One-Hour Flash – Fuel for the Fire

Time to dust off another also-ran from the one-hour flash files. As usual, this is a story written in one hour based on a photo prompt for a contest/exercise. The time stamp on Word says I wrote this one in September of 2013. What you see below is more or less what I came up with in an hour five years ago, though I did clean it up a tad.

Today’s story is called “Fuel for the Fire.”


Fuel for the Fire

Pixabay

Ashton had seen his share of forest fires, but he and the ten other volunteer firefighters from Chico, California had never seen anything like this. They had come prepared to meet the blaze on the edge of the Plumas National Forest with the same skill and devotion they’d brought to every job, but this fire did not fit the bill.

The flames were bright green, and they gave off no detectable heat. The trees and undergrowth within the inferno still burned, however, and smoke roiled up into the night sky. Weirder still, the fire didn’t appear to be spreading. Ashton had never see a fire do that; usually it devoured every burnable thing in its path, quick and unpredictable. This fire seemed content to burn only the thirty or so acres of Trees on the edge of Plumas. Hell, you could even see exactly where it stopped. The trees and bushes were green and wet with dew right up to the edge of those crazy green flames and everything beyond was a burning ruin.

“What the fuck is that?” Daniels said. “Why is it green?”

Ashton pushed up the visor on his helmet and took a couple steps forward. “I don’t know. Copper makes a green flame, but there’s nothing like that in the ground around here.”

“I don’t care if it’s pink with polka dots,” Captain Mike wells said from behind Ashton. He was the ranking man at the Chico station. “You still got a job to do.”

“Yeah, but Mike, this ain’t fuckin’ normal,” Daniels said. He was the youngest guy on the squad and had a knack for pissing off the captain, usually by using his first name instead of his rank. “We gotta call someone. We—“

“I said get to work!” The captain stood six and half feet tall, and his voice carried like a drill sergeant when he wanted it to. “That fire is close enough to town we need to stop it right fucking now. Understood?”

“Yes, sir.” Daniels moved up to stand next to Ashton. “Fuckin’ prick,” he said under his breath. “This could be some kind of alien shit, and all Captain Hard-Ass wants to do is put it out so he can get back to his Maker’s Mark.”

“Alien shit or not, the captain’s gonna kick both our asses if we don’t hop to,” Ashton said. “Come on.”

They approached the fire and Ashton saw the flames were getting higher. They still weren’t spreading, but they appeared to be reaching upward. He had his axe in hand as did Daniels. It was standard procedure to fight a wildfire with both direct and indirect methods. Ashton and Daniels were in charge of the indirect; they would create control lines around the blaze, areas with no combustible material. That means clearing brush and even chopping down trees if it came to it. Behind them, the rest of Chico’s small fire team worked on the direct method, a chemical quenching agent sprayed through hoses to smother the fire.

They were near the boundary of the burned and unburned, and Ashton still felt no heat. Normally, this close, you’d be roasting in your suit, marinating in your own sweat. This fire was cool as could be.

“Look at the smoke, man,” Daniels said, staring up, his axe dangling in his hands.

Ashton looked up and for the first time he was afraid. The smoke should be streaming up in a single huge plume. That’s what smoke did. The smoke coming off this fire went up in dozens of individual streamers of gossamer black, and they didn’t go straight up. They whirled around, darting and surging against the wind.

“That’s not right . . .” Ashton trailed off because he was close enough to really see into the depths of the green conflagration. The trees and other things weren’t really burning; they were withering, as if the fire just sucked the life out of them.

“We need to go,” Ashton said, slowly backpedaling. “Right now.”

Daniels had his iPhone out and as was taking pictures of the weird smoke. “Why?” he said. “I want to put this on Instagram—“

One of the smoke streamers darted out of the sky, and cold nails of horror raked Ashton’s insides. The streamer gained shape and solidity as it came down, and then it enveloping Daniels. He screamed and dropped his iPhone, batting at the writhing black smoke with his axe.

Daniels turned, and Ashton saw his face, saw the skin blacken and sink in on itself, exposing the pale white bone beneath. Daniels toppled over and a tendril of fire leaped from the main blaze and covered him, extending the wild fire’s boundary by about five feet.

