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Category Archives: Short Stories

Advice to a Young Writer

Advice to a Young Writer

This message from a young writer arrived last week via my website:

I am interested in writing teen fiction light novels. The genre I would like to work with is fantasy, adventure, and space. What does it take to become a fiction writer? What steps did you take? and How did you accomplish your work? I am still working on my fiction story. I created a link [omitted]. Just to get a head start.

A few days later, when I had time to provide a lucid reply after sleeping hours and hours, I wrote back:

Welcome to the land of stories! We writers are an odd bunch, living so often as we do in worlds of myth and make-believe.

How does one become a writer? One writes.

A lot.

Like all crafts, writing takes time and practice. Often, the first book written will not be the first book published. Many writers have manuscripts that will never see publication, because those were their practice books. Maybe book three or book five is the one finally published, the one readers might think is the author’s first book ever.

Dragon’s Rook took twenty years from concept to publication. Most writers don’t take that long. I was busy making a living while writing short stories and poems, submitting them to contests or magazines, and then — at long last — finishing a novel.

However, there are many unfinished novels. Some I threw away, because the time to write them had long past. Some I kept, because I still have a passion to complete them.

I can’t give you any rules or checklists to guide your journey. It’s unique to you. However, all writers become writers by — drum roll, please! — writing.

Learn all you can about constructing compelling storylines, creating intriguing characters, writing dynamic dialogue, and even learn proper grammar and sentence construction. Good paragraphs are structured like good jokes: not that they are all funny, but that they build toward a strong ending. Write a strong sentence, write a strong paragraph, write a strong scene. Repeat until you have a chapter, until you have another chapter, until you finally have a book.

Avoid cliched phrases or trite characters. Avoid lazy writing. There may be only a limited number of stories in the world, but find a way to tell your story in a fresh way.

Be open to constructive criticism. Not nasty put-downs, but honest feedback meant to help your work improve. Be humble and teachable. Be ready to stand up for your story choices, if necessary, but also be ready to consider other options. Be willing to look at the story honestly, and to see its flaws as well as its strengths.

I saw on your website that you have some of your story posted. A word of caution: Avoid offering too much of your work for free, or too soon. A chapter or a scene might be okay, or a short story related to the novel not included in the book itself. (Many writers are offering free short stories or deleted scenes as bonus material for readers.)

I wish you all the best on your journey, and I hope to hear good things about you in the future.

Sincerely,
KB

Any other advice you’d give a young writer?

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And Now I Wait

My query, sent a few moments ago to Intergalactic Medicine Show:

Greetings!

Attached is “The Dragon and the Firefly”, a short story (approx. 8,000 words) set in a fantasy version of Japan in the era of samurai and shoguns. In this world, serpent-fruit trees can heal or kill, and children left at their base are said to grow up blessed. A warlord, Minoru, battles the emperor for control of the One Tree, the only such tree able to bring life to the dead. Long after the war, though, why is Minoru still unwell, and why is a dead man roaming the streets?

I hope you enjoy this tale, and thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,
Keanan Brand

Now the dreaded three-month wait for a response. 😉

I believe “The Dragon and the Firefly” has more than a fighting chance. In case of rejection, I may publish the story on Kindle, but it’d be encouraging if the editors select it for publication.

Just in case I decide to publish it on Kindle (c2016, KB)

(c2016, KB)

 

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Miss Sally Sue From Kalamazoo: An Unexpected Transformation

Miss Sally Sue From Kalamazoo: An Unexpected Transformation

The photo below is of an ordinary autumn flower, but the image to the left is that same photo transformed by featuring not its original image but its heat map. Although the original is vibrant, the heat map colors are an eye-grabbing rainbow.

So, too, may bland words gain fire and vigor once the writer takes hold of them.

And sometimes they surprise.

bright flora along the Soldier Creek Nature Trail (c2015, KB)

along the Soldier Creek Nature Trail (c2015, KB)

Monday night’s writers meeting / NaNoWriMo write-in included what has come to be one of this group’s favorite activities: passing around story-starter sheets on which each member adds one element that will then be incorporated into an impromptu short story.

When we have more people than we have story elements, that means each writer will be given a story sheet he or she has never seen. Surprise!

Some of those surprises are unpleasant — second-person POV, for instance, or paranormal romance involving aliens — but the results are usually humorous or delightfully twisty.

Monday night’s session brought me this puzzler and only fifteen minutes to compose a masterpiece:

Character: Miss Sally Sue from Kalamazoo
Genre: Realistic / Magical Realism
Setting: Kansas
POV: 1st
Problem / Conflict: Her mother is ill and Sally must earn money to pay for her medicine
Line of Dialogue: “Oh Sally, why are you my least favorite child?”
Prop: kazoo

My first reaction: “Borrriiiiing!”

