Monday, April 10, 2017

Short Stories

Recently, I made the "biggest" sale of my career - my short story "The Rage of Achilles" to Halloween Carnival, a weekly ebook series which will be released weekly October 2017 from Random House/Hydra, and eventually collected in limited edition hardcover from Cemetery Dance Publishing.  That in itself was pretty mind-blowing, but even better? I'll be featured alongside one of my favorite authors, Robert McCammon....

Now, I know the deal. "Strange Candy" is a reprint, from McCammon's collection Blue World. Still, it's pretty cool. The only author left I want to be featured alongside is Stephen King. We'll see how that goes. For now - and, mind you,  I'm fully aware these stories are all reprints - I've been published next to Neil Gaiman, Peter Straub, David Morrell, Clive Barker and Robert McCammon. Not bad for a kid who never thought he'd write short stories at all.

Because I initially thought of myself as being a "novelist" only. Of course, that was back when I was young and stupid, and imagined myself living in a cabin, writing a bestselling novel whenever I felt like it. Of course, after re-writing the first half of a novel over and over again, I realized the problem: I had no idea how to end a story.  Around that same time, I read King's  On Writing for the first time. One of the ideas it proposed: picking up freelance nonfiction writing gigs, writing short stories, reviews...anything you could find. 

So I started writing short stories, if for nothing else than to figure out how to end something. One character, one POV, one plot line to resolve. Several were rejected, which stung, of course, but like Bradbury said once, "You figure they're (editors) all idiots, of course, and don't recognize your genius, so you keep on writing." I eventually sold my first short story "Way Station" (of 10,000 words) for $100 to The Midnight Diner

I placed several stories after that in "4theluv" or token pay anthologies. Along the way, I wrote my first solo book-length work, a novella, Hiram Grange and The Chosen One. Then, a few solicited stories, still token rate, but folks asking me for a change. Eventually, I sold a few for semi-pro rates.  And slowly, for some reason, the guy who'd only ever wanted to be a novelist become focused on writing short fiction, reading short stories like a junkie mainlines crack.  

During this time I experienced a little publishing dry-spell, but kept writing but most importantly, reading. In one mind-blowing summer I discovered the Whispers, Shadows, Borderlands anthologies and the Year's Best Horror series edited by Karl Edward Wagner, and read 198 Bradbury short stories, two or three each day (I'm an English teacher by trade, so this is what I call "Summer Professional Development").

And then I sold my first pro-pay short story, "Scavenging" to Chiral Mad 2. For the first time, my work was appearing with folks I considered mentors. Then, lighting struck twice: I received my first pro-pay solicitation, which I nailed in "The Black Pyramid" for Shadows Over Main Street. The following summer, I experimented with writing a story a week. I produced eight stories, but ironically, all of them turned out to be novellas except for one, "Out of Field Theory", which was solicited for Shock Totem Magazine's Halloween Special. Those other novellas eventually became my third book, Through A Mirror, Darkly.

And then, I received my second pro-pay solicitation, which I landed after a requested re-write, "When We All Meet at the Ofrenda" for Gutted: Beautiful Horror StoriesAfter that, I wrote a short story called "The Office" and managed to sell that for semi-pro pay to Beauty of Death. My third pro-pay solicitation was the Cemetery Dance/Random House gig, and I'm waiting to hear back on my fourth pro-pay solicitation.

Here's the thing: I don't really consider myself that good at short stories. On my own - sit down, think up a story, write it - I'm okay. I'm solid. Decent. But the stories of mine which seem to "spark" are the ones which were solicited. I don't know why. Maybe there's an increased level of confidence, knowing someone wants my work. Maybe my writing is sharper when I've been solicited to write a certain type of story for  a certain type of anthology. I dunno. But I rarely sit down and write short stories for the sake of doing so, and even when I try - like that one summer - they always end up being novellas. I only do it when I've been solicited.

Which is cool with me. I have two more on the docket - one due next September, the other the  following March.  I'll pretty much write whatever, so long as it's something I can make into a "Kevin Lucia Kind of Story" (whatever that means).  Of course, there's also the fear that, once I've been solicited....what if I blow it? What if I submit a story, and it's  not what the editor is looking for? I never assumed a solicitation meant a guarantee, but as I've been fortunate enough never to have a solicited story just never occurred to me it might.

Which leads me to next week's blog post: writing THAT novel. The one you send to an agent, or submit higher up the ladder. I have a book coming out Fall 2017 and and another in Spring 2018. I have a short story coming out October 2017, and hopefully another this summer. It may be time for another publishing dryspell, this one self initiated, to see if I can make a jump to the next step.

More next week....