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?