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Another one escapes the trunk

Stupendous Stories Showcase

Writers have trunks, literal or virtual, which we fill with the unloved, the uncompleted, the unsold, and the leftovers. Stuff we liked, stuff we loved, stuff that for one damn reason or another never found a home.

Sometimes there are Very Good Reasons you don’t sell a story/novel. Bad prose. Unlikable characters. Annoying dialog. Other times… it’s just the Wrong Market or the Wrong Time or We Like it But We Won’t Buy It.

“The Carpetbaggers Ball” is one such story. I wrote it a *long* time ago, and it’s part of a series of First Person Who Isn’t Really Karl stories that could probably fill an anthology. This one had its roots in my decade in Los Angeles, and I was playing around with some of my usual themes: isolation, loss, music, and the 1%.

I received a lot of praise and encouragement, though the story soon joined the ranks of We Like it But We Won’t Buy it. It was a bit long, and needed a stronger arc for the MC. The basic premise (body swapping through tech) also turned off some people who thought that particular trope was mined out.

Fortunately, the editor at Stupendous Stories had a different opinion. He liked it, and wanted to buy it. Unfortunately, after he committed to the sale his own module of Mundane Reality™ threw some serious errors, and the publication went on hiatus (see The Almost Lost Year).

Fortunately for me, and the magazine’s fans, the editor managed to bring Mundane Reality™ under control sufficiently to produce a new e-pub (with print versions coming Real Soon Now). I downloaded a copy and re-read it to check for typos or other annoyances to correct in the next edition. Much to my surprise, I still liked “Carpetbaggers.” It feels true to the time I wrote it, and even resonates well now.

I hope you had a chance to download the free copy. If not, you can toss a few coins at Amazon and get one now. Or wait for the print copy.

The trunk is getting empty.

2019 – The Almost Lost Year

It’s odd thinking of 2019 as “last” year. So close to “lost.” Indeed, 2019 was almost a lost year in many respects.

I drafted this blog the other day but realized after 1,000 words that I was wandering. It didn’t help that I’m still fighting the flu/holiday crud. So let’s shift to bullet points, eh?

Major themes of 2019:

  • my daughter’s preparation for college
  • changes in my professional life
  • my aging parents
  • oh yes, that writing thing

The teen

  • Applying to college is HARD
  • There is research, online visits, physical visits, tests, more tests, essays, and auditions if you’re a theatre kid
  • Trying to balance all that while maintaining good grades is well, trying
  • Costs are insane. We’ve been saving since she was born and it’s still going to be tricky. (It’s also the reason I’m still working unpleasant jobs.)
  • Early on, we threw in the towel and hired an admissions counselor. It’s not the same thing as the Varsity Blues scandal.

While there are still applications pending, I am relieved to report that at least one theatre program has extended an invitation and some scholarship money. We won’t know the final outcome for several months but my wife and I can start thinking that yeah, maybe we didn’t screw this one up.

Day job

  • Started looking for a new job in mid-2018 following Kyocera’s corporate realignment and departure of my best friend on the team
  • Found a small, ninja-like team at Kaiser who were doing interesting things in WordPress and U/X
  • Abandoned regular employment for a new contract, only to discover that upper management had been working on a major reorg
  • In the space of a few months, my senior manager retired, my manager retired, the technical liaison quit, the marketing writer quit, and several contractors were eliminated
  • The two remaining folks from the original team had to re-apply for their jobs with a very secretive, inflexible, bureaucratic-worshipping cult based in Inda.
  • I started looking for work again in mid-2019

On the plus side, my new line manager is much more open to remote work, which has been a gift considering the situation with my parents.

The Elders

Back in 2018, the entire family got together to discuss moving my father into an assisted living facility. He was still pretty functional, despite multiple bouts of cancer and other age-related issues (he turned 90 that year). Unfortunately, he delayed the move, and his physical and mental condition deteriorated.

