Real-Time Rejection: The Final Rejection of “Story X”

This morning I received the tenth and final rejection for “Story X,” thus ending its chances for fame and fortune. As promised, I will reveal the story in its entirety in this post, but first, here’s the letter that done for poor ol’ “Story X.”

Thank you for sending us “Story X.” We appreciated the chance to read it. Unfortunately, this piece is not a good fit for us. Best of luck with this in other markets.

A short, to-the-point form letter. At least they didn’t let “Story X” suffer.

Okay, that’s enough puling from me. A deal’s a deal, and I promised to reveal the story after its tenth rejection. So here it is, “Story X” or “The Scars You Keep.”


The Scars You Keep

By Aeryn Rudel

People have died in this room, Wyatt thought and took a long, nervous drag on his cigarette. Badly.

“Are you going to kill me?” he asked the man seated across from him at a rickety card table. They were alone in a large, square room with plain gray cinderblock walls. The only exit was a steel door directly across from where Wyatt sat. Besides the table and two chairs, the room was empty . . . if you didn’t count the stains. The floors and walls were decorated in lines, streaks, and splatters of fading brown and rust red.

The man answered Wyatt’s question with one of his own. “You are some kind of healer, yes?” His captor was a screaming cliché of the Russian mobster, complete with the black track suit, slicked-back hair, and expensive sunglasses, which he still wore, even though it was the dead of night and they were indoors. He’d be funny if he wasn’t so terrifying. His accent was minimal, audible only in the way he enunciated certain words or omitted others. The Russian was a small man–Wyatt put him at about 5’6” and a buck thirty–but he looked very fast. The butt of a large automatic pistol jutted over his waistband, and his right hand rested lightly on its grip. Wyatt had no doubt his captor could pull that pistol and put two in his brain in the blink of an eye.

The Russian’s question brought Wyatt some relief; it meant the man who’d brought him here had plans other than murder–at least for now. He took another drag, exhaled slowly, and smiled, trying to appear confident and unafraid. He doubted he succeeded at either. “You work for Mr. Koslov, right? Andrei Koslov?”

The Russian frowned. “This is dangerous name to speak aloud,” he said. Wyatt thought he might have surprised the gangster by knowing what he was and who he worked for. Good.

“I make it a habit to know the dangerous people in my vicinity who might need my services,” Wyatt said.

The Russian smiled, showing straight white teeth. It made him look like a very dangerous rodent. “Your services?” He shook his head. “Your bullshit, I think.”

“Mr. Koslov is sick, right?” Wyatt said, pressing. Andrei Koslov had been in the papers a lot lately. The state was pursuing racketeering charges against him, but most didn’t think he’d live long enough for a trial. “That’s why I’m here.”

The man nodded slowly. “A dying man is desperate, desperate enough to believe some American koldun can save him.” He leaned forward. “But you will not bring false hope. You will not take his dignity. You will prove to me you can help Mr. Koslov.”

“Well, for one thing, I’m not a koldun,” Wyatt said. “I’m not a sorcerer.”

“You speak Russian?” The man asked, cocking his head.

“No, I just know the word for hoodoo man in about every language. But if you think I’m a charlatan, why did you bring me here?”

The Russian shrugged. “I am soldier. I follow orders. But first, I check on you. I find strange things. Not strange enough to bring you to Mr. Koslov, but strange enough to bring you here.”

“And if I’m not what Mr. Koslov thinks I am?” Wyatt put his hands flat on the table to keep them from shaking.

The man smiled again. “I think you know what happens then,” he said. “But it will be quick. I do this because I like you. Most men, when I come for them, they beg and cry like women or piss in their pants. Not you. For this, I have respect.”

“Thanks, I think,” Wyatt said. He was surprised at the sudden rush of pride he felt that this bona fide slayer of men respected him.

“Have another cigarette.” The Russian slid the pack of Marlboros across the table. His captor had let him keep his smokes, but not much else.

Wyatt dropped the one he was smoking and crushed it under his foot. “Tell me your name,” he said as he pulled another smoke from the pack.

“You may call me . . . Ivan,” the man said with a crooked grin.

