My Schedule for ConQuest Kansas City 2017

Have I been horrible about posting lately or what? For that I apologize, but we are coming up on one of my favorite times of the year, ConQuest in Kansas City (and my birthday). ConQuest is a long-running science fiction and fantasy convention. As usual, I will be taking part in several panels, which I will list here. You can find the full schedule here.

This is my panel schedule:

Friday (May 26th, otherwise known as my birthday)

3:00 PM – So, You Want to Be in Pictures – Jim Yelton, Leanna Brunner, Bryn Donovan, and I will discuss screenwriting and the applicability of its skill set to writing prose.

5:00 PM – Horror Novels/Short Stories Everyone Should Read – Earline Beebe, Sherri Dean, Jonathan Mayberry, and I recommend the best in horror fiction.

Saturday (May 27th)

11:00 AM – I will be reading, along Donna Wagenblast Munro.

1:00 PM – Comic Book Television and Film: Boom or Bust – Marshall Edwards, Brendan Beebe, Matthew Munro, and I will be talking about comic adaptations. Which are good, which are bad, and when the bubble is going to burst.

3:00 PM – Why Write Short Stories? – Karen Bovenmyer, Sean Demory, Dora Furlong, and I will be talking about the short story genre and why it is still important, despite diminishing markets and diminishing pay.

5:00 PM – The Running Man: The First Hunger Games – Craig Smith, Brian Pigg, Michelle Stutzman, and I will be talking about Stephen King’s The Running Man  and its influence.

Sunday (May 28th)

10:00 AM – Can Writing Be Taught? – Lynette Burrows, Jesse Pringle, Rachael Mayo, Paula Helm Murray, and I will be discussing a writer’s education and debating whether or not writing can truly be taught.

12:00 PM – A Writer’s Library: Books Every Writer Should Read – Lynette Burrows, Brooke Johnson, Rachael Mayo, Paula Helm Murray, and I will be discussing a writer’s library and what books belong in every writer’s toolbox.

It is going to be a busy weekend, but it should be a lot of fun. Hopefully, I will also get some homework done between the paneling and socializing.

If you haven’t made plans to join us yet, check out the website: www.conquestkc.org. There will be cosplay, gaming, a dealer room, and an art show in addition to the panels.

I look forward to seeing everyone there.

Why Write Short Stories?

“So, why write short stories?”

It was an innocent question and an understandable one, at that. I’d just completed a panel on navigating the world of short story submission. I’d told the crowd that short story writing is a tough gig.

Acceptances are the exception. Rejection is a constant reality. The money is pretty much non-existent. You could make more money working anywhere else, doing almost anything else. It’s not exactly a popular format. Market’s open and then shrivel and die quicker than roses after prom night. You end up at the mercy of publishers and editors who may or may not know any more about writing or publishing than you do–especially if you are a newer writer.

So…why? I rattled off some quick answers to the attendee in the hallway, but I wanted to expand upon them here.

There are LOTS of reasons to write short stories.

  1. They are a great way to learn writing. Ray Bradbury swore by learning through short stories. In most writing workshops, the short story is still the preferred format. The process is sped up remarkably. First draft on the first day. Re-write on the second. Polish on the third. Ship it to your writing group on the fourth. If something you did sucks, you spent a few days on it, rather than a few months. You go back to the drawing board the next week and try again.
  2. They are built for experimentation. Sometimes, you need to push the envelope and see what you can do. Write an entire story in second-person. Write it all in iambic pentameter like one of my friends. Write the entire thing from the perspective of a pair of pants, which another friend of mine did very successfully. Get ridiculous. Get weird. If it doesn’t work, you never have to speak of it again. Pieces of writing are like relationships. Short stories are flings. Novels are long-term. Until you know that the kinky shit works, save it for the flings.
  3. Short stories are like cookies. You like cookies. Some culinary historians believe that cookies were first invented in order to test the heat of an oven prior to baking a cake. They would throw a little batter in their to see if it baked. That’s not all that different than what you are doing with a short story. Sure, they are great for testing out all of the tools in the writer’s toolbox, but they are pretty damn delicious on their own. As much as we complain about the market, the short story has a very long and proud tradition, particularly in horror.
  4. Because you can…or because you can’t. Short stories are an art form. Some people are fantastic at them. My hero Ray Bradbury was a master of the short story but had a hard time making the transition to longer work. Some people rarely, if ever, write short stories. If you have problems writing in one form or the other, ask yourself why that is. Short work tends to expose errors very easily. All that bloat that you should have cut out of your novel becomes PAINFUL in a short piece. If the reason that you have trouble with writing one or the other relates to some flaw in your process, then that would be a great thing to know. Self-awareness is key to a writer’s development.
  5. The industry reads them. I read once that most of the short story market is comprised of hardcore readers, other writers, editors, and publishers. These are all people that it would pay to have on your side as a developing writer. Writing is a solitary endeavor, but publishing is a team sport. That reader who likes your style could someday be championing you to an agent or publisher.
  6. Everyone likes samples. When you go in for a tattoo, you look at the artist’s portfolio. You wouldn’t let some guy carve your skin up just because he said he knew how to do it. When you want to paint your house, you don’t go throw random paint colors on the walls, you look at samples. You buy an album because you like the single. You are the guy in the apron standing in the corner of the supermarket. The idea isn’t to just get them to try a bite of sausage, its to sell the whole kielbasa. If someone finds your story and it speaks to them, they might seek out more of your stuff. Or they might not. Damn grazers.
  7. You need a palette cleanser. Sometimes, you just need to get away from that monster novel of yours. The grind can be relentless. Months or even years of work can wear you down. Popping out a short story is like a bite of a good pickle. You’re able to appreciate that sandwich, again. It also creates some distance between you and your last narrative, which is an essential part of the revision process. It’s the fling that gets you over your broken heart. You need to come back to that manuscript as a stranger.
  8. They are fun. Short stories are just damn fun to write.

