One-Hour Flash: My Hero

Been a while since I’ve done one of these, but this is another story I wrote in an hour based on a visual prompt. Many of these prompted one-hour stories go on to publication, and others, like this one, well, don’t. So instead of letting the piece collect dust on my hard drive, I’m gonna inflict, er, I mean share it with all of you. That said, this one is a bit different than the others. More on that after the story.

Here’s “My Hero”


My Hero

Azazel shook the file folder at Baal and pounded his fist on the elder demon’s desk. “I am not doing this.”

“Like you have a choice.” Baal laughed and propped his feet on his desk. He wore the body of an older male human, a perfect fit for the gaudy high-rise offices currently housing the Infernal Bureaucracy’s earthly headquarters.

“Save a bunch of orphans? Come on. What will . . .  what will the others think?” Azazel said, pleading.

Baal took his feet down and leaned forward. “We have credible intel that one of those little bastards might grow up to be you-know-who. So, yes, you will go to that orphanage and make sure it does not burn down. Understood?”

Azazel groaned. “I’ll never live this down.”

“Is that understood?” The room grew dark as Baal’s anger literally devoured the light.

“Yes, Lord Baal,” Azazel said, and blew out a resigned sigh. “His dark will be done.”

The darkness receded and Baal smiled. His presence in his host’s body had rotted all the man’s teeth, and Azazel was treated to the sight of blackened stubs and decayed gums. “Good. Now get to work.”

#

Saint Laurent’s Home for Wayward Children sat on the corner of Union and Third, a stately three-story stone building that had once been a church. Azazel’s skin began to itch within three blocks of the place. It stood on holy ground, which meant most of his demonic powers would be nullified.

The file said the fire was arson–Hell’s Department of Oracular Pronouncements was usually right about these things–so Azazel came prepared with a revolver stuffed into his coat pocket. If he killed the firebug before the blaze started, he could get back to proper demon work.

The fire would start at 2:45 a.m. on the third floor in a maintenance closet. Azazel checked his watch–2:30. Plenty of time. He went to the back of the building and found a fire door ajar beneath the pooled shadows of an overhang. The security light above the door had been disabled.

“Damnation,” Azazel said under his breath. The fire-starter was already in the building. He drew his pistol and hurried inside. The pain of actually standing on holy ground hit him like a tidal wave and buckled his knees. He double over, gagging, and trying to breathe. The pain subsided, but he had to invest considerable demonic mojo to make that happen. That kind of thing was sure to burn out his human vessel. He could already feel the meat rotting around him.

Beyond the fire door were stairs, and Azazel climbed them until he reached the third floor. That door was also open.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck.” Azazel stepped out into a wide corridor. It was dark but he spotted the soft glow of fire light beneath a closed door at the end of the hall. He sprinted toward it, the smell of gasoline filling his nostrils.

Pistol in hand, Azazel opened the door and saw a tall figure standing over a pile of rags in a utility closet, a tiny spear of flame from a Bic lighter turning mops and brooms into flickering, man-like forms.

“Put that away, asshole,” Azazel said and thumbed back the hammer on his revolver.

The figure turned, his handsome features pinched with pain. “I can’t do it,” he said. The voice was musical . . . heavenly.

Azazel wasn’t the only one on the job tonight. “Hey, man, then don’t. Make both our lives easier.”

“I must,” the angel said. Tears of blood leaked down his chiseled features. “There is an eighty percent chance the enemy, the great evil, is one of these children.”

“That high, huh? Our people only put it at sixty-four percent.”

“Sixty-four?” the angel said.

“Yeah, hardly worth it to burn up a bunch of rug rats on less than two-to-one odds, right?” Azazel said.

The angel’s eyes narrowed. “Then why are you here?”

“The job, same as you,” Azazel said. He lowered his gun, but the angel still had his lighter flicked and ready. “What’s your name?”

“Nuriel,” the angel replied. “You?”

“Azazel. I don’t think you and I have, uh, crossed swords before, so to speak, so let’s keep this nice and civilized.”

Nuriel seemed to relax some. “What do you have in mind?”

“What say we get out of here, get ourselves a drink, and, I don’t know, relive the good times? We were both angels once, right? That way you get to not torch a bunch of orphans, and I get to stay in the good graces of my bosses.”

