Tag Archives: Those in Peril

Rob’s Ramblings: Only *This* Story

This week I’ve been pleased to receive a whole slew of short stories for the FantaSci anthology. All told, we received 37 entrants, which seems like a good number to me. Chris and I are still discussing the ones we’re going to choose, so I’m not going to talk about results just yet.

However, since it’s fresh on my mind, I thought I’d go over some of the things I saw in this process. At this point, I’ve read a bunch of short stories over the years, written a dozen or so, and am in the process of editing my second anthology. There are many out there with more experience than I,  but this contest really helped coalesce my thoughts on short stories to something more concrete, so I’m going to post on this as much for me to remember as to help you all.

Let me lay down one overarching principle: “Only *this* story matters.” There’s your TL:DR of this post. Only this story matters and anything that’s extraneous drags it down.

First, let’s talk about exposition. The vast majority of stories that got put straight to the bottom of our list explained too much. There’s little that’ll bring a story to a screeching halt like a sizable infodump near the start.

Yes, readers need to know stuff. They’ll get frustrated when something isn’t explained. However, you want to only explain what you have to explain for *this* story, even if you have plans for that story being a part of a larger setting.

If you plan to compile a collection of connected short stories into a novel, you can come back and add exposition later if needed. But that’s part of that process, not this story.

Readers don’t always need to know technical details or the physics/metaphysics underlying a universe. They need to know only if the plot twist turns on it. Most of Asimov’s robot stories turn on the Three Laws, so the reader has to know them. But details how robots work? Not as much.

It’s really easy to throw in details the author thinks the reader needs to know. It’s rare, especially without more experience, for an author to limit that exposition to actually what is needed for *this* story. Believe me, I’m as guilty of this as anyone, and it’s a major part of my editing process to cut that sort of thing out of my own stuff.

For Songs of Valor, authors had 7-10,000 words to strike with. And I mean strike! Short stories work best with action, in my mind, not explanations of this and that. That especially includes a bunch of stuff about what the character is thinking. Show, don’t tell, the character as much as possible.

Now I don’t mind a character parsing through tactical choices a bit. “I did this to learn this and then did that to get this reaction.” This is, I think, especially useful in first person noir style stuff.

But even that’s a balance. For None Call Me Mother, a novel which needed more tactical discussion than a short story, my editor told me I’d gone overboard and I cut back on them dramatically to get a faster, sharper story. Editors are nice like that and the 148k original draft that seemed bloated ended up as a 124k sleek creature I’m pretty pleased with.

Tell us what we need to know and nothing else. And whenever possible, weave it into conversations and side notes in the story and avoid a major infodump.

But that brings up an obvious question, how do you know what the reader needs to know?

For me, short stories have a soul. This is true of all stories, long or short, but I think it’s more important with shorter stories because you have to focus on that soul and nothing else. With novels, you want to have some misdirection, extra plants, and some additional frippery. There’s simply not enough time for much of that in shorts.

The problem is that “soul” is such an amorphous term. I’m a pantser, especially with short stories. It is extremely rare that I know the soul of the story when I start it. It’s happened once, with my story “Far Better to Dare” from Those in Peril, but that’s it.

Most of the time I write at least 4-6,000 words before I realize what the soul of the story really is. Then I realize that much, if not most, of what I’ve written so far is not actually relevant to the soul of *this* story. Maybe I had to write it out to know the character well enough, or the events underlying the story, or whatever, but all that stuff is just background and I have to cut some, if not nearly all, of what I’ve written.

This is hard. You have to be ruthless with your own writing and take extra stuff out. Don’t delete it, of course, you may use it later elsewhere, but not here.

Of the stories we received that I thought had potential but weren’t in our top 4 and thus a part of the anthology, I would say nearly all of them suffered from too much exposition that didn’t matter to that story’s soul. In some cases, this exposition was the kernel of the story, and hence the author thought it had to be in the story. However, that’s not always the case, and took away space for action without adding as much as the author realized. That chunk mattered, because it drove the character, but the reader didn’t need to see all of it, just hints of it.

Let me give you an example from my story from this anthology. Its POV character is Katarina, the chaotic evil crime boss from Achrida who Edward has to deal with far too often. I initially started with a thread of her comparing people around her to those she’s murdered in the past. Number twelve, number two, number 47, etc. It’s a fun thread for this character and I had to have it in mind as I was writing from Katarina’s point of view as the most unlikely/reluctant hero I could think of, but those words were wasted in this story.