“Okay, Ivan,” Wyatt said and lit his cigarette. Ivan had also let him keep his lighter. “So you’re gonna run some tests, and this is going to be our laboratory, huh?”

Ivan chuckled. “This room has been many things,” he said. “Never laboratory.”

“You said you found out some strange things about me,” Wyatt said. He was starting to get the feeling Ivan liked to talk, and if he was talking, he wasn’t shooting. “Tell me what you heard.”

“I hear stories about a man who heals,” Ivan said and shrugged. “A boy in New Mexico, his mother tells me he had brain tumor, now it is gone because a man came and healed him. A woman in New York tells me she has leukemia, only weeks to live, and now she is better because a man comes to see her. A soldier here in Seattle is burned on his face in Iraq. I saw pictures. Terrible burns. He is not burned any more. He says because of skin grafts, but this is not true, the burns are gone because a man came to see him. All three describe the same man. They describe you.”

“Did you hurt them?” He tried not to let it show on his face, but it was the first time since Ivan had dragged him from his apartment that he wasn’t merely afraid. He was terrified. Those people had been through so much already, and the thought of this thug hurting them further made him sick.

Ivan shook his head. “There was no need. They wanted to talk about you. ”

Relief flooded through Wyatt. “Thank you,” he said and meant it. “I don’t blame them for talking, but they didn’t tell you everything.”

“No?”

“The boy in New Mexico, did you talk to his father?”

“I did not.”

“The woman in New York, did you talk to her husband?”

Ivan raised an eyebrow. “No.”

“And the soldier here in Seattle, did you see his mother?”

“Why do you ask these questions?”

“Because I’m not a healer, like Mr. Koslov thinks. The boy’s father is dead, from a brain tumor. The woman’s husband is dead too. He died of leukemia. And the soldier’s mother doesn’t go out in public because her face looks like month-old hamburger.”

“What are you saying?”

“I’m saying you don’t know what Mr. Koslov is asking for, and neither does he.”

Ivan’s eyes narrowed. “Then you will show me,” he said. “Now.”

“Okay, I’ll show you . . . something, but I’ll need you to do what I ask.”

Ivan again offered him that crooked grin. “This is laboratory, like you said. We will experiment.”

“Okay then,” Wyatt said and drew in a deep breath. “I’m going to ask you to do something, something that will sound crazy, but I need you to do it if you really want to “experiment.”

The Russian waved a hand at him, urging him to continue.

“Pick up that lighter, please,” Wyatt said.

Ivan did as he was asked.

“Now burn your hand with it,” he said, trying to keep his voice from shaking. Even with the warning, he had no idea how Ivan would react to such a command.

The small Russian man chuckled. “This is why I like you. You have balls. But I understand what you ask.” He flicked the top of the lighter with his right hand, then held his left over the tiny spear of flame. He stared at Wyatt unflinching as the flame burned his palm, sending up a curl of smoke and producing a smell not unlike cooked pork.

“Okay,” Wyatt said, and Ivan let the flame die.

The Russian gangster held up his hand. There was a small circle of burnt flesh in the middle of the palm. It had to hurt like a son-of-a-bitch, but Ivan showed no sign of discomfort. “Enough?”

“Yeah,” Wyatt said. “Okay, for this to work, I have to touch you.”

Ivan pulled the pistol from his belt and laid it on the table in front of him, resting his right hand on top of it. He held out his left arm and stared at Wyatt. “I am fast, koldun. You understand?”

“Yeah, I get it.” Wyatt laid his hand on the Russian’s forearm. He closed his eyes and let the power come. It rose up from his belly, from somewhere deep inside him, and flowed along his limbs like an electric current. It wasn’t painful, but it always made him feel a little sick. He could now feel Ivan, feel all the man’s wounds and sicknesses: the minor tears in his muscles from lifting weights, a mild hangover from drinking too much the night before, and the tiny tumor that had just begun to grow in Ivan’s right testicle, but he focused on the newest injury, the burn. He felt Ivan jerk, and then a sudden sharp pain in Wyatt’s palm told him it was over.

Wyatt opened his eyes and saw Ivan was pointing the gun at him, its barrel a yawning black hole aimed at his forehead. He put his hands in the air. “Your palm, Ivan,” Wyatt said, trying not to look at the gun.

