Spawn of Mars
Don't worry. If you like your religion, you can keep your religion.
Sundry & Motley
As of September
Sunday, September 6, 2020 6:59 pm
So I finished the fourth Hamlin Becker story, that epilogue of sorts to An Uncommon Day at the Lake. I had hoped to make it a succinct 4K words. As it is, it's 5.3K. That's still shorter than the last two (which are ~10K each) and below the pulp standard of 6K (which I regularly exceed). I think it is also fairly succinct in any event. It is entitled His Own Ends.

This means I might have two stories in StoryHack in 2021. Assuming there are enough issues planned. And that the editor likes them both. Which he will. Because they're great.

What annoys me about my writing "process," such as it is, are the numerous, unproductive periods. 

I finished Uncommon Day at the end of April. I found it impossible to make headway on His Own until July. Then, somehow, I started writing; but even then, I didn't finish until August was gone. Two months down; two months up. Four months to get out 5K words.

The horrible thing is, the down times seem necessary. They are, at least, inevitable. No, I am not "recuperating" or "recharging." I'm just lounging. And my will is empty. Until it's not. And then... not suddenly, but with a certain useful steadiness, I manage to write a complete tale.

So now, having finished His Own Ends, do I have months of nothing ahead? Probably.

Since Cirsova is apparently not an option for 2021, and I've already got two possibilities for StoryHack, and Stupefying Stories seems to be dying (and my two stories, already accepted by them, may revert to me unpublished), I don't precisely have any successful markets to target in the short term. Not having to write for specific markets, I am going to let my next story be rather... whatever I want. Just some idyllic SF. No pulp, no action, no thrills, no nothing but what pleases me. This is a kind of freedom, to be sure. I'm looking forward to it.

The drag of it is, I still have to do some planning and such. I really would like to free-form it and just write. But I decided decades ago that, whatever stream of thought I might indulge, there still has to be a story of some sort. A plot. Or at least a point. Hence the tedious preliminaries...

It should be cool, though. It's about a man who decides to produce some good, like maple syrup, except not that. His community resides above the surface of a neutron star. The inhabitants of the star, akin to spirits, maintain the livable fragments above. The story is a kind of journal, about his not-maple-syrup endeavors and his benign clashes with his neighbors and local government. It's idyllic. A summer in the life of his family.

I don't expect to sell it to anyone. I just want to write it.

I haven't done a very good job avoiding Twitter. It's not so much that I want something to read (however piecemeal), although there is that; it's more that I am so bored. If nothing else, Twitter provides stimulus. Still, I've been cold turkey for a day. Ha! I may avoid it for a time...

Sundry & Motley
As of August
Friday, August 7, 2020 1:40 pm
I wrote to Alex, the editor of Cirsova, and confirmed that Cirsova's plans and budget for 2021 leave no room for my story The Impossible Footprint. I wouldn't have asked Alex so pointedly, except he had tweeted that he was only going to invite contributors — no open submissions, that is — and I needed to know my chances. What a shame! I still think it's perfect for Cirsova.

So now I am going to send it through the rejection mill. Maybe Cirsova will take it for 2022. Or maybe it will be a little masterpiece kept in a drawer. 

Submissions for StoryHack will likely open, as I expected, in the fall. I've got An Uncommon Day at the Lake, the third Hamlin Becker tale, ready to go. It's funny how much I am presuming my story will be accepted. I don't usually operate with such hope. But having had two Becker tales published in StoryHack, my hope is not unwarranted.

As I have mentioned, my productivity of late has been contemptible. In the past couple of weeks I have finally started writing again. It's another Becker tale, but pithier. I am targeting no more than 4,000 words, in four tight chapters. One thrilling fight and out. The sisters Day are not even in it, except as troubles in Becker's thoughts. It's a kind of epilogue to Uncommon Day and a transition to another, perhaps too ambitious, Becker novella — or novel, should I dare!

Anyhow, this new short, as yet untitled, might be finished before StoryHack's fall submissions close. That is, maybe I can get two Becker tales published in 2021.

It's true what they say. Reading Twitter agitates and depresses the reader. At first I was getting that nice flow of thoughts that even busy blogs can't match. But the times are far too infuriating. I have been mourning the Republic and my people for years, but now I am certain we are truly finished. We are passing through the greatest history. And I don't need Twitter to remind me of the coming end.

I'm retaining my Twitter account but, like many people, I am stepping away. I'll use it for announcements only (and maybe to carefully track Cirsova and StoryHack).

