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.

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

“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”

A Week of Writing: 3/19/18 to 3/25/18

Starting a new feature here on the ol’ blog. Every Monday or thereabouts, I’ll update you on the writing I did for the week prior. How many words I wrote on which projects, how many stories I competed, how many I submitted, and so on. The purpose of this is partly to keep myself on track and also to explore my, uh, “process.”  So, without further ado, here’s my writing week from Monday, March 19th to Sunday, March 25th.

The Novel

My big project is a horror novel I’ve been working on for a couple of months. The working title is Late Risers, and when it’s a little further along I’ll tell you all about it and maybe share a snippet or two in these updates. For now, I’ll just talk about getting the damn thing on the page.

With big projects I like to get at least 10,000 words a week. I generally set a loftier goal of 15,000 words, and if I hit that, awesome, but I feel like I’ve accomplished something if I can get my 10K. So, here’s the week:

Date Day Words Written
3/19/2018 Monday 2576
3/20/2018 Tuesday 2505
3/21/2018 Wednesday 2500
3/22/2018 Thursday  0
3/23/2018 Friday  0
3/24/2018 Saturday  0
3/25/2018 Sunday 2514

I had a pretty good head of steam going early in the week, knocking out 2,500 words three days in a row. Obviously, Thursday through Saturday were a little rough, mostly because of some plain ol’ life stuff that couldn’t be avoided. I got back on track Sunday and ended my week with 10,095 words. That’s not too shabby. The book now sits at 43,500 words, and I’m in the middle of the second act.

I’m gonna set my sights on 15,000 words again this week, which should put me toward the end of the second act and heading into the home stretch.

Short Stories

I’m always working on short stories, and as I sit here and write this blog post, I have seven of them open on my desktop in various stages of completion. I did finish one piece of flash fiction this week as part of a one-hour flash challenge contest. The story is called “It Makes the Trees Grow,” and it’s a neat little supernatural crime piece. It needs some spit and polish, but it’ll go out for submission this week.

Submissions

A slightly below-average week for submission volume.

  • Submissions Sent: 1
  • Rejections: 3
  • Shortlist: 1
  • Withdrawal: 1

The shortlist and withdrawal are kind of rare. For some reason, I don’t get a lot of shortlist letters. That may be because I don’t submit to anthologies much, where they’re seem to be more common. Or it might just be editors either like my story enough to accept it or dislike it enough to simply reject it. No middle ground. I sent the withdrawal letter after I sent a submission status query and didn’t hear back for quite some time. That’s usually a clear indicator it’s time to withdraw the story.

I still have ten submissions in rotation at the moment, and a few of them are getting pretty long in the tooth. Here’s the list if you’re into analyzing wait times like me.

Story Date Sent Days Out Avg Response
Caroline1 6/24/17 275 261
A Small Evil 11/9/17 137 65
The Scars You Keep 1/7/18 78 123
Scare Tactics1 1/18/18 67
When the Lights Go On2 1/25/18 60 40
Big Changes 1/30/18 55 39
Bites 2/8/18 46
A Point of Honor 2/18/18 36 10
Old as the Trees 2/28/18 26 24
What Kind of Hero 3/24/18 2 119
  1. Reprint
  2. Shortlisted

As you can see, I should probably hear back on a few of these soon. You always hope that the longer a story goes beyond the average response time, the more chance it has at being accepted, but, in my experience, that’s not always the case. Sometimes editors just fall behind or get more submissions than they expected for a submission window. Still, I feel pretty good about a couple of these.

Goals

This week, I’d like to ad another 15,000 words to the novel first and foremost. Then I’d like to finish revising a short story called “Teeth of the Lion Man,” which I’m pretty excited about. I think it’s one of the better shorts I’ve written in some time. If I pull those two things off, everything else–submissions, other shorts, etc.–will just be gravy.

