Award Eligible Fiction

It’s January, so I guess that means it is time to put up a nice handy list of award-eligible fiction.  I have a bunch of fiction eligible in various categories for the Hugos plus I am in my second and final year of Campbell Award eligibility.   So here’s a list of things and the categories they are eligible for.  If you are interested in reading something for award consideration and you would like a free copy, please email me at anniembellet AT gmail DOT com or you will also find that most of my stuff is available free or inexpensively as ebooks on the web (or in paperback in the case of my novel).

Hugo Award Eligible things:

Novel Category:

Fantasy novel, published in March 2011.  Click picture to go to Amazon page for details (or check out my “read my fiction” page in the sidebar).

Novelette Category:

The Light of the Earth As Seen From Tartarus– Hard near-future SF novelette published January 2011

Delivering Yaehala– Otherworld Fantasy novelette published December 2011

Crawlies– SF short story, published in the collection The Spacer’s Blade & Other Stories, January 2011

 

Short Story Category:

Pele’s Bee-Keeper– SF short story, published in the collection Deep Black Beyond, September 2011

I, Vermin– SF short story, published in the collection The Spacer’s Blade & Other Stories, January 2011

The Spacer’s Blade– SF short story, published in the collection The Spacer’s Blade & Other Stories, January 2011

The Scent of Sunlight and River Daughter and La Última Esperanza and Roping the Mother– from the fantasy short story collection River Daughter and Other Stories, October 2011 (all four stories in this collection are eligible)

Flashover (A Remy Pigeon Story)– Paranormal Mystery, December 2011

Of Bone and Steel and Other Soft MaterialsSF story published in Mirror Shards: Volume One, August 2011

Nevermind the Bollocks– SF story published in Digital Science Fiction Issue #2, July 2011

Broken Moon– Fantasy story published in the collection Gifts in Sand and Water, May 2011

Lists– Fantasy flash fiction published in Daily Science Fiction, December 2011

Love at the Corner of Time and Space– SF flash fiction published in Daily Science Fiction, June 2011

 

That’s all of it, I think. Enjoy!


 

The 2011 Wrap-up (with graph!)

And so the year ended and we come to the point where I need to look back on 2011 and draw some conclusions.  2011 was a roller coaster year. Both my husband and I dealt with health issues, we also had to deal with sudden unemployment and loss of income and insurance, I had a death in my family, and then there was Clarion, which disrupted the entire summer as well as being another unexpected expense.

I’m going to do the writing stats and talk about that for a bit, then I’ll get to the ebook stuff.  This year was not the greatest year for my writing. I spent a lot of it feeling very unsure of my skills and where my writing was going. Part of this was because I think I took some pretty big leaps in skill, but inconsistent leaps.  In April, I attended Dean Wesley Smith’s Character Voice workshop, and afterward everything I’d written before it looked weak and terrible.  I’m not sure that was Dean’s intention, but it is, in the end, a good thing.  I learned more during that 8 days about craft and writing than I’ve learned in the last 20 years.  I took that study forward into Clarion and I think it helped a ton.  Let me put it this way: last year I got very frustrated because I kept getting “this is beautiful writing but” rejections and I wanted to know what I had to do in order to hit the next level of skill, to get past that and sell.

The Character Voice workshop showed me. I’m still working on getting the stuff I learned in that workshop through my fingers and into my unconscious writing brain so I can do it automatically.  But this year, I sold stories.  Two of the sales came directly from stories written at Kris Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith workshops.  Of all the learning experiences I had in 2011, those workshops were definitely the most valuable.  I believe that having Clarion after those didn’t hurt, of course. It gave me a chance to network, meet awesome people, and put the learning into practice while I had the captive audience of 19 or 20 first readers.

So, the writing stats with my 2011 goals and if I met them:

Word Count: Goal was to write 900,000 words. Total actual words written:  438,777.  I beat 2010’s word count, so not terrible.

