Honorable Mention!

Writers of the Future is a big-ass writing competition, and it’s pretty prestigious to win. I did not win. It’s also cool to almost win, as you still get your work published in a book that people actually read.

I also was not a runner up.

But I did get an honorable mention. Honestly I don’t know how difficult that is; I’ve entered twice and been honored both times. My guess is that it means “good enough to encourage the writer to enter again.” I will be doing so. Several of my eligible stories fit the WotF style pretty well. My careful reading of the rules tells me that stories published over at Piker Press are eligible, so if you remember a favorite from back in the days when I was a regular there, let me know!

On a side note, I think I’m going to play with a short story during my company’s holiday shutdown.

1

Moonlight Sonata

A stranger in a Prague café brings a message from a dead Bluesman.

[podcast]

I’m getting the hang of this podcast thing, I think. Despite the fact this is a longer story the recording and editing went quickly. Cowboy Bob’s voice softens over the course of the reading, reflecting that my voice was getting a little tired, but other than that I’m pretty pleased with the results.

Naturally there are a few lines I think I could have done better, but my reading was helped by the fact that a couple of years ago I coached someone else through the words, and realized that Bob speaks staccato, while the narrator likes to roll with long vowels. I cleaned up the language just a touch, as I’m not sure just where “the line” is at the iTunes store.

Recently I linked to a fellow blogger’s post about the life cycle of blogs; I can see the same tendencies for podcasts. This is my fourth episode, and, well, according to the numbers from PowerPress (the plugin that simplifies publishing to iTunes), the popularity of the series is trending, if at all, downwards. Taking a two-month break didn’t help anything, I’m sure, but I think my expectations may have been a touch on the unrealistic side. So, more work than expected to produce plus no instant celebrity probably kills a lot of podcasts early in their careers.

Then I remind myself that I have a blog which I spend too much time coding on and hasn’t earned me any recognition either, even after nearly a decade, and I’m still plugging away here. Um… wait, was that supposed to be encouraging?

3

Earthchuckle

Episode two takes a more serious turn, with a story of friendship and life, and the end of one but not the other.

[podcast]

So, I set up to record the thing, and I thought this episode wouldn’t take as much time to put together since I already had my template set up. I recorded the story and it went smoothly. I assembled the takes and got it all paced correctly. Then I put it into the template from last time and discovered that, despite using the same room and the same microphone, it sounded totally different. I tweaked some settings and tried again. Still totally different. “Must be the proximity effect,” I thought, and recoded again, with the mic closer to my mouth. Nope. Still different.

I think the difference might be the way I connected the mic to the computer (through a USB adapter the first time, straight in the second). I tried replicating the effect using software, but I wasn’t terribly successful.

Still, once you get past the sudden change in acoustic quality, the story does all right.

2

Hell-Cricket

This is the first in a series of podcasts in which I read some of my favorite stories from the past. I’m starting off on a lighter note with Hell-Cricket. Enjoy!

[podcast]

I learned quite a bit as I put together all the bits to make a polished and fun podcast, and I still have a lot to learn. Subsequent stories should be easier, as I get all the intro and outro stuff figured out, and the mechanics of publishing squared away.

I still have some tweaking to do; if you have any technical difficulties or suggestions in general, I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

4

On the Cover at Piker Press

My short story “The Tourist” is on the cover of the Christmas issue over at Piker Press. The story takes place in the world first started with my story “Tin Can“, which appeared over there some time back. Depending on how you count things, this is either the fifth or seventh entry in the series. (There are a couple of stories that take place in the asteroid belt that have a similar voice but which aren’t — yet — connected in any concrete manner.)

Hats off as well to Sand Pilarski for an illustration that really fits the piece. It’s simple, but it really works for me.

I just reread the story, and while I like it quite a lot, there are a couple of places when I needed to pause for a moment, to allow the reader to react before being swept away in the ensuing events. One of those is the second paragraph. I may ask the Piker editors if I can sneak in another sentence there. There are also a couple of sentences I worked really hard on, that present pretty complex ideas, that get a little lost. (How many times did I go over the story? A hundred? I suppose there will always be something that could be made a little bit better.) Overall, though, it’s a not a bad read, if I do say so myself.

This also marks the third anniversary of my Piker Press debut, the story “The Cowboy God” which was on the cover of the Christmas issue in 2004. That debut was a big deal for me, my first real publication. I was in Moravia at the time, unable to get online, and I was going nearly crazy trying to make sure everything had come out right. A lot has happened in the last three years, and I will be forever grateful to the ongoing support of my fellow Pikers.

So Happy Jerry’s Piker Debut Day, or any other holiday you may wish to celebrate today.

Addendum: Thanks to the Piker Press staff for incorporating my edits, not just once, but twice. The story is better now in ways quite possibly visible only to me. Although there is that one missing comma…

Programming Note

Here it is Sunday already and I haven’t mentioned that my sister, Carol Anne Byrnes, is on the cover over at Piker Press this week. Check it out!

Should have mentioned that I’m on the cover at Piker Press this week.

