January 23

300 words for Cracked Flash Fiction

711 words for the same other project as yesterday.

That’s nearly 1700 words in two days. I got this. I got this. I can do this.


But, I’ve rediscovered my need to be working to a prompt, and a deadline. They give me a focus which is otherwise lacking. It’s why my files are littered with started projects. Nope, give me a prompt, and a deadline, and I can rock on. Not that the completed story will be suitable for the prompt, but hey-ho, no one’s perfect.

That’s it for today.

If you’re experiencing snowpocalypse, please stay safe.


31st October

With today we are 5/6ths of the way through 2015.

Which is a fact about nothing and for no purpose. This is something I have been pondering recently. In writing I like digressions, I like nuggets that stand out from the main story and give you something to chew on, a bit like raisins and nuts in a bar of chocolate. For stories I submit I have to work hard to strip them out, try and offer up just the pure chocolate, unadorned.

That makes me sad.

I was sitting last night with some unexpected free time (id est insomnia) and found myself at a loose end. What to write? Should I get going on NaNoWriMo? That felt like cheating – which is weird considering I’m going into it with a quarter written story. What about one of my other projects? Epecuén is still languishing in an incomplete state. I ended up doing a flash piece inspired by a title that popped into my head a few weeks ago – 4 Cocktails That Saved Me From The Watery Apocalypse – I generally despair with titles, they do not come easy. But that one just walked in, dropped its bag down, collapsed to the couch and stuck its feet up on the coffee table. It’s been sitting their demanding attention for over a week and so last night, I attended. Part of which meant tweaking the said title to: 4 Drinks That Got Me Through The Apocalypse

What came out was a maudlin little 752 words about the aftermath of an alien invasion. So, not really an apocalypse, though I suppose the existence of intelligent extra terrestrial life would be a revelation to most.

Yesterday was also a day of high excitement (possibly the cause of the insomnia). We received confirmation about the house we’re moving to in Cornwall. This was expected, but it was still nice to have that conversation with the estate agent to know things are nailed down. Presently we are living in a house of chaos. Boxes, clothes, papers, et.al. are strewn about all over the place as we look at things and try to decide if it’s needed or not. I have a feeling that a lot of stuff that comes with us will end up being thrown out.

Lastly, and my apologies for this being so bitty. two and a half hours of sleep are not conducive to coherence in my experience,I came across a new site that may be of interest to self-publishers. Pronoun. It’s still in development, but if it comes of as it advertises, I will definitely utilize it. But as one new thing appears, another disappears. This week word was received that Quarterreads was coming to an end – though there may be a reprieve if discussions go well. This little site has been great for putting short stories on and, for twenty-five cents, getting to read some of the best writers int he short story market. Ian has done a great job, and I hope that he pulls through whatever difficulties have beset him.

25th May

Last time I wrote was over a month ago. Pretty shocking, especially as I anticipated another post a few days hence. Instead we ended up in Cornwall for two weeks. Since we got back it’s just been hectic. So let’s try a small recap.

At my last post I mentioned doing a few classes with Cat Rambo. They were great, helpful, and interesting. I’ve done a few with her, and should her schedule allow (Congrats on SFWA presidency!) for classes that coincide with not the middle of the night for me, I hope to do another one.

With respect to my story about bees, that I intended to sub to Shimmer – it’s with them now. I am in trepidatious anticipation of a response. Whatever the status of that it is a story I am immensely proud of and I need to say a big thanks to Mark & Gio for help in polishing the story.

Why am I suddenly writing a post today though? And why the hiatus?

Well, the trip to Cornwall turned into a scouting trip. We are looking to move down there. The climate is just that little bit better, and it helps my wife’s (and my) health. We know the area we want to go to, and we already have some friends in the area (some of them new). This means that the past couple of weeks have been a flurry of examining costs and ensuring that what we want to do is both practical and affordable. On top of that, I’ve still been writing and editing and so the blog slid by unnoticed.

