With Iron and Fire

For several years I’ve been a member of an alternate history discussion board, mainly writing and posting stories but also discussing current events and playing a bit of Dungeons and Dragons.

Several years ago, I was approached by another member, David Wostyn, who was looking for folks to contribute to a timeline he’d been developing. This setting saw the history of China change in 1912, with consequences including the carving-off of a Siberian satellite state during the Russian Revolution, avoidance of the Warlord Era, and a fairly different Second World War. I was intrigued and honored; other writers on the board had already contributed stories based in this setting, and some of them were really damned good.

After a bit of thinking, it was decided that I’d take advantage of the altered history to re-do that world’s diamond industry. Thus was born Rock of Ages, my longest (at 28,000 words) piece of fiction to date. The novella begins with a chance encounter between Siberian peasant Afanasy Khristoforov and a gold prospector, and explores the consequences this meeting has on Afanasy, his family, and his country over the better part of the twentieth century.

The story was well-received by readers on the board, but I figured that would be as far as it went. Alternate history’s a bit of a niche thing, and the size of Rock of Ages is excessive in size for most anthologies.

But last year, a couple of members of this same discussion board set up a new small e-press to focus on alternate history. Sealion Press started releasing some of the best alternate history timelines and novels I’ve seen, and in the fall, approached David about pubishing his timeline. David, in turn, approached myself and some of the other contributors to his timeline about including our stories in the book.

I’m happy to report that the end result is With Iron and Fire, now available on Amazon.


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Short stories don’t earn their authors staggering amounts of money, even when sold at professional rates.  At a very solid $0.05 per word, a typical short story in the 3,000 to 5,000 word range is generating $150 to $250.  Semi-pro rates (~$0.03 per word) or token payments ($0.01 per word or less) will obviously net less.

And that’s fine.  While the remuneration is a nice recognition of my effort and my contribution to a publisher’s enterprise, I have no expectation of getting rich or living comfortably based on writing income.

When I made my first sale, the question arose:  What exactly were we going to do with the $100+ earned from Lonesome Charlie Johnstone’s Strange Boon?   It was a milestone for me, so pitching it into our general account for groceries and bills seemed a bit out of place.  Spending it on some fun seemed more appropriate, and so part of the money went towards attendance at CAN-CON in the fall.

But that still left around $50 and so we decided that it would be money that kept on giving.  How?  We bought an apple tree.

And after selling Dead Air and The Shining Path, we decided to continue that trend of contributing to our farm.  The payment and royalties from these stories went towards soft fruits – strawberries and raspberries, mostly.

Now while payment for the sale of Black Sheep to Tesseracts 19:  Superhero Universe is a little while away, I think you can see what sort of farm-related purchase we might make in response.  When the opportunity arose this past week, we took a drive and came back with a Katahdin ewe named (obviously) Tess.

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2016: Up, Up, Up, Can Only Go Up From Here…

Baby 2016 is curled up and sleeping soundly, so let’s take a few minutes to discuss goals for the coming year before the little fellow wakes up and starts screaming.

My word count has slipped from 58,000 in 2013 to around 5,000 last year. Let’s see if I can get back to 58,000 once again. If we assign 21,000 of those words to a novella (see below), that leaves around 37,000 words, or about one 3,000-ish word story a month. That’s a good length for submissions these days.

My completion rate target of 50% seems not-insane, so I’ll aim for that again and maybe even achieve it. Once again, multiple takes on the same idea will count as a single story for this target, because I do that sometimes and almost certainly will again.

I still like the idea that I can and will write different genres as the whim strikes me. Last year, at one point, I’d accepted a challenge from my wife to write a romance story. Not surprisingly, given how 2015 went, this did not come to pass. So this year’s objective is to write one romance story (with whatever other genre elements may be appropriate) plus stuff from two of sci-fi, alternate history, fantasy, or horror.

At the moment, I don’t think a novel or antho is in the cards, but I will act on a different challenge from my wife: To self-publish a novella. I have a piece in mind; it’s got about 9,000 words thus far and could go to maybe three times that. Having edited a different novella for an anthology during the fall, I’m curious to see how the experiences compare when it’s all said and done.

I’ll stick with the objective of one learning event per year. It will probably be CAN-CON next fall, since it’s both a good event and a close/inexpensive event. However, I know of other conferences for writers in Kingston and Toronto, and may give one of those a shot as well.

What are your goals, writing, reading or otherwise, for the year?


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2015 in Review: …yeah.

It’s coming to an end, so let’s see what goals were achieved in 2015 and which were not…

I had set the target of 58,000 words this year, and while I don’t have an exact total at hand, there’s little doubt I was way off. Like, maybe an order of magnitude off. Black Sheep was, I believe, around 3,000 words, there were about 500 words in October, and around 1,500 last week.

The targeted completion rate of 50% was also not met, given that I completed only one of the three stories started.

I wanted a story in each of the sci-fi, horror, and fantasy genres. Technically, my three projects were all kind of modern fantasy pieces, although one would’ve had elements of horror if I’d gotten further with it.

I didn’t outline a novel or build an anthology, so boo me.

I…did go to a learning event this year. Holy crap, people, I did it! I met a goal! I went to CAN-CON! Wooooooooooo! On to 2016!


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Hello Again!

Thanks for sticking around. It’s been a while, eh? I’ll confess that while gardening, family visits, renovations, and another mad month at work didn’t completely chew up my free time, I was rarely in a mood to actually write these past six months. Now that the month of madness at work is over, I’m finding myself switching mental gears once more.

So what’s new in terms of things that are writing and writing related?

