Aeryn’s Archives: Cowtown

Today’s installment of Aeryn’s Archives continues a trend of firsts. My comedy/horror story “Cowtown” was the first story I published with The Arcanist and the first story they published after launching. In the ensuing two years and change, The Arcanist has become one of the best damn flash fiction markets in the industry. Now, here’s a cow.

So a little about how this story came to be and how it ended up at The Arcanist. Like the vast majority of my published flash fiction “Cowtown” started out as a one-hour flash fiction contest/writing exercise. I honestly don’t even remember what the prompt was, but I do remember it reminded me of my hometown of Modesto, California, which has a ton of dairy farms. In fact, my uncle owned a small one, and I spent no few summers bucking hay and trying not to get cow shit on my shoes. Anyway, the myth of the chupacabra is one of my favorites, and I thought it would be fun to do a “mistaken identity” story with that particular beastie.

How did the story end up at The Arcanist? Back in 2017 I was perusing the “Fiction Markets Added” section at Duotrope, as I often do, when I saw a new and interesting publisher. A couple of things caught my attention immediately. One, they were a flash fiction market. (Hey, I write flash fiction.) Two, they published fantasy, sci-fi, and horror. (What do you know; I write all three.) And, finally, three, they paid. (I like money.) So off I went to read The Arcanist’s guidelines. I found a professional and well-organized site with clear (and fair) guidelines, and I had just finished a slightly cooky flash piece I thought might be a good fit. My only hesitation with sending “Cowtown” was it’s comedic element. Now everything in publishing is subjective, but I find humor is VERY subjective. Luckily, the folks at The Arcanist share my (warped) sense of humor, and “Cowtown” ended up being the first of three horror/comedy pieces I published with them. (The other two are “Do Me a Favor” and “Small Evil”.)

Again, it was an honor to be the first story at The Arcanist, and it’s been great watching them grow and watching so many of my writer friends get published there too.

Anyway, you can read “Cowtown” by clicking the links scattered throughout this post, the big one in red below, or, if you prefer, the giant cow above. 🙂

READ “Cowtown”

A Week of Writing: 1/20/20 to 1/26/20

This is one of those weeks where I’m almost ashamed to post. To say I did not accomplish what I set out to accomplish is an understatement. That said, accountability (and shame) can be particularly motivating. 🙂

Words to Write By

This week’s quote comes from one of my favorite writers and dispensers of writerly wisdom, Elmore Leonard.

“I don’t think writers compete, I think they’re all doing separate things in their own style.”

-Elmore Leonard.

I really like this quote because it addresses a fear I think every author has, especially when you’re starting out. That fear is that you’re writing something exactly like another author or that by sharing your ideas they might be stolen. I think the truth is simply that if you gave two authors the same premise and had them write novels, you’d end up with two wildly different stories. Once you actually develop something resembling a style of your own, everything you wrote is probably going to sound much different than another author, even if the concepts and tropes are identical. I mean, think about how many vampire and zombie novels are out there. With a few rare exceptions, there’s not a lot of new ground to cover with those particular monsters, yet authors keep (sometimes quite successfully) putting their own stamp on them. So write what you want and don’t worry about what other folks are writing. Yours will be yours and theirs will be theirs, and there’s plenty for room for both.

The (New) Novel

The outline continues, far slower than I would like, but some progress was made last week, mostly with figuring out character motivations and the like. It’s important work, but it bugs me I didn’t get more done. These little hiccups are part of the process I’ve found, and it’s important to not let them deter you. So this week I’ll be forging ahead and focusing on wrapping up at the end of the week.

Short Stories

Yeah, this is pretty depressing. Nary a submission to be found.

  • Submissions Sent: 0
  • Rejections: 0
  • Acceptances: 0
  • Publications: 0
  • Shortlist: 0

Very quiet week. I didn’t even get a rejection, which is odd when you have nine subs pending. I have that sinking feeling the rejections are coming, maybe all at once. I still have time to hit my monthly goal, but I need to get moving. The good news is I did finish two new short pieces I can polish up and start submitting, so, hopefully, I’ll get those January submission numbers up.

