Saturday, November 12, 2011

My Second Son is Born!

On 11/11/11, my wife gave birth to our third child, Lockelan Arthur. Mom and baby are doing well. He looks just like his older brother, William. We chose another Scottish name to match William, but we altered the spelling in recognition of our favorite LOST character. The middle name is not due to the man in Camelot, but instead references Arthur Dent from one of my wife’s favorite books (or series of books, I should say), The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Breaking News

I’ve lived a relatively injury-free life so far, and up until last week, I had only chipped one bone in my finger. Tuesday evening, I began to chase after William for something he was up to that he should not have been up to. Rather than taking my second stride forward, my left foot careened into a sturdy piece of furniture in the kitchen.

We have a learning tower for the kids next to the counter in the kitchen so that the kids can observe and help stir things, etc. That tower has long feet on it, though, and I have often clipped it as I shuffle clumsily about. This pain, however, was beyond any stubbed toe I’d had previously. Immediately afterward, I stomped the linoleum floor my heel and screamed my hatred for the tower.

The kids cried, so I assured Elora I was upset for hurting my foot and apologized for yelling. Bess suppressed a laugh at my idiotic behavior.

Later that night, my toe and foot bruised up in an unusual manner. A trip to the doctor revealed that I had broken the toe next to my pinky. I’m sure there is a name for this digit, but due to a lack of medical knowledge, I will simply call it Toe Four. Toe Four took one for the team, apparently, breaking the bone closest to the foot (the doctor said there are three bones per toe).

The remedy? Nothing. No cast, no tape. Walk to comfort. Take normal OTC meds if uncomfortable.
Healing time? Six weeks.

The good news is that I have a natural axe-murderer’s gait with Halloween only weeks away. I just need to find the appropriate costume to match.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Monday, August 29, 2011

Bad Ideas Make Good Practice

A story idea may be horrific, but it still allows a writer the chance to practice the art. At some point, a good idea and good writing will need to meet to give a story a decent chance at publication, but while the writing is still in the formative years, any idea, even a bad idea, will work.

In high school, I worked on a novel-length science-fiction story titled “The Key”. Sounds fantastic already, doesn’t it? The key to what? It’s so intriguing.

In the story, the protagonist (I don’t remember his name) works at a cryogenic lab (highly original, I know), freezing people who are dying of incurable diseases. Ironically, the protagonist himself ends up with an incurable disease (no way anyone would see that coming). So he volunteers to join the group of frozen people in hopes that someone will find a cure one day.

The protagonist awakens in the distant future; the United States is in a prolonged war with Canada and robotic spheres hunt people. Not only that, but he soon meets an alien who has escaped to Earth with the technology to open a portal to other worlds (hence where the title comes into play).

Cliché builds upon cliché in this epic failure of a novel that I didn’t even bother to edit (I didn’t understand how to progress through drafts back then). The story is now locked away in the memory of an outdated computer lacking a functional power supply (or some other piece of hardware), but it served the purpose of giving me experience. I worked on dialog, setting, characters and point of view. The fact that the ideas within the novel were horrific didn’t matter because I spent time writing.

I would encourage writers to work with whatever ideas come to mind while learning how to write. It may be fan fiction. It may be clichéd. It may be the worst idea in the world. But if it leads to words on a page and helps with learning the process of writing, it’s worth using for experience. Just don’t try to sell it.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Winnie the Pooh

Yesterday, I took a vacation day to go to a picnic with my daughter’s preschool class. Since I had the day off, I thought it would be fun to see the new Winnie the Pooh movie that afternoon. The kids were still napping mid-afternoon, so the four of us went to the 6:40 showing.

My wife and I hadn’t tried taking the kids to the movies before. Elora’s three and a half, so I wasn’t concerned about her age. William, however, is only 21 months old, and he doesn’t like to sit still for long periods of time unless he’s doing something.

With the expectation that I would only see ten minutes of the movie, we bought lots of candy and a fair amount of popcorn, along with a “small” fruit drink that was large enough for three people. We put Elora in a booster they had at the theatre while William had his own we brought from home. Then we passed out the candy, and the previews started soon afterward.

