We’re still accepting story submissions until April 1. The more money gets raised, the more that chosen authors will be paid, and the more stories we can publish. Join me to make this a reality!
We’re still accepting story submissions until April 1. The more money gets raised, the more that chosen authors will be paid, and the more stories we can publish. Join me to make this a reality!
If you have visited this blog since the new year began, you might have noticed a new series of pages in the top menu. It’s part of a new concept I would dearly like to develop, which should provide more opportunities for authors to find paying work as well as giving readers more influence over the books that get written. I blogged about audience-driven book writing at the end of December, and now you can join with me to make the concept a reality.
I am accepting submissions for a new short-story anthology in the genre of military fiction (chosen mostly because it seemed to be underserved, compared to its reader base). The deadline for submission is March 1. Stories should be between 3,500 and 7,000 words long. Selected authors will be paid for publication rights. And in a few weeks, I will be launching a Kickstarter project to raise the funding for publication.
If you want to learn more about submitting your writing, check out the full description and short-story requirements here. And if you want to be notified when the Kickstarter project goes live (whether you are an author or a reader), sign up here. (If you want to suggest a new genre for the next anthology, please do so in the comments below.)
The full vision is for groups of readers to pool their funding, and pay authors to produce the works that they want to read. This anthology is Step One towards fully realizing that vision. For it to work, we need your stories—your talent, your craft, the vivid characters and gripping situations that you want to show the world.
If you have friends who are authors, or who are readers, please share this post and let them know of this opportunity. Again, this is a paying gig—and if the Kickstarter goes well, we may be able to publish stories from more authors than the minimum, making the anthology even more attractive for readers. This is not a zero-sum game; there are no limits. The more people who join together, the more that everybody wins.
Show the world what you can do.
[I’ve previously written that I want to write a handbook for writers on how to handle politics and political conflict in our stories. Right now I’m working on a precursor to that handbook—a brief study of different types of political regimes, summarizing and commenting on the work of political scientist Samuel Finer. Here’s a short excerpt from my current draft, a fictional vignette illustrating what one example of the Palace polity would feel like:]
Amanukemba XVII yawned as he completed the last of the sacred rites for the day. The god-emperor had to placate the Ancestors, of course, but now that all of that was done he could pay a quick visit to the harem before finally meeting with his high council. They were a tedious pack of bores mostly, but it wouldn’t do to antagonize them too much or the bureaucracy would just make trouble. He would smile and nod, and then meet with his true advisors in secret later that evening. They were men more to Amanukemba’s liking, ambitious and driven, yet without high station and title—too weak to pose a threat, and totally dependent on his patronage. And unlike the paper-pushers, they got things done.
Which was good, for much remained to be done before the fall. The granaries needed filling, and that meant that the peasants needed squeezing. Yet somehow he had to free up enough men from his conscript armies to ensure a good harvest, without exposing his frontier to barbarian raids. Choices, choices.
The emperor hummed a happy tune as he passed between the eunuch harem guards, who bowed at his appearance. He would ask for Messarina today. She would almost certainly try to flatter him and distract him, and then at a crucial moment she would ask about affairs of state, about which she had no business asking. If Amanukemba were lucky, she would then whisper a suggestion for what he should do, and then he might discover which official had been bribing his eunuchs to gain access to the harem. Not to take liberties with the concubines, of course—it would be madness to risk death by slow torture—but to plot and scheme and do all those things court functionaries seemed to do with their time.
The whole thing was silly, of course. If they were smart, they would all realize that the surest way to wealth and power would be to please the god-emperor, Son of the Ancients. He was too wise and cunning to be taken in by such petty manipulations. Perhaps his grandfather had been, but not his father, and not he…
[Note: This is one of the short stories that can be found in my Kindle collection, The Best Congress Money Can Buy: Stories of Political Possibility. Given recent events and the political debates that have accompanied them, I figured it would be appropriate to revisit this story. Let me know what you think!]
Beth had scarcely come home from the massage clinic where she worked when her smart phone beeped at her, with the news that Handgun Defense, Inc., was lobbying for more changes to gun-ownership laws. This time, they wanted to weaken the exemptions for pepper-spray.
“Ridiculous,” Beth snapped to her friend Donna, who had come by with a satchel of tomatoes from her garden. “Why should they force me to carry a gun if I don’t want to? What’s wrong with pepper spray?”
“It says here that they don’t think it does a good enough job against criminals,” Donna said with a sniff, reading from her own phone. “I think they just want to end up with everyone owning a gun, whether we want it or not.”
