Taking Flight in 300 Words or Less
Mmmmkay. Guess this just sort of happened. So the folks over at Queer SciFi on Facebook decided to have another go with their flash fiction anthology. It was something I’d never tried. Flash fic and short stories represent somewhat of a dilemma for me. You see, it’s writing so, as a writer, there’s the draw. I love stories, plain and simple.
But short stories have never really been my thing. Being highly inquisitive from an early age, I’ve always wanted more. Probably why I consider myself the James Mitchner of Queer Lit Fic. My books are tomes – in the literal sense. All of them, with the exception of a single novella I wrote for a friend, are over 500 pages long. I write about headspace and perceptions – which I find to be a very fertile playground from which to write. So when the folks over at QSF announced a flash fic contest I don’t know why I became intrigued. For the most part short stories and it’s smaller brother, the flash fic piece, aren’t my cup of tea. So why’d I do it?
Perhaps it was so I could see if I could? I don’t know. My compulsory inquisitive nature, perhaps? Ma-a-a-a-ybe. Perhaps it just hit me in one of my rare “oh, what the fuck” moods. That must be it.
Regardless, I decided to take the plunge into leaner waters. But what to write? The anthology/contest gave only the theme of flight. Somehow I needed to incorporate the essence, if not literally, of flight.
I didn’t have anything to pound away on. Then a thought occurred to me. Why not use this contest as a writing exercise to play with a theme in a future SciFi work of mine? There’d been an element that I knew was a prominent thread in my story but I’d never actually written it down. But in 300 words? Are ya fucking kidding me?
But then I saw it as a challenge. “Okay, bucko,” (yeah, sometimes I use antiquated slang phrases to address myself) so I metaphorically stared myself down and said, “… let’s see whatcha got, kid.”
So the story deals with Mohawk Indians, amongst the other nations of the Six Nations confederacy, who are the super heroes of my tale. Not many know a lot about Iroquoian/Haudenusaunee history. Though we’ve been the most influential in US history. Jefferson, Franklin and Adams were very serious Iroquoian buffs. They steeped themselves in our form of governance to help shape America’s. Bundle of arrows in the eagle’s grasp on the back of the dollar bill? That’s us. The large wooden staff carried in on joint sessions of Congress? That’s us, too. Even the phrase, “We the People…” Yup, the same phrase that was in our Great Law of Peace hundreds of years before Jefferson penned it. But I digress.
Writing this was more than a challenge. I was writing a very important plot element to a series of books that mean the world to me. They are my attempt at my own Lord of the Rings. They are epic sweeping SciFi that first appears as pure fantasy only to sort itself within the series that it’s really Quantum Mechanics in play – not magic. I am quite literally taking Arthur C. Clarke’s quote to heart. Anyway, so there I was, trying to put something together, a scene if you will, to show how a hero (one of many) in my story – think Star Wars Jedi vs. Dark Side Darth’s – where the hero is converted to a villain. At one point in their collective past, my heroes were culled and changed through rather nefarious means into an army of bad guys – very much against their will. A raping as much as a culling. The process can only happen at the moment of death. It’s a very tricky thing to pull off.
So I plotted quickly to tell a small vignette – a slice of one such hero being culled from her Guardian brethren, into the world of the Flintlings (my bad guys). So I had Mohawk peeps, a death, the transference of my hero at the time of her bloody death, the raping of her soul and the enslaving of it for the Flintlings nefarious purposes, and I had to do it in 300 words. Oy! The scene may never appear in the actual story at all. It was the first time I’d transcribed it from what I had in my head the whole time I’d been penning the other parts of the book. I used characters that don’t appear in the works at all. Just something I dreamt up on the spot to get it all down. Well, not all down … I’d need more words for that. But as a framework it sort of worked.
Somehow I managed it. My little exercise completed I sent it into the contest, not really thinking anything would come of it. To be honest, I thought they’d reject it outright. “What the bloody fuck is this?” I imagined. It was my first ever flash fic. But somehow, and I can’t say why, it was accepted and they included it in their anthology. So now I’m a hybrid author. Who bloody knew?