The story is somewhat experimental in style, with large parts relying on dialog completely to paint the picture of what’s going on. It’s riskiest during the first section when there are three people talking an I rely on their unique voices to inform the reader who is speaking. I’m not sure it comes off with complete success, I suspect I would have made things easier by at least tipping readers off that there are three people there. With that hint I think the rest would have flown all right.

In any case, it’s a pretty silly story, but it has some interesting folks in it, a couple of nice twists, and heck, how can you go wrong when there are zombies? I only regret that someone else has already done zombie ninjas – although the door is still open for zombie ninjas to battle zombie pirates.

Hang on a sec, I’ve got a quick story to write.

Odds and Ends

I should mention that I have the cover story over at Piker Press this week. It’s set in the Tin-Caniverse, a neighborhood of the Science Fiction multiverse in which a few laws of physics have been suspended for being inconvenient. It’s the first in the series told in the third person, and the continuity issues between this and the previous installments I chalk up to conflicting memories. We won’t consider that one person is remembering something before the other person experiences it. In fact, in this case we can temporarily reinstate relativity to make traveling faster than light a form of time travel, explain away the problem, and then put that pesky law of nature back in the drawer.

I’m pretty happy with the story, but reading it now that it’s been published, I think I left a little on the table. No such worries about my story that will be published over there during zombie month. Zombie Month! Where have you been all my life? I’ll let you know when my modest submission is up; it’ll be a few weeks, yet.

I’ve settled on my NaNoWriMo story, but I really don’t know what I’m going to do with the idea. It’s a comedy based on the statement “When math is outlawed, only outlaws will do math.” In a world where governments willfully keep the populace ignorant, what would a revolutionary look like? It’s got lots of possibilities. I picture street gangs that hang out in ‘math houses’, leaving elegant mathematical clues how to find them scrawled on walls throughout the city. I think I’ll start with a scene where during a police raid the protagonists must convince the cops they were only doing drugs, and that the drugs were obtained through sanctioned sources.

This morning I put out a new release of Jer’s Novel Writer. The last version had a bug that only happened to users installing the software for the first time. Not good, and of course none of my usual testers were going to catch something like that. I’m not exactly sure how long the bad code was in there, but the problem manifested most obviously in the last release. I wonder how many odd problems people have been having over the past months were caused by the bug. Ai, ai, ai.

On Monday What’s-Her-Name sent me a message asking if I was free. I haven’t seen her since her brief tenure as a bartender at Little Café Near Home. My phone and I don’t really get along, though, and I didn’t see the message until about an hour ago – three days late. Somewhere, the capricious gods of telecommunications are laughing.

Finally, do any of you remember reading an episode about the Awkward Bowling League? I wrote it a couple of weeks ago, and now it’s… gone. There’s no sign of it. I was going to write a follow-up, and I wanted to read the original first and link to it. I’m just wondering if it vanished before or after you guys got a chance to read it.

[Late Addition!] Five cover letters tonight. I just have to assemble the parts, and I’m caught up. Got a smiley-face infested message from What’s-her-Name, so that’s cool. Getaway Cruiser is playing some good noise into my head right now. Things could be worse.

Getting the Words Out

Writing, for me, is pretty easy. I sit, I think of things, I write them. Some days it’s difficult to think of the things I’m supposed to be writing, but there’s always something, even if it’s throwaway prose that I will never use. Still, it happens that occasionally I finish things.

This is where the trouble begins. I’ve got a novel, sitting there, waiting for me to find someone to help me sell it to a publisher. Novels are patient, just being piles of words, and they are happy to just sit there forever. Likewise, the heap of stories in my “on deck” folder are in no hurry to go anywhere.

It is difficult for me to submit my work for a critical review. My pals over at Piker Press were a great way to get started submitting stuff — I already knew some of them through NaNoWriMo, and they’ve always been kind to me. The only problem: they don’t pay. I’m sure they’d love to be able to pay the writers (or themselves, for that matter), but I’m pretty sure that will never happen.

Submitting elsewhere is more intimidating. I’m up against a bunch of folks all scrambling for the same few dollars. It’s not fear of rejection that bothers me, it’s fear of being rejected and remembered. “Oh, man, not this guy again!” Nightmare. This compounds the feeling I get in my gut when I send off a submission that the story is not ready yet. It could be better. There’s always something to improve. In this way publication is an act of mercy; I can stop trying to fix it.

Then there’s the part where I’m lazy. It’s time-consuming researching markets, reading over submissions guidelines, and crafting a cover letter. Whenever I sit down to this sort of chore, I always find something else to do instead (like write).

Two days ago I made a plan. For every paying customer at Jer’s Software Hut, I’ll submit something, somewhere. No sooner did I decide on that plan than I made three sales. I got the submissions out this afternoon — two short stories to paying magazines and one agent query by email for Monster. It feels pretty good.

