The home page for author Eric J. Juneau

Should I Reup my Duotrope Subscription? (a.k.a. The Year in Writing)

Right now, I’m thinking no. Just from a cost-benefit analysis, it’s not worth it. The subscription costs $50. I sent out twenty-five submissions and got only one acceptance. It seems like response times are getting longer, guidelines are harder to find, and more frequently I need to poke editors to find out where they’re at. The whole process is annoying (not to mention my workplace blocks half the sites behind their proxy for no goddamn good reason).

Not to mention, I’m not writing many short stories. I never have been. Never been interested. I thought they were a way to fill a resume, but no one seems to care. I only completed one this year. Not to say I haven’t been writing some short fiction, but they either died on the table or… ahem, aren’t appropriate for general audiences… or specific audiences… in fact, they’re oriented to quite a limited, devoted audience, if you know what I mean. Like that even publishing it on Amazon could get me banned. Ahem.

If I did something like take a class or join a writing club, something that lets me work on short story craft, I might come back. Definitely not closing the door on short stories. But I need a bigger stable to make it worthwhile. Plus I’d rather write novels than short stories any day of the week. I would be happier if I could complete three first drafts for novels this year than ten finished short stories.

That was the final nail in the coffin for realizing it wasn’t worth it. I get more pleasure writing novels anyway and this year has been all about increasing joy. Getting that happy feeling from writing because that’s been damn hard to do (and because otherwise, what’s the point?).

This year consisted of climbing back up from my pit of despair. All I wanted to do was get back to writing a thousand words a day and do that consistently. I think I’m just about there. My next novel, I’ve been working on since the beginning of October and now have more than 50,000 words (of a hopeful 90,000). I don’t always get a thousand a day, but it’s something. And half the battle is getting butt in seat and not watching YouTube videos.

Others have relayed the same despair (like John Scalzi and Wil Wheaton) so I don’t feel alone. 2017’s not been kind to creativity. But still, I feel like I did better in 2017 than 2016. No new completions to speak of, but I’ve been keeping the chain going, making a new link every day.

I hate it when it comes to Christmas card writing time and I realize that I can’t write “I got an agent this year” or “three book contract” or “look for XYZ on shelves this season!” I feel like I’ve down my family and myself, that I’m not accomplishing goals. But the road is long and if I can’t reach the destination, I might as well enjoy the walk.

A Straight White Male’s Unnecessary Reaction to “Cat Person”

Here it is. The short story that everyone’s talking about lately. Mark your calendars. It’s a momentous occasion when a short story raises anyone’s hackles. Actually, it’s a momentous occasion when someone reads a short story. This one doesn’t even have any robots or murder in it. But it does have sex and female perspective, which seems common with a lot of short stories that garner controversy (“The Yellow Wallpaper”, “The Story of an Hour”, “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall”, “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”)

Short summary: Margot, a twenty-year-old college student, goes on a date with Robert, a thirty-six year old socially awkward hipster she meets at a movie theater. They text a bit, she wonders what he’s thinking, how her actions are interpreted, how to interpret his, etc. Typical overanalyzing & overthinking. They have bad sex one night. Margot doesn’t know how to tell him she’s not interested. He texts her repeatedly with questions. She doesn’t answer. He calls her a whore. Story ends.

Also not the cat person we’re talking about, thank God

THE GUY

Thankfully, I am not one of the men who sees himself in the Robert. Except maybe the sex. He’s having trouble keeping it up because he’s nervous — this doesn’t happen to him very often (the having of the sex). And all his knowledge comes from porno, which involves dirty talk and frequent position-switching and rough stuff. It all looks great on film but doesn’t translate in real life (because when you have sex in real life, it’s not for a viewing audience, it’s for yourself).

The guy reminds me of the WoW griefer in South Park’s “Make Love, Not Warcraft”. Slumped shoulders means he spends a lot of time on the computer. He demonstrates little ability to interact socially, especially with women, but he’s great on text. These are things I do have in common. When I was dating my wife, she fell in love with me more via AIM chat, not so much in real life. I was more talkative and funnier in text, because then I could gather my thoughts and didn’t have to worry about timing or body language. That’s why video chat has never and will never take off.

