May 19

Release Schedule for 2016

"Release schedule," listen to me, all highfalutin'. But I do have a few things coming out this year.

Soon:

I'm not sure when, but sometime soon In June, Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores will be publishing my story "Gatekeeper, What Toll?" (accessible by subscription only). It boils down a multi-volume epic fantasy series about a fated tragic hero to the essential 0.1%, by filtering it through the eyes of the keeper of a gate between worlds.

Also in June, Farstrider published my story "Mail Order Witch". When Jim kind of semi-accidentally steals his buddy Bill's Russian bride, things don't go so well.

ALSO ALSO June:

MRM-GhostBridge_ChrisHoward_rev55_FRONTCOVERAuckland Allies 2: Ghost Bridge is all ready to go at the beginning of June. I'll be running a promotion on Book 1 as part of that launch, so stay tuned.

The contemporary urban fantasy/technothriller action continues as the Allies face a necromancer raising ghosts from a Victorian cemetery near the heart of the city. Steampunk Sally, I have to say, is awesome in this one, both when she pulls off a grift over the phone and when she... No, I won't spoil it. Put it this way: if you thought it was cool when she hit a guy with a weaponised possum, you'll really enjoy this.

August:

I've just finished a sword-and-sorcery novella, Hand of the Trickster. It features a thief who's been blessed by his patron god, the Trickster, with the ability to "conjure" small items to and from storage in the Trickster Temple. He teams up with an ex-priestess of Wisdom, who's done something unwise; a huge man with a steel scorpion amulet embedded in his chest that makes him invulnerable; and an illusionist grifter with a warped sense of humour. Together, they pull heists on the temples of Wisdom and Justice.

Update: All going well, there will be a second book in November.

Late this year, I hope:

I've started work on Auckland Allies 3: Unsafe Harbour, and have reached 20,000 words, or a bit under halfway. At the moment I'm not sure what kind of time I'll have to work on it in the second half of the year, but all going well I should have it ready in late 2016. More magic, more technology, more body-stealing Nazis, and 100% more ninjas! (OK, there's one ninja. Not technically an actual ninja. It's Tara in a super suit, all right? Are you happy?)

Update: Now complete, and scheduled for September.

Probably October:

I'm part of a cool project that I don't think I'm supposed to talk about yet, so I won't. But it features some authors whose work I admire, and an audacious attempt to... no, I've said too much.

Looking at the moment like November:

My science fiction story "Taking Pro" will appear in Futuristica 2 from Metasagas Press. I read the first volume of this anthology series recently, and there are some excellent stories in it, so I look forward to the second one. My story is about what happens when scientists come up with a treatment that turns people "prosocial", and how they face the ethical and political dilemmas that engenders.

Don't know when:

I have about 36,000 words' worth of short stories and an 18,700-word novella out on submission at the moment (counting the novelette that forms the first third of Hand of the Trickster), and hopefully at least some of that will sell at some point this year. I also have three more stories that I've already sold, but I haven't been told when they'll be published (some markets communicate better than others).

I'll let you know as things develop. Thanks, by the way, to those who voted for my story "Something Rich and Strange" in the Sir Julius Vogel Award nominations; it didn't make the final list, but as you can see, there will be plenty of material for nomination next year. Around 150,000 words of it, if I've counted right. Wow.

Feb 02

Pro Sales, and Sir Julius Vogel

I'm very pleased to announce not one, but two short story sales to professional publications.

A science fiction story yet to receive its final title (working title: "One-Eyed Man") will be published in Futuristica Volume 2 in November 2016. I've known about this one for a while, but had to delay the announcement while the editors sorted out which stories would go in which volume. It's the story of what happens when scientists who have developed a treatment that makes people more prosocial first take it themselves, and then seek to convince a politician to be one of the first high-profile people to take it. I think I've managed to pull off an ending which feels either dystopian or utopian, depending on the reader.

My fantasy short story "Gatekeeper, What Toll?" will also be published in the new magazine Cosmic Roots and Elvish Shores. I don't have a publication date yet, so stay tuned. This one is told from the viewpoint of the keeper of an interdimensional portal, who sees a fated conqueror-king pass back and forth through the Gate at key times in his life. It's a six-volume, two-and-a-half-million-word epic fantasy implied in two and a half thousand words.