My story Transcendent, appears in the Paranormal segment of the book. Not sure what qualified it for that categorization as it doesn’t have a paranormal element in the story because it’s definitely tech, but I’m happy it’s there anyway.
There are some marvelous pieces in the book. And they’re quick reads, for like when you’re in the doctor’s office waiting room. You can easily skim several of them while the nurses and medical office people occupy their time with who knows what while you sit there, having arrived way before your appointed time, and they don’t seem to bother with you until like ten or fifteen minutes past your appointed time. Okay, that came out like I have a bone to pick with medical staff, doesn’t it? Anyway, the book is seriously great for times like that. Or while your kid is wrapping up Lacrosse practice and you’re sitting in the car trying to keep cool on a hot day. Yeah, like that, too. You can easily knock out ten or twelve of them in one sitting.
Oh, sidebar note: I worked a small bit of Mohawk humor into it. We natives like to do that – smoke signal ourselves. But I’ll let you in on the small joke: The names I use for my lesbian characters actually have a funny sort of Mohawk in-joke. The Guardian woman who is dying – her name means “hunter/gatherer of fruit” and her wife’s name that I mention in the story means “low hanging fruit” – I couldn’t resist. It’s in our genes. We like to tease each other that way. Not that I think there’ll be a plethora of Mohawk readers of this book. But if there are, they’ll get the sexual innuendo reference. Oughta give them a small smirk or snort for their efforts.
So yeah, pick this baby up. Despite my usual pasadena attitude with regards to short stories and flash fic pieces, I found myself immersed in them nonetheless. Maybe I’m evolving now that I’ve written one? Nah, can’t be. I’d have to turn in my Mitchner fanboy card then. #NothingDoin.
Until next time …
– SA C
The 2016 Queer Sci Fi Flash Fiction anthology, “Flight”, is here, and I have a story in it! It’s a really cool concept:
A 300-word story should be easy, right? Many of our entrants say it’s the hardest thing they’ve ever written.
Queer Sci Fi’s Annual Flash Fiction Contest challenges authors to write a complete LGBTQ speculative fiction micro-story on a specific theme. “Flight” leaves much for the authors to interpret—winged creatures, flight and space vehicles, or fleeing from dire circumstances.
Some astonishing stories were submitted—from horrific, bloodcurdling pieces to sweet, contemplative ones—and all LGBTQ speculative fiction. The stories in this anthology include AI’s and angels, winged lions and wayward aliens. Smart, snappy slice of life pieces written for entertainment or for social commentary. Join us for brief and often surprising trips into 110 speculative fiction authors’ minds.
The book us available in eBook form (4.99), and will soon be available in paperback with b/w illustrations inside (12.99) and in a special collector’s edition with color illustrations (24.99).
Excerpt – From Transcendent by SA Collins –
Blood burst from my lips. Too much blood. Painfully, I tried to roll over; some small part of me accepted the honor of fighting hard and losing the battle. Tonight, I die with dignity.
Instinctively, I pulled upon the Dark. Feeble threads coursed through me, far too little to correct what lie beyond repair. I felt the enemy’s gaze upon me. I wished he would just finish the job.
My fingers pressed into the earth, sodden with my blood and the waters of the river. I coughed. I pulled myself, painfully, along the water’s edge. To where though, I knew not. Odd that, in the end, I thought not of myself but of Wahyawekon, my beloved wife. Inwardly, I wept.
A hand pulled hard upon my blood-soaked hair, turning me over to face him. A malevolent glee colored his face — his victory complete.
I felt my life slipping, like the slip of a fish when you think you have it in your hands. One last breath, coppery and wet, filled my mouth and lungs.
“Karhakonha, you fought well,” he said in Mohawk. “Your new life awaits.” …
(for more you’ll have to pick up the book … *snort)
New Year, New Venture –
So, it’s been a while. I know, I know. The purpose of a blog is to fucking blog. But I’ve been busy. I just finished (Angels of Mercy) and released a 740+ page book for fuck sake! And I’ve got another 600+ page turner right on it’s heels – seriously, like in weeks. That’s close to 1400 pages of hard core writing so you’ll forgive me if the blog fell by the wayside. It wasn’t intentional. There are only so many hours in the day and there’s this pesky thing called sleeping I have to do from time to time or I’ll get really fucking crabby and NO ONE wants to see that.
