The Envelope Please…

All the votes are in, and the critters.org site has released the unofficial tally of their critters_header2015 Preditors & Editors Readers Poll. In the Horror Short Story category, Steven R. Southard’s RippersRing72dpiRipper’s Ring” came in…

…drum roll, and dramatic pause…

4th out of 17.

That’s great, and I’d like to thank all the wonderful people who voted for my story. It’s an honor to make the top top10shortstoryhten (top five, even) of the nominated horror short stories of 2015. I’m proud of “Ripper’s Ring” and gratified that readers think enough of it to send in their votes.

One caveat—apparently the results are unofficial at present. If those standings change, you’ll learn that news right away from—

Poseidon’s Scribe

January 17, 2016Permalink

Time for a Story to Launch

I just learned my next story, “Time’s Deformèd Hand,” is scheduled to be launched by Gypsy Shadow Publishing in just three days, on November 15th. It’s the 12th book in that What Man Hath Wrought series everyone’s talking about.

Here’s the blurb: It’s 1600 in an alternate Switzerland, a world where Da Vinci’s mechanical automatons and human-powered flight almost work, thanks to magic trees. Long-separated twins, Georg the reluctant groom and Georg the clock thief, roam the clocklike village of Spätbourg, beset by more time and date errors than you can shake an hour hand at. Will Georg get married after all, and repair the town’s central tower clock? Will Georg—the other one—purloin more timepieces, or give up his pilfering ways? Will William Shakespeare lend a hand, and some iambic pentameter poetry, to reset the cogs and gears of this zany comedy? Only time will tell…or maybe not, in this ultimate clockpunk tale of mistaken identity and temporal mix-ups.

I’ll be sure to let you know when “Time’s Deformèd Hand” is launched and where you can buy it. You know if there’s one person who’d never leave you uninformed, it’s—

Poseidon’s Scribe

November 13, 2014Permalink

Emotional Roller-coaster

As you and the story you’re writing go through time together, do you find yourself on the same type of emotional roller-coaster as with a personal relationship? Do you feel elated by positive events and dejected by negative ones? I’ve been through the process enough to detect a repeatable pattern. Maybe it will be the same for you.

Let’s follow through as I experience the highs and lows of writing a story and getting it published. This is my relationship with a single story, so the line will overlap with other stories in various stages.

Emotional RollercoasterGetting a story idea is enjoyable, having it mature in my mind while I imagine the possibilities, the characters, the plotline, the settings, and some of the dramatic scenes. It’s a good feeling to go through that, because that imaginary, unwritten story is as good as it’s ever going to be. Once the reality starts and I put words down, the story never reaches the exalted heights of perfection that it achieved when just a dream.

Still, putting words down has a gratification all its own. I feel I’m making progress, producing product, assembling widgets on my keyboard / word / sentence / paragraph assembly line.

Until I get stuck with writer’s block. Here I mean the minor writer’s block I’ve described before, where I can’t get out of a plot hole, or I need a character to act contrary to his or her motivations, etc. Although temporary, this is a real downer. I don’t always experience this, (as shown by the reddish line) but there’s usually some drop-off in enthusiasm as the glow of the original idea fades a bit.

Reaching THE END of the first draft is a definite up-tic in satisfaction for me. The mad rush of getting words down is over. It’s good to know I can start the reviewing-editing-improving phase.

For simplicity, my graph only shows two drafts, but there may be more, with minor wave crests for completing each one. I get to the highest emotional state so far when I consider the story done and submit it for publication. “Here, Dear Editor, this is my newborn! Don’t you love it as much as I do?”

That emotional high fades, as they all do, while waiting for a response. Usually I’ve begun another story by then, so I get an overlap with a similar-looking graph displaced in time.

My graph depicts two paths here, one showing a rejection. Despite my earlier advice to look at rejections positively, I still find that hard to do. Rejections stink. Maybe not as much now as my first one, but still…

An acceptance of a story is a very high emotional state, especially the first time. It’s time to celebrate, indulge, and surrender to the grandeur and magnificence of me.

