Tag Archives: short form fiction

Shifting Gears

I flew a wide circle around the meadow at the writing cabin. After Lisa’s explosives incident, I tried to be careful.

She used the forks on the tractor to maneuver a section of our survival bunker into the hole. I took it as being safe to land. She came over the speaker in my gyrocopter. “Coffee is all ready. I’ll be in after I get this section in place.”

I touched down, moved onto the elevator, and lowered everything into the basement. No sense risking my ride if Lisa wasn’t finished blasting.

I decided to move into the paranormal office, since the sound of heavy equipment was closer to the other wall. Doubt, the raven, flew into the room and accompanied me. I smirked at him and said, “Sorry dude, I’m writing micro-fiction today.”

He glared at me like I brought his daughter home late.

I spent a couple of hours on micro-fiction. I managed about 1700 words, but it wasn’t easy with Doubt glaring at me.

The biggest problem is a stylistic issue. What do you do when your character is speaking, and all that comes out of her mouth is guttural grunts and growls? It’s important to get her viewpoint, but we also need to know what gets heard. I have an idea involving italics, and quotations. I won’t share the story until October, so maybe something else will come to me.

Lisa came in with questions. “How are you going to furnish this bunker after I assemble everything?”

“You’re going to have to leave out the last section. Then load up all the furniture, food, and stuff before you attach the last piece. We don’t want to carry too much down the ladder, and beds and such won’t fit.”

“I think you’re a month out. I need to wire and plumb everything, plus you’ll need high speed internet and all the bells and whistles.”

“No problem. My story characters might have to live under harsh conditions, but there’s no reason we have to. You’ll need to seal it against moisture, then bury it.”

“Yeah, with all that fresh earth out there, one of the sabretooths came off the mountain and did what cats do in fresh earth.”

“You’re a trooper. I’m sure you’ll figure out what–”

The front door burst open, and we went to see what happened.

Lorelei, the Muse, stood framed in the doorway. Sunlight backlit her brunette hair and formed a halo around her face. I always assumed it was some kind of goddess trick. She wore a short summer dress and wedge shoes. She spread her arms and said, “Buongiorno!”

Lisa squealed and ran to hug her. “Where have you been lately?”

“I took a vacation. It looked like you guys had enough to do with the Yak Guy. Today, I’m here to check on your next projects.”

“Oh, cool, I can give you a tour of the bunker.”

“I peeked at it. It doesn’t look like there’s much there yet.”

I stepped forward. “There will be. Lisa has some nice ideas to decorate it, and I’ll make sure it’s functional.”

“Thank God. I was afraid you were going to decorate it.” She reached onto the porch and produced a large box. “I brought you a present. It looks like you’re getting prepared to write Estivation, but I don’t want you to forget about The Hat.” She sat the box on the coffee table and removed the lid with a flourish.

An old grey fedora sat inside, and a whiff of mothballs caught my attention. I eased closer, and the dents in the crown narrowed like eyes, and the crown of the hat formed eyebrows above them. “Hey, how’s it going?” the hat asked.

“Um, fine.” I looked at Lorelei. “You really weren’t kidding about this were you?”

“I never kid when it comes to inspiration.”

“What am I going to do with him?”

“Please, you’ve done this before. Talk to him. Spend some time together, then write his story.”

“But what about Estivation?”

“These are both supposed to be novellas, remember? You can probably work on them together. When you burn out on one, take up the other.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll help you,” the hat said. “I’m pretty sure the robot chick will too.”

I put my hand around my beard. What had I gotten myself into this time?

Lisa hooked her thumbs in her tool-belt and rose to her toes. “I will too, I always do.”

Lorelei said, “Lisa, I heard you ordered some hats in preparation for this one. Let’s go see what you bought.”

“Fun! Come upstairs and we can try them all on.”

The girls headed upstairs. That looked like the end of construction for the day. I looked at the hat. “What now?”

“Traditionally, I go on your head. Then Lorelei tells me you have a paranormal office. Let’s go take a look.”

I plopped the fedora on my head. “Fine, but I need more coffee for this.”

“Oh, none for me, thanks. Never touch the stuff.”

This could be a crazy Fall, and Winter.

25 Comments

Filed under Muse

A short fiction trick

I’ve been putting off this post for a long time, because it’s got to be a long post. The reason is it has to include a bit of micro-fiction to pick apart. Some of you might like the trick, some of you might like the story, but I’m going to post it anyway.

I’ve been seeing more posts about writing short stories on Blogland. Some of them are good, but most of them could be summed up by saying make them short. That’s so obvious as to be pretty unhelpful.

