Monday, October 17, 2016

Writing Career: Check, One, Two, Three, Check

Hello? Is this thing on?

<searing feedback screech>

Ah. There we go.

So, it's been awhile for this blog. A whole year in fact, until a few weeks ago when I made a post about how the little story that could ("The Two Out of Three Rule") finally, in fact, did. (Get published, that is.)

And I followed that up with another post about another publication, "The Farmgirl and the Kitsune," which was released shortly after that.

So I thought I'd take a little time to check in and update just how things are going overall with my writing hobby/slowly-morphing-into-a-career (or-at-least-side-income).

Because there has been movement on that front. A nice amount of movement, at least when I think of the doldrums that occurred during my decade in Chicago.

A large part of that, I think, is due to my move to Seattle.

Shortly after relocating here, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Seattle is... well if not the Mecca for science fiction writers, then a thriving epicenter, a community of speculative fiction writers I could only have dreamed about while living in Chicago. Don't get me wrong; I like the Windy City, but Seattle mops the floor with Chicago when it comes to sf/f writing opportunities. (Not that Chicago is totally bereft, however! I still remember being briefly introduced to Audrey Niffennegger at a GBF party.)

In quantifiable terms, since my move to Seattle in the last three years, I've:

-joined two writing critique groups

-made two pro short story sales

-made two semi-pro short story sales

-finished the first draft of a book

-also finished the second, third, fourth, and fifth drafts of that same book

-submitted my book to agents for the first time

-joined Codex

-become an affiliate member of SFWA (the Science Fiction Writers of America)

The funny thing is, Chicago-me would have been ecstatic with these accomplishments; wouldn't have believed they were possible, in fact. Yet one of the side effects of having numerous Seattle acquaintances with successful writing careers is realizing just how far I still have to go. I'm not at all disheartened by this, but it helps to keep things in perspective.

As professional writers go, I'm still in the pupal stage of development: almost, but not quite ready to break out of my cocoon.

(Which, when I emerge, will make me either a beautiful butterfly or some sort of hybrid monster from a Japanese film? I'm not quite sure how the metaphor works at that point.)

In truth, I sort of like that I know there's still a long ways to go. Now that I'm moving forward, I'm actually excited to see what's waiting around the next bend in the road.

And, so far, the journey has been incredibly fulfilling.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

"The Farmgirl and the Kitsune" now available at Abyss & Apex

Happy to announce that my story "The Farmgirl and the Kitsune" is now live at the Hugo-nominated Abyss & Apex magazine.

Having just missed getting published there with a previous submission, Abyss & Apex was the first place I sent "The Farmgirl and the Kitsune" after I finished edits on the story--and thus it's the only story I have that's batting a perfect 100.

I did a fair amount research for the piece, including rereading my old manga and some collections of Japanese folklore. Other influences include "The Magic Listening Cap," "Ooka and the Honest Thief," (both of which can be found in the Junior Great Books program) and Neil Gaiman's The Sandman: The Dream Hunters.

I think I did a decent job with tone. According to the magazine's Japanese culture consultant, my piece was "either a very, very good translation or a very authentic Japanese-style folktale." Nice to see my effort paid off! 

As mentioned in the author section after the story, "The Farmgirl and the Kitsune" is actually a subplot taken from my first novel Granters, which I'm currently in the process of shopping around to agents. The story is a slightly longer in the book, with a small interstitial cut to show how the titular kitsune obtained some advice in solving her ward's problematic wish. 

I sincerely hope that people will be able to read Granters in its full capacity some day and have high hopes that this will be the case. In the meantime, check out "The Farmgirl and the Kitsune" on Abyss & Apex. Check out the other stories and poems in this issue as well! They're all fantastic, and it's a fine publication.

And thanks for reading!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

A story in perseverance AND some disclaimers!

I wrote the first draft of "The Two Out of Three Rule" back in 2007. Back then, it was titled "Poison," which may be have been because I wrote the whole thing while listening to Alice Cooper's excellent rock ballad "Poison" on a continuous loop.