No one can maintain a very high or very low state forever, so I do descend from the grand summit as I get through the rewrites and signing of the contract, though these are not unpleasant.

The launch of a story is another sublime pinnacle of emotional ecstasy, and that’s no hyperbole. “For all human history, readers have awaited a story like this, and today, I, yes I, grant your wish and launch this masterpiece, this seminal work of ultimate prose, so you may purchase and read it. You’re quite welcome.”

After the story is launched, you’ll get occasional uplifting moments, such as favorable reviews, or book signings, etc. These are never quite as exciting as acceptance or launching, but they’re gratifying anyway.

I’ve not gotten through all these stages with a novel yet, but I suppose a novel’s graph is longer in time, and has many more ups and downs than that of a short story.

Also, your mileage may vary such that your graph looks quite different from mine. Leave me a comment and let me know about the emotional stages of your writing experience.

Remember, when on a roller-coaster (emotional or state fair-type), it sometimes helps to raise your hands in the air and scream. Whee! Here goes—

Poseidon’s Scribe

October 26, 2014Permalink

Interview with a Cometeer

Today I’m interviewing the protagonist, Commander Hanno Knighthead, from my story, “The Cometeers,” scheduled for release by Gypsy Shadow Publishing in early September.

TheCometeers72dpiPoseidon’s Scribe: Greetings, Commander Knighthead, and welcome to our blog—er, newspaper. I’m Poseidon’s—I mean, I’m Steven Southard, the Editor in Chief.

Commander Knighthead: Thank you, Mr. Southard. I’m pleased to be here.

S.S.: Can you tell our readers about your upcoming mission?

CDR K.: Well, I think most people already know we’re travelling into outer space to blast Comet Göker with gunpowder to divert it away from the Earth.

S.S.: Can you remind our readers when the comet is due to collide with Earth, if not diverted in time?

CDR K.: Yes, on September 9th.

S.S.: Of this very year, 1897, is that correct?

CDR K.: Yes.

S.S.: Very interesting. Let’s get to some personal matters. How old are you and where did you grow up?

CDR K.: I’m 35 and I was born and raised at a farm near Emporia, Kansas. Born one year after Kansas became a state, in fact.

S.S.: But you didn’t stay to work the farm when you grew up?

CDR K.: No. After reading Moby-Dick, Two Years Before the Mast, and other such books, I felt the call of the sea. I received an appointment to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, and graduated from there in ’84.

S.S.: Pardon me for asking, but how did your parents pick your first name—Hanno? It’s most unusual. Is it a family name?

CDR K.: (laughs) No. My name is Hanover. Hanno is just a nickname.

S.S.: What was your most recent command in the Navy before being selected for the comet mission?

CDR K.: I was captain of the torpedo boat, USS Hopkins, home-ported in Newport, Rhode Island.

S.S.: Are you married, Commander?

CDR. K.: No.

S.S.: Come now. A good-looking man like you, in the prime of health, with a successful Navy career going? I’m sure there are scores of young ladies who—

CDR. K.: I preferred not to subject a wife to the difficulties of dealing with my life at sea.

S.S.: I understand, though our young, female readers will likely wish you’d make an exception.  How were you chosen for this mission?

CDR K.: That was the shocking part. I’m told President McKinley selected me personally.

S.S.: Really? Why? Did the President know you?

CDR K.: No. When I had the opportunity to meet with him in the White House, he told me he wanted someone able to lead a small group of men in a confined craft on a long mission. I’m honored he chose me.

S.S.: As you should be. I understand the rest of your crew for the comet mission was hand-picked as well.

CDR K.: Yes, hand-picked for their expertise in various disciplines needed on our mission—explosives, mechanics, orbital mathematics, comet geology, physics, and other specialties. They’re from the nine countries that contributed the most to finance the expedition.

S.S.: A multi-national crew, then. Do you foresee difficulties in communication?

CDR K.: Not in communication. They all speak English.

S.S.: Your answer suggests you see difficulties of another kind. Do you?

CDR K.: We’re sending twenty three projectiles into outer space, three of them manned. We’re trying to guide the ones filled with gunpowder so they hit a comet travelling very fast, and we’re trying to keep that comet from hitting the Earth. Of course, I see difficulties. I see nothing but difficulties.

