Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Business Model for Pulp Fiction

I was having a really interesting discussion the other day about pulp fiction and the Golden Age of short stories.  The cheaper publishing costs plus the popularity of the magazine format plus the space exploration obsession of the age made for fertile grounds in the short form fiction arena.

So the argument in said discussion was that we are no longer living in the Golden Age for short stories.  The form isn't as mainstream as it used to be, which, therefore, means that you can't make a living as a short story writer.

This really got me thinking.  And you know what?  I call bull on that statement.

You know who really made the money during pulp fiction days?  The publishers.

You know how the authors made money?  By writing constantly.  Guys like Ray Bradbury were PROLIFIC writers.  They had to constantly churn out new stuff in order to make a living.  And even then it wasn't like most of them were making millions.  At best, most of these authors "got by."

So the excuse that it's no longer the Golden Age of Short Fiction is not a valid one.  Short stories have always been a hard sell.  It was probably even harder back in the day because there was so much more competition.

But what's interesting is that the business model hasn't changed at all.  Only the medium.  Pulp fiction writers had to write constantly and send their stuff out everywhere until they got nibbles and eventually a paycheck.  Same goes for ebooks today.  The only way to make money with short stories is to publish as quickly as you can put out quality work and to post your story on every single online book selling channel you can find.

You gotta love short stories or leave 'em.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Guest Blog: The Other Publishing Company Launch Innovative Weekend Short Story Competition – ‘The Lit Bits Weekend Challenge’

As part of their mission to bring the best short stories from new and established authors to keen readers around the world, The Other Publishing Company are running a series of weekend short story competitions, with winners receiving publication and a share of a £1000 prize pot.

Over the course of four consecutive weekends, starting on the 13th of December 2013, The Other Publishing Company are challenging writers to produce an entertaining short story of 1000 words. Each Friday morning they are giving writers a set story title to work with and challenging them to have it completed by Monday morning.

Each weekend three winners will receive £80 or $80 (depending on where they live), that’s 8p or 8c a word! At the end of the month twelve winning stories will share almost £1000 in prize money, and all winning stories will be published in special Lit Bits compilations. Entrants can enter as many stories each weekend as they wish, and from anywhere in the world, but they must be written in English. Entry is entirely free “to give everyone an opportunity to make money from their writing and get published, whether you’re a household name or not yet published,” says The Other Publishing Company’s Commissioning Editor and competition judge, Michael Cameron-Lewis.

Acclaimed authors Robert Rigby and Michael Cameron-Lewis will judge the competition. Robert Rigby is the co-author, with Andy McNab of the best-selling Boy Soldier series of novels. His other fiction includes the novelizations of the Goal! movies and a stand-alone novel in the series - Goal: Glory Days. He is the author of the four official London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic novels for children. Robert also writes for the theatre, television and radio drama and is a prolific songwriter and composer, working in recording, television and radio. Robert has also had three short stories published on Lit Bits; When Harry Met Dali, The Silences, and Each Little Bird. Michael Cameron-Lewis is The Other Publishing Company’s Commissioning Editor; and a best-selling author, television writer, and theatrical director in his own right.

For full details and to sign up please visit the competition page: http://www.otherpublishingcompany.com/LITBITS-Weekend-Challenge.html

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Review of "On the Clock in Vegas," short story by Brian Bergquist



Summary:
Professional gambler Benny Delgano is in Las Vegas to compete in a high stakes fantasy football tournament for one hundred thousand dollars, only to run into a demented criminal from his past with revenge on his mind.

Forced into colluding with Tommy the Wolf at the fantasy football draft in order to spare his friend's life, Benny finds out the stakes were higher than he originally thought.

Review:
I'll admit, the subject material is not really my cup of tea.  I'm more of a Settlers of Catan gamer rather than high stakes gambling.  And I know just enough about football to follow a game.  But fantasy football?  Lost me there.

That disclaimer said, the writing was compelling enough that I still enjoyed the story.  Even though the terms and catchphrases thrown around sometimes sailed over my head, there was enough action and intrigue to compensate for that.

There's a very small twist at the end.  I won't spill the beans in this review but the twist hinges on the protagonist, Benny, being a bit more clever than the reader gives him credit for.  I almost kind of wish this had been played up more?  Like instead of reading like a noir gambling story it would have been more interesting to the lay reader if it had read like a Sherlock Homes.  No mystery solving, minding you.  Just giving clearer hints about Benny being one step ahead of everyone else.

3.5/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez

Buy this story on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Adapting Short Fiction for the Screen, Guest Blog by Screenwriter Derek Ryan

Derek Ryan is the screenwriter of an independent adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut's 2BR02B based in Vancouver B.C. 2BR02B was one of Mr. Vonnegut's early short stories, written before most of his novels. Since it is such a splendid example of Short Fiction, he is reaching out to the short fiction community hoping to drum up support for turning it into a film.

For me, this was my first time adapting a literary piece into a screenplay format. Luckily, since the short story is already so cinematic, I didn’t have a David-esque battle to fight in order to make it work for the screen. The biggest challenge for me was giving the audience knowledge about the world that the film inhabits without resorting to narration or some gross sequence of expository dialogue. I feel narration is somewhat of a cheat, so instead, we added an entirely new scene as a prequel to the events in the short story. This way, the audience gets to see more of the world, and infer from what is seen, as to what the world is like. Though narration may be the most effective way to get facts across, I find it boring. We have our characters talking about the Federal Bureau of Termination and gradually over the course of the first few scenes, things start to fill in. I like it when the audience doesn’t know the whole story right from the start. It’s just more exciting that way.

The dialogue in the story also needed some revamping. In the original short story, there is an extended use of a 2BR02B vernacular that includes words and phrases that we don’t use. This happens when you get a very good piece of Sci-Fi. The world building is very important. But for us, in order for the audience to not be confused(since we have a limited time frame and can’t write exposition like in a book), some of these phrases needed to be toned down. For example, I couldn’t use all of the slang terms for the Federal Bureau of Termination, but instead could only fit in two. That was something that I didn’t necessarily want to do, but to have all of those terms floating around would have been too confusing to the audience. So, in order to still include them in our project, we decided to use all of those slang terms for the names of the perks we are giving away on the IndieGoGo page.

Anyways, turning this story into a screenplay was an absolute pleasure. It offered a great skeleton from which to make an excellent screenplay. Being able to have access to such a great story, and about a very interesting, and pressing issue – population -- was something that was a huge honour. Population is something that as a world we need to take a look at. The statistics behind population growth over the past 100 years are insane.

Though we are still at the early stages, this project promises to be one that everyone on our team can be proud of. It’s going to be a long haul going forward, but it will all be worth it in the end. Anyway, we hope that you guys like what we are trying to, and please give the short story a read! It’s a fantastic story, and we know it will make a fantastic film, especially with Paul Giamatti as the Lead. Thank you so much for letting me post on here, and I hope that you guys like what you see.