Don’t worry, I have all those murders saved and listed.

But what’s the soul of the story? That’s hard to determine and it could be really far afield from where you started.

When I started writing “Here Must We Hold,” my story about the Battle of Maldon in Trouble in the Wind, I wanted to write a version where Byrhtnoth’s decisions weren’t because of “ofermod,” or hubris, but rather from smart strategic thinking that gave up a tactical advantage. That’s there, of course, but in the end, it became about something else, a pure redemption arc I won’t spoil by describing here. That forced me to change the entire structure of the story, remove some particulars, and add others.

My story in We Dare, “The Chaos of Well-Seeming Forms,” is a version of the Finnsburh Episode & Fragment, or Romeo & Juliet if you prefer, set on Mars. That was all, but in the end, it became more of a story about the hero in the Wanderer or the Seafarer, two of my favorite Old English poems. That, too, forced a series of changes, cuts, and tweaks. I didn’t realize that until I reached the absolute end of the story and needed the extra gut punch.

I could describe the journey of each story I’ve written, but I think you get the point. Be open to finding a soul of the story after you’ve written it, then shaping the story around it.

Whatever I’m writing, I constantly think about Raghunath Rao. He’s a character from the Belisarius series by Eric Flint and David Drake. He is fond of saying, “Only the soul matters in the end.” Not a bad thing to remember when writing short stories.

Returning to “The Chaos of Well-Seeming Forms,” I mentioned I thought it needed an extra gut punch and that’s because I think short stories need a twist. Something at the end that forces the reader to think and want more. I get this philosophy from one writer in particular, my favorite writer of short stories ever, Randall Garrett.

He was about as flawed a man as he could be, which is why many of you have never heard of him. He wrote only when he needed drinking money. However, he was so good he could go to John Campbell and ask for an advance on a story and get it! What a crazy thing, especially in the era of the pulp magazines of the 50s and 60s.

If you ever see a copy of The Best of Randall Garrett paperback in a used book store, get it. Even if you already have a copy so you can gift it to someone. There’s an e-book on Amazon with the same title, but it’s not the same as the paperback, though the two are linked. Here’s the link for the paperback on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Best-Randall-Garrett-1982-01-01/dp/B01K3JZWX2. Again, the e-book version is not the same.

That paperback has the single best collection of SF/F short stories I’ve ever found. Every story in here is absolutely amazing and powerful. And they all have a twist at the end, some which have never stopped resonating with me since the first time I read this collection in the early 80s. I would never suggest anyone emulate Garrett’s life, but his skills as a writer of short stories are hard to match.

So I try to have all my stories have some sort of twist at the end. It could be just a subtle thing like the last word in “Far Better to Dare.” It could be big like the gut punch at the end of “The Chaos of Well-Seeming Forms.” The twist in “What’s in a Name” is the word “Deor,” which is an odd word in Old English, but which added a neat addition to the redemption of Edward, provided the title, and shaped the soul slightly.

Doesn’t really matter what the twist is, nor is it necessarily a requirement. However, I think we can all understand that a story that hits you at the end with something extra is likely to be more memorable than without. In an anthology where you’re surrounded by great stories, it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle. And if you’re in a muddle of 37 stories for a competition, it’s even more important.

Finally, I’m going to touch on something that’s important, but which *can* be overcome, and that’s the use of language.

This is a fantasy anthology. We got a variety of definitions of fantasy, which was great, but of course some of it was medieval fantasy. There were a few of these submissions that suffered because the language was too modern for the setting. Imagine, if you will, Gandalf saying, “Well, hindsight is 20/20.” Wait. What? That totally throws me out of the story.  So does “OK.”

Likewise, if you’re writing an urban fantasy or SF and the characters speak in a Shakespearean style, the readers are going to wonder what the heck is going on. It might work, like David Weber’s Jiltanith character from his Mutineer’s Moon series, but it has to be explained.

It may seem cool, but that exposition might take the place of action later on or confusing the soul of the story. In other words, getting in the way of the story’s power.

Now, sure, an editor can go through and edit all of the modernisms out of a medieval fantasy story, or whatever other oddnesses might be there, but in a contest, it’s a factor from the editor’s point of view. It means your story has to be clearly one of the winners. In a tie or close race between two stories, it will matter more. It’s quite literally part of the discussion Chris and I are having right now.

