Category Archives: Writing

Entries where I talk about my writing: stories, novels, general creativity.

Just Some Random Ramblings of an Earthling

Cover of Carl Sagan's "Demon-Haunted World"
Should be an all-time bestseller, but isn’t.

Just for kicks, I’m re-reading Carl Sagan’s wonderful book, The Demon-Haunted World. I’m loving it, as I always have every time I’ve read it, which has been every couple of years or so.

One thing that struck me this time around is how much time and space he spends debunking alien abduction stories by putting them into a larger cultural/mythological context. I side with him on the issue: while hundreds of thousands people have reported being abducted by aliens, there is no physical, undeniable proof that it has actually happened. No mysterious “implants” have been analyzed by MIT or other reputable university and found to be made of alien metal, memory is fallible, and so on. But the alien abduction/UFO culture were tied up with conspiracy theories in the 90s involving the government; such conspiracy theories have fallen to the wayside in favor of modern antisemitism, racism, and the bonkers “Q” conspiracy theory, which encompasses them all. If Carl Sagan were around today, he’d be sickened, I’m sure, by what passes for the modern conservative movement.

Ahem.

So this year, for Earth Day, I committed myself to spending a year learning everything I can about this amazing, beautiful, endangered planet that we live on. I haven’t really started that yet because I’m still taking my MLIS degree seriously and thus taking classes for that, and it’s eating my time. But I am reading Sagan’s book, so I’m counting that as a step in the right direction. I’ll keep you all updated on what I learn, and I plan on updating my blog, The Penguin Scientific, with various facts and things.


In other news, my depression and anxiety have been kicking my butt recently, and have convinced me that I’m never going to get anywhere with my writing. I’ve talked back to it but it refuses to listen. Stupid brain. My brain and I are supposed to be on the same side, I don’t know why it won’t cooperate.

But I continue to persist with the writing and submitting anyway. I’m on track to submit 100 manuscripts for the second year in a row. Stats so far:

Submissions: 32

Rejections: 29

Waiting on: 8

I haven’t quite worked out how those numbers work out, but I’m not worrying about that.


That’s all for now. What are you learning?

More Piratical Talk

Blackbeard
Edward Teach, a.k.a., Blackbeard the Pirate. Looks friendly, doesn’t he?

A couple of years ago, I posted about the myth that pirates always said “Arr”. Today, I address another myth: that of walking the plank.

Many pirate adventures show us pirates forcing their prisoners to walk a plank out off the boat and into dangerous waters, presumably to drown or be eaten by sea anemones. We are always meant to understand that the plank came from the ship itself, leftover lumber that had gone into the building of the boat.

This cannot be true, though, since pirate ships were built from LOGS, not planks. It’s true! Examine any pirate ship from the Wydah to the Queen Anne’s Revenge to the Beauty (the one in my upcoming Pathfinder game), and you will see that the ship looks more like a log cabin than any naval or merchant vessel. I don’t know the specifics of how they kept these boats together in the oceans or prevented leaks, but the most important question is, Would I lie to you about this sort of thing? The answer is no.

Moving on.

After losing so much work on my writing last month, I decided to take a break from And the Devil Will Drag You Under, then decided not to take a break after consulting with Facebook and Twitter. Friends in both places pointed out to me that, given my frequent bouts of guilt surrounding my writing, I would regret not finishing that novel. And, so, I’m back at it. I’ve rewritten about half of what went missing, and am well on my way to recovering all of what I’d lost. I don’t know if I’ll finish the novel by my self-imposed May 12 deadline, but if I don’t, it won’t be for lack of trying.

I also started revising “Anamet”, a giant monster story, and I started pondering a new short story which does not yet have a title. Usually the title comes early on in the process of writing a story, but so far that hasn’t happened for this one.

Submissions Report:

As of today (April 4), I’ve submitted twenty-six stories in 2022, received twenty-two form rejections, and four personal rejections. Some of these rejections were for stories I’d submitted in 2021 that hadn’t gotten back to me before the new year, so I actually still have five pending submissions. In addition, I actually withdrew two submissions from markets that had held on to them for over three hundred days with no communication from them in spite of requests for updates.