Here is the story -- http://www.gutenberg.org/files/21279/21279-h/21279-h.htm

Here is the link to our page -- http://bit.ly/1bCjYXB

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Creative Juices

I'm a night owl.  Always have been.  Before 10:00am I have been lovingly described as resembling the "ruler of the underworld and darkness."  Whatever.



Fortunately I have a job that allows me to set my own hours and is conducive to having afternoon/early evening clients.  One would THINK that being a night owl is perfect for one with writing aspirations.  And it is.

There's only one problem: creative juices.

Pre serious writing era this is not a problem that would have occurred to me.  I worried about writers block or running out of story ideas.  Things that I now realize are silly.  A writer writes.  Words go onto the page whether they're good or not and you can worry about all that other stuff later.

The thing is with creative juices is that it's not the same thing as creativity.  Writing takes a great deal of emotional effort.  Forming the correct words and phrases to make the scene in your head come out just right is almost akin to crying or deep conversation.  Every writer has their cut off point for when it happens but eventually every writer has to call it quits for the day before their brain turns to mush.  The creative juices have been spent.

And just like physical exercise, I find that my brain needs some down time before it can go at it again.  I may have the time to write and, if it's late at night my brain may be focused enough to write but if I already had a major writing session earlier in the day, that could be it.  I open up the work in progress, look at where I left off and my brain says, "nope, not gonna happen."

But in comes a fresh day along with a fresh pot of coffee and I'm right back in the saddle (read: office chair).  I'm excited to open up the work in progress and even though I might be distracted by emails my brain is more than ready for another creative expenditure.

As I become a more prolific writer I'm also hoping that my stores of creative juices will increase with time.  It seems a shame to have to waste all those wonderful night hours.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Review of "Yellow Eyes," short story by Sayuri Yamada

Review:

**May contain spoilers**

This story is... odd.  Since there's no summary provided I will briefly recap.  It's from the viewpoint of a man suffering from depression.  His son died and the death caused him and his wife to drift apart.  Most of the story takes place during what appears to be some sort of party/convention for people with unusual eyes.  So the story switched back and forth between him talking to people at the party and flashbacks of the past.

It's odd for several reasons.  The first is the author's choice of second person tense.  Instead of saying "he did this" or "he did that" it was "you did this" or "you did that."  Personally, I found this made the story harder to get into.  Instead of the story coming across as me getting to know the characters as I would a friend it was it became "psychological."  The end result was that I felt more detached from the story than I probably would have had it been written in the third person.  The main character is a man leading a lifestyle totally different from mine.  As a woman, I found myself relating to very little of what was written.  I would have done none of that.

The next big thing for me was the ending.  Up until the last few paragraphs the story had a nice, albeit strange, flow to it.  Then the "twist" happens.  The entire story is all in the main character's head, including the party.  His pregnant wife died, the son was never born.  The implication is that it made the main character go insane?  I'm not really sure.  It's a little vague.

Honestly, I'm not really sure what to think about this story.  It was interesting, well-written and definitely made me think.  I think it was just a little too trippy for my taste, however I could definitely see this author forming a following for her work.

4/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

50 Words at a Time

I have an hour set aside every day for writing and I have to fight to keep it free.  That's something that non-writers just don't get.  "Can't you just write for a half hour now, do this with me, and write for a half hour later?"  No, I can't.  I need uninterrupted writing time in order to get the brain flowing so that the resulting words are good, usable words.

It's like running.  You can't just get warmed up, jog for fifteen minutes and cool down two to three times a day and expect it to yield the same results as jogging for an hour straight.  You need to get in the groove and stay in the groove for a prolonged period of time.

So yes, my writing hour is an entire hour but it's also only an hour.  I might have some free time later in the day, I might not.  It doesn't matter so much to me so long as I get that scheduled hour in.  Later on I might fight the battle of how many writing sessions I get into one day.  But for now the hour seems to be enough to placate my inner, frustrated artist.

Which means that much of my writing challenges come from what I can do in that hour not the number of hours I type.  This has led to some interesting psychological battles with myself (split personality here I come).  At first when I tried the self-imposed writing hour I told myself I just had to get something down.

Then I realized I was being ridiculous.  With no word count looming over my head it meant I was giving myself permission to walk away after fifteen words.  In terms of writing output (the entire point of a schedule) I was better off doing what I was doing before the schedule.  At least when writing when the spirit moved I would have inspired sessions of writing 800+ words.

So I realized that I needed a word count minimum for said writing sessions.  It wasn't so much about the hour as it was getting words down on the page.  I could contemplate my story all I liked but if I didn't actually put something down to paper it was fruitless labor.

I started small.  I told myself that I had to write at least 300 words before my writing session was over and those 300 words needed to be finished within an hour.  It took me a surprisingly long time to really embrace these deadlines.  I would always get the 300 words down but sometimes it would take me the full hour to do so.  I'd check my email, check Facebook, check sales... check anything but my work in progress.  Training yourself to not only focus but be creative on demand is no easy task.

The word count minimum eventually had an effect, however.  It took months but I finally started to notice that I was not only reaching that goal more quickly but also going way past it on a regular basis.  So I upped the minimum by fifty words.  I figured 350 words shouldn't change all that much, right?

Wrong.

I was back to struggling with myself.  Most of the hour was wasted with various forms of procrastination.  My creative self in full rebellion against my business/publisher self.  It took awhile before I was back at a point where my minimum felt easily achievable.  But you know what's interesting?  It didn't take as long to get used to.

I'm now at a 450 word minimum.  Each time I raise my self imposed goal it takes less time for my brain to embrace the increased writing output.  I was seriously on 300 words for more than six months.  The 450 goal happened a few weeks ago and I could see myself easily going to 500 in the not-too-distant future.

I think the reason why it's working for me is because I've allowed myself to slowly adapt.  If I had set the standard too high right off the bat I would have probably frustrated myself.  Any enjoyment I glean from writing (oh yeah... this is supposed to be fun...) would have been sucked away by impossible standards.

My ultimate goal is to hit 800-1,000 words in my hour-long writing session.  Just seven more sets of fifty to go...

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Review of "War Memorial," short story by Elisabeth Grace Foley



Summary:  
At the bottom of an old trinket-box lies a misshapen bit of lead—a bullet from the Civil War, an old family keepsake preserved, but mostly forgotten, by later generations. And behind it lies a story—the story of a young girl's experiences in the days surrounding the fateful battle of Gettysburg, which force her to examine her own heart and show her the face of war in a way she could not have understood before.

Review:
I've always enjoyed Foley's stories.  She has such a simple and sweet way of putting together words.  War Memorial is yet another shining example of her style.

The actual storyline itself is not ground breaking.  It's the Civil War.  Soldiers are killing each other but every soldier is still a human being.  But it's the way Foley tells the story that makes you pause and reflect which, to me, is the sign of a good short story.  The lower word count means that you should want to take the time to the digest the words you've just read.  

As with most short stories it's hard to classify who they would appeal to other than those that just love "a short story."  War Memorial is kind of a war story, it's kind of a romance and it's also kind of a fable in that there's the hint of a morale at the end.  But it's really just a lovely read.  Worth picking up a copy to read with a coffee, you won't regret it.

