Sunday, December 29, 2013

Retro Review - Galaxy, July 1951

A few days ago, Black Gate posted another review from me.  This one was for Galaxy's July, 1951 issue.  Enjoy!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Two Recent Acceptances

I'm excited to report that two of my stories have been accepted for publication recently. 

First, I had a story accepted for Ares Magazine.  This will be a revival of a gaming magazine from the '80s.  "The big idea is to fill a void — to publish a new magazine that combines a stand-alone, unique, playable board game in every issue with a collection of spectacular, new fiction."  Ares will be launching a Kickstarter campaign on January 1.  If successful, their first issue will appear a few months later.

My other acceptance was with Perihelion Science Fiction.  "The Unprofiteers" is my first attempt at humor, but the story is science fiction as well.  An odd mix, perhaps, but I'm sure many people recall Douglas Adams' works that blended humor with sci-fi.  (Please note that I'm not comparing myself to him; I'm simply drawing from a popular example.)

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Retro Review - Galaxy, June 1951

I have a new retro-review up at Black Gate.  Today, I'm covering Galaxy's June, 1951 issue.  Take a look!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Galaxy Science Fiction, May 1951 Review

I have a new retro-review (an oxymoron, I know) up on Black Gate.  This one is a review of Galaxy's May, 1951 issue.  Take a look!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Plasma Frequency Anthology

The Plasma Frequency anthology is available on Amazon!  Here's the link:

I've already ordered the print version.  I'm very excited about my first anthology (and first reprint).  Enjoy!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Blog Break

I've decided to take a bit of a break from blogging to focus on other writing projects.  I will continue to use this blog for news on publications and such, and I still plan on writing reviews on Galaxy Science Fiction for Black Gate.  But I'm going to pause on regular blog entries here.

When I return, I plan on having routine posts rather than sporadic ones.  And the posts will be much more focused around the blog's theme.  The exact theme is yet to be determined, but it will, of course, be focused in some way on fiction writing.  It isn't as though I'm going to start back up with a skiing theme or something else completely out of the blue!

Again, this is not an end to the blog but simply a break.  In my mind, it's similar to the breaks I take between the first and second drafts of every writing project I undertake.  My mind needs time to reflect on what was written and how to improve upon that writing. 

To those who read this blog: thank you.  I'm excited to see where it goes in the future, and I hope you share in my enthusiasm to some degree.

Friday, August 02, 2013

Fandomfest and Stan Lee

Last weekend, my wife and I attended Fandomfest in Louisville, Kentucky.  The con tries to combine anime, horror, science fiction, gaming, writing and celebrities together into a single weekend.  But the main focus is really on the celebrities.

We went because we wanted to meet Stan Lee.  Stan is a legend in the comic book world.  His writing career at Marvel spanned many years, and his creations include the X-Men, Fantastic Four and Spider-Man (among hundreds of other characters).  Now over 90 years old, Stan continues to write because he's doing what he loves, so there would be no point to retire.

We splurged for an exclusive meet and greet that took place on Saturday.  I asked Stan which character resembles him the most.  His hearing isn't the greatest anymore, so I had to repeat part of it.  He replied, "All of them.  All of their good points, of course.  Uh, probably Tony Stark, 'cause he's so glamorous and intelligent, and the girls love him... I guess I used myself as a model.  And if you believe that, I've got a bridge in Brooklyn I'll sell you."

Stan and me

Another fan asked about his use of adjectives like "Amazing Spider-Man," and beyond the question itself, Stan said, "I love adjectives... I'll never say one word if twenty will suffice."  It made me laugh because in today's writing world, we seem so concerned with conciseness.  I think we're losing something in our zealousness for brevity.

We met other celebrities as well, including Norman Reedus (famous for his role on "The Walking Dead"), Alan Tudyk and Adam Baldwin (from "Firefly"), and William Shatner.  The photos were a quick ten seconds with the celebrities - pose and go.  I decided I also wanted Shatner's autograph (just for a bit more face to face time), so we went to his booth on Sunday.  After getting his autograph, I asked if I could shake his hand.  The pen seemed locked in his right hand, so he shakily extended his left hand.  I put my hand over his fingers and gave a light shake.  Some people frown when I tell the story, but he looked tired; I don't think he was up for a full handshake at that moment.  But hey, I touched his hand, so that counts for something.

Friday, July 19, 2013

My First Anthology

I recently found out that my story, "The Whitman Inn," would be included in Plasma Frequency's anthology.  The anthology is a collection of stories from their first year of publication. 