Zero acceptances.

Ah well. Maybe someday.

 

Novels in Recovery

Mind = blown
Mind = Blown

No break-taking for me.

I put it out there on Facebook and Twitter, running a wee little poll asking whether I should get back into working on And the Devil Will Drag You Under, the novel I’d lost two months’ worth of work on (see previous post), or work on something new entirely, coming back to Devil at some point in the future. I’d had a couple of ideas for other things to work on, so I would certainly be busy.

Overwhelmingly, people advised that I should keep up with And the Devil Will Drag You Under, even if it means going back and re-revising the whole thing all over again to get back at the two months’ worth of work that I’d lost. A couple of people pointed out that if I didn’t go back to it, I’d regret it, and that’s probably true. I’ve been working on this novel for a couple of years now. Heck, more than a couple; I’d written part of the first draft for NaNoWriMo in 2017 (the last year that I really participated in NaNoWriMo), but I gave up on that until just before the pandemic hit, and started in on it from scratch. If I don’t finish it, I will be angry with myself for having yet another unfinished project. So… I’m committed. I’ll finish this novel of devils and demons and hapless humans in love, send it to my critique group, and continue revising it, all while working on other projects on the side.

My yet-to-be-named pirate trilogy will just have to wait.

My biggest problem in life in that I tend to regret those things that I don’t finish, and I wind up not finishing a lot of things. So I’m going to finish this novel.

My friends are wise.

 

The Heartbreak of Writing

The Jolly Roger from Peter Pan
Captain Hook’s ship, the Jolly Roger

Writing has plenty of heartbreak, and plenty of hazards. You may be speed-reading a text for research, then slam into a bookmark and go flying across the room. You may find that you’ve written yourself into a corner with your characters planning to do one thing, and you planning on them doing something else. You may end up in love with your main character, Pygmalion-style, and not know what to do with yourself.

Or, if you’re like me, you might suddenly lose two months’ worth of work on your novel.

For years now, I’ve been using a type of version control software called Subversion (usually meant to track software source code) to save backups of all of my desktop files, from stories to novels to homework, on my main Linux desktop as well as on my Windows laptop and my Dropbox account (I used to store a repository on my hosting company’s server too, but for some reason I stopped). This setup has served me very well for most of that time.

Until now.

Last night, I launched Scrivener and put in a few words on And the Devil Will Drag You Under for the first time in a couple of weeks (I’ve been busy with work and school), and then went to save my work. Then I used TortoiseSVN (a Windows version of the Subversion software) to add my new files and check them in to my “everything Richard has written” repository on my laptop. I got an error telling me that it couldn’t do the update because the files needed to be cleaned up or something. I ran the cleanup script, mindlessly checking all the options — which included deleting all “unversioned files”. And since I hadn’t actually committed any of my work to the repository for a couple of months (I know, that’s bad practice on my part), TortoiseSVN merrily deleted two months’ worth of work on that novel, representing approximately 10,000 words, two critical scenes, character sketches, and plot point outlines. I also lost some homework (fortunately I’d already turned it in), the latest version of my resume, and three short stories that I’d drafted earlier this year.

If I’d been saving my files properly, adding and committing them to the repository, or even just saving them on Dropbox regularly, this wouldn’t have happened, so really I have no one to blame but myself and my bad file management practices. I was able to recover some of the work because I upgraded my Dropbox account and now I have access to their “Rewind” feature, but I’m still out a lot of work.

The resume, homework, and short stories… Meh. They can all be found elsewhere or rewritten (honestly, the stories were begging for rewrites anyway), but the novel… Yeah, I’m bummed. I’m honestly not sure I have the energy right now to rewrite those critical scenes as well as the revisions to earlier chapters I’d done in order to make room for the scenes.

So, I’m going to take a break.

Not from writing. Heavens no. The last time I took a long break from writing I ended up a quivering mess on the floor, begging for a word processor or a Scrivener license. No, I’m just taking a break from Devil, and moving on to another project. I think I shall draft The X of Doom, the first novel in my vaguely-outlined pirate trilogy. I have characters, I know the name of the ship, I have plenty of notes and plenty of research material. I’m also planning on running a Pathfinder game which will act as a sort of prequel to the trilogy (though the Pathfinder game will likely feature more elves and whatnot than there actually were during the Golden Age of Piracy).