Ivan turned his left hand over and looked down. His eyes went wide and he stood up, knocking the chair over behind him. The mafia enforcer spat a stream of rapid-fire Russian and took a big step away from Wyatt, still pointing the gun at him.

Wyatt lowered his left arm and showed Ivan his palm. “You get it now?”

Ivan stared at him for a moment and then lowered the gun. “What did you do?”

“I moved the burn from you to me. That’s what I do. I’m no healer. I can’t cure a fucking thing. I can just move pain and sickness from one person to another.”

The Russian walked back to the table and picked up the chair. He sat down, but did not put the gun back in his pants.  “The boy’s father . . .” Ivan began.

“Yes, he took the tumor for his son. The woman’s husband took her leukemia, and the soldier’s mother took his burns.”

Ivan stared at Wyatt, eyes narrowed in suspicion. “Why are you not rich man?” he said. “I have seen men on the TV who pretend to do what you do; they are wealthy, powerful. But no one knows you. Your home is small. You drive shit car. Why?”

“I’ve found the less people who know about what I can do, the better,” Wyatt said and gestured at Ivan. “Case in point.”

The Russian laughed.

“The people I help sometimes tell others, even though I ask them not to,” Wyatt said. “Usually, no one believes them.”

Ivan was quiet for a moment, and his dark eyes never left Wyatt’s. Wyatt could see he was looking for the lie, the con. “You have scar,” he said at last. “There, above your eye. Why?”

“You mean, why didn’t I give it to someone else?”

Ivan nodded.

“Well, one, I’m not a monster. I don’t inflict my pain on others if I can help it. And two, I got that scar because I let myself get in a bad situation. Some scars you have to keep, as a reminder.”

Ivan said nothing, but he seemed satisfied with Wyatt’s answer. “You can help Mr. Koslov,” It was statement not a question.

“Yes, I can help him,” Wyatt said. “But who gets his cancer. I hear it’s something really nasty. Are you going to take one for the team, Ivan?”

“I see no problem,” Ivan said and stood. He pointed the gun at Wyatt. “You took my burn; you will take Mr. Koslov’s cancer.”

“Then what?”

Ivan shrugged. “Then you give to someone else. We will bring someone.”

“And then I get to be Koslov’s pet—what was the word you used—koldun?” Wyatt said, making no attempt to hide his disgust. “You and the other leg-breakers do your jobs, and if you get a little fucked up in the process, I keep you going by hurting an innocent person. Does that about sum it up?”

Ivan shrugged “Why do you care? You will live, and you will have good life. Mr. Koslov will be very grateful. Now get up.”

Ivan was holding the gun at his side, aiming it at Wyatt in a casual, even sloppy way. Something resembling a plan formed in Wyatt’s mind. It was absurd, and terrifying, but it was something. Ivan was not a large man, and Wyatt figured he had about seventy pounds on the Russian. If he could reach him, maybe it would be enough.

Before he could really think about what he was doing, Wyatt shot to his feet and flipped the card table up into the air, obscuring him from Ivan for one crucial second, giving him enough time to charge forward. He slammed into the Russian, grabbed him in a bear hug, and bore him to the ground.

The gun went off three times in rapid succession, and Wyatt gasped as the bullets entered his body. Two tore through his liver and stomach, and the last put a gaping hole in his heart. The pain was immense and death was close.

Ivan wasn’t stupid, he knew what was happening. He stopped firing, and tried to squirm free, but there was two hundred pounds of dead weight on top of him, and Wyatt used the last of his strength to hold Ivan close, pressing his body into the Russian’s.

The power came, surging through Wyatt and into Ivan. The Russian screamed and fired the gun again and again, fired until the pistol clicked empty. The bullets ripped into Wyatt, but the gun was pressed into his abdomen, pinned there by his weight, and none of the shots were instantly lethal. They hurt like hell, but the pain was soon washed away.

Ivan’s struggles weakened, slowed, and then stopped. Wyatt held him there for a few seconds to make sure, then rolled off the Russian and sat up. Ivan lay on his back, the pistol crushed against his side, eight bullet holes in his chest and stomach. He stared up at the ceiling, but he was long past seeing anything.

