JM Williams

A home for all things fantasy and sci-fi.

2017 in the Rear-View, 2018 Under the Tires

Jan
01
two-thousand-eighteen-2819045_1280


2017 was mostly for my cats. I expect 2018 to be the same.

A PRODUCTIVE YEAR

2017 has been quite a busy year for me. I’ve done a lot of writing, and reading, more than I expected. While I wasn’t as successful as I had hoped, I did get a lot done.

Though I’m not exactly clear on the 2016/2017 divide, I think I wrote something like 40 short and flash stories this year, and received around 30 acceptances just in 2017. I finished the final draft of my novel In the Valley of Magic, started querying agents and publishers, though I haven’t received any positive replies. I finished a novella which will be published by Fantasia Divinity, though the release has been pushed back to April because the Editor-in-Chief has been going through some rough health issues. I’ve completed five draft episodes of Call of the Guardian, my epic fantasy series with Fiction Vortex, though we’ve also had to push back the release on that because our StoryVerse lost an author so the rest of the team has to cover the slack. Edits have started on my first and second episode, so hopefully we will go live in the next month or two. And of course I self-published my first book, The Adventures of Iric, though it has yet to sell. I need to get a few good reviews on Amazon, then things should pick up.

If I had to say where my center of gravity was this year, it was with short stories. Due to delays with my core projects, I spent a lot of time writing short stories, especially flash fiction.

If I had to choose my favorite, it would probably be “The Sorcerer”. This was one of the few stories I have written in first-person. I have written before how I think first-person should be a special case, not a default, and this story proved the perfect example. Unfortunatly, you can only read it by buying the anthology, The Great Tome of Magicians, Necromancers, and Mystics.

If I had to pick a favorite story that is available to read online, I would have to pick “The Performance of a Lifetime”. I really love this story, probably more than I should. I was disspirited that it didn’t make it into a higher-tier publication, but satisfied that I sold it for real money.

Which brings me to my biggest disappointment of 2017–no pro-rate, or even semi-pro sale. I thought for sure I would make a decent sale this year. Was it too much to expect to make it in a year? I’d love honest feedback from you guys on that question because I really don’t know how to feel about it.

I’ve got a few new stories I am wrapping up now. I think they are some of the best I have ever written. So maybe I can achieve my goal in 2018.

Which brings me to…

A FEW GOALS FOR THE NEW YEAR

There are many things I could set as goals for myself in 2018, way too many realistically accomplish. I think I will limit myself to five:

  • Read more. I didn’t finish as many books in 2017 as I would have liked. Part of the problem, at least in the past couple months, was slogging through Stephen King’s IT, which, despite being decent and despite my love of the story, just doesn’t keep me as engaged as other works. But I’ve told myself I need to finish it, so I will. Next in line will probably be The Lies of Locke Lamora, which I hope will read faster.
  • Finish Call of the Guardian Season 1. So technically, I only have a contract for the first season, but the StoryVerse head and I have already discussed a second, and my series is plotted for two seasons, so I fully expect a new contract with the current one is done. I can also already think of a few spin offs if this thing keeps going. What I’d like to see most is my book physically on the shelves at major bookstores. That is what Fiction Vortex does when the seasons are complete, and I’ve seen a fellow writer find his book at Barnes and Noble. That would be my first big release.
  • Write a Second Novella. I really enjoyed writing my first novella, The Nightingale, for Fantasia Divinity. It felt more reasonable than the novel, an easier beast to handle. I think I finished it in less than a month. It didn’t hurt that I was riding a muse the whole time. I already have a couple ideas for novellas tucked away. I think it will be better to try writing one of those than another novel, especially if I am working full time and also working on Call of the Guardian. However, I think I will shop any new novella around before settling on a publisher.
  • Get a Pro-rate Sale. One sale of a SF/F work at a rate of 6c/word or better is considered a pro-rate sale by the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA). One sale makes you eligible for Associate Membership, which opens up a lot of resources and also can be put on your CV and submissions. This is still my main writing goal, and probably will be until I achieve it. On the positive end, I have a couple new stories that I think have a decent chance of making it.
  • Take More Time for MyselfThe past year was a bit hectic. When I wasn’t working, I spent most of my free time doing the blog or writing. That left little time for me. I didn’t take any trips this year besides a quit trip home that was long overdue and necessitated due to my parents’ ailing health. It wasn’t a personal trip. Even another hop over to Japan would be nice. Heck, even a road trip across Korea would be fun. Haven’t done that in a couple years either. Writing is important, but I think I need to realize that this is going to take a lot more time that I expected. I am not going to become a household name overnight, so there’s no need to write myself into an early grave with stress and disappointment. I need a better rhythm. I need to take it slow.

A FEW PARTING WORDS

I’ve read a lot of the New Year’s messages from the blogger’s I follow. It seems everyone has had some successes in the past year, to varying degrees. It is nice to know there are other people out there working hard like me, and finding a win here and there.

For anyone who has engaged or debated me here, or on the Facebook page, thank you. It has been great talking with all of you! I think next year is going to be a good one. I, for one, am going to hit the ground running.

I am wishing you guys all the best in the Year of the Justifiably Defensive Lobster!

~JM

REBLOG: The Adventures of Iric Review

Dec
30

Thank you, Victorique, for the great review. I am surprised I got off so well. For those who don’t know, she is usually very hard on books! A 4 of 5 is a great score from her.

I really like this anthology. It doesn’t need you to constantly change characters, but each chapter is indeed a story. Resembles a serial in its own way but very much is still made up of pieces that all together work. Each one telling a little more about Iric as he begins to experience life. From […]

via Adventures Of Iric — Dreamingmtthoughts

The Last, Last Jedi Review

Dec
26

So here it is, the review to end all reviews (of The Last Jedi). Major SPOILERS ahead!