4/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez  

Buy this story on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A Short Story Sales Stats Update

About a year ago I went on this kick of reporting all the sales I had for works under 10,000 words.  It eventually got too complex (for me) to keep track of due to the increasing number of published works that I had out along with the fact that Smashwords wouldn't always update in time to do accurate monthly reports.

I honestly don't know how some people can keep track of their sales on huge spread sheets.  They must only have like five books published or something.  Psh.  Novelists.

However I do feel it's important for prospective short story writers to have a realistic understanding of what the market is currently like.  And in light of my third year of being published anniversary, it felt as good a time as any to divulge some numbers.

I don't feel like it would be useful at this point to give a breakdown of everything I've sold in the past three years.  I'll be honest, I don't move thousands of copies and some months I didn't get paid at all for awhile.  What I think would be more helpful is to look at a three month period over the course of three years on two different channels (as opposed to two branches of Amazon) so you can really see the changes.

I first started self-publishing October 2010.

Amazon.com:
  April 2011 I made $4.90
  May 2011 I made $4.90
  June 2011 I made $13.96

  April 2012 I made $16.09
  May 2012 I made $33.23
  June 2012 I made $24.49

  April 2013 I made $79.16
  May 2013 I made $40.92
  June 2013 I made $39.52

Barnes and Noble:
  April 2011 I made $6.80
  May 2011 I made  $9.20
  June 2011 I made  $5.20

  April 2012 I made $8.80
  May 2012 I made $17.54
  June 2012 I made $8.00

  April 2013 I made $34.86
  May 2013 I made $24.92
  June 2013 I made $41.51

So all you number conspiracy theorists can take what you will from all of those numbers.  The selling season, the channel, etc.  And yes, this is chump change compared to some other authors out there. Writing short stories makes me happy so the fact that I make any money at all from them is really just the icing on the cake.

I would say for me the biggest noticeable change is the fact that I've been getting paid every month now.  Most channels require a $10 minimum before electronically depositing a payment.  As you can see, I didn't always hit that marker some months.  I actually didn't hit that marker a lot of months when I first started.  Especially during the summer slump season (always a low point when selling books).

For over a year now I've been consistently making it well past that $10 minimum marker on both Amazon and Barnes and Noble.  So I no longer feel like I never sell anything with the occasional fluke months (May 2012, wtf?).

I think at this point I can confidently say that it is possible to make, if not a living, a very healthy side income from writing short stories alone.  In two to three more years I could easily see the listed numbers becoming several hundred dollars.  And this is coming from someone that started out as a complete no-name (ok I'm still a no-name) with no history at all in the traditional publishing industry.   Like, I didn't have a backlist and I'm not famous.

But here are some things to keep in mind as far as short story sales go:


  • I publish constantly.  As quickly as I am able to produce a quality work.  As a short story writer this is my one and only advantage over novel writers.
  • My short stories are everywhere now.  As many channels as I can get them on.  Forget Select and other exclusive programs.  So not worth it when moving so few copies already.
  • The biggest jumps in income occurred when I branched out in genre and, later, branched out to producing more novelettes set at a higher price point.  Writing serials of said novelettes also helped a great deal.
  • Find some cover art designers that you like and buy premades.  They are cheaper than custom and so so so worth the money.  Cover art is a HUGE selling point.  Just because it's a 99 cent short story doesn't mean it has to look like a cheap story.  It's still a story and it deserves a cover.




Wednesday, October 23, 2013

SFWG 2013 Flash Fiction Contest RESULTS

We would like to thank everyone that took the time to submit to the Short Fiction Writers Guild's first flash fiction contest. We received an impressive number of submissions for this contest. So it made us very happy to see that flash fiction seems to be alive and thriving in the literary world.

And now for the results!

First Prize goes to Al Stevens for his story “The Old Tenor Player.”  You can buy the collection containing this story on Amazon.

Second Prize goes to Travis Hill for his story “Capture at the Hive.”

Third Prize goes to Kaye Linden for her story “My Soul is Driving.” You can buy the collection containing this story on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and most other ebook retailers.

Always be on the lookout for future contest announcements!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Review of "The Prisoner," short story by Laura Lond



Summary:
Captain Torren, the warden of the Dormigan Prison, knows that the mysterious Prisoner 34 is much more dangerous than the authorities think. Torren does his best to guard him, going so far as to break some of his orders, but the new governor’s sudden wish to personally inspect the prison threatens to destroy the shaky balance the warden has achieved.

Review:
A really interesting fantasy piece by Lond.  It was bordering on psychological which is unusual for the genre but Lond was able to pull it off without the story feeling forced.

I was immediately fascinated by Prisoner 34.  Lond does an excellent job giving us just enough backstory to whet our appetites and yet not bog the flow of the short story down with mountains of exposition.

What dropped the story from a 4 star to a 3.5 for me was the the fact that it didn't feel complete at the end.  This is a part one of a series but it doesn't change the fact that the story needs to have an end.  I don't mind cliffhangers but I do mind when it feels like the story just got cut off for the sake of part two.

But I was certainly intrigued enough to want to keep reading.  Definitely worth picking up a copy.

3.5/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez

Buy this story on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Three Years and Counting

When I write these publishing anniversary posts there's this strange feeling that I just finished writing the last one and yet when I go back to read the last one I can't help but think, "Holy crap that was a long time ago.  I was so innocent!"

Greater cosmic forces than I decided that October should be my milestone month.  It marks the start of both my teaching and publishing careers.  This October marks my third year of being published.  So I think this now makes me a minority in the indie publishing world?  Sweet.

As I look back I would say this has been a year where I've grown more as a writer than a publisher.  My publishing strategy hasn't really changed all that much.  Other than blogging and the occasional Facebook post, I'm really not into social media anymore for book promotion.  It was such a major time drain and I just don't have enough hours in the day to really make an effective presence.

I've stuck to my plan of releasing more novelettes at the $2.99 price point.  So most of my writing this year has revolved around longer (for me) works rather than super short stories.  I plan to continue this since I actually find myself liking these slightly longer works and the extra money they generate makes them well worth the time.

In an effort to become a more efficient publisher, I've created a project schedule and set aside even more time for writing.  I now write every day and the project schedule ensures that I don't neglect pen names.

It's strange because in my first year of writing/publishing I avoided doing these things because I thought it would suck all the fun out of being a self-published author.  After all, isn't the main attraction for such a route the leisure to write whenever one wants?  I worried that too much organization would stifle the creative process, best to let the ideas flow naturally.

But really the opposite has happened.  The organization has helped the creative flow.  There's something very powerful about doing something every day.  It changes you.  In previous years I was excited about the publishing process.  Now it's the writing that excites me.

Ok I phrased that badly.

Writing has always excited me.  But I used to write blindly.  Putting words on the page without any thought about how they work together.  I'm now more craft oriented.  The challenge of finding the perfect way to write something is now exciting to me.

It's interesting because writing is subtle.  Previous years have felt like a steep uphill climb of learning and now it's more like choosing which path I want to take.

