Blarg!

Bill's blog. Writing, guitars, gratuitous Simpsons references, you'll find i​t all here. Almost certainly a waste of time for both you and the author. On the internet, that's actually a plus.

New short story: "A Crawlspace Full of Prizes" in UFO 6

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My latest short story, "A Crawlspace Full of Prizes," is available now in Unidentified Funny Objects, Volume 6. It's one of my favorites. It's a classic tale of an everyman who, while going into his crawlspace to put away the Christmas decorations, finds a fully-staffed prize counter to a Dave & Busters.  

Here's an excerpt:

Thursday, you walk around to the rear of your house to the crawlspace to put away a box of Christmas decorations for the year. You expect that behind the three-by-five crawlspace door will be the crawlspace, since it's right there in its name and everything. But instead of the musty smell of garden tools and old maple boards from that cutting board you tried to make but gave up on, you find a neon-lit room with day-glo carpet. Top-40 radio blares over loudspeakers that sound nicer than anything you've got in your den. At the center of the room is a glass display case filled with little plastic spider-rings and Pixy Stix, as well as other assorted knick-knacks, candies, baubles, and gee-gaws. You couldn't be more surprised if a bear had jumped out of the crawl space. A bear would've at least made a certain kind of sense. You mention this to Sean, the surly, skinny, pimply teen wearing a green polo shirt and nametag, standing behind the glass counter. You also ask him what the heck he's doing here, anyway?

"Because it's my shift," Sean tells you. 

How did he even get this job? This is your house, you protest. Surely there must be a mistake. Sean will have to leave this instant. And where are you supposed to put your Christmas decorations?

If there were competitions for such things, Sean's reply of, "I don't know what to tell you," would win gold for Least Helpful Phrase in the English Language.

You can buy your copy of UFO 6 at Amazon.

Would you like to beta read my novel?

I finally finished writing my new novel, Challengers. Now comes the part when I send it to people I trust who'll read it and tell me what works and what doesn't. That said, I also need to hear from people who are less familiar with my work so I can see how it sits with a wider audience. If you're interested in being one of those people, here's the gist of the book:

tl;dr version: X-Men meets Friday Night Lights

Longer version: Eighteen-year-old Cody Hawthorn had waited his whole life to go to college to learn to be a superhero. Sadly, he's just not super enough. Top-tier universities find his 2,000-pound bench press rather pedestrian. He can run 40 mph? Yawn. They'd love Cody if he still knew how to fly, but a nasty injury cost him his ability to get airborne.

Cody had resigned himself to studying history and teaching high school in his hometown until Piedmont State University finally offered him a scholarship to double-major in history and heroics. When he gets to campus, Cody wonders if he made a mistake--among his new team of magicians, gravity manipulators, luchadors, and a cybernetically enhanced bear powered by Google Android, Cody's the worst student in the program. At least Cody gets to study under his childhood idol, Orion. 

Orion, the greatest and most powerful hero the world has ever known, is retired from active duty at forty-one years old. In his prime he had the strength to move mountains and the toughness to withstand an atomic bomb. However, his career of fistfights and crashing into buildings has left his body a wreck. When he's not nursing a dependency on painkillers, he stays busy as a faculty member at Piedmont State. However, it's a much tougher place to work than he'd expected. Piedmont State is like if you infused Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters with the bloated bureaucracy of a public university, and replaced Professor X with Bear Bryant. Orion's clashes with his boss (and the fact that, as an educator, he couldn't teach a dead man to sit still) have him on the verge of getting fired.

Both he and Cody are going to have to get their acts together because Orion's old nemesis, Claude Lafitte--the self-proclaimed Emperor of Louisiana--is still in his prime and planning to start a second Civil War. But how can either Cody or Orion save the day when they can barely keep their positions on campus?

Sound interesting? Want to take a crack at this? Read on.

What I'm looking for:

  • Your overall impression
  • What you liked
  • What you didn't like
  • Places you got bored
  • Stuff that confused you/didn't make sense
  • Characters you particularly liked and disliked
  • If people do anything unbelievable or ridiculous
  • Do the plot twists work, or did you see them coming?
  • Whatever else you feel like mentioning

What I'm NOT looking for:

  • Proofreading. Obviously spelling and grammar are important, but the book will probably change a lot between now and the final version. Pointing out the comma splice on page 137 won't be a good use of your time if I end up overhauling or deleting that entire chapter anyway.

My ballpark turnaround time is by mid-August. If this sounds like your cup of Gatorade and you've got some spare time, fill out the contact form and I'll send it your way. Either way, thanks for stopping by, and I hope you're reading something you enjoy.

Novel draft finished!

On Tuesday, I finished the first draft of my novel-in-progress, tentatively called National Champions. A couple of weeks ago as I was slogging toward the end of the book, I noticed that I'd started it on April 2, 2012. Stephen King advises never to take more than three months to bang out a draft. I don't know if I'll ever be that fast, but I decided a year was quite long enough, thank you. So on April 2, 2013, I triumphantly typed "THE END" at the end of the manuscript.

This is the point in the process when a lot of writers like to bemoan how bad their first draft is. I don't understand this--a builder doesn't frame out a house, then say, "Man, this place is a dump!" It's supposed to be rough when it's a first draft. Personally, enjoy the editing process way more than the drafting process anyway. I'm giving myself a break from this book -- at least a month, no more than three -- to work on some short stories and my next column. Then I shall look upon this world I have wrought, then -- and only then -- will I realize how terrible my first draft probably is. And that's okay.