The angel brows furrowed. He was desperate for an out, and that little lapse of attention was what Azazel had been waiting for. The angel took his thumb off the lighter, and the little flame snuffed out. Azazel snapped the pistol up and fired, point blank, catching the angel–well, his host, anyway–square in the forehead. Blood and brains splattered the brooms and mops.

Freed from his human host, the angel exploded outward in wave of blinding light. Azazel shrunk away from the heavenly sunburst, but no angel or demon can remain on the earthly realm without a human body, and the light winked out as the angel was yanked back into heaven.

Azazel breathed a sigh of relief, then heard people stirring on the floor. The gunshot would have woken the entire building. He shoved the gun in his pocket and hurried down the stairs and out into the night.

Job done.

#

The next morning, Baal stormed into Azazel’s office before he could finish his first cup of coffee. The elder demon slapped the morning paper on Azazel’s desk. The front page read: Mysterious Hero Slays Would-Be Arsonist at Local Orphanage.

“Oh, no,” Azazel whispered, horrified.

Baal grinned, black, toothless, and gummy. “My hero.”


Usually, after these failed one-hour stories, I tell you what’s wrong with them. In this case, I actually think “My Hero” is a pretty solid story. Not earthshattering or anything, but it’s got a full arc, and I think it’s pretty entertaining. So why am I not submitting it (anymore)? Well, because I’ve written too many stories like it, and the markets I’d send it to have already published a story of mine a lot like this. The point is that sometimes you can get stuck in a rut with your work and end up writing stories that are just kinda samey. On their own, in a vacuum, they might be fine, but if you’ve already published a bunch like them, it’s gonna make selling another one more difficult. For me, writing about wisecracking demons is like breathing. It’s easy and comes naturally, but I’ve gone to that well, especially with flash fiction, too many times. So, I’ll put it here, and maybe it’ll end up in another flash collection down the line.

Want to see more failed flash? Check out the previous installments in the One-Hour Flash series.

A Week of Writing: 6/7/21 to 6/13/21

Another week walks into the sunset. Here’s how I did.

Words to Write By

This week’s quote comes from Louise Brown.

I could write an entertaining novel about rejection slips, but I fear it would be overly long.

–Louise Brown

Ain’t that the truth? I am currently sitting on 463 rejections. Some ballpark math tells me the word count of my average rejection is about 100 words. So I might not have the novel that Louise Brown has (yet), but I’ve got a longish novella of rejections. All joking aside, I think most writers who make some kind of career out of this probably have a novel’s worth of we’re gonna pass’s and not for us’s. It comes with the territory, and if you keep all your rejections like I do, you can look back at the novel of no’s and see where you’ve been, how you’ve grown, and maybe even take a little pride in how you’ve endured.

Short Story Submissions

A solid week of submissions.

  • Submissions Sent: 2
  • Rejections: 2
  • Acceptances: 0
  • Publications: 0
  • Shortlist: 1
  • Pending: 6
  • 2021 Total Subs: 49

Two more submissions last week keeps me on a good pace for the month and my yearly goal of 100 subs. I’d like to end the month with 54 total submissions (for an average of 9 per month), and I’m in good shape to do that. The two rejections were both of the form variety, one being higher-tier and a bit of a heartbreaker, but that’s the way it goes. I have a lot of faith in that story, so out it went again. I had a newish flash fiction piece shortlisted, but it’ll be a while before I find out if it’s accepted or not.

Media Tie-In

Pretty much finished my commission work for Privateer Press in their Warcaster: Neo-Mechanika setting. Last week, I accomplished my goal of writing the five 1,000-word vignettes I owed. Four have been approved, and I expect to hear about the last one soon. It was nice to dip my toe back in that pool and work with some old friends from my Privateer Press days. I really like the setting, and hopefully I’ll get to write in it a bit more in the future. Completing this job let me hit a nice milestone. It put me over the 300 mark for total fiction credits. Not too bad.

The Novella

My focus last week was on completing my commission work, so I didn’t get much done on Effectively Wild. It still sits at around 6,000 words. I did, however, do some research on where I might submit it, and found some interesting possibilities. I might talk more about that in an upcoming blog post. This week, I’d like to hit an even 10,000 words on the novella.