Microfiction

I think this week’s batch of #vss365 microfiction is pretty solid, better than last week’s anyway. I believe the January 25th entry is one of the better micros I’ve written in a while. Anyway, click the links in the dates to go to the tweet and like, retweet, etc.

January 20th, 2020

His murders stank of #jasmine. The smell floated on top of the latrine odor of death, mixed with it, until the combination was fouler than dime store perfume or the ruptured bodies beneath it. Now, over twenty years later, even a hint of jasmine makes me want to vomit.

January 21st, 2020

The big mule Sir #Obstinate listened only to our son James. The beast followed him everywhere, obeying every command. When brigands killed James, Sir Obstinate disappeared. We found him days later, his corpse hacked and bloody, six brigands crushed dead beneath his hooves.

January 22nd, 2020

“He talk yet?” Sal asked.

“Nah, still doing the crying and begging #rigmarole,” Lucky replied.

Sal tapped the magazine he was reading. “Says here the key to communication is honesty.”

“Well, I told him I’d honestly beat him to death, then he honestly shit himself.”

January 23rd, 2020

My mind blares with a #cacophony of foreign thoughts. It’s disorienting at first, but I quickly separate the good from the bad. Thoughts of impending violence I lace with telepathic poison and send back to their owners. The stroke usually keeps them from hurting anyone.

January 24th, 2020

When people complain “That’s not supposed to #happen!” I laugh and show them the scar behind my right ear where I was struck by lightning in ’97. If they’re unconvinced, I pull up my pant leg so they can see the chunk I lost to a great white in ’01. That usually does it.

January 25th, 2020

At my tenth birthday party I was angry I didn’t get a new bike. Instead my parents hired a magician. He asked how he could #amaze me; I said make Mom and Dad disappear. For thirty birthdays I’ve told myself the car accident wasn’t my fault. Some years I almost believe it.

January 26th, 2020

“Anything in our #range interest you?” the Best Possess salesman asked.

Moloch glanced at an array of inert, youthful human bodies. “Anything older?” the demon said. “After five millennia I feel I’m just not possessing these twenty-somethings to their full potential.”

Goals

Finish. The. Outline.

Send. Submissions.

Yep, that about covers it. 🙂


That was my week. How was yours?

A Week of Writing: 1/13/20 to 1/19/20

One more week of writing in the books. Let’s see how I did.

Words to Write By

This week’s quote comes from novelist Hallie Ephron.

“Outlining is like putting on training wheels. It gives me the courage to write, but we always go off the outline.”

– Hallie Ephron

Since I’m deep into the outlining stage of my novel, I really like this quote from Hallie Ephron. I outline for a number of reasons, and one of them is it lets me dip my toe into the story before I dive into the deep, cold water of the first draft. It’s that training wheels aspect from the quote. Sure, an outline has a ton of other benefits too. It gives me a roadmap to write the story and lets me work out some of the plot and character issues before I get into the thick of a draft. Still, I do find, as Hallie Ephron says, that the outline gives me the courage to write the book and the courage to stray from it when the novel and its characters need to go off script.

The (New) Novel

I’ve mostly outlined the first act of the novel, and I like where it’s headed. I’ve also done some character plotting, using aspects of my own experiences in certain things for the background of the protagonist. My hope there is her backstory and motivations will ring truer to the reader. My outlines are always three acts and thirty chapters, so I’ve still got a bit of work to do. I hope to finish up by early next week with an outline that clock in between 8,000 and 10,000 words.

Short Stories

A sad week for short story submissions, unfortunately, as I didn’t send a single one.

  • Submissions Sent: 0
  • Rejections: 1
  • Acceptances: 0
  • Publications: 0
  • Shortlist: 0

I need three more submission this month to stay on pace for one-hundred for the year. One would think I could do that, but we’ll see. The rejection was a simple standard form rejection of no particular note. I might pad my monthly total with a few reprints, as there’s a few anthologies coming that might work for some of the horror stories I’ve sold in the past.

Microfiction

Here’s this week’s batch of #vss365 microfiction. I’ll admit I struggled a bit with the prompt words this week (a failing entirely my own and not the prompter’s), so it’s not my brightest and best bunch of micros. I do like the last one, though. As usual, you can click the link in the date to go to the specific tweet.

