In Which Months Go By

580 letters to voters.

I once flipped through a dictionary (Merriam-Webster Collegiate, I think) and found that in the back, they had a super-cool list of foreign words and phrases that are or were popular. You know, like the Latin “finis coronat opus,” which translates to “the end crowns the work.” If you ever want to whip out the snotty literary criticism, throw that baby in and sound like a scholar, when all you’re really saying is “a story needs to stick the landing, or it doesn’t add up to much.”

I think my favorite, though, is “Parturient montes, nascetur ridiculus mus,” which is “Mountains will go into labor, and a silly little mouse will be born.” That one’s about overpromising and underdelivering. You know, like the game that’s been delayed ten years that better be the Second Coming of Almighty Zeus when it comes out, or else all that expense and hard work will be met with a resounding “meh.” (It’s kind of telling that there’s a few games out there this could apply to.)

Me, I try not to overpromise. But it has been a long time since I posted, so I hope you weren’t betting on me giving birth to a mountain. There’s been good news and bad news in my life, my career, and my personal writing. So let’s take a tour.

I Got (More) Political This Year

As I posted in 2020’s “In Which I Give Worried Introverts Something to Do,” I decided to use a not-insignificant amount of my spare time to volunteer for a get-out-the-vote campaign. This year, I started earlier than I did in 2020 because historically Democrats don’t turn out in midterms, and if past was prologue, they were going to get pasted.

I wrote 20 letters a week to get voters to turn out in Texas, Georgia, Florida, Nevada and Pennsylvania. By the time of the big send-off in late October, I finished 580 letters, about 100 more than I managed in 2020 if you include the Georgia runoff. It would have been nice to do an even 600, but in that last week I was crunching at work and totally out of brain fuel. Then, the next week, when it became clear Georgia was going to another runoff for its Senate seat, I burned all my free time and got an additional 100 letters out.

I don’t regret the time spent — the Democrats snatched a stalemate from the jaws of defeat and broke a pattern 20+ years long of getting routed in midterm elections. However, I am quite happy campaign season is over for the moment. I have a little more time on the weekends, and the ability to find other topics to talk about on Twitter.

I Tried To Be an Involved Dad

Just a minor note here from a proud pops: I helped teach my daughter how to drive and I wrangled my son through a frustrating season of soccer. Both kids’ grades are pretty great, and they seem to be thriving. Couldn’t be happier with them.

Some other obstacles came our way: my daughter got COVID for about 10 days. She was vaxxed and wasn’t in much danger, but it hit her like a truck. The rest of the family masked up and sanitized religiously and all somehow avoided it, even including a 3-hour car trip (shout-out to my wife for doing the driving, windows down the whole way).

I Kept Submitting Stories

I wrote and rewrote a few more short stories, but they have yet to find a home anywhere. As with martial arts, where you are only as good as your next move, a writer can have great experience and skill and still, the story may not resonate with whoever’s at the editing desk. So that was disappointing and consumed a bit of time.

Then There’s Civil Blood‘s Sequel

When I last posted about the sequel, I was reviewing its outline, trying to turn it into the book I really wanted to read. Rather than write by the seat of my pants, I spent a month or so planning it out and adding notes for a direction in which to take a third book. This all took time, but I’ve managed to get started on the manuscript itself. As of this writing, I have one chapter down and a pretty good grip on the second, so I really want to make this happen sooner rather than later. It’s been “later” long enough.

I Crunched Like the Captain

This one is kind of bittersweet. After months of work that sucked up weekends and evenings, my job with Mattel163 came to a close. The project is in soft launch now (it’s not in the US or China yet) and the prognosis is good for it being able to ship. I’ll tell you all about it when it goes wide, but right now I need to set my sights elsewhere.

…and We Lost Some Good Ones

Lastly, some things happened on a vastly more serious note. Some of my life had to be put on hold to grieve.