So go, write them. You probably won’t find fame or fortune, but you will find something out about yourself as an artist. You may even become a better writer. In this business, that is really what we should all strive for.

Now Playing in Theater B and Enpower Comic Con

51VuNhXDRRLMy latest short story publication “Blood and Dust” is available in Now Playing in Theater B from A Murder of Storytellers. The anthology is full of gritty horror from a bunch of great authors. It’s my second anthology with A Murder of Storytellers (Faed was the other). I am happy to be a part of the project.

The story itself is about a rural town during a drought-stricken summer. The children face the horror of a dwindling summer vacation and a beaten-up black limo that rolls in to town with a strange driver. It’s a complete short story, but I have an idea for expansion of that summer in to a full-length novel. We’ll see where the dust-covered muse takes me.

I also want to let everyone know that I will be at Empower Comic Con in Topeka, KS this Saturday. I’ll be speaking on two panels. We’ll be starting at 10 am with Writing 101, a panel focused on the craft of writing, followed by the Writing Business at 11 am.

I’ll be joined on the panels by a variety of local writers, including science fiction writer Jason Arnett, science fiction/fantasy writer Kevin Wohler, urban fantasy writer R. L. Naquin, alternate history/science fiction writer James Young, fantasy/horror writer Dane Kroll, and science fiction writer Suzanne Dome. It should be a lot of fun, and I hope to see everyone there. It’s a first year con, but they’ve got some cool guests, lots of cosplay, and me. What more could you want?

2015 Writing Wrap-Up

The writing life is about putting one foot in front of the other. I took a lot of steps in 2015.

Publishing-wise, this was my most successful year, yet. I’ve always built off previous years, but 2015 had a lot of great moments. “The Polka Man” came out in Faed from A Murder of Storytellers. “Mercury Beach” appeared in Yellow Mama, accompanied by an excellent illustration. “A Simple Device” was published in Rejected from ACA Books. “A Burial” was featured as part of the Page and Spine Fiction Showcase. “C Was for Cat” found a home with Body Parts Magazine. “Copy Rights” was printed in a beautiful edition of Sanitarium. “Voids” was posted by the Saturday Night Reader. I even sold another poem. “Crow, Why Do You Cry” appeared in Illumen. I published short stories every month at the Confabulator Cafe. To top it all off, my first solo collection All Manner of Dark Things came out in April and has been pretty well received.  Financially, I made far more writing than I ever had before. Trust me, that’s not saying much. I turned around and invested the money in my writing education, taking classes at LitReactor with some of my favorite writers, such as Benjamin Whitmer, Nicholas Kaufman, Helen Marshall, Jordan Hamessley, and Simon Strantzas.

I got the opportunity do A LOT of panels at ConQuest in Kansas City. Eight panels, plus a reading. I think I moderated five. I was running all weekend and exhausted by the end of it, but it was a great experience. I love talking about books, writing, and the horror genre in particular. I did more panels at the Longview Literary Festival at Metropolitan Community College. I spoke to the Young Writer’s Group at Sumner Academy in Kansas City. They were amazing, and I wish them great success. Who knows where the literary life will take them? I did a signing at the local Hastings and another at the Topeka Public Library’s Great Writers, Right Here author fair.  I even served as a juror for the 2015 Stoker Awards. There were other opportunities for events that I didn’t take advantage of, but I hope that this is just the beginning.

