Archive for 'short stories'

Monday, November 5th, 2012 by Carrie Vaughn
Micromoney as a Much-Needed Pat on the Back

I’m going to talk money for just a minute.  Don’t get excited, it’s not a lot of money.  Strangely, though, it’s the little checks I’ve been getting excited about lately.  Last week, I got $33.45 in royalties for my short story “Il Est Ne,” from the anthology Wolfsbane and Mistletoe.  I also got a check for $11.90, for royalties for “Amaryllis” in Brave New Worlds.  Money like this isn’t going to change my life, certainly.  It’s a couple of week’s worth of groceries, or a tank and a half of gas.  But I’ll tell you what I love about these checks:  they’re for work I did years ago.  Wolfsbane and Mistletoe came out in 2008, and I wrote Amaryllis in 2010.  This has become one of the things I love about writing professionally in general, and short stories in particular.  I put stories out there, and in the best case scenario, they become little money machines.  Mind you, not every story keeps earning money — most, in fact, sink without leaving behind a ripple, never to be spoken of again, never earning more than their initial payment.  But I gotta tell you, the more stories I have out there, the better those stories are, the more likely they are to attract notice and additional income.

I’ve gotten to a point in my career where I’m getting quite a few short story reprint requests, sometimes for stories I originally published years ago.  Science fiction and fantasy are undergoing something of a boom in popularity in reprint anthologies right now, primarily because of the efforts of editors like John Joseph Adams and Paula Guran and others who’ve chosen great themes and made them work.  I could never have guessed I would benefit from this — except that I’ve got about sixty short stories out in the world now and a little bit of name recognition.  I’ve had something of a lightbulb moment over this.  I’ve been building my reputation and my fiction catalogue for over twelve years now.  And if you build it, they will come.  But you have to build it.

That’s why these little checks, though they might not seem like much financially, have all felt like a pat on the back, a “job well done” for all the work my younger self put into this gig, in getting my name out there and trying to be the best writer I can.  Every little check means the investment is paying off.

Lessons learned:

1)  Look for opportunities to get paid more than once for your writing.  E-books, audio rights, foreign rights, and so on.  If you write short stories, look for podcast publications that pay for reprints.  For example, Podcastle and Escape Pod are two online podcasters that pay for audio rights for short stories, fantasy and science fiction respectively.  (In fact, I should probably look at what else I can send them.)  Bundling short stories into e-books, reprint anthologies — opportunities are out there.

2)  Copyright and contracts are important:  you can only sell additional rights if you hang on to them in the first place.  Make sure you don’t sign away your right to future income, even for a piece that may not seem like much, like a short story or poem.

The bottom line really is the bottom line:  we’re in one of the few businesses where we can get paid for the same bit of work over and over again.  It behooves us to take advantage of those opportunities whenever we can.  Because those little checks — besides making my day brighter — really do add up.

Monday, October 8th, 2012 by Carrie Vaughn
Excerpt Week!

This week, we’re posting excerpts of our work for you to take a look at.  I always have such a hard time deciding what to share for things like this.  Something old?  Something new?  Something in progress?  My latest book came out a couple of months ago, and my next publication isn’t going to be released for a few months, so I don’t really have anything I need to promote right at the moment, which means my possibilities are wide open.

How about I give you a taste of my next steampunk story, due out in February in the Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination?  I’ve got plans for lots more stories starring Harry and Marlowe, and their adventures give me a fun break from other work I’ve been doing.

Harry and Marlowe Meet the Founder of the Aetherian Revolution

“We could have taken your brother’s courier ship and arrived in a quarter of the time.”

“No, we couldn’t,” Harry said, scowling at Marlowe, who  knew very well they shouldn’t be here at all, much less aboard George’s ship.  But he seemed to enjoy mentioning her brother and reminding her of the impropriety of it all.  It was a long-running joke, and she let him have his fun.   Marlowe just smiled.

