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A Million Ways to Fail

How I Feel Most Saturday Mornings.

How I Feel Most Saturday Mornings.

One of the most awesome things about writing has to be the almost infinite chances it offers you to fail.

Even if we stick to the slim piece of reality that mortal minds can comprehend, we have quite a list:

  1. First, you can fail to even start writing that idea you have. It’s a nice, clean failure, but a failure nonetheless.
  2. Then, of course, you can fail to finish it. I estimate I’ve failed in this manner about 5,000 times. That’s a conservative estimate.
  3. Or you can finish it and then fail to do anything with the raw material.
  4. You can fail to heed feedback, advice, or proofreading marks.
  5. You can fail to show it around or submit it or make any other attempt to sell the piece or at least have it be read.
  6. You can submit it, and fail to sell it. And fail and fail and fail to sell it.
  7. You can sell it, and then fail to, you know, sell it.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. And the glorious future world we find ourselves in offers even more ways to fail, in terms of promotion and social media. So now you can not only fail to write something, or fail to finish something, or fail to sell it, but you can also fail to be interesting or clever enough on Twitter. The failure involved in writing just one novel is monumental.

And you wonder why writers drink and talk to cats. Well, why they drink more and talk back to cats, anyway.

The worst part, of course, is that most of the time this kind of failure is necessary in order to write anything and then get it out there. In one of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker books, he has a thing about people learning to fly in which he describes it as throwing yourself at the ground, then distracting yourself at the very last possible moment so that you forget to hit it. And that’s writing, sometimes, most times: Throwing yourself at a mountain of failure and then, somehow, distracting yourself from hitting it at the last possible moment and sailing over.

And how do I distract myself from Mount Failure? You guessed it: Whiskey. And cats.

BOOM

BOOM

BOOK FORT FTW

BOOK FORT FTW

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“The Sewer Rat” Free for Everyone

Free Sewer Rats for Everyone Sounds Kind of Weird, Doesn't It?

Free Sewer Rats for Everyone Sounds Kind of Weird, Doesn’t It?

Friends, a few months ago I announced a brand-new, 100% free Avery Cates short story, The Sewer Rat. The story was sent out to everyone who was signed up for my ass-kicking newsletter at the time. Did you sign up for my ass-kicking newsletter? No? Then for god’s sake do so immediately. There’s a form on the sidebar of this wee blog, as well as a link on my main web page.

So, those lucky folks got to read the story months ago, but now I’m releasing it for free everywhere through Smashwords. Because I am awesome. Go on and grab it, and look for it to slowly trickle into all the usual storefronts as well.

As a reminder, this isn’t the first time I’ve released a free story through Smashwords; to promote my novel Chum I released the ass-kicking short story Up the Crazy through Smashwords a few years ago, and that story remains a pretty great value at $0. It’s a “lost chapter” that links the novel Chum to my first-ever published novel Lifers, as the stories share a universe and some minor characters. You should totally download and read that one as well.

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My First Sale

SEVEN DOLLARS AND FIFTY CENTS WORTH OF PUDDING

SEVEN DOLLARS AND FIFTY CENTS WORTH OF PUDDING

The first short story I ever sold for actual money was Glad and Big, which appeared in Aberrations #34. The sale paid me the princely sum of 1/4 of a penny per word, which worked out to $7.50. That would be nearly twelve dollars in 2016 money, just in case you’re horrified that a writer of my caliber would sell a short story for single-digit monies.

At the time, of course, I was absolutely delighted. I’d had stories appear in zines and other non-paying markets, but this was the first time anyone had actually paid me for one, and naturally I thought of it (and still think of it) as a watershed moment in my career.

I never cashed the check. Part of this was the usual urge to hang onto a momentous thing like my first paycheck for fiction, and yes, part of it was the fact that even in 1995 $7.50 didn’t go far, so it almost wasn’t worth walking to the bank to cash it. Besides, if I’d deposited it, I wouldn’t have it to scan in and post here, now, would I?

Anyways, here’s the story itself. Written more than 20 years ago, I still like it quite a bit.