So what prompted today? Mary & Patti from Nebraska. I’m sat in my local coffee shop doing a little light editing when they sit down at the adjacent table. As I’ll literally do anything to avoid editing I engaged them in conversation and they were kind of amazed that someone in rural Scotland had any idea where Nebraska was, never mind that the big college football team is called the Cornhuskers. They asked if I had any details, and there was only my blog. which I suddenly realized had been neglected.

So thank you Mary & Patti. I hope your trip is fun, enlightening, educational, and productive.

I also have some publication news.

My story Shell County Vodou is part of the Slave State anthology put together by Chris Kelso. It’s available on Amazon NOW (i.e. – spring a few bucks and read not only me, but a whole bunch of wonderful writers).

I’ve also had acceptances for a short story and a couple of poems, though details will follow later.

April 20th

Of Apiaries and Shimmery things

It’s been quietly mental the last week or so. A post or two back I mentioned my unsuccessful attempts in regards to the flash fiction blog competitions I enter. Well, I’ve now won one of them twice. Which is pretty awesome. The corollary of winning is that the following week I set the prompt, and judge the entries. This was an interesting experience.

Since I stepped down as a Senior First Reader with Spark: A Creative Anthology I have done only a handful of first reads for the magazine. It was just too difficult. Mentally I struggled to be in a place where I could be objective about the piece in front of me, and at the same time disassociate my own writing from the judging process. In the first week that I judged Finish That Thought there were eight entries. It almost caused a meltdown. Thankfully the stories were good and carried me through, but I had to let Brian know I wouldn’t be doing much reading right now. I hope to get back to it soon. In the mean-time if anyone fancies spending an hour or two a week reading submissions to a great magazine, go here.

I intend to do a post tomorrow, or by the weekend, about a couple of great classes with Cat Rambo because the rest of the post is going to be about my current WIP, and the magazine I’ll send it to first.

I’m writing a story about a world with cat-sized bees, an unusual queen bee, and someone who requires apatoxin (found in bee venom). I intend to submit this story to Shimmer. Shimmer is one of my ‘hit-list’ markets. Any time I have a story idea, it gets run against the hit list, and that may or may not determine how the story develops. This one felt like a shimmer sub from the start. But it scares me. I don’t have a pro pub yet, and Shimmer is a pretty exclusive club. So apart from a story idea, and stalking the editors on twitter, what process is there to go through?

Well, some time ago those editors did a twitter chat and gave some insights into hot buttons. I kept the chat and here it is:

Tobler: Birds, angels, pyramids, awesome women, abandoned places, cities in clouds, drag queens, confidence, demons, weird, buttons

Tobler: Ice cream, possibility, skilled hands, food magic, small cities, sprawling cities, maps in the stars, maps in the waters

Tobler: Dichotomies, imbalances, circles, monkeys, jungles, temples, moons, daughters, journeys, goodbyes, pleasures in the weird.

Tobler: Unusual hobbies, book magic, creativity, pears, bears, lairs, love that cannot be but still is, compasses, lockets, rockets.

Tobler: Islands, mountains, bridges, rivers, Mars, Pluto, Africa, Peru, Antarctica, China, Greece, New Zealand, fields of clover.

Tobler: Stories that are wholly confident in their direction, no matter how strange.

Wodzinski: layers and nuance and shades of gray.

Tobler: Yes. Nothing is only one layer–the best cakes have several and each changes the meaning of what came before. Mmm, cake.

Tobler: Diversity, experimentation, fun, bent, weird, twisted, beauty in unexpected places, honesty in ugly places, ghosts, air, sky.

Now, I haven’t tried to be a hot button whore and hit everyone, but I have tried to salt one or two of them through the story. A notable absence will be badgers. I hope that will not be a fateful blow. I believe Simmer likes the badgers, or uses them as staff, something like that.