They’d taken a carriage — a regular hired coach, horse-drawn even — from the Oxford station to the doctor’s estate.  The journey from London had taken most of the day, which left them facing the gatehouse on an overcast afternoon, the sunlight fading, the world growing colder.  Despite the spiked iron gate, the estate was modest.  She could have walked the perimeter of the grounds in half an hour, though the curving gravel drive gave the impression of greater space.  At the end of the curve one could glimpse the house, a two-story grey pile with a slate roof and clay chimneys, walls fuzzed with ivy, windows brooding.  All of it easily manageable, easily guarded.

The gate was the only access through a ten-foot high wall that surrounded the house.  At the top of the wall copper conductors placed every dozen feet or so guided an Aetherian charge, a crackling stream of deadly green energy.  A second barrier, impassible, should someone think that they could climb the wall.  The humming, flickering light traveled down the bars of the gate as well.

Impatient, she opened the carriage door before the driver or one of the soldiers from the gatehouse arrived to do so.  However, before she could let herself out, Marlowe slipped out, let down the step, and offered his hand to her.  Propriety, indeed.  Remembering herself, she gathered her skirt in one hand, took his with the other, and stepped neatly out of the coach.

Four soldiers on weekly rotation from the local regiment served guard duty here.  One of them–an officer by his insignia–approached.  A Lieutenant Bradley commanded the unit.  This must be him.

“I’m sorry,” the lieutenant said.  “I don’t know what you’ve been told, but this area is restricted.  The house isn’t open–”

“I know.  This is Dr. James Marlowe, and I’m Miss Mills, his secretary.  We’re here to see Doctor Carlisle,” Harry said, drawing a folded paper from her handbag.  The letter was affixed with the royal seal, confusing everyone who looked at it, but everyone who looked at it was well-trained not to ask questions.  They’d merely have to wonder why two unassuming travelers had the Crown Prince’s approval.  Not that they did, really.  The lieutenant opened the letter and read it over–taking his time, to his credit.

When he’d finished, he looked across the page and studied them, the unlikely visitors.  “Very well, then.  Give us a moment to open the gate.  Sir, miss.”  He tipped his hat at them and turned back to the house.

Marlowe tucked his portfolio under his arm and gave the driver a few coins.  “Can you return for us in two hours?”

“Yes, sir.”  The man remounted his carriage and drove off.

Marlowe could never quite manage polish, even when he meant to be traveling as a respectable gentleman.  Locks of hair escaped from under his bowler hat, his face showed pale stubble, and his tie was loose where he’d tugged on his collar.  His jacket, trousers, and boots were acceptable but not outstanding.  Truth be told, she liked him better without the polish — he looked like a man who was too busy to worry about inconsequential details like trimmed hair and neat ties.

“I hope two hours will be enough,” Marlowe said, watching the driver depart.

“I fear we’ll be wanting out of here much sooner than that.  Part of me hopes this is all a waste of time.”  She sighed.

Marlowe shook his head.  “No, this is a rare opportunity.  To meet the genius who created the Aetherian Revolution?  Without him we’d have none of this.”  He gestured ahead.

The front window of the gatehouse revealed a pair of brown-uniformed soldiers at work, one hauling down on a lever mounted on a wall, the other operating an unseen control panel.  A metallic clang followed, the banging of steel on steel; the Aetherian hum faded, and the crackling stream of power guarding the wall vanished.  Now the wall was just a wall, and the gate was just a gate.  Harry still regarded the wrought iron cautiously.

“We might have been better off,” she said.

“Never think so,” Marlowe said.  “Ernest Carlisle may be the only one who can move my work forward.”

“Don’t you think you’d solve the problem yourself, eventually?” Harry said.

“We don’t have time for that,” he said.

Of course, Harry thought.  Not with the war on.  It was the unspoken postscript to everything they did.

Bradley emerged from the gatehouse and said, “It’s safe, now.  I’ll escort you in.”

The soldiers in the gatehouse turned another set of levers, and bolts lurched open, another metallic clunk.  The middle of the gate split apart, and Bradley pushed it open.  Harry suppressed a flinch when he touched the gate.  No Aetherian charge scorched him.

Marlowe offered his arm, and she took it.  They walked with the lieutenant toward the manor.