January 13th, 2020

“Look at that beautiful #opaline sky.”

“Opaline? It’s gray. It’s always GRAY.”

“Nah, you just have to learn to appreciate the weather here in Seattle.”

“Weather? WEATHER?! Weather changes, dude. This shit hasn’t budged from morbid murder clouds for six fucking months!”

January 14th, 2020

He found the first growth on his palm. Hers bloomed on one pale cheek. They sat in the warm dark apartment, watching their growths multiply and extend #fibrous tendrils that laced together and intertwined. Soon, they were bound together by malignancy, closer than ever.

January 15th, 2020

“Is that a revolver?” Lucky asked.

Sal drew the old single-action from its holster with a #flourish. “Yep, gonna try something new.”

“What? Like a gunfight?”

“Uh huh. I wanna see how fast I am.”

“Sal, it ain’t a good sign when just murdering folks loses its thrill.”

January 16th, 2020

We had shelter, food and water for a lifetime, but as the immediate danger passed and years mounted, we all felt a terrible #yearning. The grim truth inside our concrete savior loomed over everything, and one by one we chose a quick end over decades of pointless survival.

January 17th, 2020

The ancient ruins on the planet’s equator indicated a #riparian culture. The towering idols and strange domed structures hinted at a deeply religious society. Lastly, the mangled remains of the inhabitants spoke of a people plagued by sins we humans could easily recognize.

January 18th, 2020

All contact guys drink. Unless you’re a psychopath, you gotta quiet the demons. But it makes you sloppy, #muddles your thoughts, puts you in situations that’ll get you killed. The truth is you hope for those situations. The drink just gives you the guts to look for them.

January 19th, 2020

I’m not as #articulate as I once was. The bullet they dug out of my skull makes thoughts and words distant cousins at best. I don’t really need to speak, though. As I thumb back the hammer and point my pistol, the man who tried and failed to kill me understands perfectly.

Goals

Outline, outline, outline. Then, in between outlining, finish a short story or two and submit them. It would be great to finish the outline by the end of the week, but I feel like it might take me a tad longer.


That was my week. How was yours?

The Way I Write Part 4: Something Resembling a Style

Over the past month I’ve explored my writing as it’s developed these past twenty years. I’ve been using the Flesch-Kincaid readability scores and the old fashioned eyeball test to chart changes in my work. We’ve looked at some of very early pieces, purple and laden with adjectives, a more transitional phase where I started to reign in my wordier impulses, and then some of my published work, where my voice and prose began to resemble something similar to how I write today. In this last post we’ll look at recent work, and see how the writer I am today is different from the writer I used to be.

Before we get into to those recent examples. Here are the other posts in this series for reference.

“Night Games” (circa 2014 A.D.)

This is passage from my short story “Night Games,” which I completed in 2012 and sold in 2014 (after a revision or two). I sold it again to Pseudopod in 2016 (click this link to listen). “Night Games” is an important story to me because it’s one of the first pieces I wrote where I really felt like I knew what I wanted the story to accomplish, and then I went and did that (and it mostly worked).

Randall Simmons only plays night games. As he steps into the right-handed box and taps his bat on the plate, he reminds me why. His smile, aimed at the pitcher’s mound, is wide and predatory. The bright stadium lights catch for a moment on his teeth. Even from 60 feet, 6 inches away, those teeth are too long and too sharp.

Randall is showing me his secret smile, some of it anyway. His smile is for me because I’m here to preserve the Kansas City T-Bones’ one-run lead in the top of the ninth against his team, the Wichita Wingnuts. It’s also for me because I’m the only person in the stadium who knows Randall Simmons is a vampire.

Anytime I step out of the bullpen it’s a big deal. It’s a chance to earn a save, win the game, and even make someone notice a washed-up twenty-five-year-old pitcher trying to make it to the bigs. That’s a tall order in the independent leagues, where dreams of big-league baseball and big-league money go to die. Unlike most nights, I’m not thinking about my fastball, my curveball, or the good slider that got me drafted by the A’s five years ago. I’m thinking once the game is over Randall Simmons will kill me.

