Life Cycle of a Drabble

On July 23, 2018, Martian Magazine published my piece entitled “To Be Human,” along with an author spotlight about me. Martian publishes drabbles (100 word short stories) exclusively, so it’s right up my alley. I’m in good company, too, with authors like Lou J. Berger and Steve Rasnic Tem also making sales to that market. Working with editor Eric Fomley was a good experience; he even worked with me to resolve a misunderstanding about my submission, for which I’m grateful.

“To Be Human” has always been microfiction, but it has both grown and shrunk over the years. The names and genders of the characters have changed, as did the nature of the relationship between them. I originally wrote it in 2005; the first version was about 500 words and written for a different magazine, which rejected it. I tried a couple of other markets, unsuccessfully, and then shelved it.

In 2010, I revised it and sent it to a different magazine for a flash fiction submission call. This time, I got a more personal rejection and compliments on it, but it was still rejected. A couple of months later, I tried the original market again, since I had revised the story, but they still didn’t want it. Back on the shelf it went.

In 2016, I revised it up to about 1,000 words and sent it to a flash fiction contest. Same story; the editors liked it, but it didn’t win. In 2017, I tried again, this time for an anthology with very specific requirements that fit the story well, but apparently it didn’t fit the editor’s needs as well as I thought. Back on the shelf, permanently this time. If half a dozen markets didn’t like it, I figured there must be something wrong with it, and I should stop wasting time on it.

Then, in June of this year, I heard about Martian Magazine’s call for submissions, shortly before the end of their submission period. I knew I wouldn’t have a lot of time to come up with something, so I looked through the archives in my Google Drive (my “shelf”) and found “To Be Human.” It was still in its heavyweight 1,000 word form, but I’m pretty good at revising to reduce word count, so I figured I’d give it a shot. (Revision is actually my favorite part of writing. It’s creating the content in the first place that slows me down.)

It wasn’t easy to cull 90% of the story and still keep the core intact, but it was fun. It was similar to revising poetry, actually, with my brain performing mental gymnastics to find just the right word, or to figure out how to change the context so I could use fewer words. In the end, the story is very tight, and I’m proud of it.

So far, my favorite interaction with readers is this one, from Twitter user Marc Criley:

Yes. Yes indeed, Marc.

Denver Comic Con 2018 Recap and General Update

My first Denver Comic Con as a panelist has come and gone, and I enjoyed myself immensely. Thanks to the efforts of superwoman Shannon Lawrence, I was able to participate in five panels over the three days of the convention. Here are some personal highlights.

Art

I picked up this beautiful piece of artwork by Chaz Kemp, one of my favorite local artists. Nearly every aspect of this piece has personal meaning to me, and I’m honored to own it.

 

"Insight" by Chaz Kemp

“Insight” by Chaz Kemp

 

I also stopped by the VisiColors booth and picked up some very cute stickers for my girlfriend.

 

VisiColors Stickers

VisiColors Stickers

 

Inspiration

I was lucky enough to get in the front row for Frank Miller’s Q&A session, though I couldn’t afford an autograph. Miller is by far my favorite comic book writer thanks to his incredible “Born Again” run in Daredevil. His economy of language and ability to tell a gripping story in so few words is inspirational to me. It’s no secret to people who have known me for a while that even though I haven’t collected comics for a long time, Daredevil is my favorite superhero, and seeing the man behind The Man Without Fear speak is a bucket list item I can now check off.

 

Comic book legend Frank Miller

Comic book legend Frank Miller

 

Also, after fighting my way through the throngs of people in the exhibitor hall, I finally found Connie Willis‘s signing table and she signed my personal copy of Edward Bryant’s Sphere of Influence. I’m honored to have a story in the same book as her, especially since it’s my first fiction sale. (I also got a free copy of Crosstalk, which she also personalized for me!)

