Advice on Writing and a YTD Self-Assessment, in Honor of NaNoWriMo

Writing Fuel

Sugar: Breakfast, lunch, and dinner of writing champions everywhere. (!Eek!)

It’s Friday. You know that that means. Time to retreat into your shell and hope school is back in session soon. Er, no. I mean, time to pile up those leaves and disappear into their crunchy kingdom–forever! [Insert Vincent Price “Thriller” laughter here, as appropriate.]

Only kidding.

In honor of NaNoWriMo, Six Word Memoirs/SMITH magazine (no relation) held an “advice on writing” 6-word special that ended, oh, about an hour ago.

But there’s absolutely no reason the party show that is freelance writing shouldn’t go on. Perpetually. (Thank you for the memories, Mr. Bulsara/Mercury.)

I penned some writing advice earlier in the week. See what you think; share your own; laugh; enjoy. Repeat tomorrow.

1. Sit down, shut mouth, shine on.
2. Sit down, shut off, shine down.
3. Shut mouth. Open mind. Listen. Write.
4. The 3 R’s: Re-Create, Revise, Re-Submit.
5. Reduce adjectives, repurpose words, recycle mind-matter.
6. Plant butt. Cultivate creativity. Repeat daily.
7. Live. Love. Laugh. Think. Sit. Write.


And now, for something not so completely different. A brief YTD note/assessment on the state of my writing endeavors, in case you’re curious. This way, you can see I’m entirely worthy of dispensing said writing advice (snark mode engaged).

Anyway, just this year, I started keeping an Excel file so that I could see submissions in an orderly fashion, as well as the results. It appeals to the “statistician” inside my noggin.

Yearly Manuscript Run-Down

  • Writing submissions (includes anthologies, contests, and magazines; some print, some online, some both; includes many genres, but usually either literary fiction or speculative fiction): YEAR-TO-DATE, from March 2015 through November 6, 2015: 25 submissions
  • REJECTIONS (or, how I learned to stop worrying and just love the times I bomb): 18
  • OUTSTANDING MSS: Keep in mind that a few of these were submitted in the last week: 7
  • UNKNOWN: A subnote. One of the 7 outstanding manuscripts, I’m not sure if I’ll ever hear back from, as the publisher seems to be defunct (although I’ve never seen it as such on Duotrope).

I could break down the rejections further. There have been a handful that have offered some critique to me other than the catch-all “does not fit what we are looking for.” But I think it’s fruitful to look back on these things as we drive forward, regardless of whether we’re involved in NaNoWriMo or not. (This year, I have opted out of the festivities, as it were.) Not as a discouragement kind of thing, but rather an honest self-assessment and noticing any areas that are in obvious need of improvement.

But that’s my spiel. What about y’all: any writing advice? Doing NaNoWriMo? Enjoying your November? But, most crucially, if you’re him and he’s him and he’s him and you’re him, am I still me . . . and is anyone eating this chicken? :)

Mostly Wordless Wednesday: The Shimmering Web

The ShimmeringHope you all enjoyed the “conclusion” of October. Onward, for us, to a fog- and moisture-filled November. I wonder if this spider’s sparkly necklace and curtain of fog bode loads of snow-des for winter!

Speaking of rain, blogger Mark “The Gad About Town” Aldrich has a cool post about that  je ne sais quois smell of apres-rain.

Day 6.66 of Thrilling Fiction: The Deranged Boy-Next-Door

turkey vulture

Wow! These guys use vomiting as a defense mechanism! Turkey vulture, orig on flickr by user 20100130_9554 Dori. From Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

Okay, so I skipped a day; my apologies. So busy with Hallowe’en! Yesterday’s animal encounters included, I think, about 8-10 turkey vultures, which I thought, appropriately enough, were turkeys from a distance, enjoying the unfortunately bountiful roadside fruits of autumn. When I drove back by, I was going to attempt a quick photograph, but they had departed.

Anyway, onto literary things. It might sound ungrateful, but I sometimes lament that I live where I live (country and city), have the experiences I’ve had. I’d love to be able to write with authenticity about living in Bangladesh or Alaska or Mumbai or Hong Kong or Nigeria or, tilting that, in Middle Earth or Xanth or on board Babylon 5, or perhaps even a future real Earth.

However, today I’m going to embrace what I know (the wellspring of my limitations), just a little, if only to give me a counterpoint from which to swing around, slingshotting myself all over the place.

That’s the hope, anyway. As they say, keeping one’s eyes on the stars, even from the gutter.