I’d had the idea for this story rattling around in my brain for a few years, and then one day it all clicked, and “Night Games” became a thing. I’d say it’s the first story I published in, well, my current era of writing, for lack of a better word. With this story I started to figure out what my strengths were and how best to utilize them, but let’s have a look at the numbers.

  • Passive Sentences: 0%
  • Flesch Reading Ease: 73.3
  • Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: 7.0

You might notice those numbers are a little higher than where I was trending in the last post. The difference here is that I am trying for a specific voice, one that’s going to come across as technical and a little wordy (baseball is a pretty nerdy sport). That voice is borne out in the numbers, but, as opposed to the wildly purple prose of my stories from the early aughts, this is still very readable.

Let’s move on a couple of years and look at another piece.

“Scare Tactics” (circa 2016 A.D.)

With this story I started using a voice and style that is very much what and how I enjoy writing. This story is one of the first of my horror/noir/urban fantasy mashups that features a healthy dose of black humor. It’s also one of my most successful stories, as I’ve sold it three times. The Dunesteef did a great little audio version of the piece you can listen to right here.

She got out of the car, popped open the trunk, and made a face at the awful stink within. A pungent mix of the worst fart overlaid with rotting meat and old garbage wafted up from the dark enclosure.

“Jesus,” Lindsey said, covering her mouth. “Can’t you control that?”

A jumbo-sized Raggedy Ann doll that had seen better days lay face-up in the trunk. Moth holes pocked its pinkish cotton, and its once-bright dress was dirty and stained. Only the red yarn hair retained its original color.

Adramelech’s voice drifted up from the doll, faint and irritated. “You know I can’t help it. You keep a demon in physical form, you get the stink. That’s the way it is. Maybe you shouldn’t stick me in a small, enclosed space.”

“And have that stench up front with me? No thanks. Hey, switch to silent mode. It’s almost show time.”

Ugh, are we doing this again? Adramelech’s voice spoke in Lindsey’s head now, as she’d requested. It wasn’t quite telepathy. He couldn’t read her thoughts, like she couldn’t read his, but they could “hear” each other when they wanted. It’s demeaning, you know. I’m a demon of the first order, a goddamn chancellor of Hell. I’m not some bullshit scare artist.

Lindsey stifled a chuckle. Chancellor, my ass. I’ve read de Plancy. He says you were primarily Lucifer’s fashion consultant.

I had so much fun writing Lindsey and Adramelech, and I’m about to write a whole lot more about them. Anyway, this story just clicked for me, the characters, the subject matter, the genre mashup, all of it. I think a lot of having any success as a writer is figuring out where you belong, and for me, this is probably it.

Okay, what about the numbers.

  • Passive Sentences: 0%
  • Flesch Reading Ease: 80.5
  • Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: 4.4

Yep, that’s right where I want it. Nice and conversational. These stories have a ton of dialog (and a fair amount of four letter words), and so they make for quick and, well, easy reading, and that too is where I live now.

One more story.

“A Point of Honor” (circa 2019 A.D.)

The final story is one I published last year, and it’s a bit of a departure for me in genre and tone. It’s near-future dystopian sci-fi that deals with a real-world issue–cyberbullying–in a Twilight Zone-esque manner. You can check it out from the publisher, Radix Media, right here

Jacob opened his mailbox and froze. The sight of the scarlet envelope between the bills and advertisements twisted his stomach into cold knots of dread. He’d never seen a declaration from the Bureau of Honorable Affairs in person. 

Jacob glanced around the street, empty and quiet, terrified someone might see. He snatched the declaration from the mailbox, tucked it into his robe, and hurried inside.

Sara stood at the kitchen counter drinking coffee. “Anything in the mail?”

He pulled the declaration from his robe and tossed it on the counter. It looked like a fresh bloodstain on the white tile.

Sara’s eyes widened and she covered her mouth with one hand. “Why do you have that?” 

“I don’t know. I haven’t hurt anyone.”

“Of course you haven’t. You’re a forty-year-old computer programmer.” 

He grimaced at his wife’s blunt assessment. “Maybe it’s a mistake. They’re a big government agency. They screw up, right?”