  • Last summer, he ended up under psychiatric observation following a low-key incident at his local ER.
  • Upon release from the hospital, he went into physical rehab, then into a memory care residence. The transition was not handled well.
  • The ensuing problems have meant a lot of time on the phone and driving down to Central California to deal with stuff.
  • My mother is also dealing with various age-related illnesses and can no longer manage the house by herself.
  • Fortunately, one of my nieces lives nearby and helps out a lot, but it’s not really her job.
  • My siblings and I continue to work to try to find a resolution for their separate housing and preserving their finances.
  • The holidays were stressful. Full stop.

Stress and Writing

  • Too often, I found myself tired or stressed or sick, and the thought of tromping into the word mines was overwhelming.
  • I didn’t publish anything in 2019.
  • I sold two stories to the same magazine (in 2018 and 2019) but the magazine’s publisher had his own family and job challenges, which delayed and delayed the issues. In fact, I’m still waiting.
  • I worked on a lot of stories but only finished one new flash piece for a contest.
  • Managed to send out lots of submissions, though, and received several encouraging notes from editors.
  • I participated in NaNoWriMo. That helped.
  • It also helped that I organized my first writing retreat — Write Here Write Now 2019 — in Baltimore. Some very patient, good folks showed up and put in words. We had some much-needed fun.
  • The Nebula Awards conference in Woodland Hills also charged the battery. Seeing Space X was very cool.

Looking ahead to 2020

  • More self-care. I had three separate, nasty bouts of flu/bronchitis/crud in 2019. I lost about a month.
  • More writing and less news. The political world is a spinning dumpster fire on the best of days.
  • More reading – so many good things by good people. Why not enjoy that?
  • Letting go. The teen has reached her 18th birthday and will be heading off to college. Time to stop worrying about the little stuff.
  • Dealing with the inevitable. One or both of my parents may pass away soon.
  • Tea and whiskey.

A quick note about NaNoWriMo 2019

Since my novelette/novel concept has to be completely replotted (and that’s a digression for another day), I’ve decided to use November — specifically NaNoWriMo — as my motivation to finish/edit/get to Beta readers 4 short stories. One per week! It’s like my own lazy Clarion workshop!

Included in the lineup is my short story draft from WriteHereWriteNow, a novella that’s been kicking my ass for mumble, mumble months, a fantasy piece, and an odd flash story that seemed really easy when I first conceived it but is now demanding a bigger trailer and top billing.

Good luck, everyone!

Nebula Weekend 2: Mentoring, Awards, and Bronchitis, Oh My

In which our Hero wrestles with Imposter Syndrome and Reconnects with Old Friends

Day 2 of the Nebula Weekend found me joining a host of brave volunteers for the second part of the Mentor Meetup. I was assigned two bright-eyed new writers and given 50 minutes to impart All The Wisdom. Poor kids. I opened the tap full blast, and between coughing fits, challenged them to attend a serious workshop (hello, Viable Paradise!), find tough beta readers, create a process, abandon the process, and overall keep the faith. This is art, dammit. No actual egos were harmed. I think.

I also sat in at the usual SFWA Business Meeting, which was much improved by the presence of Aliza Greenblatt, fellow VP16 alum and freaking Nebula-nominated person. (Sadly, she didn’t win, but I cannot believe this will be her only time on the ballot.)

For the afternoon, I caught a quick nap, hoping to quell my symptoms, and then did a couple of hours of KP duty in the Hospitality Suite, where I met more cool people and got to listen to John Scalzi’s philosophy on burritos (he’s a descriptivist, rather than a prescriptivist). He also confirmed the story of how he wrote The Consuming Fire in 2 weeks. Seriously.

Friday night was dinner with fellow writer and all-around good person, Rosemary Smith, purveyor of quality dinosaur stories. Rosemary helped me beta test Write Here, Write Now in Baltimore two weeks prior.

Saturday was full of special writer goodness. I attended the interview with this year’s Grand Master recipient, William Gibson, who related some pretty funny stories about his brief time as a screenwriter, and the fact that his last novel had to be completely torn down and rebuilt due to the timeline disruption caused by the 2016 elections. Later that afternoon, I helped schlep camera gear for the official photographer (the great Richard Man), who used me as a proxy for Mr. Gibson so the Grand Master didn’t have to wait while lights were calibrated. Turns out he and I share a similar build and hairline, although he’s a tad taller.