The next submission will also be from the Great Pile o’ Stories, one that I think is ready for the big time. If only I could be sure…

Programming Note: The Unknown

I’ve got the cover piece over at Piker Press this week. It’s the third in a series of three stories, starting with Tin Can, followed by Home Burn, and now this one. They evoke (or at least try to) a golden age of SF feeling, from back in the day when flying around in space ships seemed inevitable. In a way it’s nostalgia for something we never even had in the first place. They are simple stories, but I like them. Perhaps you will too.

On the cover over at Piker Press

<a href=”http://www.pikerpress.com/” class=”newWin”>Piker Press</a> is running a story of mine this week, and since it’s on the front page it even has an illustration with it, which is pretty cool. I mentioned the story briefly a while back in an episode where I was working on a story at the clip of one paragraph per hour, and then I took a break and cranked out the first draft of another story in about the time it took to type it. This is the easy story, a lightweight but fun little tale of demon summoning and retribution. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it.

Now that the next issue is up, the story (without illustration) can be found here.

On the cover at Piker Press

If the top story in this week’s Piker Press seems familiar to you, that’s because it is an improved version of a story that appeared here first. It was, in fact, the favorable response from readers here that encouraged me to fix it up a bit and give it a life beyond the blog. The story takes place on the first warm day of spring, so in a sense it is antiseasonal. Yesterday I enjoyed tea on a bench outside a coffee shop on a chilly day that left no doubt that winter is fast approaching.

If you want to leave a comment about the story, you have to go to its dedicated, photoless page. You can see a list of everything of mine that has appeared in the press here.

The accompanying photo is also by me (though enhanced by the Piker editorial staff), snapped from a location near the beer window mentioned in the story.

Lost: one funny bone

I just read that Piker Press is looking for more of the lighter fare that is their signature. Apparently they’ve had a glut of heavy stuff in their in-boxes lately, despite the arrival of K. K. Brown and his well-written, whimsical stories. So if you have something lighthearted in you, now might be a good chance to give it wings.

I, however, seem to have run out of funny. I’m sure I had some lying around before I headed out to Spain; I suspect Soup Boy swiped it. He was heading off to Budapest when I came back; I bet he spread it around down there, while all the Budapestians slapped his back, exclaiming in broken English, “What a witty American are you!” (On a side note, the Hungarians really like their exclamation points. They even use them on their money.)

Maybe it’s the World Cup. I’ve probably watched as much TV in the last week as I had for the year to date — it’s just unavoidable if I want to go anywhere. TV certainly makes people stupid, perhaps it also makes them less funny. (An easy theory to promote — look how much TV Americans watch, and they’ve entirely lost their sense of humor.)

Or perhaps I, like Samson and his strength, did not realize until too late that all my funny was in my hair. Miss Adventure Delilah’d me, and now I must wait for the flowing tresses to grow back out before I can resume laying people low with the jaw of an ass.

Whatever the cause, I’ll have to find a way around it. “Elephants of Doom” is unfinished, along with two other short stories that are supposed to be humorous. Piker Press could use a chuckle, and Lord knows I need to do my part to address the world humor shortage. (As with all shortages, the Chinese are to blame.)

If you have any extra bit of funny lying around, throw it my way, would you? I’ll be the one in the corner writing about little girls in an orphanage dying of pneumonia while being exploited as slave labor. Whoo!

Piker Press Anniversary Issue

Each year Piker Press puts out an anniversary issue, in which they take a trip back down memory lane, finding choice morsels from the the past. It’s a good chance to acquaint yourself with the many contributors over there. In the words of Senior Editor Alexandra Queen: “We traditionally run not neccessarily the best, but some of the most memorable articles, stories and comics from the past four years. Or sometimes we run the ones we haven’t thought about for a while. It’s less like the Oscars than like flipping through a family photo album.” I have been enjoying reading stories by some of the folks from before my time.

I was curious to see which of my pieces they might choose to run, if any. Last year they put Tin Can in the anniversary issue, which was a bit of a surprise but not an unpleasant one. It made me go back and look over the story and I discovered that I liked it more than I thought I did. I’ve even fixed it up a bit and submitted to another magazine that doesn’t mind doing reprints.

This time around I could think of a few articles that I thought would be anniversary-worthy, from the bittersweet celebration of life in Earthchuckle to the spooky Serpent to the downright silly Hell-Cricket. Well, I do have a piece in there this week, and once again the choice was a surprise. They are re-running Storm of the Century, the epic story of one man’s drive to salvation, and how he saved a quarter-tank of gas on the way.

OK, maybe ‘epic’ isn’t the right word. But it is fun, and I enjoyed reading it again. It was an experiment of sorts, trying a different narrative style and intentionally under-edited.

Makes me want to go write a short story…

Little Buddy

Any minute now, I will have a story going up over at Piker Press. It’s the April Fool’s issue, and for the occasion I decided to just have fun with an idea that could have come from the Weekly World News. I cranked out the story, and after a little tender loving care I must admit that this tale quite tickles me. I have not grown tired of reading it; I hope you enjoy it as well. (OK, it’s a little over the top, but you should see what I didn’t put in.)

This week’s Piker is an issue devoted to frivolity, and I hear there is some damn fine frivolity indeed. I’m looking forward to reading it.