The gates clanged shut and locked behind them, and Harry glanced over her shoulder.

Turning back, she said, “Lieutenant, tell me about the Doctor.  What is his schedule like?  How many servants are here at the house, and how do you supervise them?”

“He has no servants, miss.  By his own request.  He said the necessary restrictions on them were too great to bother.  A cook from the village comes in the morning to make his meals for the day, and a cleaner comes once a week.  But her work is little enough–most of the house is shut up.”

“Is that so?”

“Doctor Carlisle is confined to a wheelchair, miss.  He has chambers on the ground floor.  I thought you would know, since you’ve permission to see him.”

“For how long?” she said.  This wasn’t in any of the reports.

“Ten years, since the disaster.  I’m given to understand he sustained injuries.”  They’d reached the house now, and Bradley nodded.  “If you’ll excuse me a moment, I’ll let the doctor know he has visitors.”

The door had a speaker box by it, which the lieutenant leaned into.  Harry and Marlowe stayed back and spoke in whispers.

“Did you know Carlisle was infirm?” she asked him.

“I didn’t.  There were rumors of illness, but I thought it had more to do with age.  Or a broken spirit.”

“Why is it a secret, do you suppose?”

“Out of respect for the man’s dignity, I imagine.”

“As if he had any left.”  But he did, or he would not be living like this, in a polite fiction of genteel retirement–under guard.  She frowned.  “What does it say that we’re so afraid of a man who’s crippled that we keep him locked up like this?”

“Because it’s Doctor Carlisle,” Marlowe said, and he was right.  Carlisle certainly couldn’t be allowed to go free.  Neither could he be truly imprisoned, or executed, or exiled.  He was the realm’s great conundrum.  Or rather, its second great conundrum, after the conundrum that Carlisle himself had made his name exploiting.

“Be careful, Marlowe.  You sound as if you admire the man.”

“Oh, I won’t forget the man’s murderer.”


“Are you sure you aren’t letting your personal feelings unduly influence you?”

“Of course I am.  What else are personal feelings for?”  She shook her head.  “He can’t have turned everything over when he was arrested.  A man like him — he kept something back as a bargaining chip should he ever need it.  Some scrap of research, some artifact.  I want to know what.”

“We both do.  Are you ready for this?”

“Yes,” she said.

Bradley was exchanging words with the person on the other end of the speaker box.  The responses were little more than incomprehensible scratching.  But eventually, Bradley drew out a key and unlocked the front door.

“He’s ready for you.  I’ll show you to the library.”

“I very much appreciate your help, Lieutenant.  I know this must disrupt your routine terribly,” Harry said with a kind and practiced smile.

The soldier beamed back at her.  “It’s no trouble, miss.”

“You’re very good at that,” Marlowe whispered to her.

“I’ve had a lot of practice.”

“Better you than me, then.”

It was why they made such a good team.

Bradley guided them through a tiled foyer and into a parlor.

Nothing in the house indicated the character of the man who lived in it.  She might have been in any respectable gentry home:  decent furniture, lightly used; unassuming still life paintings on the wall; neat wallpaper and drapes, carpet over hardwood.  All of it might have been chosen by some matron desperate not to stand out.  On the other side of the parlor, Bradley opened a set of double doors and guided them into the library.

This was Dr. Carlisle’s room, where he spent his time and where he’d put his things.  Apart from walls full of books, the room had a great fireplace with a well-worn armchair sitting in front of it, a window overlooking a patch of flowers, lots of framed photographs on the walls and on various desks and tables.  In the middle sat two large worktables.  One of them was overflowing with books — stacked, open to different pages, as if he were reading a dozen at once.  The other held various crafts and hobbies — fly-tying equipment, the clockworks of antique pocket watches, a sketchbook, a set of watercolor paints.  Even toys — wind-ups and clockworks that Carlisle seemed to be in the process of repairing.  Or dissecting.

Carlisle himself sat at the table in a wheelchair, a blanket over his lap, covering his legs to his toes.  He’d aged, his formerly robust form sagging on a stooped frame.