I’ve been waiting to write this review–even second-guessing whether I should do it–for some time. I have let it stew in my head, but now it’s all about to burst.

Part of it is the toxic response many folks out there have made to the poor audience reviews of the film. They blame neo-nazis and crazy, irrational fans instead of accepting that some people might have genuine issues with the film. You’d be surprised, reading many of the professional critiques of the film, that it has many, many problems. Big problems.

Even so, the film is not without its merits. It is, in fact, a decent movie, if far from the A-grade many critics have given it. At the scene-level, the film is spectacular, both visually and narratively. It is at the larger scales that the movie starts to break down. Lazy storytelling, plot holes, and contractions that break down the entire Star Wars universe.

Let me be frank, I didn’t mind most of the story decisions Rian Johnson made. I didn’t mind Snoke’s unceremonious end, the destruction of the Resitance, or Rey’s parentage (though, as someone pointed out to me, the latter requires you taking Kylo Ren at his word and believing him to even know the honest truth of the matter–I wouldn’t be surprised to see J.J. Abrams undo this in the next film). I am more than willing to accept (especially given the disappointing, derivative nature of The Force Awakens) that sometimes Star Wars needs to go in another direction. My issues with The Last Jedi have less to do with the story than with the execution. As I mentioned, on a small scale, it works. But in the context of the entire film, or more importantly, the entire saga, not so much.

Let me warn you, this is going to be a long post. First I am going to offer my own review of the film, primarily looking at many of the key problems with the movie that the critics have ignored. After that, I am going to examine the split between critical and audience reception and try to suggest what I think happened there.

So strap in for the ride.

Adam_Driver_Kylo_Ren_The_Last_Jedi_Teaser_Poster

This guy really should have been the titular last jedi.

Let me start with the good stuff. The cinematography, effects, music–all the things that Star Wars is know for–are exemplified in The Last Jedi. The acting is commendable, but not perfect. Scene by scene, the film shines. You can read about this stuff in any critic’s review of the film, so I will limit my discussion here to a couple great scenes.

The first is the bomber attack on the First Order dreadnought at the start of the film. So many behind-the-scenes documentaries have been done on the George Lucas and the first Star Wars, that it is now well known that he based his spaces battles on old World War II films. The effects team even copied these films shot by shot. So I was a bit excited to see that old war spirit once again evoked in the new film. The bomber scene felt very much like a fleet of B-17s flying over Germany while being harrased by flak and Messerschmitts.

The second scene worth mentioning is the fight in Snoke’s throne room. There is a lot of plot building that goes on in this scene, but for me the best part is having two jedi fighting side by side. It was reminiscent of what made the prequels fun to watch. And, of course, the scene is visually stunning with bright colors and visceral action.

That scene centers on two major plot twists, Kylo’s betrayal and assassination of Snoke, and the two young force users maintaining their allegiances to light and dark, despite heavy-handed attempts to lead the audience to expect otherwise. Which sums up one of the biggest problems with the film as a whole: way too many red herrings and surprise twists.

I made the snarky comment elsewhere that this film single-handedly makes a cliche of the unexpected plot twist. Almost every major and sub-plot line ends with some sort of twist, to the point where it becomes tiresome by the middle of the movie. The rebels make their escape–nope, secret tracking device. Luke is going to train Rey to be a jedi–nope, he’s just a grouchy old man. That rogue Finn and Rose pick up at Canto Bight, who starts out sketchy but redeems himself several times–he betrays them, for no clear reason since a thief of his caliber doesn’t seem to be in need of funds. Luke Skywalker facing down Kylo Ren–nope, that’s just a force projection (almost as bad of a twist as having the whole story be a dream).

Now there’s nothing wrong with a plot-twist. The Empire Strikes Back had a couple whoppers. But doing it again and again feels horribly lazy.  Empire–which is the obvious comparison for The Last Jedi, as it was the middle film of a previous trilogy–has only two major plot twists, Lando’s betrayal and Vader’s reveal. Also, both twist are strongly hinted at throughout the film. It is clear from the beginning of the movie that Vader has some sort of relationship to Luke, though we do not know what it is. And when the main group arrives at Cloud City, one of the first things to happen is that C3PO gets blown up after stumbling on something he shouldn’t. It is clear that something is not right, and Han has repeatedly stated that Lando couldn’t be fully trusted. So it comes as a surprise, but not out of the blue, to see Lando side with Vader.

The problem with many, if not most, of the twists in The Last Jedi, is that they are not even hinted at. Instead, the audience is led to believe something so strongly, and given no evidence to suggest otherwise, that the twist comes across as a cheat, not a proper red herring. Doing this repeatedly is not only trying on viewers, it feels blatantly dishonest. It feels like a lazy way to get an emotional reaction from an audience. It’s all smoke and mirrors. And the brutal truth about smoke and mirrors is that showmen rely on them when there is no real magic.

Another comparison with Empire is equally telling. The older film only has four major blocks of scenes: Hoth, the asteroid field, Degobah, and Cloud City. And yet, so much is done within those limited locales. The Last Jedi is stuffed full of subplots, locations, characters, action–to the point where it is hard to follow everything.

The key violator here is the whole Canto Bight subplot, that serves no real purpose other than to earthenize pod-racing and show off come nice CGI. Nothing is done there, that is key to the plot, that couldn’t have been done on one of the ships in the fleet. One review I read suggested the importance of the scene was in seeing the sort of people who supported the First Order. One does not need to understand the supporters of a group that is willing to press a button and destroy an entire populated star system. They are clearly meant to be a representation of evil; let it just be that way.