An American Murder Story

*Some details changed to ensure anonymity.


I began at the beginning, like most.

Earliest micro-memories include sitting on an unknown knee of the man with thinning, gray hair, and in glasses. My paternal grandfather, I later found out, who died when I was about 2. Being hoisted to be carried above a green, tiled floor–at the mom’n’pop corner store my grandparents ran. Scooting around, dragging one foot for whatever reason, on that same floor in a circular contraption that I sat in and couldn’t get away from. Always on the move, even then.

Earliest macro-memories encompass mostly violence that I probably didn’t fully perceive as such. A volcano exploded. Some musical guy in glasses had been shot and killed. Then, later, the President was shot and almost died.

Meanwhile, Grandma’s partly outdoor cat brought us gifts sometimes. I saw a charred pile one day. It was sitting up on the second of two steps leading to the driveway. Investigating closer, I determined it was the insides of some small critter, the organs in a darksome heap. Another day, I had to laugh. The same kitty was being dive-bombed by a penduluming bird, most likely a robin or mockingbird, whose nest was threatened. Still again, the other cat (daughter cat and a domestic longhair) once brought home a snake.

I didn’t let the momma cat eat the hummingbird caught in the spider’s web on the porch screen, though. The underdog, or underbird as it were, always appealed to me.

In any case, I was hooked on being a watcher of nature, and I made my footprint marks all around the neighborhood, in trees, on top of massive rocks, down hillsides, up small ridges, and so on.

Near my grandparents’ place stood the perched-on-a-hill house of our neighbors, the Harts*. It had ‘stilts’ holding up a deck that was many feet from the ground. The lower yard could have been made into a small pond if they’d wanted. The property was flanked by a wooded area, and a line of small pines and brush ringed the front of the house facing one part of the road. To another side, lining the road shared with my grandparents’ and other houses, were the semi-strong trees that I climbed, one where I was “arrested” one night by a police officer with a very bright light.

This house on the hill was where my sometimes-friends, Casey and Kevin*, lived. They were grandchildren of the Harts and visited from out-of-state on an irregular basis.

Kevin, a year or two younger than I, had hair so shockingly blond, it appeared white. It was in the spikey, almost-mullet style of that era and place. His skin was in counterpoint, tanned but covered with fine white-blond hairs all year long. His sister, Casey, had long brown-blonde hair and the same skin, though tanned a lighter brown. I mention their skin colors, I think because it’s something I remember about them, as I try to cling to the factual details largely devoid of emotion. Kevin enjoyed motorcycles; Casey, a very pretty girl I’m sure would later have lots of boyfriends if she wanted to, didn’t mind tagging along with us on our traipses through the fields and creeks. I, quintessential nerd, with Coke-bottle-thick glasses acquired in kindergarten or first grade, and thin as a rail, with ‘war wounds’ all over my legs and arms of running through said fields and briar patches.

My desperately entrepreneurial parents received lots of catalogs in the mail in those days, and one day while Kevin and Casey were in town–it might have been summertime–we snuck to the unused car in the backyard, a model from my dad’s old business. We heaved open the door with a creak and got into its palatial black backseat.

Of what I remember, much hilarity ensued. There were all kinds of treasures in this particular sheaf of pages. It was only a mail-order catalog, but we delighted in laughing at the whoopie cushions, hand-buzzer contraptions, “naughty nurse” costumes, “dirty joke” books, fake dog poo, pretend severed arms, sneezing powders, and bubble gum in a packet that would snap your fingers when you reached inside. Perhaps it was pyrite for adults, but diamonds for babes.

It was Kevin who convinced me to practice kissing, at which I was  inexpert, in his dark and crowded basement that I dared not venture too far into. His grandma’s junk room, however, was a different story. Assorted delights lay there, including a tossed-aside book looking like a tent, by someone called Sidney Sheldon, with words foreign and unfathomable, though I sensed somehow risque.

Kevin and Casey visited our neighborhood (where the Harts lived) with their father, Jack. Some of Jack’s siblings still lived at home with Mr. and Mrs. Hart: a son, Larry, and a daughter, Susan. Two other brothers came and went, living somewhere outside the family home.

I barely knew either Larry or Susan, though she did once take the kids and I hiking nearby our house. On that excursion, I saw my first animal skeleton, probably a racoon or opposum, because it had a long snout, devoid of all flesh and fur, accidentally stumbling on it at the edge of a creek with a high wall next to it. Before I knew it, my toe had nudged the bleached bones tumbling into the rushing waters below that led soon to a small waterfall drop of about 15-feet or so. I don’t know if it’s real or manufactured, but I can still see the bones toppling in my mind’s eye. And from my mind’s toe, too.