Wyatt stood, wobbling a bit, and put one hand against the wall to steady himself. He felt like vomiting. He’d never used the power like that, although he’d always wondered if it was possible. He hoped he’d never have to use it that way again.

He stepped over Ivan’s body, avoiding the widening pool of scarlet, and tried the door. It was unlocked. Ivan’s car, a big black Mercedes, was parked in front of the tiny kill room Koslov had built out in the middle of nowhere, miles into the Cascade Mountains.

Wyatt returned to Ivan’s body and dug through his pockets. He found the car keys and hurried through the door and out into the night. He’d have to leave Seattle–Koslov’s men would be looking for him–but he was used to moving around a lot and at a moment’s notice. He didn’t mind leaving his few meager possessions behind.

He got into the car and slid behind the wheel. The Mercedes started up immediately, the rumble of its big engine reassuring. Wyatt looked down at the palm of his left hand, at the burn that had again started to throb painfully as the adrenaline rush faded. He closed his fist around it and nodded.

Some scars you had to keep.

END

An Excerpt from FLASHPOINT, My Iron Kingdoms Novel

As some of you may know, I wrote a book, and it’s going to be released upon the world in the very near future. It’s called Acts of War: Flashpoint , and it’s set in Privateer Press’s steam-powered fantasy setting of the Iron Kingdoms. So, if you like steampunk, magic, robots, swashbuckling fantasy action, and, well, my writing, then there’s a decent chance you’ll dig this book. Anyway, the folks over at Privateer Press have posted a an excerpt from the book on their website, so go have a look.

In the mean time, here’s the official cover along with some juicy back-cover text.

SIX_Flash Point Cover_flat (3)

Forged in the fires of conflict, the Iron Kingdoms is a fantastic realm where the combined power of magic and technology thunders across a landscape shaped by war. Dominating the field of battle are rare individuals who have mastered both arcane and martial combat and who boldly lead mighty armies in the ongoing struggle to claim victory over these ancient lands.

An Untrustworthy Ally Is More Dangerous Than a Known Enemy

Lord General Coleman Stryker is one of the greatest heroes of the Iron Kingdoms. As a warcaster, Stryker leads the armies of Cygnar and commands the power of the mighty steam-powered automatons known as warjacks.

Chosen by his king to liberate the conquered lands of Llael from Cygnar’s long-standing enemy, the Empire of Khador, Stryker finds himself forced to work with one of his most bitter enemies—the exiled mercenary Asheth Magnus, a man to whom Cygnar’s king owes his life. Unchecked, Magnus could easily betray Stryker, undermine the mission, or even bring Cygnar to its knees. But to claim victory for his king, Stryker will have to find a way to put his faith in a man he can’t trust.

As the war against Khador and its own fierce commanders looms, Stryker’s success or failure will become the flash point that determines the fate of all the Iron Kingdoms.

 

 

New Kids on the Block: Evaluating Fledgling Genre Markets

In my search for genre markets, I often come across brand-spanking new magazines and webzines eagerly accepting submissions for their inaugural issue or issues. Duotrope has a handy way of identifying such markets, noting them as fledgling, which means, “This project is new and has been listed with us for less than six months.” So, with how quickly genre markets appear and disappear, should you send work to a fledgling market? Sure you should, but there are some things you might consider first.

Okay, numbered list time!

1) Do they pay? Let me preface this by saying I don’t think payment is necessarily an automatic indicator of a quality market, and some well-respected markets do not pay. But when I’m evaluating a fledgling market, knowing they have some skin in the game (so to speak) makes me more confident they might have some staying power. I feel even better if they’re paying at the semi-pro or pro tier.

2) Who is/are the editor/editors? Who’s running the show at a fledgling market is important. Do they have experience running a magazine? Have they been in a position to evaluate stories prior to this? Say, at a publishing house or another magazine? All good questions and usually not difficult ones to answer. If you’ve worked in the industry for any length of time, you’ve probably got a reasonable professional internet footprint, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with looking up the EIC or managing editor of a fledgling market to see what kind of experience they have.