For the past nine years, I submitted the story to fifty different markets before it was finally accepted for publication. (I know this, because I just looked up the story's submission record on Duotrope.) One of the magazines kept the story for a whole damn year before rejecting it. (That magazine no longer exist--which allows me a slight sense of schadenfreude.)

Many would say it was a little foolhardy to keep submitting a story after it's been rejected a dozen or so times from the current pro markets. At the time, back in 2007, my excuse was that I didn't know what I was doing. I had no idea of the difference between a pro, semi-pro, and token payment market. I just wanted to get published.

Also, I received numerous encouraging, personal rejections for "The Two Out of Three Rule." The story made it out the slush pile several times, only to get rejected in the final cut. So I kept submitting. And submitting. And submitting. And I got more personal rejections. And impersonal rejections. Even a few mean rejections.

Finally, I sent the story to my friend and fellow STEW critique-mate Yang-yang Wang, who gave me some helpful advice on changing some of the minor casting.

Right after I implemented those changes, I submitted "The Two Out of Three Rule" to Flame Tree Publishing's Murder Mayhem anthology.

A few months later, it got accepted.

It was my second pro-rate sale. It was my first sale to a SFWA (Science Fiction Writers of America) "qualifying" market.

My reaction upon having the story get accepted was... hmmm, is ecstatic is too weak of a word? I may have run around my friend Matt's condo screaming with my hands in the air. (I know, I'm supposed to affect the attitude of a cool, seasoned pro and not admit to feeling giddy--but there you go; it felt awesome.)

Part of the reason I kept submitting the story was that even with mean rejections, I was getting personal responses... I had a male submission editor tell me that my story was anti-women. I had a female submission editor tell me that this story painted men in too negative of a light.

So, along the idea that I apparently hated everyone equally, I knew there was something there. The story had some power in it to provoke an emotional response.

I think all of the stories in the Murder Mayhem anthology may provoke an emotional response. There's some tremendously written dark stuff in there. Some by classic authors such as Conan Doyle, Poe, and Kipling, and some by up-and-comers like myself. (I plan on posting a full review sometime in the next week.)

But for now, I'd like to give my first ever disclaimers for my published fiction. Briefly, the story is about a relationship that is too good to be true. It's also in an anthology titled Murder Mayhem. The book is NOT for the faint of heart.

Also, when I found out that "The Two Out of Three Rule" was accepted for publication, I realized some folks infer some sort of, err, biographical element to the story.

So let me be clear. My story, "The Two Out of Three Rule" is absolutely not based on anyone I have ever dated. There's no winking to that statement, no subtle, "but you can read between the lines and know who I'm talking about, hey?"<nudge, nudge> I'm a pretty happy guy and holding grudges is the opposite of happiness. I've had relationships fail, but I regard all of them, even the hilariously mismatched ones, with fondness, especially as I've gotten older. Anyway, as I said, I wrote the story back in 2007, and at that point I'd been single for about two years.

The central premise (which I won't spoil here) came to me out of the blue. My reaction at the time was, "This is a really interesting metaphor for a toxic relationship. I need to write the story and find out what happens!"

So hopefully, you'll want to read the story and find out what happens as well. Because sometimes love goes bad, doesn't it? Even in a healthy relationship, both people absorb something of the other--even if it's habits, hobbies, or turns of phrase. And in unhealthy relationships, well, sometimes that becomes much worse...

Sunday, May 17, 2015

A Story About Stories (Part 2)

So when last we left off, I had decided to table a book I'd spent seven years of my life working on.

Though artistically, I made the right decision, at the time I couldn't help but feeling a bit of despair as well. See, a few years earlier, I promised myself that by the time I was 33, (the infamous Jesus/apotheosis year) I would have a working draft of at least one book written. I had planned on that book being The Constable of Bridge. 

Now, I'm 33, soon to turn 34 in June, and I effectively hit reset on this goal.

Only, there was this other story I'd started working on right after I'd moved to Seattle...

It was a story about the danger of wishes and the difference between getting what you want and what you need. It also was about work, heists, and, of course, magic. (I don't want to give to much of the premise away, because hey! I may get this thing published.)