The Canto Bight scene also shows the grey politics of the time, in that the same people who supply weapons to the First Order also sell to the Resistance. Besides the point that this is just not logical, the First Order is clearly powerful enough to stop any double-dealing, Star Wars has never needed modern moral allegory. In fact, people go to Star Wars to turn off the real world. It is fantasy escapism at its best. Yes, the Empire of the original trilogy (and the First Order) were derived from the nazis, but in a very extreme, even ridiculous sort of way. Even the politics and economics in the prequels were there simply to set the plot, never as an allegory for the modern world. Whenever a writer or filmmaker tries to show the moral ambiguity of the Empire–such as with Claudia Grey’s Lost Stars–it falls flat. It cannot help but fall flat. Once you have a group of people who allow the death star to destroy an entire planet, there is no going back. Trying to show moral justification (“they’re all rebel terrorists”) just comes off as absurd.

I would have much preferred all the time wasted on action and CGI in Canto Bight to have been used for some proper character development. As it stands, the most unjustifiably neglected character in the new trilogy is General Hux. Who is this guy? And what allowed him to drop to the level of mass planeticide? He is essentially the stand-in for Tarkin in this trilogy. One of the most interesting Star Wars books I’ve read in a long time was the book Tarkin by James Luceno, which explained the Grand Moff’s origins. The work helped to flesh out what had been a largely cardboard (but fun) character. Hux deserves equal care, and it would be much more enlightening to see how one one person can choose to join the side of evil, rather than some boring diatribes on weapon sales.

Some reviewers have suggested one needs to see the movie twice to appreciate and understand it all. When did that become a good thing? A movie should be a complete and proper experience when only seen once, because most people will only see it once.

This, of course, is the reality of modern blockbuster film-making. It is especially true for franchises with large merchandising bases (looking at you Transformers, and the two million robots you tried to stuff in that second film, the first I film I ever felt like walking out of). But a good film is one that gives you time to pause and consider what has happened, to predict what will happen. There is no time to breathe in The Last Jedi.

But for me, the biggest problem is how the film fits within the entire saga. A film should not be judged on its own, but must be viewed in the context of its series and of the entire tradition of film. Two story choices Rian Johnson made with The Last Jedi retroactively break the entire franchise.

The first, and most obvious, is the light-speed kamikaze attack by Admiral Holdo against Snoke’s flagship. Not only is it illogical to think that the rebel flagship would not have autopilot (other ships all do), and thus require a pilot to simply push the throttle ( a droid couldn’t do it, by remote?), but this is also a very old and tired cliche in science fiction. The captain going down with the ship, setting a collision course, and all that. Worse, it directly contradicts the whole theme of the moment, that every rebel life is important and should be protected. What’s the difference between losing a few bomber pilots and losing the Resistance’s second-in-command?

But the biggest problem with this scene is the logical loophole it sticks us in. “Llightspeed” travel, which is clearly faster-than-light travel, is never explained in the prior films. I’ve always figured it was some sort of wormhole based transiting. But The Last Jedi has decided to show there is real physical movement tied with the lightspeed jump. This has irrevocable and damaging consequences.

No large space battles could exist in a world where a single fighter could kamikaze into a cruiser and destroy it. A couple fighters, based on the laws of physics and momentum, could have blow Snoke’s giant flagship apart. It would take only a few more to cripple, if not destroy, the death star. And before you say the rebels’ morality wouldn’t allow them to risk even a single fighter pilot on a kamikaze attack, remember that they left Admiral Holdo to go down with her ship (I mentioned how that undermined the whole moral theme). They also sent groups on suicide missions at the end of A New Hope and Rogue One. History has show that when resistance groups get backed into a corner, they are more than willing to make sacrifices for large gains. Rain Johnson has created a universe where no big naval battles, one of the linchpins of Star Wars, can logically exist.

Not to mention that dropping out of lightspeed, though atmo and next to a planet, would have done huge damage (sorry Force Awakens).

The second illogical and game-breaking choice is in allowing force ghosts to have a physical impact on the world. If Yoda can call down lightning on a tree, how is Kylo Ren still alive? Hell, how did Vader survive after Yoda was gone? And what about all the past, unmentioned jedi who became force ghosts? The thing about power that the prequels were supposed to teach us is that it gets abused.

And there is Luke Skywalker’s illogical character arc for the past two films. Little can be said that Mark Hamill hasn’t already. But suffice it to say, it makes no sense for a character who risked his life and the fate of the Rebellion on the hope that Vader could be redeemed, to fall into a sudden homicidal fit at the first sign a child might be influenced by the dark side. I understand that Rian Johnson needed to force Luke Skywalker off the stage to make room for the new characters, but it ended up feeling nothing but forced. And being force-fed something, especially something you don’t like, really sucks.

Many critics have praised The Last Jedi for being unexpected and surprising. But perhaps the most surprising thing about The Last Jedi is how unsurprising it actually is. If you look at whole film, it follows Empire’s plotline rather closely. The Empire destroys the last sanctuary of the Rebellion, the last great hope runs off for jedi training, a dramatic betrayal shifts the momentum in the Empire’s favor. The film starts with the rebels on the run and ends with the imperials securely on top. That’s the same general plot in both films.

Perhaps more significantly, is how true the film is to the trailers. The interesting thing to see when the trailers came out was how everyone expected them to be a trick, edited in creative ways to lead the audience to false expectations. There were no real fake-outs. When Luke says “It’s time for the jedi to end,” he is being very literal, not hinting at the need for some new sort of grey order. The trailers show Kylo Ren to be the dark and Rey to be the light, and the film follows that. How much more pleasing would it have been for Kylo to be redeemed and Rey to have fallen.

