Distinction in the Darkness

State of Things in 2015

2014 was an exciting year for me and I made some major progress on things that are very important to me. I thought I'd give you a general status update now that we're into 2015 on things like the book, what I read, and what I did last year.

Submissions / Publishing

I submitted my first short story to a literary contest before I was in high school. If memory serves, it was to something that Glimmertrain was offering.

That first submission was arduous, mostly because I had to bundle everything up in a big manila envelope and ship it off to an address that I'd found in the Writer's Market. Of course the story didn't get published. I wasn't terribly surprised.

The thing that does surprise me a bit is that I didn't submit anything at all after that until June of 2013. There was at least a ten year gap there. Granted I didn't do a ton of writing in high school, but I did an awful lot in college. I'm not sure why I didn't try to publish anything that I was doing in creative writing, but I didn't.

Regardless, I submitted eight times in 2014 and have been incredibly fortunate in the reception that Distinction in the Darkness has been receiving. The other stories that I have submitted are still going through review processes and I hope to have good news to share there someday soon.

I always get asked when you can read more of my work. That's an excellent question I wish I had a better answer to. Something I didn't know until I started down this path was that posting stories online anywhere (even here on my own blog) is often considered to be 'first publication' and a lot of places that publish fiction don't like not having first publication rights. So, I don't put things that I'm working on online until they have been accepted. Hopefully I'll have some other things to share in 2015 though. It's a challenge for me, do I work on publishing stories, or do I work on the book?

The Book

I spent all of 2014 rewriting my book. I finished a full draft in 2013, and decided that while I was pleased with the direction the plot was going, I wasn't pleased with the writing. Rather than trying to spot fix the entire manuscript, I rewrote it. I honestly believe this was the correct decision at the time and I don't regret it. I also don't think I'd ever do this again. I'm a better and more experienced writer now than I was when I first started the novel, and I think that when I start working on book 2, I'll be better equipped to avoid the total rewrite scenario.

I have several amazing people who have taken time in 2014 to read the book, and their feedback has been invaluable. I'll talk more about this process of alpha/beta reading in a future post.

2015 is hopefully the year I submit the novel. I have a road map of changes I need to make to the novel first though. Primarily, I need to do additional cleanup of language. I have threads that should run through the entire book, but don't. I have repetitive action scenes. I have a conclusive, but perhaps somewhat under emphasized ending. These are all very fixable problems and that's what I'm working on now. This will be time consuming, but hopefully not a year's worth of writing.

FavoriteFive of 2014

Finally, I'd like to start a tradition of talking about some of my favorite things, specifically things I read, in 2014. Not all of these books were published in 2014, but I did read them last year.

1. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline [Science Fiction] Ready Player One may very well one of my favorite books of all time. I finished it in just a handful of hours, and likely would have finished it in a single sitting if I had been able to. It's a brilliant story of gaming, particularly nostalgic video games from the 1980's, and how those games fit into a massively multiplayer online virtual reality that has replaced in the Internet in our not so distant future. Oh, and there's a multi-billion dollar race to find the easter eggs hidden in the game by it's creator. Brilliant writing and a ton of fun.

2. The Martian by Andy Weir [Science Fiction] Cast Away meets Lost in Space. More or less. I loved this book. Mark, our astronaut protagonist, gets stranded on Mars after his crew presumes him dead. The Martian is his story of the following months alone on the planet and how he attempts to survive the harsh Martian landscape.

3. Skin Game by Jim Butcher [Urban Fantasy] The Dresden Files continues to be one of my absolute favorite series of books, and is one of my favorite suggested entry points into the fantasy/urban fantasy genre for new readers. I'll talk about this more in a series I have planned for 2015 called Fantasy 101.

Skin Game is the newest entry, and in my opinion one of the best Dresden books to date. In this novel, Harry Dresden must pull off an Ocean's Eleven-esque heist. Except instead of knocking over a Vegas casino, he has to rob an underworld vault that belongs to a god.

4. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn [Mystery/Thriller] I don't read a ton of mysteries, but I read enough to know this isn't your typical one. The brilliant thing about Gone Girl is that the mystery is solved early enough in the book that you then get to experience the fallout of what actually happened. This is another one that I couldn't put down. I'll warn you that if you've seen the movie (or want to see the movie) you should consider which experience you prefer (book or film) because your experience may vary. I found that David Fincher's adaptation was so perfect that the movie was almost not enjoyable after reading the book only a few days earlier.

5. Shambling Guide to New York City by Mur Lafferty [Urban Fantasy] I listen to Mur talk weekly on her podcast I Should be Writing. Shambling Guide was the first of her writing I've read, and I loved it. It was one of the few books I chose to take on vacation with me last year and I absolutely devoured it. It's a very enjoyable urban fantasy novel with some interesting world components and a great story.

Zoe, an out of work editor, finally manages to get a job for a travel books company in New York. Except that the travel books aren't exactly for... humans.

Other notable examples include Partials by Dan Wells, Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson, and The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman.

I really appreciate all of the support from this year, and I'm very excited for 2015. Happy New Year!

Distinction in the Darkness

Distinction started out as a workshop story almost eight years ago. Scary to think that. When I read it now, it hardly resembles the original composition. It's a great example of a simple concept that has changed so drastically over the years, changed for the better I think, as I've matured as a person and as a writer. Distinction in the Darkness was published today by Bewildering Stories, a weekly webzine (or “e-zine”) devoted to speculative and experimental writing, and ... If you haven't read it yet, I'd encourage you to hop over to their site and check it out before you finish reading this blog entry. You can read Distinction in the Darkness here. If you have read it, then keep reading after the jump to read some of the background on the story. Spoilers ahead!

Last Chance, Spoilers Incoming!

 

When I originally wrote Distinction, it was a very different sort of story. It was a total gimmick, and it didn't work at all. The main character spent much of the story in a coma, but he didn't realize he was in a coma. The story was an homage to Distant Voices, a Star Trek Deep Space Nine episode in which... Dr. Bashir is rendered unconscious by and alien and runs around in a coma (without realizing it). I tried to write interesting clues into the story, cluing the reader into what was going on. I really don't remember it working well. In fact, in retrospect, it was probably a disaster. The workshop concluded, and I promptly forgot about the story for years.

Last year, something like six and a half or seven years later,  while listening to my weekly dose of Pop Culture Happy Hour, the gang discussed unreliable narrators.  This got me thinking about some of the truly great stories that I have enjoyed over the years that featured unreliable narrators. Movies like American Psycho and Fallen, and books like the Catcher and the Rye and Fifth Business (although, I think my wife would disagree with me on this one). There's also the occasional episode of Star Trek, Dr. Who, The X-Files, etc. that is absolutely not what it appears thanks to an unreliable telling of the story.

I didn't feel like any of these works were gimmicky, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized that they had some things in common. First of all, each of these are very well established in their universe. There's a lot of detail about the physical locations to help ground the characters and the unreliable narration. There's also a very compelling story that pulls the reader through the narrative.

This all came to a head some weeks later when I was preparing to travel home to visit family. My grandmother suffers from dementia, and the forthcoming visit was weighing on me. This got me thinking though. What might it be like to write from the perspective of someone with dementia? Even more, what might that character look like if they didn't realize that they had dementia?

This lead me to Alex. Alex's case is particularly tragic, as not only does he have dementia and not realize it, he experiences a lucid day that is ten years late. As his day unfolds and he gradually realizes what is happening, the light fades back into darkness, and he disappears back into the fog of dementia that so obscures his day-to-day life.

I wrote distinction in one sitting on the plane somewhere over the Mid Western United States. It's certainly not my usual sort of story, as it's much more literary than scifi / fantasy, but I still enjoyed working on it and I'm so happy that it is available for you to read now.

What stories have you enjoyed that had an unreliable narrator? I find so often that this approach works best in small bites, in movies or on TV, but that doesn't mean it can't be effective in fiction too.

Special thanks to Jill, Erin, Ashley, Shane, Jen for taking time to read the story ahead of time, and to Bewlidering Stories for publishing it.