Of that 900k, 240k was supposed to be novels. That goal was met. In fact, most of my 2011 wordcount was novels or novellas. I only finished 20 short stories in 2011.  I finished 3 novels and 80% of a 4th novel, plus more than half of two novellas.

Other 2011 goals included writing consistently, which I failed. There were weeks in 2011 where I didn’t write at all. This is a goal I will carry forward to 2012, along with not deleting entire sections of work, and finishing everything I start.

Short stories sold in 2011: 6 plus 1 reprint.  This is what makes me happiest when I look back on the year.  I feel that this is an indication that what I’m learning has started to show up in my writing and that my skills are actually improving.

Rejections: 97, over half personal.  Less rejections than 2010, because I submitted fewer stories this year and sold more of them on their first or third tries.  As I move forward into 2012, I’m focusing even more on longer work, so I think my submissions to magazines will fall even more. Oh well.

Other notable achievements this year: I sold too many pro stories and disqualified myself from the Writers of the Future contest. My final entry sneaked through the door right before the disqualifying publication.  Here’s hoping it is the magical Hollywood finish and I win, right? *grin*

I also qualified for SFWA membership, though I haven’t joined yet.  I’m still debating if it is worth it at this point in my career with what I’m doing and where I’m going.

So… on to the publishing side of things.  One of my goals for 2011 was to dip my toes more fully into e-publishing.  That goal, I met. I wanted to put up at least 15 more works as ebooks.  At the start of 2011, I had 3 short stories up under another pen name and the results were just enough to convince me to try with more work.

I ended 2011 with 18 works available in three different categories/genres (and under 3 different names).  Two novels, two mid-length (what I’m calling novelettes and novellas), four short story collections, and ten short stories published as singles.

Total ebook sales for 2011: 1174  (*these numbers are not final, because Smashwords hasn’t reported for some of the places it distributes, so I only have some December numbers)

Of those 1174 sales, 657 were sales of short stories, 94 were from mid-length, 167 were from collections, and 256 were from novels.

Amazon accounted for 1020 sales, Smashwords Distribution Channels and Direct accounted for 89 sales, and B&N accounted for 65.  I also sold 6 paperbacks of the one novel available as a trade paperback, bringing total self-published sales to 1180.

How did sales distribute by month? Let me show you! (I did promise a graph, didn’t I? Click image for bigger picture)

This graph shows some interesting trends.  One is clearly that sales grow when you put up more work.  As my husband was helping me put together spreadsheets, he asked “What happened in May?”.  Well, I put up three new short stories (one of which went on to be my best and most consistent seller).  Other things that boosted sales were offering something free for a short time (a week to ten days).  As far as I can tell, interviews, reviews, blogging, all that stuff does very little for sales.  New work and offering free work for short periods are what boost sales noticeably.

Of course, there is December, which broke the trend of up in my sales.  I was doing well the first couple weeks, and then sales fell off a cliff.  We’ll see if they rebound in 2012. I’m trying new things this year, including putting up many more novels and putting up books in series, as well as putting out work in three more genres.

As for the money, well, my total earnings from my writing in 2011 came to just shy of 3,000.  A nice bump from 2010, for sure.  I have not been paid on ebook earnings for November or December yet, so that is not in the 3k.  Nor are two of my short story sales, which have not been published yet and the magazine pays on publication.  I only count money when it is in my hand.

2011 was an interesting year full of surprises and a lot of learning experiences.  I hope all of that will carry forward into 2012.

 

Cha-cha-changes

I’m working on compiling the data and figuring out how to make nice graphs and stuff for a year-end wrap-up post.  Meanwhile, I figured I’d post about the changes that will happen here on this blog for 2012.

First, I won’t be posting monthly ebook and writing stats.  The numbers I’ve been posting aren’t the final numbers anyway since Smashwords doesn’t report montly for places like Apple, Sony, etc.  I’m going to switch to posting the ebook sales stats on a quarterly basis so that I can post the real numbers and have 3 months of data available to talk about.

