Friday, April 13, 2012

Word Smashing

If you're one of those people who grabs the remote and flicks through all three hundred channels several times while the commercials are playing, you might just want to skip this post. It's a commercial, you see, for me. Specifically, for my fiction.

Since mid-November, when I ended five years of employment and, with my wife's permission, began writing full-time, I've written Lord alone knows how many short stories, completed two novel first-drafts, started a couple more, and generally kept myself occupied through my imagination. I was doing what every aspiring writer does - sending out manuscripts with cover letters, bios, that sort of thing - until a woman at church told me about this e-publishing website called Smashwords. I was wary, but I checked it out. While not completely satisfied with it, it has served as a useful portal for me to offer some things to the public, if for no other reason than to generate feedback, gauge reactions to my work, and (if possible) begin the process of "creating readership", a group of people who will consistently read work written by me.

It's very small, but it's growing, in no small part due to two things: Facebook, and offering some of the stories I've written at no charge.

Yesterday, I uploaded my fifth publication to Smashwords. If you click here, you'll see my little auto-bio. Scrolling down the page, you'll see links to them. Three of them are free. I goofed when I started out; the first two items I published I charged money. I now realize I need to offer free items as a way of enticing people. Those items are still available, and I don't think a buck for one, two bucks for the other (two stories, so a dollar each, isn't really too much to ask, I think) is exorbitant. All the same, I should have made those available for free as well, or at least offered them for free at first.

So. I've offered to the publishing world six stories (that isn't all I've written; they're just the ones I like the best and think other people might like). What are they about? Well, subjects range from death and the afterlife to infidelity to our recent wars. The first three - "From The Other Side", "Drawing Down Dark", "The Witness" - are best categorized as "fantasy", although not the whole elves-named-swords-magic variety. They just have fantastical elements in them.

"Summerland", written, for all intents and purposes, as an exercise I gave myself, is about life after death (the word summerland is something New Agers use to refer to that in-between stage they believe dead people occupy before whatever happens next happens). The exercise was making sure I paid attention to small details, to writing descriptive prose that captured a scene without pulling a reader out of the story's flow. It's very short, which was also part of the point.

The two most recently published, "Something Special" and "A Sort of Homecoming", have no fantastic elements at all. No life after death, no ghosts, no immortals. In fact, the two stories are similar in that both amount to long conversations between two people. "Something Special" is about infidelity. "A Sort of Homecoming" offers readers a fly-on-the-wall perspective of a short reunion between two old Army buddies. If I do so myself, I think I write dialogue pretty well (and that's not an easy thing to do, let me tell you; when I do re-writes and edits, I fiddle more with the dialogue than any single story element), but these exercises in creating conversation were good for me, because when they were done I felt tired. "Something Special" was also an exercise in creating a story with an ambiguous ending. Unlike novels, which usually strive to create a full story arc, short stories are like snapshots. One of my favorite short stories, "All That You Love Will Be Carried Away", ends with the question of whether or not the lead character will commit suicide unresolved. I have always loved that, and "Something Special" was me trying to reach a stopping place without answering all the questions I hope the reader has been asking.

"The Witness" was an idea I originally planned as a full-length novel. I actually had about 15,000 words done when I realized that imitating Dan Brown might not be the best way to go. So, I took one element from that larger manuscript, recast it, and voila! A story that has only one, small, disappointing piece (at least for me) which I'm not sure how to eliminate without making the story both too long and suddenly about something that it isn't.

Only one of the stories came to me in a moment of inspiration. "Drawing Down Dark" began as little more than me coming up with an interesting title and subject for a story written by a character in my first full-length manuscript; if he was a writer, I'd better know what he'd written, right? Except, the whole story came to me, pretty much as it appears (at least in both style and subject; the details, well, that took a bit more work) one evening while I was taking a shower. I liked it too much NOT to write it myself, and ended up giving another story to my character.

"From The Other Side" is my attempt at some humor. I'm a big fan of Ghost Hunters without losing my skepticism both about the investigators as well as their claims of "evidence". Still, I thought it would fun to show what one of those shows might look like from the ghost's perspective. How well it works is up to readers, I guess.

I'm inviting you folks to check these stories out. I encourage you to read the free ones, and if you like them, to toss a couple bucks in the kitty for the rest. The great thing about Smashwords is it even publishes in HTML and PDF, so you don't need a Kindle, Nook, Playbook or any other e-reader. You can upload them to your PC or Mac.

I'm getting ready to settle in for some major work on a longer work, so I'll be too occupied to think up subjects for shorter works. I think five is a nice number; I think the stories, as much as they run the gamut in plot and subject matter, tone, length, and ability (I'm figuring they are pretty obviously from someone who's still feeling his way when it comes to writing fiction; all the same, I think the years I've spent writing pretty much everyday have paid off, if in no other way than I can produce five thousand words a day, and more if I'm on a streak, while many writers settle for around 2,000 to 2,500). I hope you check out the stories. I really hope you like them; my experience with short stories, from Faulkner and Hemingway and Steinbeck through Stephen King has been one of pure enjoyment. Unlike novels, which require a certain level of commitment, short stories are like pleasant little flings. At their best, you finish one and think, "Wow". Even when they're not great, if you've invested even a little emotional energy in the characters, you reach the end with that bittersweet thought that you're not quite ready for it to end.

If you decide to check these out, let me know what you think. You can leave a comment, shoot me an email at, or even, if you feel moved, offer a reader's review at Smashwords. Like everyone who is serious about writing, I'm not looking for PRAISE. I'm interested in what you think, bad and good. There's no way to become better at something if you're not willing to eliminate the persistence of crap in one's work. I don't care whether that's woodworking, plumbing, lawyering, or writing; unless you're willing to hear people say, "When you do x, I run to the bathroom to throw up," you're not really serious about doing what you do well. So, I look forward both to the good and the bad.

One last time. Please, check 'em out. Read 'em, and let me know what you think. Thanks in advance.

Virtual Tin Cup

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