S.S.: I meant, do you see problems with your crew, other than communication?

CDR K.: (hesitates before answering) I think it’s no secret that leading a crew of well-educated civilians experts presents different challenges that leading a crew of a few officers and dozens of enlisted men. Having said that, I look forward to the mission and have full confidence every crewman will do his job.

Steven Southard: I know you’re a busy man, so I’ll end here by wishing you and the rest of the Cometeers complete success. The rest of us are depending on you.

CDR Knighthead: Thank you. We won’t let you down.

As a reminder, my story, “The Cometeers,” will be launched in early September. I think you’ll find Commander Hanno Knighthead has, if anything, underestimated the challenges he’ll face on this mission. Challenges imposed on him by—

Poseidon’s Scribe

The Story Behind “To Be First”

ToBeFirstWheels5As the launch date for “To Be First” and “Wheels of Heaven” nears (this Tuesday, July 1st), and excitement builds, I think it’s time for me to reveal the story behind “To Be First.”

A few years ago, I watched an episode of the TV show Mythbusters where they replicated a feat supposedly performed by Lagâri Hasan Çelebi in the Ottoman Empire in 1633. Çelebi is said to have constructed a rocket chair, launched himself into the air, and flown down safely using a wing-like apparatus. The event was intended to commemorate and honor the birth of the Sultan’s daughter.

The Mythbusters team considered the myth busted, but it got me to thinking. What if such a marvelous flight had taken place? What if the Sultan had understood the geopolitical and military implications?

LagariThink of it. Manned rocket flight in the 17th Century. Defensive city walls and high castle walls would mean nothing to a country with armed rocket-men. Rather than expanding and then beginning its slow decline to finally die with the end of World War I, the Ottoman Empire might have spread much more quickly and farther.

Had the Ottomans also embraced the science behind rocketry, they might have hastened other technical achievements, and been the source of those advancements rather than watching America and the rest of Europe prosper.

It seemed like an interesting basis for an alternate history tale, so I wrote one. In my version, it’s 1933, three centuries after Çelebi’s flight, and two Ottoman astronauts (called lunanauts) are returning from the first manned flight to the Moon. Yes, I said 1933, not 1969.

Nuruosmaniye_MosqueI imagined their space capsule being about the same size as the Apollo capsule, but dome-shaped with a central spike like the roof of an Ottoman mosque.  The capsule would have a couple of windows and there would be some of that beautiful, flowing Ottoman Turkish writing on the outside.

As the story commences, the lunanauts encounter a strange ionic storm in space, and their capsule passes into an alternate universe. The tale takes off from there.

My central characters, Yazid and Kemal, hold differing views on what it means to be an explorer. What are the motivations behind those who roam beyond all prior journeys, who probe far into unknown regions? Do they do it for the money? For fame? For love? Or is it something simpler?

If you read my story, perhaps you’ll be motivated to become an explorer, and you’ll write your own gripping story of heroic and fantastic adventure. You, too, can manage ‘To Be First.’ At least, so says—

Poseidon’s Scribe

The Story behind “Wheels of Heaven”

ToBeFirstWheels72dpiWith my story “Wheels of Heaven” about to launch on July 1st, I thought I’d tell you how I got the idea for the tale.

The series What Man Hath Wrought consists of alternate history stories involving technology. Basically, they’re “what if” stories that ask what would have happened if things had gone differently. While doing some research on interesting ancient technologies, I came across the Antikythera Mechanism. Or perhaps I saw a mention of it on a documentary on the Science Channel, Discovery Channel or History Channel.

300px-NAMA_Machine_d'Anticythère_1It’s a fascinating machine, advanced well beyond what anyone gave the ancient Greeks credit for. Moreover, until x-ray tomography was conducted on the device in recent years, no one knew what it was for.

Intrigued by the mechanism, I then had to think of an interesting way to fictionalize it. Some outlandish, but really fun, ideas occurred to me, but other authors had already explored notions such as the device being a time machine, teleportation machine, or even an alien communicator.

