Any Given Sunday

I was drunk enough to agree, but not drunk enough to deny remembering I agree. Leave it to Mercedes to strike at exactly the right time! She wanted a throw down with the loser to re-enact one of my fantasies: to be Jesus, serenaded by Yvonne Elliman, complete with jazz hands:

But that wasn’t enough. Oh, no. The more, the merrier, we said, so we invited Harley and Jason.

Yes, we Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are going to be engaged in mortal combat, with a theme chosen by a neutral party, one Boudreau Freret.

The Theme: A sci-fi/fantasy short story describing, “The first contact of two species with a mutual attraction betwixt them.”

Story Deadline: We have until February 1, 2010 to come up with an original story based on the theme, to be simultaneously submitted to a SFWA-approved market.

The Stakes: First person to be published in the chosen market wins.

The losers will video themselves performing a song of the winner’s choice (“Everything’s Alright” in my case), complete with jazz hands!!

These are all worthy adversaries. I don’t underestimate a single one of them. I’ve read their words. We’re all at various stages of our writing careers, and yet a contest like this–well hell, a lot of publishing in general–has an “any given Sunday” feel to it. It could very well be me on video, jazz-handing along to someone else’s tune.

This is going to be a first. I’ve never written to avoid humiliation before! 🙂


Edited to add: Harley’s and Mercedes’ understandably skewed opinions on the matter.

Catching Up is Hard to Do

I’ve decided that part of the problems I’ve been having with writing have to do with all the stuff swimming in my psychic RAM that needs to be dumped out. So many blogworthy things going on; so little time to blog them. So, here goes.

Just ‘cos there haven’t been my usual Tough Love posts doesn’t mean that I haven’t been attending the biweekly evisceration. I just haven’t had anything to be eviscerated, not by the group, anyway.

I’m eviscerating my current short story in-progress, formerly titled “The Six-Hundred Dollar Man.” With every section of prose I clean up, I feel like I’m butting my head trying to stick to the story I want to tell.

You may be thinking, “Maybe it’s not the story that needs to be told.” Except I know in my gut it is.

And aside from that, I’ve got 3 other stories that I need to finish revising and send off.

I entered The First Annual Brain Harvest Mega Challenge a little while back. The Second Place Winner has been posted. And I have to say, if that’s second place, I think I’m pretty sure I didn’t make First Place. 🙁

Last Friday & Saturday, I attended the 2009 Rod Serling Conference. I’m still processing the experience, a weekend filled with scholars, fans, and artists including Serling’s surviving fammily and the legendary George Clayton Johnson on whose every word we hung.

A modern-day John the Baptist, if I ever saw one.

I’ll blog the blow-by-blow later.

And now that I’ve taken time out to process my inbasket and tickler files, I can get some sleep and hit the WIP tomorrow.

Tough Love

Finally finished the work in progress and brought the ending to the biweekly abatoir that is my critique group.

Remember the last few times when the Win list was longer than the Fail list? Not this time, but that’s okay. It’s called a “puke draft” for a reason. Not only that, I brought about 3 times as many words as I’d brought before–of course the Fail list was going to be longer!

For the Win

  • Folks liked my description of the painful way the protagonist “solved” his problem.
  • Those scenes had a “feeling of menace and chaos.”
  • Praise for how I cashed in on a couple of plot points from the beginning of the story. (It’s funny–I had no idea I was gonna do that.)
  • The usual praise about dialogue, prose, etc.


  • Unresolved question #1: What are the stakes? (Yikes!)
  • Other unresolved questions:
    • What exactly is the protagonist’s motivation for getting involved in this “strange, new world” in the first place?
    • Why does he choose such a drastic solution to an unclear problem?
    • In fact, isn’t he making matters worse?
    • What’s his sister’s motivation, ‘cos the way she pushes the protagonist and where she pushes him to makes her look like more of a bad guy than the bad guy?
    • What did the bad guy want that was so bad?
  • I definitely strayed from the idea of “cultural tension” that I started out with in the beginning.

The entire puke draft clocked in at over 7300 words, so there’s a lot of tightening and rethinking to do. In a way, this piece is a victory because it’s been so long since I just cranked out a first draft of a “full-length” story with as little looking back as possible.

I’ve got a good feeling about this story though. I know all the pieces are there, even if they’re in a jumble.

Tough Love

I low-balled my wordcount for yesterday’s critique group crucifixion session again. 820 words. Just couldn’t get the story done, but I did bring something. Better to light an inch than curse the darkness after all, no?

