NaNoWriMo Week 2 at The Confabulator Cafe

I’ve been sick for a week, and it has significantly impacted my NaNoWriMo progress. You can read all about it in this weeks NaNoWriMo update at The Confabulator Cafe.

 

All Manner of Dark Things, 99 Cents on Kindle, This Week

allmannercoverfinalRay Bradbury’s birthday is today. My writing process is essentially borrowed whole from Bradbury. His book Zen in the Art of Writing inspires me every time that I read it.

My son’s birthday is tomorrow. Eight years ago, his birth changed my life, and he continues to inspire me every day.

In honor of them, my book All Manner of Dark Things is on sale as a Kindle Countdown for the next week. Drop by Amazon and pick up your digital copy for 99 cents.

Thanks for reading!

A Confabulator Sneak Peek at The Rest of Us

A couple of months ago, I woke up from a dream. All the rich people in the world had hopped on rocket ships, destined for some Martian colony.

I’m not a psychologist, so I can’t speculate on the mental mechanisms that caused such a thing. Was it all the talk of the one percent? NPR stories on Greece? Conservatives saying that the rich would leave if taxes were increased? I really have no idea. I’m not particularly interested in politics and I don’t dwell much on the organic nature of creative development.

After playing with the concept for awhile, I came up with preliminary ideas for a science fiction novel titled The Rest of Us, which is the story of those left behind.

This month, our Confabulator Cafe prompt was to write a story that takes place entirely in a dining room. I started a totally different story about a student at Miskatonic University who is back home in Kansas for spring break. That story, “The Cow of Cthulhu,” got away from me a bit and didn’t want to stay in the dining room.

I started out again, approaching the assignment like a one-act play. Somehow, The Rest of Us got stuck in my head, and I wrote “Bottoms Up.” The story takes place in that world, and the protagonist will likely be one of the main characters in the novel. I haven’t even started on the actual novel, yet. God knows, the last thing I need is another project to work on. That being said, you can get a really early sneak peek at one of my future projects.

I hope you enjoy the story. You can read it here.

“The Red House” at The Confabulator Cafe

Some of you might not know that The Confabulator Cafe has a meeting once a month. In that meeting, we decide what prompt we are going to use for the stories the next month. Around the same time, Clarkesworld editor Neil Clarke shared a wordle of the story titles submitted to his magazine.

It’s pretty common for me to start out with nothing more than a title, and that is what we decided to do. We’re using titles created by that wordle as prompts. The only rule was that the words had to be touching. I created several titles from the wordle that will probably get used for one thing or another in the future. For this story, I used “red” and “house.”

“The Red House” is sort of a haunted house story, but not quite a traditional one. It’s pretty brutal, but I am proud of it. You can read it here.

New Website!

header-page-001Welcome to the new website. I’ve migrated over to a new host. The new site has more functionality and will improve as I work my way through the available options.

The first thing you might notice is that I have a newsletter subscription form on the right side of the screen, just below my name. Please, sign up for the newsletter. I promise that I will not spam you. On the contrary, my newsletter subscribers will be the first to know about new books, new stories, and upcoming personal appearances. You will see the covers and tables of contents before the general public. I also plan on sending out free stories to my subscribers from time to time.  You won’t receive emails that often, but when you do, they will be full of good stuff. You can also find a button to sign up for my newsletter on my Facebook page. It’s on the left side and looks like a little envelope.

The storefront has also improved. If you go to “The Store” in the top menu, you will see more than just a link to another site. New books will be added to the storefront as they are released. I will personally sign and ship any books ordered through my site.

Thank you to my good friend, science fiction author Kevin Wohler for helping me with the site migration. There is still a lot of work to be done, but the site should be much better for it. Like anything in writing, it’s about getting a little bit better every day. Thank you for being here to see it.

-Jack

 

Kindle Coundown Sale for ConQuest Begins Today!

allmannercoverfinalConQuest is a big deal for me every year, both as a fan and as a writer. In honor of ConQuest, my collection All Manner of Dark Things: Collected Bits and Pieces is going to be on sale for 99 cents. This is the lowest that the price will be, so it is a great time to pick up the e-book, if you haven’t already.

The sale will run from 8am this morning through my birthday, May 26th, and ending at midnight. If you are at the con, I will have paperback copies for sale, as well. I can take cash or credit through Square. Otherwise, they are always available on Amazon or through my online store.

I hope to see everyone at the convention. It will be a great time.

In other news, “C Was for Cat” has been purchased by Body Parts Magazine for their upcoming issue. I will have links when the issue goes life.

Release day! All of the details on All Manner of Dark Things

allmannercoverfinalIt’s April 7th, and that means it is the official release of my horror collection All Manner of Dark Things: Collected Bits and Pieces. If you pre-ordered the e-book, it should already be heading to your Kindle. If you haven’t bought it, yet, here are the details.

