These Strange Worlds: Fourteen Dark Tales

How does one deal with the crushing isolation of surviving the apocalypse? Hey, parasites just might be the answer!

What's the deal with that flat up there at 9 Curzon Place? I'd caution against checking in, but the place is building one heck of a band, you've got to give it that...

Hey teachers! All that grading got you down? Now, for a small down payment and a minimum (and...infrequent) maintenance fee, you can have all the help you need, courtesy of the zombies of the Caribbean island of Haiti...

Haunted hotels and zombie ponzi schemes. Alien invasions and murderous murals. All this and a heaping helping of weird are being served up gratis, but only for a limited time!

Get the collection These Strange Worlds: Fourteen Dark Tales, currently free for the Kindle.


The Fine Line

Aaron Polson, a terrific writer of dark speculative fiction, wrote a great blog post today on the nature of marketing. I can relate really well to what Aaron is saying there. Creative people (which equates to all seven billion living, breathing human beings on the planet Earth) only have so much time to do creative things. How much left do they have to get others interested in those creative things? 

I owe my agent a book. She's been patient in checking in with me. I'm just about finished with it (it won't be much longer, B, I promise!), and I think it's a good novel.

But other things always take precedence. Teaching, grading papers, committee work and office hours chew up a good chunk of the week (I'm back officially on Monday). I spent many hours this year in pulling together applications for both sabbatical and admission to graduate school at UCF. I also have a two-year-old, and we'd like to have some more kids. I like to run and fish and play golf. I need those things, just like I need to take my wife to the movies and our whole family to the zoo or the arts market and the beach.

And then there's the hour or two I actually devote to growing and refining the stories I enjoy writing. I had a great January and a solid February. With work starting up again, I'm not sure what will happen to my productivity, but I'll wager it'll drop. Oh, well.

Marketing? I just don't have much time to really become very active in forums. I have my blog and I like my Goodreads page, but I haven't gotten into Linkedin, Facebook, MySpace, Google + or Twitter. Maybe I will down the road, but it'll be more likely for professional networking and staying in touch with family or friends.

I woke up today battling a stubborn chest cold. I had designs on writing for a few hours, but instead I went to the doctor and I dropped by the college to pick up some texts and I raked the front yard and organized The Horrible (its our cabinet filled with small kitchen appliances, and the cords and crockpots and blenders all meld together like some awesome junkyard robot, but it makes getting the rice cooker out of the back a real bitch, so I cleaned it).

I wrote some chapter notes and this blog post, and that's the extent of what I do with marketing on a daily basis. There it is. It's not too effective, I know, but the girls will be home in ten minutes and then we're going for a walk and I'm certain the last thing we'll talk about is how much fun we all had today in sitting in front of a computer... 

Edit: Oh, in the meantime, I forgot to add that Amazon dropped the price on Survival. For a limited time, you can purchase the novella for just .99 (BAM! marketing)!


John Rector's Already Gone

I enjoyed Already Gone quite a bit. With its grim themes, spare prose style and violent plot, it read like good modern noir. The plot takes some nice twists and I found myself digging the narrative voice. Rector writes well in the present tense, which is not always the easiest thing to do, and dang, that Diane is one dastardly dame!

Or is she?

Fun story that moves well through the conclusion. I'll be looking for more of Rector's fiction...


On Reading and Creativity

I've been testing the waters lately on working with a group of writers in forming a literary cooperative. My initial thoughts were to find thirteen writers that would each write and design two novellas each. The idea would be to create a website that would include industry news, new fiction releases every two weeks (on a pre-set schedule), author collaboration, and general discussion on writing.

Here's where the idea might hit a snag: I'd like to feature novellas on the site.

Frozen is garnering some kind words on Goodreads, but folks seem to want more content. It's a fair criticism, and length seems to be a real hurdle for many readers of novellas.

I find that interesting, as I really like to both read and write stories in that 15,000-20,000-word range. I think some of Stephen King's best work falls into that narrative size, and I actively seek out novellas when I'm looking for stories on Amazon.

But maybe I'm in the minority. When I thought up the idea for the cooperative, I did it with an eye on filling a niche. I have my favorite go-to sites for short stories and I still scour the library once a week for novels, but there really isn't a web repository for novellas.