I took bits of the next scene I’d planned and decided to staple it to the end of the scene I brought last time. An obvious decision that you just don’t see when you’re in the midst of a puke draft. Comments were as follows…

Story Win

  • I was a little clearer about the way the tech in this story works.
  • Tension was raised
  • Like last week, readers like the interaction between the protagonist and his sister.
  • I painted a clear picture of the protagonist being a little foolhardy, yet barreling ahead anyway.
  • Hm…I made a note of “Not a lot of words,” but I’ve forgotten what that meant…?

Story Fail

  • Anything involving the color green and computer coding will always say The Matrix.
  • [I’m paraphrasing here] The form of the tech in my story, as I describe it, doesn’t follow the function I describe. Or at least, I’m overcomplicating it.
  • [Edited to add] I evidently don’t know how to spell the singular of lenses.

Thank God for the techies in my group, that’s all I have to say! 🙂

Tough Love

Yesterday’s biweekly critique group evisceration was more like a knuckle-rapping, since I was only able to bring the very next scene of my WIP, about 750 words long. So, it doesn’t make sense for this entry to be very long :).

For the Win:

  • Did a good job portraying the protagonist’s squeamishness at the DIY operation he was undergoing.
  • Did a good job portraying the sibling relationship between the protag and his sister.


  • A minor plot point that demonstrated my poor understanding of chemistry 🙁
  • A couple of viewpoint errors
  • Still not enough information for the (group) readers’ tastes about what the protag is after. (It was 95% clear to the “tech guy” in our group, but after all, he’s a “tech guy.”)

I should continue with this piece but for today, I’ve got a contest entry to prep :).

Tough Love

I didn’t read at the last crit group-flogging, but made up for it this time with two flash fiction pieces. I finally had the guts to try and combine some flash fic with a bit of fantasy. Did it work? Here’s what the group had to say.

Story #1, 100 words:

For the Win:

  • It was a “complete story.”
  • “Every word counts.”
  • Good “rhythm” to the sentences.
  • Plot/fantasy element was clearly understood, depending on the reader’s interpretation.
  • In a session where the nit of the day seemed to be repeated words, the fact that I purposely repeated one particular phrase still worked.


  • More than one reader wanted, well, more.
  • One reader noted the story title’s original connotation that has nothing to do with the story.
  • My last sentence needlessly made my usually-ambiguous ending even more ambiguous by being too long.

Story #2, 1000 words:
For the Win:

  • One reader immediately picked up on the meta-fiction aspect of the story!!
  • “Weird, but believable.”
  • Good “characterization” i.e. the way I played around with stereotypical epic fantasy adventure characters.
  • Same thing about “adventure cliches”
  • “Twisty phrases”
  • A “satisfying” (read: unambiguous) ending.


  • Definitely went a little overboard trying not to make my sentences Carver-esque. Some of the them were too long. One reader made a comment about the sentence-length being good for an exercise, but not necessarily for this particular story.
  • …which makes some of the good “twisty phrases” a little too twisty.

Okay, maybe that second story had a bit more of a fundamental Fail, but I’m just glad that for once, the Win columns are a bit longer than the Fail ones!

Still, this’ll probably be the last pieces I bring for the next few sessions. It’s a new subs period for quite a few mags, and now I’ve got a nice little pile of stories to revise and submit! Because there have been precious few scorecard entries this year, and that makes me sad.

Tough Love

It’s been a week since the last critique group and I’m only getting around to this now. That’s the problem with this time of year for me, but that’s okay–better to light an inch than curse the darkness, right?

I’m posting this for the sake of completeness (to contrast my failure to keep my scorecards up to date for the past few months).

There really isn’t enough to break down into lists of Win! and Fail! because all I brought to last group–all I could bring, given the life BS I had to contend with that week–were two rewritten scenes. I brought them looking for only two things: (a) to see whether I successfully clarified/improved on the story’s McGuffin (Group verdict: Win!) and (b) whether I could answer the question of what keeps the protagonist in the situation he’s in (Group verdict: A little bit o’ Fail!).

So, I guess I should go and do something with these suggestions now, huh?

Tough Love

No justifications, no explanations, no excuses, though I will offer that some of these things might have been answered if I brought in the amount of material I’d intended to bring in before Life Happened the week before.

For now–possibly from now on–I won’t be posting Il Buono, il brutto, il cattivo of what I brought. Every comment I got was either Scene!Win or Scene!Fail. And the Fail list is sooo much longer…


  • Scene I brought was “believeable, in a weird way.”
  • The “usual” compliments (smooth writing, believable/snappy dialogue, etc.)
  • Bits were “funny.”