“Doctor Carlisle, here are your visitors,” Lieutenant Bradley announced, then bowed himself out of the room like a good foot soldier, closing the doors behind him.

It was good that he did.  Smiling, his eyes glittering, Carlisle greeted her, “Princess Maud.  Your Highness.”

To be continued…

Monday, August 6th, 2012 by Carrie Vaughn
Excerpt Week! So, here’s a bunch of stories of mine…

It’s excerpt week at Genreality!  We’ll all be posting some of our work.

I’m going to start the week off — by doing something completely different.  In trying to think of what to post, I realize I’ve had a number of stories published online in the last year, and this might be a good time to compile the links, and give you complete, published pieces to read rather than snippets.  This is actually a really good survey of my writing, past and present.  For your amusement:

Harry and Marlowe and the Talisman of the Cult of Egil on Lightspeed.  This is my first published steampunk story.  Yes, as much as I’ve loved the costuming and music, I was bound to start writing it eventually.  I’ve got another Harry and Marlowe story coming out in an anthology called The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination, due out in January.  I’m currently working on a third story with them.

Astrophilia on Clarkesworld.  One of my forays into science fiction.

The Nymph’s Child on Fantasy.  A pirate fantasy that was ever so much fun to write.  This is a reprint from the anthology Fast Ships, Black Sails.

Caverns of Science on Apex.  This is a poem, my first in many years.  Poetry is something I’d like to spend a little more time on, because it makes me focus so much on rhythm and language.

I often get so caught up in the work of the moment I forget to step back and look at what I’ve accomplished.  Compiling my work like this always reminds me — hey, I’ve been busy, I’ve accomplished a lot!  Always a good feeling.

Monday, March 5th, 2012 by Carrie Vaughn
Anthologies — How I Decide to Say “Yes”

You may have noticed, especially in urban fantasy, science fiction, fantasy and horror, anthologies are going through something of a surge in popularity.  They’re everywhere, from year’s best to theme to reprint to original.  Anthologies are great.  For readers, they’re a buffet of different stories and authors.  For writers, they’re an opportunity to reach a new audience, to write outside one’s normal series or other milieu, to experiment, or expand on details of a book series.

How do I decide when to write for an anthology?  I have a few key criteria.

1) Do I want to work with the editor?  Is the editor someone I’ve had a good experience with before, or someone I’ve always wanted to work with?  When P.N. Elrod called me (She called me!  On the phone!  Squee!) to ask if I could write for Dark and Stormy Knights, I could not say no, not in a billion years.  If the editor is someone I really like and really want to work with, I’ll say yes.

2)  The theme/idea is intriguing and I’m looking for a challenge.  I’m in an anthology coming out in just a few weeks, Armored.  When the editor contacted me about this, I think my initial reaction was along the lines of OH HELL YES.  I usually get invited to write for urban fantasy/werewolf/etc. anthologies, so getting invited to write for something like this, so outside my usual camp, was a welcome jolt.  Of course I said yes.  Sometimes it’s a simple matter of thinking, “that sounds like fun.”   (And this is why it’s often hard to say no.  Sometimes, they all sound like fun!  So I wait for that jolt to brain to make me say yes.)

3)  I already have a story written or in mind that’ll fit.  For the Mammoth Book of Paranormal Romance, I already had a story written that I adapted for the market.  I’ve used anthology invitations to give me an excuse to write stories I haven’t had time to write otherwise (that’s how I finally got around to writing T.J.’s origin story for Running with the Pack).

I’m always going back to that “learn to say no” goal.  Right now, “that sounds like fun” usually isn’t enough to get me to say yes to an anthology.  I’m trying to limit how many short stories I commit to writing each year to something like 4 or 5.  I don’t want to commit to something half heartedly, because I want to leave one of those slots open for those golden opportunities that sometimes come along.  That emergency call from a prestigious editor who had an author drop out of an anthology at the last minute and therefore needs a story right now — which is how I got into Warriors.

These days, most of the anthologies I write for are by invitation.  But my criteria weren’t much different when I was sending stories out to anthologies with open submission policies and a slush piles.  Was it prestigious?  Did I like the editor?  Did the idea intrigue me?  Not a bad set of guidelines for any kind of market, I think.

Monday, October 10th, 2011 by Carrie Vaughn
“This should be a novel.”

So there you are, you’ve written a short story.  Short stories don’t come naturally to you, but you worked for weeks on this one, writing and rewriting, condensing and cutting, and you did it.  Then you turned it in to your critique group.  And the most common comment you get back is:  “You should turn this into a novel.”

And you rail and rant to yourself, because you’re already working on three novels, and have another three in the trunk, you don’t have time or brain space to start another, and you really really want to sell some short stories, for the experience and to try for some kind of publishing credit while shopping your three novels around, and in despair you wonder:  Am I really a born novelist?  Am I really not capable of writing a short story?

Well.  I happen to think that everyone can write short stories.  You may naturally gravitate to novel length, but I believe it behooves you to work at other lengths as well.  It’s a skill you can learn, with practice.

If you get the comment, “You should turn this into a novel,” I don’t think it means that you really should turn it into a novel.  It means you’ve packed too much information into a short story, and the scope of your story may be too wide.  Your options are — sure, go ahead and turn it into a novel; or start cutting, not words, but stuff. Characters, backstory, setting.  Narrow your focus.  You may be trying to build an entire city when maybe you need to work on a street, or a room — or maybe even just a wall.

If the story requires numerous characters, and that the reader know all the characters’ back stories (their families, their tragedies, and so on), it’s probably the wrong story to fit in 5,000 or so words.  So, what does a five thousand word story look like?  It’s a moment in time, it’s one decision or event that changes a character’s life.  It’s a slice of life.  It’s a telephoto, not wide-angle lens.

One of the things that prompts a “this should be a novel” critique is a preponderance of details without explanation:  names, events, flashbacks, hints of backstory that make the reader think that there’s far more going on than what’s on the page.  Now, I personally think this is one of the brilliant things about short stories, that there’s usually so much going on between the lines.  But there’s a danger that your story has crossed a line into summary rather than a dramatic portrayal of an event.  If the story leaves the reader confused and asking too many questions, the story may be trying to cover too much ground.

Ask yourself:  What’s the seed that inspired the story in the first place?  Is it an image?  A character?  Is there a way to focus on that seed with just a few characters, and just a moment in time, requiring no back story?  Put boundaries up around the idea:  it’ll take place in just a day, or maybe even just an hour.  Pick one problem or struggle to depict, not a whole series of problems.  Don’t look at these boundaries as limitations, but as challenges.

You can’t tell an epic struggle to regain the throne in a short story.  But you can show an episode in the life of a man struggling to match the expectations placed on him by his legendary father (a confrontation with his father’s greatest admirer, perhaps).  Or the immediate aftermath of a tragedy.  Or a plan that doesn’t go as planned — the fallout of a magical spell gone awry, for example.  The purpose of a short story isn’t necessarily to tell an epic, all-encompassing tale, but to give the reader an intense reading experience.  It can be a chance to focus on emotion and immediacy in a way that an intricately plotted, fast-paced novel can’t.

Monday, August 22nd, 2011 by Carrie Vaughn
Where I’ve Been, Where I’m Going (Or, I engage in a bit of time travel)

By now, I know whether or not my short story “Amaryllis” won a Hugo.  But since I’m posting this a week in advance, I really don’t know.  I probably won’t be able to update with the news because I’ll be flying to Michigan for a signing.  Whichever way it goes — went, rather — I’m incredibly happy about the nomination.  It’s one of those external benchmarks that ends up meaning a lot because this is such a crazy business that doesn’t always give us concrete feedback.  I think this is one of the reasons we have so many writing and book awards: it’s a way to provide concrete feedback, or to impose some kind of order on the mass of books and writing that appears every year.  That may be a discussion for another time.

