Submitted a Freakin’ Story

Just finished rebuilding the ending to a story and getting it off to a publisher. It has been, I think, six months since I submitted anything, let alone to a pro market. I really like this story but the ending has never been as strong as it is now. I hope.

Over the next couple of days I’ll be getting another story out to an anthology. It’s a story I wasn’t sure would ever find a home, but this might just be its chance.

There’s another very short story I might send over to Piker Press, so they don’t forget me completely, and because it’s fun to share.

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Photo Credit!

Yep, a picture I took found its way to a print publication that people pay to read. The photo is of Harlean Carpenter (who is a fiction), and the publication is Bachelor Pad Magazine. While I can take but a tiny amount of credit for the appeal of the shot (most of it comes from the model, obviously), I’m still pleased to have helped out.

Harlean Carpenter in Bachelor Pad Magazine

My first print photo credit (click to see full-size).


The magazine itself is pretty cool. It’s a small operation, a labor of love, and worth a look – especially if you’re a fan of pinup-style photography. “For Mature Readers” it says on the cover, which is what separates it from Maxim and the rest of that lot. In the most recent issue is an article about Naked Girls Reading, a… show? performance? franchise? in which women with no clothes on read literature out loud.

It’s a bit off-topic but one of the advertisers in this month’s issue features a photo of Shelby, who is “adorable” in the words of the fictitious Harlean, and who also happens to be bicycling a bajillion miles (give or take) in the near future to raise money to fight diabetes. Oddly buried is the fact that donations will be matched by Dignity Memorial Network. Your generosity will be doubled! Currently Shelby is way behind her friends in fundraising – help her catch up!

If that one’s not your cup of tea, Harlean keeps a list of noteworthy charity events at her blog: http://poeticpinup.com/Fundraisers.html.

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Missed it by That Much

I’ve been working on a really cool (in my opinion) story, and for once I knew exactly where I was going to submit it. City Slab is a very pretty quarterly that shows up in major bookstores, and they specialize in urban horror, where the city is almost a character in the story. My story, “Haunted City,” fits that bill nicely. While the pace may be a little slow for some editors, I’m quite pleased with the result.

Last week I was at City Slab’s Web site, and I got all the required information and even wrote my cover letter. There were still a couple of things I wanted to check for the story, however, so I did not submit. Good thing.

Today I went back to the Web site to double-check the address, and this is what I found: http://www.cityslab.com

Bummer. If they’d only held on long enough to publish my story, I’m sure their financial woes would be over. Instead, there is one fewer magazine paying real dollars for quality fiction, and therefore another twent-four good stories will go unbought each year. The best stories (or the ones by recognizeable names) will find a home somewhere else, but life on the bubble just got a little more precarious.

The venerable Weird Tales now has my manuscript. I hope they like it. They published Lovecraft, so a slow pace shouldn’t bother them.

The Importance of Being Paranoid

I realized last night (OK, someone whacked me upside the head for not figuring it out sooner) that I’m on the cover over at Piker Press this week. It’s a story lacking in any sort of nutritive value (to borrow the Piker’s tagline), but I like it. It makes a good April Fool’s sort of story. Check it out!

Project Gutenberg!

Few things have transformed society as much as the moveable-type printing press. By dramatically reducing the cost of reproducing the written word, the press sent shock waves through our civilization. Not long after there was Cervantes, and the novel was born.

Now we have the Internet, enabling new literary forms (and, even more illiterary forms). And, thanks to the folks at Project Gutenberg, not only can we waste our lives searching for the rare gems in the raucous jungles of the blogosphere, we can peruse the classics that got us here. Their goal is pretty straightforward — archive all books that are in public domain and make them available to anyyone with the technology to access them.

I had read about this project, but hadn’t taken the time to drop by until I was doing a search for Ring Lardner, a humorist who is mentioned in The Catcher in the Rye. I downloaded and read The Real Dope, which was, indeed, quite funny.

Then I looked at the “Most popular downloads” page and the biggest movers were textbooks. The most popular authors, with more than a thousand downloads per day, were Mark Twain and Jane Austen. My guess is that this would correspond to writers popular in literature curriculums. Also near the top was Sun Tsu’s Art of War, someone’s Illustrated History of Furniture, and Beowolf. “Beowolf,” thought I, “cool. I should read that.”

So I downloaded the book in a few seconds and after going through the translator’s notes from the 1880’s and a few newer notes about the current digital encoding and choice for what characters to use, I got to the poem. In Old English. Completely unreadable unless you happen to know Old English. I assume the thing’s a top download simply because it’s a top download. It’s hard to imagine that hundreds of people who know Old English and don’t happen to already have at least one copy of Beowolf in Old English are going to be happening by gutenberg.org each day.

Anyway, you can bet your boots I’ll be dropping by from time to time to brush up on the great classics of literature. For instance, right now I’m reading Gods of Mars by Edgar Rice Borroughs.