I’m happy I’m not on a deadline for And the Devil Will Drag You Under. That’s one of the joys of being a terminally unpublished writer: You can write whatever you want, whenever you want. There’s no contract stipulating that you must have the manuscript in by a certain date, and no language saying that you have to return your advance if you don’t finish the work at all. If I did have a publishing contract, I’d have to suck it up and get to work anyway. I’d ask the agent/editor/publisher for an extension to the deadline, and all that, and that could get messy.

I’m not happy that I’ve lost the work.

So off I go. I’ll read various books about piracy and the high seas, and go from there.

So how’s your day?

2022 so far…

Writer with dragon
Me, writing, under close supervision from a dragon

It’s February 1st. It’s the Lunar New Year, the Year of the Tiger, and it’s the first day of Black History Month. And so far, aside from Rupert dying, it’s been a decent year so far.

A writing update follows.

I’ve written 3.5 short stories (.5 because “Meep” will be a two-parter) so far, and I’ve managed to write 500 words per day for 29 days on And the Devil Will Drag You Under, which means I’m on track to finish this draft before I have to turn it in to my writing group on March 10. Go me! I also had a wee anxiety attack about my writing career, but I won’t go into that here.

My next writing project, after Devil, is to revise one of my oldest projects, The Solitude of the Tentacled Space Monster (formerly Fred Again). I’ve set myself a goal of June 9 for that one.

But I also want to work on my pirate novel, which is demanding to be a trilogy. It’s tentatively called The X of Doom, for various reasons, and I have titles for the second and third books in the trilogy, as well as paragraph-long outlines for them. I’ve done a lot of research about the so-called Golden Age of Piracy. Wikipedia has been  a good resource (all hail Wikipedia, as long as you don’t cite them as a source in your academic papers!), but I’ve also read some actual books. Here’s a pile of the ones I’ve gotten, that I’ve either read or will read:

Pile of Pirate Books

(Click to embiggen.)

A word about a couple of them. The Republic of Pirates, by Colin Woodard, is a brief history of piracy, focusing primarily on the so-called “pirate republic” in Nassau in the 1700s. This topic is fascinating, so I am glad to have found this book.

Fast Ships, Black Sails, edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, is a collection of modern pirate stories. That is to say, a story about pirates that have all been written recently, and not stories about modern pirates.

The bottom two books — The Pirate Ship 1660-1730 and The Visual Dictionary of Ships and Sailing — are just schematics of various ships and boats the pirates and others used throughout history.

School has also started! I had to record an actual introductory video of myself for the class I’m taking, and that was pretty stressful. Unfortunately, there’s going to be a lot of that happening in this class, which is about teaching information literacy in a library setting. Information literacy is something of a passion for me, so I’m looking forward to this class, despite my stage fright.

One last thing: If you know my writing at all through stories and novels I’ve written, how would you describe my writing style? What are the things I shine in? I’m curious, and would love to get some feedback. Feel free to send me an email or to comment on this post. Thanks!

Excelsior!

NEWS!

I just confirmed that the Autumn 2021 issue of Sci Fi Lampoon, which contains my short story “Arkham House Rules” is now available! Go forth and read this story about Great Old Ones playing Dungeons and Dragons!

SciFi Lampoon Cover

I’m thrilled because this is one of my favorite stories, and I’m happy that it’s found a good home.

Writing Goals for 2022

Writer with dragon
Me, writing, under close supervision from a dragon

Last year I submitted 100 manuscripts to various markets in fantasy, science fiction, and horror. This year I plan to do the same. I’ll collect more rejections, to be sure, but I’m certain there will be at least one acceptance.

Rejections, of course, are part and parcel of being a writer. 99.99% of writers experience rejections of their fiction (John Scalzi, who apparently has been paid for every piece of fiction that he’s written, is, of course, an outlier). Wise woman Mur Lafferty, however, points out that working writers always experience rejections, and it is, in fact, the mark of a working writer. That certainly helped me last year when I was collecting rejection letters left and right, and has helped inure me to the process. I have built up callouses. They still hurt, a little, but not nearly as much.