I'm proud of my achievement in going from no sales to pro sales in approximately two and a half years. I started to get serious about submitting short stories almost exactly two years ago, and these two professional sales (and another seven semipro sales, plus an acceptance from a charity anthology) are the fruit of nearly a hundred submissions over that two-year period.

Judging by the contents of the Campbellian Anthology, which contains work by people who have had their first pro sale in the past three years, approximately one person a week achieves this milestone worldwide. This appears to be my week.

I'm continuing to work hard on other stories, and I hope to sell several more to professional publications this year.

Sir Julius Vogel Eligibility

Sir Julius Vogel Awards trophy

Looking back to last year, I published several works which are eligible for the Sir Julius Vogel awards, New Zealand's awards for science fiction, fantasy and horror. Finalists are determined by the number of nominations for each work, and nominations have to be received by 28 February this year.

If you've read (or listened to) one of my works listed below and think it's award-worthy, please email your nomination to: sjv_awards@sffanz.org.nz. Anyone in the world can nominate, but the final vote is by members of the annual NZ science fiction conference.

Note: I originally had links and other information below for both the text and podcast versions of "Something Rich and Strange". They're not identical--there are two or three sentences that are different--so to prevent issues I've changed it to just the text version, which is (I think) the better one.

Short Story: "Something Rich and Strange".
Nomination Details required (you can copy and paste everything except the lines in bold, which are specific to you):
  1. Name / Title of work: "Something Rich and Strange"
  2. Name of Producer / Author / Creator: Mike Reeves-McMillan
  3. What the work is i.e. Novel, TV, Movie, Short Story, Web, Collection, Comic, Art: Short Story
  4. Year of First Release: 2015
  5. What category you think the nomination belongs to i.e. Fan awards, Professional awards: Professional Awards.
  6. GENRE - science fiction, fantasy or horror: Fantasy
  7. Contact details of the person making the nomination e.g. email or/and phone number
  8. Publisher / Production company name: Digital Fantasy Fiction (http://digitalfictionpub.com/blog/digital-fantasy-fiction/)
  9. How to contact the producer / author: mike at csidemedia.com
  10. Other details about the work, that might be relevant
    e.g. the media it appears in - radio, web: ebook
  11. Where to get a copy of the work: http://www.amazon.com/Something-Rich-Strange-Digital-Uncommon-ebook/dp/B019M18DSI/
  12. Any other comments you wish to add

Novel: Auckland Allies

Nomination Details required (you can copy and paste everything except the lines in bold, which are specific to you):

  1. Name / Title of work: Auckland Allies
  2. Name of Producer / Author / Creator: Mike Reeves-McMillan
  3. What the work is i.e. Novel, TV, Movie, Short Story, Web, Collection, Comic, Art: Novel
  4. Year of First Release: 2015
  5. What category you think the nomination belongs to i.e. Fan awards, Professional awards: Professional Awards.
  6. GENRE - science fiction, fantasy or horror: Fantasy
  7. Contact details of the person making the nomination e.g. email or/and phone number
  8. Publisher / Production company name: C-Side Media
  9. How to contact the producer / author: mike at csidemedia.com
  10. Other details about the work, that might be relevant
    e.g. the media it appears in - radio, web: ebook
  11. Where to get a copy of the work: http://www.amazon.com/Auckland-Allies-Mike-Reeves-McMillan-ebook/dp/B01694XVP6/
  12. Any other comments you wish to add

Thanks in advance for any nominations, and I'll have further updates for you as details come to hand.

Nov 13

Short Story News

I've added a new sub-site to my website specifically for short stories, since that's become a significant part of my fiction output. I've sold eight stories so far this year (one of which I'm still not allowed to talk about, so watch this space).

In Memory coverSince my last update, two more have been published. The first is "There's a Tattoo, but the Robes Hide It," a comic sword-and-sorcery tale in which the Dread Lord's consort, desperate to leave him, reluctantly enlists the aid of the trickster god. It's published in the charity anthology In Memory: A Tribute to Sir Terry Pratchett, which is burning up the Amazon charts. (As I write, it's number 28 in the Kindle store for fantasy anthologies.) All proceeds go to Alzheimer's research, so I encourage you to pick up a copy. Not only does it honour Terry Pratchett by its charitable purpose, but the stories are a fitting tribute to his legacy of humane, moving, funny fantasy.