[What follows is the text of an illustrated children’s book, now available on Kindle and in hardback. The artwork from my artist collaborators is absolutely stunning! Check it out!]
Once, long ago in a faraway land, there was a wise princess who lived in a magical castle. The princess commanded a large fearsome dragon, who was strong enough to do all sorts of work that people needed. If the people needed fish, the princess would tell her dragon to carry a giant net to the ocean and fish there. If the people needed a new road, the princess would have her dragon melt rocks with his fiery breath and pave the road with them. And the people were happy, because their princess took care of them.
But the dragon was not happy. Not only was he doing all the work, but he was always hungry, because the princess wouldn’t let him eat people. Imagine you were a dragon, and you were surrounded by happy people all the time, and you couldn’t even eat one of them! So the dragon was very sore at the princess, and dreamed of a day when he could break free of her control.
At last, his chance came. The dragon used a powerful magic spell to send the princess into a deep sleep, and hid her away in her castle. Then he flew out into the land, and ate dozens of sheep and cattle and even a few people. And the people were afraid, because their princess was gone and could no longer take care of them, and because the dragon’s hunger was insatiable.
Many heroes ventured into the castle to save the princess, but none of them ever returned. The people lost hope that they would ever have their princess back. But one man had not lost hope. Yet he was no great warrior, but a simple baker named Chanoch. And he had a plan.
One day, Chanoch came up the road to the castle, carrying a big heavy backpack, and cautiously crept inside. He found the main hall covered by thick darkness; he couldn’t even see the great throne where the princess sat, but he knew in his heart that she was there. Looking around the edges of the darkness, he saw four great oil lamps on the left side of the room, and four more on the right.
“If I light those,” he said, “I’ll be able to see the princess. Maybe then I’ll know what to do.”
But scarcely had he taken out his flint and tinder to light a torch, when the room rumbled as the dragon swooped down from the roof and landed on the floor with a thud. “Oh no you don’t!” he cried with a mighty roar. “I suffer a terrible hunger, and the princess would never let me satisfy it. So as long as the hunger remains, the princess will stay my prisoner!”
Oddly enough, this was just what Chanoch had expected. “Good sir dragon,” he said kindly, “of course I don’t want you to go hungry. But have you ever tried eating something other than people?”
The dragon paused and cocked his head. Normally, the heroes just went straight to the stabby stabby, and then he ate them. Chanoch’s politeness was unusual. “Well,” he said, “the princess fed me nothing but lettuce and tofu. It was all so bland. I needed something more. I needed to eat people!”
“I can understand that,” Chanoch said. “But what if there were a food that was better than people?”
“Like what?” the dragon asked, curious.
For answer, Chanoch took out mixing bowls, a frying pan, and ingredients from his backpack: flour, water, sugar, eggs, and oil. He mixed dough, formed it into round balls, and put them into the pan with a little bit of oil. “Could you do the honors?” he said to the dragon.
The dragon was skeptical, but he breathed a short puff of fire onto the pan, frying the dough balls in the oil. Chanoch nodded in satisfaction and held one of the dough balls out to the dragon.
“What is it?” the dragon asked.
“It’s called a donut,” Chanoch replied.
“Hmm,” the dragon said. He snaked out his big head and snagged the donut with his long thin tongue, chomping on it with his giant pointy teeth. “Not bad,” he said, surprised. “Nice and soft on the outside, and sweet and chewy on the inside. Kind of like people.” But he hesitated. “It’s still not as good as really eating people,” he said. “There’s something missing.”
“Tell me,” Chanoch said, “and I’ll try to fix it.”
“Well,” the dragon said, concentrating on the taste, “when I eat people there’s a gooeyness to it. The donut is too dry on the inside.”
Chanoch smiled. “Easy enough.” He took out a jar of strawberry jelly and a large syringe. Sticking the syringe into the center of a new donut, he squirted jelly inside, and sealed the hole with a little dough. He held it out to the dragon. “Try it now,” he said.
The dragon ate the jelly donut, chewing slowly, little globs of jelly dripping onto his scaly lip until he licked them up. “Hey, this is good,” he said. “Even better than before.” But still he hesitated. “It’s close, but it’s still not quite the same.”
“Well, you’re right about that,” Chanoch agreed. “Fried donuts aren’t people, even if you put jelly in them. But I’ll tell you how you can make them even better than people.”
“Better? Really?” The dragon blinked his great shining eyes.
“All you have to do,” Chanoch said, “is say ‘thank you’ before you eat them.”
The dragon laughed, smoke trailing from his mouth. “That’s silly! How could saying ‘thank you’ make food taste better?”