2015 is going to be hard to beat, but I am going to give it a shot. “Assholes with Guns” just came out in The Literary Hatchet. “Blood and Dust” will be out in Theater B from A Murder of Storytellers very soon, and “Patchwork” will be coming out in Typhon: A Monster Anthology from Pantheon Magazine. I am also hoping that both my novella Mama’s Little Boy and my second collection Whispers and Proclamations will be out some time this year. There will surely be other things. There always is. I am planning on being at ConQuest and Longview again. WorldCon will be in Kansas City this year, and I would love to be a part of it. I may even pick up a couple more cons here and there as they fit in to my schedule. There have been discussions about me conducting a couple of writer’s workshops, and my monthly contributions to The Confabulator Cafe will continue.

As I said at the beginning, this profession is about always moving forward. I’m proud of my 2015 steps, but I hope to take many more in 2016. It’s a long journey, but the only way to get where I’m going is to keep writing and see what opportunities present themselves. Thank you for following along in 2015, and I hope you will still be there with me a year from now.

Links to all of this year’s publications can be found by clicking “The Work” in my header menu.  You can pick up a signed copy of All Manner of Dark Things at “The Store” if you prefer to avoid Amazon.

NaNoWriMo Week 1 and Illumen Magazine

illumen23National Novel Writing Month is in full swing, and I am working on a new horror novel titled The Dream Catcher. How am I doing? Well, if you head over to The Confabulator Cafe, you can find out for yourself.

A few days ago, I received a copy of the Autumn issue of Illumen, a speculative poetry journal from Alban Lake Publishing that contains my poem “Crow, Why Do You Cry?” You can pick up a copy at Alban Lake’s online store. I don’t write a ton of poetry, but I’ve had success with it, and I’m very proud of the poem.

I had a good time at the Longview Literary Festival a couple of weeks ago. I met some cool people and sold a few books. I hope that everyone enjoys All Manner of Dark Things. Next up will be the Topeka Public Library’s “Great Writers, Right Here,” a book fair full of great local authors on December 12th. I’ll be selling and signing books from 1pm to 4pm in Marvin Auditorium. If you have never been to the event, it is a fantastic opportunity to interact with some great local writers and pick up some fantastic books. Be sure to stop by if you are in the area.

First, I need to kick NaNoWriMo’s ass. I hope to see you all on the other side.

Longview Literary Festival

This Friday, I will be attending the Longview Literary Festival at Metropolitan Community College in Lee’s Summit, MO. It’s a one-day event, and I’ll be speaking on a couple of panels for “Combining History and Fiction” and “Writing in Multiple Genres.” There will also be panels and workshops on self-publishing, character creation, working with small presses, working with an editor, and many more.  All and all, it’s a pretty jam-packed day. The keynote speakers this year are science fiction writer Bryan Thomas Schmidt and romance author Claire Ashgrove. I will have copies of All Manner of Dark Things for sale, as well as the anthologies Faed and Rejected.

It all starts at 10 am on October 23rd at the Cultural Arts Center on the Metropolitan Community College-Longview campus, 500 S.W. Longview Rd., Lee’s Summit, MO.

I really enjoyed the festival last year. Many of the attendees are students at the college. They have a great outlook on the business and art of writing. It’s also free, so the price is right.

Speaking of students, I received a bunch of thank you cards from the writer’s group at Sumner High School in Kansas City, Kansas. I spoke to their class and had a fantastic time talking to the kids. Their enthusiasm was inspiring, and I would love to go back to do more of a technical workshop and write something with the group. Talking to people about writing always energizes me. Things like Longview and the Young Writers of KC always raise my desire to keep writing to another level.

There are a lot of writers that I only see at things like this. I look forward to seeing a bunch of people that I haven’t seen since ConQuest. I hope to see the rest of you there, as well.

A Return from Vacation and October’s Publishing Schedule

Almost two years ago, Sara and I decided to go on to a writer’s retreat in a haunted mansion in California. Sounds cool, right? We thought so, too. Then the location shut it down out of fear of being known as a haunted house. We were pretty devastated. We’d already sank quite a bit of money in to the trip. We’d already paid for flights and had decided to extend our vacation with a visit to Napa. I had booked the bed and breakfast in Napa months prior to the mansion forcing the cancellation of the writer’s retreat. Rather than mope about it, I found a hotel in Pacifica, CA, and we decided to have a writer’s retreat for two and call it our honeymoon. (We are getting married this weekend.)