So here's to the start of year four!  I'm excited to see where it will take me.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Review of "Beneath a Vengeful Sun," short story by Ron Leighton



Summary:
The concubine Ránača, despairing over her dead family and status, agonizes when Mother Volhuxa, oldest of Master Hergesto's bed-slaves, informs her that they will be sent out of the main house to live with the other slaves. Ránača fears what this will mean--and wonders whether she wants to live at all.

Review:
Over the past years that I've done reviews on this blog I've read several stories by Leighton.  In this particular piece I couldn't help but notice how much the author's writing voice has matured.  The characters are deeper and the story concept more powerful.

As with past works, however, my main issue with Leighton's work is the grandiose idea crammed into the confines of a short story.  While this story definitely feels more streamlined than others (fewer characters, more direct plot), it goes on just a little too long.  It's a short story, not a novel.

But it doesn't change the fact that this is a very enjoyable read.  The loose fantasy style makes for a nice backdrop for what is, essentially, a nod to America's slave history.  But don't let the fantasy elements fool you.  This story is more geared toward the history buff than the LARPing expert.  Still, it's worth picking up a copy.

3.5/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez

Buy this story on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Letting the Characters Speak

I'm terrified of rambling in stories.  Of all my pet peeves when reading, I think rambling ranks #1 or close to.  I hate it.  The long, drawn-out descriptions of nature or yet another conversation on why the hero and heroine can't be together... snooze fest.

But I think this fear of rambling has held me back in some ways.  In an effort to ensure the plot constantly moves forward I sometimes cut things a little too short.  Some description is a good thing and is possibly one of the most powerful tools a writer can use to affect the pace of their plot.

So I've been trying a new tactic lately.  I've been trying to let the characters unfold.  I figure I've been so anti-rambling that I could probably swing pretty far in the other direction and still be safe from falling into the rambling trap.

It's easier said than done.  Other than just jotting down basic, basic ideas for plot direction, I've stopped outlining.  I found that when I outline I adhered to the notes a little too strictly (I'm a very linear person).  So once I covered all the basic points I wanted to cover in the chapter I would think, "Well, that chapter is done, on to the next!"

Now I'm trying to let the characters tell me when the chapter should end.  By not sticking to a strict plan they can react much more naturally.  I find I end up surprised by what's happening.  My chapter notes used to be something like:

-have hero return
-space ship broken down
-heroine is happy to see him again
-they still don't have enough money for repairs

Now that there's no outline all sorts of strange things start to happen to the story. The heroine will break down crying just because it seemed like the thing she would do at the time.  I'm not an especially weepy person so it's not something I would have ever considered adding to said outline.  If she was unhappy she would have probably gotten into a fight with the hero over their broken space ship.  But nope.  There she is.  Crying.  What does the hero do about it?

It's both liberating and terrifying letting the characters speak.  I now realize that the author really doesn't have as much control of their stories as they'd like to think.  You can come up with the ideas but you give the ideas life by writing them down there's no telling what will happen next.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Review of "Unyielding," short story by Shane Ward


Summary:
A battle for right, a battle for a child. One ship, two enforcers with a conflict of interest.

Review:
This story wasn't really a short story in concept.  Ward presents us with the intriguing but grandiose of a ship full of humans traveling to what will be the next Earth.  Because it takes hundreds of years the occupants have formed mini economies, caste systems and, naturally, must have strict controls on how many babies get born.

Interesting, right?  Is this a short story idea?  Ehhh....

There's just too much going on.  Which isn't necessarily a bad thing when you have the luxury to add layers and layers of depth to a story.  Short stories don't have room for such luxuries.  The concept presented must be simple.

I don't dish this judgement out very often but: it needs to be way longer.  I wanted the time to really hate the bad guy.   I needed to fear him before he even attacked the hero's wife.  Not oh here's the bad guy and he's done bad stuff and now he's after the hero's wife.

So overall it's a good concept that needs to be explored more fully.

3/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez 

Buy this story on Amazon.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Writing Every Day Continued

I realize that in creating this post it will start to sound a bit like the journaled ravings of a woman that writes her way into madness.  But it can't be helped.

I'm now making headway on the first work I've started completely from scratch since the newly established writing every day goal.  On our last episode I was writing every day and finishing up a work I already started and outlined.

I'm not a huge fan of extremely detailed outlines as I think it sucks the fun out of writing and is unnecessary for shorter works.  But I did recognize the necessity of organizing my thoughts and staying on track.  So pre-writing-every-day I would jot down major plot point that I wanted to occur in each chapter.

And this worked quite well when I was on my Monday, Wednesday, Friday schedule.  With basically 48+ hours between writing sessions I needed those little reminders when I sat down at the computer to get me back into the zone.  Subtle points that I wanted to bring up more than once as the story unfolded would otherwise be lost.

Now in this new writing every day era the outline was the first thing to go.  And what's strange is that it wasn't even a conscious decision.  In the past I would start a story to see where it was going and then make an outline after the first two chapters or so to map out the rest of it.  I'm about halfway through this new work and it just occurred to me that I neither have an outline nor do I need one.

The lack of organization seems like it would be unnerving but it's really not.  The act of putting words on a page every day keeps the story constantly fresh in my mind.  I never lose the zone because I'm always in it.  Consequently my characters are becoming more real to me.  For lack of a better way to phrase this, writing a story is becoming more like describing friends and less like a detached scenario I put my Sims through.

It's unclear to me if these psychological changes are actually improving the quality of my writing or not.  I suppose time and reader feedback will answer that one.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Review of "Cold," short story by Martin Pond



Summary:
No workplace relationships (they get messy). And no relationships with married men (they get messy too). Lisa broke both these rules when she met Daniel. But when their affair ends, and Lisa realises she cannot get him back, she decides to get even instead, and exacts her revenge in a series of acts that start small but quickly escalate. And as the old saying goes, revenge is a dish best served... cold.

Review:
A compellingly told story marred by unlikeable characters.  But let me be clear: In general, I like the antihero types.  I think they actually end up being more interesting and complex than your regular ol' hero.  But in order to get into this type of character you have to be completely immersed in their twisted minds.

We watch as Lisa, our protagonist, changes from a semi-normal woman to bordering stalker.  But that was my problem.  She never really made it past bordering.  A plot like this can't play it safe.  What makes this type of story chilling is watching a sane protagonist make choices that are seemingly logical but really just drive them further and further toward crazy.

Lisa never went full blown crazy.  At best she was spiteful and jealous with a hint of crazy to come.  So all we're left with is a spiteful woman in love with a womanizing boss who's married to an ice queen.  Am I supposed to feel sorry for any of these people?  Even the wife who's being cheated on is a completely unlikeable person.  

So, as I said before, the story was compelling.  The writing was such that it kept me interested until the bitter end.  I just didn't care enough about the fate of the characters when they met said bitter end.

3/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez 

Buy this story on Amazon.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Writing Every Day

So I've been reading Stephan King's "On Writing."  It's one of those books that every author needs to have read at least once.  The book is an autobiography of sorts mixed with writing advice.