I’ve been reflecting a lot on my writing and the progress I’ve made in the 22 years since I sent out my first short stories.  Because I think “Amaryllis” is the kind of story I tried to write in high school and college and couldn’t.  A thoughtful, solid science fiction story like the kind I grew up reading.  As a teenager, I didn’t have the experience  — the emotional experience, the raw life experience to draw on (John Scalzi touches on this in in his advice to teenage writers).  I didn’t have the ability to write about several threads and plotlines at once, which is one of the things that makes for good stories.  (I could barely write one at a time then.)  I didn’t have the ability to craft, to take the feedback I got on the story from a very trusted reader and use it to shape the story into something more powerful.

It’s been a startling revelation, that I actually seem to have learned something, or internalized something.  I mean, of course I have, I should hope one wouldn’t work at an art or craft for twenty years and not learn something.  But I felt a strange time dilation, considering that I have written something, without really realizing it, that my teenage self aspired to write.

Whichever way the award goes — or went — I got a great dress for the ceremony, which is/was co-hosted by our own Ken Scholes, and plan(ned) on making an event of it.  If I get internet access I’ll try to pop in and say how it went.

Monday, August 15th, 2011 by Carrie Vaughn
The Making of a Collection

Tomorrow, my first short story collection is out!  I’ve been publishing short stories for over ten years now, so this has been a long time coming.  I want to talk a little bit about what went into putting this one together.

First question:  How do you whittle my list of over fifty published stories into the dozen that show up in the collection?  In this case, I started with a theme:  Kitty stories, or stories that might be considered part of Kitty’s world.  So the initial pick of stories was easy.  I had some technical considerations.  A couple of the stories that came out over the last year are still under contract — the anthologies they had originally appeared in asked for exclusivity for a period of time that overlapped with the collection’s release date, so I couldn’t include them.

I thought it was important to include new material.  I’m asking people to buy a whole book here, I don’t want it to be all stories they’ve possibly read before.  I wrote two new stories for the collection, one of which is a novella about Cormac.  The collection seemed the perfect way to showcase this novella, rather than trying to publish it on its own.  (It runs about 22,000 words, which is an awkward length — far too short for a novel, but too long for most short fiction markets.  Alternatives would have been to publish it as an e-book, or a stand-alone chapbook.  But bundling it with the short stories made a lot more sense.)

One big question:  how much editing/revising to do on stories that had already been published?  I will confess, I gave into the urge to polish older stories.  In a couple of cases, based on editorial suggestion, I made further changes.  I’m still waffling on some of them, but when you write for publication you sometimes just have to make a decision and go with it.

One of the hardest steps was figuring out what order to arrange the stories in.  I had a few options:  strict chronological order based on when the stories were written, chronological order based on when the stories take place, or a more arbitrary order based on what stories will hook readers early.  This is a guideline many anthology editors use — start with a strong story, end with a strong story.  Draw the readers in, and leave them with a good impression.  Chronological order based on when they were written would make sense for a retrospective collection, but not this one.  Chronological order based on when the stories take place made a lot more sense.  I discussed this quite a bit with my editor, who preferred the “anthology” guideline rather than a chronological arrangement.  The end result was a little of both.  I could have shuffled the table of contents around for ages, so again, I just had to make some decisions.

Another choice I had to make:  whether or not to include author notes about the stories.  I decided to include them.  Because the Kitty books are a series, readers have a lot of questions about how the stories and books all fit together, and this was a chance to answer those questions and talk about the evolution of the series as a whole.  I put all the notes in the back of the book, so readers who don’t care about them could skip them easily.

In my own mind, I’d been calling the collection Tales from the Midnight Hour.  Then Kelley Armstrong’s collection, Tales of the Otherworld, came out.  Too similar, I thought, so I nixed that idea.  On the other hand, that gave me a chance to come up with a much better title more suited to Kitty and her world:  Kitty’s Greatest Hits.

I’m very happy to finally have the collection done and out in the wild.  This was one of the sticking points I had with my old publisher, who refused to do a collection at all, Kitty stories or no.  When I shopped the series to a new publisher, I made a collection part of the deal.  Tor was happy to take the collection along with new novels.  So here we are!