GLAD AND BIG

Life at Lee’s on second street had a pattern, one I liked well enough. It sucked at my heels with insistent attraction, pulling me back despite the heat and the same old people and the wooden seat worn smooth from years of my weight.

We usually played cards at the small square table in the big bay window, eating Lee’s filling specialties and drinking, smoking cigarettes, and ignoring everyone else. Sometimes I tried to stay away. It never worked. I always needed a drink and the only place to get one was Lee’s and my seat was always open.

That night it was raining and I felt pretty good. The conversation wasn’t too bad and it was warm inside, I was half-tanked all night and I had three packs of cigarettes to get through. Even in a crummy bar and grill like Lee’s, being inside with friends on a rainy night is a special kind of thing. Even being inside with people who drove you crazy like I was was still not bad.

(more…)

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Weekly Recap 8-19-16

recapWell, it sure didn’t take long for my Weekly Recap feature on this here blog to go the way of most of my ideas: Sailing serenely into incompetence. Instead of a Weekly Recap, this has been more of a Whenever I Am Sober at 5PM on a Friday Recap.

Still, the spirit is strong even if the typing fingers are weak, so here’s what’s happened, er, recently, since we might have to reach back a little more than a week to recap all the recappable stuff:

  • I attended the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference for the third year in a row; I gave my classic Plantsing seminar appeared on a World Building Panel, and met a lot of really cool people:
Me Professional Writer on Panel

Me Professional Writer on Panel

Coco likes to sit in pants and read THE STRINGER.

Coco likes to sit in pants and read THE STRINGER.

And that concludes this weekly recap. Go buy a copy of one of my books, or I may not be able to afford food.

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“Lifers” & “The Shattered Gears” in Print on B&N

The Shattered Gears Omnibus

The Shattered Gears Omnibus

Lifers_cover

Lifers

You may or may not be aware that Barnes & Noble has moved to compete with Amazon‘s Createspace program with a print component for their own Nook Press. That means that self-publishers can offer print versions of their books through B&N’s website as well (and there are supposedly some limited opportunities for self-pub books to get into brick-and-mortar stores, but I’m not focusing on that right now).

Anyways, the point of this post is simple: My two self-pub efforts, my first novel Lifers and the Avery Cates Omnibus The Shattered Gears, are now both available as print books through either Amazon and B&N.

The good news is, they’re both cheaper on B&N, so if you’ve hesitated to buy either because you didn’t want to pay $8 for Lifers or $14 for The Shattered Gears, you can get both $2 cheaper over at B&N.

LIFERS

B&N Nook | B&N Print | Amazon Kindle | Amazon Print

THE SHATTERED GEARS

B&N Nook | B&N Print | Amazon Kindle | Amazon Print

(You can also buy both books at Google Play and Kobo if you’re so inclined!)

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For Sale: Baby Shoes. Never Worn.

The Good Old Days.

The Good Old Days.

Writing Short Stories is Crazy

I wrote my first short story when I was about 15 years old—that is to say, the first story I consciously set out in the form of a short story. Ridiculously enough, I wrote it solely to join my high school’s literary magazine, one of my most shameful moments. I mean, seriously. The fucking literary magazine. I can now safely say that this is perilously close to being my worst decision ever, right up there with gaining twenty pounds when I was thirteen and getting an English degree instead of something useful, like contacts in Russian organized crime.

The story was titled Bricks. I still have it. In about 1,000 words I tell the story of a family in the future where everyone lives underground because of a plague, and their son’s decision to leave home and go topside. It ends with the son wondering what will happen to him as he takes his first breath of fresh air on the surface.

Oh, it’s not good. It’s derivative, but it’s derivative in that special way you get away with when you’re fifteen and not named Mozart: People are so impressed that you wrote something that superficially resembles a real story they forgive all sorts of shit. I wrote it on a Commodore 64 in an application called Kwik-Writer I got from some friends; my friends and I were running a serious underground software piracy operation in grammar school, and I had thousands of stolen applications, and Kwik Writer was one of them. It was kind of awesome and terrible at the same time, which basically describes almost all of the applications available for the Commodore 64.