I keep a reading journal, and my general habits seem to follow these trends:
  • 20-25 novels in a given year
  • 25+ collections/anthologies (this is where I depart from most readers, I think; I really like short stories)
  • Three or four nonfiction titles
  • 25+ cookbooks
  • Loads of online reading, and I get Shimmer and Fantasy & Science Fiction at the house  
I've read six novellas so far in 2012, with only The Odds coming in hardcopy. I was thinking that a website with dedicated original content in the novella format would be good for folks like me, but maybe there just aren't a lot of readers that like that storytelling size.

I like the idea of writers collaborating on projects, maybe writing stories that complement each other's universes. I like the idea of selling a subscription, which would be a book club of sorts. I think there would be a nice infusion of content in the novella category for the yearly awards cycles. 

I'm also energized to see where digital content delivery is going. I recently accepted an offer to join the Texts and Technology program at the University of Central Florida, and I'm very excited to begin classes in the fall. It's an applied programming degree, and I'll be honing my skills in design and programming while boosting my credentials to teach digital media in our new converged communication program at the college.

When I think about enriched texts, narrative assemblages, and all of the emerging digital platforms, I get pretty excited. The future of storytelling is bright and (as I sit here, typing away in a digital journal) pretty much unlimited for writers and creators...

If you have thoughts on the novella (one way or the other), I'd love to hear from you!

Already Gone, Sugarland


A Strange Circumstance

I'm writing a novel in three parts, and I was passing through some revisions yesterday when it occurred to me that I'd written myself into a corner.

My dilemma: excise seventy-six pages, or one paragraph.

It's funny how that can happen, but the problem became perfectly clear to me while I was out on a jog. In the case of this narrative, the text in question really shifts the tone. If I keep the focus on the plot and the action, then those pages go. If I stress the exposition and flashback to build a character bond, that throws an abrupt halt to the pacing.

What kind of book should it be?

Thankfully, because of the beauty of the words processor, I can cut the larger passage and maybe save that for a stand-alone novella. I'll write it both ways and test it out with readers.

Though I have an inkling of which way I'd like to take it (lean and mean and filled with spleen), I haven't come to this particular conundrum yet in writing a novel...


The Unfortunate Plight of Greg Oden

Sometimes, coincidence is just silly (maybe uncanny is a better term in this case). In the early 1980s, the Portland Trailblazers passed on a chance to draft Micheal Jordan. They took Sam Bowie because they needed a post presence, and Jordan would have had a hard time playing with Clyde Drexler getting the bulk of the minutes at the '2' guard.

Bowie played marginally well as a Blazer, when he did play, but his career was hijacked by injuries. Those injuries, coupled with the fact the Jordan revolutionized the sport and became one of the greatest athletes in the history of sport, relegated Bowie's name to the margins of Trivial Pursuit. 

The same thing, sadly, has happened to Greg Oden. 

Jason Quick does a great job of running the sad details down here. It's an unfortunate plight, or as much of a sad story as one can have for a player that has banked many tens of millions. 

Let me tell you, Portland reveres its professional basketball team. When 20,000 people show up downtown to welcome you, you understand how big pro hoops is there in Rip City. I have fond memories of gathering around the radio and listening to the great Blazer teams as they went deep in the playoffs with Terry Porter, Kevin Duckworth, Buck Williams, Clyde the Glide, Drazen Petrovic, Arvydys Sabonis, and the rest of the early '90s squads. I loved the early '00s squads, with Strickland and Kenny Anderson, Gary Trent, Bonzi Wells, Nick the Quick, J.R. Rider, Sheed, Darius Miles, Mighty Mouse and Scott Pippen.

And then we have this current group. They've been together about five years. Now Brandon Roy is out of the league with bad knees of his own and we're struggling to win games. We lost last night to the Lakers on the road, and we're hovering around .500.

When we drafted Greg with the #1 pick, it seemed perfect. Pair him LMA and B.Roy and count the rings. 

That hasn't happened. Instead, Kevin Durant has become the league's most consistent performer and one of its top stars. Greg? Well, he's gone through surgeries and rehabs.

Unfortunately, he made more headlines for having a nude photograph make the rounds on the internet than he ever did for his play.