In order to share this trick, I have to give you a story to pick apart. Since I’m allowed to post an excerpt for promotional purposes, I’m choosing one from the Experimental Notebook. It isn’t my fault that it makes a complete story in 900 words. If you like the story, there are more in the Notebook for 99¢.

50 Gallon Drum

It’s just an old 50 gallon drum. It sat alongside Mitchell Creek, just across Daddy’s field, for as long as I could remember. It may have fallen off someone’s truck, or it may have been dumped there beside the washer and dryer that had been there for years. It had blue paint once, but that’s faded over the decades.

My dog and I checked it out when summer came. Mitchell Creek was always a good place to catch tadpoles, or even a frog if we got lucky. The drum had a band and latch around the top, but it rusted pretty good in the spring rains.

I remember that I could look back at the house and see my bedroom window from where the drum sat. The trees were all young then, and there wasn’t much shade. Mitchell Creek Road ran up the other side, but Momma didn’t want me to go that far.

We didn’t find much more than garter snakes around the rusted appliances. Momma told me girls don’t play with those, so we never brought them home. When the wild roses bloomed, we had every kind of butterfly you can imagine, and even hummingbirds showed up around that old barrel.

In ’04, a bunch of yellow-jackets made a home in the barrel, and it became a place to avoid. They lasted for a few years, until the swallows found them.

That winter, Mitchell Creek became the preferred path for a red fox to get to his hunting grounds. We never saw him, but the tracks showed where he passed.

My old dog took to using the shade of the barrel during the brutal summer of ’05. He’d get his drink from Mitchell Creek, then curl up beside the barrel during the heat of the day.

That was the same summer Momma started on her nerve medicine. Daddy let a couple fields go fallow so he could spend more time with her. He leased those fields to a big agribusiness in ’06.

’07 was the last year the dog went to Mitchell Creek. Daddy buried him out behind the barn. It was a good year along the creek. The hazelnuts produced a bumper crop, and my dog would have enjoyed protecting the nuts from the squirrels.

Billy White felt his first bare breasts along Mitchell Creek Road in ’08. No, they weren’t mine, but we’re about the same age. They belonged to Connie Turner, who was a JV cheerleader that year. Billy played third baseman on the high school team, and he could hit a ton. It seems only natural they were interested in each other.

Billy carved their names in a young walnut that grew ten feet from the barrel. They’re still there to this day.

The farmers burned the stream banks in ’09. They said the willows were getting too thick. It really doesn’t help, they just grow back thicker than ever. It killed off the roses and hazelnuts for a few years though. That about ended the blue paint on the 50 gallon barrel too. It curled up and fell off in the flames.

The fires cleared away enough brush that you could see the road really clear. Hundreds of cars drive by every day, and not one in a hundred pays any attention to the junkyard that Mitchell Creek became.

The muskrats moved in with a vengeance in ’10. All that fresh young willow growth was like a dinner bell for them. The party lasted until late winter when the foxes returned. Owls showed up too, and flew off with a few muskrat kits.

In ’11, a barn cat gave birth in the old washing machine. You would think the kittens would be cute, but they were wild as hell. One of the owls grabbed a grey one on a cold September night, but she raised three to adults.

The barrel slid three feet downstream in ’12. The snows were deep, and when it thawed the flood almost took the road out. The barrel sunk about nine inches in the mud, before the summer sun baked the mud hard.

The willows still hadn’t grown up much. The barrel became a resting place for crows and ravens as they headed somewhere else.

In ’13, magpies nested in the walnut tree. That was a noisy summer. Those babies were hungry, and their parents worked ’round the clock to make sure they all had enough to eat.

The hazelnuts returned that fall. Nobody picked them, and they attracted many a fat mallard that winter. Billy White and Connie Turner were newlyweds, and Billy picked off a few of those mallards for Sunday dinners. He had a dog that looked a lot like my old dog. He’d jump right in the water and bring back the ducks so Billy didn’t have to get wet.

We lost Momma in ’14. She never did get over her sadness. The medicine helped for a few years, but the sadness won out. She’s buried in Mitchell Cemetery, about a mile from the house.

Daddy hasn’t been the same since. He didn’t plow the fields, and didn’t even try to lease them out. I think he has what they call a broken heart. He just stays around the house and watches the weather all day now.

The cars still drive by on their way to, or from, work. The wildlife ebbs and flows along Mitchell Creek. The old drum is still there too. It’s just a 50 gallon drum, but it made a great place for a passing truck driver to stash my body in 2004.