“Yes, a mistake.” Sara seized on this scant hope. “Has to be.”

The difference between this story and “Scare Tactics” is mostly tone. The writing is fairly similar I think, with direct, even Spartan prose and a lot of dialog, but let’s check the numbers.

  • Passive Sentences: 0%
  • Flesch Reading Ease: 75.1
  • Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: 4.5

Yeah, that’s still in what I’d call my sweet spot. The reading ease is a tad higher in this passage, but if you run the entire 5,000-word story its right at 84.


Before I wrap this thing up here are the readability numbers for all the stories in the blog series.

Date Story Reading Ease Grade Level
2000 Lullaby 53.5 13.4
2005 Rearview 37.9 14.4
2006 The Tow 61.6 10.7
2007 The Fate of Champions 62.9 8.7
2010 Blasted Heath 75.1 6.0
2012 At the Seams 85.8 4.7
2014 Night Games 73.3 7.0
2016 Scare Tactics 80.5 4.4
2019 A Point of Honor 75.1 4.5

So what have I learned from this exploration of my writing over the last twenty years? I think the easiest conclusion to draw is as the writing became simpler and more direct, i.e., more readable, I started getting published. This is not the only way to get published, of course, but for me, stripping things down, focusing on dialog and action (things I’m good at) instead of long descriptions and beautiful prose (things I’m NOT good at) has allowed me to publish a fair amount. I’m certainly still a work in progress, and there’s more growing and learning to be done, but I like where I’ve ended up. I don’t think I’m trying to sound like other published fiction (at least not on purpose), and I now have something resembling a style. But who knows? Maybe in five years I’ll change my mind and start trying to sound like H.P. Lovecraft’s dictionary again. 🙂

A Week of Writing: 1/6/20 to 1/12/20

Well, it’s a new year, so it’s time to start accounting for my writing and submission endeavors again. Here we go.

Words to Write By

This week’s quote comes from Vincent van Gogh.

“Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.

– Vincent van Gogh

This one resonates with me at the moment as I start writing another novel. Long-form fiction can be overwhelming, especially if you look at it as a single monolithic piece of work. I finish novels by breaking them down into smaller tasks, manageable bits and pieces, that once assembled create something greater than the component parts. Of course, this is oversimplifying to some extent, but I think the sentiment is sound. I approach a novel in terms of what can I can accomplish today, usually that’s a single chapter or somewhere around 2,500 words. That’s served me well in the past, and I hope it continues to for the foreseeable future.

The (New) Novel

I’ve started a new novel, yet untitled, based around characters from an existing short story. The story in question is one I’ve sold more than any other, and I think it may be the most quintessentially me of all the pieces I’ve written. I’m deep into outlining at the moment, putting together my typical three-act thirty-chapter roadmap for the story. That’ll probably take me most of the week and maybe part of next. Then it’s on to the first draft, which I’ll write at 2.000 to 2,500 words a day, five days a week, until I have a complete novel.

Short Stories

Last year I fell short of my goal of one-hundred submissions by nineteen subs. This year, I plan to stay on track. Here’s how I did last week.

  • Submissions Sent: 6
  • Rejections: 1
  • Acceptances: 1
  • Publications: 0
  • Shortlist: 0

In truth, one of those six submissions was sent the week prior, but I’ll just count it here. So that’s five submission this week, and one last, which puts me on a very nice pace. I need to be around nine submissions a month to hit my goal of one-hundred. The rejection was your typical, garden variety form rejection, but the acceptance was a good one. It’s a story I shopped quite a bit, and it was even shortlisted at Flash Fiction Online and NewMyths. It’s nice to finally find a home for it. More on that acceptance when it’s published.

Microfiction

I’m writing microfiction everyday over on Twitter based on the #vss365 prompts. Here’s this week’s batch. If you’re unfamiliar with vss365, the hashtagged word in each micro is the prompt word for the day. You can click the link on each date if you wanna throw me a like or a retweet. 🙂

January 6th, 2020

I drag my busted leg behind me. It’s gone numb, but at least I can’t feel the bone grinding into the sand anymore. That’s the least of my worries, though. The excited #yips and howls have grown closer. They smell the blood, the sickness, the meat. I used to think coyotes were cute.