One frustrating aspect of my (now ended) recourse to the Twitter Timeline was that I just wanted something to read. Gads, it has been hard to find good fiction. I've been enjoying the pulp magazines well enough, but stories are hit and miss, even in good mags like Cirsova and StoryHack. Besides, I really wanted a book.

I have a lot of samples on my Kindle. The other night I brutally started reading through them. If I didn't like a thing right away, I erased it (from device and cloud). In some ways that's unfair. I never forget that I was initially bored by Crime and Punishment and had to give it another, later attempt. But then I was young. Wow me now, because I will be dead soon!

Anyhow, I found something that may be really good. We'll see. If nothing else, a nice read surely helps with my mood. Even my will to write is increased.

Cirsova Summer Special 2020 Is Out!
Read My Story in It!
Thursday, May 14, 2020 3:53 pm
The annual Summer Special of Cirsova Magazine is here!

Buy it on Amazon (to give the publisher money). Review it on Amazon (to increase its rank). Read my story The Fourth Gift and be amazed by my wonderfullestness. Go, now!

P.S. From Twitter, here's a gratifying review of my story.
Rarely does one come across a story both intellectually brilliant and artistically beautiful. The Fourth Gift by DAVID SKINNER is absolutely one of that. A meditation on immortality, humanity, science, and struggle, it’s both a dense read and one utterly worthwhile.
Derivative of Nictzin Dyalhis
Writing Another Chronicle of the Venhezian Heroes
Monday, May 4, 2020 10:11 pm
Somehow I became aware of The Sapphire Goddess: The Fantasies of Nictzin Dyalhis, a collection published by DMR Books in 2018. It collects all the fantasy stories of the unprolific Nictzin Dyalhis, who wrote primarily for Weird Tales between 1925 and 1940.

Two of Dyalhis's contributions to Weird Tales are science fiction: When the Green Star Waned (April 1925) and its sequel The Oath of Hul Jok (September 1928).
I really liked both of these stories — so much so, that I have written a derivative work. Since Dyalhis's stories are in the public domain, I am free to have my story published, and I hope that Cirsova Magazine will accept it when submissions re-open later this year. 

There's an earnestness to Dyalhis's two stories. They are all superlatives, exclamation points, and outsized drama. The seven friends are the very best of their kind: the greatest scientist, the greatest diplomat, the greatest warrior, the greatest cultural scholar, the greatest biologist, the greatest reader of minds, and the greatest... well, the narrator is not presented as the "greatest" chronicler and poet, but he is part of the amazing circle.

The stories are clearly science fiction written before World War II. There isn't a lot of hard science. Nor is there magic; but there is an easy and intriguing occultism. Evil is as much a force as electricity. The technology has that alluring mechanical flavor, free of the atomic and the cybernetic.

The setting is the Planetary Chain, an alternative Solar System. Maybe it's the far future of our own but it seems much more a different place. The names of the planets are just a little off — Venhez for Venus, Jopitar for Jupiter, and so on. There are invocations of Our Lady of Venhez, a being who is not really Aphrodite. Venhez is a planet of love and its sign is the Looped Cross (i.e., ), but everything is sideways of our reality and mythology.

And that was my first handhold in creating my derivative work. Dyalhis doesn't develop things deeply. The world-building, though neat, is mostly suggestive.

My second handhold was the sketchiness of the characters. Hul Jok the warrior is vivid, Vir Dax the biologist has some color, Lan Apo the mind-reader is not a blank, and Hak Iri the poet, if only because he is our melodramatic narrator, is not one-dimensional, but by and large the characters are just carriers of superpowers. As you revel in Hul Jok you lament the general blandness of the others.

So there is a lot of foundation in the two stories but not a lot of definition. There's also an enjoyable spirit (and the touch of an outlook rather removed from 2020). The past century has not exactly produced a communal literary expansion of Hak Iri's Friends & the Planetary Chain. I may even be a pioneer. In any event, I had cause to continue Dyahlis's work; and therefore I did.

No, I did not write a gritty reboot. I'm not out to subvert expectations. Vir Dax does not have a gruesome past with a missing call-girl and Lan Apo is not struggling as a transgendered pansexual. My story is not a parody or even an affectionately comedic re-imagining. I simply wrote the third in a series.

Obviously I am not Dyalhis. Yet there is a manner to his writing that accords with my own and I don't need to mimic him wholly to evoke him. My goal was not, in any event, to don a Dyalhis mask. My work is truly derivative, neither identical nor separate. It follows well, I think.

Now I just need Cirsova to accept it — so that you can read it! Sadly, even in the best case, it won't be published for a year or more. But keep an eye out for The Impossible Footprint.

P.S. "Nictzin Dyalhis," though nom-de-plumey, was the man's actual name, near as can be determined. And I do recommend the collection from DMR.