When he was right, he really was right. He could board like a monster and he occupied so much space that he was like two defenders in the paint. It would have been great to see what he could do.

But the injuries probably won't allow that. Three microfracture surgeries is too much to come back from. And that's why it's unfortunate, because Greg bought into the city and the fans that adored him. He got it, and he was going to be great there.

Many Blazers never leave Portland when their careers are over. It's too nice a place, and the people there treat them very well. But the fans have turned on Greg, and I imagine he'll leave town. He'll have to channel his competitive spirit in another way, and that's why it's an unfortunate plight for him.

I believe he just wants to play, but his body won't let him.

Here's to good healing, Greg. Thanks for putting in the effort on all of the rehabilitation assignments, and I hope Portland left enough of a good impression that you keep a condo in the KOIN tower or something like that.

I love the Blazers, but damn if they aren't snakebit when it comes to drafting bigs with early picks...


The Odds and The Debt

Stewart O'Nan's The Odds is, appropriately, subtitled "A Love Story." It's not of the Nicholas Sparks or Danielle Steele school of love stories, which is probably why I found it such an interesting story.

There's a great line in Joan Didion's essay "On Going Home." Didion writes that "Marriage is the ultimate betrayal." Within the context of her essay, she's talking about how marriage changes the familial dynamic, how her people call her husband "Joan's husband" in his presence because he hasn't quite cracked the barrier to becoming part of the immediate family.

But there are an infinite number of betrayals--some small and innocent, others huge and unforgivable--that color the glass of most marriages. In this case, we see infidelities on both sides that would choke the life from many unions.

Art and Marion are approaching middle age and lurching toward divorce. They still harbor a sort of love for each other, though more often than not their interactions are strained and calculated. The frivolity, the fun, the relaxed love that should accompany a marriage has flown away, because of Art's infidelity (Marion's, curiously, remains hidden in this novella--a plot point that would probably create a much different story if she had come clean).

O'Nan paints these characters in three dimensions; neither holds a place of moral superiority. The author's complex prose style is very descriptive and the story unfolds quickly. They are taking one last vacation to Canada, where they will wager their savings on games of chance at the casino. Both recently laid off and falling beneath the burden of crushing debt, this is as much a tale of the times as it is a story of mutual redemption for our protagonists.

I enjoyed reading this story very much, partly as a guidebook on what to look out for in avoiding Art and Marion's traps. I'm very thankful for the life my wife and I have made together. We'll have our ten-year anniversary this fall, and ours has been a happy marriage.

Ultimately, it comes down to trust. Doesn't it always? We love each other and we treat each other kindly, and I think that's where Marion and Art went wrong. Still, I'm hopeful that their marriage will have a happier second act. That final line, in spite of everything that comes before it, seems to indicate that's at least a possibility.


The Debt (2011) has a lot going for it. Helen Mirren and Jessica Chastain deliver fine performances in their portrayal of an Israeli intelligence officer charged with bringing a heinous Nazi war criminal to justice. The story spans three decades, and shows what a burden guilt and treachery can have on one's conscience. 

I liked the score very much, and the performances were good. The story delivered some very tense moments (I hated watching Jesper Christensen eating over and over again, but that's a personal deal, not a flaw in the storytelling) and I liked the third act quite a lot.

And I'm not one of those folks that has to have a tidy ending. I think ambiguity often is the best conclusion, but in this case I would have liked to learn the end results of the note she left. I'll leave it at that, and just say that this is a solid B+ for me, and that you'd do well to give it a look...


Fotolia Continues to Amaze!

Graphic artists, web designers, bloggers and journalists have known about Fotolia for a long time. I've blogged about their services before but, in the last three or four months, they've incorporated some changes that have really elevated the bar.

Fotolia, which serves as a repository for many millions of stock photographs, vectors, videos, backgrounds and accents, has unveiled a new program called TEN. This program features video presentations of ten talented graphic artists as they move through the creative steps necessary to create an original work of digital art. If you are looking to create a memorable poster, book cover, flier--heck, even a logo for your business--this is a really neat experience. I've watched the first two of these presentations, and I came away with some great ideas. If you are thinking about giving Fotolia a shot, I'd recommend signing up prior to April 10, when they will actually provide the PSD layer file (provided by artist Joolz) to subscribers for free.