And of course, there is Kylo Ren’s character arc, which we are led to believe sunders tradition, but doesn’t. This is particularly the case with the “rule of two,” a cornerstone of Star Wars lore. Even as Kylo tells us to cast out old ideas such as the sith, he acts just like one. We are teased to believe that Kylo will be redeemed and join Rey on the lightside, that he kills Snoke to make it happen. But no, Kylo stays on the dark side. What he has done, in fact, is the same thing that countless sith have done before him, the basis of the rule of two. When a sith apprentice becomes strong enough, he will usurp and kill his master, taking his (or her) place. This is clearly what Kylo had in mind when he killed Snoke and asked Rey to join him. Rey, being the newbie, would be his apprentice (he made the same overture in The Force Awakens). Kylo’s wants or actions have no bearing on Rey’s decision to reject the offer. Her rejection is not part of his arc. Kylo’s character arc is characteristically sith. Things could change in the next film, if for instance, he decides to go it alone and not take an apprentice (but what about all those Knights of Ren who are supposedly out there somewhere?). But nothing unconventional happens with Kylo Ren in this film, despite how hard the director tries to trick us into believing so.

In the end, what we got were a bunch of little plot twists, but an entirely predictable and telegraphed larger story.

And yet, this film has received rave reviews from critics. But why? If you actually look at the text of some reviews of the film, it might leave you a bit confused. While many reviews simply ignore all of the flaws and blatant plot holes in the movie, many other acknowledge severe issues with the film and still give it high scores.

Ethan Sacks of New York Daily News notes “a solid, but not spectacular, first half of the 2.5-hour movie” and yet gives the movie 4 1/2 of 5 stars. That’s almost a perfect score. It’s 90%, an A-. Professors reserve such grades only for the best work, not something that is simply “solid,” certainly not for a student who “overplays his hand.”

Peter Howell of the star argues “The film’s paunchy middle section includes a trip to a casino that might better have ended up on the cutting-room floor. The unnecessary padding accounts for the 152-minute running time, a franchise record, which will test the patience (and bladders) of even the most devoted followers.” And yet, he too, gives the film an almost perfect score, at 3 1/2 of 4 stars.

Ty Burr of the Boston Globe says     “The midsection sags and, other than the heroes’ desperate attempts to survive, there’s no central story line to pull the various satellites of action in its wake.” No central story line to pull it all together? That’s a huge fault. But he still gives the film 4 stars.

Matt Seitz of RogerEbert.com gives the film a perfect score despite the arguing that “There are spots where the film can’t figure out how to get the characters to where it needs them to be and just sort of shrugs and says, ‘And then this happened, now let’s get on with it.'” How can a film whose plot points do not work be perfect?

Audiences were less enthused about the film. Some have (at times viciously) attributed this to over-attached fans and a toxic fandom. Others have attributed this to an Alt-Right conspiracy, which certain outlets were all to happy to jump on. Many folks seem incapable of attributing the poor audience reviews to a genuine dislike of the movie and a reaction to real problems with the film.

But such a general dislike, in fact, seems to be the case. Many fans simply don’t care for the film. This is shown in the film’s horrible second week earnings, the lowest for any Star Wars film ever. An article in Forbes notes that “no other movie has come anywhere close to the picture’s $151.5 million 2nd weekend box office razing, there’s no movie comparison that gives its record-obliterating failure proper context.” The report also mentions that “only a handful of movies—The Last Jedi, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Part 2, Batman v. Superman among them—have ever shed $100 million or more in box office totals from one weekend to the next.” The Last Jedi has a viewership decline in its second week almost as bad as Batman v. Superman (68.9% drop verses a 69.1%). There is no conspiracy simply affecting a Rotten Tomatoes audience score; there is genuine dissatisfaction with the movie itself. Though you’d be hard-pressed to read about in much of the media.

So what exactly is going on? Why did the critics give the film such a higher score than the audiences? One theory I read suggested that Disney exerted influence on critics to coerce higher review scores. With the acquisition of Fox, Disney is one of the most powerful entertainment companies in the world. By threatening to withdraw ad revenue and screenings for critics, Disney could surely force the hand of many companies, particularly those whose main station is online. Of course, this is a stretch and there is no evidence of it. I highly doubt this to be the case, but I’d believe this before I’d believe the entire audience backlash was fabricated. One is simply more logically, and logistically, plausible.

If not conspiracy, then what? My best guess is that the sorry state of blockbuster films in recent years have led critics to feel relieved with even a “pretty good” film in The Last Jedi. Despite its problems, the newest Star Wars is far ahead of its contemporary competition. But a film should not, nay cannot, be analyzed on its own. A film, like any work of art, is part of a long tradition and fits into a context of relation with other works of its kind. And unfortunately, when compared to film tradition, and the saga in which it is a part, The Last Jedi is far from perfect, if not deeply flawed.

In the end, reviewing is a subjective art, and that might be all there is to it. Some critics might have favored looks over logic enough to render high scores. One even could question how I could rate the film at 7/10 with all the negative comments I’ve made. In the end, it’s all just a feeling.

All lot to be said about a oddly controversial film. Again, not a bad film, just not the miracle of film-making that many critics would have you believe. Where does it fall in the franchise? Behind A New Hope, Empire and Rogue One for sure. I also prefer Return of the Jedi, but I have an unhealthy attachment to that film that is not based solely on merit.

Well that’s my rant. Hopefully you reached the end. This should be the definitive review to end all reviews.

Thanks for reading.

~J.M.

 

Random Updates

Dec
20

Oh my, a lot has been going on. Where to begin?

I should probably start by offering my thanks to anyone who voted for my story “Catching Cameron Ellis” on Astounding Outpost. I made second place! That means a little bit of treasure will be coming my way. You can read the announcement HERE.

Also, that story I mentioned a while back that was going to be published on Space Squid? Well, much to my surprise, it has already come out! You can read my story, and another quirky story by an author named Hillary Dodge, HERE.

Lastly, Bards and Sages just released the schedule for the Society of Misfit Stories for the first half of 2018. My Storm Hamilton story “A Step Too Far” drops on July 13th! Something to look forward to. You can read that announcement HERE.

