A quick note that my sysadmin horror story, “The Air Gap,” is now available in LampLight Magazine, volume 5, issue 4. It can be purchased from the following fine ebook retailers (list will be updated as it clears its way through various systems)
Category Archives: Writing
In lieu of an actual update, I wanted to share a page out of my current work in progress, which has just started to come together in my mind. Hashtag am writing.
Not every market I submit to asks for a cover letter, but they’re nice to include anyway, even if it’s only something as short as
Dear [editorial horde/slush pile heroes],
Thank you for taking the time to consider for publication my story, [title], which is about [length] words long.
Some markets do ask for cover letters as a way to pre-screen those people who haven’t even bothered to read their submission guidelines, and I always think it’s nice to give thanks to the heroic slushers and editors who are at least looking at my first 13 lines. Other than crafting amusing ways for C. C. Finlay to reject my submissions, should he need to, though, I don’t usually put a whole lot into my cover letters. I’d guess that you don’t either?
So, a story about how a well-crafted cover letter can be a good thing.
In the 80’s, my dad worked as an editor at Amazing Science Fiction Stories. Working at a magazine means a lot of things, and not all of them are totally exciting. One day, it fell to him to separate cover letters from rejected manuscripts, put the cover letters in the round file, and put the manuscripts in their return envelopes (those being the days before widespread computer ownership, when a writer would want their manuscript back, rather than having to type it out again). As this was not a job that required much thought, he would scan the cover letters before tossing them.
It was in so doing that he ran across the cover letter of an as-yet-unpublished author named Lois McMaster Bujold.
He read the cover letter.
He re-read it.
He thought to himself, “This is the greatest cover letter I’ve ever read. It has got a beginning, a middle, and an end. This is an author who is going places.” And then, rather than tossing it, he date-stamped the cover letter, stuck it in a sleeve, and took it home with him.
Despite this, they did not end up publishing the story to which the cover letter was attached. It appeared in print some years later, after Lois had begun to make a name for herself.
Some years after taking home that cover letter, my father saw that Lois was going to be a guest at an upcoming convention, so he made sure to bring the cover letter with him, still carefully preserved, and sought her out.
He told her the story, showed her the cover letter. To this day, I believe that my dad can claim to be her first Fan. He still buys all of her books new.
This isn’t to say that you must labor over your cover letters, workshopping them with your writing groups, turning them into works of literature in their own rights. It’s only to say that maybe you should think twice before you totally phone it in on your next cover letter (or skip it entirely).
I need deadlines to finish my stories. Like, I need deadlines.
So, because I figure that if you’re reading this blog, chances are that you’re a writer who needs deadlines, too, here are some deadlines.
If you’re working on a short story of under 7000 words, your deadline to finish a first draft is Sunday, May 31st. (If you’re reading this in the future, your deadline is 6 days from now. Right now. What are you waiting for?)
If you’re working on a novella or novelette under 20000 words, your deadline is June 10th to finish that first draft. I know that’s only 16 days from now, but you can do it. Keep up that momentum.
If you’re working on something longer than that, you have 2 months. That puts you at July 25th. I know it may seem impossible, but try anyway. At worst, you’ll get to hear that nice sound that deadlines make when they go whizzing past you.
And so you don’t think I’m bullshitting you, I’m holding myself to that May 31st deadline to finish the story I’m working on right now.
So I just finished an intensive weekend workshop taught by Mary Robinette Kowal (and can’t quite believe that I’m back at the keyboard already). I got a huge amount out of it, and I hope I can get back on my game enough to talk about it more here, but that’s for another time. For the moment, I’ll just say, first, that if you get a chance to take one of Mary’s workshops, you really really should. Your writing will thank you, and you’ll make some new friends.
Second, I wanted to share something that came out of the workshop that we talked about in detail, and which I then condensed into this handy (not a guarantee) formula. If you want to know about how long a story you’re going to be writing, given an outline, just remember:
In other words, the Length of your story (roughly) will be the number of Characters (C) and scenic Locations (L) times 750, further multiplied by the number of major elements of the M.I.C.E. Quotient (M) that you are focusing on.
This is, of course, a very rough calculation, based on the assumption that each Character or Location adds between 500 and 1000 words to your story, per major M.I.C.E. element focused on. It shouldn’t be seen as some magical target goal that you must hit exactly and should never go under or over (especially since I’m using the middle-ground figure of 750 words, rather than either extreme). Rather, it’s for planning. If I want to put five characters and seven locations into a CE story, but I only wanted it to be 4K words, this would quickly tell me that I either have to adjust my goals or make some major cuts.
Ok, time for a writing prompt, because I don’t know when the last time was that I posted one. This exercise is inspired by an exercise I did way back in my freshman year of college (thanks, Gary!) where my class was asked to base a story around a picture selected from a book of pictures of mid-century America. Rather than a picture, though, inspiration comes from a graph (yes, I know that graphs are pictures of data).
Specifically, your story should draw from any of the graphs at Spurious Correlations: a collection of curious statistical correlations generated by a computer from publicly-available data.
Of course we know that correlation does not imply causation, but for the purposes of this writing exercise, it might well be more interesting to assume a causative relationship between the data.
If you write anything that you want to share, post it (or a link—if you try to post a novel in the comments, it won’t make it out of moderation) in the comments.
The phrase “In late, out early” is one that you’ve probably heard more times than you can count if you’ve ever taken a class on or listened to a podcast about writing.
And you’d try it yourself, really, you would, but you’re scared. I know I’m too scared to take that advice as far as I need to often. Yes, I’ve chopped off a first chapter or two, moving them to my scrap text files in case I need something from them later, but I’m always worried that I’ll take off too much, and my readers won’t be with me, when usually I’m too timid. Yes, you can come in to a story too late, but I’d wager that what most people would think was way too late in their own writing is just about the right place to start for actual readers. Because you need to trust your readers.
They’re not dumb.
I just started reading Wesley Chu’s The Lives of Tao, and his first chapter is daring in its execution of coming in late. If I wrote that book, I don’t know that I would have been able to start so late because I’d be afraid that my readers wouldn’t get what was going on at all, but as a reader, it works for me 100% just getting thrown into the story. Of course, part of trusting your readers is letting them self-select. Your story will never be all things to all people. If you’re writing space opera, no matter where you start, you’re unlikely to hook a reader who just isn’t into space opera (though you’re substantially more likely to hook them if you go in late than if you start with a huge infodump).
So. Be brave. Start your story where things start happening and not a moment before. And if you’re interested in seeing a great example of “in late, out early,” you can check out the first chapter of The Lives of Tao here (Amazon).