So to sum up, here you go.

  1. Only *this* story matters right now.
  2. Exposition only as needed for *this* story.
  3. Only the soul of *this* story really matters, in the end.
  4. Find a twist to give *this* story extra punch if you can.
  5. Use only the language that makes *this* story work.

Yeah, sure, these targets are amorphous and difficult to hit. I’m also not perfect at hitting them. However, I know that when I have these principles in mind, I write better stories. I also know that those stories submitted for this anthology that matched these principles got noticed more.

Again, you’ll find others out there with more experience than me, and also more success. You should absolutely pay attention to them. Also, there’s one true way of writing, and it’s whatever works for *you.* Still, I would say you wouldn’t go wrong at least considering these five things as you write short stories.

 

Interview: Chris Kennedy

Chris Kennedy has given many indie writers such as myself a bunch of opportunities. The world of SF is far better for having him be a part of it.

Interview: Chris Kennedy

This week’s interview is with Chris Kennedy, who has shown many of us how to be an independent writer. He’s written several series of his own, founded a publishing company that supports other independent authors, and, along with Mark Wandrey, started the Four Horsemen Universe of which I’ve contributed.

He’s taught me quite a bit already, and I suggest you listen to him and watch what he does.

What is your quest?

I want to sell a million books. Failing that, I want to help my authors sell ten million books.

What is your favorite color?

Science fiction…with a side of fantasy.

Chris Kennedy
Chris Kennedy

What is the average flying speed of an unladen paint brush?

Not coming from a writing background, I had to learn to do it right. I read blogs for 15 minutes a day for four years to help develop my craft and my ability to sell more books. I’m still not totally where I want to be, but I’m a much better writer than when I started, and I’m a lot closer to the goal.

What are the powers of your personal Holy Hand Grenade?

I like writing gritty combat and a good motivational speech once in a while.

Lightning Round

  • Favorite Muppet? Animal.
  • Crunchy or Creamy? Definitely crunchy. I don’t know why they make that other stuff.
  • Favorite Sports Team? UNC Tarheels basketball (despite their showing in the NCAAs last year), NY Yankees baseball, and Atlanta Falcons football.
  • Cake or Pie? Pie…but why can’t I have both?
  • Lime or Lemon? Lemon…because you can put it in Corona and make it taste better.
  • Favorite Chip Dip? Helluva Good Sour Cream and Onion
  • Wet or Dry? Sopping wet. (Rob’s Note: He’s a Navy guy)
  • Favorite Musical Performer We’ve Never Heard Of? Two Steps from Hell. Outstanding for combat writing music.
  • Whisky or Whiskey? Bud Light. (Rob’s Note: Sigh)
  • Favorite Superhero? Gal Gadot Wonder Woman. Because Gal Gadot.
  • Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall? Fall
  • Best Game Ever? In # of hours played? Everquest.
  • Coffee or Tea? Diet Pepsi
  • Sci-Fi or Fantasy? Scifi, with a side of fantasy.

What question(s) would you like to ask me?

How many MAC rounds can a trooper survive?

Rob’s Answer: If we’re talking a magnetically accelerated piece of tungsten, then zero if the trooper isn’t in a CASPer. If we’re talking the fully-loaded magazine of MAC rounds we’re going to have at our LibertyCon party, I would say most can survive five or so, depending upon rate of fire and body mass. However, this survival is likely to be more painful and the target might prefer the quick death of tungsten.

Tell me again where we can find your stuff?

Final question for you: What should I have asked but did not?

You should have asked, “Do you have any free book promotions coming up soon?”

Why yes, yes I do.

Both “Janissaries” and “Cartwright’s Cavaliers” will be free this weekend. Want to introduce someone to my writing or the 4HU? This is your chance to do it—get them to pick up a free copy this weekend!

You can find them here:


Thanks for reading. If you’re interested in any of the other interviews I’ve done, you can find them all here: http://robhowell.org/blog/?cat=326.

If you are a creator, especially an independent creator, and you want to be spotlighted in a future interview, email me at rob@robhowell.org.

Also, if you want to join my mailing list, where I’ll announce every interview, as well as what’s going on in my life, go to www.robhowell.org and fill out the form (Name and Email Address) or drop me an email and I’ll add you.