Night Walk

My flash fiction anthology Night Walk & Other Dark Paths features 40 of my best stories. You can pick up a copy of your very own in print or eBook by clicking the cover below.

For an inside peek into the anthology and its stories, check out the Night Walk Wednesday feature right here on the blog. I’ll give you all the juicy rejectomancy stats on individual stories from the collection.

Goals

Work on the novella, and, as always, send out more submissions.


That was my week. How was yours?

100 Submissions Per Year: Why I Do It

I’m a goal-oriented person, and I like to set fairly difficult goals for myself. One of those goals is 100 short story submissions per year, which I’ve been aiming at it for the last five years straight. Let me tell you a little about why I set this challenge for myself and its benefits and potential drawbacks. Like any goal, this one is not one-size-fits-all, but it works for me, and maybe it’ll works for you too. 😉

First, the numbers. You’ll need to send roughly 8 submissions per month to hit 100 in a year. I generally find it easier to approach this challenge on a monthly basis, but you could take it week by week as well. There, you’d be looking at 2 submissions per week. Depending on how much you write and, more importantly, what length of fiction, these numbers may seem entirely doable or utterly impossible. Since my submissions are roughly 75 percent flash, this falls squarely into the difficult but doable category for me.

So what does 100 submissions do for me? Three things.

  1. Keeps me writing. In order to hit 100 submissions, I have to have a lot of stories to submit. This is especially true since I don’t send a lot of simultaneous submissions. So I’m constantly writing to keep up with my submission goals. As I mentioned, I write tons of flash fiction, which helps me produce a lot. That said, my short stories take me a little longer to sell, and make up a fair number of my overall submissions in a year.
  2. More acceptances. The more you write, the more you’ll submit, and the more you’ll end up publishing. My acceptance percentage is somewhere between 15 and 20 percent (depending on the year). So, if I send 50 submissions, I should end up publishing between 7 and 10 stories. If I send 100 subs, then it should be between 15 and 20. That follows, at least for me, and my two biggest acceptance years are also my two biggest submission years. As I’ve said many times before, I could dial in my submission targeting a bit and potentially increase those numbers, but I still hold to the idea that more subs equals more publications.
  3. Experience. A tertiary reason to be sure, but I have learned a lot about writing, publishing, and submitting simply because I do it so much. The engine driving that experience is the 100 submission goal. I’ve seen just about every kind of response you can get from a publisher and my breadth of submission knowledge is wide and varied. This knowledge allows me to better strategize my own submissions and confidently give advice to others (like I’m doing right now).

This is not to sat there are no drawbacks to 100 submissions per year. There are, and let me tell you about them.

  1. Lots of rejections. Even in my best years, where I’ve managed a lot of acceptances, the number of rejections I received is pretty staggering. For example, if I’m getting a 15 percent acceptance rate, then I can expect at least 85 rejections in a year where I send 100 submissions. That means there are going to be long rejection streaks, days where I receive two, three, or more rejection at once, and all kinds of disappointing almosts and close-but-no-cigars. That’s not to say you can’t learn something from all that rejection, but, yeah, it can be disheartening.
  2. Haphazard submissions. The 100-submission goal is motivating, and it keeps me writing and submitting, but as a goal-driven person, it’s easy to lose sight of the forest for the trees. The goal is not simply to submit. It’s to write and submit good work to the right publishers. Sometimes, especially if I’m falling behind on my goal, I can bee tempted to submit stories that maybe aren’t ready. I’ve done less of this of late, but looking back at previous years, there were definitely some stories sent out before they were ripe just so I could keep my numbers up.

To sum up, the 100-submission goal works for me, and though there are a few drawbacks, it’s definitely a net positive. Now, I’ve only managed to actually hit 100 submissions once, but I find the goal itself usually gets me into the 70s or 80s at a minimum, and that’s pretty good production. This year, I’m doing well, and on pace to hit my goal. We’ll see if I can keep that up.

Do you have a submission goal that keeps you motivated? I’d love to heat about it in the comments.

A Week of Writing: 5/31/21 to 6/6/21

First week of June has come and gone. Here’s how I did.

Words to Write By

This week it’s another nugget of wisdom from Stephen King.