The Mass Autographing event gave me an opportunity to get books signed by William Gibson, Mary Robinette Kowal, Derek Künsken, Sam J. Miller, and Fran Wilde. I’m happy to report that Mary Robinette’s novel, The Calculating Stars, won the Nebula award for Best Novel later that evening.

My table at the Nebula Awards banquet ended up being relatively close to the stage, so I had a good view of the actual proceedings (although two excellent video screens provided full coverage). My table companions included another Viable Paradise alum (Aimee Picchi), a seasoned pro (Jeffrey A. Carver), and other volunteers, partners, and even a freshly minted writer who’d never attended any event before. Good on him. I don’t think I’d be that brave.

The awards featured a new category, game writing, which was very popular, and plenty of quality contenders for the usual fiction (short, novella, novelette, and novel). Happy to say that many works I read and enjoyed ended up on the ballot and a few of them even won.

I was too tired to attend any of the after parties, so retreated to my room for some light reading and much-needed sleep.

Sunday started off with a (slightly delayed) volunteer breakfast. This was Cat Rambo’s last year as SFWA’s President, and she graciously thanked us all for the continuing spirit of paying it forward. I got in a few more panels, including a thought-provoking discussion on gender and writing (with Futurescapes buddy Jordan Kurella), and listened with great amusement as several pros described their various personal writing habits and hacks. Some good ideas there.

My best friend Dan Malcor (with his new love, Cora) came up from Orange County to transport me back to the airport. Since we had a few hours, we decided to do a spontaneous trip to the Getty Museum. This branch of the museum wasn’t open when I last lived in Los Angeles, so it was a real treat. The weather was nearly perfect, and the view from the upper deck showed the Valley in all its springtime glory:

LA as seen from Getty Museum

Getty looking south

Due to the recent rains, the main gardens were closed, but the exhibits were open. We had a lovely time, and found this one example that we promptly dubbed, “Dude Christ”:

Casual Jesus portrait

The Savior Abides

Karl, Dan, and Cora

I get cultural with Dan and Cora

Eventually we had to trek back over the hills to Burbank, where a very late, very full flight brought me home. It’s a good thing I had upgraded my seating earlier, because even boarding early (in the rain!) I could barely manage to get my carry-on into the overhead bins. Very grateful the actual flight time was barely an hour.

Monday – ugh. Back at work, coughing. Less said, the better.

There were many other people I wish to thank for a great, affirming weekend, but I can’t remember them at the moment. You know who you are. I’ll buy you an absinthe next time we met.

Nebula Weekend 1: Space!

The 2019 Nebulas arrived at an interesting confluence of mundane reality — I was just coming off my Write Here, Write Now weekend in Baltimore, still dealing with bronchitis, and trying to change my contract to a new company so I could keep my current job (and applying for the same job as a full-time employee). It’s complicated.

Because I didn’t have any vacation time (the life of the contractor), I worked until the last minute, and picked up an early flight from Oakland to Burbank. However, what should have been a one-hour hop turned into something more due to unseasonable storm activity. The airline topped off the plane’s fuel in case we had to re-route, but the flight was overbooked, which meant they now had a very full, very heavy aircraft. The solution? Shunt the last-minute ticket purchasers (and their luggage) to another flight.

So I arrived later than I wanted, and took my carry-on to the shuttle to the hotel in Woodland Hills. Due to the nature of LA traffic, we used rough city streets rather than the freeway, and the driver had his phone set to squawk like a startled parrot every time he received a text.

He got a lot of texts.

My room wasn’t ready at the hotel, despite promises of early arrival, so I registered and picked up the bulging Bag o’ Books that comes with the conference. So many excellent and interesting things to read! I ended up storing my luggage (and my medication — oops) with the front desk because I had to meet up with my tour group for Space X.

