Behind the Scenes of “When Magic Died”

Happy new year, all! I’m excited to announce that my latest flash fiction story “When Magic Died” has just been published on the new Havok Publishing website. If you’ve already finished it, read on to learn a little about how the story came together. If not, go check it out now — because it’s only available to read for free today (January 2nd)!

Like previous stories submitted to Havok (when it was an imprint of Splickety), I wrote “When Magic Died” specifically for the theme. But this time was a little different. The theme for the whole month of January is rebirth, but I also needed to decide which genre/day to submit to (mystery, sci-fi, humor, thriller, or fantasy). I sat on this decision *for a while*. Then, in late October, I saw them put out a call for submissions for the humor genre. I took that as a sign, and started brainstorming.

Taking the theme very literally, I figured that something would need to die at the beginning of the story. Since fantasy is my preferred genre, I thought about what kinds of things would die in a fantasy story — and pretty quickly thought of chosen heroes’ quests to do something like save the world. I figured the humor part would come from the hero failing their quest right at the beginning, then doing just as bad a job when they’re invited to be part of the rebirth.

I considered having the hero fail a quest to save the world, but I felt that I wouldn’t be able to describe a world-rebuilding scene without ripping off The Neverending Story. The idea of magic dying struck me as a good replacement, so I ran with that. It seemed like it would be fun to write about an adventurer who’s supposed to help rewrite the laws of magic, but ends up doing so in a very unconventional way.

In terms of writing the story, that was the only outline I worked with. Most of my other flash fiction stories are a little more plotted-out before I start writing. But I figured I’d do better at being funny if I took more of a discovery-writing approach. That way, things would feel more natural instead of being forced in a particular direction.

So when I started writing, some things came more easily than others. I wanted to get to a joke as quickly as possible so I could readers’ expectations from the beginning. The set-up “magic was dying … had the nerve to do just that” was an idea that stuck from early on, and (especially in the first draft), it gave me some space to be not-as-funny in describing the opening scene in more detail.

Which felt like a mini-saga of its own. Since I knew most of this piece would be driven by dialogue, I originally wanted to cram so much information right in the first couple paragraphs to make sure readers understood the point of the quest, show how magic died, establish the dragons in the story, etc.

It was all pretty superfluous, which is a recurring theme in most of the early paragraphs of my flash fiction. Thanks to some incisive editing, the final version gets to the meat of things much quicker — and lets me reference the enormous collections of random objects collected by questers (especially in video games). If this story hadn’t already been so close to 1000 words, you can bet that list would’ve been a lot longer and weirder.

As I wrote, I figured a lot of the humor was going to be juxtaposing traditional, almost regal, high fantasy elements with more modern and banal bits. I’m not well-versed enough in comedy theory to understand why, but I just think it’s funny to have a fantasy world where dragons say things like “Missed it by that much,” and “A magic system. You’re supposed to come up with a magic system.”

I was happy with the way Dave (so named because I thought a non-fantasy-sounding name would be funnier) came together as I wrote. My initial thought was that his character would be just shy of competent. Which is funny, but can also become moderately annoying. Fortunately, when I settled on snark and sarcasm being the basis for magic at the end, I realized it would need to be part of his character during the story (instead of just thrown in at the very end). I feel like that gives him some agency earlier on, especially when the dragons are suggesting different magic systems.

Which leads back to the conversation between Dave and the dragons. As mentioned earlier, I tried exercising my discovery-writing (and comedic) muscles with this story. I enjoyed the challenge of balancing things that just seemed funny with beats that would push the story forward. This made it nice to have five different characters playing off one another — no matter who inserted a wry comment or made a joke, there was always someone to steer things back on track. Five characters in a flash fiction story really is madness, but I was fortunate that this one could revel in it.

And, in case the topic comes up, I take zero issue with developed magic systems, haha. It just seemed like a fun thing to play with in the event of one being entirely erased.

Of course, I can’t talk about what went on behind the scenes without mentioning editors Lauren Hildebrand, Gen Gavel, and Andrew Winch. The story is much stronger than the first draft thanks in no small part to their help and insight, and I’m super honored that they selected it as Havok’s inaugural Wacky Wednesday story! Thanks all 🙂

Have any questions or comments about “When Magic Died” — the story itself or how it came together? Feel free to post below or under the story on Havok’s website. And make sure you keep following them on social media or become a member for even more awesome flash fiction stories!