Chanoch smiled. “Because saying thank you shows that you appreciate the food. Here, try it.” He held out another jelly donut.
“I still think it’s silly,” the dragon said, “but all right.” He snaked his head forward again, but before grabbing the donut, he said, “Thank you for this donut.” Then he chewed and swallowed. As he did, the dragon’s face glowed with delight. “Wow!” he said. “You were right! This is so much better than people.”
“So does that mean you’ll free the princess?” Chanoch said.
The dragon licked his lips, fidgeting. “Do you think the princess will let me eat these jelly donuts? Or will she make me go back to tofu?”
“If you say thank you for them, I’m sure the princess won’t mind,” Chanoch said. “And I promise you’ll get all the jelly donuts you need.”
“All right then,” the dragon said. “I sealed the princess with a word of power. When you light the lamps, you’ll be able to read it. Just speak it aloud, and she’ll wake up.”
So Chanoch lit the eight lamps, and their light drove away the darkness in the throne room. Just as he knew she would be, the princess was seated on her throne, fast asleep. Hovering in front of her was a glowing word, written in the air. Chanoch spoke it aloud, and it dissolved. The princess woke up.
“Sufgan!” she said. “You’ve been a very naughty dragon!”
“I know,” the dragon said sheepishly. “But it’s okay now, because Chanoch is going to give me jelly donuts to eat instead of people.”
“That sounds better, Sufgan,” the princess said. “Just as long as you’re sorry, and you never do it again.”
So everyone was happy. The princess was awake again and could take care of the people once more. This time Sufgan the dragon got to eat jelly donuts, so he didn’t mind working. And he always said thank you to Chanoch.
The people were glad that their princess had been returned to them, so much so that they made a holiday in Chanoch’s honor, which they called Chanuka. They even forgave Sufgan the dragon, and called his jelly donuts Sufganiot. Even today, we eat sufganiot on Chanuka to commemorate when the princess and the dragon started working together again.
So now, dear readers, have a happy Chanuka. And remember that when your own dragon get hungry, it’s better to eat jelly donuts than to eat people. And don’t forget to say thank you!
[If you liked the story, check it out in lavishly illustrated Kindle or hardback!]
It’s been a while since I’ve written anything here, so when I saw this post on the FuturePundit blog, I immediately had to post about it. It gives a number of tips on writing more realistic post-apoc fiction (which can therefore lead to more interesting fiction). Check it out, it’s pretty good.
On a side note, I’m presently editing a collection of short stories which I plan to publish shortly. I’ve posted excerpts of early drafts before on this blog, and there’s more to come as we get closer to The Date. I’ve also having a children’s story I wrote a while ago illustrated, which is a lot more fun than working with prose editors! Details will be forthcoming on this blog, naturally, and I’m thankful for your attention, dear readers.
[UPDATE May 17 2013: It’s published! Check it out!]
From my current NaNo:
“The news had gone out that Morris had gone deeply, staggeringly into debt in order to pay for his new mansion, and his reputation had correspondingly skyrocketed up into rarified territory. Estimates on how long he would have to work at his current income to pay down the debt ranged from a hundred years to nearly three hundred, depending on which prediction of future interest rates you went by. With this move, a master-stroke of commitment, Morris had demonstrated the depth of his loyalty to the socio-political system, on which he was now totally dependent in order to stay solvent.”
One of the things that has struck me as I read fantasy is that when an author aspires to create an Epic Story, almost inevitably the story will involve lots of travel that will span the fantasy world, taking us between settings that are wildly different from each other, the better to convey that sense of yawning scope that we are looking for, and to showcase the depth of the story’s world (not to mention the cleverness of the author for creating such a world!).
As always, I hasten to note that this is not inherently bad. When such stories are done well, the vast distances traveled and massive shifts of setting will help to build a truly impressive story. (Off the top of my head, George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire does a good job here—as does, in a very different fashion, Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea.) It seems that as far back as humans were telling stories, we associate physical journeys with spiritual ones, so that a character’s changes take on special emphasis when he or she is also journeying.
Still, there are perils to this approach. The most common one is that in our haste to create big worlds, we skip past the minor detail of making deep worlds. To take a ludicrous example, imagine a story in which there are several continents, each of which is ruled by a monolithic empire which is only distinguished from the next one by the color of its clothing, or the shape of its people’s ears, or somesuch. For a more concrete example, David Eddings’s Belgariad series features a series of countries each with overpowering national stereotypes, so that all Drasnians are cunning spies, all Sendars are plain country folk (including the king!), and so on. To be fair to Eddings, he was in part doing a send-up of genre clichés that date back to Tolkien at least… but still. My objection is this: in our haste to have vast worlds, we skimp on the details that actually make things interesting.
