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Posts Tagged ‘Fiction’

analyzing mirror self-recognition

Image by TheAlieness GiselaGiardino²³ via Flickr

Well, it’s that time of the year when we look back and forward in the same instant. No wonder we drink.

This year I focused on marketing my short fiction, learning new forms (twitter fiction, flash fiction) and learning to manage book length projects.

It was a good year in terms of sheer number of publications, a good year in terms of adapting to new forms, and a not quite so good year with book length projects.

The stats:

Short stories (including Flash)

Submissions = 158
Acceptances = 18

to paying markets = 9

New stories written = 37 give or take a couple

Twitter Fictions

Submissions = 24
Acceptances = 11

to paying markets = 3

Twitters written = 51

Novels

Completed = 1
Sold = 0

My goals for the upcoming year are:

1. Write and submit one story per week (Write1Sub1)

2. Publish at least 20 short stories, at least two professional markets.

3. Revise and submit fantasy novel

4. Put out the best possible Triangulation anthology.

Fireworks

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to friends and family and colleagues who read this blog. Let’s make 2011 something special, shall we?

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Wherein I do my best to provide real time reading comments for stories in the Triangulation: Last Contact slush. See my previous post for disclaimers.

Story 8 (12/6/2010 SF 1800 words)

This begins with a summary paragraph. As a frame hook it’s okay, but reads a bit flat. Second paragraph continues in summary flashback. This is not a good sign. Not only do I have the gauze of summary separating me from character identification, now I have a flashback as well. First person is not helpful either. Contrary to common belief, first person is a difficult viewpoint to draw a reader into. It generally works best with an unreliable narrator (where the unreliability is necessary for story effect) or for a character with a colorful, vibrant voice (wherein the reader is drawn to character through the exuberance of his/her voice). Of course this is only a guideline. The actual rule is that first person works where first person works, and not where it doesn’t.

I don’t believe it’s rare for a father and son to share a favorite baseball, football, team. I imagine it’s rather common. The PA announcement seems emotionless, which doesn’t help the feeling of seeing this story at a distance. I can’t help imagining reading this story from within the events, the startling emotion of it, the sudden wonderment. That doesn’t come through in summary; all we have is an intellectual explanation.  I do like that religion is brought into the mix, but it’s not a very deep view of the issues involved, which makes it feel glossed over (summary).  Skimming.

I like that music plays an important part in this. The problem is that intellectual music does little for me; it’s the emotional context that matters. The intellectual puzzle here would be fine in support of an emotional story line.

The Jerusalem setting comes out of nowhere. Makes me wonder from where this story is being told. I should know that early in the telling. More summary. Explanation of the idea.

The story ends with an emotional moment, but it’s doesn’t feel all that new to me. The idea really isn’t all that new and since the story is told almost completely in summary, I’m not left with a sense of story power either. I’m afraid this one doesn’t work for me.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 3 The idea is classic SF, which means it’s a bit “been there” for me. The story is told almost completely in summary in a journalistic style. Consequently, it comes off as an explanation of the idea, rather than a story involving a motivated character facing obstacles and succeeding or failing in an important way.

Story 9 (12/7/2010 SF 1800 words)

This one comes from an author who is obviously full of himself. I try not to allow cover letters to impact my reading one way or another, but you do yourself no great favor by bragging in a cover letter. A simple list of credits and awards is plenty. If you’re an author whose work I recognize or you’ve been published in Asimov’s etc I’ll probably give the opening a bit more leeway, but the story still has to work.

The story opens strongly. Effective hook, efficient set up of character in a setting and an implication of story background (and importance). I’m on board. The story begins struggling just a bit against itself by the end of the first page.

The second page doesn’t seem to be advancing the story. Technically it’s showing the concept, which is good, but the events seem somewhat superficial to me. The idea of a cop assigned to personal surveillance due to a union requirement is kind of a hoot. These ideas feel a little old fashioned, though (I would like to see them made relevant again, but this isn’t doing it).  I do like the top of page 5.

I’m having issues at this point, though. The story seems to be evolving as a brainstorming exercise rather than a story with an actual point. We’ll see how it ends.