Twenty-nine pieces containing a wide variety of horror: gory monsters, humor pieces, emotionally-brutal literary works, poetry, vampires, werewolves, cannibal hordes, ghosts, serial killers, and all manner of dark things.

Some of the pieces appeared in a variety of literary magazines and anthologies. Some are original to the anthology. They encompass a sampling of my entire writing career.

The e-book is a part of Kindle Select, which means that if you have Prime, you can borrow it from the lending library. If you have Kindle Unlimited, it is available for free in that program.

The e-book is priced at $2.99, but it is a part of the Kindle Matchbook program. That means that if you buy the print edition from Amazon, priced at $9.99, you can get the e-book for $0.99. You can have access to the book anywhere, at any time.

I am extremely proud of this book and the amount of work that went in to it.  Check it out. If you read it, review it on Amazon and Goodreads. I would really appreciate it.

Here are the links:

Amazon

Createspace

To start the release off right, here’s the book trailer to get you in the mood.


Let’s do this! There will be more news soon. I have a couple of special things planned.

That MFA Article and Your Writing Life

This is yet another blog about the MFA article that has caused great debate in the writing community. It popped up all over Facebook with people both for and against it. Chuck Wendig posted an entertaining and somewhat scathing critique on his own blog. People were all over the place, raging or praising.

I thought about leaving it alone. What else could I add? But divisive topics tend to produce ravenous support or condemnation. Instead, I offer indifference. I don’t mean that I don’t care. It’s just that neither side affects me. Let’s review:

1. Writer’s are born with talent.

As with anything, that is true. None of us start at the same baseline. Some people just run faster, but the idea that talent trumps all is an unfortunate and inaccurate statement. It steals credit from those who have succeeded by making it seem that they were gifted their skill by a simple combination of genetics and fate. It doesn’t work that way. Michael Phelps has a talent for swimming. He has the perfect physicality for it. He also spent eight hours a day in the pool training for the Olympics. Phelps wasn’t handed gold medals because of his talent. He earned them through hard work. All of your favorite writers have to work very hard to produce books. It requires hour upon hour of writing and revision, no matter how talented you are. I’ve known some very talented writers who could use less talent and more actual putting words on paper. But it doesn’t matter. My talent is my talent. I can’t control it. I just do the best I can with what I have.

2. If you didn’t decide to take writing seriously by the time you were a teenager, you’re probably not going to make it.

What is writing? It’s storytelling on a basic level. I didn’t start writing prose until I was in college, unless you count a couple of things here and there, including some ill-advised Fern Gully fan-fiction. I drew comic books. I told stories in a visual form. As with every other kid, I fantasized a lot, creating scenarios in my head. Isn’t that essentially writing? Books are a medium of storytelling on its most basic level. But that doesn’t matter, either. I can’t go back in time and tell twelve year-old Jack,  hunched over a drafting table and drawing superheroes, that he should try some prose. The past is what it is. I can’t control it. I just do the best I can with the past I have.

3. If you complain about not having time to write, please do us both a favor and drop out.

People complain all the time. It doesn’t mean they don’t do it anyway. I complain about dishes, laundry, traffic, and having to put on pants.  I still do all of those things. As long as you are getting work done, who cares if you complain about it? Whether they complain or not doesn’t affect me, and quite honestly should not affect their teacher. If they are producing, great. If they aren’t, you are their teacher. Flunk them. Do you honestly think that there aren’t kids in the math department complaining that they don’t have time to do equations? Complain about writing time all you want. As long as you produce a good book, no one will care.

4. If you aren’t a serious reader, don’t expect anyone to read what you write.

I absolutely believe that reading helps your writing. You should read a lot. You should read across genres. I consider reading time to be writing time, because they are so closely-related. The post then goes on to further qualify that by saying you need read great works of literature. I love those books, but they aren’t for everyone. Further, no one cares what you read if you write a good book. They aren’t going to rush off to check out your Goodreads account before they read your novel. Besides, once again we are talking about something I can’t control. I write the story. I send out the story. I promote the story. I don’t control whether people actually read it or not. Will reading making you a better writer? I think so. But your reader doesn’t know whether you just read The Great Gatsby or 50 Shades of Grey. If your book sucks, no one is going care that you’ve read Moby Dick.

5. No one cares about your problems if you’re a shitty writer.

I’m not even going to touch this one. Who says this about their students?

6. You don’t need my help to get published.

Any writer who says they haven’t learned something from another writer is lying to you. You don’t need an MFA to get published. I don’t have one. What I do have is a very large collection of writing books. I’ve read literally hundreds of essays. I’ve been in workshops, critique groups, and every other type of writer’s group that exists. I’ve learned from them. They have made me a better writer. If you can’t teach your students to be better writers, then you are a shitty teacher. Beyond that, the comment places the focus on another thing that writers don’t directly control. You don’t decide if you get published. Neither does your teacher. Publishers decide if you get published. Write the best book you can, and then let it go.