I won’t be posting the writing stats because 1) I get too much flak for my word counts and 2) I’m switching to project goals more than word count goals.  I’ll post when I have projects completed, though most of what I’m planning to write next year won’t be under this pen name.  I’m also going to try to put together some coherent thoughts about writing series.  But no word counts except in the “writing goals and progress bar” section, which I’ll update at the completion of each project.   That section will also only have final wordcounts. No more counting words I write and then discard or delete.  I’ve fallen into some bad habits with second-guessing myself and throwing out whole unfinished manuscripts and it has to stop. I’m aiming for consistent, completed work next year.

The serialization of my cyberpunk thriller Casimir Hypogean will resume in January on Mondays. I am also resuming the Neo-pro Interview series on Thursdays.

So to sum up: no word counts here (maybe on twitter), quarterly sales updates, and both the novel serial and the interviews will resume in January.

In other news, I sent in my final Writers of the Future entry. Pro-ing out is bittersweet.  While I can hope for a Hollywood ending where I magically win my final quarter of eligibility, I’m betting on an Honorable Mention.  It would be a humorous end to my WotF stint.

New E-books Published

In the last week or so I’ve put up three new e-books, so I figured they should get their own post.

The first is a fantasy novelette.  It has unicorns, chase scenes, friendship, betrayal, and did I mention the unicorns?

Description:

Exiled from her people, Alila lives alone in a canyon harvesting Frankincense resin with her twin unicorns for company. When a pregnant princess on the run from assassins disrupts her quiet world, Alila chooses to help her reach the coast.  Hounded by assassins and torn apart by distrust, Alila’s choice threatens to reveal her dark past and her terrible secret. If she and the princess survive their journey to safety.

Buy for Kindle (Or get it free via Kindle Prime Lending).

The other two stories I’ve put up are both ones that appeared in anthologies this summer.

Description:

Eking out an existence as a scavenger in post-apocalyptic Russia, Ryska never thought she would be more than a blind, discarded military experiment. Then she ends up in the middle of a kidnapping gone wrong and must use her all her skills to save herself, and the young boy who brings back painful memories of her past.

This is a science fiction short story that originally appeared in Mirror Shards: Volume One.  Get it for your Kindle, or Nook, or in Other E-book Formats.

Description:

Diarmuid long ago gave up hope of escaping his indentured servitude on the Family’s large drug-refining space station. He owed money he didn’t have, they made him an offer, and he loved breathing so he couldn’t refuse.  But when he accidentally uncovers a spy from a rival crime syndicate, everything changes. Suddenly escape looks possible and with a crazy sexbot and a paranoid Siberian on his side, what could possibly go wrong?

Nevermind the Bollocks is a short story originally published in Digital Science Fiction #2.

Get it now for your Kindle, or Nook, or in Other E-book Formats.

Hope everyone had a wonderful Holidays.  I’ll be doing my “looking back at 2011” post here soon.

Goals for the New Year (2012)

It’s that time of year again, I guess.  I’ll be doing a summary of this past year around the 30th or so, along with a look back at least year’s goals and how I did.

But as the year draws to a close, I am looking forward and planning what I want to do next year.  This last year has seen a lot of changes in my life, in my writing, and in how I am approaching my career.  My goals for next year reflect those changes, I think.

One of the shifts is going to be away from sending novels to publishers.  I’ve decided to not send anything this next year and instead focus on publishing my work myself.  My preliminary experiments with self-publishing this year have been pretty good (much better than the nothing I expected) and I want to see what happens when I make it a focus.  I’ll be continuing experimentation, of course, including putting up a few things in the new KDP Select program.  I also have some genre and length experiments planned.

Another shift is going to be toward longer work and away from short fiction.  This doesn’t mean I won’t write short stories, but many of the ones I have planned this year will go up as ebooks instead of out to markets.  I do have a challenge planned for May which is all short fiction.  I’ll get into that later.  While it is cool to be eligible for SFWA and nice to collect the checks that come with selling short stories, I don’t see them paying my rent.  My goal for the new year is to keep 10 stories on the market at all times, a big drop from my submitting high of nearly 40.  I figure 10 is enough to stay visible and keep up the habit of sending work out without requiring much time or upkeep on my part.

So here are the writing goals:

Novels:  Five crime novels (Books 2 and 3 of one series, Books 1-3 of another), one fantasy novel (Remy Pigeon book 1), and books 2 and 3 of the Lorian Archive (Casimir series).  I will also finish serializing the first Lorian novel (Casimir Hypogean).  I’ve got a cool surprise planned with those and the full series should be published by June.

Novellas: Four YA romances and seven adult contemporary romances.

Short stories: 50 total short stories written.  31 of these will be during the month of May.  In May I turn 31, May has 31 days, so it is fate, really.  I’m going to write 31 in 31 for my 31st b-day.  Sounds fun!  These stories will be a mix of SF/F which I will submit to markets and romance/erotica which will go straight to ebook.

That’s it. Much of this will be under pen names, of course.  Officially, Annie Bellet is only writing maybe 25-30 short stories and 3 novels this year.  It’s fun running multiple careers, if a little crazy-making at times.  Thank god for spreadsheets!

The crime novels will run between 65k and 75k words each. The Remy novel will be about 80k words. The Lorian books will be between 80k and 90k.  With the novellas, I’m aiming for 25k to 30k words apiece.   Short stories will count as long as they are over 2k words minimum and under 15k maximum (anything over 15k will get put up as an ebook novella).

Total predicted word count: 1,112,000 words.

Which looks terrifying.  It isn’t. Let me break it down.  I write about 1,000 to 1,200 words per 45 minute session (if you don’t know what I’m talking about with the sessions, see my post on productivity here).  My word count goal for 2012 works out to about 700 hours of work.  Not insignificant, but not terribly much, either.  For perspective, if I worked 40 hours a week, it would take 18 weeks or so to finish those 700 hours of work (yep, people with a full-time job work more than 700 hours every 5 months).

But I’m lazy. I love to read, play videogames, hang out with friends, and I tend to need time to myself to let writing stuff sort its self out.  I don’t want to work 40 hours a week. I don’t want to work everyday either.  So I made a plan which allows for over two months off. I’m planning to write 290 days out of the next 366 (woo, leap year!).   I’m allowing myself plenty of days to be stressed out, for life shit to happen, for me to get sick or get stuck (though that rarely happens when I’m working on multiple projects).

So how hard will I have to work on those 290 days I do choose to show up to my job? I’ll need to average about 3900 words a day.  That’s 3 hours of work (4 “sessions” with my hourglass) most days, maybe a little more if I’m starting something new or going through a tough spot in  the murky middle of a novel.

There is my plan.  I debated taking a picture of my calendar (I print off calendar pages and do a color-coded goals thing for each month so I can visually see when stuff is due), but I don’t think I could get the whole thing into a frame. Probably for the best, too, since while I’m fairly sure I’ll finish the things I want to finish, I want the freedom to move projects around if I get stuck on something or if something cool happens.

The Quest for Productivity

I’m lazy like an old cat on a blanket in the sun.  I’d far rather sit on the beanbag and read ALL the books than do anything that resembles work.  Even work I enjoy doing like writing.  I am also very insecure.  I have a lot of negative talk going in my head all the time and writing doesn’t get a pass there, either.

In fact, if ideas didn’t boil over in my head and basically frog-march me to the computer, I’d probably never get anything done.  Being poor doesn’t hurt, either, as my father loves to say “poor is a good motivator”.  Between the stories in my head writing themselves and begging me to start typing and the fact that my husband and cat like to have the heat on in winter, I manage to get work done despite my nature.