The other story just out is "Something Rich and Strange". A Victorian miss in an alternate version of our world finds her true self at the Change Storm, the bizarre natural phenomenon on which her professor father is a leading expert. Her father and his mansplaining assistant expect her to fall into the role of audience/love interest/impediment/rescuee that is the lot of professors' daughters in so many pulp adventure stories, but she has ideas of her own. This one is published in podcast form at The Overcast, so you can enjoy someone reading it to you.

I've also recently sold a couple of stories to Stupefying Stories, and I'll let you know about those when they come out. And then there's that secret one.

If you're not already subscribed to my mailing list, and you don't want to miss these announcements, hop on. We're coming close to the next milestone at which I'll release another piece of free short fiction to the list, as well, so encourage your short-story-loving friends to join.

Oct 12

Auckland Allies is out!

AucklandAllies_MRMCover_500x780I'm pleased to announce that the first book in my new urban fantasy series, Auckland Allies, is available from Amazon (other outlets to follow soon).

As bit players in the world of magic, Tara, Sparx, and their clairvoyant acquaintance Steampunk Sally are careful to stay clear of New Zealand's supernatural politics. So after Sally uses her powers to win a little money at blackjack, it's a nasty surprise when hired goons come after them.

Hitting the streets, they try to find out who these Blokes in Black work for, why such a dangerous and powerful figure has his sights set on three magical nobodies--and how to protect themselves.

They discover a plot to use Auckland's volcanoes in a massive demon-summoning ritual, which nobody else is equipped to stop. The question is: are they?

I have six more books at various degrees of "planned" for the series. I've already started on the second book, Auckland Allies: Newtonian Manuscript, in which a magical text by Sir Isaac Newton, a nonmagical ex-girlfriend, and a necromantic threat all interfere with Sparx and Sally's attempt to make a living supplying costumes and props to New Zealand's film industry.

This is going to be more of a "continuing story" series than the Gryphon Clerks' "meanwhile, elsewhere" approach. Each book will build on the previous one, but be complete in itself, with the first chapter or two reminding or informing readers who these people are and why they're all fighting.

Early feedback indicates that this is a solid, fun novel with good potential for a series, and I'm excited to see how it goes. Pick up your copy from Amazon.

Other News

My Short Story Challenge project is going well; so far this year I've made 42 submissions (only two short of 2014's full-year total), and had seven acceptances, which I'm super-happy about. Most of the acceptances have been recent, so the only one published since my last update is  "Lock and Key," in which a clever alchemist in an Arabian-Nights setting solves several murders.

All the details of my short story sales and where they will appear are on the short stories page at the website. Coming very soon is In Memory, a tribute anthology to Sir Terry Pratchett in aid of Alzheimer's research, in which I have a piece.

Next year I hope to write at least two dozen stories, so if you like my short fiction there's plenty more coming. And if novels are more your speed, make sure to pick up Auckland Allies.

Jul 14

Launch Day: The Well-Presented Manuscript (and other news)

WPM002_smallIt's launch day for The Well-Presented Manuscript: Just What You Need to Know to Make Your Fiction Look Professional, my new non-fiction book for my fellow writers. Currently, it's exclusive to Amazon, but if you use other outlets, I'll soon have it available in the B&N, Kobo and Apple stores and via Oyster and Scribd.

I've just finished reading Damon Knight's excellent book Creating Short Fiction. I was pleased to note that his section on "How to Be Publishable" included the point that you need a command of language, including some knowledge of how to assemble words into phrases and sentences, and a good active vocabulary. That's exactly what The Well-Presented Manuscript is about: developing the basic competence with the tools and materials of language that will get your fiction read by editors, reviewers and the general public.

Nowhere is this more important than in your blurb or pitch, which is one of the first things your prospective reader will see. Just this morning, I read a blurb in which "Scottish" was spelled with three consecutive Ts. As it happens, I've read part of the book concerned, and the editing is terrible (which is why I stopped reading). The blurb does tip you off to what the book is going to be like.

So here's the blurb for The Well-Presented Manuscript:

Do you want to be taken seriously by editors, readers or reviewers?
Do you make errors in your fiction writing?
This book is for you.

Mike Reeves-McMillan is a fiction author, reviewer, and former copy editor and technical writer. He's analysed the errors he's found in almost 250 books, both indie and traditionally published, and written a simple, clear guide to avoiding the most common issues.

Learn:
- Why editors reject 90% of what's submitted to them—and how to increase your chances.
- How to get punctuation right every time.
- The special conventions of dialog.
- The most common word confusions, typos, and research errors—and how to check for and eliminate them.

If that interests you, please go to Amazon and pick up a copy of The Well-Presented Manuscript. (That's an affiliate link--it costs you the same, but pays me more.) I promise you'll learn at least two useful things you didn't know before.

More News

I recently reviewed my short story submission stats for the first half of this year, and compared them with the full-year stats for last year.

I'm submitting at about the same rate (23 for the half-year, versus 44 for the full year last year). My proportion of personal rejections to form rejections has improved slightly (8:9 instead of 14:20). But the big jump is in acceptances: four so far this year, versus one for the whole of last year.

I'll announce the publications as they come out, but I've made two sales to online magazine The Sockdolager (one of them already published); placed a story with In Memory, a charity anthology honouring Terry Pratchett and benefiting Alzheimer's research; and sold another story to The Overcast, a fiction podcast.

I'm continuing to write new stories, and keeping them in circulation. There are over 100 professional and semi-professional science fiction and fantasy publications soliciting stories at the moment, so it's a wonderful time to be writing short fiction.

On the novel side, I have three or four more edit passes to go on Auckland Allies, the first in a new urban fantasy series. It's set in Auckland, New Zealand, where I live. It's a lot of fun, and I hope to bring it out in the next few months.

Mar 08

Wearing the Hat

SockdolagerMy short story "Wearing the Hat" appears this month, in the first issue of online adventure fiction magazine The Sockdolager. You can read the whole story, and in fact the whole issue, online, but if you enjoy it I urge you to buy it (using the links from the issue's main page) and support this new venture.

I had an excellent experience submitting the story. The editors got back to me within 24 hours of my submission, they loved it, they sent me a contract the same day, the contract was clear and straightforward and fair, and they paid me - earlier than the contract said they had to - in advance of publication. All of these (apart, perhaps, from loving my story) are things that you'd think would be standard industry practice, but they're very much not.

The story itself is typical of my short pieces. It takes place in the Gryphon Clerks setting, but a long way away from the big events of the novels. It isn't about movers and shakers, but about the people who are moved and shaken, and deal with it as best they can. The hero isn't young, isn't a warrior, isn't changing the world; she's a middle-aged shopkeeper placed in an invidious position, who does what she has to do.

In keeping with The Sockdolager's premise ("short genre stories in which Things Happen"), though, it's more action-oriented than most of my stories. At the same time - and this, I think, is why they bought it - the action isn't in isolation, or there for its own sake; it arises naturally out of the situation, and means something to the participants. At heart, it's a Western.

If you enjoy it, there are another dozen like it in my solo collection Good Neighbours and Other Stories from HDWP Books. And don't forget the current Kickstarter for the Hysterical Realms anthology, in which I also have a piece.

Mar 04

Now Kickstarting: Hysterical Realms

Hysterical RealmsI have a story in this anthology, now on Kickstarter. It's the third anthology in the Alternate Hilarities series, and you can get all three at the $10 backer level, or just this one for $5.

As I write, it's about halfway to its goal with 11 days to go, so pile in and add your contribution if funny fantasy is of interest to you. I haven't read the other stories, but some of them sound like they have a lot of potential.

My story ("Axe Stone, Svart Detective") is a mashup of Fritz Leiber-style sword-and-sorcery, the narrative style of Damon Runyon, and classic detective noir. I think I've combined those three elements effectively, into a story that would work even if it wasn't funny (but it is). Go ahead and back the Kickstarter, and you can see if you agree with me.

Jun 17

How to be a Light Hybrid Author

I recently participated in a thread on Google+ started by someone who was arguing for leaving self-publishing in favour of trad pub. Now, I'm not sure if he's genuinely naive or just trolling, but his view of trad pub is, let's say, rosier than the facts justify.

I've set out my views on traditional publishing before, but to summarise: the main remaining benefits of traditional publishing that I can see are wider exposure, including print distribution to bookstores, and some residual (and rapidly vanishing) extra credibility.

The two are intertwined. There are many podcasts, book review sites and the like which still only feature traditionally-published books and authors, often as a matter of explicitly stated policy, and the underlying reason is presumably that this gives them a straightforward filter to reduce the amount of crap coming across the transom. A high-profile site of this kind gets inundated with far more material than they can handle, and saying "no self-pub" reduces the volume by filtering out material that, additionally, is still statistically more likely to be of low quality.

The quality issue in self-pub is real, but things are shifting rapidly. As clueless trad-pub houses get rid of editors and savvy self-publishers take them on, the quality gap is shrinking. I have "shelves" (tags) set up on Goodreads for "needs-editing", "seriously-needs-editing" and "well-edited". At time of writing, I have 20 books marked "seriously-needs-editing," of which 5 are from large publishers and one from a small press (the rest are indie). I have 39 marked "well-edited," of which 33 are from indies. Now, disclaimers: I read a disproportionate amount of indie fiction, I'm pretty good at filtering out the bad ones, and out of those 33 well-edited books, 15 are by Debora Geary, who just doesn't seem to put many typos in or else has an incredibly eagle-eyed editor. Regardless, the quality gap is smaller than it's often portrayed, and as more and more of the most imaginative work is done in self-pub, the credibility gap will shrink.

Not only in editing, either. I occasionally browse the cover designs that Joel Friedlander features on his Book Designer website (link is to a post featuring a couple of my covers), and at a casual inspection, it looks to me as if they are getting much better than they used to be. Indies are aware now that they can't stick a hideous cover on their book and expect it to do well. Trad-pub, on the other hand, can still put out cliched and awful covers sometimes. One of the reasons I choose to publish independently is exactly this: in trad-pub, the author is stuck with whatever cover the publisher comes up with, good or bad, even if it's a terrible representation of their vision or undermines one of their main points. If that happens with one of my covers, I only have myself to blame, because I commission them and approve them.

As for print distribution, the value of that is shrinking rapidly, and Hugh Howey's analysis shows that it isn't financially beneficial overall (at least, not for the authors). It gets more eyes on your stuff, which is important in awards season, but it doesn't get you more money if you publish with a traditional publisher who gives you low ebook royalties and print distribution to bookstores, vs getting higher ebook royalties and no print distribution. (In fact, if you publish through CreateSpace you can buy an add-on that gets you print distribution to bookstores, though whether it is worthwhile is another question - the answer will vary depending on the individual book, but my sense is that on average it is "no" unless you're doing well already.)

The average traditionally-published genre book will have a couple of copies sent to each bookstore, where they will be displayed "spine-out" on a shelf in that genre's section of the store for a limited period of time (3-6 months, I believe), after which they will probably be returned for a credit if nobody has bought them. That kind of exposure is increasingly not worth signing over lifetime rights to a publisher in exchange for low royalties.

I do have a point, which I'll get to soon

I'm rehearsing these well-rehearsed thoughts (which many have stated before me) not so much for their own sake as in order to give background for my main point, which is this: there is another, backdoor way to get some of the "gatekeeper cred" and exposure that traditional publishing still, for the moment, grants.

If I did the submission dance and was fortunate enough to be one of the comparative few given a trad-pub contract - and I'm reasonably confident that I could eventually achieve that if it was a goal of mine - I would face four problems which are reasons I don't participate in that dance (apart from the tedium of the dance itself).

The first problem is timeliness. From submission to acceptance to publication is a long and winding road in trad-pub. That's time in which my work could potentially be earning me money, and in which I could be getting reaction to it which could influence the next thing I write.

The second problem is control. I'd have no control over the cover, no control over the price, no control over the blurb, and the final editorial decisions would not be mine. Now, you can argue whether my retention of that control produces a better or worse result. I think it produces a better result, but I do know this for sure: my preference is to have it.

The third problem is scope of rights. Under the usual traditional contract, my rights in that work - and possibly other subsequent works - would be severely restricted, and the publishers would effectively control them for what amounts to an unlimited period (from my perspective, anyway, since copyright freedom 70 years after my death does me no good). The problem here is not that the publishers have the right to publish the work - that's what they're buying, after all - but that they retain it indefinitely.

The fourth problem, of course, is earning potential, and anything I could say about that is covered much better at Authorearnings.

The Answer

So what's the answer? How can I get the benefits of trad-pub (exposure and perceived legitimacy) without the drawbacks I've just enumerated?

The answer is short stories.

There still remains a vigorous, and if anything increasing, market for short stories, especially genre, especially fantasy and science fiction. There are anthologies coming out all the time, and numerous magazines, not to mention many competitions. There are different kinds of markets; some pay only royalties, others a token upfront amount, but many pay an upfront per-word rate ranging from 0.5c to 25c. Professional rates are considered (by fiat of the SFWA) 6c/word, and according to The Submission Grinder, there are currently 35 pro-paying markets for SF and 29 for fantasy (many of them, of course, the same markets).

Now, nobody's going to get rich just selling short stories for 6c/word. But what the short story markets provide is a more flexible, more timely, less rights-grabby version of trad pub.

Anthologies, even from small presses, get reviewed in places that are closed to indies. The major short story magazines (and there are several) are highly regarded in the field. Short stories get on awards ballots; there's a special place for them in several of the major awards. And all these markets have editors, so you can prove that someone other than you thought your fiction was worth publishing.

At the same time, their turnaround is relatively quick - few take as long as three months, much faster than the query process for traditional book publishing, and then publication usually follows in short order. That solves the problem of timeliness. (Exception: tor.com, a short fiction market which is owned by a book publisher, has a notoriously slow turnaround).

In terms of control, I don't expect control over the cover of an anthology or magazine that includes my story among several others. I hope it's not awful, and usually it isn't, but nobody else thinks of it as representing me either, so if it is awful, the splashover onto me is minimal and people will believe me when I distance myself from it.

Scope of rights is something that short story markets mostly make very clear upfront. Usually, their submission guidelines will say something like, "We're buying first serial rights with an exclusive period of X". X can vary from zero (you're free to use it elsewhere as soon as it's published) to a year, rarely more, and seems to average about 30-90 days. Anthologies usually have a longer exclusivity period than magazines, since magazines have a faster churn time - once the next issue is out, they're usually not worried about someone republishing a story that was in the last one. Anthologies are either one-off or annual, and in either case often call for a one-year exclusive.

And once that period is up, your rights revert, and you can try to sell the story to another publication (though not many take reprints, and those that do often pay less for them than they do for first appearances). Or you can put it on Amazon, alone or in a collection, and people can buy it from you there. (You might, if you're lucky, get into a Best Of anthology of some kind, though some of those primarily pay in exposure.)

And that's the earning potential issue addressed. Sell your story to the highest-paying market you can (knowing in advance how much you'll get), potentially resell it to another market afterwards, then stick it in Kindle Direct Publishing and make some more money from it. You're not stuck earning 25% royalty while the publisher cleans up for the rest of your life. You can rewrite it, turn it into a novel, collect it, whatever you like, because you have your rights back.

Pink Moped
Kanaka Menehune / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)

I've got a collection coming out soon, in fact, from HDWP Books, including several stories I've published with them or elsewhere before, as well as some new ones. I joke in the back of the book that this makes me a "hybrid" author, though not like a Prius - more of a moped.

This, along with the good things it's doing for my practice of the craft of writing, is why I'm working on short stories a lot these days. I've placed one in New Realm magazine (royalty-only, and I haven't hit the threshold for a payout, nor do I seriously expect to - but it's a publication credit, and the story is mine again now); three in the Theme-Thologies from HDWP Books (again, royalty-only, and I've had one small payout so far); and I just the other day got the news that I've sold one to the Alternate Hilarities 3: Hysterical Realms funny-fantasy anthology, which is another step up the ladder. There's an upfront payment (at least 1c/word, and up to 8c/word depending on how their Kickstarter goes) and a share of royalties.

I have five or six more stories on submission and several more that I'm working on. My plan is to work my way up through the semi-prozines and semi-pro anthologies to the big time: Strange Horizons, Sword and Sorceress, Unidentified Funny Objects (to name three that have sent me encouraging emails saying they wished they could buy my stories but they weren't quite right for this time).

All the street cred of traditional publication, without the lifetime rights grab and the long delays. More like being a contractor than being a low-level employee. This is how publication ought to work.

May 30

Makers of Magic: New Project

I've been working on this one for a little while now, but I decided it's time to announce it on my blog.

Makers of Magic will be a single-author themed anthology, thirteen stories in twelve settings (two Gryphon Clerks ones), each with a different kind of magic-user as a character. Mostly, the magic-using character will be the protagonist, but sometimes the antagonist, or maybe even a secondary character.

