We Are All Thieves of Somebody’s Future Available

Hey there. Just swinging by to let you know We Are All Thieves of Somebody’s Future—the anthology that has a neat little sci-fi story by me in it—is now available. Remember, this is a limited print run, so if you want one of these beauties gracing your eyeballs and then your bookshelf, order one before they’re sold out. Future you will be delighted.

My story is called “Starlight Vigil,” and it’s a funky one in which time moves both ways as we follow the story of an engineer on a generation ship bound for the stars in search of a new home for humanity. I hope you check it out and it doesn’t completely baffle you like most of the people who read the first draft.

http://aanpress.com/aanorder.html#thieves

The cover of this anthology depicts a young person in the foreground gazing in wonder at a large deer with antlers before a foreground of mountains.

How to Develop Your Characters off the Page

A black cat reaches out to touch a human finger in a reference to the Creation of Adam painting
Photo by Humberto Arellano on Unsplash

Last time I wrote about craft, I directed you to the starting line. In that post, I wrote superficially about getting to know your characters, kicking off the plot, building your world, and the search for information. Someone asked me about developing that stuff, and I realized I’d glossed over it. I’d told you it was important work but took for granted you’d already done it.

Oops!

So let’s talk about character development. When we talk about character development in a story, we typically refer to the ways in which that story develops its characters on the page. How do the characters develop for the reader? What does the reader come to learn and understand about the characters, and how do the characters change through their arc? What story does that arc tell, and what significance can the reader derive from it? Those are questions I won’t be addressing in this post but will in a later one. This time, I focus on developing your characters off the page for your understanding. How do you create a character so that you understand and know them well enough to then insert them into a story for the reader to meet and follow?

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Everything Ends: The State of Apocalyptic Fiction

In his 2016 book, The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable, Amitav Ghosh lays out the case for climate change and charges contemporary fiction writers with the responsibility of writing about it. But why, Ghosh wonders, aren’t our fiction writers writing about it? Ghosh condemns contemporary fiction writers for a failure to address climate change. 

I found it an interesting accusation because, in my experience, fiction writers were, in fact, writing about climate change and had been for years. Ghosh proposed the idea that writers in the literary mainstream would tend to be relegated to science fiction when writing about climate change, and considering the realities of western literary culture—where we tend to draw lines of artistic merit between literary traditions—I think he had a point. To me, though, a good story is a good story.

Regardless, in the eight years since Ghosh’s book hit shelves, I think we’ve seen a more widespread willingness of writers to go there.

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Review of Between Days by Nick DeWolf

The cover image of Between Days by Nick DeWolf depicts a disembodied eye at the center with the onlooker's face disintegrating into pieces. The title has a distressed and fading-away treatment.
Cover design by J Caleb Designs

When I picked up Between Days by Nick DeWolf, I had no idea what to expect. I’d read his novels but only one of his short stories, and I certainly didn’t know what a collection of dreams was. What I found was a cool collection of tales full of wonder, horror, imagination, and heart.

Between Days is a collection of short stories based on dreams, and it’s notably filled with variety and diversity of thought. Each story has its own identity and an apparent reason for being, but more than that, the sheer breadth of aesthetic is impressive. Many writers have trouble writing anything that isn’t literally inspired by their daily lives or lack the ability to imagine themselves as anyone but themselves, but this book demonstrates Nick DeWolf’s imagination knows no boundaries. I didn’t realize until this collection that what I’ve always wanted from him is a book full of his stories. This book shows what his beautifully unique brain can produce when it is unrestrained and empowered to follow its muse. It’s a wonderful thing to behold, and while his novels are magnificent descents into living, breathing worlds full of intriguing characters and compelling plots, this collection allows him to play with his extraordinary imagination in many different ways.

Between Days is kind of like going to Nick DeWolf’s fro-yo shop where the fro-yo is his imagination and you can stick your head under the spouts at will. Toppings are free. Go ahead and heap them on. Nobody’s going to weigh your bowl at the end.

I think most readers look to stories primarily to take them somewhere alluring and to be with people who are interesting. Nick DeWolf has a creative mind that is uniquely suited to satisfy these desires. As a means of escape, Between Days grants readers worlds and realities to wander and wonder about. Moreover, I think most readers are looking for experience, vicarious living through empathy, when they pick up a book. I think most readers are looking to feel something, and in that regard, I think this collection is full of successes. 

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Finding Your Story’s Starting Line

Track athlete in a light blue track suit crouching at a starting line and preparing to run
Photo by Gratisography / Ryan McGuire from Freerange

I was on a panel once that was taking questions from the audience, and a guy raised his hand and asked how to know when to start a new chapter. He said he’d written hundreds of pages, and it was only chapter one. A silence fell over the room as the audience waited with rapt attention and those of us on the panel had no idea how to respond to that. Without seeing that guy’s manuscript, I was certain his problem was he hadn’t found the beginning of his story yet.

To the guy’s credit, he’d started writing his novel, and that’s admirable. Moreover, he’d started doing the work, and that’s progress.

