The Eagle Has Landed: My first published story sees the light of day

After proudly telling the world (which is, literally, tens of people) I’d finally gotten not one, but two stories accepted for publication last month, next I did the only thing I could—I waited. And waited. I realized that I had no idea when either magazine/journal would actually come out, and started to feel a little uncomfortable that perhaps I’d tooted my own horn a little prematurely. Friday I finally got word that one of them is officially out, on the market and available for sale.

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The Rusty Nail Literary Journal May/June issue is out now! Hard copies are available for purchase from Amazon here, and digital downloads are available at their website here. In it you will find my flash fiction piece “Aiden’s Acting Up Again.”

It’s a bit surreal, after all this time finally seeing my name and my words in a real-life, published product. It feels pretty cool.

“Aiden” is a bit of an anomaly compared to a lot of my other stuff. For one thing, there’s not a single curse word, which I can assure you, despite the generally PG-rated nature of the blog most of the time, is pretty rare indeed.

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Also, no one dies, making it one of maybe two or three of my stories with a goose egg in the body count department.

This story began as part of my Reddit ‘No Sleep’ Experiment. I uploaded it to /r/nosleep and it was fairly popular, with readers asking for more ‘updates’ to the story. I ended up writing two additional pieces to bring the story to an end, but I rushed through them and don’t really like them. I honestly think Aiden is perfect as a stand alone story, ending the way it does on an unnerving note.

Check out the story (and the entire issue for that matter, it’s chock-full of other great stories), I hope you like it!

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The Emancipation of Jackie

It’s been a crazy week or so around here, but oddly enough there’s not much to say as to why it’s been so crazy. There may be something to talk about in the near future, but for now it’s just crickets and tumbleweeds around here.

This is making me homesick.

This is making me homesick for California.

In a smidge of writing news, I finished one of my short stories and submitted it in a contest with a grand prize of publication in a crime magazine. So far it’s one of the top-rated stories, but the reading and submission period just started so I’m not about to count my chickens before they hatch. If any of you have a free account with Lit Reactor (or are bored enough to create one) you can click on the link for the contest and look for my name—the story is titled Early Retirement. (There are also plenty of other killer stories by the other contestants, as well)

Do any of you fellow writers use writing prompts? I’m not a huge fan of them for the most part, but there is one writing prompt website I like: TypeTrigger.com. What I like about Type Trigger is that it’s kind of like the writer’s equivalent of Twitter—you take their prompt and write whatever comes spewing out of your brain with the restriction that you only have three hundred words to work with. I’ve almost reached that already in this post, so you can see it’s not a lot of room to tell a story. I don’t use it all that often, but through their prompts I have come up with a couple of odd little stories I sort of liked. Since I don’t have much else to talk about right now, I decided to share one.

The prompt for this one was ‘a cheap wig.’ I thought for a couple minutes and this is what I came up with. Enjoy.

 

The Emancipation of Jackie

Jackie smiled at his marks with calm assurance. He knew they wanted the car, and he was determined to make the sale. “It’s the model you said you wanted,” he reminded them. They were a young couple; newlyweds, in fact. They had told him so and he used that information to his advantage. “Surely you don’t want to disappoint your new bride.”

“Well, it’s just…”Jeff began, his new wife’s hand in his. “It’s really a skeleton of a car. It doesn’t even have air conditioning.”

“I see.” Jackie realized the mark was trying to sweeten the deal. If that was what it took to close the sale, so be it. “I can throw in a few extras, how does that sound? What would you like? Maybe a nice leather steering wheel cover?”

Jeff looked at his wife, thoughtful. He turned back to Jackie with a gleam in his eye. “The rug,” he said.

Jackie frowned, confused. “You mean floor mats? I suppose I can make that happen, I might need—”

“No, the rug,” Jeff repeated. “On your head.”

Jackie felt his face heat up. “Sir, I don’t…uh…”

Jeff grinned. “If you take that dead animal that passes for a toupee off your head right now, and promise never to put it on again, I’ll buy this car.” His wife giggled.

Jackie waved as the car drove away, and for the first time in years he felt free.

Random Thoughts: Twitter, Facebook, and Mike

I’ve been on Twitter quite awhile now, but I never really used it in a “professional” capacity. I followed mostly comedians and the like, and that was how I enjoyed my Twitter: as occasional entertainment, for a few laughs and not much else. I followed some writers, some fellow bloggers, and that was it.

I started noticing that some of the fellow writers that Twitter would suggest I follow had massive amounts of followers, and wasn’t quite sure how they amassed such huge numbers. Then it hit me—it’s quid pro quo. Follow somebody (especially a writer), they follow you in return. So I wondered what would happen if I just started following people like crazy; would they follow me back?

