Sci-Fi/Horror Writing Group

I’m leading a new writing group at The Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning starting this coming Monday. This is not a class or workshop, so you won’t hear me lecture or receive assignments. Basically, I’ll serve as a facilitator to the group as we read and critique each others’ work.

Okay…I will talk a bit about the art of critiques…and talk about some of the critique groups available online, writer retreats, and so on. And everybody in the group will get a free Apex book! Between now and the session, I will write a post about the topic of critiques.

Session synopsis:

Join a lively, diverse group of genre writers looking to improve and expand their abilities in the form of short fiction. This is a chance to limber up as a writer, get feedback from others, and gain confidence in an affirming atmosphere. [ALL LEVELS]

Sign up page: http://carnegiecenterlex.org/adult-class/winter-sci-fihorror-writing-group/?class-name=WINTER:%20Sci-Fi/Horror%20Writing%20Group&class-price=$72

  • Mondays, February 16 – March 23 (Six week session)
  • Time:
    5:30 pm – 7:00 pm
  • Address:
    251 West Second St.
    Lexington, KY, 40507
  • Cost:
    $72

 

5 More Overused Words to Cut from Your Manuscript

I’m going back to the well for today’s blog post. The first “5 Overused Words to Cut from Your Manuscript” is this site’s top post of all time thus far. Let’s milk that cow!

Moo!

1. Suddenly  – This word might be more indicative of lazy writing than ‘very.’ Unless your favorite show is Suddenly Susan.

2. That – This word gets used a lot more than necessary. I tend to use it for sentence rhythm purposes, but even then, they often will get cut from the work.

3. Almost – This word comes across as repetitive. Repetitive means it should be excised…almost always!

4. Awesome – I throw this one out there because I use it WAY too often in conversation. Therefore, it finds its way into my writing. Note: An exclusion is made for the awesome song “Everything is Awesome”!

5. Actually – Want to sound like an unaware know-it-all? Throw ‘actually’ into all your corrective sentences.

I’d like to add a disclaimer. Because these words are overused does not mean there aren’t times and situations when they shouldn’t be. Using them in your work doesn’t make your work bad. An over reliance on them will. Tread carefully!

Okay, ‘suddenly’ should never be used. Like, ever.

Imperious Little Girls

The feeling of rejection is a difficult emotion to process.

Read this post by Jolene Creighton for the gory details of one writer unable to process rejection: https://medium.com/@jolenecreighton/heres-what-its-like-for-a-woman-to-send-a-job-rejection-to-a-man-17af3090c501

Personally, I hate being rejected. Who doesn’t? And the rejection doesn’t have to come from an editor. Recently, the credit union rejected my application to consolidate a pair of credit cards.

My feelings, they were hurt. Don’t they know I work hard everyday! That I pay my bills and taxes like any good citizen! The lady who informed me of my failure surely received a monumental scowl of dismay via my face expressions. Disappointed by the outcome,  I thanked her for letting me know of the decision and I moved on.

When an editor rejects my writing, I don’t even do that much. No writer should. You simply move on.

And despite how “successful” you think you are, or how educated you may be, or how much praised you’ve received, sending a letter of dissent after an editor makes a choice does one thing only: It makes you an unprofessional cry baby.

If you do send a letter of dissent, you certainly don’t call the editors “imperious little girls” and accuse them of “bitchiness.”

Laugh at the self-righteous attitude of the rejected author. Cringe at how self-important he makes himself to be. Read his response and roll your eyes when he declares that he is “practicing an active spirituality.”

Of course you are, dude, of course you are…

So, a few takeaways from this.

1) Don’t waste your time arguing a rejection.

2) Don’t waste your time listing “credentials” to back your argument against a rejection. Nobody cares.

3) Don’t waste your time being a sexist jerk when arguing a rejection. It makes you an asshole.

Thank you, enjoy your day.

Cheers!

Do Editors Really Reject You For That…A Writer’s Lament 1

A question I’m asked frequently in my short fiction workshops goes like this: Do you really take into consideration things like elements of plot and the part of a story when you’re considering them for publication?

My response is: Yes, but maybe not the way you thinking.

I know that’s a dodgy answer. But give me a chance to explain myself.

When I’m reading a story for publication in Apex Magazine, I don’t have a checklist that I mark off: introduction–check, rising action–check, climax–check, etc. The elements of plot aren’t constructs that editors insist you adhere to, but merely tools to get the job done.

What is that job? To write a damn good story!

I’m not checking off if you write to basic structure of a story. I will take notes if I think the climax is a let down. Or if the rising action requires more. Or if your introduction needs a tweak.