January 7th, 2020

“My shotgun #obviates the need for the .45,” Lucky said and hefted his Remington 870. “Leave it.”

Sal blinked and set down his 1911. “It does what to the .45?”

“You know, obviate. Removes.”

“Those word-a-day shit tickets are really workin’ out for you, huh, Lucky?”

January 8th, 2020

Gary stared up at the new girl, eyes wide, nose gushing blood. At 6 feet tall and 200 pounds, he had ruled the 6th-grade playground, hurting any who resisted his bullying. His #usurper was half his size but had a boxer’s grace and a roll of quarters in each clenched fist.

January 9th, 2020

She defied her opponent’s sword, his height and reach, with #kinetic and overwhelming skill. His feet and hands blared his intentions like a neon sign, heralding a clumsy thrust. With a languid turn of her shoulder, she slipped his blade and filled his heart with steel.

January 10th, 2020

I’m not #inquisitive. That’s why I’m still here and all my friends are gone. Jon asked what they were. Amy wanted to know why they’d come. I just worked the jobs they gave us, ate their food, and kept quiet. Now, alone, I do have a question. What’s the point of going on?

January 11th, 2020

“What do you tell people when they ask what you do?” Lucky asked and took a drag from his cigarette.

Sal shrugged. “The truth. I tell ’em I’m a contract killer.”

“And that doesn’t freak people out?”

“Nope,” Sal said and grinned. “Death makes for a #lively discussion.”

January 12th, 2020

After he finished his work, rinsed off the blood, and disposed of the body, he would sink into a quiet #languor and ignore the terrible presence squirming beneath his skin. He’d feed it’s urges eventually, but the blessed peace following a kill made him feel almost human.

Goals

Continue outlining the new novel is priority one, but I need to finish some short stories if I want to keep up my submission pace. I have a number that are half-finished, and I’ll aim to complete at least one this week.


That was my week. How was yours?

The Way I Write Part 3: Refinement

Once more we’re taking a look at my writing as it’s progressed over the last twenty years to see how it’s changed and if it’s improved. The first post focused on pretty amateurish works of fiction from the early aughts. The second post jumped ahead a few years and we saw what might be called an evolution of style and voice. Still, the fiction in these first two posts was flawed, overly wordy, and pretty much the polar opposite of how I write now. In this post, we’ll jump ahead a few more years, starting with 2010, and see what’s changed.

“Blasted Heath” (circa 2010 A.D.)

This passage is ones of the first bits of fiction I wrote for Privateer Press, not too long after I took the position of editor-in-chief for No Quarter Magazine. This was a bit of league fiction supporting the organized play of the tabletop miniatures games WARMACHINE and HORDES.

Grim Angus stared at the faint tracks in the muddy ground, rubbing his chin with one blunt-fingered hand. He’d expected to find skorne tracks—the Bloodmseath was full of the murderous bastards—and maybe even tracks of the few humans that lived in the marsh. But these weren’t skorne; neither were they human or trollkin.

By the size and spacing of the tracks, Grim counted two dozen man-sized creatures. The depth of the depressions on some of the tracks suggested armor, and heavy armor at that for such narrow feet to leave lasting impressions in the swampy earth. Others tracks were fainter, left by lighter armored troops – scouts perhaps.

“What’s that, Grim?” A deep, gravelly voice asked over Grim’s shoulder. A resounding thud that shook the ground followed the question.

Grim sighed, stood, and turned to address the speaker. Noral Stonemapper was an immense trollkin, easily seven feet tall and so stoutly muscled he was often mistaken for a full-blood troll. The huge trollkin was a krielstone bearer. His honored burden, a six-hundred-pound chunk of granite inscribed with the great deeds of trollkin heroes, was sunk a full foot into the mossy sward in front of him.

What I like about this piece, as opposed to the earlier passages I’ve shown, is I’m definitely starting to simplify, to edit down, especially when the voice of the character demands it. In this case, Grim Angus, a trollkin bounty hunter, and a stoic and pragmatic one at that. In addition, this just sounds more like the stuff I currently write, but let’s look at the numbers.