But I’m off point here.
The purpose of this post is to make followers of this blog (which I need to get back in the saddle and start writing again – my ONLY New Year’s resolution by the way) is to let you all know of a new web series site I’ve created and released into the world:
It’s an unflinching and unapologetic look at my queer man life. And believe me, I got up into some strange assed shit in my time. While it takes a hard look at my queer life, I also will color it with many incidents and life events that have nothing gay about them. But they will be seen through my gayboy lens. The purpose is to add my queer man’s voice to those of the original Violet Quill who wrote uncompromising works about our lives as gay men. I admired those men and their powerful (if dark) words. They both challenged and informed me. I admired their courage and their deft hand in telling our queer stories.
That is my hope – to add my voice to the mix. It is hands-down the scariest thing I’ve ever done. I’m putting it all out there. Warts n’ all. Looking at myself with an uncompromising gaze and telling you all what I see. Not all of it will be by word, either. There will be a curation of sorts across my life’s influences from the cultural times around me as I grew up. All sorts of media will be added to the mix to create an impression of the world around me as I saw it.
Join me on this quest? I’d love it if you did.
Until next time ….
SA “Baz” Collins
Angels of Mercy – The Print Edition Cover Reveal
I’ve waffled enough on this. To release it or not. Look for a lit agent or not. Traditional pub or not. I went back and forth so many times I started to see myself coming. I’ve tugged on my beta readers like you can’t imagine – trying to think through every permutation I could come up with to getting it out there. The print edition is a whopping 540 pages! I just came to the conclusion that no traditional publisher was going to touch the work because I am so new, so untested in the market place.
And ultimately, I knew I wouldn’t compromise too much on the work as it is. I’ve edited the hell out of it, shaving close to 60K words from the original version and it is still a large book. But others have previewed it and said they can’t think of a single thing to cut/edit. Everything in it is relevant to Elliot’s voice and the story he has to tell.
And it is Elliot’s voice in this book that I must honor! <— (You’ve no idea how much I need to defend that last line.)
Elliot and Marco’s story is a deeply personal one. It was one of the fastest works I’ve written (just over several months). Yet the torture I put myself through on whether or not to release it was mind-numbingly overwhelming at times. I knew it was edited and is a very clean manuscript.
But it has so many things that several people who’ve been self-pubbing told me were no-no’s: it ends on a cliff-hanger. It isn’t a M/M romance genre read. It doesn’t fit the mold even though it is one of the strongest stories about two men loving one another with all the trials, tribulations and utter euphoria of first (and in their case) lasting love that I believe is out there.
Will it ever find a readership (the one I know it deserves)? Who knows? I know that my debating it has got to stop because that is what will ultimately kill it before it has a chance to fly. Elliot must see the light for himself now. My boys must fly.
On the wings of Angels …
So without any more waffling – I give you the print cover release as it stands right now with CreateSpace (Amazon). I hope to release it late this month or early in April. Fingers crossed. The work might cost a small fortune in printed form. So yeah, there’s that to consider. I just don’t want to compromise what my boys have to say. It is what it is.
So I know it’s been a while.
Life inserted itself fully. There was work to be done. There was more writing and editing. Honestly, I don’t know what I am doing most of the time. I know what I like and I write to that. It’s a contemplative and fairly lonely existence. It is not something I talk freely about. Not that I am ashamed of what I do. I’m not. Let’s be clear about that.
I think that I needed some distance from my last long winded entry. Turning 50 was much bigger than I wanted it to be. Not in the celebrations or in the thick of the moment – they were all well and good. They are what made me what I am today – a collection of experiences and moments that have molded (for better or worse) into the man I am today.
There’s the hubby, our girls, the two cats – all the hallmarks of domesticity. Yet I burn with other thoughts and ideas. I have men coming up to me (in my mind – head out of the gutter now) who have their stories to tell. They burn with it too. I try to put passion into what I do. Tweaking it here, imbuing it there.