Behind the Scenes of “The Exomaton of Panner’s Bend”

My latest story, “The Exomaton of Panner’s Bend,” has been out for almost a week now (in print and on Kindle), so I thought this would be a good time to write a follow-up post about how it came together.

This was one of those rare prompts where I developed an idea pretty quickly. Especially because this was a contest issue, I knew I wanted to put a unique spin on the theme. The steampunk aesthetic jumped out to me, and I figured that would help the story stand out. After settling on the steampunk angle, a wild west setting seemed like a natural fit.

The theme also meant jumping into the action as quickly as possible. Readers don’t pick up a kaiju story looking for long soliloquies about where the monsters and robots came from—they want action! In my earlier beginnings, I tried introducing the exomaton through its inventor, or framing the story as a newspaper story. Ultimately, these (and a couple other starts) took too long to get to the actual fight between the exomaton and the monster. By shifting the perspective to one of the pilots, I felt more comfortable starting right as they’re all loading up to protect the town.

But even then, you’ll notice that describing the exomaton takes up a lengthy third paragraph. This description was one of the first things I wrote, and is largely similar to its original draft. Combined with the description of the ridgeshaker (which was also one of the first things I wrote), that’s about 120 words already accounted for.

After realizing this, I decided to not limit the story to <700 words. This is what I usually aim for since Splickety typically just acquires a couple stories longer than 700 words. But since this was a contest entry, I opted not to constrain myself if I thought it would make the story stronger.

The action of the story flowed naturally after getting to the battle. Rather than narrating the fight blow-by-blow, I focused on a few key moments to convey the idea of destruction without using too much word count. And even though the image of two giant beings fighting is really cool, I wanted the climax to be a more personal scene, which is why the main character is able to scare the ridgeshaker away with the steam. In another stroke of serendipity, the steampunk angle presented a great reason for the combatants to get stuck close together for a period of time.

In terms of names, “exomaton” is a riff on “automaton”—which has a loose steampunk connotation, but wouldn’t accurately describe something that needs to be piloted. “Exo” seemed like the perfect prefix to convey that people needed to be inside to run, but also provide a sense of scale. For a long time, the town had the placeholder name Golden Springs, but that felt way too tropey for a wild west town. After toying with the idea of the town being named after the panners who lived there rather than the gold they were finding, I settled on “Panner’s Bend.” Once both of these were settled, I put both in the title to clue readers into the fact that this wasn’t the usual kaiju setting.

And that’s how “The Exomaton of Panner’s Bend” came to be! I hope you enjoyed this little glimpse into how I wrote it—not to mention the story itself. If you have any other questions about the story (or the world it takes place in), feel free to ask in the comments!

“The Exomaton of Panner’s Bend” Published!

Yay! My latest flash fiction story, “The Exomaton of Panner’s Bend,” has just been published in the latest issue of Havok. And since this is a contest issue, it means this is the first time one of my stories has been a writing contest finalist. Woohoo! Check it out here.

This month’s issue of Havok is called Rampage! Monsters Vs Robots. Think Pacific Rim or a Godzilla vs. Transformers crossover. But instead of setting it in the modern day or near-future, I wanted to explore how the prompt might look sometime in the past. What resulted is a pseudo-Weird West alternate history where pioneers have developed enormous steampunk robots piloted by volunteers to protect themselves from gargantuan monsters that roam the prairies. If you like action on a grand scale (… pun not intended), this story is for you. I really enjoyed writing it, and I hope you enjoy reading it.

Get contest finalist “The Exomaton of Panner’s Bend” and nine other epic kaiju stories in Havok’s July issue, available now!

Hard copy & digital: http://www.magcloud.com/browse/issue/1481066

Kindle edition: https://amzn.to/2NyssHs

Writing Sword of the Stones

In case you missed the news last week, my most recent story “Sword of the Stones” was published in Havok’s latest issue. Get a print copy here or check it out on Kindle. Today, I wanted to share a little background info on its creation.

First off, since I knew I wanted to submit a story to Havok’s Extraordinary Exploits issue, I started with the prompt. I latched onto the examples of Indiana Jones and The Librarian. But, as is usually the case, my first few ideas looked very different from the final story.

One idea was to submit a story that read like an artifact retrieval form. It would include stats like where a certain relic was recovered and what properties it possessed, as well as a brief report of how it had been retrieved. Another idea began with a teenage boy cleaning out his grandmother’s attic, then finding a hatching dragon egg. But when I got into writing both of them, I realized that it was taking way too long to get to the action.