 

Connie Willis personalization on the Prologue page of Edward Bryant's Sphere of Influence

Connie Willis personalization on the Prologue page of Edward Bryant’s Sphere of Influence

 

Artistic Growth and Exposure

After fighting through a writing slump in recent months, I feel like I’m finally moving again. With another recent sale to Martian Magazine (to be published online the week of July 23rd), I’m feeling motivated again, and event submitted a piece of flash fiction to Postcard Poems and Prose from my phone while at Comic Con. There’s a lot of my dad in that story, so it’s fitting that I submitted it over Father’s Day weekend, and I hope it does well in their “Clutch” contest.

I attended a panel on geeky songwriting (“I Sing and I Know Things”) featuring my friends Losing Lara and Seth Phillips, and Lara was kind enough to give me a shoutout about my upcoming Westercon 71 / MALCon 6 concert on Sunday, July 8th at 2 PM. Watch this space for a more detailed announcement about that con appearance, coming soon.

 

Seth Phillips, Will Plumb, and Losing Lara

Seth Phillips, Will Plumb, and Losing Lara

 

Big Audiences without Anxiety

I’ve been participating on panels at SF conventions for over 15 years, and I’ve helped organize them as far back as 1987. But Denver Comic Con is an order of magnitude larger than any other convention where I’ve appeared, so the panel attendees were an order of magnitude larger, as well. Here’s a shot of the audience for my final panel, on “Black Mirror and the Evils of Technology.” DeAnna Knippling did a masterful job moderating the panel, and the time flew by.

Audience for "Black Mirror and the Evils of Technology"

Audience for “Black Mirror and the Evils of Technology”

Even better, when I saw the size of the line before the panel and the number of people streaming in, I barely got nervous at all. The only time this introvert’s social anxiety really kicked in was when I was trying to thread my way through the exhibit hall during its busiest times. For me, that’s a major win.

 

General Update

My life has become very busy lately, between convention appearances, musical gigs, stories published, and everyday work and relationships. Add to that the fact that I’m currently displaced from the room I rent and living out of boxes because the owners of my home are renovating the basement where I live, and I would normally be freaking out. But I’ve realized that I’ve changed a lot in the last couple of years, and the positive changes are mostly due to things I have put in place myself. I told a colleague last September that I really wanted to focus on my writing and music, and good things are coming from that. Even the displacement has had positive effects; it has disrupted my normal routine enough that I’ve broken out of some habits that were taking too much of my time and reducing the quality of my sleep.

However, there have also been some challenges because of these positive changes. I’ve had to erect some boundaries in order to stay on track and not get behind. One of these is in the area of computer consulting. I’ve done consulting on the side for years, but I’ve never done it with a monetary focus; it’s always been about helping people resolve problems inexpensively. But if I want to keep up the momentum on my creative endeavors, I can’t accept any new clients, and I have to be judicious about helping existing clients. That means I’ve had to say “No” to some people who have wanted my help recently, and that’s a new — and difficult — thing for me.

Sometimes I wish I could clone myself so that I could have WriterStace, PoetStace, MusicStace, FriendStace, and ConsultingStace for various tasks. When it comes down to it, though, MeStace is my default setting; I don’t need to create him, and he takes precedent over all others, perhaps for the first time in my life.

This just in … (Updated 5/31/2018)

DCC Logo

In addition to the appearance at Denver Comic Con that I wrote about a few days ago, I am now going to be on a total of five panels! Please see below for my appearance schedule. DCC takes place at the Colorado Convention Center in downtown Denver, June 15-17, 2018.

I’m excited to be on my first Comic Con panels! HUGE thanks to Shannon Lawrence for including me.