(From lowest to highest degree)

  • “Soda” vs. “pop” (vs. “coke”)
  • Need to give a little better sense of exactly who the protagonist, by this point.
  • Need to be more explicit about the protagonist’s feelings toward his overall situation.
  • Need to show my protagonist’s reactions to the fantasy element (good, bad, or indifferent).
  • Confusion about how I described a facet of the fantasy element. (Totally unnecessary confusion, on my part.)
  • The fucking scene doesn’t really add anything, leaving some to still ask themselves exactly what the fucking story’s really about!!


Hindsight is 20/20, but I’m thinking the reason I forced myself to bring and read 830 words of fail was for the symbolic victory of having written despite the week’s obstacles. Obviously, it didn’t even qualify as a Pyrric victory. It might’ve been if I’d have been able to finish more of it–I actually had about 500 more words, but I just couldn’t get them polished in time.

I think it’s time to drag my Inner Drill Sergeant back out…

Tough Love

So, some of my 2009 writing goals are off to a really fucking bad start. Life and death sometimes get in the way of writing, which is fine. But the good news is, I’ve thus far managed to keep my goal of writing one story a month, even though part of me thinks a 1,400-word story feels like cheating somehow, compared to last month’s 3,000 words. Then again, February is shorter.

Anyway, I finished and polished the bulk of this short-short story the night before yesterday’s critique group while watching the director’s cut of THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY on AMC at 2:00 AM. Hence, the many problems spotted by the eagle-eyed writers in my biweekly crucifixion session.

The Good

  • The “switch” i.e. the change of direction at the end of the story
  • The rhythm of the writing in some spots
  • One pop-culture reference spotted
  • The main character’s arc

The Bad

  • My second paragraph should’ve been my intro paragraph.
  • The fantasy element, telepathy, needed a bit more definition/consistency for one person
  • One paragraph on an ex-girlfriend mentioned only once (among other things) could be nixed.
  • I never named the story’s supporting character.
  • My experiment with not using quotation marks for dialogue was a fail for one reader.

The Ugly

  • A major plot point about what people think of the main character might’ve been a little negative when usually, the truth is that most people don’t think about us nearly as much as we think they do.
  • …leading to the question of whether the main character is actually reading minds or seeing a reflection of his own POV.
  • Another lively debate (like in the last group), this time about my use of the generic THE OFFICE/OFFICE SPACE/DILBERT cubicle-hell setting and how the protagonist’s co-workers were all painted as mean and blackhearted in some cases. One person strongly felt it was “overused” while another felt it was “awesome.”

I can definitely see both sides of that last point. The good news is that I think it’s all fixable.

Tough Love

Time once again to process my latest batch of critiques from my biweekly crucifixion session that is my critique group. The points are pretty brief. The passages I read totaled a mere 1,025 words. The important thing is that I finally managed to write an ending to this last WIP, and as soon as I figure out which of these critiques to use and finish up some rewrites, I can put a wrap on this beast.

The Good

  • This story (thanks to a revised intro) is now solidly and unequivocably involves a faerie–really an ex-faerie–which enabled me to emphasize her “faerie-ness” in ways people seemed to like.
  • The end had a “convincing twist.” One person used the words “O Henry-like,” but I’m pretty sure it was meant in a positive way.
  • There was suprise the ending was happy, even “sweet.” Not my usual fare, it’s true. (Note to self, next story should include some “extreme horror” elements.) 😉
  • Folks liked my juxtaposition of worlds where the mundane world of people in a dead-end job mixes with the world of faeries.

The Bad

  • Some narrative problems describing some physical mechanics involving a truck poised on the edge of a bluff, a rope, and the best place to tie…well, I could say more, but I’d be giving away plot.
  • I gave some (too) vague hints that the faerie in question had put herself in a LITTLE MERMAID-type situation. But folks needed/wanted more.

The Ugly

  • Since I created a setting where the workaday world of grocery-store employees mixes with the world of faeries, some readers needed to know the extent to which the main characters’ co-workers were aware of that particular reality. (I kinda, sorta addressed this in a rewrite no one’s seen yet.)
  • People wanted a little more about faerie mechanics in this little world I’ve set up, specifically where it relates to a plot point about faerie anatomy.
  • There was some lively debate about the ending, the implications of which were strikingly clear to some who read it exactly as I intended, and strikingly unclear to others for whom questions were raised. I admit, I wasn’t prepared for that.

I’ll worry about that last point once I polish off the middle section of the story. Should take me another day or two if work and school (which starts tomorrow–ack!) doesn’t get in the way too much. It’ll put me behind schedule, but at least I’ve already started my next story!!