If you're curious about the book itself, it's a superhero novel about a kid named Cody Hawthorn. He's your everyday clueless teenager, except that he can bench press 2,000 pounds and finds bullets a minor annoyance. He gets a recruited to attend Piedmont State University to pursue a degree in Civil Defense -- my fancy in-world title for a superhero-studies program.

Piedmont State isn't Hogwart's, nor is it Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters. This is a public research institution where faculty expertise doesn't necessarily translate to good teaching; where other programs of study compete with (and feel resentment toward) the Civil Defense program's notoriety and funding; and no matter how talented you are, professors will always like next year's recruiting class better than you.

The second draft shouldn't take nearly as long as the first. I'm looking forward to taking a break, though, before tearing into the story again. I'll keep you posted when it's finished.

"Athlete's Foot" is now available in Issue 1 of Crowded

A fine magazine with the good sense to publish one of my short stories

A fine magazine with the good sense to publish one of my short stories

New publication! But have you ever wanted to hear the thrilling saga of how a short story gets published? No? Well, here it is anyway, and you can skip it if you want:

In November of 2010, I submitted my favorite short story I'd written to a magazine that had just started paying professional rates. It was a funny piece about basketball and limb loss, and I thought it'd be a good fit at this magazine. Best of all, it would be my first pro-level short fiction sale.

Submitting stories for publication takes a long time. Editors have huge amounts of stories to sift through, and a lot of magazines expect you to submit exclusively--editors don't want to invest a lot of time and energy into a story only to have it snatched away by another magazine. If you get caught simultaneously submitting, that magazine will refuse to publish you until the sun rises in the west.

So, this magazine. It took them a while to get back to me. After six months, I sent a polite query to ask if they had had a chance to look at it. They replied that they'd been inundated with submissions after they'd raised their pay rate, so it might be a while. Fair enough, I thought.

I still thought it was fair after a year, when I sent this magazine another query (you'll notice I'm not mentioning them by name, so you can probably see where this is going). No decision yet, but they'd advanced me into the "maybe" pile, so I had that going for me, which was nice.

We went back-and-forth another six months until last April, when I informed them (politely) to remove my story from consideration so I could consider another market.

Their reply: "That's too bad especially since it was so very close to getting bought. Best of luck to you."

I've been submitting to magazines for several years, so I'm pretty good at dealing with rejection. But their little "So long, asshole" routine was definitely a beetle in my french fries (which really happened to me one time). It was the implicit, "If you'd only allowed us to dick you around for another six months, we'd have bought your story. Maybe." The thing that irritated me most, though, was that it took them a month-and-a-half to write it--they couldn't even tell me to go to Hell in a timely fashion.

On the Big List of Injustices in this world, this one ranks pretty low, but it annoyed me nonetheless. Did you notice I used past tense there? I am over it. At last, I have my sort-of revenge.

My short story "Athlete's Foot" is now available in the debut issue of Crowded. This magazine has some great stories in it, accompanied by some terrific looking artwork. (And yes, they pay professional rates, in case you were worried about my career or whatever.)

"Athlete's Foot" is a horror/urban fantasy story about Tyler, an American basketball player struggling to make it in the European minor leagues. A good season might get him back to the States and the NBA. Too bad for him, his team has also signed former NBA superstar (and current out-of-shape has-been) LaWilliam Morris, who treats Tyler like his personal slave. Tyler doesn't believe in karma, but he finds out that what goes around does come around once in a while, and that's not always a good thing.

Am I being petty about this whole thing? Yeah, probably. But like I said, "Athlete's Foot" is one of my favorites, and finally seeing it published feels really good. I hope you enjoy reading it.

Crowded, Issue 1

Download a free anthology of writers eligible for the John W. Campbell Award

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Stupefying Stories, a fine publication that has published two of my own works, has released their biggest project to date. The 2013 Campbellian Pre-Reading Anthology features stories from forty-three (!) different authors, all of whom are eligible the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. Best of all, it's a free download.

I'm not eligible for the Campbell until next year, but I'm privileged to be friends with two of the talented authors in the anthology, Rich Matrunick and M. David Blake. I also met Rebecca Gomez Farrell at a party once, and she served peaches wrapped in prosciutto and rosemary, which has nothing to do with writing but is absolutely worth mentioning. I would not try to sway your vote one way or another, but I can personally attest that their fictions are quite good.

To sum up: Whether you can nominate writers for the Campbell, or you just want to read a lot of good stories for free, it would behoove you to download this anthology.

2013 Campbellian Pre-Reading Anthology

Read my story, "The Consolidated Brotherhood of Truly Bearded Santas" for free in The Again

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I got your Christmas story right here, pal: A reprint of "The Consolidated Brotherhood of Truly Bearded Santas" is now available for free in The Again, an online magazine of odd fiction from the U.K. If "odd fiction" is too nebulous a term for you, here's a handy chart depicting the kind of things they like to publish. Their fiction is free, but you can show them some support by purchasing one of their stylish and functional coffee mugs.

TCBoTBS was originally published last December in Stupefying Stories, so if you've read it before, you'll have to pretend to be surprised. Visually, though, it's much different--this version has several brand-new illustrations from artist Jennifer Hung. My favorite is this image (see below) of the beloved Germanic Christmas character Krampus tearing open a package of ground beef. I'm confident we'll be seeing this soon-to-be classic holiday tableau next to the Nativity scene for generations to come.

Aw, I was saving that beef for taco night!

Aw, I was saving that beef for taco night!

I hope you enjoy the story. Merry Christmas!

The Again No. 6: Dec. 2012