Have you ever felt like something dark or foreboding was following you around, all your life? I never had the words for it, once upon those times, but now I do. I think of it as the death magnetic.

Fortunately and unfortunately, now I have words and concepts for lots of things I didn’t then.

For instance, kidnapped, raped, murdered, or serial killer.

About ten years ago, in talking with my parents and searching the Internet for information, I discovered that my former neighbor–Larry Hart–had been arrested with at least one other male accomplice. He had been tagged as a serial killer of women.

This man, whom I still have photographs of, smiling and posing with both of my grandparents on a verdant spring day, his red hair neatly combed and straight, he’s gripping my grandmother’s (a tall woman, 5’11 probably, and taller than him) shoulder tightly on the side as if he never wanted to let go. With my grandfather, he still smiled but the hug was a lot looser, the smile more forced.

“I’m glad his momma was dead by the time he went to prison,” my mother remarked of Larry.

I get a bit choked up thinking of his momma, Mrs. Hart. Although I’d never wish death on most people, especially not her, I guess I’m glad she didn’t have to experience seeing her son branded–and proven in multiple court appearances–as a serial killer either. As far as I know, and parts of me really want to un-know it, he still sits on death row today.

It is only in the writing of this realistic (but creative) nonfiction story that I’ve wondered and realized something: Did Larry watch his niece and nephew? Did he watch his sister, Susan? Did he see Kevin and I  (what we thought was secretly) kissing? Was he grooming his nephew or niece or was he himself being groomed by some unseen force or person? And, if so, whom?

That really bothers me, as it has lots of people and philosophers throughout human history. How to deal with this problem of evil, a term I hate, or hatred in the human species. And, insofar as meanness or lack of empathy exist, they lead to what seems to me as deaths-out-of-time. Stemming from intended or unintended consequences.

It all sounds rather fatalistic/deterministic as I write it, but, again, the idea of the death magnetic. My fresh epiphany, in writing and living, has been this: It’s not time’s winged chariot hurrying near at our backs. Fiat Lux-2aWe can think we have hold of the reins, driving the chariot, but, really, death or fate or time (whatever you want to call that force) is in control. It pulls us toward it, wholly at its will. Death is the chariot, the driver, the wheels, the horses, and the reins. We are immutable cargo.

In any case, my challenge, now, might be to not chafe or fight so strongly, but instead to learn to accept that, with utter calmness, clarity, and patience. Presuming I’m still blogging, I’ll let you know when–or if–that ever happens.

Day 6 of Thrilling Fiction: The Mutant in Microfiction

DragonEye Supermoon

Once upon a time one cloudy night . . .

Day 6 (Oct. 24 for me, though strangely not according to WordPress) has dawned and almost passed by. Here’s to crepuscular creative writing!

I had the good luck to rescue a huge turtle from the middle of the road today (safely, yay for us both!), as well as accomplish some Samhain shopping with ninja kid #1.

If only I could have invited those of you who enjoy breakfast for dinner to our dinner of homemade banana pancakes, crescent rolls stuffed with either spinach, cheese, tomato, and pepperoni or some variation on that theme, and pomegranate arils. Too bad the bread’s hidey-hole didn’t fool ninja #2 into eating his vegetables.

As to writing, I knew I wanted to do a story featuring neither the “real world” nor science fiction, but rather either something inanimate or something Other, probably in the “monster” realm. So, here you have it: very short and not so creepy today. Oh well. This microfiction story was based on a prompt I did a year or two ago, I think with me needing to use the words flammable, heroic, and caring.

Enjoy the respite from a longer story!

Her Mutant Mate

Caring. Heroic. The words circled three times and flopped down in Zia’s mind.

It was nothing of the sort. Instinctual, yes. Stoic, probably. Possibly even as cold as she imagined the moon’s surface to be.

Nevertheless, it was just what she did. Her chosen lot, for her love and her light: Nils.

He whimpered from his wheelchair. The slobber slid down the stubble-bordered crevices around his mouth, and she moved to blot them, knowing he’d probably twist his neck away—and yet, never be able to articulate exactly why.

She noticed that he wasn’t nearly as alert today. Each day leached more energy from him while also lashing her closer to his side.

Life is both flammable and fickle, she thought as she stroked him to sleep.

Especially when you’re mated—and as good as married—to an aging werewolf.