When I'd ride the bus in to work every morning, I found myself writing the story by hand in the leather journal I take everywhere. It was great fun; it helped me get through some rough days. Most importantly, it made me remember why I loved telling stories.

Right now, I'm calling it Granters.

Every morning, I wrote in that leather journal, packed in with people on either side of me on the bus, until one day I actually finished. Then I typed it up on my computer, and it clocked in at around 17,000 words. Too long for a short story, and not long enough for a book. And there were precious few places that bought 17K novellas.

Yet the more I thought about it, the more I wondered if I could turn it into book. I knew there were other parts of the story, bits I'd cut or ignored, waiting in my subconscious, ready to be uncovered and typed out on to the screen.

But before I could commit, I submitted the first 5,000 words of Granters to my critique group, and for the first time ever, got near-unanimous praise. Thus encouraged, I began to try and turn Granters into a book.

This was back in January. I made the effort to get up early in the morning and write at least 500 words, if not 1,000, or write the equivalent amount in the evening before bed. If I got stuck, I would brainstorm and outline ideas. If I started to procrastinate, I would throw out whatever was distracting me. Miraculously, or maybe it's because I don't have as many friends out here in Seattle, I stuck with my writing schedule. For me, the results were dramatic.  New ideas and character developments came to me all the time. The story, already fun, began to crackle with life. The words flowed, and for the first time in years, I felt content.

Now, in the middle of May, I'm happy to say that I've finished the first draft of an 85K book that I think has some real potential. And though I've run several marathons, I've never been so happy in my life to have a finished a race. It's honestly been one of the most rewarding ones of my life.

Right now, I've been starting my first read-thru and beginning some continuity edit, and after that I'm sending it to a few first readers, but once that's done, I'm going to submit it to a few agents.

More than ever, I really do believe creating art--whether it be telling stories, painting pictures, or playing music, has much more in common with sports than we think. Practice is of the utmost importance. Only when you're regularly making time to flex those muscles (literal or figurative), do you see improvement.

So take that, apotheosis year. I finished. And I can't wait to start on the next one. I already have a few ideas about that, in fact...

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

A Story About Stories (Part 1)

I meant to write this weeks ago, but I have the misfortune to be an amazing procrastinator and somewhat terrible at online self-promotion--a combination guaranteed to bring me fame and fortune in the publishing business, I'm sure.

Back at the end of March, my story "Jack Twice-Caught and the Pusherman" was published on the excellent T. Gene Davis's Speculative Blog Free Science Fiction. It will be included in his annual book anthology later this year. I'm beyond excited for this, because I never believed this odd little story would ever find a home.

Some friends have asked what kind of story "Jack Twice Caught and the Pusherman" is. If I don't feel like explaining, I just say "fantasy." If I have a little more time, I say "fantasy/mystery" or maybe even "fantasy/mystery/folktale."

If I feel like being talkative, or maybe have had a few beers, I'll blurt out, "It's a fantasy/mystery/folktale-set-in-a-Purgatory-like-town-that-is-the-interdimensional-nexus-to-all-planes-of-existence-in-the-multiverse."

For those who are genre savvy, I say it's New Weird.

The story was original part of a part of a chapter I wrote in my book The Constable of Bridge.  In it, the protagonist Ben Culhane, newly caught in the strange city of Bridge, wanders into a pub called The Angler's Rest and listens to a bard tell the story of the Pusherman--which is one of the Bridge's oldest folk legends. After I finished that chapter (this is, oh, perhaps four years ago), I thought the folktale might make a solid little short story on its own.

And here's the reason I was reluctant to write this entry for my blog. I quit working on The Constable of Bridge last December 2014. This was not a decision made lightly, but it was the right one. I'd been working on that damn thing since 2007. I've written and re-written over 200,000 words of that book. It was time to take a break.

The funny thing is, even if I never get it published, I don't have any regrets. Bridge (which is a very appropriate name, now that I think about it) was my learning novel. And I learned so much from it. I learned that it's OK to outline (despite what Stephen King recommends in On Writing). I learned that you need know what your story is about before you start. I learned that you need to pace yourself, that a novel can't be just high notes, nor can it only contain action and snappy dialog. That there is such a thing as tone and pacing and characters. That the cast of characters should probably not all be white dudes.