“Give me just enough information so that I can lie convincingly.”

― Stephen King

I’m currently writing a novella (more on that below) where I am incredibly familiar with the subject matter. In this case, it’s Major League Baseball. The problem with writing a subject you know well is there’s always the danger that you give too much information for the causal reader because you’re geeking out or not enough information because you expect folks to have the same level of knowledge you do. For example, in a story about baseball, I might write two paragraphs on something like why a team employs a defensive shift, which is not exactly important to the story but I got caught up in the joy of writing about a thing I find interesting. Then I might drop a term like pitch framing or spin rate without any explanation, leaving casual readers wondering what the fuck I’m talking about. What King is getting at, I think, is when you research a subject and get just enough information to make it sound authentic to a casual reader. Because you’re by no means an expert on the subject yourself, the tendency to commit the two sins above is less prevalent. For example, I wrote a story about counting cards in blackjack a few years ago, and I studied the subject for a good week before I started. Now, I am absolutely not ready to go turn the odds on the casino any time soon, but I picked up the basics of how it’s done and some of the lingo, which I worked into the story. One reviewer, unfamiliar with blackjack, lauded the authenticity of my explanations of how card counting worked. That tells me I hit the sweet spot and, well, as King put it, lied convincingly. 🙂

Short Story Submissions

A very good week of submissions.

  • Submissions Sent: 5
  • Rejections: 4
  • Acceptances: 1
  • Publications: 0
  • Shortlist: 0
  • Pending: 4
  • 2021 Total Subs: 47

June is starting out on the right foot. I sent 5 submissions last week and had an acceptance from The Arcanist. I received four rejections too, but overall that’s a good week. I’m sitting at 47 total submissions for the year, which puts me comfortably on pace for 100 subs. I’d like to get to 54 by the end of June for an average of 9 subs per month. Based on this week, that seems likely.

Media Tie-In

Still working on a commission for Privateer Press in their new Warcaster: Neo-Mechanika setting. Last week, I finished the fifth and final short story I’d been contracted to write, and this week I’ll start (and likely finish) the first drafts of five 1,000-word vignettes I owe them. These should go very quickly. I have some prior experience writing 1,000-word stories. 🙂

The Novella

Last week I started what I thought was going to be a short story, an idea I’d been kicking around for a while. Well, I’m 6,000 words in and barely out of the first act. In other words, the short story is on it’s way to being a novella. It titled “Effectively Wild” and combines two of my favorite things: baseball and overused horror tropes. Of course, writing a novella severely limits your options for traditional publication, as many markets simply don’t publish fiction of that length. But, I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

Night Walk

My flash fiction anthology Night Walk & Other Dark Paths features 40 of my best stories. You can pick up a copy of your very own in print or eBook by clicking the cover below.

For an inside peek into the anthology and its stories, check out the Night Walk Wednesday feature right here on the blog. I’ll give you all the juicy rejectomancy stats on individual stories from the collection.

Goals

Finish up the commission work for Privateer Press, keep working on the novella, and, as always, send out more submissions.


That was my week. How was yours?

Submission Statement: May 2021

And May is in the books. Here’s how I did.

May 2021 Report Card

  • Submissions Sent: 10
  • Rejections: 10
  • Acceptances: 1
  • Publications: 1
  • Further Consideration: 0

Ten submissions is a good month, and May’s numbers give me 43 for the year. That breaks down to 8.6 submissions per month and puts me on pace for 100 (but just barely). I’d like to get 11 submissions in May, which would average out to 9 subs per month. It’s only one more, so it seems doable. Ten rejections is not fun, especially since half of them came within the space of a couple days. Such is the gig, though, and you gotta roll with it. I did score one acceptance in May, another story to Wyldblood Press. One publication last month, another installment in my Dark Matter Magazine column.

Rejections

Ten rejections this month.

  • Standard Form Rejections: 6
  • Upper-Tier Form Rejections: 2
  • Personal Rejections: 2

Lots of rejections in May. In fact, it is the most rejectomantic month of 2021 (so far). Most of these were form rejections, either standard or higher-tier, but I did get a couple of nice personal rejections. They were more effusive than most personal declines, and clearly spelled out “good story, bad fit or timing”, which is always nice. It lets you fire those stories back out with confidence, which I did. 🙂

Publications

Just the one publication in May, my latest Rejectomancy article over at Dark Matter Magazine. This one is all about rejections, a subject I know a thing or two about. 🙂 You can check it out by clicking the link below

Normalizing the No: Rejection Letters

Yeah, it didn’t publish in May, but I’m gonna point you at my flash fiction collection Night Walk & Other Dark Paths anyway. 🙂 Check it out if you haven’t already.