My second reaction: “What in the world am I supposed to do with this?”

My third reaction: “Write a children’s poem.”

The result, however, is –not for children. There are few rhymes (noted by the orange font), and little rhythm, but the ending is darkly humorous.

Miss Sally Sue from Kalamazoo
travelled from Michigan to Kansas
a job to find and money to earn,
for her mother lay ill,
and Sally was the only child still speaking to her.

Miss Sally Sue from Kalamazoo
returned to Michigan from Kansas
with medicine and money to spare
for her mother infirm,
but Sally was met by a spurning sigh and a stare.

“Oh, Sally, why are you my least favorite child?”

Miss Sally Sue from Kalamazoo
was not daunted by Mother’s despair.
She measured the powder and water,
offered it with a smile,
then Sally played the kazoo all the while Mother choked as Death caught her.

c2015, Keanan Brand

Before the psychiatrist is called or anti-depressants are prescribed, no, I’m not feeling murderous, and the relationship with my mother is healthy, thank you. 😉

The transformation of words is what I intended, but how they transformed and what they became was certainly not my intention.

Surprise!

Neon Blue permutation of the image above (c2015, KB)

Neon Blue of the image above (c2015, KB)

 

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Pilgrimage, Heroic Fantasy, and Robin Hood

Pilgrimage, Heroic Fantasy, and Robin Hood

The difference between wanting to write and having written is…hard, relentless labour. It’s a bridge you have to build all by yourself, all alone, all through the night, while the world goes about its business without giving a damn. The only way of making this perilous passage is by looking at it as a pilgrimage. ― Shatrujeet Nath

What a pilgrimage it has been — and it’s far from ended.

I meant to write a blog post last month, or perhaps the month before, about the most influential character I ever encountered as a reader, and thought the character and the words would come pouring forth with ease.

I shoulda known better.

My imagination went into hiding, I seemed to forget every story I’d ever read, and all the words evaporated like summer rain in the desert.

HFQ 6x9 front cover ONLY-croppedAdd to that sudden betrayal by my brain the equally sudden request from my friends at Heroic Fantasy Quarterly: They’d finalized the stories and poems for their anthology, and were ready for me to do my part — design and format the book.

I’d been preparing for this event for about two years. It is one of several reasons I published Dragon’s Rook after almost throwing it away. Needing material on which to practice, I heavily revised the novel and restructured it, then learned how to format it for print and e-book, and then — with the artwork and cover design from a friend — published it independently. The experience and skills gained from that process has been put to excellent use in helping bring HFQ’s anthology to the public.

Words may have hidden from me, but book formatting is a different kind of creativity.There wasn’t much time to bemoan the lack of storytelling or blog posting — there was a cover to design, and text to manipulate, and fonts to sample. And a deadline to meet.

Still, I pondered which character(s) could be considered “the most influential”, but didn’t know the answer until it strolled onto the scene in a private message exchange on social media. A fellow writer said he was preparing to read my book, but had lost some of his enthusiasm for the genre.

There’s more to his message, and more to my reply, but this is the portion pertinent to this post:

(I)f you proceed, I hope you’re pleasantly surprised. People see swords and dragons, and they form opinions without knowing how those items are used in the story. Rather than being a Tolkien knock-off or a GRRM wannabe, Dragon’s Rook is its own thing.

Couldn’t duplicate GRRM or Robert Jordan or most others, even if I tried, because I’ve never read them. My reading is mainly in other genres — detective mysteries, for example.

The main stylistic influence is Howard Pyle’s The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, a book which led to trouble one summer when I confessed to having read it x number of times and was about to read it again. Dad decided I needed to get out more, so he made my brother and me cut and haul pine on BLM land that needed to be cleared, and then we stacked it at our house in preparation for winter. (Yes, I have stories about stories.)

Bingo! Robin Hood! How did I not realize that before?

a photo of the rough front cover of my beloved Velveteen-Rabbit-ed copy (KB)

a photo of the front cover of my beloved Velveteen-Rabbit-ed copy (KB)

He isn’t the only character who has influenced my life once I read his/her story, but Robin i’ the Hood certainly had an impact on my plans that summer.

My dad meant to make me exercise and soak up sunlight, but he’s also the one who introduced me to this edition of the book, and he used to read portions aloud, so — loving it as he did — what did he expect but that I would love it, too?