Pacifica was gorgeous. The hotel sits on the edge of the Pacific ocean, surrounded by large hills that I consider to be more like small mountains. Hiking trails lead to the peaks, which look out upon the waves crashing upon rocks that look like something One-Eyed Willie would use as clues for the Goonies. Orca whales patrol in the distance while surfers in full wetsuits ride cold ocean waves in to the beach. It was cool the entire time that we were there, and every morning fog rolled in off the ocean, hovering over the town itself. We were in Pacifica for about three days, and it was fantastic. Writing-wise, I made it about ten thousand words in to the revision of my novella Mama’s Little Boy. We also got to visit the Pacific Coast Fog Fest and relax.

Napa was strange. It was the primary draw of the extended part of the trip, but I think we would both say that we enjoyed the isolation of Pacifica a bit more. Napa looks a lot like Kansas. Sure, the crops are different, and there is the occasional palm tree, but it is an agricultural area, full of farmhouses, barns, and cows. Really nice farmhouses and barns. The cows are probably okay, too. I didn’t get that close to any. The interior of Napa was reminiscent of downtown Lawrence, but with more wine. Overall, I think we were both shocked at how familiar it seemed. I wrote a little bit in Napa, taking care of my Halloween-themed Confabulator Cafe story, as well as some edits for an anthology. It might seem odd to be working on a honeymoon, but we are writers. Stephen King always claimed to work every day other than Christmas and his birthday.

Speaking of publications, October is generally a big deal for me, as various magazines release Halloween-themed issues. This year is no exception, as I have several things scheduled for release.

My short story “Voids,” which was written in a Noir class taught by Benjamin Whitmer, is now available at Saturday Night Reader. You will have to have a subscription to read it. $4.00 will get you a month-long subscription.

“Patchwork,” which originally written as part of a contest at LitReactor, will be appearing in Typhon: A Monster Anthology from Pantheon Magazine.

My poem “Crow, Why Do You Cry?” will be in the next issue of Illumen Magazine from Alban Lake Publishing.

“Blood and Dust” will be in Theater B from A Murder of Storytellers.

Wrapping up the end of the month, my haunted house short story “Party at Pinehurst” will be up at The Confabulator Cafe on October 29th.

It should be a fun month. I will post links to all of the publications as they are released. We had a good trip, drank some good wine, hopefully wrote some good words. Now, it is back to the grind. But first, the wedding.

Stay Classy, plus Sanitarium Magazine

No, this isn’t a post full of advice for navigating the stormy waters of social media, although my personal motto has always been “Try not to say stupid shit.” This isn’t a post on the author-reader relationship. See my previous motto for advice on that one. Today, I am going to talk about taking classes.

I love school. I love classes. I get excited about the possibilities provided by a good essay test. They give me a rush. It’s weird, and I can’t explain it, but there it is. Unfortunately, we all have to leave school at some point, whether we are on the four-year, five-year, or fifteen-year plan. If you didn’t go to college, it is the same thing. High school ends, and suddenly there are no classes. They take away the number 2 pencils and bubble sheets that have been our constant companion and say “no more.” There is no one left to fight, Caesar.

It’s a damn shame, and you shouldn’t stand for it.

I’m always looking for something to get me to the next level in my writing. I read all the books, even the ones that I don’t agree with. I peruse the websites. I receive every issue of The Writer and scan them for advice. Recently, I decided to enroll in a couple of classes.

I’ve been a member of the LitReactor website for a few years, now. I’ve participated in the writer’s workshop for much of that time. I highly recommend it, if you write any type of transgressive literature and want like-minded people to read it. Most people find the website through Chuck Palahniuk. It sprung up from the writer’s workshop that was hosted on Palahniuk’s website.  As a result, there area  lot of great essays there from writers such as Chuck Palahniuk, Craig Clevenger, Jack Ketchum, and many more.

In addition, they also offer classes. I finally gave in and took two classes. In June, I took a horror class benefiting the Shirley Jackson Awards taught by Helen Marshall, Jordan Hamessley, Nicolas Kaufmann, and Simon Stantzas. In July, I took a class on Noir with Benjamin Whitmer, author of the excellent Cry Father.

Every week had a lecture and an assignment. Students then critiqued each other’s assignments. I could go in to what I learned, but it really comes down to breaking out of your comfort zone.

Everyone has a different process. They use different exercises. They harvest ideas in different ways. Sometimes, you can get in to a rut with your writing, especially when you are still developing your skillset. You need to try new things, and that is a lot easier when you have people telling you what new things to try. There were things I will probably never use again. There were other things that I will add to my toolbox. Most importantly, I shook my process up a bit and ended up with ten short stories in a two month span that are no doubt a bit different than the ones that I would have otherwise produced.