And that was my month. How was yours?

Multiple Rejections in a Single Day?! Why & What To Do

Well, here’s a topic I haven’t discussed in over five years, which is weird because I certainly have had occasion to discuss it many times. Recently, in fact. I’m talking about the multi-rejection day. That moment when the stars align and the rejections rain down from the heavens to crush your meager writing dreams to flaming wreckage. I’m being dramatic of course, but getting two, three, or even more rejections on the same day can be pretty damn disheartening. So let’s talk about why it happens and what to do when it happens.

It might seem like all the editors in the world are out to get you when you receive multiple rejections on the same day, but I promise that’s not the case. In my experience, the multi-rejection day arises from three things, all of which are fine on their own but occasionally work together in unfortuitous ways.

  1. You send out a lot of submissions. The simple truth is the more submissions you send, the more rejection you’ll get (more acceptances too). If you’re like me and you always have eight or more submissions pending, rejections are pretty constant, and it’s not exactly surprising that some might show up on the same day.
  2. You submit to tough markets. If you’re sending stories to the top-rated, pro markets–I’m talking about the places with sub-one-percent acceptance rates–then, you my friend, are going to get a lot of rejections. Of course, breaking through with one of these markets is the sweetest of the sweet, but it can take a while. So if you’re sending a lot of submissions AND sending them to tough markets, you’re greatly increasing the chances of getting two or more rejection on the same day. It’s just a fact.
  3. Dumb luck. As I said, it might seem like all the editors got together and decided to send rejections on the same day, but, of course, that’s not a thing. Editors send responses to submissions on their own timelines. Sometimes, one editor or three might coincidentally share the same timeline. It happens, especially when markets have similar submission windows. To sum up here, when you send a lot of submissions to tough markets and sprinkle in a little adverse luck, well, then, the multi-rejection day is pretty much inevitable.

Okay, so that’s how the multi-rejection day happens, now what should you do about it? I have some thoughts. Some are do as I say and not as I sometimes do, of course, but they are what I try to do.

  1. Don’t read into it. Getting three rejections in a day is no different than getting those same rejections over the course of a week or a month. They mean the exact same thing. Our fumbling human brains will attempt to see meaning and patterns where there aren’t any, and such is the case here. I’m not saying it’s easy to get a bunch of rejections on the same day–it most certainly isn’t–but one of the best things you can do is maintain some perspective. Like one rejection, three rejections doesn’t necessarily mean bad story or bad writer. It generally means bad fit and/or bad timing. Just, you know, times two or three or four or whatever. 🙂
  2. A little help from your friends. No one understands the trials and tribulations that writers go through more then other writers. Reach out to your writing friends, commiserate, get a little sympathy. It helps. It really does. We all need the occasional life preserver on the stormy literary seas. Let someone throw you one, and be there when they need one in return.
  3. Take a break (or don’t). This goes for dealing with any setback in submission land, but sometimes it helps to go do something unrelated to writing, as difficult as that may be. For me, exercise usually does the trick. That combination of endorphins and “accomplishing” something is often the cocktail of positive input I need. Of course, sometimes it’s best to get back on that horse and send those submission out the door right away. I do that a lot too. Recently, I did both, and the hybrid approach was  effective.

So there you go; the why’s and what to do’s for the multi-rejection day. How do you deal with the event, and, if you feel like sharing, what’s the most rejections you’ve received in a single day?

Night Walk Wednesday: The Rarest Cut

Welcome to Night Walk Wednesday, where I talk about the submission journey of a story from my flash fiction anthology Night Walk & Other Dark PathsThis week’s tale is “The Rarest Cut.”

How it Started

This is yet another one-hour flash fiction success story, and the “Rarest Cut” is one of my earlier attempts in the one-hour blitz that has defined my flash fiction career. Word tells me this story was originally written in 2013, but I think it might be a tad older. The prompt is now lost to time, but I know it got me thinking about cannibalism and then, well, even darker stuff.

