what I've been reading and what they're doing right (#SFWApro)

Last Thursday, I finished my latest work, Cygnet Moon, and shipped the novel and its accompanying submission package off to my agent. Writing a novel is an immersive business for me, especially when I get into the final quarter and during edits. I don't read anything but the story that I'm working on. I do this so that I don't accidentally pick up someone else's voice during my final round of edits.

I restrict my reading to blog posts and research, then once I'm done, I go on an absolute binge of reading. Here are a few books that I've found worth my while:

Preternatural by G.S. Anderson

I once had an agent who offered up a unique challenge: Anyone, he posited, can tell you what is wrong with a story. The challenge is in telling someone what is RIGHT with a story. Find what works, and you can discover writing secrets, which you can then apply to your own writing. That suggestion has remained with me all these years, so when I find myself enjoying an author's work, I start looking for what that particular author is doing right.

Anderson tells twelve unique stories in this little volume, and I had to read it twice to find out what she was doing right, because her writing is so smooth and enjoyable, I found myself reading for fun the first time through.

What she did right: smooth storytelling with skillful prose made me forget to study fiction and simply enjoy stories for fun. Anderson's writing reminded me Stephen King's Joyland. Skillful storytelling with a cool Twilight Zone twist hidden within each tale. I read it quickly--too quickly--and read it again. My favorite story was "The Unicorn" and I hope that Anderson will give us more shorts such as these. If you're looking for something perfect to while away an afternoon, I highly suggest you check out Preternatural.

Those Across the River and The Necromancer's House by Christopher Buehlman.

Over the winter, I read Christopher Buehlman's Between Two Fires. I enjoyed his story and writing style so much that when my daughter gave me a B&N gift card for my birthday, I ordered his other two novels: Those Across the River and The Necromancer's House.

Of the two, I found myself enjoying the Those Across the River more than The Necromancer's House, but I believe that was more to do with my mindset. Both stories are well worth your time, though, especially if you love horror.

I read Those Across the River in two days. The story is set in post-World War I Georgia when Frank Nichols and his wife Eudora move to Whitbrow, Georgia and learn of the town's disturbing history. Once a month, the town sends a gift of two pigs across the river where the old Savoyard plantation once stood, but the Great Depression is hitting all of the farmers hard, and the town votes to stop wasting its livestock in a ritual that only a few want to maintain. However, it isn't long before those across the river return to take what is no longer freely given.

What is right about this book: everything. The pacing moves at a breakneck speed and Buehlman has a talent for dark fiction, knowing just how much to weave into the story to keep the reader hooked without going overboard into the dreaded school of over-writing. The story is lean, quick, and cuts like a knife.

Unlike Those Across the River, The Necromancer's House jumped between different points of view, which jarred me at times. I had a little trouble getting into the story and the characters, but once there, I really found myself enjoying this twisted take on Baba Yaga. Buehlman's climax and ending were superb.

What he does right: Buehlman takes the time to research his stories, and he puts just enough of that research into the work to give his story authenticity. The balance is absolutely perfect. I'll be watching for more of Buehlman's work.

The Tainted City by Courtney Schafer.

This is the second book in Schafer's Shattered Sigil series and I am currently reading it. I love Schafer's storytelling.

What she does right: Likable characters woven into a good, old-fashioned adventure story with lots of twists and betrayals. Kiran is my favorite character in this story, and Dev is back with style.

I'll be back with a full review when I'm done, but Tainted City is my last fun read before I start work on a new novella.

If you've got a minute and you're reading something good, leave it in the comments. Let us know what you find right about the author's work.

no nano for me--2013 is the year of the short story #sfwapro

A short update on progress of Cygnet Moon and other projects:

2013 is the year of the short story for me. Thus far, I've written four:

"Naked the Night Sings" at 4,500 words;

"Love, Crystal and Stone" at 7,300 words;

"La Santisima" at 4,900 words;

"Down to the River" at 4,000 words.

That's a grand total of 20,700 words. In comparison, I have now reached the 31,700 mark on Cygnet Moon.

For the record, I thought about participating in NaNoWriMo this year, but with the pressure of a few other projects floating around, I had to decline.

If you're busy writing and counting those words, good luck. I'm hammering the old keyboard right alongside of you.