But I’d like to get more work done and I’d like to get it done more quickly so that I can get back to that whole reading thing (or playing videogames, that will do in a pinch).

Stress and depression are my biggest hurdles.  This last year has been a roller-coaster for me between my husband having a little cancer, my grandfather dying, my husband losing his job, Clarion, medical bills, etc.  I try to console myself that I’ve written over 400,000 words and still got a lot done, but it doesn’t ever seem like enough because I can’t manage to do the one thing I really want to do which is write more consistently on a schedule of some sort.  And I know that I’m capable of more than I’ve done, so that bugs me, too.

And I think I might have found a way to do more.  I met another writer at Orycon who insisted that I come hang out at a coffee shop and write-in for NaNoWriMo.  I almost didn’t go.  I don’t like writing in busy spaces, I don’t really enjoy being around strangers and find socializing draining, and I wasn’t sure it would be a useful experience.

I went anyway because, on the other hand, it sounded fun.

Boy am I glad I did.

I wrote 4500 words, the first chapter of a brand new novel.  In 3 hours of actual writing time. Around people.  And thus I discovered an amazing new way to work.

The structure of the write-in was this: 45 minutes of quiet where we all wrote, followed by 15 minutes of break time where we chatted, got more coffee, etc.  Rinse, repeat.

It worked so well for me that I came home and decided to try it here.  I didn’t have an hourglass (I do now!) so I used an online egg timer for my 45 minutes.  Apparently being timed helps me focus, because I write as much in 45 minutes as I used to in an hour to an hour and a half.   That’s right, 1000 to 1500 words in 45 minutes.  Something about knowing that I have to work now but I get a break soon lets me put off the little things I used to let creep into writing time. Want to check my email? It can wait 20 minutes until my time is up.  Want more tea? It can wait until my timer is up. 45 minutes is such a short time, just about anything can wait while I get the work done.  Plus I can use the timer to mentally trick myself into doing more in the same way I use the timer on the treadmill at the gym to get myself moving longer.  Want to finish this chapter? Well, okay, I’ll just set another45 minutes.  It’s less than an hour, I can manage one more session.

And I’m starting to work in little bits of extra writing time.  Before, if I didn’t have a large chunk of time free, I didn’t even bother to start.  Now? All I need is 45 minutes.

It seems so simple, but without the NaNo write-in, I’d never have thought to try this. I probably would have shoved it off as “I can’t get enough done in 45 minutes” or something.

So that’s my new method for getting things done. 45 minute chunks.  It’s almost 7:15pm now, so I’d better go flip the hourglass over and get a little work done.  After all, what’s 45 more minutes?

November Summary

November was a bit of a mess for my writing. I tried two different starts on the novella I was working on before deciding to switch to working on The Raven King.  The bad news is that I didn’t finish anything.  The good news is that I finally found a stride in this book and it will be done shortly and likely out in January as I’d hoped.

The novellas are percolating in my head and I think I’ll be ready to make a third run at them as soon as I finish this novel.  That’s the benefit of working on multiple projects at once.  When I get stuck, I can just switch to something else and work still gets done.

All right. Here are the numbers for November.

Short stories sold to magazines: 1

Words written: 39,078

Ebooks sold: 226

My husband has been compiling my ebook sales data into spreadsheets for me and making nifty graphs. I will have a giant data-filled post for the end of the year, hopefully with visual aids and stuff.

In happy news, I just published a Remy Pigeon short story.  Ever have one of those characters who just storms into your head and won’t leave? That’s Remy for me.  I have two novels planned with him to be written in the next year or so and I’ve already written three short stories about him.  After many near misses with the magazines, I have decided to publish one of them myself.  So here is the cover for Flashover, a paranormal mystery short story.  I hope others will love Remy as much as I do.

Description: Creole gentleman Remy Pigeon has a gift, or a curse. He can touch objects and read the past from them.
He prefers to stay away from trouble, but when an attractive red-head with a serious problem and a supernatural secret wanders into his house on a hot summer day, Remy knows that trouble has just found him.

