Friday, January 10, 2014

A Writer of the Imminent Future

"Self," I said, "we really need to get a new blog post up.  The Prius thing is making us look like even more of a self-perpetuating stereotype than we actually are."

"I know, self," I said, "but if we don't knock out at least 1,500 words today, we're going to be in the Sad Zone again, and nobody wants that."

Then the phone rang: a very nice person was calling to tell me that my short story, "Hell Bent", had taken an Honorable Mention in the Writers of the Future Contest

That in itself is not a world-changing event.  No cash, no Corvette, no tropical weekend getaway with Vanna White.  (Though I absolutely recommend the contest to any of you speculative fictioneers out there - it's fun and free, not to mention potentially lucrative, and has minted more titans of SFF than you can shake a Klingon painstick at.)

But damn, I am pleased. 

One of the things that really eats my self-esteem is that I write SO. DANG. SLOW.  Like really, unconscionably, Sarlacc-digestion-speed slow.  (That 1,500 words thing has been taking me five or six hours a day, and I'm still failing regularly.)  There are so many people at my kickin' awesome workshop who just knock stuff OUT - who have a new chapter to read every Wednesday without fail, who are constantly submitting this here and that there, while also revising three more stories at the same time and probably flipping omelettes while they type.  I even know a guy who's writing a short story a week.  Every week.  For a year.  And yet he somehow still has time to go out to the bar, and I KNOW that cuz I saw him there last week!

I know I need to pick up the pace.  I'm sure I'll get faster if I keep at it.  But in the meantime, it is awfully encouraging to know that this little thing - my one and only short story, the one I spent 100+ hours researching and revising and workshopping and polishing - actually got somewhere on the very first try.

Needless to say, thanks hugely to all of you guys who helped to sand down the edges.  I think I'll try to send the little darling somewhere else, see if it can't win a place in a magazine somewhere.

In the meantime, and just in case you're interested, the opening scene is below the cut.  (Write Clubbers, this will not be new to you, though I owe you immensely for your critique!)

from "Hell Bent"
by Tex Thompson

In travel, as in life, the first of all virtues was self-control.

Presently, Holly could not control the blood spattered on his collar, nor the mud slopped over his trousers, nor the crack in the left lens of his spectacles.

But it was well within his power to fold his sack coat crisply over one arm, keeping a jaunty grip on his carpet-bag with the other, and to smile as he approached the rustic fellow leading a mule along the rain-swollen road.

"Pleasant morning, sir," Holly said, and would have tipped his hat, had he retained its possession.

The rustic touched his battered straw brim in reply, but it was the view beyond Holly's shoulder that received his open-mouthed amazement.

Holly turned to share it with him.  The mud-mired wreck was a good quarter-mile behind him now, the stagecoach's skyward-facing wheel having long since ceased to spin.  "Oh, don't be alarmed," Holly said.  "The reinsman and the shotgunner were both thrown clear, and my fellow passengers have enjoyed the grace of God and steel-ribbed corsetry.  You see how they've set to drying their skirts on firmer ground, there--we're all just cuts and bruises, nothing worse."

A gunshot split the humid morning air.

"Well, perhaps not the horses." Holly turned back to the rustic, whose expression had deepened its resemblance to a shriveled apple.  "It's not far to town, is it?"

Holly could not recall the name--something picturesque, Hobnail or Boot-Hump or Stye--and perhaps the rustic had the same difficulty, as it was a considerable time before he replied.

", not hardly; Hockit ain't but two miles up the road."  He crafted a helpful compass from his thumb.

"Splendid," Holly said, as the sun was already making a white-linen swamp of his back and underarms.  "Do you know whether they might have a doctor in residence?"

"Oh, sure," the rustic said to the drying blood in Holly's hair.  "Doc Fitch's place is cat-a-cornered from the hotel, can't miss it.  Just watch out for his boy Lan-Yap--he's one of them hellbenders from the bayou, and you know what-like THEY are."

Holly didn't, but that was fine: this was surely rural racialism at its finest, a delicacy as authentic as any that had ever been plated and sold to a world-hungry expeditioner.  He smiled.  "Fantastic," he said, "I certainly will.  --And while we're exchanging confidence, you'll do very well by Miss Hinchcliff back there if your mule can spare his blanket.  We pulled her out by the window before the coach began to sink, but I'm afraid her crinoline was a lost cause."

His debt thus repaid, Holly took his leave and went on, boots squelching, carpet-bag's contents clinking merrily.  Here was the true art of the traveler: one had only to retain mastery of one's own person--and hand-luggage, where possible--in order to enjoy all the education and entertainment that Nature reserved for the portable man.

And that was before profit even figured into it.


  1. The important thing is that you write. Not the quantity or even the quality, but that you DO it. It's pretty easy to compare yourself to people who apparently pull their various manuscripts out of their butts (where my sister said she got every paper she turned in during college) but everyone's different.

    To quote an article from, " Tom Wolfe’s A Man in Full has about 370,000 words, and it took him eleven years to write it. “My children grew up thinking that was all I did: write, and never finish, a book called A Man in Full.” That many words divided by that many working days in a year indicates he averaged 134 words a day.

    J.R.R. Tolkein wrote The Lord of the Rings as one novel, which contains about 670,000 words. It took him eleven years, which is 245 words each working day, or a little less than a typed page. Pulitzer Prize winning biographer Edmund Morris writes about 300 words a day, and says he will labor long over a single sentence. Seven years passed between Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 and his next novel, Something Happened."

    And a lot of authors only ever published one book, like Harper Lee and Margaret Mitchell. Not that I think you'll only publish one book (your two-book deal already has you one upped on Lee and Mitchell), but I think as long as you get to say what you want to say, you're ahead of a great many of us.

    Grammatical hugs, Frankles

    1. Sage wisdom as always, Frankles! Though given that those are finished, printed words, I would venture to say that those authors must have produced significantly more words that were later replaced or deleted.

      Your point is a good one, though, especially about how even the quality of the words is secondary to the act of actually producing them. Maybe this mantra needs to go next to the one I use at the gym. Any minutes are better than no minutes. Any words are better than no words. And some days, that will yield more results than others!