Fotolia's database features a very intuitive search engine. I've really enjoyed the process of browsing the content over the months, and they've entered into another alliance that I think further cements their place at the forefront for digital art. Fotolia now is licensing selected galleries from deviantART.

This is awesome.

I love a lot of the fine art I see on deviantART, so this affiliation makes perfect sense for Fotolia. I've met a few artists through deviantART and collaborated on projects with them, so this was great news for me. By partnering with deviantART, they bolster their catalog of images and they make the acquisition of artwork seamless for the purchaser and profitable for the artist. This gives the folks posting over at deviantART another distribution channel for their work, and it makes Fotolia a one-stop shop for content.

You can purchase images at Fotolia a la carte or through subscription. If you work in the field of digital creativity, I highly recommend that you take a look through their files and carve out some time to view one of the TEN presentations. I'm confident that you'll come away a stronger artist for your investment!


Celebration Music

I just received some really good news. Though this music comes from a pretty somber film, I find it relaxing. Give it a listen, and have a great Monday...


A Few Observations and Updates...

I've read my Kindle pretty hard since I received it last summer, but I've still tried to maintain my frequent trips to the library. I just finished 11/22/63, and it's about the size you'd expect from Stephen King. It's a mammoth and, after reading on the tablet, I forgot what it was like to tackle a book of that size. It wasn't unpleasant, but I do prefer the Kindle reading experience on the whole.

While I was browsing at the library, I noticed many more titles from independent authors and small presses. At the new arrivals section, there are probably 500 titles, and I counted nineteen of the SP/indie variety before I gave it up. Pretty interesting how the dynamics of book culture are changing; it was nice to see a little more diversity on the shelves. 

Also, I'm currently reading Rob Swartwood's novella The Man on the Bench, and then I'll be reading Stewart O'Nan's The Odds. That's right, my next two books are novellas. I think that's one of the great benefits of digital publishing, as that 15,000-20,000-word sweetspot is just a natural fit for some stories. Perhaps the novella truly is making a comeback.

In another interesting piece of news, 74% of book buyers have never purchased an eBook. That figure boggles the mind (at least for me it does), because it shows the huge growth potential for the digital marketplace. I think there are millions of readers that are like me--they enjoy reading on the tablet, but they also still purchase and borrow traditional books. There's plenty of room for both, and that's a great thing for both readers and authors.

I'm back at the college on a limited basis in about a month. Before then, I want to put in this year's garden and renovate the front yard (in addition to having a bunch more Daddy/Daughter Days!).

From a writing perspective, I'm hoping to have a novel for my agent before the end of the month, and I'll be releasing a digital novella before May. My second collection of short stories, The Silver Coast and Other Stories, will be available in the early summer. I have a campfire tale that will soon be released in a middle-grade anthology from CoolWell Press, and I've got four other short stories under contract for publication in 2012.

Busy, busy...and hopefully there will be some other good news to share in the coming months!


Stephen King's 11/22/63

11/22/63 was a very enjoyable trip back in time. Stephen King's sprawling novel examines and reinterprets the Kennedy assassination while simultaneously delivering an important message on the nature of time: be thankful for the present. Don't neglect your life in the moment you're in, because it's pretty likely that the past suffers from nostalgic selection bias and the future isn't promised.

One of the themes King returns to time and again is the idea that 1958 smells better--that the air is cleaner and the sunshine feels just a little warmer. But as the novel progresses, we see this for what it really is: wishful thinking. 1958 is filled with racist Americans. The air is clouded by cigarette smoke. People aren't any nicer or more cordial to each other than they are now, all things considered.

I was talking about the book with a buddy the other day, and I think it's pretty easy to get lost in the idea that the past was, somehow, more pure. But honestly, people ten years will fondly look back at 2012 as an age of (relative) innocence, just as they always have. When you stand perpetually at the cusp of the future, as all current living human beings do, it's pretty easy to forget that misery and heartache and triumph and joy are all achievable in all times.

And the future in this book? Let's just say that it's not a rosy picture, folks. King only spends a few pages on it, but it's not necessary to dawdle there. 