In general I find the writing insufferable.  The entire work seems to drip with pompous self-assurance which, given the man's achievements, I don't entirely blame him for it's just annoying to read.  I just can't help but shake the feeling that he only issues the advice that he does because he's so successful.  Like it would have been interesting to me to read an autobiography by a young King and compare it to the style of established King.

But despite the moments of teeth grinding, there are quite a few gems littered around the book.  Sometimes you have to dig for them, but they're there.  In retrospect, I will probably be going back to reread the book.  It's the type of work that you'll just get different things out of at different times of your writing career.

After my first read through the one thing that really stuck with me is his advice about writing schedules.   It's only a tiny little section compared to the rest of the book but for some reason is just struck me as being really relevant to what I'm going through now as a writer.

About a year ago, I decided to make writing a side business.  A short phone call to my accountant, a few minor changes to Quickbooks and I was ready to go.  Psychologically it was a big deal for me even if the reality was not.  I had switched gears in my head from writing when the spirit moves to writing on a schedule.

And I'm proud to say I've done pretty darn well following my writing schedule.  At first I was worried that it would stifle the creative juices but it has, in fact, increased them.  It also made my publishing output more consistent which has led to a slow (read: slooooooooooooow) but steady increase in writing income.

So then I read this book by this King fellow and he says, "write every day."  At first I scoffed at this.  Writing, though a now serious side business for me, is not my main job.  I teach 5 billion children a day and Stephan King has nothing but time on his hands to write until his fingers bleed.

Then he states his reason.  He says it keeps the characters alive in his mind.

This was enough to make me pause.  Even though it's not my job I'm serious enough about writing to have a strong desire to improve my craft.  And even though I had done (in my mind) an exemplary job sticking to my schedule, I had noticed that some days it took a while to get into a writing flow.  Especially between Friday and Monday (two days of non-writing in between).

So I thought, "what the heck?"  I don't have to have enormous word count goals every day.  On Saturday and Sunday, for example, it would be easy enough to jot down another 100 words.  The goal was just to write every day, no matter how much, and see what happened.

I'm now kicking myself for not doing this sooner.

Not only has my weekly word count doubled but the actual act of putting words on a page is becoming effortless (who knows if the words are good or not).   I no longer have that glazed Monday look as I try to yank an action scene out of my coffee-fuzzed brain.  My brain is still coffee-fuzzed but because I just worked on the scene the day before, the story flow is still fresh.  Before it used to take me almost my entire allotted writing hour to meet my word count goal since the starts were slow.  Now I find I'm completing the goal is half the time and still have enough momentum to keep going.

The moral to this story: King was right, damn the man!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Review of "Fallen Leaves," short story by Rachel Elizabeth Cole



Summary:
For as long as fifteen-year-old Grace Sather can remember, her great-grandmother has hated her mother. And now Mom wants Gran to move in with them. But before Mom can talk Gran into it, Gran has a bad fall and winds up in the hospital. Now a long buried secret is about to emerge. A secret that could shake the family to its very core.

Review:
This story is good but for some reason left me dissatisfied.  The result was that I had to think about it for a few days before writing this review which is a quality I do appreciate in a short story.  I like having to digest a plot.

While the plot is from the point of view of a fifteen-year-old, it is mostly focused on the mother figure.  Grace is watching her mom react to the grandmother.  The point of view choice was excellent given the plot content.  It was just enough to make the details vague.  Grace is as in the dark as the reader so you want to keep reading to find out what the bad blood was between the mother and grandmother.

The horrible secret is revealed (you'll have to read to find out) and suffice to say you realize that the story is really about the mother coming to terms with a terrible past mistake.  She's trying to make her peace with God.

The story concludes with the implication that she has come to terms with her actions.  And it was this aspect of the story that really left me feeling unsatisfied.  After some mulling I realized it was because there was nothing to indicate why she felt at peace.  The grandmother personified the mom's guilt (hence the bad blood) but was not the source.  Therefore, I wasn't sure why taking the grandmother out of the picture cured the mom's guilty conscious?

It's hard to say.  I don't mind dangling endings but I do have a problem if they leave too many question marks.  Either way, it's a good story with excellent characterization and well worth picking up a copy.  

3.5/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez 

Buy this story on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Writing is Just So Sutble

I find the lack of measurable progress in writing to be frustrating.

Let me explain: I'm a professional musician.  I also have a variety of hobbies that range from disc golf to beer making to archery.  In pretty much every area except for writing, there are clear markers to tell you if you're improving or not.

Can you play the hard section that old piece more easily?  What was your score at the end of 18 holes of golf?  Did that batch of beer taste better than the last batch?

Measurable progress.

If you make a stout three times and each time it tastes better, you know you're doing something right.  If your violin is making fewer glass-shattering squeaks, you know you're on the right track.

Writing doesn't have any markers like that.  Sure, you find yourself more easily forming scenes or maybe your vocabulary has expanded or even your story lines more complex.  But does that necessarily mean you're a better writer?

This problem is further compounded by the fact that older works usually sell better in the ebook world.  They've been out for longer, more eyes have seen them and they've had more of a chance to trickle into the "customers also bought" sections on online bookstores.  So even if your latest stories are better crafted, your older stories are more successful.

So how do I know if I'm on the right track or not?

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

SFWG 2013 Flash Fiction Competition

Make it short and sweet! SFWG is looking forward to our 2013 Flash Fiction Competition!

Submission Guidelines:

  • Entries have a limit of 1,000 words. Stories beyond that will not be considered.
  • Stories may be previously published.
  • Any genre is accepted. The contest is about originality and depth of story given a limited number of words.
  • Entries will be accepted beginning on August 5, 2013.
  • Entry Deadline: September 2, 2013.
  • All submissions should be sent as a PDF attachment to shortfictionwriters@gmail.com with “SFWG Contest” as the subject.

We will announce the winners by October 7, 2013.

First Place: Will be featured on the SFWG Blog, announced on various forums and websites, included in a future Anthology (with your approval), given an SFWG logo and winner image that can be used on your book cover, receive 10,000 words of free beta reading from both Book Brouhaha and Short Fiction Spotlight Beta Reading services (20,000 words total).

Second Place: Will be featured on the SFWG Blog and announced on various forums and websites.

Third Place: Will be featured on the SFWG Blog and announced on various forums and websites.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Balancing Act

It's not easy balancing publishing me with author me.  Essentially, balancing what makes money with experimental stuff.  Starting a new series in a new genre is fun for the author me but it's always a risky decision.  You're stuck with the series until the end and if turns out to have low sales numbers, it's time wasted that could have been spent writing something that was more certain to make money.

But money isn't everything.  Even if the new series never sells, it's still valuable writing experience.  The more action scenes you write, the better you become at writing them.  Every word that is put on a page teaches you more about the craft of writing which, in turn, will actually make your books sell better.  Genre isn't everything.  It can attract your audience but it can't make them buy the rest of your work.  Your work has to sell your work.