But as you see, I grew out of it. No way does our sympatico personalities excuse his behavior. This is what I was like fifteen years ago, not now. Not at the same age Robert’s at. Speaking as a thirty-six year old, having sex with a twenty-year-old sounds gross to me. I’m not one of those older men who’s like “ooh, young virginal flesh, yum, yum.” There’s so much porno dedicated to “eighteen and horny”, but they just look small, confused, and inexperienced. Too young looking and I’m like “that’s too close to my daughter”.

(Irrelevant side note: I’m still mystified by how Gianna Michaels and Faye Reagan are the same age. Genetic diversity is amazing. And you can tell by looking which one shows up under “MILF” tags and which one shows in “pretty young teens”)

Also thinly veiled excuse

The reason the story is reaching so many people is that it’s so real. Like those other stories I mentioned, this is a modern “horror” story in disguise. In fact, it’s being mistaken as an essay or feature (because it’s in The New Yorker). I could totally believe this happened in real life. Especially the ending. I read psycho-texts like this on Imgur all the time (usually funny posts when they get a wrong number and keep obliviously texting and getting angrier). Some guy feels entitled after a few dates, gets ignored, and gets resentful. He’s lived a crappy average life, been given every opportunity and failed at it. Rather than blame themselves, they blame feminism or gold-diggers.

THE GIRL

Margot seems to be trying to convince herself that she likes this guy. Is she really so devoid of prospects as a twenty-year-old co-ed? (Not according to the websites I visit late at night 😼 ) Maybe there’s a subtlety here that I can’t wrap my head around, that of casual encounters. Might be something after my time or I’m incapable of grokking it.

But my point is more of the relationship takes place in Margot’s head than real life. She fills in the blanks when his reactions are confusing or off-putting, instead of taking them at face value. She fills the gaps with what she wants to happen. Even when having sex, she turns herself on by thinking of what he’s thinking. This is a classic mistake of believing there’s more complexity in the room than there is. That’s the whole point of the story — trying to figure out who Robert is through incomplete information. That’s why the story ends when she gets it.

Oversimplified, but still largely true

Thankfully, at the end of it all, she’s not scarred by the experience. And even as it’s going on, she’s thinking how she’s going to look back at it and laugh. Sadly, this is a best case scenario for the presented circumstances.

Here’s a pro-tip. If you are dating a man, and you’re getting a vibe that he’s like a skittish bear or a horse that needs to be calmed down, that’s a red flag. You want a human being, not a pet.

I question why Margot does not end this cleanly. Should we be more focused on her reluctance to give him any sort of response? I won’t say this is a character flaw because, in today’s society, it’s understandable. Every time a woman goes on a date with someone she doesn’t know well, she’s entering the lion’s den. She jokes about whether or not he’s going to murder her, but it’s only half a joke. That’s something men still need to grok about women. Women have a lot more to lose on the dating scene.

She gives herself two options — either a cut-and-dried rejection via text or an Irish exit. Let’s take a look at that golden oldie from 1996, up forty-two big notches to number eleven “Popular” by Nada Surf

Don’t put off breaking up when you know you want to. Prolonging the situation only makes it worse. Tell him honestly, simply, kindly, but firmly. Don’t make a big production, don’t make up an elaborate story. This will help you avoid a big tear-jerking scene. If you want to date other people, say so. Be prepared for the boy to feel hurt and rejected. Even if you’ve gone together for only a short time and haven’t been too serious, there’s still a feeling of rejection when someone says she prefers the company of others to your exclusive company. But if you’re honest and direct and avoid making a flowery emotional speech when you break the news, the boy will respect you for your frankness and, honestly, he’ll appreciate the kind of straightfoward manner in which you told him your decision, unless he’s a real jerk or a crybaby.

Timeless wisdom from the age of Nirvana.

THE SEX

Women have the right to change their mind at any time. It would be better if they do it sooner than later, but still… Impolite or not, no one has any obligation to continue an activity they don’t want to. I can understand why you wouldn’t want to lead someone on then stop.

But there’s a difference when it comes to something as intimate as sex.