Since I last posted, three people I knew died. The first, Jerome Joaquin Mabrey, was a gamer I met at San Diego Comic Con in 2012. He was on the first team to beat the Mass Effect multiplayer’s fancy new Platinum difficulty, he ran a great Facebook group called Nerd Alert, and had an encyclopedic knowledge of space opera. The second was Kevin Barrett, who was director of design at BioWare and was responsible for giving myself and my wife our most significant video game industry job. We used to love arguing with him in a BioWare dev book club. We disagreed all the freaking time, but we never had a negative experience with him. The third was Ferret Baudoin, who worked with my wife on Dragon Age, ran a killer Roman-themed D&D campaign for us, and after the BioWare diaspora, wound up at Bethesda. I had mad respect for all three of these men, and the world is smaller for not having them in it.

…and that’s all, he wrote.

So, all told, this summer and fall were pretty busy. I don’t have a lot to show you just yet, but I hope you’ll understand that sometimes, life isn’t a performance, or all about your next gig. Quite often, it’s day-to-day progress, or even just holding the line when that progress tries to disappear.

Festina lente. (In English idiom, “More haste, less speed.”)

In Which I Share a Heartwarming Story About Torture

How things change in a year. The last time I got a short story accepted, it was a goofy tale of some poor sap in the superhero equivalent of the DMV, getting beaten up to test if he really had regeneration powers.

This time around, it’s a grimdark high fantasy story of Camelot after Arthur’s death, where all the good he did died with him. An unscrupulous king, Constantine, has sent a would-be knight to find Arthur’s legendary spear, the Rhongomyniad. It was last seen in the hands of Mordred’s court torturer, and no one should bat an eye about putting a torturer in pain to get what they want… right?

That’s the premise of “The Torturer of Camelot,” a story about disobeying orders, the limits of forgiveness, and if we are more than our worst deeds. I wrote it last year for the FantaSci writing contest. The theme was “magical relics,” so all the stories had to have items of legend, and the anthology was in the Books of Valor series, so they had to have some valorous deeds in them as well.

I burned some midnight oil in order to get it written, critiqued, revised, and submitted before the deadline… and it all paid off.

The anthology, Keen Edge of Valor, was released at the FantaSci 2022 convention in North Carolina this March. Four finalists from the contest were published in the 14 stories of the anthology, and first place went to…

…um…

…me.

I haven’t really been in this position before. I’ve entered a few writing contests, but the last one I placed in was more than two decades ago. I tried for an Isaac Asimov Award for undergraduates, and got an honorable mention for a cyberpunk story. So as you may surmise, I’m kind of pleased at this turn of events.

I also haven’t really mentally absorbed the whole situation yet. The week of its publication, I was in a frenzy trying to finish off some work at my day job so I could go on a vacation with a clean conscience. Then it was a week in Hawai’i, where my attention was taken up by all the lovely things there (volcanoes, dolphins, geckos, swimming, you name it) and when I found the urge to write, I made some progress on another humorous short story which may or may not ever see the light of day. Its deadline could be soon in the grand scheme of things, and I still need to find the funny, so that’s where my nighttime writing focus is.

Once that’s sorted out, I promise, it’s back to Civil Blood‘s sequel planning, which is what this whole short story detour was originally intended to bring about.

But here it is, short and sweet: If you want to check out the anthology, Keen Edge of Valor is here. It’s the third anthology put out by New Mythology Press/Chris Kennedy Publishing, so if you like it, don’t forget the other two might be up your alley, too.

Bring some steel arrowheads. I heard iron is proof against the fay. Even that one.

Goodnight.

In Which My Novel’s Sequel Starts Actually Happening

Longtime readers may remember my novel Civil Blood, and particularly attentive readers may remember the reasons I hadn’t started working on a sequel yet. Long story short, I promised my family I’d only begin work once I had accumulated a nest egg big enough to pay for a cover and editor(s), assuming costs in the same neighborhood as my previous self-publishing venture. The catch was, this nest egg would solely be financed by my other personal writing, and my path to that was A) novel sales, and B) short story sales. Since I have little in the way of advertising budget and thus a very meagre novel-based income, I ended up relying on “B.”

