short stories

Book Review: Dial M for Monkey

3 of 5*

Only 60+ pages; this quick read can be started and finished in well under an hour, and that alone makes it not a waste of time. The stories are a mix of “high impact” and “needs an editor” – I kept wanting to revise or strike his last lines, over and over.

Maxwell sticks to a format of “Here’s the story, wait, no there’s a twist coming up, TWIST”, expanding it sometimes to “Here’s the story, wait, no there’s a twist coming up, wait for it, wait for it, really I mean it, keep waiting, TWIST, he he he” for most of the collection. Most of the characters are middle-aged, blue collar, London-area blokes, and a lot of the humor is crude (“He got hit in the balls with a block, lol” type of stuff.)

Probably the best are “I Almost Spanked A Monkey”, “Sprouts” (which is one of the few near-genre stories in the book), and “Is That To Go?”. All use Maxwell’s preferred format successfully, and none go on too long.

The longer pieces aren’t quite as good as the flash, IMO, but at the same time Maxwell brings in an earthy, working class, feel to his fiction that I don’t often see in lit flash. It’s an important perspective because it’s not often published, and some of the pieces do work very well. Don’t read it because it’s the best ever (it’s not) but it is a valuable use of an hour, even if you’re only learning what not to do yourself.

What I’ve Been Reading: Rickert, Burstein, Sharma, Tobler

This week’s reading was a collection of stories I randomly discovered online, either because someone recommended it, or because I stumbled it across it while looking for something else.

The Mothers of Voorhisvill”  by Mary Rickert, Tor.com (novella)

5 out of 5 stars

There is a grandeur to Rickert’s work which is almost immediately obvious but not overwhelming. You begin to read the tale she’s written, sentences unfolding simply, with hints of strangeness, until a few paragraphs in you start to see the edges of the world she’s created — and it hits you. It’s never “let me tell you about every aspect of this setting for three pages before anything happens”. It’s not “this happened and then this happened and then this happened”. She understands her characters, where they live and how they move about in that place, so well that when she writes the story, it’s just you (the reader) and them (the fictional characters), having a dialogue.

Reading Rickert is like listening to the chatty neighbors you’d never noticed until they happened to be the most fascinating people you’ve ever met. You’ll find everything you’re looking for by the time it’s done.

The shape of this story is as a series of interviews conducted with various women who’ve, they admit at the beginning, done something terrible, or wonderful, and now they’re explaining why. There’s contrast between the things they’re admitting, the events they’re saying didn’t happen quite that way, and and the moments of “well, sure, it did happen, but she’s completely wrong about the way she describes it”. We read how the women see not only the events of the story but their own worlds so differently from one another. All the pieces of “Mothers”, not disparate but simply not the same, weave together until what you finally have is so large, so monstrous and beautiful and greater than you’d imagined, that “grandeur” is the best word to describe it.

There are definite hints of Witches of Eastwick, and Nightvale, but there are sensual details — the hundred scents, the beauty of light, of women, of creative arts — which swell as the women do, breaking free from other influences. Those details carry on as the story changes, gets darker and more desperate, breathing life into individual moments with the names of board games, the color of jam. It’s real without being weighted down; terrible in the way that it makes perfect sense. I continue to be in awe of Rickert’s ability to tell a complete story, full without going on for too long, like a ripe peach on the last day before it’s plucked and eaten.

Kaddish for the Last Survivor” by Michael A. Burstein, Apex Magazine.

2 out of 5 stars

A SF tale about Holocaust deniers? You might think it would be preachy, pointed, too invested in its message, and Burstein’s story is all of those things. It was also nominated for both the Hugo and Nebula awards in 2001, and it’s worth figuring out why. (more…)

Poetry Posts, a Project, and Free Fiction!

Last month I raised a little money to help me purchase a (very used) new car, after mine had been totaled in an accident. I only left the fundraising post open for a few days, and closed it as soon as I had the bare minimum to pay the seller, and rather than ask people to give me money, I offered them options for how they’d want that money to be repaid. Partly because I don’t feel comfortable asking for something without giving anything in exchange, and partly because I love knowing what my friends, readers, and fans want to see from me in the future.

In the end, they’d funded two new short stories to be posted, free to read, online, and a digital edition book of the poetry posts I had online as well as all the ones I had scheduled.

I’ve already put up one of the short stories: “Evolutionaries”. This is a first person, near-future science fiction, 6150 words. (Same universe as “Monsters, Monsters, Everywhere”, but set earlier. Think of it as a prequel.) You can click on the link above to get the PDF, or find it (and much more) on my free fiction page. I’ll post the second one later this month.