Each time the green preview screen popped up (the one indicating the preview is for all audiences, etc.), William would say, “Uh-oh.” Perhaps he thought the film was broken.

Surprisingly, the kids did well throughout the movie. William wanted out of his seat toward the end, so I let him stand in the row (we sat in the first raised row, so he could watch the movie through the railing). Since we almost had the theatre to ourselves, I didn’t mind too much while they explored the place during the credits.

I liked the movie. It seemed to be similar in theme to The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh from 1977. The kids really enjoyed it, too. I even heard Elora laughing at times (she especially liked it when Pooh’s tummy growled). If you’ve got little ones, I recommend this one; it’s entertaining and also the right length.

Next up for the family – Captain America. Yeah, right.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Balancing Plot with Characters

I’ve found that it’s much better to let characters be themselves rather than forcing them to adhere to a specific plot.

I try to allow characters to act within the parameters of their character. One difficulty I found in my work-in-progress novel is that my protagonist does not plan or carefully consider his actions before moving forward. As I write, I am thinking through things carefully (to a degree), so at times, I set him upon a certain path and think carefully of something he could do. Except he won’t. Not unless I alter his character to be more considerate.

This brings up a dilemma – either to constantly change characters in order to satisfy a plot or to alter the plot to satisfy the characters. I think it can be much more difficult to change characters partway through a story. If a character seems stale, I will change him or her, but in doing so, I will rewrite any scenes where the character did not adhere to his or her new personality. This works okay with minor characters, but to do so with a major character could mean considerably more rewrites (or at least a close examination of the existing story).

Suppose I have the following plot idea in chapter twelve: Bill opens a door and goes inside a room. There he meets a swordsman, and he quickly kills the swordsman. Before I get to this point, I’ve really established Bill’s character in mind (and on the previous pages), and he’s a myopic coward. If I plow forward with the plot I’ve outlined, Bill breaks character (unless Bill’s method of killing doesn’t require good eyesight or bravery). If Bill stays in character, he probably dies, and that would be a horrific end to my novel, so it’s time for a plot change.

Wait, you say, isn’t a plot change a lot of work as well? Yes, it could be. So it’s up to you to identify the greater priority – keeping the character or plot the same (or possibly changing both). I prefer to keep the characters as they are as much as possible. Plot is interesting, but I have a fondness for great characters.

If you want to have character-driven stories, establish the characters you want, and let them be who they are. Form the plot around them as necessary. Be cautious about when you want characters to do something against their natures; there should be some logic behind why such a thing would occur. Don’t have a character go against his or her nature simply to fill a checkbox on the plot outline; readers will pick up on this and grimace because you took the easy way out.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Knights in July

My wife asked me before the holiday break if I was planning on going to the Kentucky Ren Faire this year. It had slipped my mind, and I hadn’t realized it was nearly at an end. An hour or so later, my father-in-law and I had plans in place to go on Saturday.

This year, we took my daughter along as well, dressed as a peasant girl (though dressed a bit better than a medieval peasant). My wife abandoned her normal outfit due to her pregnancy and went with a gypsy look (also a great outfit). My father-in-law and I dressed as normal – long-sleeve, wool gambesons and pants covered by mail shirts, surcoats, pauldrons, grieves, gauntlets, swords, shields and capes. Along with mail caps and helmets. What else would we wear in temperatures above 90 degrees? When people asked if we were warm, we’d say, “It was much worse in Jerusalem.” (Crusader jokes don’t get old.)

I apparently learned nothing from the history of the crusades because I failed to remain hydrated. Toward the end of the day, I was barely moving and couldn’t even accompany my wife and daughter in wandering the various shops. Instead, I planted myself on a park bench in the shade and tried not to die.

It was a fun experience up to a point, and then it became an experience in fatigue. At some point, I will likely translate this into an armored character trying to survive in hot weather. My hope is that a reader will say, “I really felt the pain and struggles of that guy.” To which I could answer, “That’s because I was that guy.”