To anyone who picked up a copy of “The Adventures of Iric” (or received one from me), I would be deeply humbled and grateful if you would leave a review on Amazon. Even one or two reviews go a long, long way to break a book out from the pack of self-published mush on there. It only takes a minute to make an author’s day!

If you haven’t picked up a copy yet, there should be a Amazon button on the right side of the page. Took me forever to figure out how to get it there!

That’s it for now. I’ve been working hard on episode 5 of Call of the Guardian, and think I need to catch up on some sleep. Hope your projects are going well!

~J.M.

2 Days Left to Win!

Dec
15
Justin Cover small

Cover by the awesome E. Rachel Hardcastle

Just a friendly reminder that there are only two days left to enter the giveaway for a copy of “The Adventures of Iric.”

Unfortunately, the contest is only open to US residents. So, for all my international friends and followers out there, I’m going to do something extra. Comment to this post on what country you are in and why you deserve a free copy of my book. I will choose one person and send you a copy.

Do you love Iric? Are you an active follower? Why do you deserve a free copy of my book? Let me know in the comments!

For US residents, you can find the official giveaway HERE.

~J.M.

Essential SF/F Reading List

Dec
11

If you are looking for a good list of science fiction and fantasy books to read, look no further! io9 has thrown together a nice collection of what they call the “Books That Changed Science Fiction And Fantasy Forever.”

I’ll be honest, I am not the most diligent reader. I probably finish only two or three books a month at best. Also, I think I have only read about a third of the books in this list, despite them being the literary core of SF/F, particularly for science fiction. I know most of these titles, having heard them described in the many “History of Sci-fi” lectures I have listened to, so they are accordingly on my to-read list. I hope to build up the academic awareness of my literary roots.

Of the books listed here, Hitchhiker’s Guide and The Lord of the Rings are obvious recommendations. Dune, Neuromancer, and The Forever War are testaments to amazing SF world-building, and are books that fundamentally changed sci-fi when they came out, though their plots and moreso their characters can be a bit bland. The rest I cannot really speak to.

I think the next one of these I will read will be Stranger in a Strange Land, which I have a recently got in hardcover.

You can find the list HERE. Which one do you want to read?

~J.M.

Where to Submit? — Magical Crime Scene Investigation

Dec
08

I have written many times here how I don’t usually write specifically for prompts. But if I did, and if I had more time to write these sorts of stories, this weird anthology would be just the sort of thing I would write for.

It’s called “MCSI: Magical Crime Scene Investigation” and here’s the description:

Sometimes the tools that mundane detectives use to solve the crimes of the world just aren’t enough – sometimes you have to call on a little magic. We’re looking for urban fantasy stories that involve a crime scene and require the investigator to use magic or engage the aid of a magical being to solve the crime. Did the house’s hob see what really happened in the domestic violence incident? Does a detective come into possession of a genie’s lamp that will grant him one wish, and he uses it to solve the case that got away? Does your gumshoe use a tracking spell to find the perpetrator using a few strands of hair she found at the scene? The people in your world can use magic openly or on the sly, it’s all up to you. But your story must be urban fantasy, and involve a crime scene and magic in some way.

Now detective stories are right up my alley, but unfortunately there’s no magic in my Storm Hamilton universe. If I had the time, I could see myself writing something new for this. Maybe a hard-boiled private dick who is aided by a shady demon? Dibs! I totally called dibs on that concept you guys, too bad. You snooze, you lose.

The pay isn’t pro rate but not horrible either, at $25 per story and a contributor’s copy. They accept reprints, but only pay $10 for those. If you’re looking for a strange story prompt to write for, you could do much worse than this.

Submissions close at the end of January. And like all pubs I promote here, there are no submission fees. So, just go for it!

~J.M.

Heading Home — My Writing Roots Vol. 5

Dec
07

Before heading back home–real home, where my wife and cats live, where my car is parked, that place with the big TV and PlayStation 4 I bought with my own money–I took one last glance at all that stuff my mom saved from my childhood.

This trip has been strange. This is the first time I have come to this place and not felt at home. This time I felt the same as at any other place other place I was just visiting. Is that what it means to finally be an adult? True, I am 33, so I’ve been old for a while, but always a bit childish, too. I wonder if all fantasy authors are that way. How else can you maintain the sense of child-like wonder necessary to dream up new worlds in your mind?

Here’s one last bit of my past, an excerpt from the infamous 6th grade journal mentioned in all my bios.

journal1

Makes me want to write a horrible, old-timey western. Also, I’ve realized that the narrators in the stories of my youth spent a lot of time “walking down the trail.” I was never an outdoorsy kid myself, so that strikes me as odd. Maybe dark forests were scary for me, ripe for horror tales.

In this little series of posts, I have tried to show my development as an author, from childhood to professional writing. I don’t think things would be complete without offering my thanks to one of the people who helped me get started as a real, published author.

So, I’d like to offer my heartfelt thanks and gratitude to Madeline L. Stout, the editor of Fantasia Divinity.

When started sending out stories to publishers around this time last year, Fantasia Divinity was one of the first to take one of my stories. I discovered the publisher through a third-party submissions call website (probably Horror Tree, but I can’t remember exactly). The story I submitted was my Valley of Magic exploratory tale “Snow Tracks,” which appeared in the Winter’s Grasp anthology. In fact, I wrote that story specifically for the anthology’s theme and was thrilled to get accepted on the first submission. As I have mentioned elsewhere, I usually don’t write directly for prompts.

Like me, Madeline was just starting her journey, but as a publisher. In fact, August marked the first year anniversary of her magazine. When I stumbled on Fantasia Divinity, Madeline only had a few magazine issues and a couple anthologies done.

In little more than a year, she has dozens of publications, the quality of which has grown significantly. I particularly like the new covers, which have developed a unique and shared style, one look for the magazine and another for the books. In addition to the magazine and regular anthologies, she also now has a series of fairy tale novellas, the first set already locked in for publication.