Many of the most memorable and best stories play with story structure. I’m not talking in a cutesy “Hey look at my verbal hijinks” manner.

Some of my favorite Apex Magazine stories are rather unconventional. A couple of examples: “The Performance Artist” by Lettie Prell and “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” by Rachel Swirsky.

Naturally, some of my favorite Apex Magazine stories have a convention structure. A couple more examples: “Pimp My Airship” by Maurice Broaddus and “Frank” by Betsy Phillips.

As a writer, you should understand the basic mechanics of short fiction. But it isn’t something to fret about if you’re hoping to sell your fiction. A great story is a great story. End of story…

 

Thoughts on Beautiful You by Chuck Palahniuk

beautiful-you*NO SPOILERS*

Chuck Palahniuk’s novels have been providing diminishing returns for a long while. Readers would be asking too much for the author to reach the glorious heights of his debut THE FIGHT CLUB…that’s a once-in-a-lifetime book and earns Palahniuk a table with the greats of American novelists. But the poor quality of some of his later offerings is a bit off-putting, to say the least.

RANT was quite good. INVISIBLE MONSTERS was solid. SURVIVOR was fantastic. The rest of his early novels are good but not noteworthy.

Around the time of HAUNTED…the quality became fractured. HAUNTED has several fantastic short stories, but as a whole it fell apart logically and did not work for this reader. DAMNED I actively hated. DOOMED only made matters worse.

The frustrating part about Palahniuk is that even in the terrible books, there are moments of genius, of whimsy, and turns of phrase that tells a longtime Palahniuk reader that the man is still a master. If only he could make his books more focused and have them be less a pot roast of overcooked gross-out ingredients.

With BEAUTIFUL YOU, we are presented with his biggest pot roast of overcooked gross-out ingredients to date.

The plot goes like this: The wealthiest man on the planet, the nerdy entrepreneur C. Linus Maxwell (appointed “CliMax” by the press), meets plain-Jane Midwestern girl Penny Harrigan. Maxwell is a master in the arts of sexual arousal, and has built a line of toys that he tests on Penny. Many orgasms later, Maxwell is ready to unleash a devious plan on the world and Penny tries to stop him.

Problems abound with this novel. The characters are poorly-drawn caricatures of stereotypes. Maxwell is like a refined Bill Gates. Penny Harrigan could be any girlfriend of any sitcom set in New York City. Plot holes abound.

Yet…

The whole affair is just so weird and unusual that it is entertaining.

For instance, there is a 200-year-old sex witch/shaman living in a cave deep in the Himalayas that has grey pubic hair that grows all the way to the ground. The witch keeps her dead teacher’s mummified finger in her vagina. She shares this finger with Penny. Uh, eww.

Palahniuk throws around real and made up clinical terms to describe various sexual activities that prompted amused laughter: Deftly, she compressed his seminiferous tubules in order to suppress spermatogenesis.

The novel also makes some on point observations about sexism, feminism, sexuality, commercialism, and so on.

Finally, this is a straight science fiction novel. I can appreciate that.

I would not recommend this book to those easily offended, fans of mindless 50 Shades of Grey erotica, or those who like traditional New York single lady meets rich man love stories. Because this book is giving you the middle finger.

Palahniuk fans will dig BEAUTIFUL YOU. Those amused by weird shit (like myself) will be occasionally entertained.

It’s a short read. Why not dig in and find out what ol’ Chuck has to say about seminiferous tubules.

How to properly format a manuscript — Be a conformist

PROLOGUE:

There is a lot of information on the internet about all aspects of the writing process. Yet, I’m asked the same dozen or so questions by writers in every workshop or seminar I lead. Certainly, I don’t mind answering any questions about writing, editing, or publishing a writer or interested party might have. After all, that’s what I’m there for. And if there is anything that makes me chatty, it is giving me an opportunity  to share what I know about writing, editing, or publishing.

Without further ado, let’s tackle the first question in this series.

HOW DO I PROPERLY FORMAT A MANUSCRIPT?

There’s a reason for the formatting rules, and it has nothing to do with causing poor, hassled writers more troubles. Editors are busy people, so a manuscript has to be especially good for an editor to waste time on reformatting. Besides, editors have better ways of driving writers crazy.