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Black Gate 15

The latest issue of Black Gate recently arrived. The immense tome is now the standard size, much to the chagrin of mail carriers everywhere. For those who love adventure fantasy, however, it is a welcome change for the bi-annual publication.

This is one of the best issues I’ve read. There is a mix of old and new writers, and there is even a theme around strong female protagonists (or “Warrior Women” as John puts it). If you’ve read Black Gate in the past but have fallen away from it in recent times, this is an excellent issue to jump back in with. If you’ve never read Black Gate, check them out.

Because this issue is so immense, I felt that I could not reasonably review every story contained within its pages. Instead, I’ll focus on my five favorite stories. By the way, I’m not counting the novel excerpt of The Desert of Souls by Howard Andrew Jones within my list of five, despite how entertaining I found it, since it’s only an excerpt. I’ll have to get the book and read it sometime soon. If you like adventure fantasy, you should probably add it to your reading list as well.

Alas, even in my attempt to narrow down to five, I’ve been unsuccessful. There are so many great stories in this issue! So here are my favorite six:

“The Vintages of Dream” by John R. Fultz – A thief infiltrates a sorcerer’s home, knowing the mage to be quite wealthy. He steals enchanted bottles that contain the sorcerer’s dreams and then departs to sell them at expensive prices, saving only the most intricate bottle for himself.

I had the pleasure of hearing Fultz read this tale at last year’s World Fantasy Convention. I recall him saying he would just plough through, or something to that effect, and off he went. This is a great tale with a great ending. But then, the quality should be of no surprise to anyone familiar with Fultz’s other tales.

“Cursing the Weather” by Maria V. Snyder – Nysa serves tables for Gekiryo Lady, taking what little she earns to purchase medicine for her dying mother. When a weather wizard comes to town, he becomes a regular patron and seems to enjoy forcing Nysa to question the things around her, including her own life.

Snyder’s characters jump to life in this tale that explores superstition and magic. Very enjoyable.

“World’s End” by Frederic S. Durbin – Kian seeks to do the god Arhazh’s work by slaying a princess at World’s End. The princess Erhin seeks a crown at World’s End. Their paths seem certain to converge, but the monkey-god who follows Erhin pleads with her to return from her journey prematurely, even if greater gods demand more from her.

This was another tale I heard in part directly from the author at the Black Gate reading at the World Fantasy Convention. When I read it, I could hear Durbin’s voice for the monkey-god and even recall the way he would change his face as he read the part. The tale is full of action, with a bit of humor thrown in as well. It is a very fast read.

“Groob’s Stupid Grubs” by Jeremiah Tolbert – Groob the goblin leaves his mate’s nest to search for food. They live deep within a mobile city – a mechanical monstrosity that devours entire towns while the residents within scavenge what comes their way. While on his search, Groob avoids attackers and ends up being hoisted to the higher realms of the city where goblins seldom go.

I rank this as third best in the issue. It’s quirky, funny and very imaginative. The uniqueness of the tale makes it so refreshing.

“The Lions of Karthagar” by Chris Willrich – As two great armies converge on Karthagar -- one from the east and one from the west -- a weather mage from each army leads the way. Blim the Damp forges ahead for his princess and is surprised to discover a beautiful mage who does not share his language. The two explore Karthagar together, leaving Blim torn between duty and his romantic interest in the other mage.

This was my second favorite tale of the issue. Normally, I praise Willrich for his outstanding creativity that always leaves me gasping. His creativity certainly abounds in this tale, but what struck me even more was his character development. I also have a soft spot for light romance in fantasy, and I was completely drawn into Blim’s struggles. I think readers of Willrich’s Bone and Gaunt series will be quite pleased with this one.

“The Oracle of Gog” by Vaughn Heppner – Lod has survived as hunters’ bait and seeks to end his slavery. Meanwhile, the Nephilim, Kron, comes to his master – the terrible Firstborn named Gog – who has peered into the future and sees a threat. Kron’s mission is to eliminate that threat, while Lod’s mission is to simply survive in his newfound freedom.