The co-opting on page 6 is nicely done. That drew my interest back to the page.  The scene on p7-8, however, seems like more free form plotting. I don’t sense escalation of idea or emotion, just cool ideas thrown out there to see what sticks. It’s unfortunate because I love the prose, efficient and vivid.

I really like the core concept here; the execution is turning me off, however. When there is an actual plot element it comes across as an explanation of plot; when the prose becomes involving it’s mainly meaningless action meant to intrigue or provoke. Page 10-11 is a good example. This is plot background explained to us via a talking heads device.

Another new idea on page 14. It could be escalatory, but I’m betting it’s not.  Page 15-16 is more explanation of idea. I like the end of page 16.  Nice imagery on 19.

Ends well enough. A little Adam and Evey for modern SF, but it’s more than that too,  so that doesn’t bug me too much.  What does bug me is that there’s some really nice throwaway ideas here, some great visuals and a wonderful core idea, yet I don’t get a sense of story at all. There’s no real sense of a motivated character encountering obstacles and succeeding or failing in an important way. Technically, the obstacles were faced before this story began, the character succeeded and failed before this story began, and what we see on the page is pretty much inevitable rather than compelling.

I’d love to see a revised story based on this core idea, but I won’t suggest it. Past experience suggests this author will not be receptive. It’s a shame.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 I like the writing here, but the story arc is relatively flat, lacking escalation. Instead we’re given a series of active scenes with little relevance to plot escalation, interspersed with dialogue that tells us about the idea and story background. While I really like the core idea and the way it’s implemented within character, I don’t find myself caring much about the outcome. It strikes me that this character is fully formed at story opening; the obstacles he’s faced took place before this story, his success and failure took place before this story. This leaves the experience feeling more inevitable than compelling.

Story 10 (12/8/2010 SF 991 words)

This begins with a fairly dull hook. It’s okay, but doesn’t really grab my eyeballs.  Then we come to unnamed characters, which can be a problem for me. It generally comes across as pretentious unless there’s truly a reason to populate the story with unnamed icons. We’ll see.

The opening page is presented reasonably and does make me think. The story action, however feels a little repetitive and I’m not engaged with any particular character yet. Page 2 names a character, which makes the unnamed character on page one more annoying (to me). We then get an argument second hand.  In a story starving for on-page drama, this seems the wrong choice here. I feel as if I’m being told the idea, with story action as a filler between points.

Where’d the elevator come from? By the end of page 2 I’m finally identifying with a viewpoint character. The memory adds a nice texture here. A clever bit on the bridge; I like the switching cars detail as it characterizes the protagonist and adds some on-page action. However, I don’t feel any real escalation of emotion yet.

Okay, this goes to a kind of interesting, ironic place, a choice between the past and the present as the world ends. Truthfully, though, the story doesn’t do enough with this idea. The first three pages read as a setup for the final action, rather than a story escalating and changing its character. Even flash fiction requires a sense of change, preferably in the character as well as the situation. If I were to revise this, I’d begin with a clear viewpoint character, show the actual argument, and push the character to run to the cemetery, then have something there trigger his regret. It’s all a little too pat as the story stands now. We don’t witness any real drama and the idea is logically delivered, rather than a consequence of story arc.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 While I like the irony of this situation, the story itself comes across as a delivery mechanism for the idea. We don’t particularly empathize with the main character until halfway through, and then it’s a fairly simple hop from his initial state to his end state. I didn’t feel that the story pushed him there, partially because the argument is held off page.  This story will likely work best as a very close character study rather than a summary of an afternoon.

Story 11 (12/9/2010 Horror 3000 words)

Okay, another cover letter devoted to braggadocio. This author does not come across as bragging, but a letter listing 20 or more credits and a review for a different story strikes me as overkill. There are a few markets out there that ask for this nonsense, so I’ll not be too critical (but still a little critical, eh?).

Anyway, the story begins with a character in an intriguing situation. I identify with him almost at once. The second paragraph, which mainly belabors the point, could go and I wouldn’t miss it.