Anyway, back to the story. It was stalled. I had the beginning and middle & very end. But there was a chunk missing, and it refused to come together. Then I read a tweet saying that Shimmer needed some stories which didn’t end in death, gloom, and destruction. Well dang, that’s my palette, my œuvré. It was also the nudge I needed to unblock the story. The ending has gone all warm and fuzzy, in a really bizarre way.

It may yet lack shimmer, but it’s given me a story. Now, all I need to do is sim sub it and at least one Shimmer editor (this one) will welcome me like a god. 😀

April 15th


I’m writing a chunk of flash and that’s okay, but nothing much else. There is stuff I could (should) brag about, but I’m not going to yet.

There are people I should name drop, hit up and give some glory. Later folks, later.

This week I finally got a new printer. It’s set up. Next stop is printing stuff out, and starting to red pen the life out of it. I want to have the first volume of my US American stories out this autumn. There are already a few volunteers who have generously volunteered to help with this. But I’m always happy to take on board more.

I’m trying to force myself back into a groove over the next few weeks.

March 11th (again) or, Joss Whedon. Making me proud to be a man.

Two in one day. What is this madness!


See the sexism inherent in the system.


Joss Whedon. Making me proud to be a man.

Joss Whedon was asked:

“So, why do you write these strong female characters?”

His reply is famously simple

“Because you’re still asking me that question.”

Do you know when that happened? May 15th 2006. Nearly nine years ago. Only, it wasn’t a single event, but the culmination of questions and responses over years of being asked the question.

You can watch him deliver the line, and the speech, here at: Joss Whedon making me proud to be a man.

Nine years ago. So long ago it was before the odious #gamergate movement had a hashtag. Though even then cowards hid behind their screens and threatened to physically violate women (while trying to avoid awkward questions from their mothers about why there were so many sticky wet wipes in the trash bin).

In those nine years it has been great to see how far the cause of female rights… ugh – how sanctimoniously odious is that phrase ‘the cause of female rights’? How does the basic reality of being fifty percent of humanity require a cause? To trivialize the matter I’d like to talk about apples and pears. They’re different, right? But both terrific. Now, a fermented brew of apple juice is called cider. I love it. I’ve been lucky enough to live in places where it’s brewed and you can rock up to a farm with an empty bottle which is filled for pennies.

But do you know what the fermented juice of pears is called? Do you? If you said ‘Pear Cider’ please unfriend me on Facebook and Twitter. The correct answer is ‘perry’. I love perry, it has a different flavor texture to cider. So, why do some manufacturers peddle perry as pear cider?

Because they are wrong.

In the exact same way that people who wonder why women being written as strong characters in fiction is unusual.

I digress. As I was saying, it’s great to see how the last nine years have seen such great strides in the cause of equality. Only, it hasn’t, has it? Did I say #gamergate already? Or the whole farrago in SFWA a couple of years ago (thankfully things are changing there!) And to prove how little things have moved in the timeframe discussed I offer ‘Writing Women Characters as Human Beings‘. This article, March 04 2015, is on Tor.com and written by Kate Elliot.

I don’t know Kate. She’s written a good article/post/whatever and I will look out for more from her. You should too. Her three Tor.com posts to date are really good. But that doesn’t take away from the fact of how devastatingly awful it is for such an article to be written.

It’s a crime.

It’s a travesty.

Sorry. That’s incorrect, and blame my ire. The crime and travesty lies in the requirement for the article to be written. Because let’s be honest, it is an article that is required. When we turn on TV or go to the Cinema it is still noticeable and even newsworthy when a woman is the main agent (even more so if she is over 30!) and the writers of general fiction are every bit as reprehensible in this matter as the writers of TV/Film.

If you are a writer, if you are a male writer, stop right now and go look at your work. When was the last female MC you wrote? When was the last time you wrote a story with NO MALE CHARACTERS? How many roles do your stories routinely assign to males that have no gender requirement (and lets be honest, beyond child-birth – or natural impregnation, there pretty much aren’t any).