Story Spotlight

This is the part of the post where I ask you to read a thing I wrote. This week, check out a flash fiction story I published with Evil Girlfriend Media a few years ago called “The Rarest Cut.” It’s, uh, a horror story with a culinary theme. 🙂

Read “The Rarest Cut”


And that was my week. Tell me about yours in the comments.

One-Hour Flash: Kite Flyers

Hey, all, here’s another installment of one-hour flash. I’ve got a weird one for you this time. With these one-hour flash challenges, you get a prompt, usually a photo, and then you have sixty minutes to write something resembling a coherent story. Sometimes that prompt resonates, and you come up with something pretty workable. Sometimes it doesn’t and you struggle to come up with anything, and when you do, it’s, well, bizarre. This story is the latter. The prompt for this one, if I remember correctly, was a photo of big squid kite, and, as a horror author, my mind immediately latched on to . . . well, you’ll see.

Anyway, here’s a story called “Kite Flyers.”


Kite Flyers

They looked foolish. Samuel knew it, but at least the fog gave them some cover. It was probably better the few people in the park couldn’t see all the kite flyers clearly, anyway. Some of them only came out on this very special afternoon when the wind and the fog mixed, creating a sky full of swirling grey eddies and whorls.

Samuel stood on a hill, his kite in the air. It pulled at the spindle in his hands as it surged against the twine and the wind. He could just make it out in the fog, a wide canvas diamond with a vivid yellow cross. In the middle of that cross was a collection of Latin words culled from an ancient Christian manuscript, the Book of Lios. That particular book hadn’t been considered for entry into the Bible most Christians were familiar with. In fact, the church considered it witchcraft and had ordered most copies burned over five hundred years ago.

Samuel could see the shapes of other kites now, as each kite flyer took his or her place on one of the many low mounds surrounding a patch of reddish-brown clay. He knew the city had tried to grow grass in the patch for years with no luck. Nothing would take root there, not even weeds.

The wind picked up, and the fog thickened. Two events that any weather man would tell you were completely contradictory. Not on this afternoon. He looked up and saw other kites through the fog: a blue square with the Star of David in gold, a bright red triangle with the dharmachakra of Buddhism, and he could just make out the shape of a golden box kite painted with the interlocking spiral of the yin yang. He knew each of these kites, like his, bore text from works far older than the faiths they represented. Words that had been folded in to each faith and largely forgotten. Forgotten until today, when the kite flyers took to their mounds. He knew more kites lurked in the fog, some representing religions he recognized and some bearing strange sigils that belonged to faiths with few adherents. Few human adherents, anyway.

They all gathered on this day, their differences in doctrine and theology—no matter how acrimonious—set aside to focus on one goal. That goal had just taken flight, and its owner stood in the center of the mounds. The kite was massive, far larger than any single person should be able to handle—a great green monstrous thing, a floating octopoid head trailing dozens of streamers of bright pink canvas tentacles. The symbols on the great squid kite were a riot of strange angles and spikes. It hurt to look at them. It hurt even more to look at the kite flyer, even though he wore a great brown shapeless coat that covered most of his body. His proportions were oddly humped, and his stooped frame suggested something awful and ancient. He gripped his kite spindle—its twine a greasy pink like a length of stretched intestine—in gloved hands that had too few fingers or perhaps too many.

Samuel pulled his attention away from whoever flew the squid kite and focused on his own. He let out more string, moving his hands lower at the same time. His kite darted in the wind, moving back and forth. The box kite was the first kite to make contact. It snapped out the air, diving in low, its flyer clearly trying to pull his kite string across his target’s. The squid kite moved quickly to the left—against the wind—and the box kite missed its mark and smashed into the red clay in a tangle of canvas.

Samuel grimaced. One down.

More kites appeared in the air around the great squid, a riot of shapes, colors, and religious symbols on the wind. They dived in and out, their flyers trying desperately to smash their charges into the great floating orb of the squid or snap its string. They failed. The squid kite moved with unnatural speed and agility, avoiding the dive-bombing swarm of smaller kites. Its operator also snapped his kite’s streamers, the squid’s tentacles, up with surprising force, smashing enemy kites out of the air and sending them crashing to the ground.