Here are some basic rules of formatting you should follow (unless you’re submitting to a publication that states otherwise in its guidelines):

  • Double line spacing is the rule. A common mistake made by new writers is to single space paragraphs and double space between paragraphs. This is a common format seen in articles of text on the internet, but it’s not how editors generally want a manuscript formatted (This editor HATES IT). Psychologically speaking, when reading double spacing, the editor feels as though he or she is whizzing through the lines (comparably). It looks cleaner and neater on the page. It allows for editorial comments and typographical markings between the lines should an editor wish to print out the story (and we often do). With modern-day word processors, none of this formatting is difficult for the writer to achieve.
  • Use a common and practical monospaced font. Most of the time, Courier New will suffice. A few editors I know prefer Times New Roman, so this is a case where doing a little bit of research might pay off.
  • Use a readable font point size. Don’t go any lower than 12 point. Don’t go higher than 14 point.
  • Leave at least an inch of white space margin on all four sides of your manuscript. This will give the editor room to makes notes and will help make your submission look cleaner. The left margin of text should be justified and the right margin of text should be jagged.
  • Use black ink on white paper and use only one side of each sheet of paper. I agree, the editor should be hip to the times and allow electronic submissions, but some dinosaurs are slow to move.
  • You don’t need a dedicated title page for short stories. You do for novels and novel-length collections. On the first page of your manuscript, using the upper half of the page to place your contact information and word count, followed by the story’s title along with your byline.
  • On all pages but the first, include a right justified running header with your byline, the story’s title, and the page number. This is in case the editor jumbles up your pages and needs to reorder them. I won’t lie, editors are notoriously disorganized individuals. I am the perfect example of this assertion.!

Master and conform to these seven basic instructions and you’ll be on the path to publication. Okay, at the least, you’ll be ahead of the 5 to 10% of submissions that get tossed due to blatant manuscript formatting shenanigans.

Wait, more rules???

There are many other ‘picky’ rules of manuscript formatting. Thankfully, a gentleman named William Shunn wrote an essay that covers such quandaries as “Do I list professional organizations of which I’m a member with my contact information?” and “Do I use the Microsoft Word word count or do I have to manually count the words or use some other formula?” You can find this excellent essay (titled “Proper Manuscript Format”) at www.shunn.net/format.

One trap many writers fall into is reading a publication’s guidelines once and never checking again for updates. Sometimes word count ranges change, or a publication has a change in editors and now prefers Times New Roman or Courier font. Because of this, be careful when using resources such as Duotrope.com, Ralan.com, and the Writer’s Digest Guide to Short Fiction Markets. They’re useful as a first port of call, but always refer back to the official guidelines of your chosen market before sending off your baby.

As I mentioned earlier, it might pay to research a market’s editorial style. This goes beyond just reading the guidelines. Do they prefer the American style of punctuation or the British style? Will they laugh at you if you put a copyright statement on the title page (Yes, probably)? Do they prefer a single space or a double space after ending punctuation? I once suffered public ridicule in a writing workshop run by a well-known science fiction editor over my double spacing after punctuation. I’m still scarred by the experience. Read previous publications by that market. Read the editors’ blogs. There is plenty of information out there.

When in doubt, ask. Most of the time, editors are nowhere as intimidating as those burly dudes dressed as Klingons you see at every convention. In fact, Apex editors like receiving questions. It makes us feel like we have friends. It makes us feel like we are important.

Trust me, editors love feeling important.

EPILOGUE

Follow my advice about manuscript formatting. Please don’t let a simple thing you can control be the one thing that gets you rejected.

I Got Your Lunch Right Here

Yesterday, I served my first day of District Court jury duty. It was uneventful. A witness failed to show, so the trial was delayed. The most exciting part was hearing an angry lady in a conference room adjoining the court scream “You, you, and YOU can all KISS. MY. ASS.”

I’ve no clue what she was on about, but her point was made and made well.

The last time I served was about a decade ago for Circuit Court. I sat on a sexual harassment case. A lady was suing a local franchised car wash and her boss for harassment. The jury consisted of twelve folks (District court only has 6 jurors). She wanted a couple million dollars for harassment and pain and suffering.

The plaintiff had witnesses that saw inappropriate touching by the male boss. Multiple co-workers heard the boss make lewd remarks and suggestions. The highlight (nadir) of the proceedings happened when the judge asked the defendant to reenact a particular sexually aggressive mood the plaintiff like to do.

So the plaintiff stood in the middle of court and made an X motion with his arm toward his crotch and said “I got your lunch RIGHT HERE.” It was so ludicrous and immature that several people couldn’t help but laugh. That drew some gavel and warnings from the bench.

The case took a WEEK. Eight hours a day (sometimes more).

When the judge finally let the jury deliberate, I went into deliberation thinking it was a cut and dry decision. The guy obviously harassed, bullied, and harmed the woman’s emotional state. Ten fellow jurors DISAGREED. They said the woman could have done more to discourage the behavior. They said she was ugly and probably enjoyed the attention. They said the woman was being a greedy bitch and that 2 million was outrageous. 10 people voted Not Guilty. They eventually got 11 not guilty votes.