Well… with a final anthology sale coming out in 2022, approach “B” has finally put the numbers over the top. So now I have a little news: I’m finally working on a sequel to Civil Blood. Here’s what I can say:

  • I am currently in the outlining stage. It will take me a few months before I start the rough draft. I should warn the reader that it takes me years to write a novel.
  • I have tentatively titled it with another blood-related Shakespearian phrase (again, with echoes of the play, but the specific title may give away some of the parallelism in the plot, so I’ll be mum on that for now).
  • The story will deal with an American presidential election in the time of VIHPS. Though I hesitate to use the word “pandemic,” the vampire virus is the top issue on the minds of the electorate. It is not, however, the only issue, and part of the political dealings is that Infinity and Ranath will have to choose whom to support despite the candidates not matching up with their every ideal.
  • The main characters of Civil Blood will be the main characters in this story as well. There will be many familiar faces, and a few names only hinted at in Civil Blood will have some stage time in this one.
  • I might be able to make this story comprehensible if you haven’t read Civil Blood, but I’m not betting on it. As I work on the outline, I realize that trying to sum up why a character is not only a doctor but also a hitman and also has his hands on potentially world-changing research that he didn’t actually do just stretches credulity. I may have to highlight that it’s “The Skia Project, Book 2” and just roll with that.
  • Ideally it will not have a cliffhanger ending, because at this moment I don’t know the chances of making a third installment. Also, I like books to have enough of a satisfying thematic resolution that they can stand on their own. So, less The Empire Strikes Back and more Terminator 2.

To all the fans of CB that have stuck with me this far… thank you. I hope to make you happy once more.

In Which I Am Gainfully Employed

One of the “problems” with my writing career trajectory is that I’m not a specialist. If you really want to be a household name as a writer, you create a series and you get fans devoted to it. There are a lot of examples I could pick from, but let’s go with Agatha Christie.

“Why?” you ask? Because according to the Guinness Book of World Records, Agatha Christie is the best-selling fiction writer of all time. She’s sold more than two billion (with a “b”) books. Her name is synonymous with detective mysteries, having written 66 of the things. She wrote a few plays, some of them record-breakingly popular in their own right — they were mysteries, too. And her branding was helped by the fact that when she wrote a handful of non-detective novels, she did so under a pen name. She specialized, and it paid off.

Me? I’m the opposite. You never know what the hell I’m writing next, and sometimes neither do I. Since my last blog post about My Loft, I’ve been working on:

1) A visual novel (romance genre). It is now complete but not public yet.
2) Lore for a fantasy RPG video game. It’s in pre-production, totally not public.
3) A metric ton of writing tests for various companies.
4) Submitting short stories to various online magazines, some in the Civil Blood universe, some humorous superhero stories, and one cli-fi piece.

The first two are both gigs that ended recently, which meant I had to throw myself into #3 with a vengeance. #3 and #4 were the most discouraging, as my hit-to-miss ratio is typical of freelance writers — in other words, there was a lot of rejections. But, as of today, things are looking up.

I have been so fortunate as to accept a position with Mattel163, a mobile game developer and subsidiary of the famous toy company. I am working on an unannounced project as a full-time employee, and I want to make it sing.

What does that mean for you, the audience? I don’t know yet. All indications are that I will be up late at night on this job, since many of my co-workers are in Shanghai, 15 time zones away from me. On the other hand, a lot of my mental energy was taxed during my job hunt, so I may end up feeling happier and healthier, with a little security in my life once more.

That means I could end up able to do more personal writing, and submit more stories to more outlets.

One question that has come up regards Amazon’s Kindle Vella. In case you haven’t heard, Kindle Vella is essentially a platform for monetizing short stories and serial works on a Kindle, which naturally made my ears perk up. As always, a little more personal writing income means I can afford a second indie-publishing venture — a full-fledged sequel to Civil Blood. There’s two drawbacks to Kindle Vella: the first is that it’s got a limit of 6,000 words per installment, which is a little short for my taste. The more difficult hurdle for me to get over is that you have to build your brand — it takes a lot of 99-cent stories to add up to a single traditionally-published short story in a magazine, which could net $500 or so. That’s the reality. I’m working on building an e-mail list, an important step in the whole author ecosystem, but I don’t have any illusions about indie-pub sales.