Soon the clearing between the mounds was littered with downed kites and terror gnawed at Samuel’s belly. He had never seen so many fall so quickly. He let out enough twine to make his own attack but held off. There were still kites in the air: the Star of David still flew along with others he did not recognize. They were holding back, waiting. They had one more shot, one more massed attack. If they failed . . . He didn’t want to think about that. About what it meant to the world beyond the fog if all their kites fell and the great squid still flew.

It was time. He felt it, just as the other kite flyers must have. Attack now.

Samuel pulled hard on his spindle and his kite darted out of the fog, down toward the great squid. Others were doing the same, but this time they coordinated the assault, with equal numbers attacking the body of the great kite and its string. The squid juked in the air, avoiding all but one of its attackers. He saw a kite in the shape of great black crow slam into the squid and heard the sound of snapping kite spars. The squid shuddered but did not fall.

Samuel’s own kite now made contact, and its twine crossed the thick pink ribbon keeping the squid aloft. The spindle shuddered in his hands and it was nearly torn from his grasp. Then the sound of twine snapping echoed across the park. The squid’s line parted, and its operator stumbled backward with a shrill alien cry.

The great squid floated to the ground slowly, flattening out once it contacted the earth like a gob of mucous spat from the heavens. The remaining kites fell around it as their operators climbed down from their mounds. Samuel dropped the spindle and turned his back on the field of ruined kites. He would return in one year, on the day when the fog and the wind collide.


I warned you. Weird, right? The problem with this one is not so much that it’s a vignette or a scene; there’s actually kind of a story here. The problem is the concept is so preposterously strange (I’d even venture to call it silly) no one would publish it. Still, I’m amused by what my desperate brain came up with when given the chance to mix kites, of all things, and horror. Yep, the dreaded Cthulhu kite of doom. 🙂

If you’d like to check out the previous installments in the One-Hour Flash series, click the links below.

One-Hour Flash – For Abby

Time for another installment of One-Hour Flash and another opportunity to exorcise a demon from my hard drive. All these stories were written in one hour for a writing exercise/contest, and for one (good) reason or another, I haven’t done much with them. So instead of letting them pile up rejections like the the good lord intended, I’m sharing them here. Like all the stories in this series, this is more or less what I ended up with after an hour of writing.

This one is called “For Abby,” and it’s the touching tale of a man trying to find the perfect pet for his daughter. 🙂


For Abby

The place wasn’t like any pet store Dale had ever seen. There were no cages filled with frolicking puppies and kittens, no aquariums sporting colorful fish, no soft chirps of parrots and finches. It was empty; a square room with a bare concrete floor. A red door behind a counter against the far wall stood as a single, ominous note of color. The shop smelled like rotten eggs, and Dale wrinkled his nose as the door shut behind him.

A curious symbol had been scrawled on the concrete in front of the door: a big circle with a five-pointed star in the middle. To Dale’s relief, there was enough room to step around it.

“Hello?” Dale said and approached the counter.

The smell, the weird symbol, and the shop’s emptiness began to unnerve him. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the post-it note Dr. Falders had given him. She’d written an address and two words: For Abby. This was the address, though it had been exceedingly difficult to find, in an area of town he’d never visited, had never known existed.

“Is anyone there?” Dale called out. This time he heard muffled footsteps behind the red door. It swung open and disgorged a stink so revolting he slapped a hand over his mouth and turned away.

“Can I help you?”

Dale turned back to the counter. A woman in a white dress now stood behind it. She had long black hair, pale, almost alabaster skin, and curiously large eyes, almost too big for her face. Her age was difficult to determine. She could be eighteen or thirty.

The smell had faded and Dale took his hand away from his mouth. He set the post-it note on the counter. “Uh, yeah,” he said. “Dr. Falders sent me . . .”