To keep me from neglecting pen names and to keep my inner author and publisher happy, I finally broke down earlier this year and made myself a writing project schedule.  I thought it would really stifle the fun but I have to say that my writing life is vastly improved because of it.

For one thing, I'm no longer wasting brain space trying to plan out when I'll be writing which installment in a series.  For another, I no longer run the risk of going a year between pen name publications (one name was neglected for almost a year and a half).

It also helps me to alternate between profitable and non-profitable projects.  For me, profitable means the series is already selling well and/or I'm starting another series that continues off of one that's already selling well.  Non-profitable means I have no idea how the series will do and/or it's a story with a very niche audience and, therefore, will be slow to move copies.

So at any one time I have two series going.  I write book 2 of one series and instead of going straight on to book 3, I'll start work on book 2 of my other series.  This only works because I write short stories so the lag time between series installments is really only a few months.  I find this system keeps me from getting disheartened due to lack of earning while at the same time avoiding frustration from not getting to write a storyline I'm excited about.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Review of "Gnit-wit Gnipper and the Perilous Plague," short story by T.J. Lantz


Summary:
No matter how hard she tries life never seems to go quite right for Gnipper Tallhat, an eight-year-old Gnome determined to receive the recognition her intelligence deserves. This time, however, she's got it all figured out. Finally, her father will have to be proud of her accomplishments...provided he manages to live through them.

Thoughts:
I felt like this story completely missed the mark given the target audience.  There is one point I would like to make clear before I go on: Lantz can write.  This story was polished and read smoothly.  My issues are with the content and plot.

"Gnit-wit Gnipper" is a child's story.  My guess is that Lantz was trying to go for more of a Grimm's fairy tale approach rather than Disney.  There's a dark humor to the story which is not necessarily a bad thing if done correctly.

I'm a teacher and I work with children ages three through teenager on a daily basis.  I'm not one for talking down to children but I also understand that certain things need to be age appropriate.  For example, I am not sarcastic with my four year olds but with my seven and eight year olds I am because they get sarcasm.  

The humor is just a little too dark in this story and the vocabulary is just a little too mature.  Very few eight year olds are going to understand the phrase: "No, when it came to personal catastrophe Gnipper was a child prodigy."    

The plot is also disturbing.  Basically, Gnipper poisons her father with a serious plague, severely hurts him in the process and then almost kills him before she manages to figure out a cure.  There's really no sugar coating that one.  I mean the number one fear for most kids is the death or loss of their parents.  And this is supposed to be read to them before they go to bed? 

In short, I have no issues with Lantz's writing style.  But if you're a parent looking for a new book for your kid, I would definitely read through this story first and make a judgement call.

2.5/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez   

Buy this story on Amazon.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Flash Fiction Fumblings

Writing flash fiction is not easy.  So anyone who thinks they can just whip together a collection... think again.

I enjoy the writing process but in a different way from longer works.  When putting together a novelette, it's several sessions of just nonstop writing.  I set up the characters and the scenario and then it becomes a matter of putting as many words down as I can during my writing hours.

Flash fiction is not the same.  It requires more brooding.  More mulling.  Let's be honest: the resulting story may only be twenty words long.  So the words must be carefully chosen.  A flash fiction writing hour may involve a lot of staring out the window then turning to the computer and spend fifteen seconds writing down those twenty words it took me an hour to think about.

It's kind of creatively draining.  After putting together a flash collection I often find it a relief to switch to something longer.  Something more "brainless" (bad choice of words, but you get it).

It's a good writing exercise, though.  I would say the most important lesson I've learned from writing such short stories is how information is conveyed.  Like most n00b authors my early stories are littered with a lot of dialogue tags.

"What do you have there?" she asked coyly.

"Why it's nothing more than a banana in my pocket," he said with a wink.

"Are you sure?" she laughed.

I still add the dialogue tags but not not nearly as much as I used to.  It's a difficult lesson to learn because in order to take dialogue tags out you have to find a better way to convey the same emotion.  Flash fiction lets you explore that concept.  If your whole story is literally one conversation, everything about that conversation matters.  It's not something that can be buried in a chapter somewhere while you hope that other conversations turn out to be more impressive.


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Review of "True Equitation," short story by Caitlyn Santi



Summary:
Tuscany, Italy 1341.
Have you ever wondered who first turned dancing with horses into a dressage competition? Or maybe how the arena letters got their order? This short story is an enchanting ride through history to a time and place where most men considered themselves experts in all things, they were harsh riders and considered horses as merely tools of transportation. In this time when women working with horses was frowned upon by society, will one young woman teach the men a thing or two about about True Equitation?

Review:
Without a doubt Santi has considerable knowledge in the equestrian area.  However, the historical value of this short story seems to stop there.  Not only is it completely implausible that a woman publicly display herself in such a fashion but even more unrealistic is the fact that the knights (men) would create a competition with such loose contestant rules.

I get that it's supposed to have a fantasy feel.  But there are dozens of writing devices the author could have employed in order to tell the story in a more "realistic" fashion while still driving the same point home.  For example, why not pretend to be a man until the very end?  But to choose what was, essentially, the easiest way out told me the author's main interest was in the horse moves.

This story is riddled with grammatical error and indentation problems.  Grammar I can gloss over but indentation issues made the dialogue difficult to follow.  At several points a whole conversation between multiple characters was had in a single paragraph.

There is value in this work in that I did learn something about historical horse treatment and practices.  I think with some polish, this could actually be the first in an interesting short story series.  As it stands right now, however, the cons outweigh the pros.

2/5 stars
Review by Alain Gomez

Buy this story on Amazon.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

An Unexpected Lesson from Publishing Short Stories

I may not be making a million bucks from writing them but one nice thing about being a short story author is the freedom to publish constantly.  You're not trudging through an epic 150,000 word fantasy for years.  You can write a 25,000 word fantasy, publish and be done with it.  Still on a fantasy kick?  Right more.  Bored of fantasy?  Try a different genre.

This publishing flexibility suits me.  It also helps me to stave off writer's block.  When I publish too many stories of the same genre I start to feel like they're all turning out the same.  A formula rut as it were.

But what I didn't expect was that branching out in genre also taught me a lot about the business of publishing.  I started to see that certain genres really do sell better than others just because of subject material alone.  Certain genres simply have a bigger audience.  But with a bigger audience also comes more competition.

Seeing certain stories take off under a brand new pen name just because it falls under a certain genre was very much an eye opening experience for me.  I think that's when I became a publisher.  Sure, call it selling out.  But I do care about making some money from my writing.  It's not the reason I write but it's the reason why I stay on a strict writing schedule.

Believe it or not, being a publisher has just as much of a learning curve as writing.  It takes time figuring out what sells and what doesn't.  Followed by what makes something sell and what doesn't.  And then trying to find that happy medium of writing vs. promoting.

It's interesting work.  While I may be slacking in the promotions department, I have been very particular about watching which series are doing well.  If it starts to gain traction, I spend more time producing more stories with a similar vibe.  I've only really spent a year monitoring sales as it relates to genre but I image, just like writing, the more I work at it the easier it will become.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

"Parking Space" by Alain Gomez

“This place makes absolutely no sense.”