People are dancing around the consent factor in the sex scene. Margot could have said no at any time, but didn’t. This makes people confused as to whether or not the sex was consensual. It can be argued what makes refusal or negative consent, but you have to do something if you’re not under any threat. You have to make some kind of flag that says any reasonable person would understand as “I want to stop”. (Assuming that you can. If you do not have the ability to do so, like if you’re unconscious, it’s an automatic no.) Enthusiastic consent is a great idea, but it’s not legally binding. She may have been drunk, but that doesn’t mean you lose your volition (as court cases involving “Girls Gone Wild” have proven).

And you can’t tell a guy after he’s taken his shirt off that you don’t want to have sex anymore. That’ll destroy him. That’s when Margot’s turning point occurs. Even Ann Landers would agree with me there. Pro-tip: fake a sudden sickness. Say you drank so much you’re sick, or the dinner turned on you.

Possible casting for “Cat Person: The Movie”

CONCLUSION

Someone needs to write a story from the cat’s point of view.

The Red Land

I really need to make a blog to keep my consistency going, but I don’t have anything to write about.  Making queries, writing my princess fan fiction.  Just hacking at it word by word, like a writer do.  So here’s a ficlet you can enjoy, back when the site was up.

No Survivors: The Red Land

When she woke up, the world buzzed in front of her eyes like a staticky TV. Organic objects only appeared as black and white, fuzzed out, like the inside of a blanket. Other objects and buildings were colored almost like a negative, but not directly opposite. The dirt on the baseball field was as green as grass, but the grass was charcoal gray. Someone painted the sky purple, and the silo which had been a dull rusted brown was a bright neon vermilion. Gradients had faded, and all differentiations in texture or dimension were punctuated by sharp cut-offs.

She was in the Red Land.

Shelly rose up, her stiff back protesting, a side-effect of the virus. No people as far as she could see, and the electric colors were hurting her eyes. She wasn’t meant to view the world like this.

Fortunately, the silo gave a great view, easy to pick out a shelter. Zanek’s was north, about five miles, and he’d have what she needed. She climbed down the ladder.

I Cannot Finish This Short Story

screaming whine child

I am in a world of shit now.  I am trying my damnedest to finish this story I’ve been writing, about the military using little demons to disarm bombs.  The problem is I have no fucking idea how to end it.  Everything is too cheesy, too easy, too consequential, too non-conclusive, too pro-war, too anti-war.  It’s always something that doesn’t make it feel right, no matter what I think of.  I sit here staring, hoping for some idea to germinate.  And if one does, it’s just a weed and it gets knocked down.  I might say chuck it, but good artists finish things.  And I’m too determined not to finish it.  I feel like finishing it would be a cop out.  It’s not a turd I’m polishing.  I know the beginning is fine.  But nothing seems to match the ending.  It’s not like it becomes one of those trite knock-offs.

Maybe I could let it incubate more, but I’ve already given it enough time.  I don’t want to give up.  I don’t want to be a quitter.  But I’m afraid if I keep pounding my head against the wall on this, I’m going to start to bleed.  And it also counters my ideology of producing publishable material.  But then, so does staring into nothingness and getting no ideas.  Maybe I’m being too hard on myself?  Sometimes I try and tell myself “just write, don’t worry if it’s bad or good, just get words on the page”.  But I’m an outliner, I start with my idea and flesh it.  If I don’t have an idea I’m drawing in the air.  This is why I hate short stories.  I just can’t fit so many logistics into a 5,000 word story.

I don’t know enough of what I’m writing about.  I’ve never been in the military, I feel like the story is starting anti-war, but ending pro-war.  I don’t about how secret plans are carried out or procedures or meetings.  I don’t even know where you sleep.  I feel like I’ll be offending everyone in the military if I write this.  This seems to be my problem all the time when it comes to short stories.  I write a crappy boxing story, even though I don’t know anything about boxing.  I don’t know about apple orchards, Roman times.  I keep writing about strippers even though I’ve never been in a strip club.

The beginning is great, it’s fine, it’s catchy, it’s compelling.  But that’s all I have, a beginning.  I don’t have an end to go along with it.  Or at least the endings I think of don’t match it.  I’m either not trying hard enough, or all the endings are blithe and trite, like all the Gremlins knock-offs of the eighties.  I have a beginning, but I don’t have a character to go along with it.  That’s the thing wherein the story is formed — the character.  A plot drives the beginning, but a character drives the ending.  I need to think of a character.