The poetry book was a little trickier. Folks wanted to see a more in-depth, annotated, version of the blog posts I was doing to celebrate National Poetry Month. I’d originally scheduled short, fun, but not terribly academic, mini-essays on different topics relating to speculative fiction in verse. After the fundraiser, I retooled that plan: I pulled the posts from the schedule, and have been expanding them. Rather than limit them to April, I’m now going to be posting them over the next few months, and at the end, will make an ebook of the whole thing available for free. First of the revised posts will go up this week; you can find all of them, old and new, under the tag “national poetry month“.

As a thank you, I also made my short collection, Women and Other Constructs, free in .ePub, .mobi, and PDF formats for the month of April. Over 100 people downloaded the book, and I’ve seen some nice reviews of the stories. I’ve decided to make the digital versions free from now on. 

Get Women and Other Constructs for FREE, either as a bundle of all ebook formats, here, or individually: ePubMobi, or PDF

Though the digital editions are free, please considering supporting my writing by ordering signed copies of the print book:

Bundle of signed print book + free instant download of a DRM-free epub file , $10 click here

Bundle of signed print book + free instant download of a DRM-free mobi file , $10 click here

If you already have the book, and liked it, please leave me a review on my Goodreads page.

Lastly, I’ve got a new project which I’m going to be releasing soon. Sonnets of the Rocket Queen is a novelette in verse: 144 sonnets telling a hard SF story. Please let me know if you’re interested in reviewing it; I’ll have eBooks available in advance.

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The waiting is the hardest part

I’ve got three pieces out on submission right now, which is more than I’ve had out at the same time in at least a year (so, yay me!) but at the same time, it’s not nearly enough. Partly because I need to finish and submit more if I want to have the kind of career I look forward to, and also because I’m trying to get out of the habit of writing/submitting one piece, waiting to hear if it’s accepted, and then submitting the next piece. I’ve done astoundingly well at selling the fiction I submit because I am very careful about where I submit it to (my acceptance rate is over 80% for the last three years) and I’ll keep targeting my work to the right markets instead of going the “throw spaghetti at the wall and see if it sticks” route, but I think I can do a lot more than I am.

Goals. Gotta have goals.

Meanwhile, I’m waiting on:

“Alone, In Dust, You Are Yet My Pharaoh, So I Wait” – this is an epic SF pantoum currently sitting at Mythic Delirium. It’s a market on my target list, it’s a long poem that’d be difficult to place other places, and it’s written in a very structured, repetitive form (which also makes it harder to sell). But the editor heard me read it aloud at this past Readercon, I’ve worked with him on other projects, and according to Duotrope, rejections have been going out for more than a week and my piece is still under consideration. I’m nervous but hopeful, so we’ll see. The market’s currently closed to new subs. Waiting: 87 days.

“One Way Out” – a 460 word flash story at Every Day Fiction. According to their tracker, it’s still in “slush”, which means it hasn’t been read yet. Tomorrow I’ll have hit their target reply date, and it’ll be another month before I expire out of their usual response time. Another market I’d like to crack. Waiting: 59 days.

“The Things We Do For Love” – at 100 word storyAccording to their Submittable tracker, it’s “In-Progress”, which I think means it’s been read but not yet decided on. I wrote this piece for the challenge of writing a story in exactly 100 words. I’ve been waiting a little longer than normal for this market, and the last response listed on Duotrope was from August, but according to their Twitter feed, the editors are reading new work and the market is still active. Waiting: 48 days. UPDATE: Rejected.

These are all markets with high rejection rates, and that specialize in the thing I sent them (poetry, microfiction) so I don’t mind waiting this long. Looking at the list, though, it’s also obvious that I haven’t submitted something new in almost seven weeks. Hey, that’s when I started my new dayjob and lost all of my free time! Oh… yeah.

Right.

Workshop Update: Nuts and Bolts of Submitting starts tomorrow; Plotting the Short Story starts Oct 28

My next workshop, Nuts and Bolts of Submitting, starts tomorrow! There’s still room, so please sign up here. If you want to join but won’t be able to start for a few days, that’s okay, too. Sign up, let me know, and you’ll be able to do the reading/assignments without falling behind if we work together.

By the request of previous students, the workshop after will be Plotting the Short Story. Starting Monday, October 28, it’ll cover how to fit a whole story into different lengths: flash (1000 and under), mid-length short story (about 4000 words), and longer short stories (up to 6500 words). What do you put in and what do you leave off the page? Fundamentals of storytelling, prepping (including outlining, character arcs, and plot twists) and editing (including how to recognize the different moments of your story so you can move them around) are also covered. Like my other workshops, it’s only $50 for 4 weeks. Sign up here! Space will be limited, and I expect it to fill up quickly.

I’ve created a page, here, to keep track of my classes: what I’ve offered, what I’m doing now, and what’s coming up. Bookmark it if you think you’ll want to take a future class, and I’ll keep the page updated with class descriptions and links.

All workshop students get (and keep) access to our private online forum, with market listings, space to post work-in-progress for critiques, and open discussion topics.

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