Friday, June 15, 2018
Favorite Horror Tropes
Horror is full of common tropes, for good or ill. Let’s talk favorites. Which tropes are the best, the ones that stand out and make us beg for more? Which ones do we revisit over and over in books, television shows, and movies? We’ll discuss the horror tropes that make us shriek, shudder, and shake in fear. And the ones that make us think long into the night, while we peer into the shadows … and our own psyches.
Coast City – Mile High Ballroom DCCP4, 4:00 pm – 4:50 pm
Panelists: Melissa Sauer Locy (Moderator), Veronica R. Calisto, DeAnna Knippling, Emily GodhandShannon Lawrence, Stace Johnson

Saturday, June 16, 2018
Creating Believable Monstors
The more believable the monster, the more frightening it’ll be. But how do you take creatures of fantasy and make them real to the reader? What about when the monster is human? What details must be addressed to form a fully realized creature to creep and slash its way through your fiction?
Room 405, 12:30 pm – 1:20 pm
Panelists: Matt Bille (Moderator), Veronica R. Calisto, DeAnna KnipplingShannon LawrenceFleur BradleyStace Johnson

Not Just Novels — Writing Different Lengths
You frequently hear about novels, but writing comes in many lengths, from one sentence stories to flash fiction, short stories to novellas, and everything in between. Do some genres work better in short form? Are there some genres that don’t work in short form? What are some of the benefits of writing shorter works? Is the dynamic different?
Room 405, 5:30 pm – 6:20 pm
Panelists: DeAnna Knippling (Moderator), Jason Dias, Fleur Bradley, Carolyn Kemp, and Shannon Lawrence, Stace Johnson

Sunday, June 17, 2018
First Steps in Self Publishing
More authors are taking their careers into their own hands, whether going exclusively indie or going forward as hybrid authors. But what does it take to self-publish? What are the first steps? We’ll go over the initial elements that need to be addressed in order to get started with self-publishing.
Room 405, 10:30 am – 11:20 am
Panelists: Marla Newbrough Bell (Moderator), Patrick Hester, Melissa Sauer Locy, Andy BurnsShannon Lawrence, Stace Johnson

Black Mirror and the Evils of Technology
Black Mirror addresses the dark aspects of technological advancement in a time where technology is rapidly taking over our lives, from our bank accounts to our social and online presence. Why should we be afraid of technology? Where does it end? What topics haven’t they discussed yet?
Room 605, 4:30 pm – 5:20 pm
Panelists: DeAnna Knippling (Moderator), David R. Slayton, Veronica R. CalistoShannon Lawrence, Stace Johnson

w00t!

WhimsyCon Appearances

 

WhimsyCon, the Colorado steampunk convention created by nonprofit Shiny Garden, takes place at the Hyatt Regency DTC on March 2-4, 2018. I’ll be on several panels at this con, as well as performing music on Friday evening and early Sunday afternoon.

I’m honored to be appearing in both music and literary capacities at this convention. I will also have a few copies of Edward Bryant’s Sphere of Influence (which includes my story “Chesterfield Gray”, as well as great stories from people like Connie Willis, Steve Rasnic Tem, Kevin J. Anderson, Mario Acevedo, Lucy Taylor, Bruce Holland Rogers, and Gary Jonas) to sell, for anyone interested. My schedule is below. I hope some of you can join me there!

(Note that this is a preliminary schedule, and may change without notice. Please be sure to check the current schedule before finalizing plans.)

Friday, March 2, 2018
Musical performance by Stace Johnson
Grand Mesa Ballroom A & B
5:30:pm – 6:20:pm
An hour (roughly) of music performed by Yours Truly

So Charming, Not Creepy
Mesa Verde C
8:00:pm – 8:50:pm
Make your convention experience better by learning how to approach people without being a creep. A discussion on etiquette, consent, common sense and enjoying fandom with respect. Audience is encouraged to share examples of good and bad interactions.
Sandra Wheeler, Stace Johnson

Steampunk Poetry Slam
Mesa Verde A
10:00:pm – 10:50:pm
Create poetry on demand to prompts given by the moderators and audience.
Stace Johnson, Voniè Stillson aka Lady Vo