So, will I die before my dream goal is achieved and leave you all in the lurch? Well, I’m happy to say I’m fully vaccinated as of today. It’s not proof against being hit by a bus, but as Bill Murray said, “I got that going for me, which is nice.”

Stay cool.

In Which I Announce Unidentified Funny Objects, Volume 8!

In May, I had a short story accepted to the annual science fiction and fantasy humor anthology, Unidentified Funny Objects. Currently in its eighth year, UFO has featured a lot of famous writers, and this year it features such luminaries as David Gerrold (he created the Tribbles for Star Trek) Jodie Lynn Nye (who’s published more than 50 books) and of course Esther Friesner, who has probably written more humorous short stories than Alexander Hamilton wrote essays.

When I submitted the story, I wasn’t expecting to have my story be the first one in the book. But there it is, doing its duty to make a first impression. “The 10:40 Appointment at the NYC Department of Superhero Registration” starts the volume off, followed by 23 more lighthearted romps. There’s grandmotherly golems, cybernetic cats, a daring quest inside the living room couch, and more.

The book is now available in print and Kindle, and it seems to be getting a bit of acclaim on Goodreads (for some reason, there aren’t nearly as many Amazon reviews as of this writing).

From my desk to yours. (The cyber-cat-burglars are on page 133.)

“The 10:40 Appointment” follows the hapless Dr. Amir al-Madani, a newly-empowered vigilante who gave up his job in the United Arab Emirates and moved to New York to fight crime. Problem is, New York is full of superheroes, so the Department of Superhero Registration is basically that cantina in Star Wars except with more teenage deities and nuclear-powered mutants. Amir’s only superpower is regeneration, which is really the worst power to bring to the heroic equivalent of the DMV.

Why? Because to register his super-ness, he’s got to demonstrate its capabilities in a road test… which, for regeneration, means a proctor in power armor beats the living snot out of him.

Amir triumphs… but not in the way you might expect. The story is goofy, but it also tries to encapsulate a lesson about what makes a real hero. I’m pretty proud of the story, so by all means, check it out here:

Unidentified Funny Objects, vol. 8, on Amazon.

“The 10:40 Appointment” is not my only light-and-fluffy superhero short story. Keen-eyed observers of this site may note that I’ve had heroes on the brain for a few months. I’ve actually got five or six stories in the works, all in the same universe as “The 10:40 Appointment.” None are quite ready for prime time yet: they’re all in various stages of creation, editing, and submission to various magazines and markets. If any of them score a bullseye, I’ll let you know.

In the meantime, check out the book for a laugh, and if you like it, feel free to leave a review. And kids, remember to drink your milk, because someday your superpowers might depend on it.

Excelsior!

In Which I Announce Something New For a Change

After about six months of unemployment and about seven months of no new writing-related news, I felt like I was hitting a wall. I fully expected my wife to break into that song from the School of Rock musical, “Give Up Your Dreams,” but of course she stayed super supportive. Then, finally, in the same week, I got two bits of good news.

The first bit of news is that I have another video game gig. It’s slated to take 8-10 weeks, so by the time you read this, I will hopefully be shaved, dressed, and reporting in to a source of gainful employment. I don’t think I’m free to talk about the details yet, but hey, maybe this game will go somewhere, and take us along for the ride.

The second bit of news has been cleared by the publisher as good to go for social media announcement. I’ve got a short story accepted by the comedy science fiction and fantasy anthology series “Unidentified Funny Objects.”

UFO is an anthology with a nice pedigree. Apparently it has had stories from George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, and (to my complete lack of surprise) the Hamster Queen herself, Esther Friesner. I don’t know if any of those three are in this year’s volume (the submissions are still being edited), but I’m stoked about it nonetheless.

The story that got accepted was “The 10:40 Appointment at the NYC Department of Superhero Registration,” which is a brief look into one story at the hero equivalent of the Department of Motor Vehicles, because frankly there’s so many of them nowadays that they can take a number. It makes a strong argument why regeneration is the worst superpower to have… and also, the best.