More smoke streamers came out of the black sky, and Ashton ran. He had always been fast, but he still expected one of those smoke things to catch him and suck the life from his body. His desperate sprint carried him past other members of the crew, and they simply stared at him as he ran by. He didn’t have time to warn them.

He passed Captain Wells and finally glanced back. The captain opened his mouth to yell something at Ashton, but one of the streamers came slashing down out of the night and wrapped around him in a cloak of inky black. He captain screamed, hoarse and guttural, and Ashton saw other men taken by the smoke behind him.

Ashton turned and put his head down, focused all his energy on running, getting away. But he saw the blaze surge forward, a looming verdigris wall, to cover the men entangled in smoke.

The fire grew.


Unlike the most of the other stories in this series, I did actually send this one out for submission a few times. The feedback I received from one publication was spot on. Basically, this isn’t a full story. It reads like the beginning of a story, possibly the middle, or as one bit of feedback suggested, an excerpt from a novel. I do like the idea here, and at some point I may turn it into something longer with a beginning and an ending. Until then, it’s a vignette with a bad case of premise-itis. 🙂

Check out the previous installments in the One-Hour Flash series.

200 Rejections: An Analysis

I recently found myself wondering how many rejections I’ve received since I started using Duotrope (religiously) to track my submissions. So, uh, I went and looked . . .

I’ve received 218 rejections. Is that a lot? Maybe, but to me it (usually) just feels like my fair share. The inevitable result of nearly 300 submissions. It’s important to note I received rejections before Duotrope came into my life. Sadly, many of these literary fossils are lost to the ether in a now-defunct Hotmail account or were honest-to-god paper rejection letters (I really wish I’d kept some of those). So, today, I’m just going to talk about the 218 rejections I’ve logged in Duotrope. Stats ahead.

  • First Rejection: I logged my first rejection (again, into Duotrope) on May 5th, 2012. Interestingly, this rejection was from a market that would go on to reject me a lot in the years ahead. They set the tone, you might say. I didn’t submit a lot of short fiction in those first couple of years. My submission (and rejection) volume really picked up in 2014.
  • Last Rejection: My most recent rejection . . . Hang on, let me check my email. As I was saying, my most recent rejection came yesterday on April 17th, 2018. This was my twelfth (12) rejection from this particular market.
  • Distinct Stories: I have submitted 56 distinct stories since May of 2012. That number surprised me. It feels like a lot more. Eighteen (18) of those stories are short stories of 2,000 words or more, and the remaining thirty-six (36) are flash stories of 1,000 words or fewer.
  • Distinct Markets: Now the reason it might feel like I sent more distinct stories is I sent those stories to a bunch of different markets. According to Duotrope, I have submitted stories to seventy-five (75) distinct markets. Most of them are still alive and kicking, but seventeen (17) are now defunct or on indefinite hiatus.
  • Most Rejections (Market): The most rejections I have received from a single market is nineteen (19). Now, let me qualify that by saying I have also received eleven (11) acceptances from the same market. Since that’s kind of unusual, there are three runners-up tied for most rejections without an acceptance at twelve (12).
  • Most Rejected (Story): My most-rejected story currently sits at eighteen (18) rejections and is out for submission yet again. Why do I keep sending this one out? Well, it’s been shortlisted a number of times and the rejections are generally positive. In addition, my second most rejected story was accepted and published after sixteen (16) rejections.

What’s the point of this little trip down memory lane? Mostly this. If you submit a lot of fiction, well, you’re gonna get a lot of rejections. It sounds grim, but it’s actually not a bad thing. I am absolutely not the same writer I was on May 5th, 2012 when I logged that first Duotrope rejection. In the 200-plus rejections that followed, I learned a whole bunch about writing and submitting, and, if I may be so bold, I got a lot better at both.

So embrace your rejections. Count them up each time you submit a story. Cherish those battle scars that prove you can take a hit, learn a thing or two, and come back for more.

