J.M. Williams

A home for all things fantasy and sci-fi.

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.

20171203_071923_HDR-1

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.

 

 

 

Dakkar of the Outworld — My Writing Roots Vol. 2

Dec
01

As my previous post mentioned, I started writing heavily in the 6th grade. I wrote horror stories in my school journal, I played with the word processor on my home computer, I even assembled mini-books. Today I will be sharing one of those.

I must preface this by admitting to some of the blatant copyright violations in this story. I was just a kid; I had yet to learn the word “plagiarism.” I stole names in particular from everything around me. I was big into video games and Magic: the Gathering. The term “Outworld” in the title, comes straight from Mortal Kombat (On a unrelated note, a lot of people do not appreciate just how much lore was crafted for those old SNES games; the game manuals were dozes of pages long and usually this was half story. The first Mortal Kombat film is still one of the best video game adaptations in part because it followed the lore of the original game, and did it unabashedly.) The name of the main villain in my story series, Lim-Dul, was stolen from M:tG. In fact, Legions of Lim-Dul is even a card itself. I almost certainly stole the word “legions” from that very card. In addition to names, magic cards were a source of much of my complex vocabulary. Sometimes I didn’t use them right, but I tried.

So with that caveat (read: Don’t sue me Wizards of the Coast!), I would like to present the first full-length story I wrote in my youth, “Dakkar of the Outworld.” This story was nine pages hand-written! What 12-year-old writes that many pages of fiction? If I have to guess, it’s around 2000 words. That’s a full-size short story these days.

I apologize for the horrible handwriting. I did not want to type it out for a couple reasons. I wanted to show the original form, and I thought my textual OCD would prohibit me from typing it out with all the errors intact.

Without further ado, let me present “Dakkar of the Outworld.”

Dakkar CDakkar p1Dakkar p2Dakkar p3Dakkar p4Dakkar p5Dakkar p6Dakkar p7Dakkar p8Dakkar p9

Isn’t that something? Sure, it reads like a elementary school student wrote it, but that’s because one did! What’s amazing, reading it after all these years, is that there is a complete coherent plot inside this messy story. There are many standard fantasy conventions like the wandering warrior/mentor and the animal ally. I clearly had some idea what I was doing, even back then.

My fantasy roots can be seen in this story, though I leaned a lot more heavily towards horror (and gore in general, the appeal of which I no longer understand) back then. I imagine my youth was similar to Stephen King’s, but whereas he stuck with horror, and maybe even got darker over the years, I shifted to more uplifting and heroic styles of fantasy. As you also can see, I really liked similes when I was younger. Really, really liked similes.  I also had not come close to mastering the concept of paragraphing.

I hope you enjoyed this crazy kid’s story. I will be sharing the sequel “Lim-Dul’s Revenge” soon, as well as a few other things I wrote when I was that age. It’s been very interesting seeing all this stuff after such a long time.

~J.M.

A God Among Teachers — My Writing Roots Vol. 1

Nov
30

I’ve been at mom’s house for the past few days. Haven’t been back here is many years; it’s a bit jarring. My dear mother kept boxes of document from my days in school. It’s be quite a trip looking at all that stuff. I plan to share a lot of it.

I first discovered my writing spark in elementary school. If you’ve read my standard author bio, you will know that there was one teacher in particular that was key in building my motivation to write.

I just found my 6th grade yearbook, and saw this picture: