Tag Archive: publishing


Minnesota Stories

IMG_2706I’ve been revising my short story “The Satellite Dish,” which is a follow-up to “The Mailbox” and takes place  three years later, in 1984. Back in my college years while I was working toward my English degree with an emphasis on creative writing, I generally wrote nongenre fiction for my classes, what is sometimes called “literary fiction,” but that always sounds so pompous that I’m reluctant to use the label.

The first one was “Me and the Mean Kid,” which was about Nicky and the rocky start he had with Jimmy, a kid in his new Twin Cities neighborhood. After that came “The New Kid,” where the tables had turned; now Jimmy and Nick are best friends and a new kid moves into the house between them. Around the time I graduated I wrote “The Mailbox,” about Nick’s grandparents on his father’s side, who live outside the small fictional town of Lewis near the real cities of Cloquet and Carlton (my home town) south of Duluth. I still have the first typewritten draft of that, as the photo shows.

There were other stories and lots of notes about the intertwining characters. The setting of the earliest story I’ve written is 1944. A number of the stories take place in the eighties and nineties because that’s when I was writing them. I had grand plans for two short story collections and a novel; I even wrote the first chapter of the novel. Its present day is 1995, but the bulk of the story would be a flashback to 1965. Not all of these details were known in the stories’ first drafts, but have been fleshed out and added in over the years.

At some point I started calling them the Minnesota Stories, and I still have a fondness for them. The ones that focus on the extended family tend to be nice little stories. There’s a subset of the Minnesota Stories set in Duluth that are more tangential and edgier, however. Some are about Nick’s dad’s cousin, but the rest are about people who he knows or crosses paths with. Those stories and vignettes are more Raymond Carver inspired than Garrison Keillor inspired.

As my schedule permits, I’ll probably continue revisiting these pieces, revising them and putting them out as e-books. Realistically, I can now imagine someday having a modest collection of stories and a novella. If I ever get there I would probably look into a print version: I like to think that could be a solid regional seller. But that is still down a long, dusty country road . . .

Clothes cover.pngClothes Make the Man and Other Crimes is my latest e-book, a collection of four crime stories. In “The Sun Dress,” a dress, an affair, and a gun lead to a surprising and explosive confrontation. Officer Peggy Roberts makes a traffic stop and hopes to catch a killer in “Clothes Make the Man.” The flash fiction “Details, Details” illuminates the research behind David’s perfect plan to kill his boss. Finally, “First Impression” is a night on the town with a cold-blooded assassin who has made going unnoticed the cornerstone of his profession.

The lead character of “Clothes Make the Man,” police officer Peggy Roberts, had a cameo in my second Kate Sullivan mystery story, “Of Murder and Minidonuts.” Roberts will return in the third Kate Sullivan story when I get around to writing it.

“Clothes Make the Man” was my contribution to Writes of Spring, an anthology edited by Gary Schulze and his wife Pat Frovarp, the then-owners of the fabulous Once Upon a Crime Mystery Bookstore in Minneapolis.

For more than a decade they provided unwavering support for mystery writers in general and Twin Cities writers in particular. Even though for years I had but one mystery short story to my credit—my first Kate Sullivan story, “Out of the Jacuzzi, Into the Sauna,” in Resort to Murder—they always invited me to participate in their annual Writes of Spring signing event. They provided my second mystery credit when they included “Clothes Make the Man” in Writes of Spring, which celebrated the tenth anniversary of the Writes of Spring and the twenty-fifth anniversary of the bookstore.

So I was particularly saddened to learn that Gary had passed away just as I was preparing to release Clothes Make the Man and Other Crimes. A big thanks to both Gary and Pat for everything they have done for the mystery community of writers and readers. It was well deserved when they won a Raven Award from the Mystery Writers of America in 2011.

I’d also like to give a shout-out to Jeff Ayers, Kevin Lauderdale, and Michael Allan Mallory, whose insightful comments helped put an extra polish on each of the stories in Clothes Make the Man and Other Crimes.

Yesterday I submitted my final reviews of the invasive species manuscripts I wrote work-for-hire. I did four of these: Africanized honeybees, red imported fire ants, zebra mussels, and kudzu (the vine that ate the south).

These were very short books for elementary school reluctant readers, so they had to be at a specific reading level. The process necessary to get them there turned out to be the most difficult job I’ve ever had, and if you only knew the behind-the-scenes stories of some of the projects I’ve worked on in my years in this business, you would fully appreciate that statement.

OK, one story: I once worked on a book that the author submitted hard copy. I had to arrange for someone to key enter the manuscript into Word. At one point the author submitted changes, including inserts where he had cut manuscript pages in two and taped in new typewritten passages. Now that was old school! Great guy and a great book, but . . . wow.

Back to invasive species: the ratio of hours of research, writing, and revising to the final word count was off the hook. I only barely crawled across the finish line thanks to my editors on the project. The finished books will be another strange addition to my scattershot publishing resumé, which includes Star Trek stories, a Led Zeppelin discography, and poetry (with one poem given an honorable mention on Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year list in 2010).

I’m looking forward to sticking to one freelance project at a time for the foreseeable future. This will give me time to get back to some long-neglected writing projects of my own. At least that’s the plan, but . . . did I mention we’re house hunting?

Okay, it wasn’t a bar, it was just me at the computer with a glass of wine. But anyhoo . . .

So I’ve got this short story I’m fond of, “The Sad Rains of Mars,” an homage to the late, great Ray Bradbury. It had a couple beta readers during the first few drafts, and I was happy with it. Over the last year I’ve been sending it to various markets. I started out big, sending it to Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, then to the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. After a form rejection from both of them, I had another friend read it, and she had some nice comments that led to a few minor tweaks.

Next it went over to Tor.com. Then Clarkesworld after that. Two more strikes. Yeah, that’s up to four strikes now, pardon the sloppy baseball metaphor. I took another look at it and restructured the first page or two a bit. It struck me that those opening paragraphs were a bit back-story heavy, and I think I achieved a better balance between the dialogue and the exposition necessary to set up the world for the reader.

At this point I should mention that I don’t advocate rewriting after every rejection. That way madness lies. On the other hand, if a story isn’t getting placed you should be open to the idea that there might be good reasons for that. You have to find the right time to double down for your art and when to admit that your manuscript isn’t the shiny stack of awesome and rainbows you first thought it was.

With the repolished opening, I once again felt pretty good about the story. But I needed to pick a new market. I started going through some old bookmarks I had in my browser. Wow, that was depressing. Several cool markets, both print and online, had gone out of business over the last couple years. The URL for Lissette’s Tales of the Imagination now takes you to a Japanese porn site. Either that or Lissette’s has substantially changed its format and target audience.

The other thing I noticed was how many of the remaining markets I had bookmarked paid quite low rates or minimal flat fees. Like, say, $50 for a short story. That’s the business model that keeps these periodicals going, and I recognize that’s the cold reality of a lot of small markets. I am not dismissing them as a group; there are a lot of fine publications and publishers that work on that level, and they’re publishing great stories. (Of course, there are also others who take advantage of eager beginners desperate for publishing credits, young writers willing to essentially give away their work to see it in print.)

As I clicked through more markets, I realized that simply getting another publishing credit isn’t important enough to me to justify handing over a story for a few bucks. At this point, I’d rather sit on a story or self-publish than get underpaid. I eventually found a market that pays a reputable six cents a word, which is the rate that the Science Fiction Writers of America uses in its definition of a professional sale.

So off the manuscript went. We shall see what happens.

ImageAnd by “we” I mean “me.” June 23 saw the release of my latest Star Trek novella, The More Things Change, an eBook exclusive for Kindle and Nook and such. It’s been four years (!) since my previous Trek book, Honor in the Night in the Myriad Universes: Shattered Light anthology. 

Where Honor in the Night was my Trek version of Citizen Kane, a hundred-year-long story about Nilz Baris and an alternate timeline of the Federation, The More Things Change is a very focused story only covering a few days of adventure for Christine Chapel and Spock. Here’s a synopsis: 

When Dr. Christine Chapel and Spock have to evacuate Audrid Dax from the Enterprise due to a medical emergency, Chapel is frustrated by Trill customs that don’t allow her to treat her patient. Chapel finds herself questioning her long-term plans while also dealing with Spock’s changing personality following his mind meld with V’ger. Soon, however, they have bigger problems when an unidentified vessel ambushes their shuttlecraft. They are forced into a dangerous cat-and-mouse game to evade their attacker long enough to get Dax to the Trill doctors who can save her life. Along the way, Chapel discovers much about herself, Spock, and the secrets of the Trill. 

This was a fun story to write. The Chapel character wasn’t always served that well by the original series, and so the goal behind this story—thanks to the input of my editor, Margaret Clark—was to redeem her, to make her a strong character and define an arc for her that led from the often insecure nurse of the show through becoming a doctor in Star Trek: The Motion Picture and then on to the responsibilities she shoulders after leaving the Enterprise, as glimpsed in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. In addition, I got to play with her feelings for Spock, and how her growth through the years would affect her unrequited love for him, and, in turn, how that would be affected by Spock’s own personal changes. 

That’s a lot of character-driven stuff, but it’s held together by the action of the story, as Spock tries to evade the hostile ship that’s pursuing them. I got to write intimate character scenes between Chapel and Spock as well as tense action scenes as they try to stay alive on a damaged shuttle. Plus, a Dax is in the house! I just hope the readers enjoy the story as much as I enjoyed writing it. 

To be completely self-serving, I now quote one of its first readers, Eric Cone, who posted this on Facebook: “If you want a quick, change-of-pace thrill-ride, get the Star Trek: The More Things Change eBook by Scott Pearson. I finished it in about 3 hrs and literally could not put my Nook down. . . . Fast-paced, funny, and highly-entertaining, this one is a real treat.” 

Your mileage may vary, but thanks Eric!    

ImageWhen I decided I wanted to be a writer, back in the miasmal swamps of prehistory, I was writing on an electric typewriter and using a lot of correction tape, Wite-Out, and erasers. Inevitably I did a lot of retyping when a page became too messy for submission. I also borrowed an idea from Ray Bradbury, who used 3×5 index cards to jot down story and title ideas. When he wanted to start something new, he could simply pull a card out of his little file box and let inspiration strike. I’ll pause a moment to let the kids Google “electric typewriter” and “Wite-Out” and “index cards.” There. Yes, we used to use those things. 

It was all very simple. Write story. Look up markets in the Writer’s Market. Affix appropriate postage to envelopes. Mail story. Get rejection slip. Rinse. Repeat. That’s what you did. Writers who paid a fortune to get a box of hardcovers printed by a vanity press were generally suckers who wound up with a lot of extra insulation in their attic. But now we’re in the twenty-first century, and it’s a whole new ballgame. 

Back in the day you really didn’t have to wonder how to be a writer. You just wrote and submitted. Boom. Now you can spend days surfing the net just researching self-publishing, traditional, hybrid, and what to do or not to do to best pursue each of those labels. Plus, buzzwords: platform, online presence, social media. 

A few months ago, as I pursued freelance editorial work, I contacted an online business that’s a perfect example of the new publishing. A collective of freelancers that helps authors get published in both eBook and print formats, providing editorial and design services. I was hoping I might get some editorial work with them. But their response was “Hey, great resumé for both editing and writing . . . but can you produce eBook files?” 

Ouch. Reality punch in the face. These days, you can’t simply be an editor, you also have to do eBook design. You can’t just be a writer, you also have to be a publisher. Agents are also trying to find their way in this new world, and they find themselves working with writers who aren’t interested in traditional publishers, which used to be the whole purpose for an agent. 

Everyone’s trying to figure out what to do and how to do it. It reminds me of Jack Lemmon’s character in Glengarry Glen Ross, the old-school salesman, Shelley “The Machine” Levine, desperate for some good leads to reenergize his sales and keep his job. Writers, editors, agents . . . we’re all looking for some good leads so we can just get back to what we love doing. 

As for me . . . I’m teaching myself a lot more about eBooks. I’ve got software for creating eBook files. I’m looking at my backlist of stories from two angles: what will I self-pub, and what will I continue to pursue traditionally. Long ago I came up with a name for my own imprint and got a simple logo designed (that’s it, there at the top of this post). We’ll see what happens. I’m working on a short collection of humorous vignettes and other silliness that I’ll self-pub when it’s ready. Stay tuned.

ImageTwenty-eight years ago when I graduated college with the highly employable degree of Bachelor of Arts, English and Philosophy (the previous statement has been validated by the Sarcasmatron 9000), I just wanted to get some job I liked to pay the bills while I put most of my energy into my writing. That led to four years of working at a video rental store (there used to be these things called video rental stores) followed by four years of working at Barnes & Noble (there used to be these things called bookstores). I had a couple years at home unsuccessfully pursuing freelance work, and then became  employed as a stay-at-home dad for five years.

Shortly after I become a stay-at-home dad, we moved into a new house. About the same time we moved into the neighborhood, a tea shop, called TeaSource, opened up six blocks or so from our house, and I became a regular there, known to the people in the surrounding shops as “the guy with the baby in the stroller.” A couple times I proofed the TeaSource catalog and was paid in bulk tea. I did a lot of the editing of the true crime book Will to Murder there. The owner sometimes joked that I kept the shop open for the first year until business started picking up.

All during that time, from college through stay-at-home dad years, I was realizing a couple things. For one thing, as I did more freelance editing, I found that it didn’t wear me out on writing. I’d never considered a job in publishing because I thought working all day on editing would burn me out for my own writing. But that wasn’t the case. Another thing was that my writing wasn’t selling anyway. So when the kid started kindergarten, I took the plunge and got a day job as an editor. The following year I had a Star Trek story published by Simon & Schuster. Over the next several years I had two more stories and a novella published by S&S, and also had some small press success with short stories in a number of genres. Clearly, editing as a day job wasn’t hurting my writing.

When I was laid off last spring, I plunged into my freelance editing career. Or, rather, I plunged into trying to jumpstart my freelance editing career. It rapidly became clear I was not going to bring in the kind of paychecks I needed anytime soon. And although I had some good stuff going on with my writing, like my upcoming Trek eBook, I really needed to get a job.

There were two ways to go: get back into a full-time editorial position or reinvent my post-college strategy of getting some job I liked while, this time around, growing my freelance editing business and keeping the momentum going on my writing. I gave a shot at the full-time day job, but such positions are few and far between, and I didn’t get either of the positions I applied for.

So this brings us to my new job . . . I’m working part time at TeaSource! That’s just weird. For sixteen years I’ve been a customer, but now I’m brewing tea for people. I can walk to work, and, since I’m only working twenty-five to thirty hours a week, I’ve got good writing and editing time left over. I’m drinking lots of tea, I’m working on my steampunkish novel, and there are other various irons in the fire. It seems 2014 is going to be interesting . . . who knows which way I’ll stagger next.

ImageLooking back on 2013 is a mixed bag for me. In April I was laid off, and I have been without a day job ever since. A few new day-job opportunities didn’t come through, unfortunately, but my dream would be to go completely freelance anyway, working on my own writing while also doing freelance editing. So far, however, those pay checks have been few and far between. 

Looking on the bright side, though, my lay off was a good thing in many ways. The burdens placed on small publishers by upheavals within the book industry made my job increasingly stressful over the last few years, and after moving on my stress level went way down. Plus, around the same time I got a big freelance job and a contract with Simon & Schuster for a new Star Trek eBook, The More Things Change, due out this July. The extra “free” time also allowed me to pursue a pitch for a middle-grade tie-in book series for a TV show I’m not at liberty to mention. I wrote five sample chapters, an outline, and additional materials which are now being shown to publishers. It may well go nowhere, but this, along with other irons in the fire, has helped make the last several months the most active I’ve been in writing for years. That makes me happy. 