For myself as a political-science geek, one of the things that galls me is how often writers imagine that their fantasy kingdoms have no actual politics. Oh, sure, you can have your treacherous nobles or devious advisors, but what is their power base? Why are particular groups of nobles in one faction and not another? Where does each of the nobles live?
Consider, for example, The Wheel of Time. Robert Jordan, may he rest in peace, at least had the decency to include rebellious nobles in his story, which puts him head and shoulders above some other authors I could name; but the treatment of politics was boring. In each country, there were Loyal nobles, and Disloyal nobles, all of whom seemed to float in midair without any particular ties to geography, or concrete interests that might pull them toward one faction or another. And none of these conflicts ever spilled across borders! The factions that opposed our heroes never formed a broader alliance with each other, in stark contrast to all the rules of war and politics from time immemorial. No, they remained in their neat categorical boxes, country by country.
One ridiculous consequence is that no noble in WoT ever switches sides unless being faced with naked force, and even then only rarely. (In real conflicts, players are constantly trying to play both sides against the middle; for an example, just read up on any major Afghan warlord. James Clavell’s Shogun is a good fictional example of such maneuvering, albeit not a fantasy one, and notwithstanding the other objections you could make about it as historical fiction.)
For a while now, I’ve been toying with a move in the opposite direction: to have a fantasy story that takes place entirely within a single village. The characters no longer have the option of fleeing from their problems across the continent; the focus of the story would be on the intricate social conflicts between the village peasants, all of whom would naturally have to be identified by name and social position. I haven’t done it yet largely because it would be hard to pull off; all those family trees to work out, who’s married to whom and why it matters, the tangle of petty jealousies and feuds that mark village life, and so on. The biggest conceptual difficulty, I think, is how you could make a story of such constricted scope still have that vast fantasy feel. My current thinking is that the large-scale problems at work in the country as a whole would create fault-lines in the village, so that we still feel connected to the larger conflicts.
The attraction of such a challenge would be that the setting would have to be steeped in detail; indeed, only by having a rich texture in our setting would the story even be interesting. The characters would have to be well fleshed out, their relationships with each other would have to be compelling, the material facts of life in a fantasy village would have to be hammered out and establish the rhythms of the story. Compared to yet another world of flimsy cardboard countries, I think such a story could be a breath of fresh air.
For my readers, I would say that you have other choices besides a vast fantasy world stapled together from clichés. You might try a smaller canvas, with more care devoted to the individual brushstrokes, and see what that gets you.
Bruce Leggett leaned forward intently, placing his hand on the other man’s shoulder. “So, Dave, can I have your vote?”
His neighbor Dave Crenshaw grinned. “Heck, Bruce, you don’t have to give me the whole song and dance. I know you’re a good guy.” He took out his smart phone and fiddled with it, logging into the centralized electronic voting portal. “I’m your man, Bruce.”
“Great,” Bruce replied, with a blinding grin of his own. He held up a piece of paper with his personalized bar code, and Dave snapped a photo with his phone. Within seconds, Bruce Leggett had been appointed as Dave Crenshaw’s official representative in the Voters’ House, and Dave’s vote transferred to Bruce’s control. That made a total of 73 votes for Bruce. When he voted on new laws, Bruce spoke with the voice of the people.
[UPDATE May 1, 2013: This excerpt is from an early draft of the short story “The Suffrages of the People Being More Free,” which is now published in a collection The Best Congress Money Can Buy: Stories of Political Possibility. You can read the first story for free here, and then buy it if you like. Enjoy!]
“Have you thought about how you will make your way in the world, child?”
Rafaela frowned. “I thought I would be like you, mistress,” she said. “Traveling around and healing people.”
“With your skill at healing?” Carlisa burst out laughing; a red flush rose in Rafaela’s cheeks. “No, child,” the sorceress continued, still chuckling. “You seem to be better at breaking things than putting them back together.”
“Well then, what? And stop calling me child,” Rafaela burst out suddenly. “I’m almost seventeen. I’m a full woman! I am your student, your servant even,” and oh how it rankled her to say the word servant, but she managed to spit it out without changing her tone, “but I am not a child!”
Carlisa sighed, an amused look on her face. “And how old do you think I am?” The question brought Rafaela up short; she started to stammer something, but the sorceress held up her hand. “Never mind. It’s not polite to guess at a woman’s age, mage or no. But believe me when I say that compared to me, you will be a child for years yet.”