An anthology is just that - a collection of stories.  It differs from a magazine in that the anthology is more of a one-time or annual publication.  It may include reprints (stories that have previously been published), new fiction, or both.

Anthologies are usually themed in some way.  For example, an anthology about wizards, such as Way of the Wizard.  Or the "theme" may be a "best of" anthology, as in the best science fiction of 2013.

For the more talented/popular writers, there may be an anthology solely devoted to their work.  I've read most of H. P. Lovecraft through anthologies.  It makes it a lot easier to obtain a collection of an author's fiction that way, especially for fiction that's decades old.

I'm really excited to be included in an anthology for the first time ever.  For those interested, here are the contents:

Thursday, June 27, 2013

World War Z

Last Friday, my wife and I saw "World War Z".  We actually saw a movie on opening night!  I can't think of the last time that happened.

The film is an adaptation of Max Brooks' book by the same title.  I'm most of the way  through the book, and if you haven't read it yet, you should pick up a copy.  It's not a novel in the traditional sense; it reads more like an anthology.  But it's a suspenseful book with interesting characters, culture and settings.

I knew beforehand that the movie would not follow the book's flow.  Otherwise, it would simply be a series of flashbacks from the view of many characters.  Instead, the film focuses around Gerry Lane, who had recently worked for the U.N. as a top operand with unmentioned skills. 

Lane is traveling with his wife and kids through Philadelphia just as a global outbreak strikes.  Originally labeled as a type of rabies, the infected become undead zombies with ravenous hunger, and their bites spread the infection throughout the population.

The U.N. wants to bring Lane to their secure outpost in order to utilize his skills in figuring out how to overcome the mysterious pandemic.  But in order to help the U.N., Lane and his family must first get to a place where they can be transported to safety.

This was a very suspenseful film.  So much so that my wife was practically clawing my arm off at points.  (Not that there's anything wrong with having a really attractive woman clinging to you.)  By the end, I couldn't believe that two hours had flown past.

The movie did a good job of covering the outbreak from a global perspective rather than staying focused around a single city or country.  And I think it was a good change of pace that it wasn't full of gore, hence the PG-13 rating.  This proves that you can still have zombies and the premise that goes with zombies (they eat people, can only be killed by destroying their brain, etc.) without having a blood-spangled guts-fest.  I've been so used to "The Walking Dead" that I hadn't considered another way of conveying a zombie story through visual media.

Another item that I both liked and disliked was how real it felt.  Rather than a group of individuals trying to escape from zombies, a family is trying to escape.  Not only that, but one of their kids has asthma.  As parents of three children, two of whom have chronic health conditions, that really hit home for my wife and me. 

I watched the movie in 2D because I'm just not into 3D films (yes, I've tried recently with "The Hobbit", and it just didn't do anything for me).  But I think regardless of the version you might choose, it will be entertaining and nerve-racking (in a good way).

Monday, June 24, 2013

Run For Your Lives!

This past Saturday, my wife, father-in-law and I participated in Run For Your Lives!  The touring 5K race features an obstacle course and zombies.  What better way to race than that?

The objective isn't to finish with a great time; in fact, I don't think there is an official time.  Instead, you run with a group of racers that start every 15 or 30 minutes.  You carry 3 flags that are attached to a belt with Velcro, similar (or perhaps identical) to flag football. If the zombies take all of your flags, you finish the race "infected" and receive a medal indicating that status.  If you finish the race with at least one flag still attached, you are a survivor and receive a medal indicating that status.  One of the people running the event said that before our shift, the survival rate was about 15%.

The event took place at Boondocks Farms in Knightstown, Indiana - not far from our home city of Indianapolis.  It was an extremely well organized event - including everything from parking to registration to makeup, etc. They even made sure that zombies were kept well hydrated, and they also provided crackerjacks for us (which was good because we wanted a quick snack without eating a full meal).

The three of us worked the third and final shift of the day as zombies.  We thought it would be a cool theme if we dressed like business people - like we were in the office during an outbreak.

'Till Death Do Us Part... Or Beyond!

(In Bess' words: these zombies mean business.)

Look out!  I'm loose!

One of my eight victims.

We worked in the first zone, so runners encountered us soon after starting the race.  It would be their first zombie encounter, and I don't think they had any idea what to expect.  Some zombies are stumblers while others are chasers.  We signed up as chasers, which meant we could run.  Even if the runners knew some zombies could run, they didn't know which of us could until we took off after them.  A decent strategy was to act like a stumbler and then run.