I got my answer. Last Wednesday I had about 175 followers. Today? 1,014. It was so easy it’s ridiculous. Thing is, it’s also ruined what I liked about Twitter, because now I’m also following well over a thousand people as well. Most of the tweets from the people I already know and like get buried by all the others writers I’m now following. I guess that’s just the price of trying to get more followers for your cause, no?  I don’t know…it’s just a weird predicament.

Speaking of followers, I just recently—in the past two weeks or so—realized you could follow people on Facebook (if they allow themselves to be followed, that is). What happened is that I saw a comment on a writer friend’s status update from a writer/editor I’ve mentioned here before. I’ve read some of his stories, and he also writes columns to help writers get published, etc. So I clicked on his name to check out his profile and happened to notice next to the ‘send friend request’ button was a button that said simply, ‘follow.’ I went ahead and clicked it, and to be honest, that’s opened my eyes to a world I barely knew existed on Facebook.

Because now I see everything—again, everything he allows followers to see—he likes and comments on, and a good 95% of it is related to his writer friends, magazines and journals accepting submissions, new publishers getting ready to open, all sorts of stuff. It made me feel dumb for not realizing I could/should’ve been doing that way earlier (and, to be fair, my friend Steven Dines was hip to this long ago, I just never noticed—once again he leads the way). Which leads me to Mike.

A few of you who have been reading the blog long enough may remember, but most of you probably don’t know: a friend of mine passed away a couple of years ago from pancreatic cancer. We were fairly close friends many, many moons ago, then drifted apart and reconnected through social media over the last decade. During the time we lost touch, he became a kick ass husband, teacher, and writer. As a matter of fact, finding Mike on MySpace (yes, it was that long ago) and seeing that he’d not only been writing books but getting them published lit a fire under my ass.

While I wasn’t looking, Mike (he wrote under his full name, Michael Louis Calvillo) was out there knocking books and short stories out like a machine, winning Dark Scribe magazine’s Black Quill Award and being nominated for a coveted Bram Stoker Award by the Horror Writer’s Association. I realized then that I needed to get my ass off the couch and back to the keyboard and start knocking out stories of my own. And so it began.

I was still trying to get myself back on the writing path when he passed, so I never got the chance to really pick his brain or get any sage advice on publishing or anything else he had experience with. He was happy with his publishers, so whenever I’m ready to submit a novel of my own I know of a couple that would be receptive to my style of writing, which is admittedly a little tamer than Mike’s.

But here’s the real kicker—as I’ve been expanding my network on Facebook, following writers, editors, and publishers, a funny thing’s been happening: when I look at the person/company’s FB page, it will show we have a mutual friend—Mike. For just a second, when I see his name and the profile pic he used (the cover of the book he was working on when he passed), I feel sad. But then it makes me smile, because it lets me know that even though I’ll never get to talk shop with him like I would’ve liked, I’m assured that I’m heading in the right direction.

I could write volumes about the kind of guy Mike was and the enormous talent he had—I think he literally could’ve rivaled Stephen King’s output if given the chance—but that’s a bit self-indulgent. I’ll just say he was a hell of a guy, and I’ll leave it at that. If you have any interest in reading some absolutely crazy dark fiction (crazy in a good way, of course), check out his stuff here or here.

On a final note, for anyone keeping score at home, my publishing hot streak ended at two. I’ve gotten two rejections since my last post. That’s okay though; big wheel keeps on turnin’. I’ve still got that batch of stories submitted elsewhere, and I have two new short stories in the 3k word range I’m getting ready to submit to some fairly high profile places. One is about a burned out office drone who decides he’s had enough, and one is about a man driven to madness—and potentially blindness—by this rubber bank:

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Yes, those are thumbtacks in his eyes.

Stay tuned. I’ll keep you posted.

A BoJ Field Trip/Research Project

My dad came to visit over Memorial Day weekend. If you’re wondering after reading my previous post about what happens whenever my in-laws visit, you’ll be happy to know that my dad’s stay was thankfully uneventful.

The timing of him coming when he did worked out fairly well—I’d hit a stumbling block with one of my stories, because I was trying to describe a place I’d never been to; I’d only seen pictures/video. By coming when he did, he unwittingly volunteered to help me research by traveling 45 minutes north to the town of Hutchinson, KS (aka “Hutch” to the locals) to visit the Kansas Underground Salt Museum, otherwise known as Strataca.

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Admittedly, it doesn’t look like much from the parking lot.