Thanks to some local connections, the conference had organized a tour of SpaceX for some of the volunteers, and my name was picked. It meant a long drive through fabled LA traffic (which could have been much worse, to be honest) but we arrived with time to spare. (Unlike the second group, which took an Uber that apparently disagreed with Google Maps and got lost in a parking lot.)

You can’t take photos inside SpaceX, although they have one of their Falcon boosters in the parking lot for selfies. (Named after the Millenium Falcon. Of course.)

Inside the facility, there were fanciful travel posters for alien worlds, movie props (a suit from Iron Man 2) and more flat panels displays than a Las Vegas trade show.

There were also rockets. Engines, fairings, frameworks, nuts and bolts and strange valves, many of which were printed on site.

I was surprised that only a small portion of the shop floor was set aside as clean room space (for the Dragon capsules). Most of the heavy assembly took part in the open, much like the repair section of a high-end car dealership. The tour guide took us through a clearly delineated path, but you could literally reach out (past the safety rope) and touch an engine that might one day boost a satellite into orbit, or lift an astronaut to the ISS.

For me, SpaceX felt more like a big software company that also played with big hardware. The vibe was intense, but friendly, and there was a familiar tribal energy of We’re Doing The Cool Thing.

It wasn’t all geekery. The astronaut liaison related the story of her meeting with families of the test pilots. When one boy told her to “take care of his daddy” she recognized the heavy responsibility that she and the other employees shared. If they didn’t do their jobs well, people could die. It was sobering.

Elon Musk is doing some interesting projects in the world (tunnels? really?), but I truly hope that this venture succeeds. We really do need to get people off the planet, and it’s groups like this that are going to do it. Also, having cheaper worldwide internet service wouldn’t hurt.

Write Here, Write Now 2019

Write Here, Write Now name button for Karl, Benevolent Overlord

DIY fancy buttons

I recently returned from Baltimore, where I hosted my first writing retreat weekend, Write Here, Write Now. After a long absence from my tribe, and the hiatus of Paradise Lost, I decided to put together my own getaway.

As you might imagine, it turned out to be a complicated enterprise, given that my job was in chaos, my father’s health was in decline, and I didn’t rope in any help apart from reaching out to folks about local options.

My writing community is spread out from western Canada to Florida, so I ran a series of surveys to get buy in on location, activities, available hotels, and budget. In the end, Baltimore edged out Chicago for both number of potential attendees and hotel prices. (San Diego was also a strong contender but hotels were crazy expense in late April/early May.) I did manage to convince the nice people at Hilton that WHWN 2019 was a legitimate business meeting, and thus shaved a few bucks off their best published rate.

In the end, we had 11 confirmed attendees plus a potential cameo or two. That many people didn’t quite fit into the Benevolent Overlord Suite, and we ended up using another room for some of our group activities.

Two of the participants, Gary Henderson and Lauren Roy, were part of my class at Viable Paradise XVI. Lauren and I hadn’t crossed paths since 2012, and it was a joy to see her again.

Unfortunately, I caught a pretty nasty bug (the crud) a few days before the event and was sorely tempted to cancel. Since I owned the weekend, and it was the first time, I didn’t want to disappoint.

Let’s just say the flight there was hellish (ear infections and pressure changes do not mix well).

I was met at the airport by one of my long-time Paradise Lost tribe, and thus was saved the pain of navigating a strange city while exhausted and under the weather.

Most of the mob gathered for a casual dinner on Thursday at Kippo Ramen. I was in the mood for soup and we had not one, but two ramen virgins in our group. We had to go. Excellent food within a short walk from the hotel.

Everything we did was a short walk away. One of our number was very pregnant, and I was sick, so that factored heavily in our plans.

Friday morning I “officially” opened the event, laying out the basic rules, which were basically NO SPOILERS and ASK FIRST BEFORE YOU HUG SOMEONE.

After coffee and carbs — featuring homemade scones from Gary’s talented chef housemate — we split up into writing and critique groups. After lunch, there was more critiquing, then plot breaking. Despite my lack of energy and ragged voice, I enjoyed the back and forth, heard many good ideas, and had a generally fine time.