This was my favorite tale within the issue. Heppner’s narrative style wrapped me into each scene and into the characters’ minds. I hope to see more stories of Lod in future issues.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011


My wife and I are expecting our third child later this year. Third. That makes me think of Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, one of the few books I’ve read more than once.

We don’t know whether we’re having a boy or girl yet, and I would honestly be pleased either way. My main pre-birth thought around any child is what to name him or her. Actually, I take that back. I’m only concerned when it’s a him rather than a her.

My criteria for names (which may differ from my wife’s) is that my wife and I both like the name and that it isn’t common. Yes, my son’s name is William, which is common, but few people actually go by William (which is what we call him), so in that aspect, I consider it uncommon. An added bonus is if the name has familial significance or touches on pop culture interests of ours (for example, my daughter Elora’s name ties to the princess in the movie Willow).

Girl names are easy to match to the main criteria. There are a lot of names that sound great and are uncommon. In fact, I could probably invent my own word and end it with a suffix of -elle, -anna, or -een and come up with an original girl name. Either that, or I’d end up with the name of a new pharmaceutical drug.

With boy names, a lot of names that I like are common. If you have a common name, as I do, you either end up being referenced as First Name plus Last Name Initial (Matt W), or you take up a new name, perhaps a middle name or a nickname (I went by my last name throughout high school and college). So the cool name has a good chance of getting lost by the need to actually identify the boy uniquely, and there’s a fair (or perhaps unfair) chance that you won’t choose your own soubriquet.

My first thought was to try to repeat the process of how we chose Elora’s name. Unfortunately, referencing the movie Willow for boy names leads to horrific outcomes like Madmartigan or Rool. Referencing other fantasy material also does little good, I’ve found. In fact, I consider Tolkien’s works to be a foundation for high fantasy, yet the most normal name I recall from his works is Samwise. Samwise, really? Oh, there are some cool names in Tolkien’s fiction, but I would never punish a child for life by actually using them. Of course, if I’m pressed to come up with something, dragon names might command attention. Or ridicule.

At any rate, stay tuned much later in the year for the grand announcement when I introduce little Glaurung or Trimethylneen.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Writing Goals

Writing goals are good to put into place. They give a writer something to aim for and something to weigh progress against. Goals will vary from one writer to another, and they will likely change over time.

Goals should follow the old standard of being specific and measurable, preferably with a timeline. “I’d like to write more,” is not a goal (too vague, no timeline). “I’d like to write 2,000 words a week,” is a goal. “I’d like to complete a new short story every quarter,” is a goal.

One flaw I’ve made in the past was to set a goal that met the criteria I mentioned but was dependent upon circumstances outside of my control. For example, I once had a goal of “selling a story to a semi-pro magazine this year.” Unfortunately, all I can do is write stories and submit them. I don’t have control of whether or not a story is accepted for publication. Certainly, there are things I can do to increase my chances, but I have no way to guarantee publication.

If it’s outside of my control, it is not a goal. That isn’t to say that I can’t have aspirations for things outside of my control, such as certain types of publications, etc. But if I lose focus and think that I am somehow responsible for bringing such things into fruition, it’s easy to become overwhelmed or feel ashamed.

What I can do is to give myself the opportunity to reach my aspirations by breaking the achievable components down into goals. Suppose I have an aspiration of a published novel. I should not set that as my goal. Instead, I set goals of completing a rough draft by a certain date (which may in turn break down into weekly goals for how many words I write), completing subsequent drafts by certain dates, finding a specific number of agents to query and submitting to those agents by certain timelines. Or perhaps I will set a goal of querying publishers directly (for those who accept unsolicited submissions). At the end of the process, I may not have a book published, but I can at least know that I accomplished my goals, and I’ve given myself the opportunity for reaching my aspiration. Without a rough draft, I have no subsequent drafts. Without a finished novel, there’s nothing to publish. Without querying agents or publishing houses, I can’t get a contract.

If you haven’t tried setting goals lately (or ever), try it for a few months to see how it affects your writing. You might be surprised by how goals motivate you.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Speculative Markets Rising

Years ago, it seemed like we kept losing speculative markets. Periodically, I’d see another name listed among dead markets, and readers and writers would mourn the loss of another magazine.