3) Professional presentation. You can absolutely judge a book by its cover sometimes, and there is a lot to be said for a professional presentation. I don’t need to see cutting-edge web design on a fledgling market’s site, but I would like to see something clean, well-organized, and easy to navigate, especially if they’re a web-zine that displays an author’s work directly on the site. Obviously,  I don’t want to see typos or grammar and spelling issues. A professional-looking and professionally edited website tells me my story is likely in good hands.

4) Clear terms. What rights is the fledgling market buying? Do they have a standard contract? How long before I can publish my story as a reprint? All of these are important questions, and I want them answered clearly and concisely on the fledgling market’s web page, like this:

What we are buying: First World English Rights, First Electronic Rights, and Anthology Rights (a “best of” to be negotiated with the authors). We ask for exclusive rights to the author’s work for six months (the duration of a single issue’s run, plus two months), as well as exclusive anthology rights for a year, both to begin at the time of publication.

If a fledgling market really wants to give me the warm fuzzies, they might use something like the SFWA model contract. That kind of thing really puts an author’s mind at ease.

5) Standard guidelines. What I hope to see in a fledgling market’s submission guidelines is a request for standard manuscript format in a Word doc via email or a service like Submittable. That’s how most markets I’m familiar with do it these days, and a new market that makes it easy to submit a story is more likely to get me to hit the ol’ send button.

True, these are probably things you want to think about when submit work to any market, but with new markets I think their importance is magnified some. The bottom line is I want to make sure my story is going to get a fair shake from folks who know something about writing and editing, and if I’m fortunate enough to get a story accepted, that my work is going to be well represented. If a fledgling market hits all five of my criteria (or even just the first four), I feel a lot more comfortable submitting work to them.

Now let me put my money where my mouth is and give you some fledgling genre markets I’ve sent work to in the last year. All these markets meet the criteria I listed above (more or less). Note, the last two are no longer listed as “fledgling” at Duotrope, which means they’ve stuck around for a couple of issues. That’s a good sign.

  1. Red Sun Magazine
  2. Crimson Streets
  3. Liminal Stories
  4. Strangelet

Care to share your experiences with fledgling markets? Tell me about it in the comments.

Read My Stuff: The Molotov Cocktail Flash Felon Results

Hey, look, it’s another of those self-aggrandizing posts where I urge you to go and read something I wrote. This time, it’s a story I placed with The Molotov Cocktail in their Flash Felon contest. I landed an honorable mention and a sixth-place finish with my story “The Sitting Room.” The top ten stories have all been published in the Flash Felon mega-issue, and you can and should read all of them by clicking the link below. There are some damn fine stories in the mix, and Jan Kaneen’s “The London Umbrella Company” is one of the finest pieces of flash fiction I’ve ever read.  It’s absolutely no surprise she was awarded first place. Go forth and read.

 

flashfelon11

 

Proofing Hit List Part Two: Over-Filtration

Since I’ve been in the middle of a big fat novel revision, I thought it might be time to talk about more items on my proofing hit list. These are the little (and biggish) things I try to fix and/or eliminate from my drafts before calling them done/final/ready for editing. If you’d like to see part one of this list, you can find it right here.

Let’s get to it:

1) Filter words. I overuse them, especially when I’m writing in third-person limited, which I do a lot. What’s a filter word? I think Michael R Emmert answered this question nicely in his article “An Introduction to Filtering” over at Scribophile. He says, “In writing, filters are unnecessary words that separate the reader from the story’s action. They come between the reader’s experience and the character’s point of view.” I agree, and you should definitely check out his article on the subject; it’s great.

For me, the filter words that crop up the most are feel, felt, saw, know, and knew. In the current draft of my novel, I nuked many instances of each one. There are other common filter words you might encounter in your drafts, stuff like believed, thought, heard, and watched. This is not to say that you should never use a filter word; sometimes they are absolutely appropriate. Again, I’ll refer you to Michael R Emmet’s article; he gives some great examples of when you probably should use a filter word.

Like many of the things on my proofing hit list, this point should not be taken as absolute gospel. It’s just the way I do things.

2) Sound-alike character names. It’s easy to do this without realizing it, especially when you’re making up names on the fly, but it can be confusing for the reader if two character’s names are too much alike. Case in point, the main character in my upcoming novel Flashpoint is Coleman Stryker, and at some point in the book, I added a secondary character name Sykes. They appear in a few scenes together, and it was (rightly) pointed out by my editors that it might get a little confusing, especially in dialog. Easy fix, though. I changed Sykes to Adkins with a global find/replace. Done.