Let’s talk again when I hit 300. 🙂

A Week of Writing: 4/9/18 to 4/15/18

One more week in the books. One more week of progress. One more week of writing.

The Novel

After less than ideal production the week before, I accomplished something resembling a respectable pace last week. Not where I wanted to be, but not bad. The good news is I passed 60,000 words, and I’m barreling toward the third act. I figure there’s probably between 25,000 and 30,000 words left to write (maybe a bit less). A first draft at the end of the month or early next is a distinct possibility.

Date Day Words Written
4/9/2018 Monday 0
4/10/2018 Tuesday 2515
4/11/2018 Wednesday 788
4/12/2018 Thursday 0
4/13/2018 Friday 1712
4/14/2018 Saturday
4/15/2018 Sunday 1074

Another 6,089 words added to the tally. Not the 10,000 I was hoping for, but not bad. This week, I’ll once again set my sights high and see where I end up.

Short Stories

I worked on short stories quite a bit last week, and I heavily revised two old trunk stories I think might have a shot at publication now. I also narrowed down which of my half-complete stories I want to finish next. It’s a historical fantasy piece set in Imperial Rome called (tentatively) “Wild Things.” It’s been percolating for a couple of years, and I think I know where to go with it now.

Submissions

A little light on submissions last week. I have some new stories making the rounds, though, so I expect that to pick up this week.

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

I currently have fourteen (14) submissions under consideration. As I keep saying, a couple of these are getting very long in the tooth, so I expect to hear back soon. I also have a story shortlisted I should hear a yea or nay on soon (fingers crossed). The story I was excited about in the last update, “Teeth of the Lion Man,” has already received two rejections from two of my go-to markets, but it’ll go out again this week.

Publications

A new category this week because, well, I actually have something to put into it. My urban fantasy flash fiction story “New Arrivals” was published in the April issue of Havok. You can check out the issue below.

The Blog

Another new category, and this one is kind of an “Oh, duh.” I managed three blog posts last week on Rejectomancy, which, for me, is ideal output. If you’d like to catch up, just click the links below.

4/9/18: A Week of Writing: 4/2/18 to 4/8/18

Yep, my writing update for that week. Pretty self explanatory.

4/11/18: Back to Basics: The Cover Letter

I went back to this well traveled subject and broke down my basic cover letter into its component parts. Some dos and don’ts about cover letters and a very simple example you have my blessing to steal outright. 🙂

4/13/18: Ranks of the Rejected: Avily Jerome (Havok Magazine)

This was a good one. I interviewed Avily Jerome, the editor of Havok, and she had lots of great advice for writers and rejectomancers.

Goals

This week it’s more work on the novel, and I’d like to hit 10,000 words. I’ll send out more submissions (probably get more rejections too), as I march toward a goal of 100 submission for the year. I finished the outline for the game design project last week and turned it in. The editor liked it, and gave me the green light to start writing. The deadline is a comfortable two months away, but I’ll start in on it this week.

Story Spotlight

This week its one of my weirder stories and the first story I published with The Molotov Cocktail. It’s called “At the Seams,” and it’s about falling apart. Literally. 🙂

Read “At the Seams

Ranks of the Rejected: Avily Jerome (Havok Magazine)

Today it is my privilege to present an interview with Avily Jerome, the editor for Havok magazine. Avily is an accomplished editor and writer, and she has great advice for authors who want to publish in Havok (or publish in general). She also knows a thing or two about rejection and how to deal with the inevitable reality of “not for us.” My own association with Havok is pretty simple. They’ve published two of my stories, including one in the issue releasing today, which means I’ve twice had the pleasure of working directly with Avily and the rest of the Havok team.

Make sure to check out the latest from Havok, including the April issue, and the guidelines for the annual contest issue Rampage! Monsters vs. Robots, coming in July (more info on that below).

    


1) Tell us what Havok Magazine publishes in 50 words or less.

Havok publishes speculative flash fiction. 1000 words or fewer, in a variety of speculative genres. We’ve done everything from steampunk to dinosaurs to straight sci-fi, and everything in between, including some pretty spectacular mash-ups. Content-wise, we’re family-friendly, so no excessive violence, language, or sensuality.