My story ended up being more plausible. I portrayed the mechanism as being exactly as it really was, a device for computing the position of the sun and major planets—the wheels of heaven.

In 1900 and 1901, divers discovered the device amid other shipwreck debris off Antikythera Island. “Wheels of Heaven” is my fictional account of how it came to rest there. An arrogant Roman astrologer will discover he can make predictions with greater speed using the device, but will come to question the connections between people and the stars.

rimtradeWhen research revealed the wreck to be a Roman merchant ship, I checked out what those ships were like. They differ from trireme warships in interesting ways. The carved neck and head of a swan which I describe in the story was actually a common feature of these ships.

For the most part, of course, “Wheels of Heaven” is about the struggles people have, the struggles we still have today. If you were certain you were right about something, an idea about which you’d formed a long career, and you found out it was all wrong, could you accept it? Are we all slaves of predetermined fate, or do we have free will?

Go ahead, take a trip through time to about 80 B.C. and voyage with my characters Viator and Abrax aboard the Prospectus. I know you’ll enjoy it; that much has been written in the stars by—

Poseidon’s Scribe

Launching July 1st

It’s the event anticipated all over the world and throughout the known universe, and it’s happening July 1st. For those not in the know, that’s the date of the launch of my newest ebook.

ToBeFirstWheels72dpiIt’s part of the celebrated What Man Hath Wrought series published by Gypsy Shadow Publishing, and once again you’ll be getting two alternate history stories for the price of one.

“To Be First” follows two space voyagers from an alternate universe as they return from the moon, in 1933. In their timeline, manned rocketry began in the Ottoman Empire, which advanced and spread. When these Ottoman lunanauts end up orbiting our comparatively backward world, they have a choice to make, one that will forever change their future and ours. Along the way, one of them will learn something about why humans explore.

In “Wheels of Heaven,” an arrogant Roman astrologer finds a geared Grecian machine for predicting the positions of celestial bodies. Today we know the device as the Antikythera Mechanism. On the voyage back to Rome, the seer meets a sailor who dismisses astrology, an astonishing notion in 86 B.C. But when the sailor’s prediction is right, and every one of the astrologer’s is wrong, he begins to question his most basic beliefs.

The star-studded cover, designed by Charlotte Holley, not only demands attention, but it illustrates the connection both stories have to outer space.

You’ll be able to purchase the book in all the usual places: Gypsy Shadow Publishing, Amazon, Goodreads, Smashwords, etc.

Now you’re caught up with everyone else in the universe. No need to thank me. It’s all part of the service provided by—

Poseidon’s Scribe

Cover Teaser

ToBeFirstWheels72dpiHere’s the amazing cover designed by artist Charlotte Holley for the next book to come out in the What Man Hath Wrought series. The book contains two stories: “To Be First” and “Wheels of Heaven” and will be published by Gypsy Shadow Publishing.

The image captures the essence of both stories and is aesthetically engaging. As for the stories themselves, I’ll post more info about them as we get closer to the book’s launch date, currently planned for July 1st.

Sorry to leave you in suspense about the stories, but I’m actually thinking of your welfare. Too much excitement and anticipation too early could be harmful to your psyche, so I’ll release information in stages to avoid such damage. No need to thank me; it’s all part of the services provided by—

Poseidon’s Scribe

Eating the Elephant

Eat ElephantIs it better to write a short story all at once or over a period of several days? Since each method has its advocates, the question is worth examining.

Everyone knows the adage about the proper way to eat an elephant—one bite at a time, meaning you should break down any major endeavor into manageable tasks and patiently accomplish the tasks. How does that apply to short stories? Let’s hear from both sides in this furious debate.

 

Mr. One-Sitting Writer:

Forget about elephants. A short story isn’t an elephant. The reasons you must write the first draft of your short story all at once are as follows:

1. You have to capture the mood of the inspiring moment. Enthusiasm is a fleeting thing. When you’re in the mood to write, when you’re consumed by the power of the idea, that’s the time to get it all down. That’s when you’re most likely to get in the zone when the words flow best. Tomorrow you won’t feel the same way. You’ll lose the moment forever.