So I started brainstorming ideas of how to get straight to the action—as well as what kind of relic would lend itself to the pseudo-supernatural element of the prompt. I decided the best place to start would be literally seconds before retrieving the artifact, which would in turn activate some sort of (again, supernatural) defense system that would try to prevent the adventurer from escaping. (It should also be noted that, in my head, the main character is known only as “The Adventurer,” and doesn’t have a real name.)

That was when I had a mental image of an angel statue perched on top of a building, holding a sword while lighting flashed around. Those first few paragraphs went through quite a few revisions as I tried to balance scene-setting with action (and a little humor/sarcasm).

Funnily enough, the sword originally was the main relic—and would’ve been a lot more effective against the gargoyles. But the more I thought about it, “able to defeat animated stone” felt like a really random power, and wouldn’t be very useful in other scenarios. That got me thinking about what would be a cool supernatural ability bestowed by an artifact. Wings and flight seemed like a natural answer given the angel statue, and so the medallion worked its way into the story.

It wasn’t until after I started writing the animated gargoyles that I realized they are an unintentional callback to a short story I wrote in college. Something about those monstrous faces and the notion of living rock just strikes me as sinister. Technically, these ones are probably grotesques or chimeras because “gargoyle” specifically refers to carved spouts that carry water away from buildings, but I elected to keep the term “gargoyle” because it’s the one that most people are familiar with for what I was trying to get across.

Half by virtue of the sword losing its abilities, and half due to rapidly shrinking available wordcount, the fight on the roof ended up being shorter than I had first envisioned. I would’ve liked an epic battle on the monastery roof between Adventurer and gargoyle as lightning flashed and thunder roared, but by the time he picked himself up from the fall, I realized that the story needed to start wrapping up. I was happy to get that epic leap from the roof timed perfectly with a lightning strike. In the movie version, that scene is in slow-mo.

For the ending, it’s worth noting that my first draft was a couple sentences longer. I wanted to bring a sense of completion into the story, and I did that through a brief exchange of the duo talking about their next course of action (and the Adventurer thanking Veronica for saving his life). But when my brilliant wife/first editor read it for the first time, she pointed out that the story ended just fine with the “You got the short straw of artifacts this time” comment. Realizing that she was right (as usual), I removed the dialogue for an even shorter word count! Plus, I think the way it draws attention back to the relics gives the story a better sense of completion.

And those are the main points I remember from writing the story. I hope you enjoyed this look behind the scenes of “Sword of the Stones”! Just in case it didn’t come across, I had a blast writing the story—and I hope you enjoy(ed) reading it! Have any other questions about how it came together? Or about my writing process in general? Feel free to ask in the comments 🙂

Sword of the Stones Published!

Exciting news! Havok has published my latest flash fiction piece “Sword of the Stones” in their latest issue! You can check it out here!

This month’s theme/prompt was “Extraordinary Exploits.” Think Indiana Jones, Warehouse 13, The Librarian, or other adventure stories with some supernatural elements thrown in.

I’m really excited to be part of this issue. This genre is right up my alley, so I was super pumped when I got the news that my story was accepted. I think you’ll like it if you’re a fellow fan of action/adventure stories with a dash of magic and/or sci-fi—plus, you’ll get nine other stories also in the same genre (all of which are a blast, but I must give a special shout out to the cleverness of “First Contact”). If you do check it out, I’d love to hear what you think!

Once more for SEO: Read “Sword of the Stones” today!

Hard copy & digital: http://www.magcloud.com/browse/issue/1441511

Amazon Kindle: http://a.co/6DuPj1D

Lunar Eclipse

Today’s a big week! This month, Havok Magazine (Splickety’s genre fiction imprint) published my flash fiction piece “Lunar Eclipse”! Check it out now!

The prompt for this month’s theme was “Holiday cauldron” — basically mashing up several holidays (like A Nightmare Before Christmas or Rise of the Guardians), and throwing in a little Halloween spookiness.

Which holidays did I pick, you might ask? St. Patrick’s Day, Halloween, and … Lunar New Year. I’m stoked with how it turned out and super honored that it was chosen for publication. Plus, when you purchase the issue, you’ll get ten other stories based on the same theme! (I particularly liked “Diary of a Colonist” and “The New World.”)

So what are you waiting for? Read “Lunar Eclipse” now!

Hard copy & digital: http://www.magcloud.com/browse/issue/1354309

Amazon kindle: http://a.co/iTOa3ne