####THE END####

Day 5 of Thrilling Fiction: Of Dystopian Futures and Missing Pieces

Greetings, fellow Fridaylings! On my part, another week survived (I think), although I did have a fascinating chat-visit from a couple ladies with the Jehovah’s Witnesses this week. They were polite, but I didn’t realize that “the kingdom” was that nigh. Yeesh; I better start writing that book as I’ll be getting burned off the face of the Earth here shortly.

Anyway, to get on task, these five days have been like clearing a 50-inch hurdle for a 65-inch woman with the raw vertical jumping ability of, say, a Spanish slug. I am in utter awe and stupefaction how some bloggers are so prolific. For instance, poet Bob Okaji, with his 30/30 Project (from August) to benefit poetry publisher Tupelo Press (here). Then again, I follow several of you big-time bloggers who could nearly put Scheherazade to shame with your dedication.

In any case, back at the Frightful Fiction Ranch, today’s sacrificial offering: it’s a bit longish (sorry, I did, er, chop it down some, but it could use more now that I re-re-re-read it). Comments, critiques, patronage, Indulgences, loving hates, helloes, hems, haws, hollers, and haw-haws always taken into consideration. :)

Disarmed and Dangerously Perturbed

GENRE(S): Futuristic science fiction/dystopian, cli-fi

What can I say in my defense? I’m wired for sloppy, stupid humor. In fact, my therapist and I can’t help but giggle about my propensity toward the scatological—as in, “I should do this” and “I never should have done that.” Pretty soon, and I’m shoulding all over the place.

Anyway, there was this one extraordinary day at work. It started off a good day. I am a worker drone at . . . well, let’s just say an extraordinarily wealthy global prosthetics factory on the coast of Atlanta. We’ve been in the Fortune 50,000 ten months’ running. We’d just received a rush order from Guinea-Bissau for 22,500 specialized hybrid noses to assist with breathing in a drastically changed climate.

Prosthetic foot, circa 2015

Even here in the ‘dark ages’ of 2015, prosthetics are ultra-realistic and, to be serious, they provide a good service to human beings who need them. Wow, the detail by this company!

Now, before you picture lathes and fine-grit sandpaper and rabbets’ edges humping one another on work benches, I should explain. For the most part it was take your one productivity tablet in the morning, set the program running, and call me in the mid-afternoon. Sometimes I could even sneak off to the break room with the VR glove if I thought the bot was patrolling a different section of the building. Her routines were semi-predictable that way. You only had to have hands and arms—fingers especially if you boiled it right down to it—and a little training—to sustain in this line of work.

So, there I was. I swirled my index finger in the correct ZX pattern to unlock the tablet. The proprietary software, Hands-On, which I (and probably others) nicknamed Hans, kicked in, greeting me with an affected accent of some kind, “Hell-o, Mai-ster Bhandgaresheek,” bonking only on the Mister part. It didn’t give two damns whether I identified as a male or not. That is to say, its workforce diversity protocols were dusty. At best.

I began my day running a program to assist in nose-making. For all the silliness you could make of my profession, it was secure: there was no shortage of work, especially for countries affected by what the old-timers had called climate change or those afflicted with the persistent twin gonorrheas of war and hatred.

Mijj was looking over my shoulder a lot, which was to be expected. I was teaching her how to use the software so she could become a limb designer sometime in the next decade or two. Then I could retire at 92 like everybody else in the global economy. Yet I’d put enough away . . . hell, maybe even at 84 or so I could tell this place to sod off.

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Day 4 of Thrilling Fiction: The Tilted Trope

A little bit of slipstream, I guess you’d say, here on Day 4 of Thrilling Fiction. Perhaps a touch cosmic and Lovecraftian here, a bit “bad women” trope-y there, and yet eine kleine science fiction-y over there. But you be the judge. I put most of this story together today from a cutting room-floor scrap, on the fly as it were (ha!), so do let me know if you think this skirts too close to any of the boring old tropes.

The Wrong Half-Halictid

Julian was ecstatic.

Katie, his hot, honey-pot of a study-group partner for Women’s Studies class, had finally shared her number with him. Specifically, it was a “well, I suppose so” when he’d asked, but he would take that for an affirmative.

As far as the class, he’d only admit he was in it if forced to—such as, for a strategic advantage. It’s a bae-magnet class, he’d gladly brag to the bros he knew if he thought it would elevate him in their opinions.