It isn’t live yet  for Nook, but it is on Kindle or all formats are available via Smashwords HERE.

I also have discovered a very cool new way to organize my writing time. I think it deserves its own post, however, so I’ll work on that this week.

Quickie Update for November

My NaNo rebel project is not going well. I’m stuck trying to figure out if this story needs to be told in 1st or in 3rd person.  So I’ve switched back to the novel (the sequel to A Heart in Sun and Shadow).  I’ve never written a sequel before. It’s tough writing one for a book that is published, too.  I can’t change details that were set in the first novel, so I’m constantly having to recheck the older book for things.  I think I might take a couple hours today and make a quickie world bible or at least a list with the relevant details.  I wrote the first book before I’d really nailed down how I prefer to write novels and I have zero cohesive character notes or world notes at all (which is something I started doing AFTER I wrote this one).  It’s odd to go back and look at a work that I did a couple years ago.

In other news, I sold another story to Daily SF.  This is my tenth fiction sale in less than two years (first sale was in December of 2009).  Five of those have been to Daily SF. I guess it is true, you just have to find an editor who loves what you write and then sell them as much as you can. I’m glad so many stories of mine have found a home with Daily SF. They are a great publication (delivered to your email! Go subscribe! /end plug).

 

Oh, and I crossed the 1,000 books sold mark for my e-books.  Hopefully the next 1k doesn’t take quite as long, but it is definitely a mile-stone.

So that is what’s up with me.  Now, where did I put that outline? Back to writing!

Blog Vacation

I’m taking an internet hiatus for a while. I’ll be around a bit, but probably not updating here much.  I’m going to resume the weekly Casimir Hypogean posts as well as the Neo-pro Interviews in January.  I have a ton of work to get done between now and the new year, so I’m taking a brain break from everything else.  Which is not to say I won’t post if I absolutely feel I have something to say, but I’m not going to try to keep myself on a schedule or add any more things to my to-do list.

For the next couple months, life has to be all about the writing. I’ll be back in January with new goals for the new year and a summary of how 2010 went.

Thanks.  Hope everyone has a great holiday season.

Neo-pro Interview: Steve Stewart

Interview with Steve Stewart

 

Who are you?  What’s your genre/history/etc?

Steve: I was a weird kid; the worst part was, I didn’t know I was weird. It took me a long time to realize that when a teacher holds up a picture of a one-humped camel in a kindergarten class, you’re not supposed to say “dromedary.” When the school asks students for their input designing the new playground, they want you to draw a tornado slide, tire swings, a seesaw; basically anything but an interconnected network of cloud-shaped tree houses with foam harpoon guns.

I was scared of the dark. It was like a chalkboard where I could sketch my primal fears as big as my suffocating imagination could make them. I was the kid asking for doors to be left open a crack, for closets to be checked. I was the kid running up the stairs with the basement darkness nipping at my heels, clutching the jar of canned peaches my mom had asked for to my chest. I was also the kid begging my dad to tell me just one more scary story. The more something scared me, the more I wanted to tell stories about it, draw it, dig down deep and figure it out.

Maybe I’m still doing this.

These days, I have a wife and two little girls who blow my mind every single day, and I spend five nights a week away from them chasing this writing thing. It’s a life that doesn’t make sense to a lot of people, but I’ve found incredible fulfillment in it. Searching for true things and lying about them creatively is a hell of a job. It’s the only one I want.

I write speculative fiction of all kinds, but it tends to be visual and character-driven. Love stories creep into almost everything I write, and I’m starting to wonder if I might be, at least in part, a closeted romance writer. (I never went through the I-don’t-like-girls stage.) Most of what I’ve sold has been sci-fi, but I would like to write and sell more horror. I have soft spot for mysteries as well, and I’d love to sell a novel to Hard Case Crime someday. We’ll see what happens.