For dinner, the mob traipsed over to Little Italy, where pasta and excellent cannoli were acquired. After dinner, of course, we met up again for libations and silly games (Flux, Werewolf*, Cards Against Humanity).

For the weekend, I brought Alameda vodka and absinthe, plus Writers’ Tears irish whiskey, and absinthe. Other participants kicked in spirits from Italy, Greece, and plenty of American things. One writer, Shannon, proved to be an excellent mixologist.

Saturday saw more story breaking in the morning and afternoon as people found it useful and brought in more novels to kick around. I took a break and visited a local Minute Clinic, where a very professional Licensed Nurse Practitioner hooked me up with some antibiotics to go with my cornucopia of over the counter meds. (The CVS pharmacy and Whole Foods were located a block from the hotel, which was good news  for everyone.)

Saturday night we ordered in some very good local pizza, then tried our best to empty the bar and talk ourselves hoarse. I think I had an advantage there.

Sunday found us gathering for one last session of plot breaking, conversation, and the breaking of the fellowship. I divested myself of anything that couldn’t be carried on the aircraft, which turned out not to be necessary since an overly full flight meant I had to check my bag anyway.

<How could I forget? We celebrated Cinco de Mayo at a local taco joint that had astonishingly diverse dance music blasting upstairs, plus infomercials and lacrosse playing on competing televisions. Great food, though.>

Folks drove off, leaving my friend Rosie and I chilling in the hotel lobby on a rainy afternoon. She was headed for the train and I had several hours to kill before my flight to Nashville…

…which was rescheduled, forcing me to scramble to make a missed connection. Ironically, I ended up flying to Chicago (where I go frequently to visit my mother-in-law), then back to Oakland. Total travel time > 12 hours.

I splurged on the flight for WiFi and caught up on Game of Thrones and a new Netflix series, Derry Girls. (Yes, I had books to read but my brain just couldn’t.)

All in all, I had a good trip, met some online folks in person, and did the writing thing. I hope that the participants will stay connected and expand the tribe a bit more.

The surveys from the weekend are still trickling in, though the trend is very positive. If my work and family schedule align next year, I might be persuaded to do this again.

"Benevolent Overlord" mug

Mug courtesy of Terri!

*According to our game moderator, we truly sucked at this. The werewolves ate the hell out of the villagers, even after I accidentally outed myself as a shapeshifter.

The Squatter and the Podcast

This past week I hit another milestone: first podcast appearance! I learned about The Word Count podcast through Marie Haskins, whom I met as a fellow contributor to the Abandoned Places anthology.

What is unusual about this podcast is the authors do the primary narration, and the host, the fab RB Wood, adds the intro and writer bios.

Now, I’ve never done this sort of voice work before. I’ve recorded dialog for training software, but never a complete story. This one, “Burial Detail,” runs about 1,000 words, which clocks in just under 7 minutes. I was on deadline, so I did one rehearsal, then recorded it. (In retrospect, I could have practiced more.)

What surprised me most when I listened to the playback was the timbre of my voice. It had gone from “rough baritone” to “broken baritone that really needs to hydrate more.” I’m not a smoker, and I wasn’t sick before the recording. Apart from the normal aging process, the primary alteration to my voice has been come about because of  The Squatter.

You may remember that I had a tumor removed from my sinus back in 2016. It turned out to be more annoying than we first thought, and required a second cleanup surgery. That procedure, while successful, also streamlined my breathing passages.

You’d think that’d be a good thing, right? It is, up to a point. You want the air to flow, but as I’ve learned, you always want a certain rough texture to the sinus cavity to retain moisture. Without the nooks and crannies, the normal mucus just goes where it will, and that means excessive drainage (in certain sleeping positions) and — ironically — drier air. Over time, that continual irritation has changed my voice.

Not many people are thrilled when they hear their own voice via recording as opposed to their own skull. For me, it almost sounds like a stranger.