I think I gotta put this one to bed, even though it kills me to do so.  It’s just not the time for this story to come back from the dead.  I gotta think of some stories that are about shit I know, so I can actually finish them and complete them.  So they don’t fester in limbo and development hell.  I hate to do that, but this is just not productive.  I don’t know. AS a write, do you think it’s better to bag your head against the wall, trying to get a piece right?  Or move on, so you can produce copy?

Anyway, here’s a cat to pay my whining tax.

Must Work Harder

Since I signed up for NerdCon, I’ve stopped proceeding on my princess fan fiction. I think I was burning out on it anyway — I’d already written a novel’s worth of text and still had a lot to go. Plus, I need to be productive. Real author’s finish things, and I’ve had a hankering to see some finished work. Or at least to the point I can open the door. Luckily, I’ve been blessed with some inspiration lately that’s been guiding me. It may not result in publishable stories, but I’ll at least have some new stuff to add to Duotrope.

I’m finding I really need zero distractions if I’m going to write. At first, it’s boring. I think, I need my music or white noise, I need imgur open to keep me stimulated/keep me from over-burning. But the fact is, once I’m distractionless, I get better writing done. Sad but true. It means it’s better if I don’t have the game on in the background, or double productivity by writing while walking on the treadmill.

You know what else? Ficly ended their production. I guess the stories are still archived, but I can’t post there anymore. Can’t log in. What’s weird is that the front page doesn’t indicate it. It has the “active” and featured stories still in its box. But I can’t seem to search for my stories. Good thing I copied them down, like, three years ago.

More Shawt Stories stuff

I keep wondering whether I should just stop worrying about short stories and focus on novels. I just finished Unnatural Creatures, a short story anthology, but it took much longer than it should have because I just didn’t want to read it.

Short stories are so hit or miss for me. For every good one, there’s a terrible one where I’m so bored I want to toss the book away.  Plus there’s having to jump into another world, then another world, and it’s tiresome. It’s like playing eight video games at the same time, one a day. You are too distributed into one world to fall into another. The plots are fine, but it’s like a fraction of an experience. They are cookies.

And that’s just reading. If I don’t care for reading, why would I like writing them? Maybe it’s just not in my ouvre to do it. I might write one if I want to experiment with a style or some new thing, but I don’t know… I get ideas for short stories, or what I think are short stories, but they could easily turn into novels. Like the one about the guy in love with a 50 foot woman. Who wouldn’t want to see how their relationship starts? How they go through the problems of both a typical and atypical relationship? Like a romance novel. (And I corner the macrophile market.) Or Fairy Kingdom? Hell, that’s not a flash fiction, that’s a novel outline. I’m already turning one of my short stories into possibly a series.

There are people who pump out novels like candy. I’m not sure I’m one of those, but I think I might like to enjoy what I’m doing.  Instead of struggling through 5,000 words of what I don’t like. Not to mention the constant slog of reading submission guidelines (“We want your best! We want stories that grip us and never let go! Why aren’t you writing that?!”), formatting manuscripts for that outlier publisher who wants one space between sentences instead of two. It feels asinine and time-consuming and I feel like it’s not moving me forward. Not in a direction I want to go at least.

And John Scalzi says you don’t need to write short stories in order to become a published novelist. I’m not sure what you do need to write, but novels are probably a good start.

Trooble with Shawrt Stawries These Dais

I’m having a lot of trouble writing short stories these days. I think I really need to outline the entire story before I write it, (which can be dangerous because you’re never quite sure how long the outline will be). The more I write, the more I realize how helpless I am without an outline. Every story I’ve written, I’ve started hating it halfway through. Most likely because there’s no real big ending.

Cause usually the seeds of my short stories are cute concepts, like “What kind of guy would Red Sonja marry?” or “The Shawshank Redemption with elves”. Something that asks an intriguing question or lends to an interesting idea. The problem is that ideas are not the story. The story involves a sequence of events. Character wants something or has problem. Character must overcome that. And that sounds simple enough, except you need to make it more than “character is at point A, wants to get to point B, and gets there with little-to-no resistance”.

The resistance is where the gall comes from, because there’s only so much you can establish, prolong, or develop in 5,000 words. These cursed stories are like knots in a necklace that you need to work and massage until you finally see where the things connect, and then you can unravel it into one straight piece. Otherwise, you could wear it, but you’d always know there’s that knot there that looks ugly.