My suggestion, to any person, is this: If you don’t see a person, you’re failing.

As a final coda you may have heard Meryl Streep mention that Joss was working on a Wonder Woman film, nine years ago. What happened to that? Joss dropped out, because he didn’t feel that anyone in the studio was really bothered. We could have had a kick-ass Wonder Woman film 5-7 years ago, but the intern-groping-middle-aged-impotent-men-in-grey-suits weren’t interested.

If someone could point me to a twitter/fb/blog link for Kate Elliot, I’d love to be able to link it above.

March 4th


Nothing much is happening. I’m working on the first draft of another submission for the Far Orbit: Apogee call. Robinson Crusoe in Space is the loosest of interpretations.

The draft is nearly finished. Then it’s time for edits and re-writes and away by the end of the month.

After that I will be writing my Orthographic Ligature story, well the first draft anyway. I know where I want to submit it to, and I have until later in the year to work on it.

So my focus will be on working the ten stories for my first volume of These United States. I’m looking forward to really digging into these.

As a finalé I’m going to talk about reader comments. Some of the markets I submit to provide reader comments as part of their rejection feedback. I like these. I have a writing style that is developing and I’m aware that some of the structures I use don’t work for a majority of readers. Having an idea of where individual readers had an issue is allowing me to consider how much I amend my personal style.

A few days ago I received a(nother 😀 ) rejection. Hey-ho. There were four comments. Two of them succinct, suggesting the story wasn’t weighted correctly for a flash piece. Valid opinions. A third saying it needs to be a longer story. Fine. And a fourth that lambasted my choice of character names and called into question my familiarities with the realities of which I was writing. There was nothing about the story itself, just a diatribe (based on the readers ‘feelings’ on the matter) and an attack on me as the writer.

Working as a First Reader with Spark: A Creative Anthology (another market that provides feedback) I am well aware that it can be tricky to remain polite and positive when writing a note. Thankfully we have an excellent point man who weeds out the snarliest of any comments that are made, and only passes along the most constructive and, if possible, positive comments.

I know how easy it can be to wonder ‘What were they thinking?’, but there is a Golden Rule in offering critique. Critique the writing, not the writer.

Now, I had done my research on the names used in my story. And I’d chosen to use a fiction writers prerogative to tinker with how I used them. For one I anglicized the name a little, for the other I dropped a letter (though I should have used an extension in the middle name of the MC). I know that, for all their ridiculousness, Ian Fleming always used real names in his stories, pulled them right out of the telephone directory. I don’t do this. Neither do I randomly assign names based on gut instinct.

I don’t know the reader, or what their real issue was. However, I was reminded that when I am commenting on a story it behoves me to remain polite, even if I can’t be positive.

19th February

A Dearth of Confidence

I can talk a good game. Words have power, spoken words even more so. This is why I try and project a nice positiveness with regard to my writing. The truth is more timid. Receiving rejections that say ‘Close, but no cigar’ can be a fillip initially, a driving force to work on something else. Eventually it becomes a burden, a weight of proximity to success that is not alleviated by the achievement of such.

Which is what has been happening for a while. I send stories out, I receive kind words, but ultimately a decline. It has led to a kind of creeping paralysis. In some of the stories I can see the structural deficiencies. Others, it really is just finding the right home for it, finding someone who interprets the story in the way I wrote it.

I knew this malaise was there. I could watch it creeping along, like poison from a wound that spreads inflammation along the veins. The infection was spreading deeply, beginning to affect even the process of formulating story ideas. A splurge of submission in January was merely a quick blast of oral antibiotics, providing a short term limitation of the effects. A class with Cat Rambo proved to be a consultation with a Doctor. It identified areas still to work on, it provided encouragement that the disease could be over-come.