They’d exchanged a few texts before he’d formally asked her to hang out, mostly of the “hi, watcha up to today?” variety. She texted she enjoyed reading mysteries and thrillers, volleyball, Sudoku, chemistry, and Romantic poetry by Keats and Shelley. She said she might pursue a degree in microbiology. Never having heard of the Romantics, Julian fibbed: “Luv me sum rmntk poems! Roses r rd, IM blue, I think ur sugar and I need u.” She thought that perhaps he was being satirical in a side-wink, in-the-know kind of way. Being curious about human nature, she said yes to the first date.

He was meeting her Tuesday afternoon outside the university garden entrance, where a stone worthy of Sisyphus’ struggles was tattooed by seventy-odd years of frat-fiti exhorting a pledge to this group or that. Then he figured they’d stroll over to the Eagle Grille and let the evening swell from there.

The die was cast.


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Day 3 of Thrilling Fiction: A Dark Fantasy Drabble

Well, perhaps only a smidge of a dark smudge, considering what follows is a drabble. This can serve as the 0.66 of the 6.66 days of Thrilling Fiction, can it not?

Of Humming Hearts and the Green Arts


I have all these photos of the Midwest, yet not one of a corn stalk. Or a dragon!

I’m surprised by how much they look like rootless extracted teeth. The Delworths gave me a couple handfuls to sow in the backyard, enough for three short, stubby rows in direct sun.

I hope they take.

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Is Paradise Regained? Find out in Jack Flacco’s New Zombie Novel

Ranger Martin and the Search for Paradise
What in me is dark
Illumin, what is low raise and support;
That to the highth of this great Argument
I may assert Eternal Providence,
And justifie the wayes of God to men.
–John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book 1 (1674 publication)

It’s been a long time since I’ve read my Milton, but I’ll say up-front that I recall no zombies in this English poet’s masterwork of blank verse, “Paradise Lost.”

Which is precisely where Jack Flacco’s latest zombification can come in handy. Ranger Martin and the Search for Paradise is the concluding book in Jack’s trilogy. It is also one that I hope those of you interested in speculative fiction writ large, or horror in micro terms, will consider buying. When you do, you can be pretty assured you’ll be supporting a self-publishing small-business owner, father, husband, and cool guy who likes to wax philosophical on his blog about everything from fierce female protagonists to hellacious heroes, vile villains, and freedom f(r)ighters of just about every stripe.

Paradise-hunter Ranger Martin and his motley crew of teens and other dogged dispatchers of the undead are now available through Amazon in ebook form for your Kindle or in paperback.

From what I understand, the novel begins in media res, at gut-level as it were, and will continue to gnash and gnaw its way through you as you travel amid the fast-paced narrative. But don’t take my word for it; Jack has amassed an expert team of reviewers who’ve given their critiques, connectable through the link here.

I can’t wait to read it, and what better time than October? Consider this book happily at the top of my beloved to-be-read pile. Better read than (un)dead, right?

Day 2 of Thrilling Stories: The Woman Wronged

Here we are at Day 2, almost midstream in 6.66 days of thrilling fiction. This is a more real-world story, perhaps with a touch of magic to it, with what I hope is an unusual set of protagonists. The dialect is a bit tricky; I hope it sounds authentic. I’ve worked on this story for years, and it’s better than it used to be. And yet . . . likely miles to go before I can happily lay my writerly head down to rest. Anyway, you be the judge. Simple revenge/comeuppance story or no? My apologies to Flannery O’Connor for borrowing her terrific title for today’s chilling tale.

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Welcome to 6.66 Days of Thrilling Fiction! Day 1: A Bit of Michael Myers Style Ultra-Violence

It’s Like a Pulp Magazine . . . But Not!

It’s Amazeous! Stupendillant! Brilling! W to-the-Ow!

It’s 6.66 days of Thrilling Fiction!!!!

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars. But in ourselves, that we are underlings.–Julius Caesar, by William Shakespeare

Hello. First, you all have my husband to thank (or condemn!) for spurring me to be bold with my writing creativity of late. That and a recent re-watching and -appraisal of some of the “Halloween” franchise movies.Halloween Series Wiki

This is my attempt at a longer fan-fiction piece, with tinges of horror, and, as such, inaugurates the 6.66 days of Thrilling Fiction I hope to bring you.

Any feedback is appreciated, as ever; especially on this one, as the movie timelines are conflicting at times. It does not even attempt to take into consideration any “Halloween”-centered novelizations or fan fiction, or, for that matter, any fan videos outside the purview of the several canonical movies with which most people are familiar.

So, anyway, without further ado, on this (fictional character and slasher-man, a.k.a. The Shape), Michael Myers’ 58th birthday: today is his story.

And tomorrow, another’s.

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