“Tell me about it. And I have no idea who we could even talk to for directions.”

“Pull our options up on the screen. We need to figure out who would be the best representative.”

“Just a moment… hmm… all right here’s a complete list… I think.”

“What about Russia? They seem to have the most land.”

“But not the most people.”

“Good point. Why do they need so much land then?”

“Beats me.”

“Ok it looks like this place called China has the most people and the biggest military.”

“But not the most militaristic. Look at this number here. Korea has fewer people but more of those people are signed up to be soldiers.”

“Is that important?”

“Maybe? This species is always always fighting. Maybe we need to find the best warrior among them?”

“That sort of makes sense. However, they must not be very good warriors. Not one of them has managed to conquer the entire planet. Earth isn’t that big.”

“Fairly small, actually. Do you remember Germok the Great? His reign ended… I dunno… three centuries ago or so?”

“Haha! I do! Now that was a warrior the humans could learn a few tricks from. Eight planets in eight days!”

“The natives didn’t even have a chance… Okay, forget looking for a warrior. These humans can’t even get that right. What about the most successful?”

“I’m not sure that’s the answer either. No one government seems to be all-powerful. They all owe currency to each other. Plus, they all have different government structures and they all have problems.”

“Why would they all owe currency to each other? Wouldn’t that logically mean they’re not in debt? These humans have a strange notion of success. Perhaps the oldest government then is the most successful?”

“Maybe… hmm… no, according to this list, Earth’s oldest governments don’t seem to be any better off than the others.”

“Ugh. Forget it then. Let’s move on to the next planet.”

“But the technology we were going to share would change the course of their history!”

“That may be but this species wouldn’t know what to do with it even if we gave them step-by-step instructions. We’ll come back in another century. Maybe then they’ll have organized this mess.”

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Review of "Circe's Pool," short story by Pen Clements



Summary:
The water nymphs love their crystal pavilion and the sparkling waters flowing through it. So much so they can't be bothered to fulfill their bargain with Circe, the island's sorceress.

It's time the pleasure seeking, comfort loving creatures are taught a lesson. And who better than a sorceress to give it to them?

Review:
I liked the idea behind this piece.  One really cool thing about the dawn of ebooks is that authors now how the freedom to bring back the fairy tale.  I love fairy tales.  I purposely seek them out to read and have delved into some of the lesser-known fair tale writers (Oscar Wilde, for example, has a whole collection).

It's difficult to really define what separates a fairy tale from just a regular fantasy story.  For me, one big thing is the moral/life lesson undercurrent.  "Circe's Pool" definitely has that feel.  The nymphs are lazy and must be taught a lesson.

However, the lesson they learn was just a little too tepid.  In fairy tales it's completely permissible for the bad to end really bad and for the good to have an over-the top happily-ever-after.  I feel like Clements could have done more of that.  If a morality point is going to be driven home I not only need to know what happens if I'm productive and open-minded, I also need to know what happens if I can't learn my lesson.

3/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez
Buy this story on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Theory: Use separate pen names for short stories

I am a short story writer.  I'm also something of an anomaly in that I exclusively write short fiction.  No novels for me just yet.  I'm having too much fun with the short stuff.  But you know what I was thinking?  IF (big if) I did attempt a novel, I would probably write it under a completely different pen name.

Why?

Two facts come to mind:

1)  Novels sell better than short stories.  They just do.  They're more mainstream and, frankly, there are more people out there that want to curl up and be lost in a book for hours than there are people who want to savor and contemplate.

2)  A large part of a short story writer's success is branding and expectations.  People go IN to an Edgar Allen Poe story expecting it to be shorter.

It's impossible for a short story writer to completely avoid those scathing "too short" 1-star reviews.  They happen.  But the reason why they happen is because of reader expectations.  The buyer wanted a long book, they got a short story.  1 star.

I see many authors sell a mix of short stories and novels.  Even famous ones do this.  But I'm not sure this is a smart business move.  Put all the description and page count numbers you want, if your fans became a fan because of novels, there is a good chance they will be disappointed by a short story.  People can't help it.  They want more of the same.  They don't want a sappy, romantic Clive Cussler.  They want action-packed Clive Cussler.

When someone buys one of my novelettes and then a few days later buys the rest of the stories in the series, I know I don't have to worry about getting "too short" reviews.  They've already read book 1 and they want more of the same.  Therefore, if I put more novelettes out under that same name, people learn to associate that with this author they are getting this length of a reading experience.  Reader expectations have been made.

Which is why I would probably start a new pen name for any future novels.  I want a clean set of expectations.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Review of "My Mother's Shadow," a single short story in a collection by M. Eigh



Summary:
This collection packs eight exquisite short fiction from M. Eigh, including Bitter Tea and Braided Hair, My Mother's Shadow, Oscar’s Extraordinary Life, Planned, Dear Teresa, The Manchurian Express, A Eulogy for Edwin Bogardus, Not A Bad Day and Double Sauté.

All of the stories have been previously published by very selective professional or semi-professional literary magazines and some of them have been re-printed since their first publication.

Review:
A truly beautiful piece of short fiction.  What it lacks in action it makes up for in literary depth.  There are a lot of layers to this story, each interesting enough to mull over for some time.

I was impressed with how easily M. Eigh introduces his racist world.  In just a few short paragraphs that contain no blatant description you understand the conflict and empathize with the characters.  I appreciated the symbolic use of shadows.  It was a clever literary reference to other literary references.  

I only wish there was a little more emotion attached to the mother.  This story is told from the point of view of a young child.  But I felt these innocent emotions could have been more balanced.  I was sympathetic with the mother's cause more than the mother herself.

All in all, though, an excellent piece.  This collect is well worth picking up if you're in the mood for a bit of literary fiction to read with a glass of nice wine.

4/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez

Buy this collection on Amazon.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

No Escaping Destiny

I really don't know what I would do with myself if I didn't have my writing.  It's like there was no escaping it.  The creature had to be made.



I had this weird reflective moment a couple days ago.  I started thinking about my younger, elementary-aged self and then compared it to what I am doing right now as an adult.  I have to say, I would never have called it.  Just about the last thing I wanted to do was teach the violin.

I should have known better than to jinx myself.  Now in retrospect I can't think of anything else I would rather be doing that teaching music.  The pieces just all seemed to fit together.

The thing is with private teaching is that most of your work happens in the after school/work hours.  Aside from a handful of homeschoolers and adult students, I mostly have the morning and early afternoon free.  Which is nice.  It's when I make the time to exercise or run errands.

It's also when I write.  I've always had an interest in writing but as soon as I learned about e-publishing the whole thing became "real" to me (for lack of a better way to phrase that).  It became a challenge.  I don't care how many copies I sell but just the sheer act of publishing pushes me to improve my craft.  Sort of like doing a concert in front of the public.

Teaching challenges me as well but it's different.  It's more draining.  You're constantly having to motivate others to do better.  It's a lot of your energy going out.  Writing balances that out for me.  Outside factors give inspiration and motivation.  So it's outside energy going in.