  • Passive Sentences: 6%
  • Flesch Reading Ease: 75.1
  • Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: 6.0

Now that, folks, is pretty damn readable, and it’s well within the parameters of most published fiction. Additionally, if you look at the stuff I’m writing for Privateer Press today it’s within this range, so as far back as 2010 I was starting to dial in my fantasy fiction voice. Now let’s look at something in another genre.

“At the Seams” (circa 2012 A.D.)

This is from one of the first pieces of flash fiction I wrote back in 2012. I initially wrote it as apart of a one-hour flash fiction contest, and the following passage comes from that first draft.

My head is throbbing now, but I have to maintain focus. If I let the thought slip for just an instant, I’ll lose something—maybe just a bit of fingernail or a few flakes of skin and maybe a whole lot more. I almost look down at the smooth stump where my left foot used to be but manage to avoid it. I’d like to hold on to my right foot a little longer.

In the end, I know it’s pointless. How long can you keep thinking about not falling apart? How long can you think about any one thing at all? It’s not really possible. The mind wanders, and you just can’t—

Blinding pain in my right hand wrenches me away from thinking about thinking. I look down to see that my right index finger now ends after the second knuckle. The rest of the finger lies on the floor. There’s no blood or anything, just a clean separation, as if my finger never had that extra inch of flesh and bone.

If you were to look at a some of my fiction now, I think you’d see a lot similarities, but let’s look at the numbers.

  • Passive Sentences: 0%
  • Flesch Reading Ease: 85.8
  • Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: 4.7

Yep, this is pretty much where I live now. Sure, the occasional story goes a bit higher or even a bit lower on the readability scale, but for the horror, crime, and even sci-fi I write these days, this is my happy zone. My style has grown into something you might call streamlined, hell, even straightforward (I can even live with spartan), and I’m happy with it. One other thing to note is I published this story with The Molotov Cocktail in 2013, my first flash fiction publication.


Well, I think the improvement between 2007 and 2010 was a big one, and it’s pretty clear my style became much more streamlined, less wordy, and well, actually publishable. Again, for reference, here are the readability score and dates for the excerpts we’ve covered so far.

Date Story Reading Ease Grade Level
2000 Lullaby 53.5 13.4
2005 Rearview 37.9 14.4
2006 The Tow 61.6 10.7
2007 The Fate of Champions 62.9 8.7
2010 Blasted Heath 75.1 6.0
2012 At the Seams 85.8 4.7

In the final post in this series, I’ll look at stories I’ve actually published in the last few years and see if we can detect any further improvement.

Aeryn’s Archives: At the Seams

Today’s installment of Aeryn’s Archives features my very first flash fiction publication back in August of 2014, a weird little number called “At the Seams.” It was published by the good folks at The Molotov Cocktail, who have gone on to publish me another dozen times. Let’s have a look.

So how did this publication happen. Well, that part’s simple. I submitted a story, the editors liked it, and they published it. What’s more interesting, though, is how I started writing flash fiction in the first place. That actually took some convincing. I was working at Privateer Press at the time, and a number of the writers and editors there were participating in a bi-weekly one-hour flash fiction competition over on the Shock Totem. (Shock Totem is a horror magazine that sponsored the contest on their forums). Well, my colleagues said I should give this flash fiction thing a try. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but it was probably something like, “Fiction in a thousand words? How ridiculous!” (I know; joke’s on me, right?) They twisted my arm a bit more, and finally I took the plunge. After that first sweat-soaked, anxiety-wracked hour of trying to throw together a cohesive story, I was hooked. I started doing the flash fiction contest every other week, and I even ran it for a while. Hell, I still do it with my current writing group, and a good portion of my published fiction began life as a one-hour scribble.

Anyway, one of the best things about the one-hour contest is that it pushes you to write outside your comfort zone, and for me, weird is definitely outside my comfort zone. “At the Seams” is decidedly weird, and I think that’s what The Molotov Cocktail dug about it. I’m so glad I started writing flash fiction and that I discovered the wonderful folks over at The Molotov, who have graciously continued to publish me fairly regularly over the last six years.

You can read “At the Seams” by clicking the big ol cover illustration above or the link below.

READ “At the Seams”