So I heard back from a publisher yesterday (one that I had to ping several times to get ANYTHING from them – something the hubby kept asking “Do you really want to work with a group of people that you constantly have to chase down?”) The hubby has a point. I write fiction that is predominantly gay in nature – it’s what I know. It’s what I am passionate about because in a sea of how we are not like everyone else out there (the heterosexual norm) I think our voices are important enough that I can’t help but write from that perspective.
Anyway, the publisher didn’t get what I was doing. They took a pass on the material. They didn’t get that it was more of a character study than a standard cookie cutter narrative. They’re obviously looking only at the profile margin. I am not there. I never want it to be about the money. The comments back weren’t even that helpful. They were conflicted (rushed and fantastical vs. prose that broke momentum – I mean, what the fuck do you do with absurd commentary like that?). It was very evident that they didn’t even really read the material or try to understand what I was doing. It is not your standard cookie cutter formulaic m/m romantic fair. It was never intended to be that. I know it’s different – THAT’S WHAT I AM TRYING TO DO! Jesus, it was evident to me that publishers don’t have a fucking clue what the market will bear.
I have given the book to people I’ve just met – who don’t know me well enough to know what I am fully about or about what voice I am trying to put out there. In each and every case thus far I have heard how they have emotively connected with my protagonist. How his inner monologue was what pulled them in. They got it. THAT’S the audience I am after. Not some housewife who wants to be swept cursorily away on some cookie cutter adventure for a few hours on some vapid inane storyline that will be instantly forgotten the moment the last page is flipped.
I have two beta readers who have read it and both are not avid readers. Both have said that my characters stayed with them. They loved that they knew so much about them that they wrote back and said that they felt real to them. They both said that this was the first book they’ve gotten through that they actually read like a fiend to finish it. One of which hasn’t read a book in 20 years. But he read through mine like a bullet train with no signs of stopping – almost in one sitting. So there is something there. I can feel it.
Another one is a young man in Britain who I met through a LGBT support site. He’s smart, bright and funny. He’s also hard on himself. My heart goes out to him in so many ways. He embodies my main character (Elliot) in so many ways. He told me that he identified with him and that the voice is very much where his head is at and it rang true for him. He’s in his early twenties (just beyond where my main character is). But the publisher doesn’t consider the market really. They look at statistics, they look at data. And I get it that its supposed to be the business of selling. I get that it’s supposed to be about the bottom line.
My work is epically long for the standard M/M fair. I know it’s not an easy work to market. For god sake you’re inside my main characters head listening to how he processes all of the information that keeps coming his way. And he has issues – it’s what drives the drama forward. But they didn’t get that. I know they didn’t. They just aren’t seeing the work for what it is.
“And it’s only one opinion.” They said. Yeah, it is – and it’s fairly clear that they aren’t invested in finding new talent as they profess to be. They just are struggling to survive selling the same cookie cutter formula (sorry guys/gals I have bought close to 700 books from the genre – as research on what types of stories are out there) and 98.9% of it is pure schlock. It’s absolute rubbish. But they sell what sold yesterday because it’s just GOTTA sell today too. Well, guess what, eventually they will get tired of the same bland Cheerios that you’ve been spoon feeding them. And no, changing the protag from your last best seller from a fireman to a police man doesn’t count as being creative. It’s the same formula. Shake it the FUCK up, will ya? Or the genre will tank.
In short it was a waste of a very long period of time that they could’ve just piped up and owned their fuckedupness in not managing their time well (at one point they actually used deadlines looming as a reason for the delay). They are a small publishing house. If they can’t manage the deadlines they have now and I got added to the mix… see where I am going with that?
So I realized that I’ll either have to keep looking or self-pub it myself. I have author friends who self-pub. It’s not an easy path because the type of stuff I write (while it is deeply rooted in a M/M (sometimes more) relationship slant and thus carries a bit of erotic undercurrent as all relationships do) isn’t mainstream. It isn’t what I think will sell millions and millions of copies.
But is that the type of success I am looking for? I don’t know. I think I’d much rather be successful at putting out something I think is of quality but may fall by and large completely unnoticed by the masses.