This weird reflective moment continued and I realized that I don't know what I would do with myself if I didn't have my writing.  For me the writing and the teaching are a perfect balance.  Yin and Yang.  If I only taught students all the time I would probably burn myself out and do god knows only what in the afternoon (obsess over emails?).

It was only by chance that I happened to see an advertisement for e-publishing.  And I just so happened to stumble across it in the early stages of my teaching career which allowed the two jobs have grown up and intertwined with each other.

I don't make as much writing as I do teaching but that doesn't matter.  Emotionally, it's necessary.


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Review of "Asha," short story by Kevis Hendrickson



Summary:
Asha is a 15-year old girl with the soul of a demon. She plans to wage war against heaven and hell using humanity as her main weapon. Asha begins the epic tale of the revenge of the dark goddess of demons!

Review:
I've read quite a few works by Hendrickson and this story certainly speaks for his ability to present interesting story lines move along at a nice clip.  I liked the protagonist.  She was an intriguing juxtaposition of human emotions and demon knowledge. 

And yet it's because I liked her that I found myself a little frustrated with the story.  I wanted to know more about her motives but all dialogue explanation remained frustratingly vague.  I learned more about the plot reading the summary than I did reading the story.  At no point in the story does Asha explain that she wants to wage a war or that humans will play an integral part in this war.  I don't expect an in-depth outline but I do need enough to put some of the pieces together.

But other than this the story is actually really, really good.  It's frustrating because it is good and as the reader I want to know what all that buildup was leading toward.  

Reviewed by Alain Gomez
3.5/5 stars

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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

And the Summer Slump Sets In

So it had to happen at some point.  It always does.  Book selling is cruel like that.  The very moment you start to think "Wow! My sales are really doing well!  At this rate I'll be buying that private island I've had my eye on in no time!"

Then the Summer season sets in.

But there's no need to panic.  Really.  It's just a cold reminder of what actually happens in your own life.  The weather is nice... you have some time off... you're on vacation... you're not reading...

Wait?  Not reading?  Oh yeah, I guess I'm not really. At least not as much as I do during the winter when the sun sets at 4:00pm and there's no reason to be outside.

But it doesn't change the sting of seeing your sales numbers drop like a rock to the bottom of the sales rank ocean.  This too shall pass.  Just keep publishing.  Avoid hitting the refresh button on your KDP window.  And know that places like Amazon are not broken.  They are simply going through the natural cycle of money-making life.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Review of "Born Again," a short story by P.J. Lincoln



Summary:
Beth Tanner has a secret. It's one she's kept from her husband, Jackson, for more than a decade of marriage. Now, a chance encounter with a device that allows your past to be viewed in full detail, Beth Tanner must confront her long ago transgressions.

Beth lives an ideal soccer-mom suburban lifestyle. It's a life she's grown accustomed to and she doesn't want to give it up. But Jackson needs to know the truth and that world she treasurers so much could be taken away.

Review:
A short piece with a quick, engaging plot that somehow feels lacking in the end.  Lincoln has some writing skills, no question there.  The opening scene to the story is quite good.  He immediately manages to create sympathetic characters with only a few short paragraphs.  Beth and Jackson are having the type of conversation that almost any person that has been in a long-term relationship could relate to.

The mysterious salesman and "life-sync" device piques your interest.  How does it work?  If I were in the same situation would I use it?  Would I want to use it?  You know, the classic Star Trek questions that make starship captains blatantly ignore the Prime Directive.

Thanks to the device, Beth's secret is blown and her dark past uncovered.  And that's when the story just sort of leaves you hanging.  There are too many questions, too many unknowns, and just not enough emotional resolution.  Yes, it's implied that things could be worked out between her and her husband.  But the decision seems to be reached with little more than a gasp of shock and a loving hug.

I don't necessarily think the story needs to be longer.  As a short story writer/reader, I don't always feel that more words is the solution to everything.  The conclusion to this story had the potential to be either touching or humorous.  Unfortunately neither really happened which produced a "meh" reaction.

All in all it's not a bad read.  The concept was good and I think Lincoln has some real raw talent showing through.  

3/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez

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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Food for Thought

My dad, being the engineer that he is, always says that 5% or more is statistically significant.  So does it solidify my nerdiness if I said that more than 5% of my Netflix recommendations are documentaries?

What?  I like National Geographic!  And it's only a matter of time before Nova actually catches the Loch Ness monster on film.  What's really pathetic is I get hooked on these things late at night.

So the latest installment was "Jiro Dreams of Sushi."  If you haven't see it, go watch it now.  It's on Netflix instant watch.  It's about one of the world's best sushi chefs.  He runs a restaurant that has ten seats and his sushi starts at $300 a plate.  Crazy right?  But everyone who eats at his place says it's totally worth the money.  Customers have to book their spot a month in advance.

What's really interesting about the documentary is Jiro himself.  They talk a little about what goes into his sushi making but most of the film is about his work philosophies.  The man is completely focused on always bettering himself.  Here's a guy that is arguably top in his field and yet he is always striving for more.  This or that adjustment to make the flavor that much better.

It's just really refreshing to watch.  He doesn't care about being the best.  The man has ambition for his craft alone.  And what it really teaches you is to take pride in your work.  If you make a mistake, who cares?  It's just part of the learning process.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Review of "Mandy Marries a Muslim," short story by Aliya Anjum



Summary:
Mandy 22, breaks the news to her mother that a Muslim from Pakistan has asked her to marry him. Carol, 46, is a strong Baptist woman who has raised Mandy by herself, after her husband's untimely death. She is dead against the idea of her only daughter marrying a Muzlim man. She tells Mandy to stay away from those terrorist Muzlims. Zafar's family also opposes the match, since his mother had already chosen a bride for him in Pakistan.

Mandy and Zafar met during college in her home state of Texas, where he had come to study from Pakistan. The two get married, ignoring their families protests.

When both set of parents meet for the first time, it leads to surprising discoveries for everyone.

Review:
This is the second story I have reviewed for this author.  Both times I read her work I was left with a feeling that the story was unpolished and and possibly unfinished.

Anjum's clear strength as an author is presenting compelling protagonist concepts.  For example, in this story we have Mandy, a Baptist, who is in love with Zafar, a Muslim.  Both families are, of course, against the match due to stereotypes and misconceptions they have formed about each others' cultures.  So it's kind of a modern-day Romeo and Juliet.  Interesting, right?

So there's this set up that's ripe for conflict and emotional exploration but none of that really happens.  Every single barrier is surpassed a little too easily which makes it feel like there's no character development even though you know that's not what the author wanted to come across.  Anjum frequently throws in lines to announce large passages of time ("four months went by") and I couldn't help but feel like she missed out on some prime opportunities to play up the distress Mandy and Zafar feel over their families not getting along.

There are significant grammatical errors in the story and the redeeming factors being the potential for extremely charming characters.  And what's frustrating is that a story like this is the kind that needs to be told because there's a powerful message underneath.  

2.5/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez

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