Recently, it seems like there’s a growing presence of speculative markets, especially in the genre of science fiction. Just yesterday, I noticed a new one named Digital Science Fiction, which focuses on a series of anthologies available for the Amazon Kindle, Sony Reader and other eBook platforms. Their premier anthology is slated for arrival in June. Another interesting note on this market – they’re paying pro rates.

A quick search of duotrope shows 16 markets consistently paying pro rates (above flash-fiction in length) that accept science fiction as well as 16 accepting fantasy (some markets overlap both genres). I don’t know what that exact number looked like a few years back, but I don’t think it was nearly so high.

Besides all of the pro-paying markets, there are of course many great magazines and anthologies available for readers and writers. It’s becoming difficult to track all of them, and I doubt most readers can keep up with the plethora of quality fiction available today. I suppose that’s a good problem to have, though.

My hat goes off to the various editors who keep churning out issues of magazines or anthologies as well as those brave souls who decide to start new ventures. Your hard work brings an abundance of joy to both readers and writers alike.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


Since taking a new job a couple of months ago, I’ve found a new consistency in my writing schedule. Almost every weekday morning, I get up early, get ready and sit at my writing desk before heading in to work. Usually I have about 45 minutes to an hour of writing time. I believe this routine is helping me overall, much more than when I used to write every couple of days for a couple of hours.

When I head to my desk daily, it’s like I’ve trained my creative mind to get into action. Often, I’m thinking about the current scene
or interesting character traits while showering. Minutes later, I’m writing those ideas.

I also feel like I’m taking writing a bit more seriously when I do it consistently. Every weekday, this is what I do, just like I go to work. I have heard from multiple sources that persistence is what matters in many realms of the arts, and there seems to be no better way of persisting than doing so on a daily basis.

Certainly, I’m glad to have unexpected pockets of time in which to write, but when I relied solely upon those pockets, writing wasn’t happening that much. My advice to others is to find a reliable window of opportunity, even if it means getting up earlier or staying up later than you might otherwise. It will likely help with both the quantity and quality of your work.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Wolf Age by James Enge

The Wolf Age by James Enge was published by Pyr near the end of 2010. This is Enge’s third novel, following Blood of Ambrose and This Crooked Way (both released in 2009, which begs the question of whether or not Enge actually sleeps).

In The Wolf Age, Morlock the Maker has severed all ties with his friends to wander alone, believing it is only a matter of time before he battles his father, Merlin, for the final time. His latest path takes him north into the werewolf city of Wuruyaaria. Instead of Merlin, Morlock struggles against madness, imprisonment, a maker who battles gods, and a slow death by ghost sickness.

I am a huge fan of Enge’s Morlock tales, but I don’t think that prevents me from being objective. That clarification aside, I believe this is Enge’s best work. This is a thrilling tale that showcases Morlock’s ingenuity within the clever, unpredictable plots that Enge fans cherish. What I enjoyed the most was the mortality of Morlock -- a frailness I was unaccustomed to seeing, along with limitations to his skills through an unfortunate turn of events. Beyond this, Enge once more demonstrates strong character development and even introduces a credible and moving love story.

If you’ve never read any of Enge’s works before, it’s time to jump on board. If you have read Enge’s works, this is a step above anything that preceded it; grab a copy as soon as you can.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Rough Drafts Are Ugly

I’ve posted before on basic thoughts of writing rough drafts, and this is meant to enhance and elaborate on the theme. For whatever reason, I’m still working through the notion that rough drafts are ugly.

To stop and ponder the best way of phrasing something is to kill the idea. I’m not suggesting that there is no thought process at all, but there’s a difference between using your imagination and then writing the story as you see it versus using your imagination and then filtering those ideas into what might look the best. Subsequent drafts take care of the clean-up process.

I promised elaborations, so I’ll open up a bit. No, I won’t share text from a working draft. They are hideous, and I refuse to let anyone see them willingly. But I will share a few specifics on what I have purposefully skipped over.