Unidentified Funny Objects #8 has a theoretical launch date of sometime in October. When I know more, I’ll tell you.

Until then… up, up, and away.

In Which I Succumb to Capitalism but Not Despair

I’ve been holding off on this announcement for a while, but it’s really past time. My employer, Seasun Inc., had a bad quarter with one of its flagship products not doing as well as expected. That meant that upper management had to cut costs to show they were doing something, and that meant layoffs. I am now out on the street and looking for a day job.

It hasn’t been too rough a ride so far. I managed to score a contract gig for about a week with Otherside Entertainment, which took the edge off. I’ve also had lots of interviews and writing tests. This has led me to revise my Writing Tour page to include samples, since I’ve applied to everything from RPGs to interactive romance novels to trivia quiz games.

I’ve got a little routine going — during the day I search for a main job, and at night I write and submit short stories. As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve got a few I’m sending out, with the intention being that the proceeds get put in a separate pot dedicated to financing the self-publishing of Civil Blood‘s sequel. Great plan, right?

Well, as with all plans, this one hasn’t really survived first contact with the enemy.

Selling short stories, to misquote Han Solo, ain’t like dusting crops. Many markets are closed to submissions except for certain times of the year. Then there’s the matter of taste, and the fact that I’m not bringing a bajillion readers to the table like some of my competition is. The long and short of it is, the stories haven’t sold yet.

So, what’s a writer to do? Well, the first step is to keep writing. I’ve got that down. Besides the three pieces I wrote about last time, I’m working on a story called “The Needs of the Client” which is meant to be more lighthearted superhero fare in the vein of “The 10:40 Appointment.” I could use some positivity about now, and I bet you could, too.

For the second step, I’m finally joining all the other pro freelancers who have set up a Ko-Fi button on their webpage. Ko-Fi is a service where a reader can effectively buy a writer a coffee via PayPal. It takes small donations of about $3.00 each. And since the website offers a spot to create goals, I hit upon the idea of trying to use Ko-Fi to finance my short story habit.

If I can raise enough money — not much, say, $50, a token payment of about $0.01 a word — through Ko-Fi, I’ll publish one of the short stories here on my website rather than continuing to submit it in the longer, slower process of traditional publishing. You get a story, I get closer to my goal, my website gets more content — everyone wins.

To recap, the stories I have kicking around are:

  • “Stopping the Bleeding,” an election-year story in the Civil Blood universe with a new protagonist.
  • “Infection in Everything,” a Civil Blood universe story about Infinity and the woman who taught her jiujutsu.
  • “The 10:40 Appointment at the NYC Department of Superhero Registration,” a lighthearted story about a would-be superhero fighting bureaucracy and enduring one heck of a road test.
  • “The Needs of the Client,” a story about what it’s like to work in an IT department when your client is a superhero group similar to the Justice League.

I should emphasize that I’m not on the brink of starvation over here, as many artists are. My immediate family are in decent health so far (knock on wood here until my hand breaks off). Honestly, if anything, I might survive the Coronapocalypse longer than some of the publications I’m submitting stories to, since some of their staff may have day jobs that can’t be done remotely. That’s no slam on them — it’s just part of the scary world we live in now.

But since the plan is to hunker down and never go outside, this seems like an opportune moment to get more writing done. And in case you’re a fan and want to see more of my work, I’ve now made it a bit easier to do so.

That’s all. I’m sure I’ll post more about the Black Plague of the 2000s in detail soon enough. Stay safe out there.

In Which I Plug My Latest & Greatest

I’m happy to announce that my work with Seasun Comics has at last gone to press with Mythkillers, the urban fantasy comic I’ve been working on for the last year. Mythkillers is the story of a teenage demigoddess, her clay golem best friend, a snarky Zulu fairy and an immortal Greek warrior teaming up to stop a dark god from wrecking the afterlife in his bid for power.

We’ve had Mythkillers #1 printed for a while, but now all six issues are up on Amazon Kindle. Here’s the link.