Why Did My Story Get Rejected (condensed)

Basically, I’m rewriting this article, which I found in college and only just now found again, for myself. All credit for this content goes to Marion Zimmer Bradley, who is awesome.

WHY EDITORS BUY STORIES
-Editors do not buy stories because they are well written.
-Editors buy stories that will give their readers the kind of specific reading experience the magazine provides.

Ways to Make a Story Sellable
A Satisfying Reader Experience, the kind that magazine provides.
A clear-cut, likable character. One that the reader can identify with.
A story that tells and solves a clear-cut narrative problem. This problem is solved by the main character’s own efforts.
A story that makes the reader glad he read it, therefore giving a Satisfying Reader Experience.

Reasons a Story Can Be Rejected (that are in your control)
Pacing or Scope: My source calls it “pacing”. I call it “scope” or “scaleability”. They mean the same thing: you either have too much in there or too little. You’re either trying to pack a novel into short story form or your idea isn’t long enough to stretch into ~5000 words. Note: This is the most common reason a story gets rejected, so watch out for that “pacing” keyword in rejection letters.

Incomplete Story: The story reads like a novel excerpt or first chapter of something. The central problem remains unsolved, and the reader is still asking what happens next. Unfinished business leaves an unsatisfied reader.

Character — Either Unidentifiable, Unlikeable, or Too Many of Them: Either you were telling the wrong person’s story or your main character was a jackass/douchebag/bastard. Selfish bastards can be likeable (Han Solo, Jack Sparrow, J. Jonah Jameson, Shrek, Eddie Vailiant, Severus Snape, Sherlock Holmes, Cloud Strife, Squall Leonhart, Midna) as long as they’re a jerk with a heart of gold. A story with 10 or less pages should have one main character, a minor character, and some “walk-ons”. A twenty page story can four to five characters, but only one POV character. And those characters should be clearly distinct from one another.

Not Enough Interest in the Characters: If you don’t care “whodunnit” by the end, the story is a dud.

Not Enough Happening: Although there may be some events of interest, nothing much happened and no one was changed. The characters are back where they were. The story obviously satisifed you, because you wrote it, but it won’t satisfy 10,000 readers.

Central Conflict/Problem — Either Not Interesting or Not Solved by Main Character: No deus ex machina. Also, make sure your plot is not the result of characters acting idiotically, when a little common sense would resolve everything.

Too Grim or Downbeat: Too bloody, too violent, too sadistic, too much tragedy (that’s not resolved). Horror markets are more forgiving when it comes to this.

Too Offensive: Again, part of editor taste. Only 10% of stories really fall under this category.

Reasons a Story Can Be Rejected That Are Not Your Fault (but can be prevented)

Editor Unable to Read Story: Due to poor formatting, unreadable spelling or grammar, incorrectly addressed or labeled.

Does Not Fit Market Requirements: You submitted a sword-and-sorcery story, which this market does not publish.

Ending Unsatisfactory: Editor didn’t like the ending, and didn’t like the overall story enough to ask you to change it.

Opening Unsatisfactory: Editor got bored before he/she got to the good stuff.

Personal Editor Preference: Your story may have pressed one of the editor’s buttons. For example, a devout Catholic and a story with an anti-religion message. Or a character that paints a hated aunt in a favorable light.

Word Count Fit: The editor needed a story of exactly X words and yours was too long or short to fit. (This only applies to paper magazines now, I guess.)

Similar Theme Collision: The editor just bought a story with a similar theme by someone much more talented than you. Them’s the breaks.

Personal Vendetta: You broke the editor’s favorite vase at a party last year. This is why we can’t have nice things.

Goodbye to EscapePod

I’ve decided to stop listening to EscapePod and PodCastle, and there’s no reason you need to know this. But I’m always running out of shit to say, so I figured this was something to write about. This isn’t out of the blue though. There are two good reasons.

One is a problem I feared would happen, despite editor reassurances that it wouldn’t. Two years ago they split fantasy stories off into their own podcast — PodCastle. I like both fantasy and sci-fi and I like getting the best of both. And that’s hard to do with short stories since I’m not in love with them, they have so much harder to work. PodCastle is fun, and I listened to that for almost two hundred episodes. But with stories on both sides, I feel the gravy has thinned. And I can’t stand to skip through stories that “almost” hit the mark.