The book featured many standards of King fiction that I enjoy. I liked the interactions between Jake Epping (George Amberson) and Al Templeton very much. King writes older folks well, and he writes wistful cancer patients exceedingly well. Templeton fits both bills here, approaching the monumental task of convincing Epping with humor and grace. 

The central romance between George and Sadie Dunhill is classic King. Peppering the novel with vivid popular culture references grounds the narrative in time and place and gives it a voyeuristic feel. Dunhill's character vacillates between uncertainty and trust in such a realistic fashion that this is a really believable love story, given its crazy core of time travel.

It's not a perfect book. I think it could have been a few hundred pages shorter in the middle act, and that we spent an awful lot of time exploring big-city/small-town sociocultural norms (I'm sure the Jessica Caltrop dressing down was authentic to 1958, but it seemed like we hammered those ideals waaaay too frequently here). And I was a little put off by the number of really short fragments King seems to have begun using to underscore main ideas. We get it...

Also, a huge percentage of the vignettes ended with George going to sleep. I have to really edit my own work to be careful of doing just this. It reads like a "day-in-the-life" expose, and that gets tiresome.

But those are small quibbles. The narrative fluidity and flair for description are spot on, and King really pays it all off in those final pages. This is a very good novel, and it might send you down your own personal rabbit-hole when it's all said and done.

I Googled "Marina Oswald" yesterday, and I'd barely reached the "i" before her name populated the search field. King's book has people curious about this time period and event all over again, and that's a good thing. 

Highly recommended...


9 Curzon Place

My story "9 Curzon Place" has been reprinted in trade paperback in Future Imperfect: The Best of Wily Writers 2. Thanks, Angel, for doing such a nice job with the anthology!


Chasing Whales

Each of us very likely has one or more persistent challenges that we think about on a daily basis. Last summer, I set a goal for myself that was concrete and measurable: I wanted to score an 85 at Mill Cove Golf Course from the white tees by August 30.

I played twice a week and I pined after that score. I mean, I'm not a great golfer, but I'm not horrible either. I can hit it a little, and I think I'm still improving. 

June and July passed. I was grinding out there. I think I had at least a dozen 86s in that time.

August flew by and I didn't get it. It became a running joke at the golf course. Everyone was asking me if I got my 85. 

Yesterday, I finally did. 

I'm superstitious and a little OCD, so I try to do certain things in every round. I have to use a very particular quarter for a ballmarker. I'm pretty careful in my pre-shot routine. And sometimes I have the bad habit of keeping the score in my head.

Yesterday I didn't. I wrote them all down, keeping track of fairways and putts along the way, but I didn't tally the figure, even when I made the turn. I knew I had a special round going when I chipped in for birdie on four. I had no three-putts, and my highest score was a double. I parred three in a row and five of six. It was looking good!

But I still had to make a knee-knocker on 18 to card that 85! One more putt and it would have just been another 86. It's amazing how slim the margin can be when it comes to chasing our personal white whales. 

Whether it's a four-minute mile or a big old silver tarpon or a word count, it's easy to become obsessed with the object without appreciating the process. I think that happened to me, and now that I've got that score out of the way, I think I'll be going low more frequently.

It feels good, but now I'm moving back to the gold tees. Time to start over again...

So I suppose the lesson I'm taking from all of this is simple--stay the course, but enjoy the journey. Nothing profound, to be sure, but it's easier said than done.


Swamp People Revisited

I received a couple of e-mails on the post I wrote last night on Swamp People. While it's no excuse, let me just say that I had an emotional response to the show. Swamp People really dramatizes the kill shot, with slow-motion effects and a tense musical score. It's no different than any other reality show in that regard, and that's probably why it gets to me.

Because I'm not against hunting. Not at all. I understand that it's a way of life for these people, and that many make a good living at it. The animals are plentiful throughout the American South, and the population is being effectively managed. When hunters take deer or waterfowl (or in this case reptiles) for the dinner table or as a legitimate means of earning a living, I think that makes perfect sense.

A colleague at the college, who has taken more than his share of alligators over the years, posed an interesting question: Is there a more humane way of taking an animal than with a gunshot? Wouldn't it be more traumatic to use a knife, or to allow the the animals to drown on the trotlines? 