Page 2. So he can read, but he can’t see other than to notice the light is dimmer? That rings false. I’m having a little problem with the passivity of the prose. Stuff keeps happening to the protagonist; he doesn’t seem to act upon his world at all. Red flag there. I’m quickly losing sympathy as this page goes on describing small details with extreme attention. Are they the precise details we need? Do they advance story or character? It’s kind of hit and miss so far.  Yet, when I NEED a specific detail (say a face or a voice) I get generic.  The mix is off to my reading ear.  For example, when a character looks at a face he knows without seeing a single detail, I’m certainly not fully in his perspective.  When characters react to the stimulus of the scene, they become real. When they react without that stimulus it usually comes off as an intellectual exercise, as it does here. To be fair, the story never says he’s “reading” the novel (I went back and re-read), but that’s what stuck with me because that’s a first level assumption from the evidence. I’m being a little tough here because I think the story has some potential to be sharp and involving, but settles too often for mushy detail and introspection.

On page 4 “when he was thrown off”. All these passive indicators are piling up on me. This character needs to DO something.

Top of page 5. I have a prediction where this is going. Hope I’m wrong.

I’m feeling more involved as page 6 begins. There’s a realistic conversation, some specific details. If this is going where I expect, the story should have begun with the ghost that popped up at the end of page 2.

It gets more interesting on page 8. Some effective horror bits.  It doesn’t end quite as I expected, which is good, but it’s a fairly typical horrific end, without a lot of character exploration. On the horror level it succeeds fairly well, though it’s too long for the payoff. On the character and idea level, it doesn’t do enough to stand out from other stories I’ve read.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 7 While there’s an effective horror ending here, I felt the story opened and developed too slowly and didn’t offer much beyond a standard horror payoff.  The protagonist’s extreme passivity was also an issue for me.

 

 

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Ditty

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The Light Ray has become a reality over at Write1Sub1. If you’re intimidated by a story a week, check out the story a month option. Simon describes it well in his blog entry.

I spent the weekend writing a refreshing little ditty for Liberty Hall and reading Triangulation: Last Contact submission stories that had already been first-read by other editors. We’re already up to 37 submissions and I’ve rejected 10. Another four or five are being read by full staff. Hopefully we’ll have one or two accepts by next week.

So far I’ve been very impressed by the level of the prose. I don’t think a single story has been badly written. About half of the submissions have been reprints. We’re being very selective with reprints this year, since that has been a criticism of past issues. I’m sure we’ll end up taking a few, most likely from fairly “name” authors, and only if they’re really good.

What about the others, you ask? It’s been interesting. Last year we saw a great many stories that began with a startling hook before devolving into less interesting backstory. This year I’ve seen one, maybe two of those. No, a larger issue so far this year is the lack of genre indicators early in the story.  As a science fiction, fantasy and (a little) horror antho, we’re very sensitive to this issue. Our readers want well written genre stories, with definable story arc and are generally less patient with stories that depend primarily on glistening prose and emotional spaces. We want ambitious idea and competent or better character and prose.

Ideal examples from last year’s collection would include Tinatsu Wallace’s “A Womb of My Own” and Jaime Lee Moyer’s “Commander Perry’s Mystic Wonders Show”. Both stories utilize strong literary technique in service of their equally strong ideas; Science Fiction in Wallace’s case and modern fantasy for Moyer.

Don’t get me wrong. We loved every single story we published. Each editor, I imagine has a favorite or two (my blog, my faves above), but we all liked them or they didn’t get in. In my next post, I’ll run through each story and highlight exactly what we liked.

Medieval illustration of a Christian scribe wr...

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In personal news, today I finished up chapter 4 of the fantasy novel. I’m working through a character motivation issue for chapter 5, but hope to write again tomorrow. I polished and submitted three flash fictions to literary markets. Finally, I received a page proof for my Daily Science Fiction story, which will appear on December 21. I hope you will read it, and post your compliments/complaints (I value both) to their Facebook Page.

My latest twitter fiction appeared at trapeze magazine over the weekend and I had one appear at Seedpod last week.

Well, off to bed for now. Wishing you a good night.

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What a lazy day, I’ve spent. I did do some thinking about my Golden Heart of the World serial. Sue set me straight on several fronts 🙂 but progress was made.

I’m reading Aftershock (Robert Reich). Apparently four books at one time is not enough. Sigh. Anyway, it’s a great book about the problems we face after the Great Recession of 2008.  I’ll give a review when I’m done.

On to the slush for today. See my prior post for disclaimers.