I loved it so much, in fact, that the copy pictured here has begun to fall apart. Several years ago, I purchased a replacement copy — in much better shape, almost pristine — of this very same edition. It is the best, mimicking an illuminated text, and rich with color and action.

I’ve read other versions by other authors, but none beats Howard Pyle’s. It’s robust, full of humor and tragedy and exploits, and it fired my imagination until I composed pale imitations of the adventures of Robin and his merry band.

In seeking for something Robin-like, I stumbled upon other classic tales, such as Baroness Orczy’s The Scarlet Pimpernel.

You guessed it. That book’s falling apart, too.

 

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Book Bag

Book Bag

I used to have a book bag, a cloth receptacle for hauling my loot back and forth from the library, either when I walked or when I rode my bike there on a Saturday. Nowadays, we have digital bookbags — Kindles or Nooks or other e-reading devices — that are much lighter and more compact than the paperback-stuffed backpacks of yesteryear.

Here are a few suggested additions to those book bags:

1) The Big Shutdown by John Whalen

TheBigShutdown

The Big Shutdown. An entire planet is about to be made obsolete. Chaos rules as Nomad gangs terrorize what’s left of Tulon’s cities. Jack Brand, ex-Army Ranger, semi-retired Tulon Security Officer, searches for his missing sister, Terry. His journey takes him from desert wastelands to a domed city, and beyond. Along the way he meets the unforgettable Christy Jones, But love will have to wait until Brand finds his sister, and soon the last ship will leave for Earth.

“The Big Shutdown” is a new, revised edition of “Jack Brand,” a space western classic first published in 2010. Out of print for two years, Flying W Press brings it back with an introduction by Johne Cook, Overlord of Ray Gun Revival, the e-zine where the stories that became a novel were first published. Also included is an additional story from Whalen’s “This Raygun for Hire.” series, featuring Frank Carson, a futuristic trouble shooter for hire.

2) The Best of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly by various authors, and compiled by the editors at Heroic Fantasy Quarterly magazine.

HFQ 6x9 front cover ONLY-cropped

Tales gathered from frozen pre-history, sweltering jungles, and smoky mead halls, legends of this world and whispers of other worlds briefly glimpsed — here then are gathered works of adventure and danger, love and fury, seventeen of the best from the early days of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly.

Fiction by Richard Marsden, James Lecky, William Gerke, R. Michael Burns, Christopher Wood, Robert Rhodes, Dariel R. A. Quiogue, Jesse Bangs, P. Djeli Clark, and David Pilling.

Poetry by Danny Adams, Joshua Hampton, W. E. Couvillier, John Keller, Megan Arkenberg, Joshua Hampton, and David Sklar.

Introduction by John O’Neill of Black Gate Magazine.

3) The catalogue of books available at Oghma Creative Media, which publishes a wide variety of genres, including this recent offering:

TheJudasSteer

Is Blood Thicker Than Water?

Three years ago Aubrey Fox’s husband, a Pittsburg County Undersheriff, was discovered in a remote pasture, dead from an unknown assailant’s bullet. With few clues and even fewer leads, his case went cold. Aubrey was left to mourn as best she could, a loss made even greater for lack of closure. Who killed Mark and why? Meanwhile, life went on with two teenagers and a herd of cattle to feed.

When the local sheriff pays an unexpected visit and hints that someone higher up has reopened her husband’s case, Aubrey begins her own investigation. What she finds on his computer casts a wide net of involvement, but who pulled the trigger? Who would believe the results would render the face of organized crime in the United States as wearing a Stetson and hand-tooled Lucchese boots.

4) And, although this book has been out since the end of January 2015, it is now available on Kindle Unlimited, and is free for a few days (until Saturday, November 14):

Dragon's_Rook_Cover_Keanan_Brand_Susan_Troutt

 

Captain Gaerbith is heir to a secret: the location of a lost sword he cannot touch. In a village far from the battlefield, Kieran the blacksmith remembers nothing before the day when, as a young boy, he was found beside a dead man, a dagger in hand. Maggie is a healer’s apprentice, and earns her way as a laundress. Her shadowed past and crippled hand make her an object of suspicion and ridicule.  Far to the north, the king’s daughter—Yanámari—plots to escape the royal city and her father’s iron control.

King Morfran seeks a Kellish blacksmith who can recreate the lost sword, false proof of Morfran’s right to the throne. However, the true sword is made of etherium, the only metal capable of harming Dragons, and it can be wielded only by a descendent of Kel High King.

Forces are aligning, old prophecies are fulfilling, and in the east a fire glows in Dragon’s Rook.

Note: Apologies for the varied sizes of the book covers. No favoritism or slight is intended.

