Short Fiction

Web of the Shepherds

A few years back, I took part in NaNoWriMo for the first time. I had no idea what I was doing and there was no plan. I spontaneously decided the night before the event started, and just showed up at the keyboard the next morning. I learned a lot that month. Writing fifty thousand words without a plan was grueling for me, but when it was over, I was full of a new appreciation for what was possible, if you just pushed yourself. 

Anyway, this post isn’t really about that bit of history. However, it is about the fact that it happened again. This Camp NaNoWriMo thing came along. I had heard of it before, of course, but never digested what it was. I assumed it was about taking a month off of work and renting a cabin in the woods with other writers. Apparently, that’s not how it works. There’s actually a virtual cabin you can join with other writers, and you can write between the cracks of life all month long. It’s a bit like the normal NaNoWriMo, except you’re not required to write a 50,000 word novel. You can set your own goals, whatever they may be.

On the eve of Camp NaNoWriMo 2019, I decided to do it. I figured, “Hey, I’ll be writing anyway – might as well make it a specific month-long project.” I wanted it to be low stress, so I set a low goal of 500 words per day for thirty days. That leads to a 15,000 word total, which I figured I could break up into three short stories. I’ve always wanted to write short stories that individually stood alone but also overlapped with events and characters that crossed-over with other stories. Perfect for this project. But what genre?

I considered and discarded all kinds of ideas. Then I landed on urban fantasy as a genre, even though I don’t know a whole lot about it. I only knew the tropes in vague terms – metro city, paranormal main character, supernatural adventures, etc. I decided quickly to use Atlanta, because I live here, but I didn’t want to use a wizard, vampire or necromancer as the main character. They’ve been done already, and I’m sure others have too. I decided to just collect a bunch of mythical monsters and use those, a different one for each story. 

I’ve now planned out ten of these such stories, and the first three are happening this month. I‘m calling it the “Web of the Shepherds” series, for reasons I’ll explain later. I’ve already finished the first story, Sidereal Warlock, and I’m working on the next two, Mummy and Promethean. And along the way, I’ll probably find a way to tie these all into my world of Cromkhar and the Supers & Sorcery series. Because, let’s complicate things!

Story Giveaway for the Reader Group

Up until this point, I’ve only ever offered updates to members of the reader’s group (aka people on the mailing list), but now I’ve also added a new short story to the bounty. It’s a better “thank you” and I feel good about it.

When considering what I should write for this project, I wanted it to be at least tangentially related to the Supers & Sorcery series, if not directly connected. I thought about writing some side stories or back stories for some of those characters, but decided those would be better received as collections that could be picked up after reading the whole series.

I went way back into my notebook, looking at the many other story ideas I jot down from time to time, trying to find something that gave me a spark. I found the story about a medieval farmer who gets his back pressed against the wall and is forced to become superhuman simply to survive. There are other comic and superhero origin stories that follow this trope, and I really feel that it works. The other component of this story is subverting a zombie trope, in that there are shambling undead in the story but they aren’t slow. They aren’t even 28 Days Later fast. These zombies happen to be super-charged monsters with speedster powers.

Another thing I tackled was the term “zombie” which is overused in modern mainstream entertainment and now actually feels out of place in a medieval fantasy setting. I still wanted to label them zombies, though, so I concocted a new word as a decent stand-in with a plausible explanation. Overall, I like the end result and I now have a character which I can bring into future Supers & Sorcery sequels. Win-win!

Short Story Challenge

As I mentioned in a past update, I was admitted into the NYC Midnight Short Challenge as a gift/surprise. I waited anxiously for the start of the competition, even staying up past my bedtime so that I could learn of my random story assignment at midnight. Yeah, they send it to you at midnight – right on brand. The idea for me was that I would read the assignment, digest it a little bit and then sleep on it, letting my subsconcious do the work.

The assignment was a ghost story, involving a theater director with a theme of first love. What? What was I supposed to do that with that? I’m a science fiction and fantasy writer. A horror writer as well, but ghost stories don’t count. And first love? Argh. I guess that’s why it’s called a “challenge”. Anyway, I set to researching “ghost story” tropes and the stage play industry to learn more about theater directors. And, of course, I also researched and brainstormed on how first love could be used as a theme.

Out of the eight days allowed to write the story, I just researched and pondered for six. Around day four, the story started to come together in my head and I put down a few paragraphs. It wasn’t until day seven that I started actually writing. I finished about a third of it that day and then wrapped it up the following morning – it was a Saturday. I spent the whole day editing and revising, based on editorial input from my wife.

Getting the entire story to fit within the 2500 word limit was difficult, and it only confirms my trend of making the story bigger than the budgeted number of pages. Anyway, I’ve posted the story here on the site, called Stagecraft. It’s a double-entendre that possibly only I get, but that’s okay. Enjoy!