7. It’s not important that people think you’re smart.

I agree, but what is this blogger’s obsession with other people’s perception? People only care if your book is good or if it sucks. I can’t control what people think, only what I put out there for them to read.

8. It’s important to woodshed.

But…but I thought you said I was talented! I’ve written a lot of things that never saw the light of day. I didn’t even finish some of them. I’ve got an entire folder full of beginnings that sucked. But the idea of not sharing your work with anyone doesn’t help, at all. I’m not saying you should upload your garbage first drafts to Amazon, but you will learn much more slowly in a vacuum than you will by sharing. Despite what this article said, you CAN learn writing from other people. You learned basic sentence structure. You learn punctuation. You learn to avoid passive voice. You learn to avoid overuse of adverbs. You learn to show not tell. Could you learn all of these things on your own? Sure. You could also learn that we drive on the right side of the road by using the left lane until you hit someone head on. The alternative is someone could just tell you “We drive on the right side here.” In an entire article of things a writer has no direct control over, the blogger pushes them away from the one thing they can control. Share your work. Get feedback, and make it better.

Writing is not a solitary endeavor, but it is an art form with a single product. A good book trumps everything. Write well, and none of the rest of it matters. Complain all you want. Read garbage paperbacks that you buy for five cents at garage sales. Don’t obsess over the time you should have spent on writing. For God’s sake, don’t worry about what other people will think about you. As long as you produce a good book, no one cares. Writing is a learned skill. If you want an MFA, go get one. It’s not the only path, but it is a viable one.

Every writer has their own skillset and their own experience level. Everyone takes their own path in this business. They all think their’s is the correct one. If Chuck’s way is compatible with yours great. If Boudinot’s way is compatible with yours, by all means, follow it. In writing, there is only what works and what doesn’t. That changes for everyone.

Storks Eat Babies: Taking the Myth out of Submission

funny-evil-angry-stork-eat-babies-bird-picsI read a lot of writing blogs. I can find some useful nuggets of information in any blog, whether it is a new technique, a new idea, or just some good, old-fashioned inspiration. Writing websites tend to lean toward the romantic. It makes sense. We are writers. Writing is an art, and arts are often thought of romantically.

We push the general notion that art is special, and that our words are somehow divinely inspired, as if the muses sweep down, choose their target, and pour poetry though his blessed lips. Articles on submission can be nearly as romantic as articles on creation. Create something you truly adore, they say. Find the market that would be perfect adoptive parent for your word baby. Drop it off in a basket with a professional cover letter.

It’s a nice idea, sort of like how the stork is a nice idea. Who wouldn’t want their kid dropped off in a crisp white sheet carried by graceful, elegant bird? Except that is not how it happens. Trust me. I was there. Babies are born in to visceral environments full of pain and bodily fluids. They arrive not sleeping, but screaming. By the way, storks eat small mammals. You know what happen to be small mammals? Babies.

I’m not a nice idea guy. They don’t help me that much, and I think they can cause damage when they fall apart. In my experience, they fall apart during the submission process.

You will not love everything you write. I’ll be upfront about that. Some of your writing will speak to you. It will stimulate your brain and leave you with a buzz like nothing else. Some of your writing will seem purely perfunctory. The thing that no one tells you is that the two aren’t that different. If you love it, it’s probably not as good as you think it is. If you don’t love it, it’s probably better than you give it credit for. Not everything you write will be at the same level. But, in general, your writing quality won’t waver that much. As you keep writing, it will become more and more consistent.

The truth is, you may absolutely love a piece and have a rough time trying to sell it while some piece that you thought was just okay gets picked up in a heartbeat. For one, you are too close to your work. Your mind fills in blanks and creates meanings that just aren’t there for the reader. For another, you never know what someone else is looking for.

Finding your perfect market is even more of an issue. You spend hours weeding through listings and websites to find that perfect market, one that is everything that you desire. You send off your polished masterwork of love. You cross your fingers every day as you open your email. Then, days, weeks, or even months later…BAM! Form letter rejection. It’s like dating. You may think that Kate Upton is perfect for you, and that you could make her happy in every way. Unfortunately, Kate Upon may not feel the same about you. She doesn’t want your baby. Besides, Justin Verlander is a big dude. I wouldn’t mess with him.