The woman nodded and smiled. Her lips were very red. “Of course. The doctor said you would be coming.”

“It’s about my daughter. She needs a new pet. Something a little more . . . resilient than a dog or a cat.”

The woman’s smile brightened. “I understand completely, Mr. Richards.”

“She doesn’t mean to hurt them,” Dale continued. “But puppies and kittens are so fragile.”

The woman placed one long-fingered hand on Dale’s forearm. Her skin was cold and smooth. “You don’t have to explain. Dr. Falders told me all I need to know.”

Dale grimaced. What else had the doctor had told this woman about Abby? “So you’re a pet store?”

“Of sorts.” The woman removed her hand from Dale’s arm. “We cater to very special clients with very special children, like you and Abby.”

Dale glanced around the “shop.” “I don’t see any cages.”

“We keep a very limited stock,” the woman said. “But I have just the thing for Abby.”

“Really? That would be great. Her fits are always better when she has something to play with.” Dale was afraid to hope, but Dr. Falders had been right about everything else.

“Step around the counter, Mr. Richards.” The woman opened the red door again, and the stink returned, but it didn’t bother him as much. If this shopkeeper could help Abby, he could put up with a little stench. He followed her into a small dark room that held a big cage, the kind you might keep a wild animal in, like a tiger or a bear. There was something inside, but it was too dark to see it clearly.

“Let me turn on the light.” White light flooded the room from an overhead fixture, and Dale gasped. The thing in the cage lay on its side, its massive head turned in his direction. At first, he thought it might be a dog, but it was too big. Plus, the horns, the burning red eyes, and the shark-like teeth all added up to something very much not a dog.

“Jesus,” Dale said and instantly felt the shopkeeper’s icy grip on his arm, painfully tight.

That is not a name I like to hear in my shop, Mr. Richards.”

“Uh, sorry,” he said. “Abby doesn’t like it either.” He changed the subject. “What is that thing?”

“A pet for a very special child.” Her smile returned and she released his arm.

“It’s a little big.”

“Look closer.” The shopkeeper pointed one finger at the cage.

He took a step toward the cage and saw several small, squirming shapes in the straw beneath the beast, nuzzling its belly. He realized with mingled disgust and delight the squirming things were the creature’s young.

“I can have one of the, uh, puppies for Abby?”

“You can,” the woman replied. “It will weather your daughter’s . . . affections quite well. When it is grown, it can protect her from those who might wish to harm her.”

Dale nodded, remembering the priest at the hospital when Abby was born. He’d thrown a fit about the birth mark on her arm, and the police had removed him. There had been others, doctors mostly, a few neighbors. They’d moved several times since Abby was born.

“I’ll take it,” Dale said. “What do I owe you?”

He felt the shopkeeper’s cool touch on the back of his neck and shivered. Her voice was in his ear. “Nothing, Mr. Richards. Just keep her safe. All will be repaid when she is ready.”


So, this is one of those flash pieces that suffers from vignette syndrome. I like the premise here and the weird pet shop, but nothing really happens, and there’s no character arc. This happens quite a bit in these one-hour flash challenges. I’ll come up with a decent premise, but what I end up writing is the beginning to a longer tale rather than a complete story on its own. What I have here could make a decent start to a short story, though, and maybe I’ll return to it at some point.

If you’d like to check out the previous installments in the One-Hour Flash series, click the links below.

2017: A Writing Rearview Review

Another year come and gone, and it’s time to wrap up my writing endeavors for 2017. I set some writing goals at the end of last year, and as these things usually go, I accomplished some and fell short with others. Still, 2017 was mostly positive yardage, but I’ll get to that at the end of the post.

And now . . . STATS!

Fantasy/Horror/Sci-Fi Submissions

Total Submissions Sent: 75

I really improved my overall submission output this year, beating last year’s number by 21 submissions. I’m pleased with that, and it works out to about 6 submission per month. I’ll try to improve on it 2018, and I’d like to hit the 100-mark.