Since then, I’ve written about 500 more short stories. Bully for me. Getting them published isn’t easy, though there are more difficult projects in the world (self-surgery, perhaps, or tunneling under your house to the nearest mountain range) but the real challenge, as anyone will tell you, is getting paid for them. So why write them? Because I love short stories. Writing them and reading them. And, to be honest, selling them when I can—and I’ve sold quite a few over the years, with a few more on the way.

I write a lot of them, and since the chances of ever selling one are slim, it’s kind of a crazy waste of time. Plus, let’s be honest here, 99% of every short story ever written deserves to stay right in the notebook it was scrawled into, because most of them are terrible, and as luck would have it that goes twice for mine. Even the ones that I think are not terrible aren’t easy to sell; I recently had a story rejected very reluctantly by one market, which sent me a very sad note all about how great the story was and how distressed they were to not be buying it. I immediately submitted the story elsewhere in a frenzy of optimism—after all, this was obviously one of my better efforts.

The next market rejected it within 18 hours.

Writing and trying to sell short fiction sucks. Still, I write a lot of it.

Part of it is an exercise. You get some crazy ideas for stories after a few drinks, and while most of them are awful, some of them ain’t bad, but if you don’t put some flesh on them they disappear. So to keep them alive, I write them, even though most are pretty stillborn.

So, let’s see: Failure and no market, obviously these are fantastic ways to spend my time and mental energy. Then again, I’m an author; futility is what I eat for breakfast.

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“The Stringer” is Out!

Stringer.jpg The Stringer, The Ustari Cycle #3, is out — 99 cents for a great story that returns to the world of Lem Vonnegan and Pitr Mags.

A frequent question is, Hey Jeff, why is The Stringer number 3 in the series? This is confusing as hell and now I’ve spent my last dollar on ice cream instead of your book.

First of all, I get that: Ice Cream is goddamn delicious, bro. Second of it, here’s how the numbering in The Ustari Cycle works:

1 – Trickster

1 – We Are Not Good People

2 – Fixer

3 – The Stringer

4 – Last Best Day

5 – The Boom Bands

The reason We Are Not Good People is both 1 and 2 in the series is because it was originally going to be two separate books (Trickster and Fabricator), but was combined into one. And Fixer, although it’s officially numbered as #2, is a prequel that should probably be considered 0.5. And we’re blessed with a confusing series numbering system as a result. Yay!

Now go buy The Stringer. Also, We Are Not Good People is still just $1.99 for eBooks.

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Writer’s Digest Annual Conference Appearance

Writer's Digest Annual Conference

Writer’s Digest Annual Conference

So, I’ll be participating in this year’s Writer’s Digest Annual Conference. This will be my third year in a row at this event, and I’m pretty jazzed.

Unlike the last two years where I presented my patented Take Off Your Pants and Write: Plantsing! seminar, this year I’m just popping in for the cocktail hour and a panel:

The Art (and Science) of Worldbuilding in Science Fiction and Fantasy

With Debbie Dadey, Elizabeth Bear, and Matthew Kressel

Sunday, August 14, 10:15am — 11:15am

New York Hilton Midtown
1335 6th Ave
New York, NY 10019

If you’re planning to attend, shoot me a note and buy me a drink, not necessarily in that order.

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Writing: Watch Out for the Forgotten Character Detail

POOOOOTTTTSSS

POOOOOTTTTSSS

So, Roadies, the new show on Showtime from Cameron Crowe is proving to be a Master Class in How Not to Write in many ways. The show doesn’t lack some charm, and the world of a tour crew with a major band is kind of interesting to see, but it’s amazing how far Crowe—who once had a golden ear for dialogue—has fallen in recent years. When was the last time Cameron Crowe made something people talked about in a positive way?

Roadies is populated by likable actors, which is the only reason, really, it’s watchable. And every episode offers an object lesson in writing mistakes. The example we’ll pull comes from the pilot episode, which of course has to do a lot of work to introduce the premise, the characters, the setting, and the season-long conflicts and storylines. And Crowe makes a fundamental, if minor (but irritating) error when he introduces the Quirky Character Detail What is Forgotten Immediately and Never Mentioned Again. This is an error that a lot of writers make in their stories and novels, so it’s useful to take a gander.