My other major writing goal for the year is to write a short story every week. I’ve done it before; in 2007/2008, I wrote or revised 53 short stories, and some of them were awfully good (one of them, “Trying to Stay Dead”, was even published in a paying market). Some of them were eye-bleedingly bad. Most were just okay. I tried again in 2013, but didn’t get nearly as far, though one story, “And the Devil Will Drag You Under”, became the basis of the novel I’m working on with the same title. Ray Bradbury originally suggested this exercise back in the day, and said that it was impossible to write 52 bad short stories in a row, and in my experience that is true.

The two goals — 100 submissions and 52 stories —are tied together. I mean, after 100 from 2021, I’m sort of running out of stories to submit, so it’s time to create some more. My first story, which I have planned on completing by Sunday the 9th of January, is a science fiction horror story called “Stay Away”, and takes place in a colony on the moon of a distant planet.

I won’t be sharing these stories, either on my blog or via my mostly defunct mailing list. This is because if I shared them anywhere (save for a password-protected post on my blog, I suppose), many markets wouldn’t accept them; they would consider them reprints, and there are plenty of markets that don’t accept those. But if you ask me very nicely, I might share them with you privately.

So watch out! 2022 is going to be a heck of a year, writing-wise. Things might get stressful, especially when school starts up again on January 24 and I try to keep up with my writing, but I’m sure I’ll be able to handle it.

 

Cute Cat Picture Alert!

I’m not much of a photographer, even with the plethora of tools and equipment available to us these days (e.g., a phone with a camera in it), but today I snapped this picture of our foster fails Timmie and Guffaw snuggling together on our loveseat in our living room:

Timmie and Guffaw
Timmie and Guffaw, both foster fails in our home, snuggle together on our loveseat.

I showed it to Jennifer and she said it was ridiculously cute, so I have to post it. So here it is, on my blog.

Timmie is the first of our foster fails. She was found in a water feature in a park in Sacramento, and brought to Happy Tails, the organization we foster through. Because she was found “in a well” she was dubbed Timmie (as in, “What’s that Lassie? Timmy fell down the well again?” and if you don’t understand that reference, that’s okay, I just need to wait until the pain in my back goes away). She has some mild movement issues, but on the whole she is a very healthy and friendly and chonky cat. Guffaw is a more recent foster fail that we adopted because he seems to have chosen me as his person, a rarity. Almost all of our foster kitties glom on to Jennifer, and I haven’t had a cat glom on to me since Tangerine, so this makes my heart warm.

In other news, the contracts have all been signed, so I can officially spread the word that my short story “Arkham House Rules” will be published in an upcoming issue of Sci-Fi Lampoon. I don’t know what the details are, but I’m pleased with this turn of events.

Also, I have developed a pain in my tendon in my right arm, descending from my elbow to my wrist. No injuries occurred. It just sort of started about five days ago. Whee. I’m going to go to the doctor in a couple of days to have it checked out. Fun times.

Okay, that’s all I’ve got for today.


And a very Happy Holidailies to you!

Random Sampling

Christmas is coming! Huzzah! Hooray! Etc.! I don’t know. I don’t really get as excited about the holidays as I used to when I was a kid. The spiritual meaning of Christmas is not lost on me, of course, but the rampant consumerism and cultural baggage tend to leave me cold, and the right-wing talking points about a so-called “war on Christmas” make me cynical about the whole thing. The latest craze is to blame President Joe Biden for the supply chain problems the world has been having instead of the pandemic and the fiasco with the Ever Given in the Suez Canal earlier this year (yes, that was this year). Christmas is threatened because toys and other material goods might not make it into the stores? I suspect the true meaning of Christmas really is getting lost, but the right-wing folks are the ones who are losing it.

Of course, if you DO want to buy me a present, you can find my wishlist here on Giftster. It’s a wish list sharing site that my family uses instead of the ancient home-brewed one that I wrote in 2001 and never updated since.