Each time I learned a new lesson, I would go back and re-write the whole bloody thing. I justified this to myself by saying that's what Tolkien did. Hell, more recently that's what Patrick Rothfuss did. And that became a problem, because as I was working on Bridge, I kept reading and watching other things, and slowly began to put all those new things I loved into the book as well, causing it to become over-bloated.  Let me give you some examples that may or may not have happened:

"Ohh, the magic in Avatar: The Last Airbender is so cool! I should devise a system of magic for the people in Bridge like that!"

"Ohh, this cyberpunk novel Altered Carbon is amazeballs! What if all of Ben's flashback chapters have him as a police detective of Chicago 500 years in the future instead of contemporary Chicago?!"

(Yes, I almost wrote a book that is 50% flashback chapters--flashbacks that actually occur 500 years in our future. Try to wrap your head around that one.)

"Ooooohh, werewolves are badass! I should throw that in there! And a Wolverine-type character!"

"And an endless Library! Like in Borges! But with living books like in Discworld!"

"What about with the Cuchulain myth? That's gotta go in."

"And angels and demons! And a plot to poison God himself!"


Ahem. So, perhaps you can see why I decided to shelve it for a bit?

The Constable of Bridge became my excuse to stay in writer limbo. It was so easy to say, "Oh, yes, I've been working on a novel for so-and-so years, but it takes time, you see. It's art. It's craft. That's why you haven't seen it yet."

All of that was true: when I was actually working on it. Of course, during the last seven years, I was writing pathetically little for months at a time. For you see, not only had this book become my dumping ground for every cool little tidbit, trick, and neat bit of story I stumbled across, it also became my crutch, a huge, hollering goblin of insecurity, bloated with little darlings I refused to let go off.

It was no longer fun. It was no longer working.

It all came to a head last December. I was writing a scene that I'd long planned for, this great revelatory moment where the hero finally shows some of his powers and really lets loose. Think of when Bruce Banner finally Hulks out or Neo is able to beat Agent Smith.

I wrote it, and I just didn't care.

At this point, I should probably let you know that a voice in my head is screaming, Pat, you MORON! Why are you telling folks your published story is taken from a book you gave up on? Give them some happy crappy fluff about creative joy and move one. It's urging me to be cautious and not talk about these things in public. That part of me is a bit of a coward. I've decided it's better to be open about these things than to pretend that everything in the creative life is "no worries, man, pura vida" all the time. Because it isn't. Some days, it can be magical, but some days are damn hard.

And to be honest, this story about a story within a story doesn't necessarily have a bad ending. I'm not giving up on Bridge forever.  There is some really good stuff in there. Scenes I absolutely love.  A plot that, with some cuts and changes, might really rock. The town that sits between all worlds is still waiting for me, and it has a lots of tales to tell. That is one of the glorious things about computers. When we shelve a project, its still there waiting for us when we want to pick it back up. And one day, I will pick it back up...

Meanwhile, even the elements that need to be cut, well, they're not going away, either. They'll just show up in stories of their own.

Kind of like "Jack Twice-Caught and the Pusherman," in fact.

(To Be Continued...)

Sunday, December 7, 2014


Waaayyy back in 2010, when I was close to turning 30, I decided I should go in for a physical. This would be the first physical I'd gotten since I was in college and on my parents' healthcare insurance. The results were fine. In fact, the nurse told me that my bloodwork was so healthy it was "sickening."

What wasn't fine was my weight.

I'm 5'9" and on the stocky side. During my senior year in high school, when I ran 40-50 miles a week in the spring/summer/fall and starved myself for wrestling in the winter, I weighed roughly 150 pounds. 

By the time I graduated college, at age 23, I weighed about 170 pounds, which I thought was fine, basically about what I should weigh given my age and frame. 

On May 10th, 2010, at age 29, I weighed 220 pounds.