It can help to keep a list of character names in your book to cut down sound-alikes. I have a little spreadsheet that lists all my secondary characters with a little background on each. It’s pretty helpful not just for removing sound-alike names but for keeping all the characters straight in your head so you don’t mix them up (which I’ve done, repeatedly).

3) Consistent spelling and styling. This one comes up a lot for me since I frequently write in a rich and well established IP not my own: the Iron Kingdoms owned by Privateer Press. The Iron Kingdoms are chocked full of specific names of people, places, and things, and it’s my job as a writer to make sure they are a) spelled correctly and b) properly styled (capitalized, italicized, etc.).

Let me give you an example. In my novel Flashpoint, I frequently mention storm knights (lower case), which is a catchall phrase to describe a number of knightly orders, including the Stormblades (capped) and the Stormguard (capped). As you can guess, I’ll often screw up with the capitalization or, frequently, use two words when it should be one, e.g., Storm Blade instead of Stormblade. Sure, the Privateer Press editors would probably catch this stuff, but I try to get it as close as I can. As a former editor, I certainly see value in making the editor’s job easier.

What items appear on your proofing hit list? Tell me about them in the comments.

My Meandering Path to Writerly “Fame and Fortune”

One of things people ask me on a fairly regular basis, more so lately, is how did you get started with writing and editing, and how did it end up being your “job?” Well, my career trajectory has been kind of all over the damn place, and there really isn’t a straight line between Point A (non-writer) to Point B (writer). So, I’ll try and sum it up here. Despite the title of this post (which is most definitely tongue firmly lodged in cheek), I am NOT trying to tell you I’m some kind of hit-shit famous writer, because I certainly am not that.

Okay, here goes. (FYI, this is gonna be long, and it’ll really test your endurance for my particular brand of “wit.”)

Let’s get the cliché stuff out of the way first. Yes, I’ve always wanted to write, ever since I was a wee lad. My first memories of trying to write are from when I was five or six. I would grab these big reference books on marine biology or dinosaurs (my two favorite subjects at the time), open them up to a random page, and then start copying the text onto a piece of notebook paper. I’d usually get a couple of paragraphs done in my huge, shaky five-year-old handwriting, not having clue one what the fuck I was actually writing, then run off to display my authorial prowess to my mother. Mom did not think she had a marine paleontological prodigy on her hands, but she did get what I was doing, and encouraged my interest in writing from early on.

Okay, jumping forward a lot. I started dabbling with poetry in my teens, writing angsty rhyming verse about dragons and demons and vampires throughout my junior and senior years in high school. This evolved into something a bit more marketable (i.e., not total shit) in a few years, and I sent out my first poetry submissions in my early twenties. I promptly collected my first rejections letters, but I kept at it, and I eventually got some of my poems published in a few zines here and there. Sadly, those publications are lost to history—I lost my contributor copies and every single magazine that published me folded a long time ago. I know that kinda sounds like, “Yeah, I totally published all the poems in magazine, but they’re all in Canada, and you probably haven’t heard of them.” Sorry.

The poetry muse left me in my mid-twenties—I still don’t now why—and I really didn’t start writing again until I was nearly thirty. I started writing again because I had become enamored of the newest edition of the Dungeons & Dragons game (3E for my fellow gamers out there). The new rules set allowed for a lot of customization, and better yet, the publisher of D&D, Wizards of the Coast, had created something called the Open Gaming License. I won’t bore you with the details, but the OGL basically allowed third-party publishers (and individuals) to create and sell material for the game.

Anyway, I really liked making monsters, and I especially liked taking existing monsters and making them unique in some way (again, for my fellow nerds, I was really into the templates that 3E introduced). I started adding little stories to my monstrous creations and then posting the whole thing on the forums of a popular D&D website called EN World. This eventually grew into full blown short stories and even novel-length creations, and I gained a bit of a following there.