Steve Eley, with a hat

The other is Steve Eley. He was the man with the singular vision to start an audio-only, science fiction podcast and keep it going through 200 weekly episodes. He had interesting things to say. He picked good stories. He was a great narrator. I used to love him.

Unfortunately, he was prone to neuroses typical of geeks and all. I’ve talked about one of them before — his constant need to apologize for a FREE service he’s providing that’s gotta cost him time and money and contains no advertisers except for the occasional sponsor. I don’t know why he felt he owed anybody anything. George R. R. Martin certainly doesn’t.

As time went on, and the podcast expanded to two other podcasts (more on that later) he kept making excuses for extras that were late, complaining about his health, his job, and his time, then closing to submissions, going on hiatus, and so on. I have no problem with that, but the way he said was in a self-deprecating way that it was clear he was taking too much responsibility and managing himself poorly. I don’t care that he went on hiatus or closed submissions — magazines do that regularly. What I do mind is that he felt the world was on his shoulders and said so periodically.

Eventually, he just threw up his hands with the EscapePod podcast and gave the captain’s chair to Mur Lafferty, a silky-voiced maiden of the writer and podcast community. I don’t know what he’s doing now, if he even has anything to do with EscapePod and its subsidiaries. All I know is I miss him. It hasn’t been the same since he left.

Mur Lafferty, hatless

Laffery’s editorial hand marked a definite shift in the provided style, and I knew the end was coming when the last story that Eley bought was also the last good one. Not to mention that instead of doing a classic science fiction story for their 300th podcast, they did a promotional short story from Tim Pratt, a common author on EscapePod, that was a tie-in from a YA novel he couldn’t even find a publisher for.

The fact is I can’t stand the stories on EscapePod lately. The intros are the most interesting thing, but they go on for five minutes. Half of that is biography of the author and plugs for the narrator. I can’t get through ten minutes of story until I’m totally lost because I haven’t been paying attention, because it’s been so boring. I declare to my car “I just don’t care” and click next on my MP3 player.

They’re plodding, they’re ill-formed, they lack interesting characters, and they seem — forgive my sexism — too girly. They feel more concerned with imagery and being literary than having plots and being fun. It’s like the stories have nothing at stake and don’t have characters that have pizazz. When Eley picked the stories, they were fun. Death Trap architects and guns that shoot advertising and time travel and alien bounty hunters. Eley liked fantastic ideas. But now it’s family problems and medical procedures with ethical questions and lots and lots of children.

I’ve got other things to listen to — Loveline, Writing Excuses, The Moth, and for fiction I’ve got We’re Alive, and audio books, so I’m good. It’s time to say goodbye to EscapePod, it’s just not as good as it used to be.

New Zombie Short Story and Big Pulp

long corridor

Well, with Merm-8’s 3rd revision done, and no touchies until December, I’m now back on the short story kick. Which is nice for a change. I do have that trunk novel I’m working on, but short stories will give me more resume-building material in the short run. I finished revising Defender based on the critique I got from “On the Premises” and sent it out to a fledgling market that deals with e-books. Sounds like I have what they’re looking for, but their pay rates are based on percentages of gross. Should be interesting to see if that pans out.

My new short story is another zombie story (this makes number three for me), based around an idea in Left 4 Dead. That idea is the safe houses. Gameplay-wise, they demarcate the end of a level, give the players a chance to breathe, and act as a checkpoint.

Story-wise, they’re fascinating places. Graffiti covers their walls, like an Internet message board, leaving messages of doom, humor, and information. There are supplies littered around — coffee cans full of bullets, sleeping bags, old food stuffs. You can tell that people have been here, spent a lot of time here. But only temporarily. Something motivated them out.

Those are the most fascinating places in the game to me. There’s a story there — who built them? Who keeps them supplied? What kinds of people are writing those messages? Where do those red doors come from? Obviously, I can’t write it as fan fiction, if I intend to sell it. But this is why I love video games, cause I get such great ideas from them.

In other news, Big Pulp Winter 2011 issue will have my story “Influx Capacitor” in it, which is awesome. Already added it to the side bar. Preorder now!