Friday, December 29, 2006

The Isle of Dreams

This is an excerpt from a story I submitted for an anthology to be published by Elder Signs Press. The art is by the talented Steven Gilberts; the cover design by the ever-creative Deborah Jones.
The story concerns a British privateer vessel at sea over a year as it travels through the Pacific. As the story opens, the ship is being swept along by a powerful wind, and certain things the captain’s son has said made the officers want to take full advantage of the speed it affords them.

I never developed an interest for stories based in the Age of Sail, but since doing research for this piece, I’ve found the period to my taste. I’ve noticed some calls for these stories on Ralan’s, so perhaps I’ll pen another one if the mood strikes. I hope you like this little sample, I think it shows the mood I was going for and at least touches on the main characters.

The Isle of Dreams

“I don’t like these seas Sir. I’ve never heard a good word and many a bad one about them. There’ll be a cracked brain before we’re clear o’ this gust, mark me,” Samualson said to his superior in a conspiratorial tone.

Richard looked up to the sky, trying to think of words to comfort the younger officer and perhaps quiet his own misgivings about their voyage. He had heard the stories of ships gone missing or found adrift and filled with spoils without a crewman aboard. They were far from the normal haunts of the French navy, on a mission whose importance only the captain knew. Captain Rogers’ successes and generosity with French spoils were near legendary, so when he told his crew that they’d be gone to sea for two years or more, but they’d all return rich men, they kissed their lady loves goodbye and signed on. The captain neglected to tell them they would be sailing uncharted waters where rumors said Death itself kept hearth and home.

In the firmament above, the Moon was only a sliver, as if curious but barely able to muster the courage to peek in on poor benighted souls. Not a star pierced the sky’s black raiment, nor a cloud offered hope of sweet summer rain to refill the empty barrels now rolling about the deck. Two days ago the grog had taken on a poisonous taste and what was left of the water was under strict rationing.

“Squalls such as this have a way of dying as suddenly as they begin. These are good men, most of them anyway; I’m confident you’ll get them through until morning.”

Samualson’s thin fingers began drumming a staccato beat on his hat as he spoke, “I appreciate ye’r confidence Sir, but to be quite honest, ‘s not just the tales nor the wind that be botherin’ me really,” and the young officer’s voice became so low it barely carried on the wind to Richard’s ears, “it’s the boy.”

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Living With Cancer

About a month ago I pulled my story “Living With Cancer” from an anthology because I wasn’t happy with how it was turning out (the book and my story). I’m rewriting the last quarter of the piece to give more validity to the final actions of Ethan, my protagonist. This story was the first I’d written that (I feel) had a chance at publication and it provided an outlet for feelings I’d had since my mother passed away due to small cell lung cancer.

William Jones reeducated me on the art of writing and I tried to implement his sage advice in my tale in the form of an overarching theme and words specifically chosen to be conducive to that theme. Unlike most of my fiction, this story is very subdued and entirely character driven. There is mention of a monster, but it never rears its head, nor is it even aware of the protagonists. Here the first few paragraphs to give you an idea of what I'm babbling about:

“I love you Ethan.”

“I love you too, Beth.” Ethan murmured as he rolled over in bed and gazed upon his wife’s tormented face. Morning light filtered through the curtains; there, in that wan glow, Ethan could see all the suffering in the world. “Are you ready to get cleaned up?”

“Yes please.” Beth urged. A couple of months back her gaunt face had contracted into a sneer on one side that slurred her speech as the cancer assaulted her with stroke-like symptoms.

With a grunt, Ethan swung his legs over the side of their bed, stood and stretched. The popcorn popping of his joints felt oddly pleasant after a rough sleep. Most days he awoke feeling as if a great weight were grinding upon his shoulders, today especially. Opening the curtains a little to let in some more light, he and Beth went through their morning ritual.