 

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A Reading Wonderland

A Reading Wonderland

Some of my most calming, curiosity-piquing, wonder-filled memories are of libraries and bookstores. Even the smallest or dimmest or least organized are magical places, perhaps made more so by their imperfections and the sense of exploring a cavern of delights.

Years ago, I used to spend my lunch breaks at The Snooper’s Barn on Towson Avenue in Fort Smith, Arkansas, poking through the dusty stackes in the back where history books and old volumes — some antique — were shelved higgledy-piggledy, sometimes in precarious Jenga-like towers.

I recently introduced my eldest niece to an excellent independent bookstore in Oklahoma City. When we entered Full Circle Books — serving readers for more than three decades — we stepped not through the looking glass, nor through a wardrobe, but through a modern glass and metal door, yet the magic still welcomed us.

entryway, Full Circle Books, c2015, KB

entryway, Full Circle Books, c2015, KB

 

fireplace and sitting area, Full Circle Books, c2015, KB

fireplace and sitting area, Full Circle Books, c2015, KB

 

an old friend, c2015, KB

an old friend, c2015, KB

 

She fell in love with the rambling space filled with hidden rooms and cozy nooks, and the old-fashioned ladders that travel back and forth on metal tracks in need of oiling.

The children’s rooms are well-stocked with old friends and new, including a French copy of Dr. Seuss’s One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish — my niece’s first excuse to climb a ladder, but I don’t think she really needed a reason. 😉

children's reading room, Full Circle Books (c2015, KB)

children’s reading room, Full Circle Books (c2015, KB)

 

IMG_2986^cropped

the red ladder (c2015, KB)

 

IMG_2989^vignette brown

by the light of Winnie the Pooh (c2015, KB)

 

IMG_2994^cropped

French Seuss (c2015, KB)

 

IMG_2999^light

I love Sandra Boynton books. (c2015, KB)

 

IMG_3000^light

another old friend (c2015, KB)

 

IMG_3006^vignette pale

familiar author names (c2015, KB)

 

IMG_3003^HDR soft

funky covers (c2015, KB)

Same spaces have the atmosphere of a comfortable corner of someone’s home, and every doorway welcomes.

a comfortable study (c2015, KB)

a comfortable study (c2015, KB)

 

c2015, KB

c2015, KB

 

IMG_3008^HDR soft

c2015, KB

 

IMG_3028^cropped

a cheery welcome at one of the several doorways (c2015, KB)

 

I came around the corner and encountered mysteries. There’s a metaphor there, I’m sure.

IMG_3014^saturated

c2015, KB

 

My niece later found another reason to climb a ladder — various collections of Edgar Allen Poe, to which she coined a pun: “If one is perusing the works of Edgar Allen, one could be said to be reading Poe-etry.”

We are a silly lot.

Jamie reading Poe (c2015, KB)

Jamie reading Poe (c2015, KB)

 

On the mantel of one of the fireplaces stands this whimsical fellow:

c2015, KB

c2015, KB

 

If you ever visit Oklahoma City, try to carve out time to visit Full Circle Books, especially if you’re an independent author. The staff are friendly and professional, and the store supports indie and local authors, and the variety of books is vast.

front desk and beyond (c2015, KB)

front desk and beyond (c2015, KB)

 

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Turned: A Werewolf Love Story

Turned^KM CarrollTurned: A Werewolf Love Story is the first book in The Regency Shifter Series by K.M. Carroll. This fantasy / paranormal novella is a quick read, and is perfect for readers who enjoy stories that incorporate dark fairy tales, romance, werewolves, light horror, or magic mixed with science.

In this tale set in the fictional land of Grayton, scholarly, plump Bernard Preston weds beautiful, proud Charlotte Brighton in an arranged marriage. They’re essentially roommates who meet at mealtimes but who do not understand one another. Charlotte runs the household while Bernard toils in his workshop, partnering with the mages to create a cure for werewolves. He reasons that if those touched by the curse can retain their human minds, perhaps their bodies can be returned to human form, as well.

But what happens when the scientist and his lady are bitten by a werewolf? Will he ever have a chance to complete his research, or will he die by the hands of hunters? And what about his dainty wife, reduced to an animal existence?

Carroll tells an engaging tale, easily read in a single sitting. She does not dwell on the intricacies of politics, society, or how Bernard arrives at his various elixirs, but keeps the story centered on the main couple and how their strained relationship changes and grows into true love over the course of their time in the wild as they work together to survive, and to break the curse over all the werewolves and restore peace to the land.

NOTE: The cover shown here is not the updated cover shown on Amazon.

 

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