Fantasy Horror Author A.F. Stewart and I talk Deviltry, Noveltry, Shipbuilding, Agony and Ecstasy

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A.F. Stewart, aka @Scribe77, did me.

Interviewed me, I mean.

We talked about

  • The differences between writing short stories and novels (not much from a crafting standpoint, me thinks)
  • Creating sympathetic villains (even the worst person has one humanizing detail)
  • Genre writing (I don’t believe I write in a genre. My regular readers tell me my genre is “Joseph”)
  • My incredible anthology, Tales Told ‘Round Celestial Campfires
  • Being able to do amazing things with words when you’re an author
  • The link between Satan and Hamilton Burger
  • Getting kudos from your readers
  • Ritchie and Phyl, my incredible work in progress
  • How writing Flash fiction is like building a ship in a bottle
  • Great Opening Lines
  • My incredible scifi/military/thriller, The Augmented Man
  • Writing about characters rather than genre (the story comes first, the genre comes second)
  • Empty Sky and my standing offer; read the book, leave a review, and I’ll send you an autographed copy of the rewrite when it’s published.
  • Children growing up
  • Stories that grew out of my anthropology studies – Mani He and The Goatmen of Aguirra
  • Getting kudos from editors and publishers
  • Writing almost fantastic fantasies (okay, the story’s fantastic. It uses almost fantasy elements – The Weight)

So, yeah, we covered a few things.


Man and Boy; Tennessee, 1932 (Revised for a 3 minute Fiction Slam)

I first wrote Man and Boy sometime in the early 1990s, possibly late 1980s. I remember reading publicly and the next reader, a published author, making a derogatory comment about the story’s tone and subject matter.

I’ve kept it on a backburner ever since, sometimes taking it out, sending it out to a few places then putting it back. I’ve always felt there’s something here. Maybe it needs to be longer, a full story and not a flash piece.

Last week’s The Shackled Man had been in my head for a while and I wrote it up for a flash/slam fiction class I took. I decided Man and Boy might also be a good candidate, so dusted it off and revised if from the previous version. You can get an idea of the revisions by comparing the two. Basically I cut out everything that wasn’t “in the moment” of the story, which I originally wrote as an exercise in dialogue (still think it’s a great example of dialogue carrying a story).

So, as always, enjoy and let me know what you think.

Creator and above level members can listen to my test read.

Man and Boy; Tennessee, 1932

“He’s a dead man, Pa. I pulled me up a dead black man.”

“First time we go fishing in a week and you snag your line on a boy’s been dead in the water who knows how long?”

“We going to get in trouble, Pa?”

“Don’t know that until we know who he is. Help me get him in the boat. God, this one’s heavy. Ain’t swelled, though.

“Look at his face, Pa.”

“Somebody didn’t take a liking to it, that’s for sure. And look at them clothes. You ever seen clothes like that, son?”

“Them’s city clothes, Pa.”

“What do you know about city clothes?”

“I seen them in the catalogue at Mr. Howard’s store.”

“What you doing down at Mr. Howard’s store?”

“I run errands for Mr. Howard sometimes and he gives me a penny so I can buy some candy.”

“You think them’s city clothes?”

“I know I’m right.”

“So this here’s a city-boy, huh? Somebody killed themselves a city-boy.”

“What we going to do, Pa?

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The Shackled Man

I’m taking a two-week course in flash fiction writing with the definition of flash fiction being “You can read it in under three minutes.” The Shackled Man is my offering. I’ve got it down to 2m46s.

Let me know what you think, and thanks.

Creator and above level members can listen to my test read.

The Shackled Man

Saturday mornings. That was our time.

Dad tiptoed into my room and knelt beside my bed. I could smell him before my eyes opened. A good smell, a night’s sweat just washed away.

I kept my eyes shut until I felt the bristles of his mustache when he kissed my cheek. I’d open my eyes and see the twinkle in his.

“Want to go for a ride?”

There were four places we’d go. South, Logan Airport. West, French King Bridge. North, Queechee Gorge. East, L.L. Bean.

We always stopped at a Dunkin Donuts. If we started a little late it’d be a Dunkin Donuts half way there, about an hour out, half hour at the least. Or sometimes it’d be at the edge of town, right before we hit the highway.

Dad knew where all the Dunkins were. Nobody had breakfast sandwiches or drivethroughs back then. You had to go inside. He’d get a medium coffee, two sugars, two creams, and I’d get a chocolate milk and a bavarian creme, the first bite and it oozed out and into your mouth.

And then off we’d go, listening to the radio or singing songs. Didn’t matter the weather, every Saturday morning we’d go, always sure to be out of the house by seven, no later.

West and north we’d get to the bridges. There were parking areas and we’d get out and walk around. Dad would stay close to the rails, look over. “How far down do you think that is, son?”

I was too small, I couldn’t see.

“Be a long drop from here.”

East we’d get to L.L. Bean. It was totally different back then. Only locals and hunters knew of it. How my dad knew I’ll never know.

You could talk to guides, men who knew the lakes and rivers and mountains. Dad listened to their stories, about going so far out in the woods it seemed there was no coming back, then he’d check his watch.

“Come on, son. Time to be getting back.”

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Cheryllynn Dyess’s “The Soul Maker”

Ever read a story and say to yourself, “Wow! That’s how it’s done!”?

I get exhilarated when I discover a new author.

Let me clarify. There are lots of people out there writing books. In my opinion, few of them are worth reading (I’m a writing snob. There, I’ve said it).

But once in a great while I encounter some writing that so pulls me into its story, calls me into the story’s mythos so completely that my pulse quickens, my eyes open wider, my breaths deepen, … When readers have a physiologic reaction to your writing, you’ve arrived.

Such a story is Cheryllynn Dyess‘s The Soul Maker in Harvey Duckman Presents Volume 3.

The Soul Maker is a wonderful story because it combines great storytelling – do you have an interesting story to tell? – with great storycrafting – can you tell that story in an interesting way?
Continue reading “Cheryllynn Dyess’s “The Soul Maker””

Great Opening Lines – and Why! (Nov 2019’s Great Opening Lines)

A powerful opening line that leads to an amazingly weak novel

I wrote in Great Opening Lines – and Why! (Part 3 – Some Great Opening Lines) that I’d share more great opening lines as I found them.

“She sleeps beside me, her narrow chest rising and falling, and already I miss her.” – Kristen Harmel’s The Room on Rue AmÈlie
I challenge anyone to read that line and hear anything but a whisper. If not a full whisper, a quiet voice, a voice not wanting to disturb. I further challenge anyone to read that line and not feel an ache. You know something’s going to happen and it’s going to change the narrator’s world completely. Can you read that line and not have a sense of illness? The narrow chest rising and falling followed by already I miss her?

Amazing emotional power in fifteen words, to me. I need to know Harmel worked hard at that opening line. If it just came to her, I should quit the writing business.

Unfortunately, the rest of the novel doesn’t live up to that opening line. By chapter 3 the strong narrative voice is lost, the storycrafting weakens, and the reader is left wondering what happened to the author of the first two chapters. Certainly they left and let someone else take over the writing of the book. There are sparks of the original brilliance here and there, but nothing like the evocative power of that great opening line and the first two chapters.
Continue reading “Great Opening Lines – and Why! (Nov 2019’s Great Opening Lines)”