Since our zone was the first one, we would see a burst of runners followed by a long wait.  To pass the time, I would stay in character, stumbling around the field and posing for pictures.  The surprising aspect to me was how many people wanted their pictures with my father-in-law and me.  It could be that we would often walk around in character and groan at people.  Then, once one person saw we would pose, more would approach us for photos.  I love to do group shots and pose on demand; "Act like you're biting me," "Act like we're making a business deal," "Act like you're trying to take my beer."  It was a lot of fun.

Having just seen World War Z, I liked to chomp my teeth every so often.  And rather than groaning, I would do a raspy yell, kind of a "mad dog" noise.  I think it was somewhat intimidating; people tended to yell or scream in response.

I'm not in very good shape, so I had concerns about trying to keep up the pace for a three-hour shift, but given the small bursts of action in our zone, that wasn't a concern.  Other zombies in our zone were even sitting down at times while we waited for the next group.  Other zones had more continuous action due to the fact that runners would inevitably spread out as the race went on, either due to different paces or the obstacles (some of which could only be done with a few people at a time).

We weren't without casualties, even as undead as we were.  My wife twisted her ankle on one of the last waves to come through.  She's doing better today, but she sat for a while after our shift with ice wrapped around her ankle.  Apparently, she was not the first to visit First Aid for such a condition.  She runs regularly, but doing sudden sprints and changing directions on an uneven field can cause problems for anyone.

I highly recommend this 5K race.  To see this particular race from a runner's point of view, check out this video (this was not taken during our shift).   Come as an observer, runner, zombie, or all of the above (there were people who ran it early in the day and then became zombies later in the day).  I can't say enough good things about this event, so if there's one near you, check it out!

Monday, June 03, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness

A couple of weekends ago, my wife and I went to see the latest Star Trek movie, "Star Trek Into Darkness".  Not to spoil anything, but if you're wondering what's in the darkness, it's action.

Someone bombs a secret Federation installation in London, leading to a manhunt for a rogue Starfleet agent.  The agent transports himself to an isolated region on the Klingon home world, likely to escape incarceration.

Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise have orders to approach the Neutral Zone and fire photon torpedoes at the agent's location.  Rather than complying, Kirk chooses to go directly to the Klingon world to apprehend the rogue agent.

The agent reveals his motives, and the crew soon finds themselves in mortal danger. 

Throughout their plights, the crew faces one action sequence after another.  There are countdowns to explosions, a chase through warp, and massive destruction.  There are also a number of references to the Star Trek series/movies that fans would enjoy.

I liked the movie, but it felt like there was too much action.  I would rather have had more character development.  I had some sense of who the characters were, but part of that is based on my familiarity with the Star Trek franchise.  Spock probably had the most depth, seconded perhaps by Kirk, but there wasn't time to see too much beyond that.  I was a bit confused by the references to the friendship between Kirk and Spock; I didn't really see much evidence of a friendship, other than their light banter.

The first part of the movie felt surprising, but the latter half became more predictable.  It was good, however, to involve the Klingons (they do look cool), and I'm sure they will become the focus of the next Star Trek movie.  That would be better than trying to remake the horrible Star Trek IV movie.  (If that's the only idea on the table at some point in the future, that's the point to stop.)

Seeing this action flick from the Star Trek universe makes me cringe a little because I'm concerned the next Star Wars trilogy may be similar.  I don't want a hyped-up, hollowed-out version of Star Wars.  Forget the prequels, I'm talking about the original trilogy; those had a great story, and though there was action, it wasn't all about making 3D viewers ooh and ah.  Sure, a 3D light saber is probably going to be employed, but there has to be a good story as well, especially over the length of three movies.  I hope Lucas can go back into his 1970's mindset and that J. J. Abrams can draw upon some of the magic from Lost.  Combine that with modern technology, and it could be a really cool trilogy.  Or it could be like Star Trek and just be some good action films.  But even that would be better than the prequels, so maybe that's not so bad.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Bad Query

I was searching through old emails in one of my accounts recently, trying to find a password.  While searching, I came across an agent's reply to a query letter I wrote over a decade ago.  The query was for a terribly-written fantasy novel I started when I was in college.  At the time, I thought I had a fairly good idea for what a query letter should look like, based on what some books were telling me.  It's such a bad query letter, I felt like I had to share it (and comment on its hideousness).  Here it is (with the agent's name hidden):

