Semi-obligatory 2016 awards post

I’ve noticed that it’s the time of year for award eligibility, so here is what I’ve got in the running for 2016 awards.

Zangao
This isn’t Skook, but it looks like him.

I had a slow year on the writing front, but She Gave Her Heart, He Took Her Marrow is eligible in the short story category and available to read for free (or you can listen to the podcast). Should you wish to cast some love in the direction of Hedron, Chancery and Skook, I could bathe in the warm fuzzies like a happy baby sea flap flap.

It also turns out this marks my first year of eligibility for the John W. Campbell Award for best new writer. My thanks to the moderators, especially David Walton, for helping me confirm that and getting my name up on the list.

Just being on there feels like an achievement!

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The Clockwork Phoenix has landed

Clockwork Phoenix 4 front cover

In the flesh


I was delighted to receive my contributor copy of Clockwork Phoenix 5 a couple of days ago. It is a stunning book, and I’m not just saying that because I’m (more than slightly) biased. It arrived at work, and a couple of my colleagues were driven to remark on how nice it felt — the print quality is excellent. Although I’ve had an electronic copy for a while, I’ve been saving the other stories for when the physical copy turned up, and so far Jason Kimble‘s The Wind At His Back indicates a fantastic collection.

Clockwork Phoenix 5 back cover

This book will be released on the 5th April, and can be pre-ordered direct here (same as first link above), or from Amazon US, Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble and a few other places. If you follow the first link in this post, you’ll find all the pre-order links.

A Clockwork Phoenix 5 launch reading will take place on April 5th at 19:30 in The Brooklyn Commons Cafe at 388 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn, New York as part of the New York Review of Science Fiction/Hour of the Wolf Reading series. Mike Allen be there, and so will seven of the book’s 21 contributors: Rob Cameron, C. S. E. Cooney, Barbara Krasnoff, Carlos Hernandez, Sonya Taaffe, Shveta Thakrar, and A. C. Wise. All will read excerpts from their Clockwork Phoenix 5 stories. I can’t make it, owing to the presence of a large, wet, wobbly thing in which one finds fishes and whales and crabs and octopuses.

And, if you’re in book buying mood, Best of Apex Volume 1 is now in stock at Amazon UK, and presumably elsewhere. This book reprints my story from the December issue, She Gave Her Heart, He Took Her Marrow.

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Best of Apex Magazine Vol. 1

This is me on a sea-kayaking trip last year with Frood at Portknockie, in which we were ably guided by Sam Weir of Kayak Scotland:

Sea Kayaking at Portknockie

One of the best weekends ever.

That grin on my face is a result of being encouraged into doing things I had no idea I was able to do with the experience I had, and coming out the other side with vastly increased confidence and a burning desire to get out there, do more and go further, and have even more fun in the process.

Now you have a good idea of what my face looked like when I found out that my story She Gave Her Heart, He Took Her Marrow has been selected by Jason Sizemore and Lesley Connor for Best of Apex Volume 1. There might have been some jumping around squealing, too.

Just a bit.

To help fund the project, the Apex team is holding a raffle for a place on Carrie Cuinn’s Editing for Writers workshop, worth $100. The course is 4 weeks long, and should be a goodie.

“Editing 101” – AKA “Editing for Writers”. Identifying parts of a story, tenses and perspectives, narrative arcs, and other elements that are potentially affected by the editing process. Definitions, editing marks, using (and creating) style sheets, important style manuals, levels of editing, and fact-checking. The basics of copyediting: concepts and skills necessary for line editing (also called copyediting), relying mainly on the Chicago Manual of Style, 16th ed; editing vs. proofreading; tips for spotting tricky errors. The basics of developmental editing: what it is and isn’t, including the specifics of developmental editing in fiction. We’ll also cover rates, and working with clients, including querying about edits, maintaining an author’s voice, and related services.

As you may already know, Carrie published my story What The Water Gave Her in the Dagan Books anthology Fish, which was a huge deal for me. Carrie is putting herself through school at the moment, supporting herself with her freelance author and editor work, while raising her young son. This is a great opportunity to buy a chance to take what promises to be a great course for the sum of $3, which is less than a pint of beer or a large coffee at Haymarket’s AMT. Apex will split what they get from the raffle 50/50 with Carrie. Buying a ticket will help support both Apex and Carrie, and put you in with a chance of winning the top prize. Other prizes on offer include print copies of Women and Other Constructs by Carrie Cuinn, Starve Better by Nick Mamatas, To Each Their Darkness by Gary A. Braunbeck, and For Exposure: The Life and Times of a Small Press Publisher by Jason Sizemore.