Acceptances: 5

Even with more submissions, the number of acceptances and my overall acceptance rate dropped in 2017. I certainly don’t feel the quality of my submissions fell off; in fact, I think they improved. But, as always, acceptances are often about right time, right market, right editor.

Form Rejections: 32

With more submissions invariably comes more rejections. I received 32 garden-variety form rejections. More than last year, but again, the more you submit, the more you get rejected.

Higher-Tier Form Rejections: 13

I received more higher-tier form rejections this year than last, and most of these were from top genre markets. I only counted the ones I was fairly sure were higher-tier, using the criteria I covered about in this post.

Personal Rejections: 6

Fewer personal rejections than last year, but a number of these were the heart-breaking short-list personal rejections (two for the same story).

Privateer Press

I didn’t write quite as much for Privateer Press in 2017, though I did finish another novel and a novella for them.

Novel – Acts of War: Aftershock

My big project in 2017 was the sequel to last year’s Acts of War: Flashpoint. I blogged about the writing process for Acts of War: Aftershock on a weekly basis, and you can see those blog posts right here.

Novella – “Shadows over Elsinberg” 

My novella “Shadows over Elsinberg” was published in the collection Wicked Ways, alongside the works of many of my old pals from Privateer Press.

Short Story – “Confirmed Kill”

I wrote a story called “Confirmed Kill” based on characters from the Acts of War series. It was published in No Quarter magazine #72.

Rejectomancy

Even though I wrote fewer posts than I did in 2016, my number of visitors and views almost doubled. I wanted to hit two posts a week in 2017, but I fell a little short of that goal. I think two per week is reasonable for 2018, though. Much of the increased viewership came from blogging about writing my second novel for Privateer Press, Aftershock. I’ll likely do something like that again this year

Here are the raw stats for the blog.

  • Total Posts: 79
  • Total Visitors: 13,148
  • Total Views: 23,000

Total Output

Here’s what my total output for 2017 looked like in general words written. Even though I published more in 2016, I wrote more in 2017. I’d like to increase both numbers in 2018. These numbers include part of a new novel I’m working on and a completed novelette that will likely be part of my initial foray into self publishing (I’ve wanted to dip my toe in that pool for a while).

  • Words Written: 201,916
  • Word Published: 143,840

2018 Goals

Like last year, my goals basically amount to write and publish more. This year it’s more of the same, with a few specific goals.

  • Increase short story submission total to 100.
  • Finish at least two novels: one for Privateer Press and one (or more) based on my own IP.
  • Self publish at least the first novelette/novella in a series of three or more. If I do this, I’ll likely blog about this whole process.
  • Blog more. Two blog posts a week.

2017 Free-to-Read Published Stuff 

Here are the links to the free-to-read (or listen to) short stories I published in 2017.

1) “Scare Tactics” – Published by Dunesteef (audio)

This is a quaint tale about a woman, her pet demon, and her budding parapsychology career. It’s a prequel of sorts to a series of novelettes/novellas I hope to self publish this year.

2) “An Incident on Dover Street” – Published by The Molotov Cocktail

A flash disaster story with dinosaurs! 

3) “Cowtown” – Published by The Arcanist

A horror/sci-fi/comedy mashup set in my hometown of Modesto, California.

4) “Reunion” – Published by The Arcanist

A Lovecraftian horror story about a touching family reunion.

5) “Little Sister” – Published by The Molotov Cocktail

A flash horror story about a little girl and her lab-grown sibling.

In Summation

Looking back over the year, I’m relatively happy with what I accomplished. There are always ups and downs and all the things you wanted to do but didn’t, but here’s my take away from the year. In 2017, I got better. I worked hard on my writing, taking to heart the good feedback I received from beta readers and editors, and I strove to improve in areas I sometimes fall short. I’m still very much a work in progress, but I feel it in my bones that I took a step forward this year. I hope that’ll pay dividends down the road.


And that, my friends, was 2017. How was yours? Tell me about it in the comments.