I AM QUIRKY AND ADORABLE, DAMMIT

In Roadies, Imogen Poots plays Kelly Ann, who has a junior role with the roadie crew. She’s supposed to leave for school in the pilot, but of course is seduced by the love and sense of family she feels with her co-workers to eschew higher education in favor of an adventure on the road—fair enough, a believable if not particularly inspired bit of motivation. Poots is, of course, adorable, and she plays Kelly Ann with a bit of measured intelligence; her expressions of doubt and suspicion whenever someone tells her something do a lot to make her character at least seem interesting.

Now, creating and defining characters is hard. It’s very easy to reduce every character down to a trait, or an ethnicity. In fact, a lot of writers start off with little more than that, and add in the details later. And sometimes, in an effort to establish a character before you’ve done the hard work with dialog and action to define them, it’s common to attach weird little details.

Now, weird little details can be inspiring when they react with dialog and action. The way Heath Ledger licked his lips as The Joker in The Dark Knight was inspired; combined with his statements, actions, and appearance, it was a wonderful little tic that underscored his squirrely energy. But this goes wrong when it’s the only thing that differentiates a character—but it also goes wrong when you immediately forget all about that quirky trait after introducing it.

In the Roadies pilot, it is established that Kelly Ann eats off of other people’s plates, a mildly rude yet quirky (oh god quirky) little tic. It’s mentioned explicitly as a reason another character doesn’t like her, and then there is a moment when Kelly Ann does it in a very obvious and ostentatious way, to drive the point home.

It’s easy to imagine that Crowe, faced with a character he’d made blonde, beautiful, young, and smart, needed some way to make her seem, you know, interesting. So he gave her this totally innocuous trait, and made sure we noticed it. And then he completely forgets all about it and the behavior is never mentioned again in subsequent episodes. And that’s annoying. It’s a dumb detail, but if you’re going to go through the trouble of putting a flag on it and making certain we notice it as a way of making the character interesting, then you have to remember it. Otherwise it distracts.

So, when writing, keep that in mind: Giving your character a gonzo detail to give them shape and a memorable aspect is fine. Just don’t forget you did it when you start Chapter Two.

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Weekly Recap 7-22-16

recap Here we are at Friday again. This keeps happening. Luckily for you, I am a driven man who continuously puts out new writings just for your entertainment.

On the Wee Blog
I wrote a few articles on this here wee blog because that’s what you do when you have a wee blog:

1. “Man Baby” in which I discuss that peculiar feeling when you’re a middle-aged man and your wife doesn’t think you can dress yourself.

2. “The Most Interesting Scene in Mr. Robot S2E1” in which I discuss one scene from the season premiere of the USA show.

ON Other Wee Blogs
I get paid to write for other people for whom writing is a mysterious, dark art. Here’s a few things that published this week:

1. “The Art of the Deal: Bestselling Ghostwritten Books” in which I discuss some bestselling books that were totally not written by the people on the cover.

2. “5 Writers Who Shouldn’t Have Survived to Write Their Classics” in which I discuss a few great writers whose lifestyle choices should have killed them long before they wrote anything.

Writer’s Digest
I have been steadily contributing to Writer’s Digest for the past year, and they recently released a few things including some of my work:

1. Their Yearbook issue on Novel Writing, which includes my piece on Plantsing.

2. “There are No Rules: 4 Tips to Improve Your Writing Instantly” which includes some of my wisdom.

The Ustari Cycle
Stringer.jpgMy novel “We Are Not Good People” is still $1.99 in eBook form, kids, and the next one in the series, “The Stringer” is out in August. So my publisher is pushin’ things:

1. $1.99 still too much for you? You could win a copy of WANGP!

2. BookReels named WANGP as their staff pick as well!

 

Photos
What would these updates be without some multimedia dazzle?

WANGP Super Fan is either at Target buying groceries or about to do some murderin'

WANGP Super Fan is either at Target buying groceries or about to do some murderin’

Spartacus spent all his allowance on a copy of WANGP and now needs liquor monies.

Spartacus spent all his allowance on a copy of WANGP and now needs liquor monies.

Well, that’s it for this week. Hopefully next week I’ll have more stuff for you to completely ignore and make me cry over.

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