I've got two other projects under a deadline right now, so if I'm scarce, that's why. Meanwhile, here is a teensy peek at Cygnet Moon:

I dreamed that I hid in a forest. The trees grew close together. All sound was choked off.

Overhead, spirits swirled like a fine pale mist through the tightly woven limbs. The souls sought a way past the woods so they could ascend to heaven’s realms. The air hummed with their moans. The wind did not blow here. Nothing moved but the dead.

I squatted behind a tree and shut my eyes. Exhausted by my fear, I couldn’t move. I tried to be small and inconsequential. I hid in the darkest corners of my mind, yet Mother found me, her tongue a great silver blade that cut me to the bone. She opened her mouth and revealed eyes instead of teeth.

Nano away, my friends. I'll be around.

About the short story "La Santisima"

Last week, I gave you the cover reveal for a short story project that I've been working on for some time. This week, I want to tell you a little more about the story and how it came about.

Some stories, well a lot of stories, are written to market. That simply means that a story is constructed to adhere to reader expectations in such a way as to make the story more salable to publishers. There is nothing wrong that—every author writes to market if they hope to be published, but sometimes, every once in a while, a story doesn’t quite adhere to market expectations.

That is sort of what happened with "La Santisima." The story wasn't deemed to be quite genre enough for certain venues, and the genre tropes provided less appeal for the literary market.

That certainly wasn't my intention. "La Santisima" began with marketable aspirations. My original idea was for a drug story that incorporated some kind of supernatural suicide revenge. There was going to be horror and blood pacts and all sorts of badassery, but I wasn't precisely sure which supernatural elements to incorporate into the tale. I contacted a friend and asked her advice. Sabrina pointed me toward La Santa Muerte, a saint most associated with the drug cartels.

Outside of the most garish Hollywood nonsense, I had no idea what La Santa Muerte was about, either as a cult or as a symbol. I turned to Google and stumbled onto Eva Aridjis' documentary La Santa Muerte. She filmed a very compassionate look at the people who live in some of the worst poverty and the most dangerous neighborhoods in Mexico. After watching the interviews in La Santa Muerte, I realized that my original idea was not going to work.

About the same time, I saw an advertisement for another documentary, Who is Dayani Cristal? I have not seen this particular work yet, but it is about a man who died in the Arizona desert while trying to cross the border. The medical examiners' only clue to identifying the corpse was the name Dayani Cristal, which was tattooed on the body.

Out of curiosity, I looked up some facts and figures on the Sonoran desert just to see how many people die there every year in an attempt to cross the border. According to the non-governmental human rights organization, Coalición de Derechos Humanos, over 2,500 men, women, and children have died trying to make that dangerous crossing since the year 2000.

Those are the ones who are found.

I brushed up on my faulty Spanish and started reading about migrants, why they want to leave their homes and homelands for a country that is just as foreign to them as Latin America is to most U.S. citizens. I tried to imagine what would make someone want to cross a border with little more than the clothes on his or her back. One man talked about getting up before dawn and working until nine at night at back-breaking labor that did nothing to raise him out of his poverty. One day he woke up and decided that he just couldn’t do it anymore—he started walking the tracks, looking for something better.

His hope of finding a better life remained with me as I read more and more about the migrant experience. Through documentaries, I saw the conditions in which people are forced to live—in poverty and in fear. I read through the Coalición de Derechos Humanos’ website where they have listed the people found dead in the desert. Of all the bodies that were located, only a few had names. Most were listed as "unknowns," and I wondered about the families they left behind. I wondered about the whys and the hows and what would happen if.

"La Santisima" is the product of that wondering. I wanted to put myself in someone else's life and see the world differently. I wanted to understand a complex problem by giving faces, names, and histories to the unknowns found in the desert.

I'm not here to give you an answer on the topic of immigration, because I have none. I'm just not that smart. I do wish that we, those of us on both sides of the border, would spend more time trying to understand one another rather than seeking to blame. I'd like to see us reach out and find a more humanitarian solution to the issue, maybe something that is less about erecting walls and more about reaching out. Men and women, who are simply fighting to survive, are lost to the shadows, nameless and forgotten. Meanwhile politicians point fingers and argue patriotism, but we all know the truth about politicians—the dollar is the bottom line.

Only sometimes it's not about money, at least not to me.