What’s It About?

“The Rarest Cut” is another that follows my patented flash fiction formula in that it features only two characters, takes place in a single location, and starts right near the, uh, meat of the story. It’s a simple setup with a man trying out a new dish at a restaurant that is decidedly off the beaten path. It’s one of those stories with a twist, so I won’t spoil it here, but I was proud of it when I finished. Fun anecdote. I have a friend who likes to share my work with other folks, especially those that don’t read much horror. This is his go-to story when he introduces someone to my writing because he gets a kick out of their (often disgusted) reactions. I mean, can you ask for a better compliment than that? Anyway, here’s a little taste. 🙂

Vincent cut into the meat, grimacing at the effort needed to saw through the stringy, pink flesh. He sliced off a portion, speared the chunk with his fork, and skated it through the fatty au jus pooling on his plate. He lifted the morsel to his nose and sniffed. The coppery tang told him the meat was quite rare, as he’d ordered it, but beneath that pleasant smell was a gamey odor that, of all things, reminded him of dirty laundry. He shrugged and popped the piece into his mouth.

How’d It Do?

It took me a bit longer than usual to sell “The Rarest Cut”, though it did receive some nice personal rejections. I ended up selling it to Evil Girlfriend Media in 2015 and then it was reprinted by Ellipsis Zine in 2018. I suspect it struggled a bit at first because, well, it’s gross, and that really isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. I don’t know if I’d call it gory, but it’s definitely icky.

The Numbers

  • First Submission: 3/2/14
  • Final Submissions: 11/24/18
  • Accepted On: 7/28/15
  • Accepted On: 11/26/18
  • Total Submissions: 7
  • Total Rejections: 5
  • Shortlists: 0
  • Personal Rejections: 2

As I said, five rejections is more than usual for a flash fiction story I sell, but not anywhere near my record. “The Rarest Cut:, was good enough to place twice, but it’s definitely been edited a few times between acceptances. The version in Night Walk is, I think, the definitive version of the story–lean, mean, and icky.


If you enjoyed the submission journey of “The Rarest Cut”, check out its 39 siblings in Night Walk & Other Dark Paths, which you can order in print and eBook by clicking the cover below.

A Week of Writing: 5/17/21 to 5/23/21

Another week gone by. Here’s how I did.

Words to Write By

This week’s quote comes from W.H. Auden.

“Some writers confuse authenticity, which they ought always to aim at, with originality, which they should never bother about.”

– W.H. Auden

I often see writers worrying about their work being original, as in something no one has ever written before. The truth is someone almost certainly has, and to come up with something completely original is nigh impossible. That’s not to say it doesn’t happen, but most of the novels I’ve enjoyed trod well-travelled paths in terms of premise, tropes, plot, and so on. What makes them stand out is that authenticity W.H. Auden is talking about. The author’s voice, their style, their approach is the secret sauce that makes or breaks a book in my opinion. Often times that’s simply adding a small twist to an old trope, especially one that highlights the author’s passions and point of view (authenticity again). So, original is great if you can pull it off, but authenticity, IMO, is what makes great stories.

Short Story Submissions

Again, only one submission last week.

  • Submissions Sent: 1
  • Rejections: 2
  • Acceptances: 0
  • Publications: 1
  • Shortlist: 0
  • Pending: 9
  • 2021 Total Subs: 39

One submission per week is not gonna get me to 100 subs for the year, but here we are. I did send one this morning, so this week is off to a good start. Looks like a miscounted somewhere, and I actually have one more submission that I thought for 2021. Anyway, the one this morning gives me 40 for the year and I need to be at 45 for the month to stay on pace. Possible, sure, but I need to get my shit together. Two form rejections last week, both of which are so run-of-the-mill they don’t bear any discussion. The publication was another article with Dark Matter Magazine. More on that below.

Media Tie-In

Work continues on short stories for Privateer Press in their new Warcaster: Neo-Mechanika setting. Last week, I finished the fourth story and it’s currently under review. There’ll be some revisions, but as with the other pieces, it won’t be anything too difficult. I’ll start and finish the fifth and final short story this week. I’m also under contract for five 1,000-word vignettes, which I should be able to knock out next week. Writing 1,000-word stories is something I’m pretty good at. 🙂 I’m well ahead of the deadline, which is always a good place to be.