Last night I wrote 500 words on And the Devil Will Drag You Under, and also jotted down some ideas for two short stories. This is the most productive I’ve been in weeks. Well, aside from stuff around the house and at work, of course. And even though I feel like the novel is basically stagnating right now, I’m excited to be moving forward on it again. And those two stories —  one is straight science fiction while the other is a mystery with a science fiction twist — are going to be BLAMMO when I finish them

BLAMMO. It’s a word now.


I don’t really have much to say that’s blog-worthy these days. In years past, I see, I used to complain a lot on this blog. Not so much these days, or at least I don’t think so. I mean, I have some complaints — like, new cat Guffaw gets excitable and jumps up on the kitchen counter too often —but it’s no longer a permanent state of mind. See, I’m growing as a person. Jennifer says I should post a picture a day as my blogging process, and maybe I’ll do that. Starting tomorrow, assuming I get my rear in gear and start taking pictures.

Looking over the first couple of paragraphs of this entry again, though, I do see some complaining going on. Ah, well. I’m not complaining constantly about my job these days, and that’s nice.


No more story acceptances since the last time I wrote about my story submission process, but I got a fresh rejection. I still have eight stories on submission right now, some with markets that can take nearly a full year to respond, so we’ll see what happens in the coming weeks and months. I think that I will try again in 2022 for one hundred submissions, but I do need to get some new stories written first.


I haven’t been reading as much as I should be; you can see what I’m currently reading in the handy-dandy widget from Library Thing to the right of this entry. It shows that currently I’m reading a couple of novels that my friends Andrea Stewart and Megan O’Keefe have written, as well as a couple of books about the craft of writing and a book about pirates. But I’m also reading a couple of books for my novel-writing critique group, so I need to concentrate on those as well.

The Bone Shard Daughter was an excellent book by an excellent writer. I’m only one chapter in to the sequel, The Bone Shard Emperor, and it’s just as well-written. Andrea Stewart did not win the Hugo Award for these novels (wasn’t even nominated, from what I can tell). She was robbed. And Megan’s Protectorate Trilogy didn’t make it either. She was robbed too.


I leave you with my favorite Christmas song, which I post every year to my blog and to Facebook and Twitter, but what the heck, it’s a great song: “The Season’s Upon Us” by Dropkick Murphys, my favorite Boston-based Irish punk band.

Merry Christmas to you all, and in case I don’t blog again, Happy New Year as well! May 2022 be a better one for us all.


Happy Holidailies to us all!

Almost missed November

Apparently, it’s been November for awhile as well.

Not that much to report, though, except that in the middle of this month I reached my goal of one hundred manuscript submissions for the year. That’s more than I’ve done any year ever! My previous record was sixty-nine submissions in the year 2017. Here are my stats for the year:

Submissions: 100

Acceptances: 1

Withdrawals: 2

Form rejections: 74

Personal rejections: 10

Outstanding submissions: 13

One story I withdrew from a market because it had apparently died but no one knew. No confirmation from the market that I had withdrawn it, but that’s irrelevant. I withdrew another story because I had a crisis of confidence and wanted to rework it. I did, submitted it to another market, and it was promptly rejected.

I had one story accepted, but until the contracts are signed by both parties, I can’t reveal the details. That’s annoying, but standard practice.

To be honest I was hoping for more acceptances, especially to pro markets, but I guess my skill isn’t there yet. Or those markets are not ready for me yet. Who knows.

Anyway, now that I’ve reached one hundred submissions, what’s next? I’m going to take a break from submitting until 2022 and work on some new stories. I have a couple that I’m revising, and a solid idea for a third.

But what of National Novel Writing Month? I hear you cry.

Well, I sort of participated this year. For a bit. I worked on The Afghan Code, but got (at this point) no farther than 3,471 words. Which is a bummer, but it is what it is. Work, school, and life got in the way. I’ll continue to work on this one, though, because it’s a fun story and I hope to share it with all of you when it’s done. And after that (or while I’m working on it) I plan to dive back into And the Devil Will Drag You Under.

I’m also going to try to commit to Holidailies, a month of daily blogging starting December 1. Why don’t you sign up for it as well? Ought to be fun.

That’s it for now. Be excellent to each other. And party on!