StoryHack #6 Is Out
Read My Story in It!
Wednesday, April 1, 2020 1:53 pm
The latest issue of StoryHack is here! And it contains the second Hamlin Becker tale!

Buy it on Amazon (to give the publisher money). Review it on Amazon (to increase its rank). Read my story Due a Hanging and be amazed by my excellentivity. Go, now!

P.S. Canada speaks! A reader from Canada, in reviewing this issue of StoryHack, has this to say about my offering:
David Skinner wrote a punchy and brilliant story in Due a Hanging. Giving the reader just enough information to tug them along and explain his world, you get a strong feeling for the web of revenge closing in, and the tension of the events. A terrific example of show don't tell.
Thanks, Canada!
The Clash of Virtues
Orienting Fiction Away From Darkness
Saturday, February 1, 2020 1:41 pm
Recently I blogged about my recipe for writing pulp action. Soon after, I came across some excellent writing advice from an author. It applies to any fiction, not only pulp; but it supports the broader agenda of avoiding nihilism.

The author says to introduce a character in a way that showcases a virtue rather than a fault. As he points out, there is a (bad) idea regnant that we are defined by our faults, and that being good is unrealistic or unrelatable. (I made a similar point years ago, though not in the context of writing.)

He further says, "Internal conflicts between good and bad qualities are boring." I'd not say boring; perhaps too commonplace. But then he says:
Show me a conflict between duty and compassion, or courage and wisdom, or love and justice.
That imperative is illuminating. Fiction requires conflict; but conflict does not require evil. Depicting a clash of virtues denies vices an equal standing, and it's a nice way to show that virtue is vigorous and not — as the modern world would tell you — merely the absence of vice.

Most importantly, the reader is given characters that elicit admiration, not pity or condescension.

Anyhow — something to keep in mind.
My Pulp-Action Recipe
Writing Action & Adventure
Saturday, January 18, 2020 3:11 pm
This past week I finished writing An Uncommon Day at the Lake, a Hamlin Becker tale that I hope to sell to StoryHack.

StoryHack is, as it calls itself, a magazine of "Action & Adventure." This means no tales of navel-gazing and nihilism and ponderous puffery. It also means tales generally free of current-year correctness, a thing that hates fun and other natural human ways of being and is hardly interested in action and adventure. 

Obviously, if I want to get into StoryHack, I need to write stories a certain way — the way of the pulps, as it turns out. The editor of StoryHack has himself invoked the Lester Dent Formula, which anyone seeking the Way of the Pulps will eventually discover.

Dent's formula has indeed guided me through my three Becker tales. However, it is truly a formula and, to be frank, it is hard for me to obey. I am not a hack; and I don't say that snobbishly. I sometimes wish I were. I'd love to be able to crank out formulaic tales that make readers happy.

What has happened instead is that I obey a less-rigid recipe. Dent's ideas are at the center, but I have added a few other ideas about successful pulp.

David Skinner's Pulp-Action Recipe

Begin with a mystery (or a menace). Proceed through several twists (ideally three, no less than two). Reach a revelation. End with an epilogue that winds down to a warm, though not necessarily happy, feeling.

The twists should deepen the primary mystery (or menace) or introduce relevant sub-mysteries (or sub-menaces). A mix of mysteries and menaces is usually best.

The action should be continuous (events are not separated by too much time) and physical (actual fights and danger punctuate the twists). Things must worsen as the tale progresses. Obstacles should arise.

Focus throughout on a hero. Whatever his misfortunes, he is not a billiard ball but an agent. Most importantly, though luck and nature can play a role, the hero prevails through his own efforts, leadership, or both.

Remember that men are men and women are women. Don't neglect the romance!

Finally, the tale need not be white hats versus black, but remember that good and evil are real and not merely different points of view. Good may not be spotless but evil cannot win in the end.

And that's it. As I said, very Dentish but not a formula. It has shaped my tales of Hamlin Becker. It's gotten me into StoryHack twice — and soon, I'm hoping, thrice.

P.S. By the way, StoryHack #5 is out. I don't have anything in that issue. Becker #2 will be coming in StoryHack #6, probably in March. Becker #1 is in StoryHack #1.

My Twitter
Spawn of Mars
Magazines
StoryHack #6
Stupefying Stories #22
Cirsova #4 (Summer)
Categories
Art
Catholic Faith
Catholic Life
Family
Fantasy
Games
Language
Literature
Men & Women
Metaphysics
Movies
Music
People & Society
Personal
Publishing
Science
Science Fiction
Television
Trifles
Writing