted, a novella titled “It Starts and Ends with You,” was rejected by the first lit journal I submitted it to. (And the second. And the third. But that’s another story.) The thing is, it took almost six months to get that rejection. If I was going to be published some time in the next thirty years, I was going to have to change my submission strategy.

A year later, I am still an as-yet-to-published author. But now I have no less than five short stories out for submission at a time while I work on something a little larger. Plus, I always keep an eye out for short story contests and calls for submissions to serve as writing prompts. Even if I don’t make the deadlines, I still end up with the story.

My byline suggests that I am on my way to becoming a published author. After a long sabbatical, I can finally say that is true again.

Advertisements

Serial.

For several years now, I have had an idea for a comic book rolling around in my mind. This idea combined my love of colorful, interesting villains with a question that has plagued my mind since childhood:

When one hero has an extensive rogues gallery — like, say, Batman or The Flash — why can’t they just put aside their differences for two seconds, team up, and finish him off?

In my comic book idea, that is exactly what happens. [Note: There’s much more to it than that; the team-up and subsequent elimination of the common hero is just the starting point of the story.] Or, well, that’s what would have happened, anyway. You see, there was a problem:

I can’t draw.

I mean, I can doodle. I used to draw superheroes all the time when I was in elementary school, creating entire teams (usually with the “X” prefix due to my obsession with X-Men at the time) that I would stash away in a black three-ring binder. If it still exists somewhere, I would probably be pretty embarrassed by its contents. I’ll still sketch out ideas here and there when I need to, like the time a couple years ago when I scribbled a couple of airship concepts for my fantasy project. But, in general, I can’t draw. Especially not on the scale I would have to for a project like a comic book. So I looked for help.

I wrote a five-page script for the first sequence and passed it on to a couple of different illustrator friends I knew. Neither one really seemed interested. It was nothing personal; they just didn’t really seem that into the idea. After that, I kind of abandoned it. Well, maybe “abandoned” is a bit too dramatic. Like any good geek with his old toys, I put the idea up on a shelf, knowing that I’d probably want to dust it off and play with it again someday.

Today, it would seem, is that day. This morning, I was thinking about that supervillain team again, and I had a small epiphany:

I write short stories.

Okay, that’s not the epiphany. That’s just a fact. But it relates.

I write short stories. So why couldn’t I turn this idea into a short story serial? A comic book in prose? Serial novels were very common in the 19th century, with Charles Dickens being a leader in the movement. With the influx of media like radio, film, and television, the serial novel has fallen by the wayside. However, what is to stop it from coming back? Books like the Harry Potter series, the Hunger Games trilogy and, yes, even Twilight have rekindled a national interest in reading. Perhaps there is room for short story serials out there in the publishing world.

[Note: Please don’t misunderstand me — I know I am far from the first to have this idea. Many modern authors (including Stephen King and Orson Scott Card) have published novels and short stories in serial form in various publications or through the wondrous world of the Internet. But I have never seen a superhero story told this way, and that’s what I aim to do.]

I have begun working on the first chapter in the story, mostly to get it out of my head so I can focus on other things — like the western/horror/fantasy short story I am working on, the fantasy series I am still figuring out, and the novel I have been toiling on for years. Not to mention that whole higher education thing that seems to be taking up so much of my time. Oh, me and my distractions.

Anyway, my vision for these stories is pretty simple. Each one will focus on one member of the supervillain team (or a pair of members, depending on the situation). An overarching story will be told in (for the most part) chronological order, with points of view shifting from story to story. Each chapter will open with a noir-style voiceover from that particular person, and then jump right into the action.

Here is the noir voice-over that opens the first story:

Criminals, no matter how well we plan our crimes, always get caught. It is a fundamental understanding even among us, those whom you might consider the elite of the lowlife community. Some of us evade capture longer than others, but in the end, we all get caught. It’s just the way it works. It begs the question: why turn to crime in the first place?

Easy. Because it’s so damn fun, that’s why.

So, yeah . . . I got caught. But I’d be damned if I was going to let that stop me from having my fun.

After that, the story shifts into third-person narration. I experimented with writing the entire narrative from the criminal’s point of view, but, in the end, I decided that an outside perspective was best for this one. These are beings with superpowers — they aren’t like you and me. Their mystery and danger is better conveyed when you don’t know exactly what they’re thinking for every second of the story. In a sense, I wanted the reader to be right there with the other non-powered people of the story. I wanted to convey both a sense of awe when it comes to these people, as well as a sense of fear. After all, human beings tend to fear what they do not understand … so I couldn’t make my villains completely accessible right from the beginning. The reader will have to earn that. Ha.

This next part follows the opening. This first chapter begins in medias res, my preferred method of starting a story:

The room, like most rooms of its type, is bare. The walls are concrete brick, the table and its two chairs are some kind of dull, brushed metal, and an old-fashioned tape recorder sits on the table’s surface. One door serves as the only entrance and exit, and a two-way mirror takes up the majority of the longest wall. Inside the room, a man sits at the table in handcuffs. By most accounts, he would probably be described as unassuming — maybe even as handsome, depending who you asked. He wears a leather jacket, a plain white shirt, loose-fitting denim jeans — and a smile. His feet, clad in leather boots, are propped up on the table. His appearance is that of a man without a care in the world — not the typical demeanor of someone who finds himself in a room like this. When the door opens and two dark-suited men walk into the room, his smile stays firmly in place. Smiles can be stubborn in that way — particularly when on the right people.

Who knows? If my supervillain team works out, maybe I could even write a serial that stars my superhero character. It seems like he’s been waiting in the wings for ages, and I can think of all sorts of stories for him.