Dear Mr. [redacted],
    I found your listing in the 2000 edition of "Guide to Literary Agents."  I'm excited that you're actively seeking commercial fiction and that you "know the book business from both sides of the table."  I have recently completed a fantasy novel titled [redacted], and I'm seeking an agent interested in finding new writers who can find the right publisher for my work.
    In the year 412 solum-ruina, a sorcerer named Shaelox orders his army, under the leadership of General Cynag, to forcefully take control of Ortello, an abandoned fortress inside the borders of Derunate.  The sorcerer makes allies of the ogre tribes, and the western lands of men become a vast battleground.  Shaelox seeks the fortress because of a great beast that dwells inside.  Its name is Chonossar, and it is the product of the world's first source of evil – Omrontus.
    The beast will only adhere to its master or to any who possess the Jewel of Omrontus.  This jewel is fused to the Torguscept; a conglomerate of two staves in one.  The Torguscept also holds the Jewel of Prospotos, which would allow its user to destroy the beast.
    Aeril, a prince in disguise and cousin to Shaelox, travels to the city of Mystic in the east in order to retrieve the Torguscept and destroy Chonossar.  He teams up with Dergous (a self-proclaimed scholar) and Diana (a strong willed daughter of Litas' only sword-maker) as well as two dwarves in a quest to rid the world of the remnant of Omrontus' evil.
    I am currently a monthly writer and editor for a newsletter with a circulation of about 300.  I have also taken two creative writing courses at [redacted].
    Please contact me if you would be interested in reading my synopsis or sample chapters.  If you have further questions, I can be reached through email or by phone ([redacted]).  Thank you for your time.  I look forward to your response.

-Matt Wuertz

His response was, "No thanks."  Really?  You're not interested in a quest to find the Torguscept in order to stop Chonossar?  Perhaps you missed the plot through all of these esoteric names.  It's a wonder he could even type a response between fits of laughter.

I think I'm better with query letters now.  At least, I hope so.  Time will tell...

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Avoiding Fantasy Stock Characters

A stock character is one that embodies an archetype or falls into basic stereotypes or cliches.  For example, the brave knight or the evil lord.  Especially in writing adventure fantasy or high fantasy, it's easy to slip into stock characters because these forms are so familiar.  But if we don't break the molds, we'll find our writing is nothing but a pastiche of others' work; any originality will fade behind the distracting cliches.

A character cannot simply be an elf any more than a character can simply be a man; that doesn't identify anyone (even if he has his own name).  Delve into their personality, their background, their mannerisms.  The character can still be readily associated with a specific magical race and be well defined.  For example, a distinct dwarf character can still love mining.

If you feel like you're stuck, watch people.  Observe their behavior, especially anything quirky.  Embellish these things for your characters, and you'll see them stand apart in a lineup of stock characters.

Allow for multiple characteristics to permeate; for example, a knight who acts bravely but is guilt-ridden, has insomnia, and enjoys poetry.  One strong characteristic may dominate, but if it aligns too closely with an existing trope without letting anything else shine through, the character will just be another brave knight, ho-hum.

It's okay to reference fantasy races or types of people that readers are familiar with, but don't rely upon them as distinguishing characteristics.  A character must feel real, even if he's a centaur.  Don't be lazy; think creatively.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Getting Through the Lulls

The fun times of writing are seeing acceptance letters or seeing stories appear in magazines or book form (I can imagine this last one anyway).  But what about the lulls?  By that, I mean the times between acceptances or publications - those long spans of time when it seems like rejection letters are the only responses you're seeing.

It's easy to get discouraged as rejections mount up.  I recall after making my first few sales, I then faced over a year of rejection letters.  Where did the magic go, I thought.  I know I can sell stories; I sold some last year.  Yet this is a new year with no sales.  I can't even sell a story to the magazine that published my other pieces.

First (and most important), keep writing.  You can't change whether a story is accepted or rejected, whether you worry about it or not.  I think this is especially tempting after completing a novel and trying to query agents, especially if you start getting some hits requesting more material.  I've read comments from people that make it seem like their world has come to a stand-still until they find out what that agent thinks.  But it doesn't really matter.  You're a writer, so go write.  If the novel is picked up by an agent, great.  In the meantime, you've been getting another one ready, so maybe that will lead to a quicker sale to a publisher.  Or maybe the first novel won't get picked up at all, but by the time you've exhausted your resources, you have a brand new novel to peddle.

Second, don't rewrite a story unless you feel like it must be done based on your own thoughts.  It becomes very tempting to change stories based on an editor's feedback when you get personal rejections.  But unless that editor is specifically asking for a rewrite in order to be considered for publication, you should leave the story alone.  I recall a story I had written where an editor for Magazine A said something he/she didn't like, so I changed it.  Then I submitted it to Magazine B, only to have that editor say he/she didn't like the piece that I had just changed.  Only change something if you get feedback that resonates with you and you feel that it absolutely must change in order to give yourself peace about that story.  But this should be rare.