Ethan half filled a bowl with warm, soapy water from the bathroom and put a sponge in it to soak. Laying the bowl down on the dresser, he gently unbuttoned Beth’s pajamas and carefully proceeded to sponge bathe her. Dead skin flakes on her neck and chest sloughed away, leaving angry red flesh behind – symptoms of the radiation therapy.

“How does the water feel Beth, is it too hot?”

“No,” Beth whispered blissfully. “It feels nice.”

Beth had to be bathed every day because a miasma of sulfur permeated her clothing, bed linen, and lingered upon her skin if she wasn’t. The stench of medical science’s often futile war with disease turned Ethan’s stomach; it reminded him of brimstone and the Pit. If asked, Ethan would have readily assented that only in Hell could such a cruel infliction been thrown. After he had washed the irradiated areas clean, Ethan applied a prescribed salve to keep the burns moist and promote healing.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Email Accounts

I’d like to share a bit of unsolicited advice with any writers perusing this blog.

It would behoove anyone who intends to submit a story for publication to invest a little time and get an email account independent of their ISP. I feel bad for writers when I send out a rejection (or worse, an acceptance) and it bounces back because they’ve switched providers or couldn’t afford the service any longer. Sometimes writers send an email notifying me of their email change, but it isn’t like I can pin a note to the original submission. From now on, I’m going to ask them to send the story again from the new address and I’ll swap it out with the old one.

Don’t be the writer who gets frustrated and sends an angry letter regarding how long you’ve waited for word about your submission, only to receive an email telling you that your story was rejected three months prior to your old account.

Get a Yahoo or Goggle account (or another of your choice, it doesn’t matter) and try to use it for writing purposes only. If you switch your ISP or it doesn’t work for some reason, you can always access your independent account at a friend’s house, at a library, or wherever.

Don’t let the second choice do the happy dance with your book or magazine deal, get an independent email account

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Cover Letters

I've had this thing for a while now and only used it for class work, but my friend Stewart shamed me into posting, so here goes. As the assistant editor at Dark Wisdom magazine, I see a lot of cover letters. A cover letter is your first impression, yet many that I see make the writer sound desperate and/or don't provide the kind of raw information that tells the reader that this person is a professional I've made a "form" letter that should cover the bases (alter as you'd like and always read a market's guidelines to find out if they have a certain way of doing things) but first, let me tell you some things not to put in one:

Don't put a time limit on how long you're willing to wait before submitting somewhere else. If a writer isn't willing to wait for a reply, he or she is in the wrong business.

Don't challenge the editor. Every so often I get some variation of "This may be too dark for you." Which usually translates as "This is a craptacular slaughterfest." or "The whole plot is about butchering babies." If you think a story may be too dark for a market, it most likely is and you've lost my interest in it as an editor.

Don't give a detailed synopsis of your story. You may want to talk a little bit about the theme of the piece or how you played with common horror tropes, but don't overexplain the story. Why should I read it when I feel like I already have?

Don't ask for a critique. 99% of the time, I just don't have the time to give any personal thoughts on a story. Once in a great while I have a lull where I can help someone who needs it (and usually I get flayed for it on a blog) but it's very rare. I suggest a simple "I'm open to suggestions if you have the time." It lets an editor know you're open-minded but not pushy or needy.

Never give out your Social Security number. I've had this happen a few times now. I already have your name and address, don't send me the final piece in the trifecta of identity fraud. We may need it if we're publishing you and we'll let you know then.

Don't babble. A good many people try to be witty...most aren't. Keep it brief and try not to sound too cool for school.

Anyway, here's that sample cover letter:

Dear editor,

Please consider "(Story Name here)" for publication in (Magazine Name here). I'm offering (whatever rights you are providing, usually First American Publishing Rights). Thank you for your time, I look forward to hearing from you.


Your Name

Note that stories are always in quotes and magazines are in italics. You don't need your address here because it's on the manuscript. When you get published you can list a couple of the mags and books you were in but don't list more than a few because no one cares after they see the biggest names you have under your belt. Again, check your market's guidelines for any requests in this area. Don't kill your chances of getting published over something easily fixed.