Story 7 (12/8/2010 SF 4400 words)

This one has a very large strike against it even before I start. It’s going to be published in a fairly prominent SF magazine in the spring, making it a reprint to us. It will have to be absolutely incredible for us to take it.

The story begins with unattributed dialog, but it’s handled well enough that I don’t object. The second paragraph feeds off the statement to characterize in an interesting way.  The viewpoint is omniscient, which worries me a bit. The situation is pretty dry and I’m not anxious to read 4400 of detached viewpoint. We like characters in our SF, hard or otherwise.

By page 2 the scene is feeling very much like talking heads, with one character explaining an idea to the other. It’s not talking heads, however, as the second character is a reporter and would need the idea explained in some detail. The problem for me is that I’m not a reporter and I don’t really want to read an idea; I want to read a story that utilizes an idea. Still, the writing is pretty good. The dialogue reads naturally, etc. I’m not skimming yet.

We get a sudden barrage of direct internal thought. This does help to define a protagonist (reporter) and add some character. I do feel pulled in to a degree. There’s no real sense of this character off the page, but at least he’s got a discernible mindset on the page. The thoughts themselves are pretty trivial and don’t add much to story tension. The reporter doesn’t care for his interviewee’s attitude. Since we don’t really know the reporter’s motivation, beyond writing a science story, this may or may not be relevant.

Ted Chiang, American science fiction author. T...

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The next few pages are a demonstration of the invention in question. It’s handled pretty well. The problem for me is that it’s not really story, but description of idea. This is a pretty big idea, but I don’t get a sense of consequence to the characters at this point. It’s kind of a “isn’t this a cool idea” story; we’ve seen these in Analog and in many of the pulps and still see them today in places. Nothing wrong with cool ideas. For the anthology, though, we focus on the effect of technology on characters, on story arc and tension. Ted Chiang would do more than show me a device operating as designed, he’d use the device to comment on the human condition. That’s the sort of thing we really want, though we do take a few fluffier pieces and straight adventure, etc. to balance the anthology a bit.

Anyway, back to this story.  The device gets a catchy name (though it’s not really that catchy) and what it does is cool.  It’s not like Earth-shattering or anything, but it’s interesting. I doubt most SF readers will be all that awestruck, however, as it’s a fairly straight-forward application of quantum concepts and semi-unlimited computational power. For me, personally, the demonstration takes too long for what I come away with.

The story proceeds reasonably enough to determinism, and resolves around that idea. An unhappy ending for our stalwart reporter, I’m afraid. Since I didn’t much care about him, I didn’t much care for the ending. There’s nothing really wrong with it, other than that it pushes into sheer speculation (but what SF does not?) to create its twist. The twist doesn’t do much more than add on to the original “what if” in a semi-random way. What if determinism is correct? Well, what if it isn’t? Since there’s no objective evidence in the story beyond the made up device and experiment, it doesn’t really do much to push my thinking one way or the other. Of course I could be missing some important nuance. I just wasn’t all that interested, unfortunately. Reject.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 7 The story is written well enough to convey its idea and contains enough characterization that the people are not cardboard cutouts. For a simple SF idea story, this is fine; kind of reminds me of early Asimov, though with less nuanced thinking.  If I were revising, I would look to complicate the story arc and connect the idea to larger issues in some manner (what will it mean to society to be able to predict future events?). But it’s actually a decent exemplar of this “type” of story. It’s not a good fit for the anthology however.

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I have time to squeeze in a story or two from the slush tonight. Let’s hope for a gem.

See my previous post for disclaimers about my posted reactions, etc.

Story 5 (12/6/2010 SF 2700 words)

This comes from a writer I admire, so fingers crossed, I begin. Dialogue heavy opening works because the dialogue is lively and moves the story forward. Not sure I’m fond of the gust of wind, unless there’s some purpose behind it.  Good pacing. Just as I’m beginning to think the dialogue could go on too long, it ends, and we get a new encounter with just the right hint of strangeness. Scene 1 ends very well.

Second scene opens well, but is slipping into familiar territory. I’m losing interest, but not to the point of stopping. There is a nice irony to the protagonist being selected. The scene recovers; it’s familiar but specific.

Some fun writing in third scene. I see an end coming. I hope the story surprises me.