Turns out, it wasn’t just fellow gamers reading my stuff on the EN World forums; a couple of publishers had taken an interest in my stuff too. These publishers included Skeleton Key Games and Goodman Games. I was offered some writing and editing gigs, working on various D&D-related projects. That started my career as a freelance game designer/editor/writer in the tabletop gaming industry, and I did that for a couple of years. My biggest publications during that time were with Wizards of the Coast in Dragon and Dungeon magazines, and it was pretty damn cool (and kind of a dream of mine) to get published by the folks that created the “official” version of the Dungeons & Dragons game.

Eventually, I parlayed my freelance gigs into a fulltime writing and editing position with Goodman Games, a company I’d done a lot of freelance work for. While with Goodman Games, my duties included running an in-house gaming magazine called Level Up, where I learned a lot of valuable skills. As luck would have it, my experience with Level Up prepared me for the next big step in my career.

In early 2009, I was laid off from Goodman Games as a fulltime employee (the RPG market had taken a real nosedive at that point), and I went back to freelance writing and editing. Those were lean times, let me tell you, and sometimes I wonder how the hell I survived. But one of the great things about the tabletop gaming industry is that it’s close-knit, and if you have some skill and experience and conduct yourself like something resembling a professional, one of your pro friends might think of you when a job opens up somewhere.

In early 2010, I got a call from Ed Bourelle, a guy I’d worked with off and on for years, and we’d grown pretty chummy. The year before he’d taken a position with Privateer Press, a tabletop miniature company that produced the award-winning games WARMACHINE and HORDES. Turns out, they had an in-house magazine called No Quarter that was in need of an editor-in-chief. Ed knew I’d done a similar a gig with Goodman Games, although on a smaller scale.

Ed asked me if a) I would be interested in the position, and b) could I come out to Seattle to interview. I think my answer to both questions was something like “Are you fucking kidding?! Please, say you’re not kidding.” The wife and I were living in my home town of Modesto at the time, and we were not exactly loving it. The prospect of an exciting new job in an exciting new city was just what the doctor ordered. Anyway, I flew out to Seattle, interviewed, and was offered the position, which I immediately accepted.

I served as the editor-in-chief for No Quarter magazine for three years, and I learned A LOT about editing and writing from the fantastic editors and writers at Privateer Press, folks like Darla Kennerud, Douglas Seacat, and Privateer Press owner and CCO Matt Wilson. That was a cool fucking job. Running a magazine is challenging, but it is never, ever boring. Every issue brings new obstacles to overcome and new accomplishments to achieve. You learn to think outside the box and get things done FAST. The Deadline is your unforgiving deity, and you must do all in your power to appease this hungry god.

In 2013, I became the publications manager for Privateer Press’ new fiction imprint, Skull Island eXpeditions, serving in a capacity that combined managing editor and acquisitions editor. Heading up Skull Island eXpeditions was a fantastic experience, and I had the amazing opportunity to work with some of the best fantasy writers in the business, as well as hone my own editorial skills.

Throughout my time at Privateer Press, I was writing a lot. I contributed fiction to No Quarter magazine and to the various core books for Privateer’s premier miniatures games WARMACHINE and HORDES. In addition, I was working hard on my own stuff, writing and submitting short stories to various horror and fantasy magazines. As much as I loved working at Privateer Press and running Skull Island eXpeditions, I really wanted to make writing my full time gig, so, in 2015, I took my shot and resigned from Privateer Press. Of course, my relationship with Privateer Press and owner/chief creative officer Matt Wilson didn’t end there. Privateer Press signed me to write a bunch of novels for them in their Iron Kingdoms universe, a setting with which I had become intimately familiar over the last five years. To say I was thrilled for that opportunity is the understatement of the century, and I’m super excited about the release of my first novel Acts of War: Flashpoint in June.

So, that takes me up to the present. Writing is now my fulltime occupation, and I’m working on novels for Privateer Press, writing horror short stories to submit to the many online zines and even a few print magazines, and I still do the occasional RPG and gaming project. If you’d like to see some of the stuff I’ve written over the years, there’s a fairly complete list of my writing and editorial credits on this blog.

There you have it, a stumbling, fumbling, meandering, sometimes ass-backwards path to the glories of writing for a living. Maybe you’ll find something of use here, but please note, I sure as shit don’t mean this to be a roadmap to a career in writing.