I argued that by the letter of the law she was a victim of harassment. Perhaps the 2 million was a bit much. I tried to convince them to grant her 25,000 plus legal costs. Nope.

In this case, 11 not guilty votes was enough to acquit the defendant.

That jury experience was an eye opener. It definitely sapped any remaining faith in humanity that I might have had.

Fortunately, district court handles the small beans stuff. Traffic ticket challenges. Misdemeanors. Even so, it won’t stop me from telling every defendant in my best Judge Dredd voice that “I AM THE LAW.”

I AM THE LAW

I AM THE LAW

5 Overused Words to Cut from Your Manuscript

1. Very – Ladies and gentlemen, the most useless word in the English language!

2. Just – Just is the plain, unsalted potato chip of writing.

3. So – You think you should use this word as a conjunction, but you so shouldn’t.

4. Really – For real.

5. Literally – Reserved for Rob Lowe.

I’ve listed these in the order of personal annoyance. When reading for Apex Magazine the overuse of these words are typically a red flag calling out “Newbie author at work here.”

On an unrelated note, I was a guest for a recent episode of the Sequential Spirits podcast. Give it a listen. It is 80 minutes of me facing down my arch nemesis, Tressa Bowling.

http://traffic.libsyn.com/beaucouppop/SequentialEp7.mp3 (Opens to Libsyn player)

Reminder: Writing Science Fiction workshop

My next writing class TOMORROW. I’m told we only have 5 participants…which makes for a great class, but it doesn’t make the Carnegie Center or Joseph-Beth Booksellers happy (and therefore less inclined to hire my services!). If you’re interested in taking a genre writing workshop, then you won’t be disappointed.

Oh, and here’s a little incentive: I will be bringing free Apex goodies for every person in the class. Free stuff is awesome!

Registration Link: There is no link. You need to call to reserve your place (859-273-2911). This is limited to 18 students, so don’t hesitate or dawdle.

  • Venue:
    Joseph-Beth Booksellers
  • Meets On:
        Wednesdays, January 14 – February 4
  • Time:
    6:00 pm – 8:00 pm
  • Address:
    161 Lexington Green Circle
    Lexington, KY,
  • Cost:
    $65
  • Addl Info:

    Please note this class takes place at Joseph-Beth Booksellers.

    Please call 859-273-2911 to reserve a spot!

    Each class is limited to 18 participants

 

WRITING SCIENCE FICTION

Join three-time Hugo Award-nominated editor and writer Jason Sizemore as he takes you through the process of writing a science fiction short story. You will study popular modern stories as a guideline to the craft of writing shorter works. We will cover the elements of plot and the structure of short fiction. Every participant will create a new science fiction short story that will be polished so it is ready for submission to a publication. [ALL LEVELS]

Apex Magazine — Back in the saddle again

Art by Emma SanCartier

Art by Emma SanCartier

Yesterday, Apex published issue 68 of Apex Magazine. This was the first one with me functioning as editor-in-chief in 53 issues (almost 4.5 years in magazine time). Prior to 68, I edited issues 1-15 of Apex Magazine and all 12 of the printed Apex Science Fiction and Horror Digest.

Damn, it feels good to be back in the saddle.

Over those 4.5 years, I’ve edited several short story anthologies. They’re fun…but they’re not as fun as the magazine.

Truth be told, I have missed running the zine. I mean, I did run the magazine in a managing sense. I helped make editorial choices here and there. And I gave editorial direction to the E-i-Cs. But it was the ability to select stories to publish, to find the diamonds in the rough, to bring the voice of fantastic writers to the public, that I missed.

I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have hired three outstanding editor-in-chiefs: Catherynne M. Valente, Lynne M. Thomas, and Sigrid Ellis. Each put their stamp and legacy on the zine in their unique ways and helped build Apex Magazine into a respected, (dare I say) beloved, and 3-time Hugo Award nominee. Cat has gone on to become a fantastic novelist. Lynne co-edits a great new zine of her own. And I have no doubt Sigrid will find her star rising with whatever she decides to do next.

And now it is time to pressure you into checking out the new issue of Apex Magazine!

Check it out here:
http://www.apex-magazine.com/issue-68-january-2015/

You can read most of the content for free on the zine’s website. There are some bits of exclusive content when you subscribe or buy an eBook copy.

I hope you enjoy issue 68. Remember, new issues land on the first Tuesday of every month!