Ah, darn. The ending doesn’t really impress me. I liked the selection of the protagonist, but he resolves into a stereotype by story end. Why does he drink? Because he’s one of those people. Why does he make the decision he does? Because he’s one of those people. The decision complicates Al’s objective, but it doesn’t really contradict or complicate the underlying concept. Consequently, I’m left feeling like the story, while engagingly written, doesn’t really rise above the usual, at least not enough to recommend for the collection. We’ll likely end up with a couple stories of this sort, with fairly straight-forward premise and fun writing, but this one doesn’t quite do the trick for me. I will share it with other editors because it’s well written and tastes do vary.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 It succeeds at building a quirky, likable character and setting forth a reasonable premise, but fails at taking me to a really new place. That seems essential for this “type” of story, which is meant to be clever, with a vein of serious conjecture running through it.

Story 6 (12/6/2010 Fantasy 2000 words)

This uses an unusual viewpoint device (2nd person), which is typically difficult to pull off. Technically, this is handled well here. The genre reader in me, however, feels it is slightly pretentious. My literary side likes the attempt. Unfortunately, the story devolves (for good reason) to a sort of explanation of necessary background that detracts from a sense of story movement. I mean, isn’t this a version of talking heads? The protagonist is telling me stuff I would already know for the most part. Some good character details, but I can’t get past the artificiality of the technique.

Second scene is more intriguing.

Third scene has a good sense of story movement. We discover the protagonist is male. That came as a surprise to me. This is not a good thing.

Fourth scene maintains sense of movement. I’m hoping there’s going to be more to the story than the surface details we’re getting. An interesting line at the end.

Fifth scene begins with a rainbow, which reminds me of last year’s anthology theme. This is not really good, though I’m not sure why it should matter to me.  Ends with an escalation of the prior scene. Technically sound, but not really getting beneath the surface of the idea.

Final scenes move along at a good pace. I like the visual we get with the phenomenon, but I’m still not feeling like the story has deepened from its initial premise. It’s basically a ghost story. I like the final line, but not so much what it implies. Suicide seems likely. Reject, I’m afraid.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 It’s strange to rate it so low, because the prose is actually quite good and the pacing is about right; the idea is acceptable, the execution solid. But the story fails to accomplish what a story of this “type” needs to accomplish, which is to show me a new facet of the ghost story idea. The technique interferes with characterization and the reveal doesn’t really require the second person viewpoint; in fact the viewpoint detracts from the reveal for me. If I were revising this, I’d start with deeper characterization of the protagonist and more specific life history. And definitely stick to first or third person. Either should work at this length. The idea is simple; character will have to carry the tale, I suspect.

Well, I’m out of time for this session. See yinz soon.

 

 

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Like much of America we’re in the throes of a lake effect snow. Eight inches today, another few overnight. Seems a good time to read slush, neh?

See my previous post for disclaimers about my posted reactions, etc.

Story 3 (12/3/2010 Fantasy 2235 words)

The story begins with an authorial overview, a sort of preamble. It’s well written and interesting, but does not hint at genre. This makes me dubious that it will fit the anthology. For now I read on with interest.  I’m feeling a little bit preached at on this first page.  The prose holds me, but its grip is becoming tenuous.

Second page shifts into omniscient. Not really a problem in terms of theme, but a hamper to plot movement. An interaction with father is the first real sense of plot movement and it’s well written. I’m having a little problem with the protagonist, however, in that he seems something of a straw man rather than a real person. I would be more invested with the message of the piece were I more invested with the character. He seems placed here as a mouthpiece at present. I understand what he feels, but not why. I have no sense of what has gone before in his life or what has formed his opinion/obsession (madness?). I remain curious, but also leery.

This gets interesting at the end of page three. I like the fantastic element (which may simply be unreliable perception, but that’s cool), but the shift to colloquial doesn’t feel earned. It feels intentionally provocative. Artsy. Again, for me, this comes back to the character. If the story doesn’t really take the character seriously, should I? This said, I very much like the top of page 4. I like where this goes, just not quite how it gets here.