I actually think hunters should take a page from the manuals of nursing homes throughout the country and just smother them with a pillow, but that might be a little dangerous for the hunter.

A friend in Oregon raised the point of how traumatic it is just to hook a fish, even if I'm practicing catch-and-release fishing. I've heard this argument a lot, and I suppose it's the reason that I tamp down the barbs on my hooks and make sure I properly vent any deepwater species before releasing them. I respect bag and slot limits and happily purchase my licenses each year because those funds funnel directly into species management.

I believe hunters are important stewards of wildlife management and preservation. I suppose the reason I reacted the way that I did was because I'm not familiar with this form of hunting, and because it just looks cruel on television. 

I was wrong for using the term "rubes." Denigrating folks based on practices I'm not familiar with is a poor argument, and I'm guilty for using that term. Sorry for that.

And while I do think it's lazy to use trotlines, I'm pretty impressed with Willie's abilities with the treble hook. He sees the bubbles and goes after them. To me, that's how it should be done...

Now, speaking of reality television, I think Atom got jobbed. I had him 47-45 over Zeus, but I'm sure he'll get another shot down the road.

Enjoy the Super Bowl! For what it's worth, I like the Patriots 38-31 in an entertaining game. Take the Pats to cover and the over if you're getting down...  


Swamp People

I go fishing almost every week. I do it for sport, and also for a chance to be really connected to the place that I call home. Florida is an amazing place to be, and a fine state in which to raise a child. There are hundreds of places to put a boat in the water just miles from our front door.

So I enjoy the outdoors, but I hate this show Swamp People. I know that alligators can become pests. I also know that they are probably the greatest success story in the history of America's native animal preservation efforts. They were hunted almost to extinction by the 1930s, but our state wildlife offices believe their population is now somewhere closer to two million. We see them quite a bit, and I've had some interesting interactions with them throughout the years.

I also know that they taste good.

This show glorifies lazy hunting. It's just ridiculous.

I wish none of these idiots had tags. I wish not a single one of them had a chance to pull alligators up from the bottom with their trot lines, and I really wish none of them could shoot them in the face and drag their corpses into their boats.

Most of all, I wish those idiots at the History Channel hadn't given them a chance to become heroes.

It's just not right. Hunting is one thing, and I understand that harvesting these creatures is a means of earning a living, but the manner in which they're taken is revolting. Watch the show if it's your thing, but I'm done with it. Too discouraging for my tastes...


Daddy Daughter Day

I was sitting at my computer yesterday when I had to ask myself, Jeez, Dan, why are you sitting at your computer? The weather has been perfect--high seventies, almost no humidity. What the heck was I doing indoors?

I take the spring off. There are some definite disadvantages to not being on the same schedule as my colleagues at the college (though summer/fall is a pretty sweet gig as well), but I wouldn't trade for a traditional schedule. I love to play golf, jog the trails of NE FL, fish and take hikes. This is the best time to do those things, but I haven't spent much time at any of them.

I've written 30,000 words since January 3rd. It's been nice, but it's also a bit of a grind. A bunch of days, I sat down at 9:00 and didn't budge until 4:00, and that's just too much time at the computer for my tastes. 

So yesterday, I went and picked up some fresh shrimp. I told Lyla we'd have a daddy/daughter day, and you should have seen that girl's face light up! We got up early and drove up to Fort Clinch, where we took a nice hike (I've got photographs of a gator wallow, complete with tracks very near the sign in that top picture). We had a picnic and fished for an hour, then walked the beach, where we collected five snail shells and a bunch of gull feathers (we're making some feather caps tonight!).

It was a great day.

And even though I'm meeting up with Will Ludwigsen tonight for a cold'un and a chat about--you guessed it--speculative writing, I'm going to have some more of these days in February. I'm going to work on the house and the yard and my golf game. I'm going to spend time with Jeanne and Lyla, and that's what I'm talking about when I'm talking about time off!


Now Available: Frozen

Two children, stranded on a wildfire lookout in the middle of the Rocky Mountains.

100 miles between them and their mother.

32 degrees and an hour until dark.

Things are about to get very cold in Colorado...

Frozen is now available in the following formats:

You Know When It's Good

If you spend any real time at the word processor, you understand that sometimes the writing flows and you just know in your heart and in you...