I was contemplating all of this when I came upon this little posting on HuffPo Gay Voices on gay men reading 50 Shades of Grey and commenting on it. Gay boys reviewing straight porn/erotica. I thought it was something that would get me to smile a bit. Gay boys have such an aversion to anything lady part wise… so I certainly expected some giggles over that. I got it.
Now here’s the deal – what I didn’t expect was the actual lines from this world-wide bestseller to actually be as badly written as they were. It seemed very amateurish or slightly – awkward when it came to the sex that was portrayed in the book. I am sure that the context helps but the actual inner monologue that they were reading was like some fourteen year old girl was trying to describe a sexual situation.
I was stunned…
See for yourself –
[embedplusvideo height=”255″ width=”400″ editlink=”http://bit.ly/1uFqFTx” standard=”http://www.youtube.com/v/zZTSxQIxsiA?fs=1&vq=hd720″ vars=”ytid=zZTSxQIxsiA&width=400&height=255&start=&stop=&rs=w&hd=1&autoplay=0&react=1&chapters=¬es=” id=”ep6159″ /]
I like Neil McNeil’s stuff on YouTube. He’s clever and he’s certainly crafty in telling his amusing slices of life (from a gay man’s perspective) and it’s light, it’s funny but there’s also a thread of really bright and innovative moments where he’s pulling back the curtain on how gay men survive in this hetero-normative world we’re immersed in. I think he’s pretty fucking brilliant and I love that he’s unabashedly gay in a big way. I admire his courage and his fortitude to get his stuff out there. He believes in what he does, he’s passionate about it, he doesn’t accept that someone else may not – or rather, he is unfazed by it all.
Then I think about my musical muse for Angels of Mercy (Jay Brannan) and how he doesn’t have a big record company backing him up. He doesn’t have a marketing department or a promotional touring company to do all of his stuff. It’s just him cranking out what he does because he’s passionate about it. And his passion is infectious. It permeates wherever he is.
I need to take a page out these men’s book. They strive forward. They press when the world presses back. So I will continue to develop Angels because I believe in what I am doing. I believe in the nature of the work. I take heart that the people who have read it want to read more (it ends on a cliff hanger – which by the way I was told by a publisher that series of that nature are not really what’s selling). Yeah, that’s why sequels in film and serialized television doesn’t work. That’s why the Potter series languished in obscurity.
Elliot and Marco will see the light. Even if I have to figure it all out on my own. I may not command a huge audience from it all, but in the end they will be unabashedly mine. They will be my boys/men – telling their own stories. Why? Because they come to me in dreams – both waking and in sleep. They have things to say. They have surprises even for me.
The hubby commented that Thomas Wolfe (who wrote the hubby’s favorite book – Look Homeward Angel amongst other things) that he had to shop his masterpiece around and really didn’t understand what he wrote in its entirety until he sat down with the editor who he would continue to work with during his writing career and they discovered the absolute breadth of what he’d assembled. Even he didn’t know what was in there. He just struck a creative vein and went with it.
That’s what Elliot and Marco are to me. Life’s blood in writing. They feed me in ways I had never imagined. I have to finish their tale; I have no choice.
Will it ultimately find an audience (of any kind)? I don’t know. I may never know (hell, I’m 50 – it could take several years or decades before it finds people who get me and what I am on about). I may get recognized long after I’ve expired from this world. I may never see the success. Or it could languish for all time. But ultimately, does it matter?
I need to tell their story no matter what. That’s what matters. It’s the only thing that matters.
Elliot is a sea of conflicting emotions. He’s an out gay kid who is shy and sticks to the shadows to survive the hell that is high school. It isn’t until the brightest light from that hellish world sees him and says – you’re mine – that he has to deal what a life in the light means. It isn’t easy for him – for them both.
But then again, isn’t the work we have to strive for it worth it? Doesn’t it make the attaining and the having all the more sweeter because of it?
So I’ll press on – navigating waters I am not sure I know how to do. But I’ll press forward and figure it out. I have a brain, I have friends and family for support. What more do I need to make a go of it?
Not a damned thing…