2. Your readers expect consistency throughout your story. They want a constant tone or mood. The best way to achieve that is to write the first draft all at once. Readers will sense when you haven’t done that and it will lessen their enjoyment of the story and lessen your chance of future sales.

3. There’s a certain romance in staying up late at night and into the morning to type at the computer or scribble on paper. Didn’t all great writers do this? Aren’t all the best stories fueled by nocturnal spirits conjured from the wisps of steaming coffee cups? In that final surge of energy when you type “The End,” compose your e-mail, and hit Send with thirteen seconds to go before the deadline, you know you’re completely spent, and you are channeling the spirits of the best authors of all time.

Ms. Bite-at-a-Time Writer:

I notice Mr. One-Sitting Writer didn’t talk much about how he performed at his day job the next morning. Maybe writing is his day-job and he can afford to sleep late and rest up for his next bout of binge-writing.

Those of us in the real world have lives. We have responsibilities other than writing. We have jobs and families, appointments and duties. We love writing as much as he does, but we have to fit it into the nooks, squeeze it into the crannies of time we can spare.

He made three numbered points; I’ll do the same:

1. I agree it’s best to write a story when you’re wrapped up in the enthusiasm of the idea. If the story is short enough, and if your schedule allows enough time, by all means write the first draft in one sitting to preserve the tone and feel throughout the story.

2. If you can’t do that, then here are a couple of tricks to try:

a. Stop for the night in the middle of a sentence, a sentence for which you know how it should end. You’ll remember that tomorrow and be able to pick right up from there.

b. At the start of your allotted writing time for the day, review the last few pages you wrote. That will help you recapture the mood so you can continue in the same vein.

3. The romance of staying up late to write? Please. I did that a few times in college to finish assignments on time, but it was never my best work. Plus, I’m not as young as I was then.

As for me, Poseidon’s Scribe, I work like Ms. Bite-at-a-Time Writer, but wish I had the time to work like Mr. One-Sitting Writer.   You’ll have to take your pick based on your circumstances and what works for you. That’s today’s discussion on elephant-eating by—

                                                Poseidon’s Scribe

What Everyone’s Waiting For

Everybody’s talking about it.  It’s all over the internet, crashing servers with the added traffic.  Social media sites are abuzz about it.  You can feel the pervasive air of excitement and anticipation.

RallyingCry72dpiCalm down, world.  It’s just my next book.  You’re going to have to wait until the release date of March 1 to buy it.

Actually, it’s two stories in one e-book release, a two-fer.  “Rallying Cry” and “Last Vessel of Atlantis” are paired together.  What are these stories about?  Thought you’d never ask.

In “Rallying Cry,” an aimless youth named Kane Jones meets two old geezers who spin bizarre war stories.  They tell about having served in a secret World War I outfit in France—the Jules Verne Regiment—with ship-sized helicopters and mechanized walking tanks.   Just as an inspiring shout can move soldiers to action, perhaps all Kane really needs to turn his life around is a rallying cry.

Ever since reading John Biggins’ novel A Sailor of Austria, I’d longed to write a story set in a nursing home with an older character (two, in my story) imparting the memories of a bygone time to a younger character.  I finally did.  “Rallying Cry” takes off in different directions than Biggins’ book, of course, and I recommend you read both.

In “Last Vessel of Atlantis, a ship captain and his crew of explorers return to find Atlantis gone.  While facing violent savages, braving fierce storms, and solving internal disputes, they must somehow ensure their advanced Atlantean civilization is not lost forever.  Fans with long memories will realize this is a slightly revised version of another story of mine published as “The Vessel.”  The new title is better, don’t you think?

I explained the origin of this story in a previous blog post.  It was fun for me to imagine the difficulties faced by a small crew of sailors who find themselves the sole survivors of their advanced civilization, with all other continents populated by primitive savages.

If you can just hang on a couple of weeks until March 1, the book will be available here.  Deep breaths might help you cope with the anxiety until then, along with taking time to think about other, less exciting, things.  Your patience will be rewarded, and that’s a promise from—

                                                      Poseidon’s Scribe

February 16, 2014Permalink