Kids aren’t the only ones who should get a summer break

Have I mentioned lately that I’m revising two novels? Yes, two; one two buckle my shoe novels. One is the as-yet unnamed sequel to The Unwanted, and the other is a revision of the near-future dystopian speculative fiction I wrote in grad school. For many industrious and talented writers I know, this would be no big whoop.

I am not one of those writers, however.

Anyway, my goal is to finish these revisions by the end of the summer, so I’m taking a temporary hiatus from here (and yes, I know “temporary hiatus” is redundant, but I can live with that, and so can you). So that I can focus (something I always have problems with, as you know if you’ve read, like, anything I’ve posted here), I’ve also deleted a whole slew of apps to make my smartphone as dumb as possible. I’ve caught up on all my must-see TV (which, granted, isn’t much) so that I can ignore all the other things piling up on the DVR, and I’m not going to even think about seeing what’s new on Netflix.

At the moment, as in last week and this one, I’m focusing on the as-yet unnamed sequel to The Unwanted. (At some point, I really should come up with a title, shouldn’t I? What do you think of Prophecy Sucks? No? Maybe?) I finished revising chapter 15 this weekend, and chapter 16 in its current form is a bit, well, sketchy. There are lots of bracketed notes to myself that say helpful things like “[FIX THIS]” or “[MORE HERE],” Will I get them both done before September? Maybe not. Probably not. Maybe I’ll get one of them in the can, though, and the other one farther along than it is now. We shall see. Wish me luck!

In the meantime, maybe you’ll find something worth reading in the archives. I’m going through them and clearing out some of the mundane stuff from the early years, but I’m also working on organizing the rest of it into more helpful categories. Because good heavens, looking back at posts from 2006 and 2007, it’s like Captain Kirk opening that storage unit on Space Station K-7 and getting buried under an avalanche of Tribbles….

Finding writing inspiration… at a leather convention?

You never know when inspiration is going to cross your path. In my case, I never would have expected inspiration for my young adult writing to arrive at a leather convention.

Let me back up. Recently, we went to Chicago to visit my friend Scott. He’s a photographer and a good friend I originally got to know through blogging. Yes, it was that long ago. Blogging wa still a thing, dinosaurs roamed the earth, and we all drove Model Ts. We’ve known each other for about 15 years, but I hadn’t seen him since before I went to grad school, so five, maybe six years. This is far too long, and I hadn’t been to Chicago in about as long a time, and he’d just recently moved there. So, up we went.

Amid all of our sightseeing and museum-going and dining and cocktailing (is “cocktailing” a verb? Well, it is now), Scott also was scheduled to promote a book of erotic photography that he’d published and was getting ready to publish a second edition. So he had to work a shift at the book table at International Mr. Leather.

Yes, that IML.
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A story: Murder on the Midway

cover of Men of the Mean StreetsThis story was a step outside of my comfort zone, something that my editor Greg Herren has always encouraged me to do. He’s commented how funny it is when writers are approached to contribute to an anthology outside their usual genre, the frequent response is “oh, I don’t write mystery/noir/horror/erotica/literary clown fiction.” (I made up that last one, but it’s got potential, don’t you think? No? Just me? Let’s move on, then.)

Where was I? Oh right, stepping outside of your comfort zone. Instead of responding “I don’t write that,” Greg told me, you might consider “I’ve never tried that before.” You never know what you’re going to enjoy writing.

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What the things I repeat tell me about my focus

As a writer and someone who writes about writing (insert obligatory “dancing about architecture”-type comment here), there are two things that I tend to worry about more often than all the other things I worry about: repetition and focus.

This applies to my fiction writing as well as whatever half-baked principles and ideas about writing I may spout off. (Just kidding; all my ideas are fully baked.) Case in point: in one of my fiction workshops in graduate school, when my story was up for discussion, a friend of mine* started off by saying “this has the trifecta of a Jeffrey Ricker story: love, longing, and loss.” As the discussion went on, I missed a few things because I kept wondering, wait, is this story a retread? Am I just writing the same thing over and over?

It was a different story from all the others I’d submitted that year—different characters, plots, settings—but as I mentally scrolled through my pile of stories for that class, it was true. I was writing about people longing for other people, losing other people, and loving and unloving other people.

Love, longing, loss. Surely there’s more to the world than that, isn’t there? On the other hand, those three things count for a lot, don’t they?

When I sit down to write a blog entry or a letter to you about writing—about the things I think about when it comes to writing—at some point in the process I usually flip back through the last few entries/letters I’ve written to confirm that I’m not rewriting the same thing I sent a month or three months (or six months) earlier. And sometimes, while it’s not word for word the same letter I sent, the topics and the points are… well, familiar.

photo by Matthew Hamilton, Unsplash

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A story, “Multiverse,” at Phoebe Journal

I submitted “Multiverse” to Phoebe Journal, the litmag of George Mason University, for their fiction contest, and while it didn’t win, apparently the contest readers liked it enough that they named it their Reader’s Choice entry. Here’s the first bit:

You learn about the multiverse theory from your Facebook feed, when a story about it appears above a photo someone posts of your best friend from high school. It’s unexpected, that photo. He’s in his forties, like you, and he looks almost the same as back then…and yet, not. It takes a moment to pinpoint: His smile doesn’t reach his eyes. He used to smile with his whole body, his eyes most of all. Not now.