Go on. You know you want to.

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When the time comes, move with the seasons

It’s a new year already!

I can hardly believe how long it has been since I last updated. Last time I posted anything here the weather was still relatively warm and we’d just had a glorious weekend sea-kayaking off the Banffshire coast. Today the snow is falling, there’s a thick layer of ice outside and we’ve just finished taking another wood delivery.

Keil's Den in Winter
Keil’s Den at Christmas

I’ve been submerged in a number of projects (and life), deep down past where blue turns to black, and it has been impossible to come up for air.

At the end of a year I’m usually given to reflection — to thinking about what went well, what didn’t, what I learned, what I will be able to do better. I’ve not done that, partially because I really don’t want to dwell on the events of 2014 any more than I do already.

Instead I’m going to set out some goals for the following year. After almost two decades in dayjobs that have semi-annual appraisals, the concept of SMART targets is pretty much ingrained. I know I can’t control certain goals in my writing career, no matter how much I want them — for instance, making my first professional sale — because they are dependent on the decisions of others, and I cannot control the decisions of others. I can, however, maximise opportunity for those things to happen, and I can control the various aspects that are solely down to me. With that in mind, here are my targets for this year:

  1. Have something out to market at all times.
    I could specify numbers of pieces, but I don’t want to this year. This was one of my targets for last year, and I didn’t achieve it for various reasons that will be obvious if you’ve been playing along at home. I’d like to achieve a solid 12 months of constant submission before I start giving myself numeric targets.

  2. Complete to first draft at least one short-form story for every month of the year.
    I’m not saying one story per month because that’s too restrictive. If I write three in one month but spend the next two editing, that’s fine.

  3. Complete to first draft one long-form work.
    I have three novel-length projects underway at the moment (two of them have been added to the wordcountometer over on the right there). My target is completion of just one.

  4. Update at least one of my two blogs every other week. (Certainly more frequently than each wood delivery!)

These might seem under-ambitious, but it’s very easy to set targets that are over-ambitious and then become demoralised at failure to achieve them.

SMART = Specific, Measurable, Achieveable, Realistic, Time-related. Allowing for the day job (which is going to be very demanding for the forseeable future), other writing/editing-related work, and the other things life throws into the mix (eating, sleeping, health, fitness, etc), as well as allowing for the fact last year was very difficult, I’m pinning my ambitions on a handful of targets I hope are balanced more towards the achievable than aspirational end of the scale.

At the end of the day, aspirations, ambitions, goals, targets and achievements are inter-related, and should be inter-dependent, but should also be viewed as a progression. To use a fitness metaphor, one may aspire to be a strongman, for which one has the ambition of competing in a national competition, the goal of qualifying at a particular local contest, and the target of lifting a specific weight at that particular training session. Targets should be SMART, and they should feed into that progression, otherwise they are distracting or misleading.

Do you have any targets for 2015? Let me know in the comments so I can cheer you on!

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When short stories aren’t

Although I’ve been putting words on paper since I could hold a pen (I shall dig out some of my earliest journals sometime), I have written purely for myself, not with a view to submitting to market. I started doing that only recently, and I’m still finding out where my strengths and weaknesses lie when writing for others.

Some of them are obvious, such as the struggle I face balancing too much exposition with confusing prose, when part of what I want to do is conjure ambiguous worlds where nothing is definite. My crit groups are invaluable for dealing with these kinds of problems.

Other problems are harder to pin down. My short stories often grow metaphorical arms and legs and tentacles, before ignoring the limitations of limbs and sprouting hyphae all over the place. I end up trapped in something like a web built by a swarm of caffeine-fuelled spiders in a memory palace the size of Hannibal Lecter’s.

If I were writing long form, this would be more useful. Is it, therefore, a good thing or a bad thing? I’m still undecided, but am going to treat it as a good thing for the time being. At the moment, I would rather be in the position of having to cut than to add, except where my crit buddies suggest I can have clarification without straying into wordiness.

A short story I started with a nominal project target of 5,000 words has reached almost 10,000 words with no sign of stopping. It has pages of research and its own Scapple folder. I came back to this piece after several months away from writing, and opened it with a notional inclination towards abandonment. I read what I’d done, and I liked it too much to give up. There’s a story here I want to tell, and whether it ends up as 15k words I cut back to 7k, or 20k I work up to a full length novel, finishing the story at whatever length it turns out to be is something I have to do.

I’ve heard it said that a story ends up the length it needs to be. We’ll call this an experiment.

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