What’s your Race score? (1 pt for every short story out to market, 3 points for every novel query (1 per novel only), 8 points for every full (once per novel only also) )

Steve: Shit. You’ve got me. I’m at that weird place where I’m just beginning to sell, so I have a pile of stories in my writing folder, and I would be embarrassed to attach my name to most of them. Henlein’s fifth rule—keep a story on the market until it has sold—is a tough one for me once I realize a story is not pro quality. (Heinlein can talk big, but he was already an effing genius by the time he coined these rules.) I’ve only been producing publishable work for maybe two years, and many of those stories have either sold or continue to look for homes because they’re just so damn long.

I’m proud to say, as I write this, I’m about 5k from the end of my first novel. I’m really pleased with it, and I can’t wait to dig into revisions and send it out. Writing a novel is weird, because you’re working, but you feel strangely disconnected from everything. I’m looking forward to getting back in “the mix.”

So what is my score? Excuse-free answer: A pitiful 3 or 4, but it’s been much better in the past.

When did you “get serious” about being a writer?

Steve: March 2009. I was working security at a university, and I would spend all night walking around in the dark, through the nursing department’s creepy lab full of blank-eyed dummies or down into the depths of the old mansion that served as the campus library. (The kid version of myself would have had an aneurysm.) I had lots of time to think about my life and the direction it was going. I had been writing since I was a kid, but working as a professional had always felt sort of distant and hypothetical. For the first time, it felt like something I could do, not some future me, but me.

I bought a little $300 netbook and starting writing every chance I got. Six months later, I was accepted into Uncle Orson’s Literary Boot Camp where I got to work closely with one of my heroes, Orson Scott Card. I sat across from the man at dinner. We split a pizza. It was surreal. I think it was John Brown (the author and Codexian) who said that Boot Camp was “a barn burner, a great blaze of insight.” He’s right. There was no turning back after that.

What are your goals with your writing?

Steve: I want to create disposable entertainment with thematic substance. I want to be one of those hard-working, skillful, genre authors who tells great stories and gets paid for it. I want to sell books the old-fashioned way, to a good publisher who will put them in the hands of the most possible readers. I want my books to save people during a long wait at the airport or the bus stop or the doctor’s office. I want people to stay up all night worrying about my characters. I want people to argue about them, geek out about them, enjoy them, and miss them when the book or series is finally over.

Where do you see your career in 5 years?

Steve: I have my goals mapped out for the year, five years, and ten years. My goals will change, of course, but it’s still important to have targets to aim at. I’ll spare you my ten-year, world-domination plans, but here are some of my five-year goals:

1. Sell a novel or series to a major publisher

2. Appear in both Asimov’s and F&SF (as well as other magazines—Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock are bonus points!)

3. Finish at least one novel per year

4. Win a major award (Hugo, Nebula, Bram Stoker, etc.)

5. Establish a strong online “platform” (Still thinking about how to accomplish this one.)

*There are others, but they mostly deal with comics.

These are some pretty lofty goals for a relative newcomer like me, but I’m not in this game to dick around. I’m here to make the most of my time and talent. To do that, you have to aim high and work hard. I’m doing both.

Do you have a particular story or idea you are dying to write? Or, if you could write a tie-in to any established universe/franchise, what would it be?

Steve: If I had to settle on the one idea I’m most stoked about right now, it would probably be the book I’m planning to write next, “Early Birds.” It’s a zombie novel about a teenage girl who “wakes up” months after the last humans have succumbed to [whatever I end up calling the damn infection]. She discovers a group of other girls her age who have also recovered from being zombies, and ends up at a school led by the only adult anywhere (as far as they know), a brilliant, dangerous woman with a plan to rebuild the world—but first, they have to find a living male.

It’s a whole thing. School drama, cannibalism, “bunker people,” love, pregnancy, post-apocalyptic politics, violence. It’s going to be effing insane. I can’t wait to start.

