Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Interview and Free Stuff

Stop by the Rambles of the Literary Equine blog to read an interview with me. I talk about fairy tales, what scares writers, and where my ideas come from.

And here's the free stuff. Two titles from the SpecFic Authors Collective are still free. My story "The Crooked House of Coins" is free through today.

In a small Midwestern town at the end of a lane stands a crooked house, where deaths and secrets entwine. Two cousins, heirs to the family legacy, search for a treasure secreted in the old dwelling's walls, driven by gold lust and tantalizing clues. The Crooked House is a grudging giver, and some secrets are best left alone.

Milo Fowler's collection Alienated is free through Thursday.

Alienated collects five dark SF short stories:

"Insight" - A sculptor is able to see beyond our reality, but can she control her insatiable desires?

"In His Eyes" - On a farm in the distant future, an unwelcome visitor appears in the middle of a thunderstorm.

"Reverie" - Speech is the first sign of rebellion in a hive of highly evolved telepaths.

"Mo's" - The only racism that exists in this alternate history is between Humans and Greys.

"Doppelgänger Mine" - A man is stalked by his horrifying double. In the end, only one of them can survive.

Grab 'em while you can.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Escape the Post-Turkey Blues

Suffering from the post-turkey blues? I have a cure for you. Check out these three great reads for your Kindle. Let that meal digest and the relatives squabble while you float away to someplace else on the magic carpet of story.

Like a Good NeighborFirst up is Milo James Fowler's "Like a Good Neighbor." It's about eating, well, not the festive, wholesome kind.

"They kept Bobby in the basement because he ate people." That's the first line from Fowler's horror tale. Cannibalism plays a pivotal role in "Like a Good Neighbor," but this isn't splatterpunk or some sort of gore fest. Fowler feeds us quiet horror. Who could imagine what sort of monster lives in the neighbor's basement on the quiet cul-de-sac of Tanglewood Road? Yes, there is a bit of blood, but it's not the blood that's gruesome and gross, it's . . . . Well, you should just read it for yourself and find out. Fowler succeeds here with a story about a young man, twenty years after the fact, struggling to come to terms with memories he vainly wishes he could forget. Need a creepy read for a cold fall night? Pay a visit to the "good neighbors" on Tanglewood Road. You'll be glad you did.

The Wrong Tom JacksNext, check out Simon Kewin's cyberpunk novella The Wrong Tom Jacks, the first installment in Kewin's Genehunter series.

Set in a not-to-distant future version of Earth in which information is the most prized commodity, the stories follow the exploits of Simms, a pessimistic but likable criminal, if you narrowly define a criminal as someone who breaks the law. Simms is a professional genehunter, a trade that can be practiced both above and below the law. The best paying contracts are less than legal. Simms finds the DNA of deceased persons, both famous and not so famous, whomever the client wants him to find. What the client does with the DNA, Simms does not seem to much care. Illegal cloning is rampant as the super-rich create private "zoos" populated by the talented and famous from the past.

Simms's brain is augmented with plug-ins that allow him to access public and private networks and a host of other interesting functions. Kewin manages to make all the high-tech gadgetry seem natural. Perhaps it's not that much of a mental leap to go from carrying a personal electronic device at all times to having one that your brain controls and interfaces with directly. It's a testament to Kewin's skills that the reader quickly feels at home in a world that is so like and unlike our own.

My only criticism of the story is that I want to know more about Simms's world. How does node-jumping--a type of travel--work? What is the nature of the plug-ins? Why is society shot to hell? Simms finds the London of his day particularly dismal, but yet he continues to live there.

One of the constants of human existence is greed and in Kewin's world, greed is alive and thriving. There appears to be little that the super-rich cannot get or do if they have enough money and everyone from low-level clinicians to high-level law enforcement officers have their price. For Simms, the joy is in the search and retrieval of the data. He's not happy unless he's stimulated, on a job. He's mostly indifferent to the moral implications of his work and in that sense he's an anti-hero, but his love interest is devoting her life to alleviating the problems that Simms's work facilitates. And despite her hostility to continuing their relationship, Simms's thoughts keep coming back to her. Simms is a complicated man. I suggest you get a copy of Genehunter and get to know him. It'll be well worth your time.

Ulemet and the Jaguar GodNow get ready to step back in time, way back to before the Mayans in Lyndon Perry's novella Ulemet and the Jaguar God.

Set in Mesoamerica during the time that the Olmec people flourished, Ulemet and the Jaguar God tells the story of Ulemet's struggle to find belonging and community. Ulement is seriously malformed at birth. Her mother dies after the long and difficult labor, giving in to despair after seeing her baby. Her father flees to the jungle. The midwife keeps the child despite the medicine man's instruction to "dispose" of it and nurses Ulemet but ultimately abandons her. Ulemet lives on the edge of the village, scavaging and begging. Her ugliness marks her as an outcast.

Her face marred with a twisted upper lip and a cleft head, Ulemet was ugly in a way that attracted second looks, but seldom pity. With barely a feminine feature, she was often mocked by the other children as a should-be boy.

