Spawn of Mars
Don't worry. If you like your religion, you can keep your religion.
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 introduce relevant sub-mysteries.

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.

A Happy Year, Indeed
News of Story Submissions
Sunday, December 1, 2019 5:10 pm
Cirsova Magazine has accepted my outstanding story The Fourth Gift, which will appear in the 2020 Summer Special. I really wanted to get into Cirsova, just as I wanted to get into StoryHack and Stupefying Stories. Hurrah!

With this, I have sold every story I have written since I retired from my day job three years ago. Yes, that is only seven stories; but none of them will die in my drawer, unread. And considering that I sold zero stories in all the years before 2017, those seven will do nicely. (To be sure I had some success with juvenile books in the 1990s; but only now are my grown-up stories succeeding.)

Now to finish An Uncommon Day at the Lake (the 3rd Hamlin Becker tale). And after that? I have some ideas...
Planetary Pluto Is Out
Read My Story in It!
Friday, November 29, 2019 4:33 pm
After an unfortunate delay (which even included a change in publisher), the Pluto anthology is finally out.

Buy it on Amazon (to give me and the publisher money). Review it on Amazon (to increase its rank). Read my story Ambit of Charon and be amazed by my geniusness. Go, now!

P.S. Sadly there's a "typesetting" problem, in that all my italics are shown as underlines. This was caught in proof but not corrected. A proper version should come out someday, but over that I have no control. For now please infer italics.
A Mostly Happy Year
News of Story Submissions
Monday, September 23, 2019 12:06 pm
I submitted three stories to Stupefying Stories. Two were accepted. Weirdly I was more affected by the third being rejected. I am not a half-full kind of guy. Still, it was surely great to have two accepted.

So the story situation is as follows. 

Ambit of Charon. This is my story in the Pluto anthology. The anthology is supposedly still happening. At this point I don't believe it will ever happen. Superversive Press seems lost. One can hope, however.

Due a Hanging. This is my second Hamlin Becker story. It will be coming out (before February) in StoryHack #6.

Banana Man and Wayward Scarecrow. These are the two accepted by Stupefying. I don't know when they will come out, but I presume it will be in the coming year.

The Fourth Gift. This is the one rejected by Stupefying. It was also rejected by Superversive (from their Luna anthology, for which it was written). Indeed, this poor story has been rejected repeatedly this year. I've been submitting it, scattershot, with little concern about whether it would "fit in" (apart from targeting SF and Fantasy mags). It's actually a great story. Really. Just this morning I threw it at another mag that is sure to reject it. But hey, you never know.

That's all. If I were trying to make a living at this writing nonsense, I would be entirely impoverished. But I'm just writing to write (and to avoid squandering what talents I have). If I get published — hooray! If not — oh well.

But in fairness to the Great Balance, I concede that the news has been enough for me to declare this year to be Mostly Happy, so far as writing goes.

P.S. I have made good if unremarkable progress on my third Hamlin Becker story. I should finish it this year, in time to submit to StoryHack.

Self-Publishing Is Euthanasia for Stories
Think Twice Before Consigning Your Art
Wednesday, June 19, 2019 2:59 pm
I am a caveman. I started writing in the typewriter era. Eventually PCs and word processing arose. The gatekeepers remained, however. You were published only if an editor took a fancy to you.

Vanity publishing? That was just tawdry. There was something genuinely vain about it. It was, as well, far too much a capital venture. You were essentially starting your own business. 

Come the internet and self-publishing, though, and all those tales that had been typewritten — and turned back at every gate — could now be easily brought to the masses. Process your words, JPEG some cover, PDF the lot, and upload to some platform like Lulu or Smashwords or Amazon. Easy peasy — and barely a cent invested.

Yes, you still had to market your work. So what? That's fine. The internet lets everyone market himself. It is the era of the self! The lowliest soul can have a global presence.

In other words: You are no longer assaulting a few well-defined gates. You are instead trying to shout the loudest in the loudest cacophony ever.

Boy, you had better be able to sell yourself, and hard. Unfortunately I am a caveman. I really don't like leaving my cave. My self-published works remain unread, stored in some drawer in the cloud.

I'm not complaining about the need to self-market. Self-publishing rather reasonably entails self-marketing. My point is that, having failed to self-market (because frankly I am far too self-conscious to promote myself aggressively), my works have been published in vain — and they can never be published by anyone else.

They are dead. I have euthanized them.

No magazine takes reprints of stories — and self-publishing, it turns out, counts as printing. Hell, I've come across magazines that won't take a story you posted on your blog. Magazines are jealous beasts. The gatekeepers persist.

I naively thought that self-publishing was not final. "Hey, if this doesn't work out, I'll slink back to the slushpiles." Right? Well, maybe I can slink back, but my self-published stories are now mired in Amazon. They're done for.

Take heed, young writer. Until you have demonstrated that you can truly market a work, keep every other story in that desk of yours. Your art must be untainted by publication if you want it taken up by others.

I will never self-publish again.

A Half-Happy Year?
News of Story Submissions
Thursday, May 9, 2019 12:46 pm
Due a Hanging, my sequel to Some Things Missing From Her Profile, has been accepted by StoryHack. Biggest thanks to Bryce Beattie, the discerning and wise editor. The story will appear in StoryHack #6, later this year or early next. This acceptance really pleases me.

As far as I know, my story in Planetary Pluto is still happening. No word since February, however. Aargh. My submission to Planetary Luna was foolishly rejected.

My story for the asteroid anthology was also rejected. That surprised me. The editor's reasoning was valid enough, but I'd say he was overthinking things. His loss.

Now, if I had to have only one acceptance this year, Due a Hanging in StoryHack would have been my choice. So despite the disappointments, the year may turn out happy enough.

And the year isn't done, anyhow. Submissions to Stupefying Stories have re-opened. I have submitted a story. If that one gets rejected, I have two others. I like Stupefying Stories. I hope I get in.

P.S. Since I have had good luck with Hamlin Becker and StoryHack, I am definitely going to write a third story in time for the next round of submissions, which will presumably be around December. This story will be my next project.
Magazines
StoryHack #5
Stupefying Stories #22
Cirsova: Fall '19
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