Publications

Another installment of my monthly Rejectomancy column at Dark Matter Magazine went up last week. This one is about rejections, so, you know, it’s a subject on which I have a fair amount to say. You can read it by clicking the link below.

“Normalizing the No: Rejection Letters”

Night Walk

My flash fiction anthology Night Walk & Other Dark Paths has been out for over a month now and it’s getting some nice reviews. You can pick up a copy of your very own in print or eBook by clicking the cover below. If you do grab a copy, please leave a rating or review and help me out with those Amazon algorithms.

For an inside peek into the anthology and its stories, check out the Night Walk Wednesday feature right here on the blog. I’ll give you all the juicy rejectomancy stats on individual stories from the collection.

Goals

More submissions and more commission work for Privateer Press.


That was my week. How was yours?

My New & Improved Flash Fiction Formula

I write a lot of flash fiction, and I’ve been lucky enough to publish a good amount of it. In fact, I recently published and entire anthology. The Molotov Cocktail collected 40 of my best flashes in a collection titled Night Walk & Other Dark PathsBut how do I write flash fiction? And more importantly, how do I write flash fiction that folks occasionally want to publish? Well, I have a formula, and it used to be three rules (which I covered a couple of years ago), but has now expanded to four. So let me tell you about my new and improved flash fiction formula.

What follows are four rules I (mostly) follow when writing stories under 1,000 words. It is not, of course, the only way to write flash fiction or even the best way to write flash fiction. It’s just my way. What the rules do is allow me to write very short stories with a recognizable plot, clear conflict, and a beginning, middle, and end. In my experience, that’s a successful formula for selling flash fiction. It should also be noted that I’m a genre fiction writer, and that literary fiction often operates under different rules. So, keep that in mind if you primarily write literary fiction.

Okay, let’s get to it. Here are my four flash fiction rules.

  1. Start near the end. What I mean is begin your story as close to the inciting action or event as you can. This is pretty good advice for fiction of all lengths, but it’s crucial for flash. With 1,000 words or less, you simply don’t have the space for a lot of setup. You gotta get to the meat right away. I notice in a lot of my flash, at least the ones I’ve managed to publish, the inciting event generally happens in the first few paragraphs, leaving me a lot of space to resolve the conflict I’ve set up.
  2. Keep your character count low. I like a lot of dialogue in my stories, and in flash that means I have to watch how many characters are taking up my precious word count with all that talking. As such, I try not to feature more than two primary characters in my flash fiction (speaking characters, anyway). That way, they can have lots of dialogue, which is how I prefer to tell a story, and I don’t eat up too much space. Having only a few characters also lets me spend time developing them, again, usually through dialogue.
  3. Limited locations. Same idea as keeping the cast of characters small. I tend to limit the locations of my flash fiction to one or maybe two spots. That way, I don’t have to worry about transitions from one spot to another, and I don’t need to spend a lot of time describing places. If you read any of my flash, you’ll probably notice a lot of it takes place in a single spot, usually somewhere small and cozy, like a bar, a bedroom, a house, a church, and so on.
  4. View from the Heavens. This is the newest addition to my formula, and in many ways it allows me to ignore the other three rules when I do it right. Basically, these stories take an omniscient POV or sometimes a limited one that relates a story like someone, well, telling a story. It’s a narrative device that allows you to pull back, jump around, and even cover many years of events in a small space. You can have a bunch of characters or a bunch of different locations because you’re not really spending much time with them. The drawback to this style is that the story can feel distant or that it lacks detail or action. It’s also a style some folks just don’t like, including editors.

That’s my basic formula, and, again, it is not the end-all-be-all of writing flash fiction. It works for me, and I’ve been successful with it. I’ve also found if I follow two of the first three rules, I sometimes have room to ignore one. For example, if I start near the end, and I have only two characters, I can probably fit in a couple of locations. Or, if I keep my character count low and limit my locations, I might be able to start a little further from the end and get in a bit more backstory and setup.

To further illustrate my formula, here are some flash fiction pieces I’ve published where you can see those guidelines in effect (more or less).