2) How do you come up with Havok’s themes? What are some of your favorite past themes?

Every year we have a brainstorming session with Splickety (our parent company) staff members and throw around ideas until we find the ones we like. We try not to do anything too similar to something we’ve done in the recent past, and we try to make the themes broad enough that multiple genres can fit within the same theme.

Favorite themes… that’s a tough one. I love our Halloween horror issues. Some of my personal favorite stories have been in the horror issues. The Dinosaurs issue was a lot of fun. Probably one of my top picks is our Literary Mutations issue, where we made classic stories into speculative stories.

3) Since Havok publishes flash fiction, in your opinion, what are the benefits and challenges of writing at 1,000 words or fewer?

One of the best benefits for writers is that it really tightens your writing. You have to decide which information is vital and which is extraneous. You have to cut out every bit of fluff and every unnecessary word.

One of the biggest challenges is fitting a full story arc and creating compelling characters in such a short amount of space.

4) What advice can you give writers submitting to Havok? Which stories have the best chance at publication?

We accept stories up to 1000 words, but I only have room for two or maybe three 1000-words stories per issue. Most of the stories I publish are about 700 words, so if you can stick to 700 words or fewer, your odds are better.

As for story itself, if you can make me feel, whether it’s humor, sadness, love, nostalgia—you have a higher probability of catching my attention. I also love twist endings, complex world building (although again, this is hard to do in a flash story), and hard choices.

 5) Take us behind the scenes. Describe Havok’s evaluation process for a story.

I have a pretty multi-faceted process for choosing stories. First, of course, I look for writing quality and story arc. Even if the story is one I like, if the writing is poor, or if it’s going to take too much effort on my part to edit it and get it ready for publication, then I’m probably going to pass on it. Conversely, if the writing is clean and flows but the story isn’t engaging, then I’m not going to try to work with it.

Most of the submissions I receive fit these criteria, so after I’ve narrowed it down a bit, I look for several different components. Story arc is a big one for me. I’m okay with open endings, as long as there is some resolution and some emotional satisfaction for the reader. Too often, I read stories that feel like prologues. It’s okay if it’s part of a bigger world, but the story has to be self-contained. Along the same lines, the world can’t be too big or require too much explanation, and there can’t be too many or too complex of characters. I don’t want to be pulled out of the story or feel like it ended too soon because there were too many unanswered questions or because I couldn’t keep track of all the characters.

Beyond that, there’s some personal preference involved, and there’s also what does or doesn’t fit within the rest of the issue. If a story is too similar to either the staff feature or the featured author, I’ll pass on it because I want to have a variety. I also try to have a mix of dark and light, so if I have a really good story that’s tragic or violent, I’ll try to balance with one that’s humorous, and so on.

6) Well, this blog is called Rejectomancy, so I gotta ask. What are the top three reasons Havok rejects a story?

Top reason—I just don’t have room to publish all the fantastic stories I receive. #2, it doesn’t fit with our submission guidelines for either word count, theme, or content, and #3, the story is flat and doesn’t hold my interest.

7) You’re an accomplished writer as well as an editor, so you understand  rejection comes with the territory. Any pro tips for dealing with it?

Don’t take it personally. Just because you receive a rejection doesn’t mean I (or any other editor) didn’t like it. I try to offer at least a little feedback on every story that makes it through the initial screening, with something I like and something to work on, so take that for what it’s worth—one editor’s opinion—and keep writing, keep submitting, and keep going.

 8) Last question: what new and exciting things are headed our way from Havok magazine?

The single most exciting thing coming is our annual contest issue, coming in July. The theme this year is Rampage! Monsters vs. Robots. The theme description is on our website. The Grand Prize includes an Amazon gift card and a bunch of ebooks and other goodies. And don’t forget to check out all the other themes from Havok and from Splickety’s other imprints for this year.