Rob’s Update: The Dust is Clearing

Week 27 of 2019

Greetings all

It’s the Saturday of Hypericon. Tomorrow, I will head home, and I’m ready to be back in my bed. These long trips are efficient, but can be very draining.

So far, Hypericon has been very laid back. A complete contrast to LibertyCon. Of course, I have much less planned here. I also know quite a few less people.

I have an interesting panel coming up at 1, though. Building a Better Monster. I like that idea quite a bit and will probably suggest it in the future. Then I’ll do my take things from one media to another panel at 8. Tomorrow, I have one more, about characters that should be brought back. Then we hit the road.

I need to start remembering just how draining LibertyCon is. It’s amazing and wonderful, but I have been dragging all week. Next year, I may have to plan on this week being a mini-vacation, though it’ll be on the road again, I think.

I have been writing a bit, but not much. Mostly, I’ve been reviewing where I was, which means editing. Not much word change but I’m prepping to hit the ground running on Monday and Tuesday.

Time for me to get back to that.

Current Playlist Song

By-Tor and the Snow Dog from Rush in Rio. Fun song, and maybe one day I’ll write it in story form.

Quote of the Week

Today is John Paul Jones’s birthday. Today’s quote isn’t his most famous, but it’s perhaps my favorite by him.

“I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast; for I intend to go in harm’s way.”
– John Paul Jones

News and Works in Progress

  • None Call Me Mother (approx. 55,000)
  • CB (8,418)
  • AFS (2,556)

Recent Blog Posts and Wiki Additions

Upcoming Events

Spotlight

This week’s spotlight is on Those in Peril. I’m getting happier and happier with my contribution to To Slip the Surly Bonds, which is in the process of editing. “In Dark’ning Storms” follows the events of “Far Better to Dare,” plus there are a number of other follow-up stories in the second volume that you’ll get more out of if you’ve read the first one.

Today’s Weight: 388.4

Updated Word Count: 158,282

Shijuren Wiki: 874 entries

Let me know if you have any suggestions on the website, this email, or cool story ideas at rob@robhowell.org. Especially let me know of suggestions you have for the Spotlight section.

Have a great week, everyone.

Rob Howell

Currently Available Works
Shijuren
Four Horsemen Universe
Short Stories

 

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Rob’s Update: One Little Victory

Week 25 of 2019

Greetings all

Well, so it’s been more like the monthly update recently. I apologize, there’s just been so much going on.

The biggest news is The Feeding of Sorrows, my first full length novel in the Four Horsemen Universe, came out last Friday. It got up to number 3 in new releases in Action and Adventure and it’s still at number 4. To say I’m pleased is a huge understatement. You can find it here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07T3B8BGB/.

To Slip the Surly Bonds Cover
To Slip the Surly Bonds Cover

Also released since my last update (sheesh, I’m so easily distracted), is We Dare, a collection stories of augmented humanity. My story in there is called “The Chaos of Well-Seeming Forms.” If you get the reference, you’ll have some clue how it goes down, but more than anything I was influenced by the Finnsburh Fragment and Episode, two bits of Old English poetry. Also, I had a chance to pay an homage to Dick Francis, and I took it. You can find it here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07SK6WKM1/.

I’m currently working on “In Darkening Storms,” the follow up to “Far Better to Dare” from Those in Peril. The new anthology will be called To Slip the Surly Bonds. For those of you reading this message, if you go to my blog, you can see the cover art there.

If you’re wondering about None Call Me Mother, I was just too ambitious. The new date to get it to the editor is the end of July with the hope to have it published in September. Thank you for your patience.

I was at Lilies War last week. I had a great time, did way too much, sold some stuff, and came home with a number of projects for Pennsic. The good news is right now I’m looking as ready for Pennsic as I have ever been and I don’t leave for five weeks.

Next week I head to LibertyCon. This year my mom gets to join me. I will, of course, be very busy there, thanks to the hard work of Rich Groller. You can find my schedule here: http://www.libertycon.org/programming/pros3.php?pid=326.

After LibertyCon, I’ll be at Hypericon in Nashville. This will be my first time there, but I’m looking forward to it. After all, if Terry Maggert is the Guest of Honor, things have to be whimsical.

While I have more to chat about, that’s probably enough. That’s what I get for not sending out a weekly message. Next message will come from the Marriott in Chattanooga.