One of those is mine.

Nightingale - Front

I feel like my relationship with Madeline has been very symbiotic. I have made several contributions to her publications and offered what little advice I could, and she has given me a platform for my writing. It doesn’t hurt that she is such kind person and easy editor to work with.

The Nightingale will be released in the coming months and will likely be my first book-length work published by someone other than me (sorry Iric!). I honestly can’t say where I’d be right now without Fantasia Divinity.

Sure, Madeline’s little publisher is still a small indie, but I can imagine big things happening for Fantasia Divinity in the next year. She works very hard and has a good vision for what she wants to do. And the amount of work she has done in her first year alone strikes me as almost peerless. If anyone can make it in the current cut-throat market, Fantasia Divinity can. I have seen publishers go under in the past year, but each of those that I had the experience working with did not treat their authors with respect or kindness. One was a borderline cheat. Madeline cares for her authors, and I am sure that will be a boon for her own business.

So thanks, Madeline, for giving me a chance.

Oh, and by the way, I have another story coming out in the February issue of Fantasia Divinity Magazine. More details when the release date approaches.

A lot of this might sound like just an advertisement, but I assure you my words are genuine. I have always been a very grateful person. I guess I was raised that way. Whether it’s the guy doing my oil-change, or Fiction Vortex contracting me to write an epic fantasy serial, I always feel deep gratitude towards those who do things I cannot or simply will not do myself. That sense is probably responsible, in part, for me joining the military–a deep sense of debt to society and everyone around me for all they do that contributes to my own well-being. From roads to simple repairs, to clean air, to fighting sexism and racism, I feel like I have received far more in my life than I could ever try to give back.

Perhaps it is a sentiment that is being lost in the modern age.

I cannot possibly thank all the publishers, editors, followers, and other folks who have helped me–even if that amounted to tiny comments in rejection letters, or even blatantly negative feedback–on my journey to become a professional author. I only stand at the place I am now because of all these little actions. Cause and effect, as the Buddha taught.

I hope you enjoyed reading about my journey to professional author-dom. I hope to hear your stories someday, too!

~J.M.

Unnamed Korean Military Thriller — My Writing Roots Vol. 4

Dec
06

In some of my past few posts, I have been sharing some bits of writing from my past. I started with my first full stories in elementary and middle school. I thought hard about what would be the best way to wrap this section up.

The point was to show how I got to where I am now. Even though I had been writing since childhood, I think my decision to try to be a professional writer was made when I was in college. That was when on of my lit teachers placed in the Writers of the Future Contest and had his story published in their annual anthology. That was when I set myself the goal of doing the same. That goal spurred me to start writing short stories, which in turn, led me to writing longer works and to building the relationships I have now with publishers.

So what fills the gap between middle school and college? I was still writing a lot when I started middle school, but near the end, and certainly by high school, I had all but stopped. There were more important things to do. I had to study, prepare myself for college. I had a part-time job, and demanding friends.

The next time I sat down to write a story was after I had been sent to Korea by the Army. I had chosen the assignment, and was rarely disappointed by the choice, despite all the extra field time and the curfews and the general shenanigans that went on there.

The story I wrote was not unlike “Deadly Creation.” At the time, I imagined I would be writing a whole book. And like middle school, I did not appreciate the scope required of such a project, nor did I have the diligence to finish it.

The story was a near-future sci-fi tale that was supposed to be about the problems with the reunification after Kim Jong-il is overthrown, in 2021. Of course, I had started the work while the old dictator was alive. That little detail quickly changed, and events did not pass as my “book” had presumed. Though, the concept might work even better now for his son.

Looking at it now, I think I could probably finish it, dress it up into a decent long story or even a novella, but I have too many other projects demanding my attention and time that I do not have.

Unlike the other stories, I wrote this one on my own computer so I still have the document file. I will paste the text below, rather than scans. I had to fight myself to not change anything, as there are many glaring mistakes and things that I don’t like. But for the sake of showing my growth as a writer, nothing has been changed except to take out some footnotes that didn’t really need to be there and wouldn’t copy over to this format well.

Well, that’s enough blabbing. Here’s the story.


Working Title: The Hydra Conspiracy (I don’t care for this title anymore)

All of the shops were bursting with customers, lines reaching out into the main walkway of the packed mall. The walkway was wide, dressed in sky-blue and white tiles, with thin transparent screens which rose halfway to the ceiling, dividing the walkway into right and left paths. The screens, whose picture could be viewed from either side, broadcasted news or advertisements shifting between English and Korean, for the various clothing and novelty shops nearby. Each shop lined the hall with walls of bluish, shatter-resistant glass and swift auto-doors that barely had an opportunity to slide closed, due to the extreme volume of people passing through or waiting in range of their motion sensors.

Yet even with all the bustle, the atmosphere was still rather calm for a Saturday afternoon. Couples walked hand-in-hand, to and from the various youth oriented fashion shops, while a few, well-aged old men laughed loudly at each other’s jokes on one of the synthetic wooden benches which were emplaced to help form the center divide of the hall, lying between and around the large screens. A nearby noodle shop overflowed with vendors, the summer heat overriding many shoppers’ urges to seek out the latest chic style, instead driving them to the refreshing rescue of cold naeng-myun.

A tall woman, dressed in grey jogging shorts and a light, short-sleeved hoodie of the same color, maneuvered in and around the various groups clogging the hall. Her complexion was slightly tinted by too much sun exposure and her shoulder length, black hair was lazily bound up in a ponytail. She was by no means physically imposing, but her erect and alert posture made her stand out amongst the crowd. She walked swift, but steady, white running shoes noiselessly traversing the polished tiles. Her age was difficult to determine at a glance, because she looked like she could easily be older than her features suggested, but if one had to guess, she might be in her late 20s.