Avily Jerome is a writer, the editor of Havok Magazine, an imprint of Splickety Publishing Group, and a book reviewer for Lorehaven Magazine. Her short stories have been published in multiple magazines, both print and digital. She has judged several writing contests, both for short stories and novels. She is a writing conference teacher and presenter, a new-author mentor, and a freelance editor. In addition, she enjoys speaking to local writers’ groups.

Her fantasy short story serials, The Heir, and the sequel, The Defector, are available on Amazon, and book three, The Silver Shores, is coming soon.

She loves all things SpecFic, and writes across multiple genres. Her writing heroes include Joss Whedon, Robert Jordan, and J.K. Rowling, among others. She is a wife and the mom of five kids. She loves living in the desert in Phoenix, AZ, and when she’s not writing, she loves reading, spending time with friends, and experimenting with different art forms.

To contact Avily or to find out more about her mentoring and editing services, please visit her website at www.avilyjerome.com

Back to Basics: The Cover Letter

Hey, let’s talk about cover letters again. I see this subject pop up a lot when it comes to submissions. There are a lot of opinions, and my opinion goes something like this: keep it short, keep it simple, and follow the guidelines. Let me show you what I mean.

The Basic Cover Letter

If the publisher doesn’t ask for anything specific in the cover letter, I generally go with the basic letter below. It ticks all the boxes I think editors generally want in a cover letter, and it’s easy to add (or subtract) content if a publisher wants something specific.

Dear Fiction Editors1,

Please consider my short story [Story Name]2 for publication at [Publisher Name]3. The story is approximately [# of words]4 words in length. My short fiction has recently appeared in [Market 1], [Market 2], and [Market 3]5.

Best6,

Name (byline)7
Address
Email

Okay, so let’s break this sucker down.

  1. The salutation. If you are absolutely, one-hundred percent sure of the editor’s name and that person will in fact be reading your story, then, sure, go ahead and address the cover letter to that person. If you have any doubt whatsoever, then use fiction editor(s) or editor(s). It’s safe, technically correct, and I can’t imagine an editor would get offended at being called, uh, an editor.
  2. Story name. Pretty self-explanatory here, just make sure you put the story name in quotation marks. I’d treat novelettes the same way, with quotes, as they are essentially long stories. Novellas can be tricky, though. The research I’ve done says a standalone novella (one not part of anthology) should be italicized*. If you’re submitting a novella to a short story market, it would generally be standalone, so I’d go with italics there.
  3. Publisher name. Again, self-explanatory, but make double, extra sure you spell the publisher’s name right and use the full name of the market as it’s listed on the masthead. The titles of both print and online magazine are italicized (according to CMS).
  4. Word count. If the market doesn’t ask for an exact word count (if they do, then just drop the approximately), I round up or down to the nearest fifty. For example, if my story is 4,359 words, I’d round it to 4,350. If it’s 4,187, I’d round to 4,200. If rounding puts you over the word count maximum for the market, then I think it’s perfectly acceptable to list the exact word count.
  5. Previous publications. A lot of markets ask for previous credits in cover letters, so I generally include them even if the publisher has no specific guidelines. Include no more than three and go with recent, best, or a little of both. I generally go with recent, but if you’ve got a big market or two under your belt, go with best. In that case, just drop the word recently, and you’re good to go. Remember to italicize the titles of print and online magazines. All that said, if the publisher doesn’t ask for previous credits, you could drop this entire section and have a perfectly serviceable cover letter.
  6. Closing. Use your favorite here, but I’d avoid anything too informal. I like best and regards, but sincerely works too.
  7. Signature. I like to put all my relevant contact info here (many publishers even ask for it), which is usually name, address, and email. I usually put “(byline)” next to my name so there can be no confusion on how I would like to be credited if my story is accepted. That’s entirely optional, of course. You could add your phone number, but I don’t think it’s really necessary unless the publisher asks for it (some do).
*Some submission software doesn’t allow italics, and in that case there’s no need to worry about it. Some software allows html tags, though, so you can italicize by bracketing the title likes this: <i>Awesome Spec-Fic Journal</i>.

And that’s the basic cover letter when the publisher doesn’t ask for something specific. (So far I’ve had no complaints) Of course, publishers DO sometimes ask for other things, but any of those elements should be easy to add to this letter.