Strataca has been a fully functioning salt mine since the 1920’s, but just opened to the public in 2007. They provide tours of the facility, showing how the salt is mined and how they go about day to day operations. There is also an underground vault and storage area, which was key to our visit. More on that in a minute.

As the name implies, the salt mine is underground. WWAAYY underground. 650 feet, to be exact. And there’s only one way down (or back up, naturally)—a huge elevator that plummets you into total blackness for about 90 seconds. When you step off the elevator you have to remind yourself that you really are underground; the area just off  the elevator is just massive. Huge open areas with higher ceilings than you’d expect display the tools they use to cut, drill, and blast into the mine, as well as the vehicles they use to get around, like these Road Warrior-looking monsters:

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There was both a train and a tram that would take you around some of the abandoned areas of the mine, which was incredibly cool. The size of it is really astounding; they said they might be in danger of running out of salt to mine in a few hundred years. But, as interesting as it all was, it was not really the true purpose of the visit—as I said earlier, I was doing research:

A secured area? Exciting!

A secured area? Exciting!

As I mentioned, the salt mine is also home to an underground vault and storage area. Thousands of things are stored down there, with it’s secure, climate-controlled abandoned mines providing near-perfect conditions for long term storage. And the biggest customer to take advantage of the storage area? Hollywood studios. Some of the items are out on display.

Dorothy II !

Dorothy II !

There are a lot of all cool and valuable things in the vault. They also have this suit worn by Cameron Diaz in Charlie's Angels

There are a lot of all cool and valuable things in the vault. They also have this suit worn by Cameron Diaz in Charlie’s Angels

Probably my favorite thing I saw in there.

Probably my favorite thing I saw down there.

The ‘research’ I was doing was for a story about some nimrod criminals who find themselves at Strataca and realize how much valuable booty is stored inside. And despite being so stupid, they’re also quite arrogant.

Boxes o'stuff.

A few shelves with dummy boxes, to give people an idea how much is kept in the actual storage area, which is vast.

Could these BE better pictures?

Could these BE better pictures?

They start to get a harebrained idea.

Sure, Dean Cain's Superman suit is cool...

Sure, Dean Cain’s Superman suit is cool…

And so is Matt Damon's outfit from Monuments Men. But do you see all those film reel canisters behind them?

And so is Matt Damon’s outfit from Monuments Men. But do you see all those film reel canisters behind them?

 

They start to think certain types of people might pay a lot of money for some of the stuff stored down there. Stupidity ensues.

Strataca is a really neat place, and if you ever find yourself in the middle of the country you should certainly take a couple of hours to visit (and, if you have the time, you should also check out Hutch’s other crown jewel, the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center—they have all sorts of rocket/space stuff).

My dad and I walked through the entire mine/museum before heading back to the massive elevator that would take us back up to the surface. While we were waiting, I asked, “So…how would we rob it?”

Research is fun.

When It Rains, It Pours

*F-bomb alert.

Great news: another one of my stories, Aiden’s Acting Up Again, has been accepted for publication by The Rusty Nail Literary Magazine. I’m not sure of their publication schedule, so I can’t tell you when to look for it, but of course I’ll pass along the info when I get it.

So, after months (maybe over a year?) of rejections—approximately 42—suddenly I’ve gotten two acceptances in seven days. It’s amazing, to say the least. I don’t really have as good a grasp as I should on the demographics of my followers, so I’m not sure if there are people out there in the same boat I am (aspiring writers) reading the blog. I purposely decided quite a while ago to not write about writing so much, because it bored me, and if it’s boring to write about how must it be to read?

Anyway, if there are any beginning or aspiring writers reading this (or any aspiring anythings for that matter), all I can say is the hard work is worth it. I’m still in the very early stages of my (hopefully long and successful) writing career, but getting these first two stories accepted has wiped away a lot of the frustration I felt writing day in and day out, thinking I was spinning my wheels and maybe wasting my time.

There were many mornings where I would get up at 6am like clockwork, grab some coffee, sit down at the computer and…stare at the screen for fifteen or twenty minutes without writing a word, before giving up altogether and browsing the internet (and on occasion, I still do). Sometimes I would get angry with how little progress I seemed to make. I would think, I’ve been getting up 90 minutes earlier than I have to to work on this crap, and it’s going nowhere—what the hell am I doing? Am I just wasting my time?

Deep down I knew I was getting better—I could see it in the new stories I was writing. But without any sort of validation from an outside source (and rejections swiftly piling up) I began to wonder if I was right. Finding online critique groups helped up to a point; there I get useful feedback, but there’s no shortage of unnecessarily harsh criticism in some of those groups; some people just seem to seethe with bitterness, eager to tear apart anything they deem unworthy. *On a side note: to the person who critiqued a story of mine by saying it was “lazy as fuck, and you know it,” that story was accepted for publication last week, so you can stick your critique where the sun don’t shine.