The story segues into drollness. The situation is pretty funny in a yuk-yuck way and the writing lively. Lots to like about that.  Some very cool stuff here. Page 6 reveals this is definitely alternate history. Dallas Cowboys 3-0? Nah 😉

The story ends sharply. I very much like it.  The beginning, not so much. It’s authorially intrusive, and does not establish the potential for this riff on the sublime. I suspect the story would start better at the end of page 2, with dad waking the protagonist. That’s where the language takes life and the character begins to be revealed. I’d probably want a little more of that revelation to give the ending longer teeth, but I could maybe live without that. Yes, the protagonist is delusional, but he should be real enough that I can empathize with his delusion (rather than simply snorfling along with what he says and does – this is the difference between enjoying and feeling compelled by a piece,  for me).

So, the question becomes whether to suggest a revision. Am I certain our other editors would appreciate this story even with a perfect opening? It’s an iffy proposition. I will pass it along with a note outlining my reaction.  If others do like it, we’ll talk about a revision request. Complicating matters, a portion of the story has been published, though likely in a market our readers will not be familiar with.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 8 This seems a valiant effort to entertain me into accepting a message. The second half works wonderfully. The opening feels a little precious to me, and doesn’t set up the irreverence of the ending (though it talks at length about irreverence).  I feel the opening looks down its nose a bit at believers rather than pulling us into a character who looks down his nose at belief.  I can see why it was published, but it could be stronger.

Story 4 (12/4/2010 Fantasy 6300 words)

Note to self: 5000 word limit, give or take, apparently opens the floodgates to longer works. It’s a shame. Longer stories will have to be incredible to be accepted.

This is an intriguing opening. Not a hint of genre, but I’m interested. Unfortunately, the ensuing conversation feels very much like it’s being held for my benefit rather than the characters’. Seems like background disguised as dialogue. The story is not moving forward.  This goes on for a few pages; we get some veiled hints that burial has been replaced by some new technology, but it’s mainly a lesson on how not to tell us what we want to know.  An SF reader is not going to have her jaw drop when this technology is revealed, so withholding it isn’t helping matters. Skimming to end of scene.

Scene 2 shows the results of the tech. This is better. We get some visuals, some characterization. Very nice descriptive details. Unfortunately, we’re still dealing with the same issue as in scene 1, just new words. It’s not going to awe an SF reader, who’s read stories revolving around such technologies for years. A story was nominated for a nebula last year, I believe, with the same basic thrust. There, the tech was on the page and a vibrant part of the story experience. Here we’re pretty much talking it out.  I do like some of the points made, and certainly many of the lines themselves, but the story feels very static.  Skimming to end.

I do feel the guy’s angst and like the way the scene on p16 opens. Love the bit with the medicine man on p21.  To the story’s credit, it’s not really about the tech reveal, but a commentary on human nature and our irrational views of death (and living). The final scene is wonderfully surreal satire. It’s just not right for the anthology.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 8 As a literary story that utilizes an SF concept to make a satiric point, it works well. I do think the very slow opening scene detracts from the experience, particularly as it comes across as background disguised as dialogue.  Personally, I would have started with the second scene.

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Howard Phillips Lovecraft

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I felt busy today, but didn’t really get much done in the way of writing.

1. Strange Horizons rejected my flash “A Clockwork Clef” after 72 days. It stung a bit as this is probably the best flash I’ve written to date. I bucked up and sent it out again.

2. Eschatology Journal accepted my flash “A Clockwork Clef” after 1 hour. This is a market that takes Lovecraft-inspired stuff as well as the apocalyptic. My flash is the latter, inspired (obviously enough) by the opening of A Clockwork Orange. The story was written from a Prosetry prompt provided by Moon Milk Review a few months back.

3. Discussed general world concepts for my “Golden Heart of the World” serial I plan to write as part of the Write1Sub1 Challenge in 2011. I’m pretty hyped about it at this point, and need to do some background reading before the new year.

4. Posted my Triangulation slush reactions to the Slushy blog entry. Hopefully the authors will get some good out of this. It does me some good to comment in detail on stories we receive, but I imagine the extent of my comments will decline as we get busier. We’re up to 10 submissions already. Five of them are reprints. We plan on taking very few reprints this year. We may hold on to a few until we get a sense of what the crop of original fiction will look like, but I’m not planning on quick accepts for reprints.

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