Well, Tesseracts 19: Superhero Universe is now available for pre-order on Amazon. com. Check out the nifty retro cover, hey? We’re only a few months away from publication and I expect there will be some news on promotional events. I’m looking forward to seeing Black Sheep in print.

Meanwhile, an old side project is going to see daylight. I’d written a story set in an alternate history timeline a few years back, and a new alternate history small press is going to publish a volume with parts of that timeline and a few short stories set within it. This will include Rock of Ages, about a Siberian peasant who ends up founding a major diamond mining company in the interwar era. I believe the publisher is looking to have it out for Christmas, though only in digital format.

The majority of new writing of late has been two mediocre pages whipped out at 2:30 in the morning, one day in September. It was one of those cases where I woke up from a dream and thought, “Holy crap, that was cool” but in this particular case I blah-blahed out an introduction and then fell asleep again before I could get anywhere interesting. I think it’ll be back.

I saw three movies over the summer and fall.

Mad Max: Fury Road was pretty good; fresh. Some men and women kicked ass, and kicked ass, and kicked some more ass, and then went driving around until they find some additional unkicked ass. I’d read beforehand about a reviewer’s mother commenting that the movie showed senior citizens in a respectful way and that had confounded me until I saw the film. I hadn’t even realized there would be senior citizens in the film; nor could I really see how any would fit into a two hour car chase. But darned if the reviewer’s mother wasn’t right.

Jurassic World was okay, I guess. We had the requisite male/female lead romance-under-pressure, which felt rather stale given that I’d just seen Max and Furiosa spend two hours blowing shit up without going all googly-eyed at each other. The Claire character was okay, and the actress made the high heels work, but the high heels still seemed kind of dumb. The Owen character was a pretty bland alpha male who didn’t seem to evolve any over the screen time. I did appreciate how Jurassic-World-the-place was shown to operate; it felt suitably crass and touristy.

Big problem for me, I think, is that the big bad new dinosaur really didn’t seem particularly special in anyway. It was, for the most part, just a big T-Rex with elements of other critters tossed in to suit plot requirements. It was not easy to tell it apart from the T-Rex during the finale, and the nature of its demise was telegraphed well in advance.

American Ultra was okay. I candidly admit that watching drug usage turns me off, but the film had enjoyable moments. It did manage to get my back up at the end when one of the supporting characters did something that seemed really, really at odds with everything said and done previously.

I’ve heard quiet indications of a possible Star Wars movie coming out this month (*check your sarcasm detector now, please). I don’t know whether I’ll see it or not. The folks involved in the Star Trek reboot are behind this as well, and while the first of those films was pleasant, I really disliked Into Darkness.

So what’s new with you?



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I’m delighted to announce that I’ll have a story appearing in Tesseracts 19:  Superhero Universe – coming to a bookshelf near you in early 2016.

The twenty-five contributors were announced yesterday by EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing.  There are some previous contributors to Masked Mosaic and a couple of writers with local connections, so that’s pretty cool.

Can’t say much more about it at this point, but there will be a cover art unveiling in the summer and a Table of Contents announcement come fall – I’ll keep you posted!

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Writing on the Job

I’ve been writing this last while – but not for fun.

The writing in question is what people in government call a Memorandum to Cabinet. Basically, it’s a proposal to undertake a major program, usually with an attached budget, and ultimately requires approval by (you guessed it) the federal Cabinet in order to go ahead. The process for approving such a document normally takes about five months, but our particular file is on a fast-track and so we’re maybe looking at five weeks.

I was involved in such a process a few years back and found it quite challenging. This time, it’s not so bad. When I thought about it, I could see several areas where my growth as a fiction writer is influencing my ability to write the work documents.

The first thing I noticed came before I even started writing. Rather than launch into it right away, I sat back, asked myself what exactly I needed to put into this document, and then outlined the proposal, the background, the considerations, and the various other bits that would be required. I ordered everything so that the flow made sense and led to the conclusions and recommendations I wanted to make.

Then I started writing. Being government stuff, I’ll admit that certain parts of the document were more of a slog than others. Rather than let myself get hung up on specific paragraphs that wouldn’t come, I knew – thanks to my outline – the generalities of what that paragraph would contain and skipped ahead, maintaining momentum by writing other parts of the doc. It was simple enough to come back to the unwritten bits later, after I’d let the subject matter roll over in my head a few days, and deal with them then.

I found myself editing on the go. This included the obvious correction of spelling errors but also whittling down over-long phrases or replacing complicated lingo with simpler terms. This had a couple of advantages: First, it helped ensure I was staying within my page limit (because there was one, and people often struggle with it). Second, it meant that as soon as somebody higher up the food chain wanted to have a gander, I could immediately give them something that wasn’t a super-rough draft.

I’ve also discovered that I’m doing better at accepting edits, including edits I don’t agree with or think are particularly useful. That’s an ongoing thing when there’s several layers of management between me the writer and the folks in Cabinet – everybody has their view of what should be included, excluded, and different. Often times, changes requested by one layer of management will be contravened by a higher layer. But it’s all good. I’m accustomed to receiving critiques back on my stories and I don’t take it personally. I make the edits and I move on.

So there you: Writing fiction is helpful in writing non-fiction.

I have managed to spend a bit of recreational time on editing some stories. There was an extensive edit of One Last Dance to bring it from 6,000 words to under 5,000 for a market – I was surprised to be able to do that without losing much substance. I’ve also started editing a larger story called Into Exile, which is an Arab Spring-inspired adventure piece. It’s over 8,000 words and while I think it has some promise, there are sections of the story that really need some work.

Couple other things have come up, but I’ll post on them soon enough.  Happy Victoria Day!

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