I could have changed Sebastian's story, added a little gore and given La Santa Muerte a larger, more sinister role—I'm a writer, words are my business, badassery could have abounded.

But sometimes a story feels right, the characters feel true, and that is what happened here. For better or for worse, "La Santisima" is what I wrote, and I knew that if I tried to cram the story into a mold, I would have broken my characters' spirits; I would have cheapened their sacrifice—the story might have sold, but it wouldn't be the same.

I couldn't bring myself to do that.

I am going to bring you something very soon. It will be a gift, something that I choose to give in exchange for all that you have given me.

I see you out there on the Internet, pulling for me, offering me words of encouragement every day, and I know many of you by name. I am indebted to you for all of the beautiful diversity that you’ve brought into my life.

You know who you are.

Mis mejores deseos,



short story cover reveal ...

I'm still hammering out a few details, but I wanted to show you the cover art for a short story project that I'm working on. The cover was designed by John Hornor Jacobs and I'm thrilled with it:

Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or subscribe to the blog (see the subscribe button in the sidebar).

Sometime within the coming weeks, I will have something very cool for all of you, so stay tuned ...

writing words into stories is hard

Writing words into stories is hard work sometimes. I envy people who can whip out a short story over a weekend and sell it on Monday. I'm not one of those people. Occasionally, I can write a story and polish it within a week or two by working in the evenings and on the weekends, but rarely do I finish a short story in less than two weeks.

I mean I can, but it's not usually a very good story.

I have a story that stymied me recently. I've been working on it off and on for a month now. I was ready to trash it until my reading partner told me that she loved it. She also told me how to fix it--the places where I was unclear or had shot off the rails into a side plot that didn't belong in this particular story.

About ninety percent of my work would hit the recycle bin without ever seeing the light of day if I were left to my own devices. That's why it's good to have a second set of eyes on every one of my projects.

What gave me so much patience with this yet unnamed story was another short story that I wrote back in the spring. "La Santisima" took all the same weird curves and turns that this current story has suffered. I worked on "La Santisima" a little at a time as a side project for a couple of months.

"Naked the Sings" shot out of my laptop in a week. That was one of the rare stories that just flowed from beginning to end. "Love, Crystal and Stone" fell between the others--at times it came very quickly, other portions had to be groomed and polished relentlessly.

I love working on short stories, though. They give me the opportunity to experiment with different styles and subjects without the time investment of a novel. I also force myself to complete them whether I think the story has merit or not.

The ones that I spend the longest time working on are usually my better works, the ones that I'm very proud of when I reread them.

A couple of links:

Drey's Library is running a series of posts where authors who are involved with the Neverland's Library Anthology discuss why we wrote stories for the anthology. Mine is here.

You can read an exclusive excerpt from "Love, Crystal and Stone" at the Fantasy Book Critic.

Sabrina Vourvoulias wrote an exceptional post on Some Thoughts About Ageism, Fear, Failed Posts and Even More Failed Imaginations. I agree with her and she will no longer be fighting that battle alone. I'll also raise the banner to see more older characters in novels.

That's it for this week.

Come back next week, because if the stars come together and the universe smiles upon us, I might have something very special for all of you.

An exclusive excerpt from "Love, Crystal and Stone"

As many of you know, I sold a short story to the Neverland’s Library Fantasy Anthology recently. The story, “Love, Crystal and Stone,” is a companion piece to my short story “Naked the Night Sings,” which appears in Manifesto: UF.

Although they’re sister stories, they are as different as night and day in tone. 

When I found out that Tad Williams had written the introduction to Neverland's Library Fantasy Anthology, I had a real fangirl moment and wanted to write something special. Short stories are fun because I can experiment with different techniques and styles without the time investment required by a novel. That is what I did with "Love, Crystal and Stone."

Whereas “Naked the Night Sings” has an urban fantasy/horror vibe, “Love, Crystal and Stone” is more of a traditional fantasy story. The story unwinds at a more leisurely pace and is a much more personal story to me. I'll talk about why in some future posts.

The theme of rediscovery was very interesting to me, and I considered it carefully before I began writing. One important aspect of rediscovery is that in order to rediscover a thing or a person, one must first experience loss.

Right now, there is an exclusive excerpt from "Love, Crystal and Stone" over at Fantasy Book Critic. I invite you to see how the story begins ...