***

There’s the story. I got a ton of nice comments on this one, and it makes a great example for this tip. We’re going to pick it apart now.

I relate this story structure to a magic trick. I learned the words in a movie called The Prestige. It’s been a few years, so I had to Google the words to refresh my memory. The premise is the stages of an illusion performed on stage.

  1. The Setup: Get the central idea in there right away. The title of the story isn’t too soon. Show the audience readers what the illusion story is about.
  2. The Performance: This part is relative to The Setup, but it’s all about misdirection and deception.
  3. The Prestige: This is the ooh aah part of the story. This is the big revelation that readers never saw coming.

The title is 50 gallon drum. It’s also in the first sentence of the story. Where did it come from? What does it look like? How long has it been there? These are all established in the first paragraph.

The Performance part is the body of the story, but I’m not leaving the theme of the 50 gallon drum behind. I beat it, well, like a drum. We start getting to know the narrator. Catching tadpoles sounds like something a young person might do. We strengthen that by referring to Momma.

We establish that our narrator is a girl, and reference roses, butterflies, and hummingbirds. By now, the hope is that readers are along for the ride. A girl hanging out along the stream, catching tadpoles, and sniffing the roses.

This is where I establish the timeline. 2004 wasn’t so nice. This is an important year with ties to The Prestige part of the story. Yellowjackets are a kind of wasp that eats carrion. Not everyone will pick up on that, but if you’ve ever had a picnic in the American West, you know about yellowjackets. The end of the story tells us exactly what they were feeding on, but not yet.

Our narrator has a dog, and he keeps going to the stream and hanging out. He knows what’s going on. Most readers aren’t even going to notice that the dog is going to the stream alone.

Momma starts on nerve medicine, and Daddy loses interest in farming. I wonder why?

Then it moves into the ebb and flow of nature along Mitchel Creek. There isn’t so much that I could lose readers, but a few paragraphs are easily digested.

If I did it right, my readers are along for the ride and enjoying the passing of years along this neglected country stream.

By the time I get to The Prestige and pull back the curtain, readers aren’t expecting this at all.

I don’t use this method all the time, but it’s a neat trick to know if you write short form. It’s almost like a three act structure for a short story. I think it gives writers a little more value than an article that says, “Use less words.”

I’ve been writing short form stuff ever since. I think this works better with micro-fiction up to about a 3500 word short story. It could work on something longer, but I don’t know if you can carry out The Performance phase for 30,000 words.

What do you think? Does this sound like something you might like to try? Do you want to read the Experimental Notebook? Does sharing a look behind the scenes ruin the story for you? I’d really like to know what you think, so tell me in the comments.

I’m going to a seminar in Atlanta next week. I’m taking my old iPad, so I’ll post something along the way. I’ll also get a chance to participate in comments and read your blogs during my down time. My posts during the week won’t be quite this long, I promise.

51 Comments

Filed under Short Stories & Vignettes, Writing

Writing progress, and a request for help.

My wife has to work today, and I wound up with the house to myself. Yak Guy is stuck at a big transition point, but I hammered my way through it. It wound up taking about 1700 words, but he's at the place where I can move the story ahead. It's a good place to stop, because I need to think about the next section.

Yak Guy, Ted, finally met some people. He even met a girl he's infatuated with. I want him to react badly when he finds out she's slightly pregnant. Dealing with this is a large part of his journey. I also have to research her, because she is the Empress character from the tarot. I want to fit some of her lessons into the tale, but refuse to be handcuffed to all of it.

I suppose technically, Yak Guy is moving into Act II. This is always the toughest part for me. I'm usually pretty clear on the bookends, but the middle is like solving a puzzle. Add to that the idea that he has to meet the Major Arcana characters from the tarot, and this one is challenging. I hope it produces a worthwhile product.

I banged out a short story that I really like. Here's where I'm going to ask for help. My regulars know that I'm always trying something new. This is my first attempt at an epistolary style. This kind of story relies in part on documents, diaries, etc. I've always enjoyed that kind of story, and wanted to play with it myself.

There are a couple of spots where I have some doubts. I wonder if one or two of you might be willing to read it, and offer some critique. Those of you who are editors, or who have benefitted from actual editors would be most appreciated. I'm not looking for dozens of you, but even one might identify a problem I can't see.

Like I said, this is something new for me, and help would be appreciated. I already have email addresses for many of you, but won't force myself on you either. Did I mention that it's a short story, just over 5000 words.

I'm really enjoying writing short form stuff between novel sections. I never wanted to write two novels at once, but the short stuff seems to work as I hammer out the big project.