Somewhere over the past couple of days there has been a turn-around. I first felt it when the basis for a story arrived last Thursday. It has been a goal for some months now to write a story with orthographical ligature at it’s core. No ideas had presented themselves, but last week one popped into my head, nearly fully formed. I scribbled it down and immediately put it aside to think about yet more. Then an idea for a Robinson Crusoe in Space story peeked above the mental parapets. This idea was welcomed with open arms, especially when Bascomb James confirmed he hasn’t had a submission along these lines for the Far Orbit: Apogee anthology he is collating (this was during the monthly WorldWeaverPress twitter discussion, #SFFLunch).

After mulling that idea over for a few days I was able to sit and lay out an initial story plan. It will deviate from that significantly as I write, but oh, it’s good to have that plan there, to see ideas and reasons for writing come together (by reasons, I mean a purpose for the story, as opposed a reason to write).

So, I have a goal. Two new stories to first draft stage in the next month. ‘Not much of a challenge’ I hear from some quarters. Well, no. But then writing is currently a hobby, not my job. But as a hobbyist I don’t want to be a dilettante, I want to become an adept.

As a final jolt to push back the ever present doubt and paranoia that I (and a lot of writers) feel, I received a request for my paypal details and author bio. This for a short story accepted some months ago to an anthology being put together by Chris Kelso, and based in his Slave State reality.

Being a writer is such fun.

5th February

Dear Lance…

This blog is for detailing my writing. But occasionally a topic arises that demands attention. The last few weeks the subject of Lance Armstrong has once again come to the fore, mainly because the BBC thought him worthy of interview.

In it he suggests that maybe it is time he be allowed off the naughty step, that his punishments have been too harsh. Others, including a man who walked away from the systemic cheating of professional cycling, have voiced a similar idea. Well, here’s why they’re wrong.

For many years I was a staunch advocate of the innocence of Lance Armstrong. How could anyone have the terrible disease he did, then put his life and career at jeopardy by taking drugs? Not only that, while other accused riders prevaricated and dissembled (before being unmasked as cheats) Lance always stood right up, called his accusers out, and denied it – to the point of winning a court case for libel. No, for me, Lance Armstrong was the poster boy of triumph against adversity.

I discussed the case with my Brother-in-law, himself a keen cyclist, and now the owner of a bike shop. At that point I was swithering in my conviction. There were so many rumors and reports, so many in the pantheon of his peers had been discovered to be cheats. My B-i-L’s view was simple. This was the most tested cyclist on the planet. And if he was cheating, why risk taking on a libel lawsuit?

My faith returned to true north. Lance was clean.

It stayed that way right up until the USADA report. I read the entire thing, I read the references and the appendices (yeh, all of them). By the end I was utterly convinced of its conclusions. Others remained unconvinced, feeling it was a hatchet job to take down an all-American-hero. Well, even they had to agree its truth when Lance admitted guilt to Oprah, right there on television.

I remember a particularly odious tweet Lance put out around the time of the report. A picture of himself laying on a couch at home, his seven maillot jaune in glass frames hung on the walls around him and a tag line of something like ‘Just chilling.’

So, my firm belief in the innocence of Lance Armstrong was overturned. But it is not a mere sense of wounded sensibility that gives me the firm desire to never hear or see the man on a screen or radio ever again. I’ll be honest, I don’t want to see any one convicted of deliberately, knowingly, and illegally taking performance-enhancing drugs being allowed anywhere near the sport they defiled. But again, this is not the driver for my belief in Lance being permanently excluded from the media spotlight he seems to believe is his right.

It goes back to his stance when he was proclaiming his innocence. It goes to the way he trashed the lives of people who called him out for being the liar he was. People like Emma O’Reilly, David Walsh, and Betsy and Frankie Andreu. In calling these, and others, liars he induced courts to further enrich him by paying prize money his cheating made him ineligible for, and a payout for libel.

This, then, is the reason Lance Armstrong should forever be banished. He cheated, he lied about cheating, he made personal and vitriolic attacks against people who accused him of cheating, he sued people who accused him of cheating. Then, in his most recent interview, he says he’d probably cheat if put in the same situation.