As the nurse read my weight out loud on the scale, I shook my head and smiled. I believe she thought my smile meant, My, how that weight certainly does creep up! when in reality, I was thinking to myself, HOLY SHIT! HOLY SHIT! HOW THE HELL DID I GET SO GODDAM HEAVY?!

Immediate action was needed. I decided to do what I had done back in 2005: run a marathon. It wouldn't be easy, but it shouldn't be too bad. After all, I ran throughout high school, kept it up a bit in college, and was able to train pretty well for a marathon back in 2005. The extra 50 pounds I was now carrying shouldn't be that much of a factor. 

I believed this, because I was a moron. 

Training for a marathon in 2010 was one of the toughest summers of my life. It didn't help that the summer of 2010 in Chicago was disgustingly hot.  The marathon itself, though in October, also reached about 85 degrees Fahrenheit. My finishing time was 5 hours and 55 minutes. Five years earlier, at age 24, my finishing time for the Chicago Marathon was 4 hours and 15 minutes. 

Apparently the extra 50 pounds made a slight difference.

There were some other factors for such a shitty time: getting excited and starting out too fast, relying on a faulty Nike iPod odometer, which slighted over-calculated my distance over 3 months of training. 

The reason I ran, losing weight, did not produce the stunning results I'd been hoping for either. Oh, I'd lost some weight, down to about 210 lbs, but I'd been hoping to get to 180.

However, I did go from this:

To this:

within a year, so some success. (Both these pictures were taken at friends' weddings about a year apart).

I decided to run the Chicago Marathon again in 2011. Which I finished in 5:15. My weight was down to about 200 lbs. Not bad, but not where I wanted to be. So then I decided to run the Chicago marathon again, only this time, I was also going to watch what I ate as well as meticulously plan my runs using MapMyRun.

In the 2012 Chicago Marathon, I finished in 4:35 minutes. I am absurdly proud of this, though really, for a runner my age, it's barely in the middle of the pack, and also twenty minutes slower than when I ran it in 2005.

I also weighed about 185 pounds at that point, which I was unbelievably ecstatic about, as I was able to fit into all of my old clothes again. 

Over the next year, I did OK with running and my weight, keeping it around 185-190 and managing to get about 5-15 miles in per week. Not perfect, but not bad either. Maintainable. 

Flash forward to today... since moving out to Seattle, and discovering its wonderful food (I'm pretty certain they lace their sushi with crack), I was disappointed, though unsurprised, to see my weight has crept up to 205 lbs. 

And that's why, on June 14th, 2015, five days after my 34th birthday, I'll be running the Seattle Rock 'n Roll Half Marathon. Half-marathon, instead of a full, because Seattle is A LOT hillier than Chicago and I'm still getting used to running up and down the mountainous roads of the Pacific Northwest. Also, I've come to believe that a half-marathon is sort of an optimal healthy distance for running. I've felt great running a half-marathon, but in a full 26.2, there's I always hit a point where I think to myself, "OK, this is no longer beneficial to my body."

I'm not saying running is the healthiest or the best way to go about losing weight. I can only say that it works for me consistently. I burn more calories than I consume when I'm running regularly. That's just math, bitches. It also helps to eat right, get enough sleep, and not overindulge in anything worth overindulging in. There are some great training programs out there, and a lot of them are free.

So I would encourage any one of my friends who doesn't run to give it a try. It's a great time to think about things. (I frequently brainstorm story and book ideas.) You can listen to some fantastic music to get you motivated. (I think I'll post my running playlist soon.) And, though you may not believe it, you get the benefits of a runners' high, which is like Mother Nature's own anti-depressant/sedative.

Take a step out onto the road. You won't regret it. :)

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Getting Colder

Fall is coming! I've had to scrape off my vanpool window (long story--another update), and finally turn on the heater in my apartment. Oh well, I guess it's snowing in Chicago and Michigan, so it could be worse.

Here's the view of the trail I take when I bus/walk to work. You won't find this in Chicago!

Sadly, I have a feeling the leaves are going to get browner and the days a bit shorter. I'm told those in the PNW (Pacific North West) actually grow to prefer the dark and the gloom. I haven't reached that point yet, and I'm kind of hoping I never do. :)