Saturday, March 3, 2018
Learn to Love Your Writing
Wind Star A
5:00:pm – 5:50:pm
Everyone is their own worst critic. Stop worrying and love your writing: a motivational panel. How to stop hesitating because you feel your work isn’t “good enough” and put words on the paper.
J.D. Harrison, James A. Hunter, Melissa Koons, Stace Johnson, Veronica R. Calisto

Polyamory and Non-monogamy in Fiction
Wind Star A
10:00:pm – 10:50:pm
Panelists will review fiction throughout the decades with non-monogamous and polyamorous themes and how they have influenced current trends.
Catherine Winters, Eneasz Brodski, Shullamuth Ballinger, Stace Johnson

Sunday, March 4, 2018
New Authors Anonymous
Mesa Verde A
9:00:am – 9:50:am
Talk about what it’s like as a newbie in this crazy publishing world.
J.D. Harrison, Jessica Lauren Gabarron, Stace Johnson

Musical performance by Stace Johnson
Highlands Amphitheater
1:00:pm – 1:50:pm
Second musical performance by Yours Truly

Of Words and Notes

I mentioned a lack of self-discipline in my last post, and that it is one of the things that keeps me from being the writer I want to be. Continuing with that theme, this post is about practice.

“Practice makes perfect.”
Q: How do you get to Carnegie Hall? A: Practice.”
“Practice what you preach.”

Adages about practice abound, and it just makes sense to practice what I want to be good at, but I have a mental block about practicing writing. For some reason, I feel like I have to produce something when I write, and that creates pressure, pressure that shouldn’t be there during practice. Pressure is common in performing, or in producing a finished product, but it shouldn’t be a part of practicing. Journal writing and blogging are forms of writing practice, I suppose, and I should probably count them as such, but when I sit down to practice writing fiction or poetry, I feel compelled to produce something of quality, rather than just writing in a stream of consciousness or even basic expository style.

There is no shame in writing throwaway fiction from a daily prompt. Sometimes ideas might flow and the practice might lead to something bigger; other times, I might wind up with a loosely connected bunch of words that serve no other purpose. Why don’t I think that’s okay?

I play guitar, as well, and when I practice, I usually do so off-the-cuff, improvising, launching notes into the air to fade and disappear, with no record they ever existed. Unless I’m specifically practicing for a gig, I don’t feel the need to have a product at the end of my practice. I just play to get better and enjoy it, and there’s not nearly as much inertia for me to overcome before I start playing. It’s much harder for me to get the wheels rolling when I sit down to write.

But why? Functionally, there’s not much difference between throwing notes into the air and throwing words onto the page, so why do I have such a block against practicing writing, or more accurately, why do I feel the need to produce something of value when I write, but not when I’m practicing guitar?

I think I’ve turned fiction writing into my own personal bugbear, and with my recent story publication in Edward Bryant’s Sphere of Influence, I’m forced to challenge that bugbear. I want to capitalize on the momentum of this sale, and at first I was enthusiastic, even starting a new story from scratch for a different Mad Cow Press anthology. But after only a couple of days of writing, my momentum faded, and I stopped writing the story when I hit the brick wall mentioned in the last post. I know, I know, I should continue on with the rest of the story and figure out how to deal with the brick wall later. If I were in the rhythm of writing every day (or often, at least), I think I could do that.

Hence these blog posts. I didn’t make any new year’s resolutions this year, but I did set some goals. I want to write something at least five days a week. I also want to write 1,000 words of fiction on my WIPs each week. If I combine those goals, I could write 200 words a day and meet that goal easily, but I’m not going to lock myself into just doing productive writing. Some of those five days should be simple practice, probably from a writing prompt. An extended goal is to write one short story per month in 2018. At 1,000 words a week, that’s a reasonable goal, I think.

Heck, this blog post is about 630 words already. 200 words of fiction five days a week shouldn’t be impossible.