If anyone asked, she was on vacation, no one needed to know anything more. She was very keen on privacy, and besides, just because she hadn’t come to a mall in over three years didn’t make her some sort of foreigner. She was here to shop, and nothing was going to get in the way of her holiday.  Yet she did feel slightly disoriented; technology advances so fast that one can barely keep up with the new tech from a year ago. She had come to this mall before, but even in just a few years, the designs of many of the shops had changed, not to mention that many shops she remembered no longer existed in this mall. She walked passed a Puma store she had shopped at before, but wouldn’t have recognized it if it weren’t for the logo and name dancing along the glass wall, flickering from English to Hangul. Reinforced glass with pictures floating in it, now that was a trick. As she peered into the store, a sweeper robot skirted past her legs. Last time she was at this shop, the robot nearly scared her out of her skin with that move, but this time she remembered about it.

She watched the little, toaster-shaped robot as it wheeled its way to the center of the hall, stopping at a small docking station at the bottom of a large rectangular waste bin. As it was preparing to dock, a young man in a black suit dropped a bit of trash into the top of the bin. Four robotic arms came out and divided the trash, depositing it into various holes that slid open. The man paid little attention, instead turning to face his three young colleagues, also dressed in black suits. The four men walked in haphazard formation about a man of obviously many more years, dressed in a suit that was obviously worth many more dollars. As the group walked on, the two men in front parted the crowd while the two in back chatted and looked over the premises. The woman outside the Puma shop tensed as she watched the men walk by.

Where the men had just walked by, one of the large screens was broadcasting a live news report. A young woman stared at the camera from behind a large desk, while a multilingual ticker ran across the top of the screen.

“…talks came to a standstill today at the annual East Asian Cooperation summit, hosted in Beijing, when Chinese and Korean delegates pushed Japan on its isolation policy in regards to the North Korean refugee crisis…”

She changed her view back to the men who moved steadily through the crowd. They moved passed a large laser-light equipped water fountain that stood centered on a four-way intersection. Two shops from there, on the left side of the main walkway, the group entered a formal wear shop. Obviously the man needed another fancy tie to go with his fancy suit, or maybe cufflinks, he looked like a man who wore expensive cufflinks.

For a moment the woman felt a delicate silence, nothing but a very heavy static energy in the air…

Chaos…

Blue-tinted glass filled the air like grapeshot, the shockwave of the explosion rippling through the hall, destroying the shatter-proof glass walls and crushing the parapet of high-tech screens bordering the other side of the path. Every person within fifty meters was thrown to the ground, the ones closer to the blast riddled with shrapnel, the ones inside yet to be seen.  Three of the men in black suits flew backwards through the air, their jackets flying open and their white shirts drenched in red. One of them was thrown all the way across the hall, smashing through the glass wall of an adjacent shop. All the while, the roar of the blast impacted on the ears of those who withstood the shockwave, bringing many to their knees. Smoke bellowed, bodies thudded to the ground, people screamed, sirens blared, fire extinguishers and sprinklers roared to life.

What in God’s name?!

The woman outside the Puma store took her hands from her ears and surveyed the devastation. The fire extinguishers were barely keeping the flames from spreading out from the destroyed shop, but by now fire-control robots had begun to arrive. Dozens of people rushed passed the woman as she slowly advanced towards the grim scene. As she began to regain her senses, she started giving orders to the people who remained. She grabbed a young boy who ran passed her, he arm trembling with fright, and directed him to a woman on the floor who was bleeding from her stomach.

“Get a rag, or a piece of cloth or something and put pressure on the wound. Bend her knees up too.”

The boy simply nodded and took to his task. She continued like this, guiding those whose wounds were small to aid those whose lives hung in the balance. She searched around the wreckage, but there was no sign of the rich old man. Just then, her foot brushed by something small and shiny on the ground. She bent down to pick it up and noticed it was a gold cufflink. She had been right about the old man. Out of the corner of her eye she saw a man in a dark hooded sweatshirt hiding around the corner of the walkway intersection. As soon as the man saw her looking at him, he ran.

The woman sprinted after him. Today was turning out to be one hell of a day, and the man made the mistake of trying to escape her when she had her running shoes on. Fat chance. The woman gracefully maneuvered the intersection, dodging wounded people and wreckage. Meanwhile the man bolted ahead, stuffing something rectangular in his pocket and pushing over an old man in his way. The woman, like a hurdler on a track, skillfully leapt over the old man as he started to come to his feet. She landed on the balls of both feet and kept running after the fugitive.

“Police!” she screamed, “Stop you bastard!”

The man came up to another intersection and shifted to take a right turn, just as a fire-control robot came around the corner. The man tumbled over the robot, arms flailing in the air, landing on his left shoulder with a loud thud. The robot continued on its way, ignoring the man on the ground or the woman chasing him. The man shifted to his right foot and dragged himself from the ground, holding his bruised shoulder.

Too late. A kick to the face brought the man to his feet. He raised his arms in time to block two rapid punches from both sides. The policewoman circled to the front of him. Her arms were raised in an attack posture. The man struck out with his fists. The woman blocked the left blow, then the right with upraised hands. She shifted to her right and kicked with her left foot. The man blocked the blow, inches from his head. He kicked at the woman’s right foot. She jumped back over his sweep and punched with her left hand. The blow crushed the man’s nose, drawing blood and staggering him backwards. She advanced with two more punches that the man managed to block by bringing both arms up to his face. The woman’s next kick slammed into the man’s left midsection, sending him a half dozen steps to the right. The woman charged, leapt into the air and thrust her foot at the man’s head. He dodged to the right, and grabbing the woman’s leg, threw her to the ground. Using the opportunity, he dashed away towards the exit.