Issues 1 and 2 are available through ComiXology, but as of this writing, they are still processing Issues 3-6.

“But wait,” you may say, “What’s going on with your other projects?”

(Narrator: No one says that.)

The Civil Blood universe is still kicking, and I’m still revising “Infection in Everything,” a short story involving Infinity and her jiujutsu teacher. And I’m still submitting “Stopping the Bleeding” (a post-Civil Blood story about a new character) and the original humorous piece “The 10:40 Appointment at the NYC Department of Superhero Registration.” To make a long story short, there are a whole lot of short story markets out there and they’re all closed to submissions for the immediate future.

Okay, not all. But seriously, it’s a thing.

That’s the latest. I’ll post more when I know more.

Stay cool.

In Which I Come Back from Faraway Lands

Those of you just joining me may look at my last blog post and say, “Egads! It’s been three months since the last update! Where has Chris been?” And the answer, of course, lies in the text of the last update — I’ve been doing my day job, which has, like most hazardous gases, expanded to fill the size of its container.

The good news is, the job is pretty cool. When we last left our intrepid hero, I was Kickstarting Mythkillers. In short, Mythkillers is an urban fantasy that is sort of like if you took the ancient bloody-minded gods from Sandman and gave them to the goofy motherf***ers writing Guardians of the Galaxy.

We were successfully funded on Kickstarter, hit two stretch goals, and have been busily making the comics ever since. Since my last post on this blog, I added somewhere around 37 articles on the Seasun Comics news page, which explains a part of my conspicuous absence. If you’re looking to check out Mythkillers, we’re currently using Indiegogo’s InDemand as our online store. I posted a general FAQ for people new to the comic here.

But like any good act of magic, the reasons for my disappearing act here comes in threes.

The second reason I’ve been absent is more related to an old, long-held vice. From 2005 to 2012 or so, I played a massively-multiplayer online roleplaying game called City of Heroes. The game shut down in 2012… officially. In May or so, it was revealed that a secret cabal of reverse engineers had actually managed to illegally keep the game’s source code and played it on a private server for the last six or seven years. And then they reopened it for public play, free of charge, with the game company tacitly agreeing not to prosecute anyone for literally saving Paragon City.

It is difficult for me to express how much I loved City of Heroes… okay, it’s not difficult, but most of you wouldn’t understand me if I said “I got the Isolator badge the hard way in Recluse’s Victory and Disruptor on my empathy defender.” I’ve toned my fanaticism down a bit this time around, but I can now play it with my son, who enjoys creating characters just as much or more than he actually likes playing the game. So the game is a factor as well — it sucks up time I would have spent writing.

But that doesn’t mean I haven’t stuck with my plan to write short stories and sell them to try and finance a Civil Blood sequel. Far from it, in fact. The third thing I’ve been doing in the evenings rather than post updates to the blog is the actual writing of short stories. I finished two recently and sent them off to a writer’s workshop.

The first, “The 10:40 Appointment at the NYC Office of Superhero Registration,” humorously imagines what the superhero equivalent of the DMV is like. It highlights the down side of being a regenerating hero, which is that to register your superheroic abilities, you have to demonstrate them, i.e. get the mess beaten out of you by a big dude in power armor who doesn’t know what a safe word is.

The second story is from the Civil Blood universe and is, of course, much darker and more serious. It deals with Infinity returning to Los Angeles after the events of the novel and meeting up with Katie, the martial arts instructor who was like a mother to her. Infinity chooses to “come out” to Katie as a vampire, but she can’t go home again the way she’d like to. The story’s title, “Infection in Everything,” refers to the vampire virus VIHPS as well as a passage in Musashi’s famous martial arts manual The Book of Five Rings.

So hopefully, both these stories will see the light of day sometime. I suspect “The 10:40” will be an easier sell, since SF magazines perpetually say they’re starved for humorous content. I think it hits a good mix of slapstick and poignancy, and it’s high time someone wrote a story about the super-saturation point of comic book crime-fighters.

They do say, “write what you know,” right?