At the end of the day, my advice with cover letters is to keep it simple, give the editor the important details, and, above all, follow the guidelines. If you make a mistake on your cover letter, like forget to italicize the name of the market or something, it’s not the end of the world. The chances of something like that affecting an editor’s decision on your story are pretty minuscule, really. That said, the cover letter is your shot to make a first impression on the editor. So, you know, try to make it a good one.


Would you add something to this basic cover letter? Tell me about it in the comments.

A Week of Writing: 4/2/18 to 4/8/18

Another week has come and gone, and here are my writing triumphs and failures laid bare for your amusement and edification.

The Novel

So, uh, yeah, I’m like writing this horror novel with a desired goal of 15,000 words a week and a minimum goal of 10,000 words. Well, friends, I didn’t hit either of those numbers, and this week was, to put it bluntly, pretty much shit for novel production. Behold my shame.

Date Day Words Written
4/2/2018 Monday 0
4/3/2018 Tuesday 0
4/4/2018 Wednesday 0
4/5/2018 Thursday 2519
4/6/2018 Friday 0
4/7/2018 Saturday 0
4/8/2018 Sunday 577

Yep, I managed only 3,096 words on the novel this week. Not great, but still positive yardage, and I did figure out a few tangled plot points that’ll make the writing easier from here on out. I shall do better this week.

Short Stories

Okay, kind of got my shit together here, especially compared to my epic failure on the novel. I finished the revisions on three stories, one of which is a tale called “Teeth of the Lion Man.” I’m pretty excited about that one because I’ve been laboring on the damn thing for like four years. I spruced up a few other stories that had been hanging around, and I’m generally happy with the results.

Submissions

Last week was a very good week for submissions, both in volume and responses.

  • Submissions Sent: 6
  • Rejections: 2
  • Acceptances: 1

I currently have fourteen submissions under consideration.

Story Date Sent Days Out Avg Response
Caroline1 6/24/2017 289 263
A Small Evil 11/9/2017 151 72
The Scars You Keep 1/7/2018 92 123
When the Lights Go On2 1/25/2018 74 45
Bites 2/8/2018 60
Old as the Trees 2/28/2018 40 24
What Kind of Hero 3/24/2018 16 105
Two Legs 3/26/2018 14 32
Scar 3/29/2018 11 40
Burning Man 4/3/2018 6
Red Season 4/3/2018 6
Teeth of the Lion Man 4/8/2018 1 5
The Inside People 4/8/2018 1 10
A Point of Honor 4/8/2018 1 15
  1. Reprint
  2. Shortlisted

I received responses on two of the stories that had been in that 45- to 75-day range: one rejection and one acceptance. I can’t talk about the acceptance just yet, but it’s a good one (I mean, they’re all good), and I’m pretty excited about it. Some of the new submissions I sent out are to markets that are generally speedy, so I would expect to heat back from them this week.

Goals

This week I aim to get back on track with the novel, but I’m not gonna set some lofty goal of 15,000 words or more to catch up. Instead, I’ll set my sights on a humble 10,000 words and get delusional about my production again on the following week. I do have one deadline looming I need to hit, an outline for a game design project. Since I never miss deadlines (true story), I’ll be knocking that out this week.

Story Spotlight

This week, I’d like you to head on out to The Arcanist, and check out my latest story, “The Food Bank,” published on on 4/6. It’s your typical post-apocalyptic horror flash fiction about giant bugs. 🙂

Read “The Food Bank

“The Food Bank” & The Arcanist Trio

The Arcanist just published my flash fiction piece “The Food Bank,” and it’s free to read on their site. This is a post-apocalyptic horror story with a dash of sci-fi for seasoning. It’s also got giant bugs in it. Simply click the big bug below to read.

“The Food Bank”

This is my third publication with The Arcanist, and if you write or read speculative flash fiction, you should definitely give them a look.  If you’re so inclined, you can check out my previous two stories, “Cowtown” and “Reunion,” by clicking on the cow or the seashell below.

“Cowtown”

 

“Reunion”