This one is a poster child for the first three rules. It features only two characters, in one location, and starts right at the inciting event. This is also one of the very few non-genre pieces I’ve written, so, you know, my formula doesn’t just work for vampires and aliens and stuff. 🙂

This a story where I break one of my rules, but I pull it off because I follow two others. The rule I broke is that the story features three characters, and all of them have dialogue. I made up for it by keeping to one location, starting the story right away, and letting the backstory unfold organically (and efficiently) as the story progressed.

This is an example of my new fourth rule. It’s a sci-fi story told from the POV of the leader of an off-world colony. He’s relating a series of events that take place over a decade, ending with a recent event. The story is punctuated with recorded messages from Earth, which have the feel of a news story. The piece mentions hundreds of colonists, and though it’s technically set in one location, it’s kind of a whole planet, so there’s a lot going on. If I’d tried to tell this story with a closer POV, it wouldn’t have worked as flash.

You might be wondering if I always follow my own rules. Nope. I don’t, and sometimes it even works. This story has four characters, all with dialogue, changes location, and has a fair bit of setup and backstory. Now, I like to think I was pretty efficient with how I related all that stuff, but, still, it breaks my rules. I don’t do this often because it’s tough to pull off, but, hey, when it works, it works.


So that’s my new and improved flash fiction formula. How do you do write flash? Tell me about it in the comments.

Night Walk Wednesday: Far Shores and Ancient Graves

Welcome to Night Walk Wednesday, where I talk about the submission journey of a story from my flash fiction anthology Night Walk & Other Dark PathsThis week’s tale is “Far Shores and Ancient Graves.”

How it Started

Another one-hour flash fiction success story, “Far Shores and Ancient Graves” is maybe one my favorite flash pieces. I remember the prompt for this one because, well, I posted it. Here it is:

Pretty simple and pretty grim, but boy did it get the ol’ imagination fired up. My mind immediately went to the remains from ancient battle sites like Visby and, uh, zombies, because, well, I’m me. 🙂 This is kind of an odd one for flash because the narrative device I used is tough to do in a short space and more suited to a short story or even a novella. That said, sometimes when you try something you maybe shouldn’t with a new story, you end up with a piece that works BECAUSE you took that risk.

What’s It About?

Some folks say you can’t sell zombie stories anymore (or vampires or werewolves or any overused trope). While there are certainly markets that don’t want to see zombie stores, there are plenty of markets that will consider them. Thing is, what you can’t sell are zombie stories that are retreads of The Walking Dead or Night of the Living Dead. You have to come at zombies from a new angle, something that slaps a fresh coat of paint on a well-worn trope. My secret sauce in “Far Shores & Ancient Graves” is Vikings and the question of how long a zombified corpse stays lively or un-lively. The story jumps back and forth between an 8th-century Viking raid that goes horrifically wrong and a pair of archeologists in the modern day examining some curious remains. The story never uses the term zombie, which is something that, oddly, seems to help when you’re shopping a zombie story (or vampire or werewolf).

How’d It Do?

When I finished “Far Shores and Ancient Graves” and cleaned it up, I thought I had a pretty saleable piece on my hands. I submitted it to two of the better flash fiction markets, and it was promptly rejected. Then I took a shot with NewMyths, a market that had rejected me ten times previously. I honestly didn’t expect anything other than rejection number eleven, but to my delight and surprise, they liked the story and bought it. So, the moral of this submission story is a) don’t be afraid to write zombies stories as long as you give them a twist and b) don’t give up on a publisher even if they’ve rejected you (a lot) previously.

The Numbers

  • First Submission: 6/24/18
  • Final Submissions: 7/28/18
  • Accepted On: 8/28/18
  • Total Submissions: 3
  • Total Rejections: 2
  • Shortlists: 0
  • Personal Rejections: 0

I subbed this story three times, and as you can see, I received all three decisions (two no’s and a yes) within the span of just three months. That’s much quicker than usual in terms of the time the story spent under consideration. The number of submissions is about average for a flash fiction story I end up selling.


If you enjoyed the submission journey of “Far Shores and Ancient Graves”, check out its 39 siblings in Night Walk & Other Dark Paths, which you can order in print and eBook by clicking the cover below.

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