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 CafĂ© 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…

Once again, too much left unexplained.

I mentioned recently that I got three rejections in a single day. Those were from literary agents, and were all the quick-glance sort of rejections. When one sends out queries in batches, one should expect that the rejections from agencies that are not grabbed by the cover letter will come back in batches as well. So, while it was disappointing that three came back that way in the same day, it was not entirely unexpected.

Meanwhile, I’ve been checking the steps up to my door eagerly every day because I was waiting to hear back from a major magazine about a story I really like. Today, there was not a SASE waiting there, but a small package. I assumed it was from my folks, but on inspection it proved to be from the magazine to which I had submitted the story. I mentioned previously that one gets a feel for when a rejection is in the envelope, and this was clearly an outlier. Eagerly I tore open the package.

Inside was a copy of Esli, the Russian sister of F&SF. The editor thought I would enjoy having a copy of the Russian edition with my story Memory of a Thing that Never Was in it. He was right; I think that’s pretty damn cool. (Illustrated, even!) I’m curious now whether there are any reviews of the Russian version. In the US, most reviews said “Good writing, the reader has to fill in the gaps.” For some reviewers that was a good thing, for others not so much. I wonder how eastern Europeans will react to it; one of the big criticisms of American literature over here is that too much is explained, and that stories always come to pat conclusions. With that in mind, Memory might appeal even more to Eastern sensibilities.

I’m not sure, but I think the Russian magazine picks and chooses stories from a variety of sources, which makes it a little more special that they chose mine. I could be wrong about that, though. I wonder if the translation is any good.

I can also say now that I have been published in multiple languages. That’s pretty cool.

There were two notes in the package with the magazine. The first said something like, “thought you might get a kick out of seeing the Russian edition. I have a story of yours I’ll try to look at this weekend.” The second note said, “too much unexplained.” That’s a paraphrase, the note was by far the most comprehensive critique to come with a rejection. The editor took some valuable time to give me his opinion. He also said the piece felt like part of a larger story. Mere days ago I said that I liked stories like that.

Sigh. This was a story I’d actually revised to make things clearer, so the reader didn’t have to work so hard. Still, I have to admit that the prose is dense and can be demanding if you let it be, and there are some things that I don’t come out and explain directly. I thought some of the things the editor cited were pretty obvious by the end of the story, though. Then again, I’m not really the guy to judge that.

I think I also have to accept that what these guys really want are what I consider my second-best stories — stories that are more stylistically straightforward and don’t have multiple layers of interpretation. I write a lot of those, and I enjoy them, but generally I don’t deem them ‘worthy’ of the big magazines. This despite people around me, even readers of these pages, telling me they also like (and sometimes even prefer) those stories.

As an experiment I think I’ll loosen up the style a bit, add more explanation, and see if it still sounds good to my ear. I get paid by the word, after all. At the same time I’ll see if a more literary venue might be interested in it. Perhaps I just need to find a market for speculative fiction for people who like to be challenged. (To be fair, Fantasy and Science Fiction does sometimes publish more challenging work, but it is the exception, and it’s not mine.)

Who knows? Maybe in Russia…

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.

Trying to come up with non-fiction markets

I’ve been trying to think of ways to sell the sort of writing I do here in the blog (only more polished, of course). I’m not coming up with much. Travel mags in general want articles about fun places, not someone’s experiences in them. They are not looking for what goes by the name “narrative nonfiction”; instead they want descriptions (and photos) of local landmarks and tourist attractions. They don’t care about the pretty bartender in some back alley pub, or my musings on a conversation overheard, or about a man with no nose.

I suppose I could write in a more traditional travel style, but there are lots of people gunning for those gigs (“Paid to travel? Cool!”), and while few of them are very good, that still leaves more than enough to fill the void, people whose style is naturally more matter-of-fact than mine. Articles for those who actually go to the attractions when they visit a place are best written by people who travel the same way, rather than some guy who prefers to hang out in dark and quiet bars and watch the locals.

Magazines and Newspapers often have columnists who are more or less free to ramble, as long as they keep the focus relevant to the readers, which generally means “local”. The only place I’d be able to contribute something like that would be a rag catering to ex-pats in Prague, but in general my “local” is much different than theirs, and when I write about how annoying ex-pats can be, it may not go over very well. Still, it’s something I should look into. Maybe someone’s looking for an irascible voice that will piss people off. The other tricky part about that is that I would have to lead a more interesting life, and write about it with fewer words.

Gonzo Travel Magazine, that’s what I need. Maybe Letters From a Bowling Alley, or perhaps Rock Stacking World. That would be a sweet gig, traveling the world on assignment, hanging out in rocky places, meeting other stackers, and just generally screwing around. Remind me to search Writer’s Market for rock stacking.

Any of you guys have any ideas? Do you know any magazines or newspapers that actually exist that might like this sort of thing?

Meanwhile, one of the waiters here at the Bowling alley is blindfolded. I bet there’s a story there.