I also continue to develop my freelance editing business. I’ve had a few jobs over the last couple months, and in addition to maintaining a Yeahsure Editorial Services website and some related social media, I’m pursuing other internet opportunities. One interesting thing I’ve stumbled across is the website Thumbtack. Thumbtack facilitates connections between people who need some work done and people who can do that work. Basically, people post the available job and then receive quotes for the job from interested freelancers. The client can then pick the best freelancer for the work. I’ve now set up a page for Yeahsure Editorial Services on Thumbtack. This is a great way for people to find freelancers instead of just Googling “freelance editor.” There are small fees involved for the freelancers, which I consider a reasonable cost of doing business, like buying an ad. I look forward to the chance to bid on editing jobs.

On the writing side, I just plan on doing more this year. I’ve already started digging back into my long-suffering steampunkish novel, and I will maintain that momentum moving forward. Alongside that, I hope to write the occasional short story, both in various worlds I’ve already created as well as some new standalones. Overall I’m hopeful that 2014 will shape up to be a good year for my writing and editing!

ImageMany writers admit that it’s a constant struggle to get at the page. There are always things to distract you from the keyboard: family, friends, day jobs, chores around the house, freelance gigs with actual pay checks involved, various neuroses, and blogging about all of the above. As I’m doing right now. See what I did there? Got all meta on you.

One recurring victim of all of the above is my sort-of-a-steampunk novel. I’ve been kicking it around for a couple of years now, and all I have are three chapters, a complete outline, a bunch of notes and research, and some great feedback from friends. When I was laid off earlier this year, one of my first thoughts—after the immediate “holy shite” reaction and the disappointment following the realization that the bar next to my now former job wasn’t open yet as I walked down the sidewalk in the rain with my box of personal effects—was that I could get back to my novel. Here it is eight months later, and I’ve barely touched the thing.

Of course, I have also had a half-dozen freelance projects, worked on a couple of short stories (including “The Squid That Came to Phil’s Basement,” due out in January 2014 in Space and Time Magazine), written The More Things Change (Star Trek: The Original Series eBook due out July 2014), and written five chapters, an outline, and a series concept for a middle-grade media tie-in project that’s being shopped to publishers by an agent . . . but that is kind of the point. There are always reasons, often very good reasons, why something has been left on the stoop quietly waiting for you to swing by and pick it up. In the rain. Before bars open.

But I have finally gotten back at the thing. My first goal is to rewrite the three existing chapters while incorporating the changes suggested by beta readers. Let’s call the word-count goal 15,000. Having just started, I’ve only rewritten the first 637 words, as represented in the graphic below. I’ve already let putting lights on the solstice tree and writing this blog delay my work today, so I’m going to make shoveling the sidewalk wait for a while and get back into my alternate nineteenth century and have some fun.

 

637 / 15000
(4.25%)

A Mixed Milestone

Back in 2004 my Star Trek story “Full Circle” appeared in Strange New Worlds VII. It was my first sale to a major publisher, Simon & Schuster. I’d had a handful of publishing credits in regional magazines and poetry anthologies previously, but being included in a book from one of the Big Six was a step up. 

Present day: I just updated my website to include my latest publication, the short story “The Squire and the Valet” in the anthology ReDeus: Native Lands. Thanks to the one-two-three punch of the ReDeus anthologies Divine Tales, Beyond Borders, and Native Lands published over the last year by Crazy 8 Press, I’ve reached a milestone of ten anthologies, including my Star Trek novella Honor in the Night in Myriad Universes: Shattered Light in 2010. 

It’s a bittersweet achievement, unfortunately. The publishing industry is in a state of upheaval, and a few months ago I lost my day job as an acquisitions editor. So although my new anthology debuts at Shore Leave 35 the first weekend in August, for the first time since 2006 I won’t be at the con to sign books, meet fans, and hang out in the bar with the amazing group of writers—you guys know who you are—who have become dear friends over the last seven years. 

One doesn’t get into the writing business because it’s easy, however, so this is just another rickety rung on a tall ladder I continue climbing. My eleventh anthology, A Quiet Shelter There, including my story “On My Side,” should be out in 2014 from Hadley Rille Books. And I’ve got some interesting irons in the fire that I will post about when and if they come to fruition. Stay tuned.