What are your hobbies outside writing?

Steve: I’m a geek. I like to read comics and play video games and watch anime and play D&D, although this last almost never happens anymore. If I’m going to work that hard on something, it should be something I can sell. Lately, I’m pretty boring. I watch a documentary every night after the wife and kids are in bed, and oddly I find nonfiction more relaxing that fiction. I listen to NPR in the car instead of music. When did I get so old?

I sing and write songs and play a little guitar. I’m not disciplined at it (probably because my older brother Jay was), but I have a lot of fun. Jay s and I are in a band called “Hills and Downs” [link: http://listn.to/HillsandDowns] with our two younger brothers. My wife is always bugging me to sing, but for some reason, it’s the one thing I’m shy about.

I like to fight. I think it’s a guy-with-lots-of-brothers thing. My college experience was like Jackass with boxing gloves. I have a friend who trained at Throwdown San Diego (alongside guys like Tyson Griffin, Jeremy Stephens, Diego Sanchez, and Brandon Vera); he moved back to town and began training me in Muay Thai kickboxing a couple years ago. I like bad food too much to ever fight professionally, but I love to stand across from a guy who wants to kick my ass and go to town. Best stress reliever ever.

What’s your writing process like?

Steve: I get an idea, put in it a blender with a few others, and look for the story in the tension between the ingredients. Then I list. Lists are my friend. When the lists start to look like outlines, I start writing. If I get stuck, I drive and listen to music. A road trip is as good as a month of indoor brainstorming. I also talk things out with friends. Sometimes they can see what you mean better than you can.

When I write, I try to make every section fun. Every night, I know my wife is at home waiting to read what I wrote, and I never want to hand her something boring. My theory is this: if every damn page is fun to read (and you haven’t neglected the basics), you’ll have something good. With good editing, it might even end up great.

What’s been toughest about your journey so far as a writer?  How do you keep yourself going?

Steve: Any time you decide to do something risky or unusual, the people around you worry. (Thankfully, my wife is not one of these people.) Sometimes they try to fix you. Sometimes that fixing goes beyond a healthy, helpful level and becomes almost discriminatory. I have failed at a lot of things in my life by kidding myself about myself, mostly in an effort to meet expectations. Writers (or the kind of people who become writers) aren’t normal. When they’re trying to do things they weren’t “made for,” they look broken—like a pair of handlebars trying to function as a wheel. You can’t get anywhere like that. Once you figure out, “Hey, I’m not a wheel; I’m a pair of handlebars” things get a lot better.

Shit happens. When in doubt, get stupid. Get single-minded. Get mad, and just write.

Any tips or tricks you’ve figured out for improving your writing?

Steve: First, be a person. Live. Fight. Fall in love. Make mistakes. There’s no substitute for this.

Second, read. Read fiction. Read nonfiction. Read in your genre and outside it. Read comics. Read scripts. (Hell, watch movies.) Get so familiar with words and stories that your dreams start to make sense.

Third, write. Do it as often as possible, every day if you can. (Five days a week is pretty good.) Make plans for a project, then finish it. Start another one right away. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Fourth, become a student of writing. Read every writing book you can get your hands on. Talk to other writers. Get involved in the writing community. It may be hard to get out in the world and realize you’re not a unique flower, but it will be good for you. Stay humble and teachable. Get excited about learning new things. If you find a gap in your game, plug it with knowledge and practice. You have to do the writing, no one else, so learn all you can.

Finally, never stop.

And finally, got anything you want to pimp? 

Steve: My story “She Who Lies in Secret” is slotted as the June 2012 cover story for Red Penny Papers. It’s a story about a college boy who finds a psychic mermaid in the basement of an old mansion. Things go bad in a big way. It’s one of my favorites. Check it out when it goes up. (You should check out Red Penny Papers anyway. They’re cool people doing cool things in a cool way, and I’m convinced they’re not afraid of anything.)