Third, don't beat yourself up.  Celebrate the victories you had, but don't beat yourself up for any gaps.  Remember, you don't have control over publications.  All you can do is write and submit, trying to improve your writing with each story.  If your current batch of stories isn't selling, it doesn't help to doubt your skills and enter a dark period of self-loathing (though that may itself lead to new story ideas). 

Again, if you take nothing else away from this article, just remember to write no matter what - whether you're selling everything or selling nothing.

The Whitman Inn

Earlier this week, my science fiction story "The Whitman Inn" was published in Plasma Frequency.  Here's the link to the free PDF (click the Read Now link on the image of the magazine cover):

Thursday, January 24, 2013

A Guile of Dragons by James Enge

I recently finished reading James Enge's latest novel, A Guile of Dragons.  This is Book One of A Tournament of Shadows.  Yes, Enge fans, we now have a series of books coming our way.

In A Guile of Dragons, Morlock is born within the Wardlands - a land without formal government that is maintained by the Graith of Guardians.  Though raised by dwarves at Thrymhaiam, Morlock leaves that life to join the Graith as a Thain - the lowest of their three ranks.

Summoner Earno, one of the highest ranking guardians, dreams of vast destruction to the Wardlands, emanating from the north.  He asks Morlock to accompany him to Thrymhaiam in search of another summoner. 

Soon after they reach their destination, the dwarves are attacked by a guile (group) of dragons.  Earno, who has slain a dragon in the past, orders Morlock to deliver a challenge to the guile's master.  By defeating a guile's master, the rest of a guile breaks apart, so Earno's plan seems sound.  But Morlock discovers that this guile is itself made up of guile masters.  And killing its leader would only give rise to another - not that the mighty Vild Kharum would even listen to a challenge from one such as Morlock.

This is a tale of strategy and survival, marked by unexpected turns and exciting adventures.  For those unfamiliar with Enge's writing, this is a great place to jump on board.  And for those who are already fans, you'll love reading about Morlock's origins.

Good stories about dwarves and dragons are hard to find.  Enge remains inventive and witty throughout the book.  You can sense his enjoyment in writing, and it translates to enjoyable reading.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Heart of the Matter

Monday, I spent the day in the E.R.  The reason for the trip was that it felt like my heart was skipping a beat.  It was something I had experienced at various points in my life since high school, but this continued for 40 minutes.  That was enough for me to decide to head to the E.R. in hopes of finding an answer.

In the past when I've gone to the E.R., I've signed in, and registration would give me a packet of paperwork to fill out.  And then comes the waiting game.  But on Monday, after I mentioned my symptoms, I started to walk away, and they stopped me.  The door swung open, and they took me straight to a room where they ran an EKG on me.  I have no doubt that had those scans detected something awful, I would have been whisked away to the Operating Room, and veins that are currently in my legs would have ended up around my heart.

But things turned out fine with the EKG, so the next stop (via wheelchair) was to my own room in Triage.  They drew blood, left an IV in me (no bag hooked to it - just the line itself - in case of emergency), put a bloodpressure gauge around my arm (that would periodically self-inflate), and hooked up several other items to measure my pulse-ox and heartbeat. 

More tests came in the form of X-Rays and ultrasounds.  Later in the day, I had a stress test - which is an expensive run on a treadmill while a thousand wires are taped to your chest.  All of this amounted to a diagnosis of heart palpatations with nothing apparently wrong. 

Yesterday, I went to a follow-up visit to a cardiologist.  I didn't expect much, and I almost didn't go at all.  But I hoped that he might reveal something else, even if it meant hooking me up to a 24-hour monitor to detect the condition if it happened again. 

The cardiologist asked me some questions and then had me sit on the exam table.  While he listened to me through his stethescope, my heart repeated its uncertain pattern.  He glanced up and asked, "Did you feel that?"  I tried to contain my excitement when I said I had.  "Is this what you experienced yesterday?"  I told him it was and that he was the first person to ever hear it.

He said he knew what it was - a benign condition where the heart does two quick beats, waits a pause, then resumes its normal pattern.  It doesn't truly skip a beat, but it can feel that way due to the pause after the two quick beats.  He said it will get better with age - how many conditions do that, right?  Triggers include caffeine, fatigue, and stress. 

I was extermely pleased to find out the cause of what I've experienced for years.  And to know that it's nothing fatal or even impairing (at least not that I've experienced).  What a relief!

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

And Our Lady Splendor

My science fiction story, "And Our Lady Splendor" is available at Abyss & Apex: