Every story has another story lurking in its shadow. While those stories-behind-the-stories are rarely as entertaining, they are often worth telling. That's why people have biographies. And why those biographies have acknowledgments.
This is a bit of both. Somewhere I can thank those who have been generous to me, and give a glimpse or two into how these stories came to be.
A Little Life
Good things can come from bad. Sometimes it's a tiny bit of bad leading to a lot of good, and sometimes the other way round. A Little Life is the silver lining born of a particularly nasty cloud which loomed over my psyche for a year or more.
There are those tricky ideas that pop up in general culture, but you never take seriously until, with dread and horror, you realize you're waist deep in them and sinking fast. My quicksand was falling into that gray lull of routine while life streaked by. Entire months blended into years with nothing breaking the momentum.
While things have gotten significantly better than when this story formed in my brain, I still struggle to look up from the rocket-fast pace of nothing happening. I struggle to do and see. To live. To escape the gray.
Now, 1,000 words is a tight space to work in. That's one of the reasons I love short stories. There is no need for fluff. Hell, at 1,000 words, fluff isn't a liability, it's an impossibility.
And what hook would I use? Madness? Depravity? Addiction?
Things began to click into place from there. I generally don't find real world fiction that interesting. Teenage love stories read better with demon possession. Paranoid intrigue is so much more fun on derelict spaceships.
And there's no better place to set a tale of addiction than the dungeon of a dark castle.
Now, my entry didn't win the contest (more's the shame), but I was invited on as a judge in a later contest. An experience that taught me a lot about writing, editing, and working with people whom you will probably will never meet, but also don't want to disappoint.
Writing a novel can be arduous, especially when in the dark middle with no end is in sight. I was struggling with that vast and dark place when my favorite science fiction and fantasy podcast tossed out a ray of hope.
Tom Merrit and Veronica Belmont of Sword and Laser had decided to do an open submission short story anthology. Anyone could enter. In fact, they wanted new authors.
Writing Only Darkness was a challenge, but the good kind of challenge. Not only was it my first science fiction piece, but the deadline was closer than felt comfortable. Nonetheless, I finished and submitted.
I can't express how cathartic it was to complete a project after struggling so long on a novel. And I certainly can't express how validating it was when my story was one of the twenty chosen for publication.
What I can express, is what a typo-ridden mess the submitted draft was. Thankfully, the immaculate CJ Harrison took pity on me. If you ever need the services of a professional editor, I cannot recommend her enough.
If you want to own a physical copy of the story, checkout the other stories, or simply support Sword and Laser, you can buy the anthology here.
It's been so long since I wrote this snarky send off of epic fantasy that I can't remember what sparked the idea in the first place. I do remember wanting to show a traditional hero-saves-the-world story from the perspective of normal, yet chronically unimpressed, people.
I remember wanting it to be funny.
That second part took a lot of work. It took a lot listening to friend's opinions and a lot of revision. Looking back at the story now, it has some warts. Mostly, words and phrases that I would shave off, sentences I would refine. Jokes I wouldn't have sold so hard.
Still, I enjoy it. And I'm not the only one, as it received an honorable mention from Writers of the Future way back in 2015.