The automatic doors quickly slid open for the criminal and his pursuer. Before he could make it past a car parked in the paved roundabout, the woman was on him. She grabbed his hood and jerked him backwards, ripping the clothing. Still holding on to the man’s hood, the woman slammed her knee into his stomach, stealing his wind. She slammed her palm into the man’s already broken nose, making him scream. Inside she broke into smile. She grabbed his collar with both hands and throttled the man who was already halfway senseless.

“You stupid son of a bitch! You thought you could get away from me?!” The young policewoman was in a rage. “What the hell have you done?”

A sadistic smile spread across the man’s broken face as he laughed, a dark, devilish laugh. He coughed up blood and glared at her, “I have merely set the kindling…”

The policewoman raised her fist to strike the man again, but was suddenly stopped by the screech of a car breaking to her right. A sleek, black car with black tinted windows stopped in the roundabout next to the pair. The passenger door flew open and a bulky man wearing a tactical vest and black cargo pants stepped out.

“Seo Saejin, Seojang, you and your playmate need to come with me.”


I don’t think it is very hard to see the improvement I made over all that time, though I clearly had a ways to go. This story seems to have seeded the action-centric style I have now, amongst other things.

That’s it. That’s really the final step bringing me to where I am now. Yes, I did study writing in college, but that decision was made even before I enrolled. I knew I was going to be a writer, though part of me imagined I would be 60 years old and retired by the time I actually started doing it.

Glad to see things worked out a tiny bit faster.

Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed sharing my writing journey.

~J.M.

Deadly Creation — My Writing Roots Vol. 3

Dec
04

As I mentioned in previous posts, I have been visiting my mother back in the suburban town where I grew up. Digging through the closets here, I have found a lot of my old writing material. Turns out, my mom saved everything from my time in school, some things she perhaps shouldn’t have.

(On a totally non-writing-related note, I am currently watching Bill Nye: the Science Guy on TV. It’s been way too long Bill!)

I was originally planning to post scans of the sequel to my first full-length story, which I wrote in the 6th grade.

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Like the last, this one was bound in a wonderful construction paper cover. But also like the last, it had a similar demon-hunting plot. It also doesn’t seem to be as well done as the original. Isn’t that the case with all sequels? It was quite a bit shorter than Dakkar of the Outworld, and the ending was horribly rushed. That being said, I would like to share the very last line of the story, because I think it’s representative of my writing then, and somewhat even now.

And to this day we remembered that anyone has the power to save the world.

Doesn’t that pretty much sum up classic heroic fantasy? Very Tolkien.

Instead of sharing that story in full, I would like to jump ahead in time to middle school, where my youth writing experience seemed to peak. I was not a prolific reader as a little kid. I started reading novels around the 6th grade, and my reading really took off in middle school. My general writing ability also improved. I even had the gall to think I could write a book myself! Though, I clearly didn’t have a good grasp of the scale of such a project.

That unfinished project, my first ambitious attempt to write a book, is what I want to share today. Though not anywhere near the size and depth of a real novel, this work came pretty close to a full-size, professional short story. If it had been completed, I am sure I would have broke four or five thousand words easy.

I titled my story “Deadly Creation.” I will first share the text with you, then offer some background on where it came from and what it meant for my evolution as a writer.

So here’s the unfinished military-horror story “Deadly Creation.”

Deadly Creation p1Deadly Creation p2Deadly Creation p3Deadly Creation p4Deadly Creation p5Deadly Creation p6Deadly Creation p7Deadly Creation p8

First thing, I clearly didn’t understand the difference between a fax and an old telegram–the cost of which was based on character count. Also, doesn’t “I’ll send you a fax.” date this story pretty well? I also had yet to learn how to properly paragraph, especially with the dialogue.

Something the Dakkar sequel showed was my growing fascination with the Amazon, which fed directly into this next story. Both stories also showed how little I actually knew about the sorts of animals that lived there.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I started reading a lot in middle school and the fictional influences are brutally clear to me here. I wrote this story shorty after reading Congo by Michael Crichton. Many elements of the story–such as the monster in the jungle and the motion detectors–as well as the general plot, were stolen from that book. Some of the other books I was reading at the time were Richard Marcinko’s Rogue Warrior series. Marcinko was the man who created Seal Team 6 and his books were filled with military and tactical expertise, and vulgarity, both of which I tried my best to emulate. Though, I kept my cursing hidden in acronyms like WTF and FUBAR. I don’t know if my mother ever figured those out!

This story shows a lot of growth in my writing, both in relation to story structuring, but also in the quality of the prose itself. My obsession with similes was beginning to die, though there are still a few cringe-worthy ones. I was starting to learn to be more abstract, less reliant on the word “like” to link my metaphors, and showed greater distance between the concepts I was comparing. A few of the lines that stand out to me as being pretty good are:

The night crept up like a lion on the hunt. It grew dark quickly and left the men scrambling for artificial lighting. The hum of the fluorescent lighting equipment was a relief to the silence of the jungle. 

and

It was an easy 100 degrees and an ocean floated in the air.

The other thing that shocked me a bit after all this time was that the two lead characters are both black. My neighborhood was not the most ethnically diverse place, nor was my school. I remember most of my friends, if not all at that time, being very white. Additionally, all the fictional sources of influence for this story had white protagonists. Hollywood is still dominated by white, male stars. But there was no consideration of any of that when I wrote the story. I had characters in my head and I wrote my vision as I saw it.

I think this was the last big story I wrote for a long time. Even though my family was very supportive of my writing, and their praise was at times overwhelming, I don’t think I ever had the delusion that writing would be a viable career plan after high school. Also, the work load from school increased significantly. So my focus drifted from the arts into the sciences, though English remained one of my favorites classes.

If you managed to make it this far, thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed seeing my growth as a writer. I’ll have to write one more post, filling in the gaps between middle school and college. That’s when my desire to be a professional writer came back in full force.

But Saved by the Bell just came on, so I got to go!

~J.M.