Not sure if I’ll be looking to do my own readings in the future. With luck and perseverance, I’ll sell to markets that can hire that sort of talent.

I’m okay with that. And I’ll take the hit on my voice over a brain-threatening tumor any day.


2018 reading: some thoughts

I’m finishing up The Golden Compass tonight, and I doubt I’ll get through another book before Jan 1, so it’s time to look back on the year’s reading.

Overall, it was a good year. A very good year. 43 books (with a target of 40, but some of these are pretty short, so I consider it a wash).

According to Goodreads, I awarded 5 stars to 29 books, and 4 stars to another 13. Only one novel, Very Hard Choices, was something of a disappointment and earned 3 stars.

I read from a number of series. Some of my favorites:

  • The Armored Saint (The Sacred Throne) Cole, Myke
  • Ninefox Gambit (The Machineries of Empire) Lee, Yoon Ha
  • The Collapsing Empire  (The Interdependency) Scalzi, John
  • Foundryside (Founders) Bennett, Robert Jackson
  • The Moons of Barsk (Barsk) Schoen, Lawrence M.
  • The Lady Astronaut of Mars (Lady Astronaut series) Kowal, Mary Robinette
  • Revenger (Revenger) Reynolds, Alastair
  • Annihilation (Southern Reach) VanderMeer, Jeff
  • The Night Masquerade (Binti) Okorafor, Nnedi
  • All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries) – Wells, Martha
  • Hymn: The Final Volume of the Psalms of Isaak – Scholes, Ken
  • The Golden Compass (His Dark Materials) Pullman, Philip

For beautiful prose, check out:

  • In the Vanishers’ Palace – Bodard, Aliette de
  • Forest of Memory  – Kowal, Mary Robinette

Noteworthy standalones:

  • Sea of Rust – Cargill, C. Robert
  • The Prey of Gods – Drayden, Nicky

Weird and wonderful!

  • Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach – Robson, Kelly
  • Blackfish City – Miller, Sam J.
  • Space Opera – Valente, Catherynne

Craft & miscellany:

  • Damn Fine Story: Mastering the Tools of a Powerful Narrative – Wendig, Chuck
  • Roger Zelazny – Krulik, Theodore
  • The Ides of Octember: A Pictorial Bibliography of Roger Zelazny – Kovacs, Christopher

My TBR shelf is still — unsurprisingly – full, and many delights await on my Kindle library as well. I have no doubt next year will be a bounty of favorite authors and new voices.

Looking forward to it.

Winter Solstice 2018 – Writing numbers

A writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.

— Thomas Mann, novelist, Nobel laureate (1875-1955)

The calendar year is almost over, so I’m pretty confident there won’t be any last-minute submission, rejections, or sales. (If a seasonal miracle occurs, I’ll be sure to update this.)

This was a slower year for me, writing-wise. I was very focused on getting a new job (which happened), helping my spouse with her business, and dealing with family drama and new kittens.

Since I sold a decent number of stories last year, the available pool was greatly reduced, and my usual writing getaway didn’t come together. That resulted in fewer new stories seeking their fortunes.

2018 Submission Grinder stats:

New things

  • “The Last Feast of Silas the Wizard” (short)
  • “The Last Good Shoppe” (short)
  • “Jazmin’s Diary” (micro fiction)
  • “Burial Detail” (flash)
  • “Seven Cups of Landfall” (poem!)

Total number of submissions: 18


  • “Just Another Night on Telegraph” – Factor Four Magazine
  • “Supply and Demand Among the Sidhe” –  Strange Economics
  • “The Carpetbaggers Ball” – Stupefying Stories

Pending response: 5 (1 in second review)

Works in progress:

  • Short stories: N + 3
  • Novella: 1

Awards Eligibility 2018

Yes, it’s that time again!

Thanks to the randomness of publication schedules, a lot of my previously contracted work appeared in this calendar cycle. All these stories are eligible for Nebula consideration.

Short fiction (which appeared in three brand new anthologies)

Short fiction (magazines)

That’s all for now. I really must shovel some more words into the Submission Grinder for 2019.