Later today, I'm going to look at another promotion of some kind. I've let my efforts languish, and sales have done the same. (Planetary Defense Command moved a few copies yesterday though. Thanks again Commander.)

I won't do another blog tour or anything too intensive, but maybe something to run in the background. Has anyone tried the Twitter ads yet? I have my doubts about them, but if you have something positive to say about them, I might try it.

Beyond that, I have some reading to do. I'm calling it a productive weekend. How did all of you fare?

60 Comments

Filed under Writing

Planning for 2016

Today seems like the logical day for a post like this. It may get lost in a sea of New Year's Resolutions, but that's okay.

I can't let go of 2015, without sharing this tidbit. There were a lot of great comments on my post about family, pets, and whatnot. It occurs to me that we all have similar things in our lives. It doesn't do any good to dwell on some of this, because I can't do anything about it.

One fun thought occurred to me. 2015 is a lot like the Disney movie, Old Yeller. It was a great year, but it didn't end well. It's time to shoot it through the head and move onto 2016, like the new puppy at the end of the movie.

Things that worked in 2015 will stick around in 16. That means more trips to the writing cabin, more of Lisa Burton and others I write about regularly. Lorelei will certainly be back, I may write about Doubt the Raven, the left side of my brain, and we may even see Red Herring the traveling salesman again.

I want to use the street team concept again to announce any publications I have. This worked well, and I don't see any reason not to repeat that. I'll probably do another paid tour or two, plus another Amazon promotion. I'm going to write up some promotional pieces for volunteers too. These can be from either Lisa or me, and may include artwork with Lisa about the books.

I need to expand my footprint, and Goodreads didn't do enough last year. I won't abandon it, and it certainly didn't take much time, but I need more. This is the year to put the phobias aside and tackle Facebook. I may try another one too, but Facebook is happening. They are the largest social media on Earth. I've seen a handful of sales via Twitter, and Facebook can probably lead to a few more. It might even drive folks to my blog where all the real fun is.

I like a loose business plan for my writing, because I still look at it like a hobby. If I drive myself too hard, it may stop being as much fun. That means Facebook could happen next week, or next November, but it is happening.

I want to release two novels this year. The Yak Guy project is well underway, and I'm closing in on 20,000 words as of this morning.

The Playground is written, and I'm still finding some editing time too. I think late Winter seems about right for its release. I need a cover and will need some beta readers in a few weeks.

The Playground this winter, and Yak Guy next fall feels realistic. I'm still writing short fiction, and love it. There may be another Experimental Notebook, or something similar. There are already 4.5 micro-fiction pieces, and I want some actual short stories to go with them. I'm keeping this idea pretty loose, because it is a second string project. Experimental Notebook sold well, and it worked as a great promotional piece because of its price. How could I not repeat the process?

I also want to start another novel. I roughed out four outlines this summer, and it won't take much to get another one started. It will probably be my science fiction piece, tentatively called Grinders.

Reading has to be part of the plan too. I've benefited from a lot of supporters, and try to return the favors when I can. This means I want to read more of your stories, but I also want to read stuff I pick for myself. On top of that, I want to read another “how to” book. There is one on my iPad right now, and it doesn't look terribly long.

I want to host people, and I want to make guest spots in 2016. There are some fun guests coming soon on my site. Keep me in mind if you'd like to promote something even if it is a service you provide. Maybe a budding cover artist would like to talk about that field over here, or an editor of some kind. Maybe you want to put together an anthology and need writers. (I know some.)

I would ask guests to keep an open mind to the idea of me visiting too. I have stuff to promote on occasion, and will custom write a piece if asked. I wrote one from Lisa Burton's perspective about characters, and another one about my editing tricks last year so keep that in mind. I'm a little bit like a creature from the netherworld. You have to invite me inside.

I need to start at least one more outline too. This doesn't mean it has to be perfect, but something rough. In order to do that, it has to be an idea capable of carrying a novel. I'm writing Yak Guy, I sort of killed the African Adventure because of PC issues. If Grinder is on deck, that only leaves the fantasy about the guy who starts wars for money. I need another big idea to start roughing out.

While all of this is going on, I need to have a life too. This means camping, grandchildren, and being able to drop everything and run out the door on a whim. Having too many goals will interfere with that, so I'm going to stop here.

2015 is in the books. 2016 has a loose business plan. Right now there is a channel running a Twilight Zone festival, and another one with Hitchcock all day. This is like candy to the weird person I am. I have nearly everything on DVD, but not The Birds. Maybe another few chapters of editing, then The Birds around dinner time. I have a micro-fiction about magpies that might benefit from watching this one again.