This is a man who has a moral compass which points only to his own aggrandizement.

Now, let’s make some things clear. Livestrong (his charitable foundation) did a lot of good while LA was lying and cheating his way through his career. I’m sure he’s a personable fellow, and that some are proud to call him a friend. No person is all one shade. As despicable as his public actions have been, I’ll wager there are a myriad quiet private ones that show his decent side. It’s just a shame that they will forever be overshadowed by the lying, cheating, and defamation.

There has been an argument put forward that Lance, and other American cheats, have been dealt with more harshly by cycling authorities than Europeans. The argument goes that because some European cheats got to retain titles, so should Lance. No, the European cheats should lose their titles as well.

Back to Lance. Someone who has publicly confessed that they are a cheat, and that they would do so again, is not someone who should be involved in the sport, in any sport. Of course, politics is still open to him. No barriers that I can see. His arrogant duplicitness looks a natural fit.

Rant over.

Oh, by the way, of course I have a story that ties in with this. It goes back in time to when post-war amphetamines were first being experimented with in the peloton. It’s under one of my writing names and can be found at QuarterReads. The title is ‘A Cyclist’s Memoriam’ and you can read it for twenty-five cents.

(If anyone can point me to a link for a website or twitter feed for Betsy Andreu I’d be grateful)

3rd February

Writing is re-writing

I think the above is the biggest lesson I have learned as a writer.

It’s also the lesson I am struggling most with.

Looking back over a couple of years of concerted writing I can see a vast improvement. Firstly, the basics. Sentence structure, use of grammar, &etc. Having been an avid reader from the age of four, and blessed with a decent level of intelligence I was shocked to realize how much of these basic things I just wasn’t really aware of. I’m still no perfect and more than capable of splitting an infinity or dangling a participle. But less so, and I remember to attribute action and speech correctly on a much more comprehensive basis.

On the story and plot front, that seems to be okay – especially in the world building department, I keep getting compliments on that – though I still have a tendency to have things move to slowly at the front end, or even start in a place that doesn’t serve the story best.

Which brings me to the issue of the re-write.

I really struggle with it. I struggle with stripping a story down to the bones, and re-assembling it to resemble something different to the form I envisaged when doing the initial write.

A good example of this is a current story geefourdotalpha.  I love this story, the tale of a robotic war machine that is mostly destroyed, that lies for centuries in rubble and a growing forest, that develops full sentience, that is discovered by a woman who chooses to live far from the hubbub of life, who then destroys the AI because it threatens her peaceful existence. This story has been around for about 9 months now. It’s been rejected six times (I had thought it five, but forgot the original prompt supplier had been the initial rejection). There have been some kind words on it, but I the most comprehensive response suggested I started the story in the wrong place. I couldn’t figure a way to change it.

I supplied the story for critique as part of my writing class by Cat Rambo and included my rejection notices. The basic agreement was to start the story elsewhere. Mark was very helpful in suggesting what scene to start with and, more importantly, why. But it is still difficult. Now I feel like I am writing a whole new story, but with a more comprehensive prompt. The difficulty is I know why I structured it in the way I did. So I am having to remove that backdrop and re-imagine the whole set up of the story.

This is a thing I am struggling with.

Especially as I know it is an exercise I am going to undertake with a lot of the other stories I have written in the last 12-18 months. At the same time, I’m still trying to produce new output, but hopefully of a nature that reflects he lessons being learned here.

But I also know that if I want to be more than a semi-enthusiastic dilettante then the re-write is a skill i must develop. It is a major item in the writers toolbox, to refuse to use it would be like a carpenter refusing to use a plane and sandpaper. The basic quality of the item constructed may be good, but it will always look unfinished, and therefore undesirable. Finishing a story is one thing, completing it is another. Presently I have finished a number of stories. Now I need to complete them, to polish them so that the grain is revealed, to add the lustre and shine which can add warm appeal.

I have written.

I must re-write.