A few villagers show some sympathy and give her enough food to survive but most leave her to fend for herself and hope she'll go away. Her one joy is playing ulama, an ancient Mesoamerican game played with a hard rubber ball. She has talent, but the boys rarely let her play. She leaves the village one day for the jungle and ultimately joins a band of merchants heading for the capital, but the merchants are not whom they appear to be. Ulemet's second attempt at community fails, and the stakes get higher when the slavers reach the capital. Ulemet will need all her skills at ulama and much more if she hopes to survive.

Perry is at the top of his game in Ulemet and the Jaguar God. The story has the feel of an ancient tale passed down through generations and only lately written down. The prose is effortless and the pacing is spot on. Ulemet's suffering speaks to anyone who has endured rejection and the closing eucatastrophe gives hope to all.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Crooked House of Coins

The Crooked House of CoinsMy short story "The Crooked House of Coins" is now available as a Kindle single. It's a haunted house story that I published in an anthology over a year ago. I've since done some extensive rewriting. It's longer and better (I hope, fingers crossed) than the original.

In a small Midwestern town at the end of a lane stands a crooked house, where deaths and secrets entwine. Two cousins, heirs to the family legacy, search for a treasure secreted in the old dwelling's walls, driven by gold lust and tantalizing clues. The Crooked House is a grudging giver, and some secrets are best left alone.

"The Crooked House of Coins" will be part of the SpecFic Authors Collective launch on November 25th. The SFA Collective team includes Milo James Fowler, Simon Kewin, Lyndon Perry, and me. Check out the index page to see my reviews of some of their stories. You're going to like what we have to offer. We'll be bringing you FOUR eBook giveaways. Follow us on Twitter and our brand-spankin' new blog to find out when you can lay your hands on a collection of dark SF tales, a cyberpunk novelette, a spooky short story, and a Mesoamerican fantasy.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Interview at the Writer's Lair

Avenir EclectiaMary Ruth Pursselley kindly posted an interview with me on her blog The Writer's Lair. The questions focus on my contributions to the Avenir Eclectia collection. She has interviewed some other contributors as well, including Travis Perry (the guy who organized all those flash stories into something approaching a coherent whole), Fred Warren, and Pauline Creeden.

If you're interested in a free copy of Avenir Eclectia, Volume 1, there's still time to enter the giveaway that H.A. Titus is hosting here.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Vikings on Baffin Island

Leiv Eiriksson discovering America
by Christian Krohg (1893).
One of the most fascinating questions in Viking history is the extent of their exploration of North America and contact with Native Americans. "Vikings and Native Americans," an article in the November 2012 issue of National Geographic, presents archaeological evidence that Vikings had extensive contact with the Dorset peoples of present-day north eastern Canada and may have created at least semi-permanent trading posts on Baffin Island and in northern Labrador. Evidence includes wooden tally sticks like those used by the Vikings (the area is largely devoid of trees), whale bone worked with a drill, and rope made from spun yarn. At a place called Tanfield Valley on the southern end of Baffin Island, archaeologists are excavating what appears to be the foundation for a stone and sod long house, something very different and much larger than the dwellings build by the native peoples. The valley boasts a protected cove which would have served as a natural harbor for Viking traders. What were the Viking's trading for? Most likely they were looking for furs, walrus tusk ivory, and most interesting of all, narwhal tusks that enterprising merchants marketed as unicorn horns. Check out the article if you need a Viking fix.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Are Short Stories a Waste of Time?

I've been reviewing the feedback I received from reviewers of Tales of Woe and Wonder. The stories most people mentioned as liking or memorable are the longer stories. The most common complaint is that some of the stories need to be longer or even stretched into a novel. I'm glad the reviewers want more, but there's a problem here, a contradiction in the "short story industry." If you try to sell stories to magazines or anthologies, you quickly run up against word count limits and anyone who has tried to sell stories will probably confirm the adage that it's easier to sell a shorter story than a longer story. There are practical reasons for this desire for shorter stories on the part of publishers. They have a limited budget (if they pay by the word) and limited space. You don't want to publish an anthology or magazine with only one or two stories. But readers seem to want longer stories with more plot and character development.

What do you do? Write shorter stories that sell but with which most readers are dissatisfied or write longer stories that readers like but you can't sell. I think the answer is to write novels to sell to publishers, novellas to market on Kindle, and long stories in the 5-10K range that you can market as Kindle shorts. I think you can succeed with shorter stories if they are part of a series with recurring characters.

Am I going to quit writing short stories? No. I like short stories, but I'm going to focus on longer stories and linked stories. There are publishers emerging that focus on selling long short stories to the Kindle market. And in honor of NaNoWriMo, I'm going to spend 75% of my writing time this month on a novel. I have three in various states so it's time to pick one and finish it (as soon as I complete this short story that I'm editing).

I would love to hear what fellow writers and readers have to say on this topic.