There is another benefit, as well. The writer ego is fragile. This is a rough business. I’ve had a fair number of short stories published, but I’ve made well over 100 submissions in order to accomplish them. My acceptance ratio of right around twenty percent is higher than average, according to Duotrope. So, I get a “no thanks” on eight out of ten submissions. That can grate on a person, especially if you are going to spend months working on a book.

The instructors of these classes are solid, accomplished writers. Their support and praise meant the world to me. Having writers that you admire tell you that you are a great writer–money can’t buy that. Their critiques gave me things that will hopefully turn a few of those no’s in to yes’s. I got reading recommendations, suggestions on things to work on, and just general reaffirmation that I am doing some good stuff.

I came out of the classes feeling good about my writing and feeling justified for the sacrifices that I have made in order to chase that illusive dream. I had a lot of fun in the last couple of months, and I am sure I will find myself in another class at some point.

If  you are feeling stuck in an artistic rut, or you just seem to be trudging through the publishing landscape with no sense of progress, remember that you aren’t the only one trying to find your way through the swamp. Take a class. Find a workshop, Shake things up. At best, you will try things you never would have considered. At worst, you will come out of it with a bunch of stories to send off to those publishers.

On a last note, my short story “Copy Rights” is in the latest issue of Sanitarium Magazine. In the story, a genius slacker invents human cloning technology to get out of his shift at the health insurance call center. You can get a copy from a number of different sellers. Just follow this link.

ConQuest, Shared Passions, and Upcoming Events

ConQuest was a great success. I saw a lot of people that I don’t see much, hung out with a bunch of people that I see a lot, and met new people who were awesome and friendly. They are starting to add up. It’s easy for me to forget that just a few years ago, I wrote in a constant vacuum. I didn’t see a single person who shared my passion for writing and books. Some back home in Iowa, but none in my day-to-day life. My friends and co-workers were great, but I felt as if I were on an island, tying desperately to keep the whole thing from falling in to the ocean.

It isn’t that way anymore. Writers are a part of my day-to-day social circle. I am surrounded by readers. I used to go to all of the panels at ConQuest that had people I knew on them. That’s not possible, anymore. I know too many. Even if I hadn’t been on so many myself, there would have been too many scheduling conflicts. The novelty is a little less, anyway. Since I spend a majority of my social life within the business, being surrounded by writers isn’t the thrill that it used to be. My panels went well. People seemed to like what I had to say. I met other writers who loved the same things. I even sold some books over the weekend.

Being surrounded by the fans was spectacular. Sitting at the bar and watching the lines for Brandon Sanderson and George R. R. Martin, I was comforted by the fact that readers still care about books. We are still writing for them, and not just for each other.

Conventions are great for shared passions. Getting together with so many like-minded people can really recharge your creative batteries. You walk out believing that anything is possible. All of your goals are attainable, because you are surrounded by people who have attained them, or are doing their damnedest to do so. I’m already looking forward to next year. The horror genre is starting to be better represented, and our panels are starting to draw more people. I want to keep building that.

Conventions are also great for “con crud,” and I have spent the last two days at home, sleeping a lot and trying to fight off whatever 1500 people in close quarters gave me.

In other news, I will be doing a book signing at Hastings, 1900 W. 23rd St., in Lawrence, KS from 1 pm to 3 pm. I will have copies of All Manner of Dark Things: Collected Bits and Pieces available for purchase . Hastings has been very supportive of the book and has been selling it in their store since the release. If you are in the Lawrence area and don’t have a copy, or just want to chat, feel free to stop by.

Friday night, I will be attending an event with Chuck Palahniuk in Kansas City. Palahniuk has been incredibly influential for me. His essays at LitReactor have had a major impact on my writing mechanics. I don’t get starstruck. As far as I am concerned, any famous author is just me with more readers. I’ve met kings and presidents. It doesn’t matter to me. But if anyone can manage to shake me, it’s probably Palahniuk.

I’m looking forward to picking up my copies of his new collection Make Something Up and the first issue of Fight Club 2, as well as listening to him speak. I’ve heard that he’s great on stage. There may still be tickets available.

I have a lot of things going on next month, but I will save those for another blog at another time.

“One Last Harvest” at The Confabulator Cafe and the Sale Continues

My latest Confabulator Cafe short story is now available. Most of my stories have at least a hint of darkness. This one does not. It’s something a bit different. An angel falls in an apple grove. You can read “One Last Harvest” at The Confabulator Cafe.

Only 48 hours remain in my Kindle Countdown sale. You can get the All Manner of Dark Things e-book for 99 cents through my birthday, May 26th.

I had a ton of fun at ConQuest 46 and am already looking forward to next year. I’ll post a summary in the next few days.