So what do you think? Is this a good idea? A mediocre one? A horrible one? Should I just stick with traveling to exotic places and then writing whimsical blog posts about how strange and foreign their customs seem to me?


Award Winning.

My short story, “What He Found There,” won Second Place in the Second Annual Chattanooga Pulse Short Story Contest. You can find it by following one of the links below:

For the online article, click here.

For a super-nifty interactive PDF of the issue, click here. The story is on page 9.

I’m really excited to have won. I entered the contest on the suggestion of a friend, submitting my story the day before the deadline and expecting nothing from it whatsoever. Now I can claim it as an “award-winning short story.” That’s exciting. Plus, now that several people have read it, I feel like I can give a little background on the story itself.

For those too lazy to click above and read a mere 400-ish words, I’ll summarize: while looking for hidden Christmas presents, a boy finds a door in the closet under the stairs. Remembering some of his favorite stories, he opens the door, expecting it to lead him to some kind of fantasy world. Only, well, it doesn’t — he ends up in the crawl space of the house. The boy makes his way back to the door and finds his father standing over him asking what he was looking for in there. The boy says he wasn’t looking for anything, unaware of how truthful he’s being.

I have always loved fantasy stories. I was raised on the Narnia books, devouring all seven when I was little. As I was older, I graduated to slightly more mature fantasy like The Lord Of The Rings, but Narnia has always stuck with me.

When I wrote this story, I firmly had Narnia in mind. I thought, “What if a kid believed these stories … but didn’t have the imagination to bring them to life?” “What He Found There” is that kid’s story in a very abbreviated form.

As for the meaning behind the story, I have a very specific theme in mind, but it is certainly open to interpretation. I’ve heard a few from a few different readers, and each one has been accurate — to an extent, of course.

What about you? What does it make you think about?


Progress.

This is an exciting time for me. Mostly … because I’m actually writing something. It’s fantastic, and it doesn’t seem to happen nearly as often as it should.

I have started work on the idea I mentioned in one of my more recent entries, a collection of stories set in a world where the balance between free will and predestination has been permanently upset. After writing that sentence, I realized just how much of my work has to do with that same theme. My other novel idea deals with it also, as do several of my short stories. Hmm. It’s interesting what fiction can reveal about reality sometimes; in particular, what it can reveal about the mind of the author.

As of this entry, I have ten stories that make up the collection. I’m sure that number will change as I continue writing, and I’m even more certain that the stories themselves will change the further I get into the idea. The stories are connected by theme and setting, but not by characters or time period. For now, at least. I do love to mix things up and sprinkle bits from one story into another, so I wouldn’t be surprised if I did the same here.

I have already finished one of the stories, the introductory chapter of the collection. It offers a short glimpse into the world these stories occupy, as well as the scientific breakthrough that has made it drastically different from our own.

It seems that, with this idea, I am only limited by what my mind can come up with. This is an entire world with an infinite amount of stories to tell. I just have to choose the ones that tell their story the best way. I am already preparing myself to write entire stories and toss them aside, like a director trimming his masterpiece and leaving filmstrips on the cutting room floor. I know it will happen.

I really have a feeling that this will be something special. And if it wasn’t for my wonderful wife and her encouragement, I never would have developed this idea. It would have simply faded, resigned to the same fate as the dozens of other ideas that have slipped into nothing. She is my greatest fan, and the only one I will ever need.

Ah, progress. We meet again. Please, stay a while this time, would you?


A New Start.

It seems like I write these types of posts far too often. However, this will be the last time. I promise.

I have started writing my novel again. This will be my sixth attempt to get the story out of my mind and onto the page. As always, I am starting from page one, only borrowing from previous drafts when I feel it appropriate. I’ve discovered that if I cannibalize too much, I find myself trying to shove and shoehorn things into the manuscript that don’t really belong, mostly because I just like the way it sounds, or because I feel like it is just good writing that needs to be in there.

It’s a difficult thing for me to do — letting go of something I am proud of. I don’t really want to think of all the words and phrases I’ve lost from previous incarnations of this story. If I look back on them now, I am afraid I will just try to work them back in, stifling the creativity that is driving this incarnation of the story. That is what happened with my 60-day manuscript project — I lifted an entire chapter from a previous draft, rather than just writing it fresh. Unfortunately, the drive to create left me within days of recycling that chapter, and the project failed.

However, I really am excited about this version of the manuscript. I am writing it in a completely different way. I have never read a book that is structured the way this one will be. I have read novels that used a similar method, but never something quite like this.

I’ve mentioned before that I feel I am more of a short story writer than a novelist. I’ve also spoken of my desire to break this novel into a series of interconnected short stories rather than one long-form novel. And that’s exactly what I have done. The main story is comprised of three parts, with six shorter stories dispersed throughout the novel to fill in the gaps and expand the story. I know that this type of thing has been done before — and many times at that — but I feel like I am doing it differently.

This time, it is about so much more than just the story. With the way I am writing this, I am viewing it as a celebration of language as well. Words are powerful. Word choice is meaningful. I want to explore every possible avenue. I want to use words to manipulate emotion in a way I have never really read before. Furthermore, I want the reader to know that they are being manipulated, but continue reading anyway. Once you meet my narrator (first mentioned in this post), you will understand why this is so important.

I am also excited because I am playing with a lot of literary conventions. Things that a lot of readers don’t typically notice — like tense changes and perspective changes — have meaning within the story itself. If it pans out the way I hope it will, it will be as much a showcase of what can be done with words and language as it is a story. This novel isn’t just a sandbox — it’s practically a writer’s playground.

I’m glad I’m the one who gets to play on it.


%d bloggers like this: