Unexpected short story successes

I would absolutely love to say that the three short stories I have coming out over the next several months are part of an overarching career plan designed to slowly but inexorably claw my way to the top of the heap of science fiction and fantasy. Or that they represent just a fraction of the creativity spewing from my, er, creativity font.


Now, bear in mind: I could not be prouder of these three stories. The first, the Pathfinder story “Crisis of Faith,” will be serialized on Paizo.com in June/July, and it’s a nice dose of classic D&D-style fun. “On a Kansas Plain,” a very sparse, creepy story that I think hits pretty hard, will be in Cthulhu FhtagnI in August from Word Horde. Finally, “Confessions of an Intergalactic Art Fraud” will be in Unidentified Funny Objects 4 in November; this one is pretty antic and insane and, hopefully, funny. They are all very different from each other and from my novels. It would seem I have range as a writer.

But if you think I actually planned all this, that’s not the case. I already explained how “Crisis of Faith” came to be via Twitter, which was a very happy accident indeed. The other two were similarly unplanned, though at least more deliberate.

Ross Lockhart of Word Horde was my Night Shade Books editor on The Daedalus Incident. When he left to do Word Horde, he invited me to submit to his Tales of Jack the Ripper anthology, but I just couldn’t wrap my head around it — perhaps too grim and awful for my tastes. I think I remarked something along the lines of, “Now, if you ever did another Cthulhu…” And he said that was likely. So I wrote up an idea and sent it to him in January 2014, then promptly forgot about it entirely until I got the acceptance e-mail. It was like finding $20 in the pocket of your old jeans. (Except that Ross pays better than $20.)

It was after I got that Cthulhu Fhtagn! acceptance that I saw that submissions were open for UFO4. Perhaps heady from having successfully sold two stories, I pulled a file off my hard-drive that I had written over a year ago, revised and tinkered with it, and sent it along. That, I think, was the most surprising acceptance; humor is hard to pull off, and I hadn’t a clue whether it was any good. But with some editorial help from Alex Shvartsman, it’s in there — and with stories from Neil Gaiman, George R.R. Martin, Piers Anthony, Gini Koch and so many other amazing writers.

If anything, I think that UFO4 story is an example of how I’d like my short fiction career to go. I tend to have a fair number of ideas, and they go into various files, notebooks, scratch pads and iPhone reminders. If I’m stuck on whatever I’m writing at the time (usually a novel), I find it helps to try something different for a while, so I’ll grab one of those ideas and play a bit. That’s how “Confessions” happened — it started as a riff that helped me loosen up my head to focus back on The Venusian Gambit.

So in delving into short fiction, I’ve found out some things about myself as a writer. When it comes to short stories, I find it easier writing to spec; that’s basically what happened with both Pathfinder and Cthulhu. The setting work was done in both cases, as I knew the milleu well. It was about finding character and plot. The stories just flowed.

“Confessions” was harder, but ultimately very rewarding because it’s all mine. And my wife’s reaction on reading it was priceless: “The shit that’s in your head. Man.” It’s a lesson in saving your between-project doodles, because you never know when they might blossom. And yes, there’s a few other things squirreled away on my hard drive at the moment.

Will I submit to other anthologies or sites? Almost certainly, though I admit I don’t really have anything going right now in short fiction. I’m working on my next book series, and there’s another novel I’ve outlined that occasionally calls to me and begs me to play. I’m resisting at the moment, but will probably use this second novel as my mental scratch pad in case I get hung up on the first project. I have books plans for the next few years that I want to see come to fruition, so that’s where I’m at.

But who knows? The genesis of ideas is a weird thing that defies classification or explanation. One moment, you’re going along doing whatever, at the next, the idea is there and you gotta write it down or risk losing it forever, and then it turns into a story.

That’s the art part. The marketer in me likes the fact that I have three more releases this year, and that I’m in books with names like Gaiman and Martin, or Laird Barron in Cthulhu Fhtagn! Folks who pick up these anthologies or check out my Pathfinder tale could very well end up checking out my books, too. Wins all around. It makes me more willing to keep an eye out for good anthologies, to see what else I might do.

Really, I still feel like I’m winging this whole author thing sometimes. But I have a finished novel trilogy, a novella and three short stories to show for it, so I must be doing something right. I love writing novels, but I also think that, with any luck, there’ll be some more short fiction from me at some point.


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