If you’d like to share your own tales of wonder and woe in the writing world, have at it. I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

April 2016 Submission Statement

April has come and gone, and it was a pretty decent month as far as the ol’ writing gig goes. I wasn’t as productive as I would have liked, and I sent out only five submissions, but since I was working on some big writing projects like this one, I don’t feel too bad about it.

March Report Card

  • Submissions Sent: 5
  • Rejections: 5
  • Acceptances: 1
  • Other: 0
  • Publications: 2

The Rejections

First, the usual slew of rejections. Five this month.

Rejection 1: 4/2/16

Thank you for submitting your story “XXX” to XXX, but we’re going to take a pass on this one.

Not quite enough horror in this, I’m afraid, but I’m betting the folks at XXX will really like it: [website]. You might try this story with them.

By the way, I’m super stoked about “XXX.” Keep sending stuff our way!

If you have to get rejected, this is the way to do it. It’s a personal rejection, and the editor tells me why, specifically, the story was rejected, he recommends another market I should send it to (affiliated with this market), he tells me how excited he is for the story they DID accept a while back, and, finally, he asks me to keep sending them work. Next to an acceptance, this is about as it good as it gets.

Oh, and, yes, I immediately fired the story off to the recommended market.

Rejection 2: 4/3/16

Thank you for letting us read your story. Unfortunately, at this time, it’s not a good fit for our magazine, so we are unable to accept it. We wish you good luck placing it with a different market.

What have we here? Looks like a fine specimen of rejectus familiaris, otherwise known as the common form rejection. Nothing to see here. Moving on.

Rejection 3: 4/9/16

Thank you for submitting your story, “XXX,” to XXX. I am afraid I have decided to pass on it at this time. 

In the end, the story just didn’t work for me. While XXX is currently closed to submissions, I do hope you will keep the zine in mind again in the future, and I thank you again for your interest.

The language in this letter makes me wonder if its a personal rejection or a form rejection, and I’m not completely sure which one it is. It uses enough form rejection phrases that I’m inclined to call it one, but it could be a personal rejection with a more formal tone. In the end, it’s a rejection, and whether personal or form, time to move on.

Rejection 4: 4/20/16

Thanks so much for letting us consider your story “XXX.” While it made it to the final round of consideration, I’m afraid that we chose not to accept it. We had a lot of submissions and there were difficult decisions to be made. Best of luck placing it elsewhere.

I’ve developed a pretty thick skin over the years, and I can honestly say that rejections don’t bother me much anymore. This one, though? This one took a bite out of me. I’m sure you can guess why. I’d received a further consideration letter about the story a while back, and I waited with bated breath for months. I really liked the story I sent them (a new one), and, as you can imagine, I felt like my chances were good for an acceptance. Alas, it was not to be. But, hey, this is all part of the gig, right?

The silver lining is I feel pretty confident about this new story. It had a positive first run, so I think it has legs. I sent it out to another market the next day.

Rejection 5: 4/25/16

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to read your story. Unfortunately, it isn’t quite what we’re looking for. We do hope you will try again.

I’ve submitted to this market a number of times, and I’ve gotten this letter each time. It’s a tough market to crack, with a tiny acceptance ratio, but I’ll keep trying.

The Acceptances

Just one acceptance in April, but it was a good one.

Acceptance 1: 4/1/16

Thanks for sending “XXX” to XXX. I have finished my review and have decided to accept it and offer you a contract. Please look for a contract to be issued shortly.

This is a pro market with an acceptance ratio around one percent. I am thrilled they accepted the first story I sent them. What’s better, this was a new story, and it scored big right off the bat. Not much more to say, other than I’m looking forward to the story’s publication.

The Publications

Two of my stories were published in April. They were:

“Shadow Can” published by Digital Fiction Publishing. This one is a reprint, but it’s one of my favorites. You can read it by clicking the link.

“Big Problems” published in Havok magazine’s Fairytales: Unfettered edition. I’d been sitting on this story for years. I’d always liked it, but I could never figure out where to send it. It’s a weird little retelling of a classic fairy tale, and when I saw Havok was doing a weird fairytales issue, I had a feeling this story might be a good fit. Looks like, for once, I was right.

Well, that was my April. How was yours?