A single-author anthology unified by theme rather than setting is unusual. I'm sure someone else has done it, but I'm not aware of any. The reason I'm doing it is simple: I like stories about magic-users, and I noticed I'd written several and decided to go for a collection.

I'm submitting these stories out to magazines and anthologies, in the hope of getting as many as possible published before I do the collection. It's a kind of social proof thing. The downside of that is that I'll have to wait for the rights to revert, and that sometimes takes a year from the date of publication, so the book is unlikely to be published before late 2015 (more likely early 2016).

Given that I'm planning 13 stories, and my stories average about 3000 words, it's probably going to have a total wordcount around 40,000, unless I find a story that needs to be longer.

The Wizard
seanmcgrath / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

So far I've written four stories which are out on submission, and which cover Necromancer ("Axe Stone: Svart Detective"), Sorcerer ("Family Curse"), Wizard ("Alix and the Dragon", though I may write another wizard story and substitute it), and Alchemist ("Lock and Key"). I have another one in beta ("Mail-Order Witch"), and a sixth story partially written (no title as yet; it's about a thaumaturge). The settings include a mashup of a sword-and-sorcery city with Damon Runyon's noirish 1930s New York; a city that could possibly be Edwardian London; a secondary-world dukedom; a sword-and-sorceryish place with similarities to the Crusader kingdom of Outremer; and more-or-less contemporary Alaska.

The rest of the stories will cover Mage, Shaman, Adept, Illusionist, Warlock, Theurgist and Enchantress, unless I have better ideas, which is always likely.

The tone of the stories I've written so far generally includes some humour, though that's not always the case (the sorcerer story is pretty serious, and more like an old-style Weird Tale of the 1930s). That's not to say that they don't also include drama involving love and/or death.

I'll be sure to post about any of the stories that get accepted for publication elsewhere, so you can pick them up if you want to get in early, and it's likely that one or more of them will end up as bonus content for members of my mailing list.

Apr 16

Technique: Parallel Stories, Slow Reveal

I review books from Netgalley, and I recently got two significant short story collections: Writers of the Future Volume 30 and Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume Eight. So far, I've only read the first one, but it's taught me something.

Of course, that's exactly why I read it; I wanted to see what is considered really good spec-fic short story writing these days, rather than just reading classic short stories. I've been writing a few short stories lately, mostly for the collection I'm doing with HDWP Press, and based on the feedback I've had I seem to be getting better. I'm yet to sell a story to a major magazine, but I've had a very encouraging personalised rejection from Strange Horizons and some good comments from critique groups.

Part of the point of writing short stories is to improve my craft by working at the short length, and then take those lessons into my novels. Here's the lesson I learned from several of the stories in Writers of the Future, which I call "parallel stories, slow reveal".

The clearest and best use of the technique is in Shauna O'Meara's story "Beneath the Surface of Two Kills". At the opening of this story, we learn that the narrator, a professional hunter, is hunting a rare animal for the last meal of a convicted felon on death row. As the story progresses, we discover more about the "two kills": the one which the hunter is working towards, and the one which we know occurred in the past to place the killer in prison awaiting execution. The hunter thinks about the news coverage he has read of the killer's stalking of his victim as he, in turn, stalks the rare beast.

This works for a few reasons. Firstly, the parallel stories obviously reflect on each other (and the conclusion differentiates the two characters). Secondly, as also happens with several other stories in the same collection, we start out knowing the ending of a story that occurred earlier, and gradually learn how that outcome occurred.

Now, given how some people react to "spoilers", you'd think that would be a problem, but done well it actually keeps the reader's interest. We know the outcome, but we don't know how it came to be, and we want to.

Here are some ways I can think of to use the slow reveal:

  • Hint at something surprising about the character early on that doesn't match up with what you've revealed about them so far.
  • Let the reader see a terrible (or wonderful) outcome looming, of which the characters remain ignorant until it happens.
  • As the story opens, let the reader know that the character feels a strong emotion (fear, anger, sadness) about something that happened, but don't tell them why (or what) until later.
  • Show a character learning something that another character has already learned, and tell their stories in parallel.
  • This is a classic: Start the character out in a fix. Gradually show how they got into it as they struggle to get out of it.

Like any technique, this can be done badly and fail. Used well, though, it holds the reader's attention and keeps them reading. Watch out for it in my future stories.