Happy New Year everyone. Do you have a business plan for this year?

39 Comments

Filed under Blogging, Writing

Why I like to plan ahead

I lost some time this weekend to company. We had fun and it was well worth having them up. These things keep happening, and so I've learned to plan ahead. Here is another example.

My task list for this fall is pretty long. I'm starting in August just to get ahead of the curve. I knew today and tomorrow were available. My wife came home this afternoon and announced she took tomorrow off to get ready. That's how it goes. I have today only.

I spent hours today trying to figure out how to make an interactive table of contents for my book of shorties. I made a table, but I don't like it. It does not appear in the text of the book. I can open an ePub format under iBooks, and it appears when you click the tab. It works flawlessly there.

The problem is I want to give it a clever title, like Roster of Experiments. That does not appear under the tab. I'm left with that title in the book and absolutely nothing visible underneath. Kill me now. It looks terrible like that.

Now I have no idea how much damage I did to the manuscript. Of course I didn't work off of a copy, because my genius apparently does have boundaries. I think my next great stunt is to put it through the Amazon grinder and see how the preview looks.

After tugging out shards of my beard, I tried a different project. I sent off everything for my October blog tour. This was out of an internal need to scratch something off my list. Add this to making a commitment to my next novel, and it qualifies as forward motion.

I also wrote another Macabre Macaroni story. It needs a bit of polish, but it exists. That gives me three stories, and I need a minimum of four. Maybe I'll see something creepy and oozing at the coast that will inspire me.

We're probably going to wind up driving most of Wednesday. This means I'll probably skip my post that day. I won't leave you guys hanging, and will post at least something while we're on vacation.

Tomorrow is all about loading up, hooking up, and charging up. We leave early in the morning on Wednesday. Have a good week everyone.

12 Comments

Filed under Writing

It’s about that time

I’ve fussed with my book of short stories all weekend. I believe it’s time to seek out advance readers. I’m looking for three or four people who will read an arc, and offer some feedback. There is a time limit, so make sure you can commit. If you’re dedicated, it will take no more than a day. (I’m sort of hoping you can’t put it down.)

Here’s what you’re getting into. This is a short book, approximately 29,000 words of actual material. I added a free sample of Will O’ the Wisp and didn’t count that. It consists of a mixture of micro fiction and short stories. They run the gauntlet of my speculative style in science fiction, fantasy, and paranormal.

My goal is to release this sometime in September. With the Wisp promotion in back, I’m hoping to catch some of the Halloween vibe.

Readers have a month to get to it, giving me a week or so to touch up any critical failures.

This book will price at 99¢, and is an attempt to tie together some of my other marketing pushes. As an example, there is a new Lisa Burton story. I included a link to the paper dolls, that sort of thing.

I have a preliminary cover that I will also provide, but we are still working on one aspect. If you are interested, drop me an email. If we haven’t already exchanged email, let me know in the comments.

I’ve done a bit of research, and there are shorter 99¢ reads out there. I think I’m offering something of value at 99¢, but advance readers are welcome to weigh in on that too.

Amazon is really playing Big Brother these days about reviews. I’m not asking or refusing reviews when I actually push the publish button. I’ll leave that up to my advance readers to decide.

I may hit my advance readers up to help with the cover reveal, and the release.

Let me know if you’d like an advance reading copy of The Experimental Notebook of C. S. Boyack.

Update: Your response was overwhelming. Thank you everyone, but I have enough volunteers now. I think there must be a market out there for short fiction.

41 Comments

Filed under Writing

I have a New Study Guide

I’ve been toying with the idea a of writing some short stories. I have an idea of what a novel takes. My micro fiction seemed to work well, but something about the length of a short story is eluding me. How many disasters should I include? How much to slice off at each end? That sort of thing. So I got a study guide…

…Imagine yourself as a writer. Your stories are good, but the rejection letters keep piling up. You finally decide to self publish, but you’re late to the event. You need to buy cover art and figure out how to promote your works.

It’s a solitary process, just you and your imaginary friends. So you start a blog. You meet a few kindred spirits along the way and they really help. But your imaginary friends demand time too. One day you decide to park your imaginary friends at a wonderful place you call the Writing Cabin.

My friend, you’ve just entered…

image

 

I think Rod Serling could teach a guy a thing or two about short stories; particularly the kind of stories I write. It was this or Love American Style, which was also good in its own way.

If you need me, I’ll be binge watching about five years worth of vintage television.

28 Comments

Filed under Short Stories & Vignettes, Writing