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One of my New Year’s resolutions was to get something published this year; I thought that was perfectly reasonable, but by mid-April I began to have my doubts. Then I read a column on Lit Reactor by Richard Thomas, who seems like a very cool guy; always looking to help writers, not to mention a killer writer himself. In his column, he pointed out that many publications accept simultaneous submissions—meaning you can send something to them as well as others at the same time. Why, he asked, would you send out submissions one at a time when you could send out three, five, eight, etc? He compared it to looking for a job: you don’t apply for one, wait to hear back, then apply for another. You apply for ALL OF THEM. It seems obvious in retrospect, but I never thought of it that way.

In late April, I went for it. I submitted four or five of my stories to three or four different places each, and what do you know? He was right. I’ve seen results.

I hope you all have a good weekend. I’m going to be doing research/planning a heist on a nearly impenetrable underground vault before heading to Oklahoma for a good old-fashioned fish fry.

I’ll end with a word of warning—you’ll probably get sick of me updating when the stories are available to read, so brace yourselves. 🙂

What Has Two Thumbs and Just Got a Short Story Published?

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I had to read the email three times to make sure I wasn’t seeing things, but yes indeed, one of my short stories is being published! My sci-fi flash fiction piece Tale of the Revolution is going to appear in the upcoming issue of Nebula Rift magazine, Volume 2  Number 4, put out by eFiction Publishing. It should be available by the end of the month—I will naturally pass along the exact release date once I have it.

So, this is what it feels like to finally get something published, huh?

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Taste vs. Talent

Do you guys listen to This American Life on NPR? It’s one of my favorite shows, running the gamut from serious to comedic, light-hearted to heart wrenching, sometimes in the same sixty minutes. Well, this post isn’t about This American Life, but it does have to do with Ira Glass, who serves as the show’s host, as well as being a TV and movie producer, writer, and all around cool-seeming guy.

There were other pictures on the internet of Mr. Glass, of course, but if this one doesn't exude cool, I don't know what does.

There were other pictures on the internet of Mr. Glass, but this one was too tempting to resist. If you really want to know what he looks like today you can google him. 🙂

When you struggle with writing, you tend to look for things to make you feel better, like it’s not a lost cause; like all the crap you’re going through is going to be worth it somehow, someday. And if you search enough, you’ll find the same tips, the same advice over and over, until it’s all a bit redundant and (in my opinion) not all that helpful. There is one quote I’ve come across a few times, though, that really made an impact, and it comes from the aforementioned Mr. Glass.

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

That really hit home for me. It pinpoints what I’d been feeling for quite awhile but couldn’t put my finger on. I was fairly happy with the things I’d written, but I just knew something was off. And then, a couple of days ago while looking for something in my basement, I found this:

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It’s the second ‘extended’ story I ever wrote, back in 2000 when I had just started a new job. I worked split shifts, meaning four hours in the morning, then a few hours off, then four more hours to finish the work day. My wife (girlfriend at the time) and I were sharing a car, so I was stuck there during the 3-4 hour break and I did what seemed like the only logical thing—I wrote.

I remembered writing the story—about a down-on-their-luck couple in love who concoct a plan to rob a bank—but I didn’t know I’d saved it. I thought it had been lost or trashed years ago. I sat down and  started reading it and realized a couple of things.

It sucks. Naturally, of course it does. But it doesn’t totally suck. The bones of a good story are there, it’s just not very good due to several factors: wooden characters, stiff dialogue, plot problems, etc. But the thing is, it highlights what Ira Glass said. I can see what the then 26 year old me was going for. If you want to get right down to it, my ideas for stories nowadays aren’t all that different (it seems I’m destined to primarily be a crime writer, as that’s what tends to come naturally). But the taste far outweighed the talent.

That story (titled Karmic Justice—it came to me as I’ve been typing) was the last thing I wrote until I started back up a couple of years ago, and I’ve been bridging that taste/talent gap ever since. Are they equal? No. Not quite. Not yet. But it’s getting there, and finding this little gem in the basement (and comparing it to what I’m working on now) has helped drive home just how far I’ve come.

So while it may not apply to everyone, if there’s something you do that you’re still trying to get better at—writing, photography, music, cooking, woodworking, whatever it is—go back and look at (or just think about) some of your early stuff for a reminder of how much progress you’ve made.

Because once your taste=talent, there’s no stopping you.