Feel free to get romantic about certain markets. I have a few that I would love to crack. Cemetery Dance and Black Static, just to name a couple. Unfortunately, they are off cavorting with Stephen King and Jack Ketchum. They don’t even know I exist, sort of like Kate Upton. I take my shot at them. But when I get rejected, I quickly move on. Richard Thomas’s “Chasing Ghosts” is in the current issue of Cemetery Dance. Richard published over a hundred short stories elsewhere before he got accepted there. Do you think he got hung up on the perfect story and the perfect market? He just kept working and kept getting published where he could. Get a general idea of what a market publishes. Find something that seems to fit your tone and style. Follow their guidelines religiously, and then submit. It doesn’t have to be terribly detailed research. I can usually tell in less than five minutes if a publication is my style or not. If you get rejected, find another market in that style and send it out again. Do it immediately. Don’t wait.

Ideally, if you want to take a shot at being a prolific writer, you need to finish everything you write and submit everything you finish. Unless you think it is garbage, submit it. If you DO think it’s garbage, have someone else read it and get their honest opinion. You could be wrong. (It’s good to have other people read your work, in general.) Even though I don’t make my living by writing, I try to approach writing as if I do. I don’t get paid when I write something. I get paid when I publish it. I doubt Stephen King loved everything he ever submitted.

If you only submit the work you fall in love with to the market you think are perfect, you aren’t going to get much out there. Maybe you’ll be Harper Lee. You’ll write your To Kill A Mockingbird and then walk off in to the sunset. Personally, I consider it a great tragedy that Lee never wrote another novel. I want to be Stephen King. I want the sheer physical weight of my writing to bow bookshelves.

I appreciate that articles on writing try to make what we do special. I appreciate the need to use good judgement when submitting to markets so that writers don’t waste their time (not to mention the publisher’s.) But you are going to be rejected. It’s going to hurt. The only way to move past it is to realize that writing is tough, gritty business and that it is difficult for everybody. Writing is hard. Submission is mostly disappointment. Kate Upton doesn’t like you. If you had a stork, it would eat your baby. Suck it up, dig in to the mess, and keep moving on.

What Is in a Name? Jack Campbell, Jack Campbell, Jr. and John Campbell, Jr.

Pictured: Not my book.

Pictured: Not my book.

When I started seeking publication of my short stories, I had to make a decision. Did I write under my own name or under a pseudonym? I have nothing particularly against pseudonyms. After all, some very famous, very successful writers have used them. However, I like my name, and I wanted to have my writing associated with my true identity. There was only one hiccup. When I did an internet search for “Jack Campbell author,” it returned a rather prominent writer of military science fiction.

John Hemry, also known by his pseudonym “Jack Campbell,” is probably best known for The Lost Fleet series of books, but he’s written a bunch of novels and short stories under his real name. Obviously, I write literary horror not military science fiction. However, there is a bit of crossover in the science fiction, fantasy, and horror genres. I didn’t want him or anyone else thinking that I was trying to make a buck off of his name. After a bit of a debate, I turned to the most obvious person for advice. John Hemry.

We had an email conversation during which he was very supportive, encouraged me to write as Jack Campbell Jr., and said he hoped to see my name on the shelf next to his someday. Even though I write under my real name, having his blessing was a bit of a relief to me. Still, I knew there was at least a small chance for confusion. A couple of weeks ago, it finally came up.

I contacted another writer regarding a blog he wrote. I’ll leave his name out of it, in case he is embarrassed. We both got ripped off by the same magazine publisher, and I sent him an email asking if he ever got anywhere with his emails to the owner. During the conversation, he asked me to do an interview. Being a nice guy, I agreed. After reading a few of the past interviews, I started getting a bit concerned. Nearly all the guests were straight sci-fi and fantasy and had far deeper credentials than I do. I’m a nice guy. I think I am a talented writer, but at this point in my career, I haven’t amassed the publication history that many of the guests had. I sent him an email as a sort of feeler to see if I was the type of writer he really wanted, going in to my publication history, my planned publications for the next year, and some personal information.

A few minutes later, I got the return email. “Wait a minute. I’m confused. This isn’t the Jack Campbell that writes the Lost Fleet?”

No, it is not. I can understand the confusion, and I actually find it pretty funny. I hope the writer isn’t embarrassed, because it doesn’t bother me, at all. My mom did a double take in Wal-Mart when she saw the latest Lost Fleet book. I get second looks at conventions because of the name tag, although I am obviously younger than Hemry. If you go search for me on Amazon, you have to dig through Hemry’s stuff in order to find my magazine and anthology publications. Both of us get mixed in with John W. Campbell, Jr., the legendary and influential science fiction writer and editor of Astounding Science Fiction. Still a name is a name, and all a writer can do is build his own the best he can.

I’m proud to say that my own literary footprint continues to grow. I hope that someday I do walk in to a bookstore and see the three of us sitting next to each other on a bookshelf. That would make my day. I will continue doing everything that I can to make that happen. With that said, it’s time to go write stuff.

In the meantime, no I am not THAT Jack Campbell, although he seems like a Hell of a guy and he has a great pseudonym.