See you all out and about.

Current Playlist Song

Rush’s One Little Victory. This always reminds me of the final show of the Vapor Trails tour. They played this song to open the second set, and it was a reminder of all the challenges Rush had gone through the previous five years, especially Neil.

At one point, simply picking up drumsticks was a little victory for him, and yet at that moment he had managed to not only record a new album with Alex and Geddy, he had made it through an entire tour.

It was, and is, one of the most emotional moments of life.

Quote of the Week

Might as well quote from the song, too.

The measure of the moment
Is a difference of degree
Just one little victory
A spirit breaking free
One little victory
The greatest act can be
One little victory

-Rush, One Little Victory

News and Works in Progress

  • IDS (5,483)
  • None Call Me Mother (Approx. 60,000)
  • CB (8,418)
  • AFS (2,556)

Recent Blog Posts and Wiki Additions

  • I need to get back to doing my interviews and mag reviews.

Upcoming Events

Spotlight

This week’s spotlight is on The Feeding of Sorrows, of which I’m very proud.

Today’s Weight: 383.8

Updated Word Count: 147,777 (I actually updated this)

Shijuren Wiki: 874 entries

Let me know if you have any suggestions on the website, this email, or cool story ideas at rob@robhowell.org. Especially let me know of suggestions you have for the Spotlight section.

Have a great week, everyone.

Rob Howell

Currently Available Works
Shijuren
Four Horsemen Universe
Short Stories

If you think you received this email incorrectly or wish to be unsubscribed, please send an email to shijuren-owner@robhowell.org

Rob’s Update: Rock and Tempest, Fire and Foe

Week 7 of 2019

Greetings all

Sorry about not having an update last week. I’ve been pounding away at The Feeding of Sorrows. I’m doing well, though I wanted to be farther along. I’m over 90k, though, so it’s not entirely vaporware at this point.

I’m currently ensuring I’ve got all the pieces in the right place for the penultimate battle. In this case, this is the part where I have to juggle all the timing to make it work right. The final battle follows easily enough, once we get the characters into place for this one.

Why two battles? Well, I like intrigue, treachery, and extra explosions.

Anyway, I’m really pleased with the story and I’m excited to finish and get it to the publisher.

Speaking of excitement, Those in Peril, the alternate naval history anthology that I’m in, went live yesterday. You can find it at: https://www.amazon.com/Those-Peril-Phases-Mars-Book-ebook/dp/B07NPG7QFW/. I really appreciate James L. Young and Chris Kennedy for letting me participate.

My story is called “Far Better to Dare,” and it’s about a certain memorable thing which doesn’t become memorable until ten years after it really happened. I really enjoyed writing this story, in part because I had to research an era of naval history I only knew a little about. It turns out to be perfect for this sort of exercise, with all sorts of interesting quirks and tidbits available to toss into the pot.

With that, I think I’m going to take the rest of the night off. A Cadfael mystery or two is calling.

Current Playlist Song

Blue Oyster Cult’s Don’t Fear the Reaper. Like many, not only do I love the song but I am also reminded of the great “More Cowbell” routine where Christopher Walken keeps demanding more cowbell from Will Ferrell. This skit got even funnier when I realized that there really is cowbell in the song, but it’s in the background. Ferrell picked it up, though, and, though I rarely say this about him, made comedic gold.

Quote of the Week

I might as well use the quote that provided my title for my story in Those in Peril.

“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”
– Theodore Roosevelt

News and Works in Progress

  • The Feeding of Sorrows (approx. 90,000)
  • CB (8,418)
  • AFS (2,556)

Recent Blog Posts and Wiki Additions

Upcoming Events

Spotlight

This week’s spotlight is on Meriah Crawford, is one of the many talented writer in Those in Peril. You can find that interview here: http://robhowell.org/blog/?p=1653.

Today’s Weight: 389.4

Updated Word Count: 15,187

Shijuren Wiki: 874 entries

Four Horsemen Wiki: 518 entries

Let me know if you have any suggestions on the website, this email, or cool story ideas at rob@robhowell.org. Especially let me know of suggestions you have for the Spotlight section.

Have a great week, everyone.

Rob Howell

Currently Available Works

If you think you received this email incorrectly or wish to be unsubscribed, please send an email to shijuren-owner@robhowell.org