His sadness makes you wonder, and the multiverse theory makes you think about worlds in which you tried to kiss him….

Cover of Phoebe Journal 46.2

It’s not a long story at all. You can read the rest of it here. There’s more fabulous writing available there, too.

I’m not so much proud of this story as bemused by it, as it seemed to be one of those that emerged almost whole, unbidden, out of the ether. Mind you, I don’t really think writing works that way. A kernel of this idea has been in the back of my mind since—well, since high school, if you must know. It just needed the right spark to catch fire, and honestly, a friend’s Facebook post (back before I ditched my personal Facebook profile) provided the necessary catalyst.

I also need to thank my friend, fellow writer Ruth Daniell, for her valuable feedback on it before I sent it in. (Ruth is a fantastic writer, by the way; you should read anything she publishes.)

I hope you enjoy it.

Want to get published more? Embrace rejection—an update


Image by Judith E. Bell/Flickr

I got the nicest rejection letter recently.

No, I’m totally serious. I wanted to write them back and say thank you; thank you for rejecting my work!

Are they going to publish it? No. Did I win any sort of consolation prize (like, you know, money)? No. Is my name going to be on some list of notoriety as a result? Well, my name is probably on a list somewhere already, and not in the good way, but let’s not dwell on that.

So, you ask, what makes you so happy that they rejected your work? Well, this:

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A story: Scorned, from The Lavender Menace

Oh, this one was so much fun to write. I love writing bad guys as much as actors love playing villains, I think. I mean, admit it: Who do you think had more fun playing their character on Dynasty, Linda Evans or Joan Collins? Yeah, exactly.

The best part of this, though, was probably the editing process. Tom Cardamone really had great feedback that helped me improve the story and make it darker and “a little more Arkham,” as he put it. After I finished this, I considered revisiting the characters later, maybe a reunion of sorts between Marcus and the good doctor.

I’m still wondering who would come out on top in that confrontation….

(If you like the story, subscribe to my newsletter to read more like it.)

“Scorned” appeared in The Lavender Menace: Tales of Queer Villainy! published by Northwest Press. You can get a copy here. And check out the follow-up, Absolute Power: Tales of Queer Villainy!

“You’re new.”

Marcus Harris had never seen the woman standing in the visitor’s vestibule adjacent to his cell, but her white coat, worn over a charcoal business suit, blared “psychologist.” She wore glasses and kept her curly blonde hair shoulder length. Sitting in the plastic chair reserved for visitors (who never came), she crossed her legs and settled a clipboard over her knees. When she smiled at him, it was completely unconvincing.

“I’m Dr. Emily Wheeling,” she said. “The warden asked me to come see you this morning and ask you a few questions.”

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A cautionary social media tale

[TL;DR–social media delights in distracting you and wasting your time. Minutes/hours spent tweeting or posting are minutes/hours not spent writing. Is that how you want to be spending your time? Also, commenting on a trending hashtag brings out the crazies like you wouldn’t believe. Don’t feed them, whatever you do. Their appetite is bottomless.]

Hashtags on Twitter can be great, right? You can find a lot of information and links about a particular topic or event pretty quickly. Some of my favorites are #FridayReads, where people tell you about the books they’re reading as of (you guessed it) Friday. I also liked #SAS16 when I was at the Saints & SInners Literary Festival in New Orleans. And stumbling across #PitchWars got me some really useful feedback on a work in progress. (Thanks, Michael Mammay and Dan Kobold.)

So when I saw a hashtag that said #BoycottHawaii, I thought, “What’s that about?” and clicked on it.

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A story: “At the End of the Leash”

Cover of Fool for Love: New Gay FictionYou never forget your first, right? This story was the first one I ever published. It still holds a special place in my heart, but when I looked at it now, it struck me that I didn’t realize at the time how long it was. Over 8,000 words? Seems excessive to me now. I’m a more concise writer, I think.

This story originally appeared in the anthology Fool for Love: New Gay Fiction edited by R.D. Cochrane and Timothy J. Lambert and published by Cleis Press. A lot of the authors in here have become friends of mine, as have the editors.

This story may have established a pattern for a lot of my future stories, in that they too revolve around love and somehow manage to work dogs into the equation.

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Next week, a story

(TL/DR, sign up for my email newsletter and next week you’ll get a short story from me. I promise not to be spammy or sell your name, because people who do that have a special place in hell where they’re forced to be roommates with Ann Coulter and Kellyanne Conway. And Chris Christie lives next door. Ew, right?)

This week I officially rejoined the ranks of the full-time workforce. I won’t bore you with the details about that (and they really are boring), but it gives me an opportunity to talk about consistency, time management, changes to my weekly email (which haven’t been all that weekly of late), and the value we place (or don’t place, rather) on fiction.

I’m not the sort of writer who thinks “you have to write every day without fail and it has to be  X number of words or you’re a complete failure why do you even call yourself a writer just give it up already.”

Photo of an old fashioned typewriter by Sergey Zolkin.

Note, this is not my typewriter. Do I wish it was? You betcha.

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