I gloss over a name if I don’t have one readily available in mind and realize that pondering the name will slow me down too much in the moment. In place of the true name, I use a stand-in that I can find/replace later (Control-H for the win). Usually I put in something basic, like Bill, which I know I won’t leave alone in a fantasy story. In fact, bland names are a good motivation to do some extra thinking when I’m away from my writing desk.

One example from my current work in progress is that I had a character who found the first road. Two paragraphs later, this character found the first house. I saw it on a subsequent writing session as I was getting my bearings and was severely tempted to edit. But I refused. I know I’ll fix it later, so there was no need to address it in the moment.

Another point of slowness for me is choosing the right word. Sometimes, it’s that I can’t think of the actual word for something. I was recently trying to think of the device that’s used for holding candles, and for whatever reason, “candlestick” was not coming to mind. In its place, I wrote “hand-held candle” and highlighted it. This isn’t something that happens to me all the time, but when it does, it can drive me up the wall or drive me into Google (which can turn into a long research hunt).

Remember that rough drafts can be ugly. Plan for them to be horrid. Then you’ll be free to create without the confines of polish, grammar, vocabulary or whatever else may get in your way.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Magazine Submission Statistics

There’s something about statistics that I find intriguing. They can reveal good information in some circumstances, and sometimes they’re simply entertaining. I’ve discovered over the years that there are quite a few statistics available for submissions to magazines, and I’ll share how I analyze some of the data that I find.

One statistic I often consider is the number of submissions reported to a magazine over a given time period. Sometimes, you can find this information out directly from the magazine editor; if not, you’re limited to what was reported through your favorite market search tool, such as duotrope (which is always a subset of total submissions). This number tells me how many authors are targeting the magazine for publication and is usually a good gauge for popularity among writers; this usually ties to pay scale and circulation along with a general buzz factor among the writing community. What it does not tell me is my actual statistical chance for acceptance, a subtle point that writers may overlook. For example, suppose Magazine X has received 100 submissions in the past year and published 20. I could think to myself, “Given that they published 20 stories of 100 last year and that they’ll likely do the same this year, my odds of getting published are 1 in 5 or 20%.” That would be true if getting published was based on a lottery system where stories are picked at random. Never think in those terms, or you will be quickly overwhelmed. Instead, consider that some markets have a lot more submissions than others, so if you submit to a more popular market, your story will need to stand out that much more.

Another statistic I find helpful is the average response time. This obviously helps in understanding how long the wait will be (on average) before a response is sent. When I find markets that seem extremely unresponsive, I avoid them so as to avoid throwing my story into the same black hole with everyone else.

Once I’ve submitted, I start tracking pending responses, that is authors who reported submitting to the market and are now waiting for a response (like me). I’ve mentioned this in previous posts, but this kind of statistic is extraordinarily helpful in determining if I’m waiting for a response well past when others received theirs. On several occasions, this has revealed to me that my submission fell through the cracks, giving me the chance to query the editor about the submission without looking impatient (since I know about many others who already had responses to submissions sent after mine).

There are many other statistics available as well, but the three I’ve mentioned are what I primarily focus on. At least, they help me 85% of the time.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Changing Jobs

I’m not the sort of person who changes jobs frequently. In software development, however, change is inevitable, and that often means employment changes as well in order to work with different technologies or to explore new opportunities that can’t be found within the walls of one’s current employer.

In 2009, the software development company I worked for was acquired. I was fortunate to remain with the new parent company, but the technology path for the parent company was one that I didn’t want to go down because I felt like I was too invested in other technologies and had little desire to make the switch. I waited and waited (not very patiently at times) for a new opportunity, and earlier this year, I was offered a senior position with another software development company that’s taking the technology path I want to pursue.

Today, I’ve been with the new company for a week, and so far, it seems to be a wise decision. God led me to a lot of possibilities, and for a while, I wasn’t sure if I would be moving on at all. Doors closed for strange reasons with other companies, but then I would find out later that such companies wouldn’t have been good for me (for example, two were acquired and a third turned over a significant number of staff). It was quite a ride, and I’m glad to be through that transition.

Change is never easy, but I think it’s easier to accept when it’s a change for the better.