I don’t remember how we, the panel, responded to him, but the point here is, again, without seeing that manuscript, I would expect to find pages and pages and pages of world building and information about characters, places, customs, traditions, etc. That stuff is important, but it’s not the story.

Finding the starting line is a very common problem for us writers because we are (and this is true—unless you’re using generative AI, which is bad and I’m going to get to someday) human beings, and it’s natural for human beings, when beginning any creative process, to search for information. Even legal cases start with a discovery process. As storytellers, we begin by asking questions like, Who is this person? What is this place? We build a foundation.

I’m here to tell you, while that stuff is incredibly important and you need to work on it because everything rests on it, the story starts elsewhere.

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New Story Coming From Air and Nothingness Press

I’m just dropping by here quickly to record for whoever reads these things that I will have a short story in the upcoming anthology, We Are All Thieves of Somebody’s Future, from Air and Nothingness Press. Right now, it’s scheduled for a May 2024 launch, and I think there will be a limited number of copies printed and available only from the publisher, so be on the lookout for more to ensure you can get yours.

My story is called “Starlight Vigil,” and it has a special place in my heart because I was experimenting with time’s role in storytelling structure. If you’ve ever heard me get nerdy about fiction-writing craft, you might know I have a thing for nonlinear storytelling. It’s something of a faux pas and goes against the grain of conventional wisdom, but I don’t care. Extended flashbacks? Love them. Time dilation? Yes please. Chronology distortion? Uh huh.

In “Starlight Vigil,” I wanted to tell a simple story with a heart rooted in one heroic character’s sacrifice, and I wanted to present the story in such a way that we focus not on the fact that a character has died (not a spoiler; it’s the opening lines of the story), but why, the effect their life has on the others who continue, and the legacy their sacrifice creates.

My hope is that, because of the perspective and the presentation given to the events in this story through a nonlinear, multidirectional timeline, readers might see a tragic story through a lens of hope.

The non-nerdy description of my story is that a micrometeorite punches a hole in a generation ship carrying the last of humanity, and an engineer sacrifices herself to save the vessel—presented out of order and in reverse as well as forward.

Anyway, I hope you’ll consider picking up a copy of this anthology when it’s available, and I hope you enjoy my story as well as the pieces by the other authors. I’m eager to read them, myself.

The Best of Gamut Chronicles a New Movement in Dark Literature

Illustration by Luke Spooner, Design by Todd Keisling

In 2017, author and editor Richard Thomas assembled a staff of other writers, editors, and artists to pursue a new venture in dark speculative literature. Backed by a Kickstarter, the project aimed to pay competitive pro rates, putting creators first in a business that often privileges virtually everyone else.

That year, Gamut Magazine was born, and over the course of twelve issues, it published some truly pivotal work for dark-leaning literature, pushing genres like horror, fantasy, and science fiction into new realms. Unlike many other literary magazines, Gamut’s only aesthetic was that the writing had to turn its gaze to dark things. Seemingly everything else was not only fair game but encouraged.

Thus, Gamut succeeded in removing many of the stylistic and creative guardrails for contemporary genre literature. Unfortunately, after its inaugural run, the choice was made to close Gamut Magazine.

But it turns out Gamut didn’t die. It just went to sleep for a while.

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2023 Year-End Wrap-Up and Glance Forward

This year was a bit slow on the publishing front, but I did have two short stories get out there in the world. The first was a post-apocalyptic tale about unlimited power over finite resources, good intentions, and robots, appearing in Haven Speculative’s June issue. Read “Touch of Ruin” here

The second is a more personal story about grief, loss, and brotherhood, and it won the F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Festival Short Story contest in September. This was a bit of a milestone for me, and I was touched and honored the story won the contest. Read “A Winter Bloom” here.

Aside from those two publications, this year has been another one chock full of rejection. So it goes, right, Kurt? However, I did finish my next novel, titled American Spirits, and I’m seeking representation for this one. If you know any agents who might be interested, send them my way.

My Favorite stories of 2023

This time of year, I see a lot of favorite lists getting passed around, and I thought it was high time to do that myself. After all, I’m nothing if not a fan of other storytellers’ work.

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So … I Started a Substack, Let Me into Your Email Inbox!

For years, I’ve been meaning to get a email newsletter thingy going, but I’ve struggled to find a satisfactory service and the requisite amount of gumption to do that. I’ve finally settled on Substack, so if you’re tired of mashing the refresh button on this website or searching through your social media feed for my lovely face (both of which are likely to leave you profoundly disappointed), you now can let me into your email inbox once a month and get all of my news, updates, announcements, essays, reviews, bonus content, and more where you’re sure you won’t miss it.

But, Tim, I already subscribe to tons of Substacks. Why is yours different?

I’ve found most fiction writers’ Substacks lean toward writers or readers in their audience. My aim is to have something for both readers and writers in each issue. If you do both things, great! But if you’re a reader who doesn’t care about fiction writing craft, don’t worry. I won’t only be talking about the nuts and bolts of fiction. Conversely, if you’re a writer who doesn’t care about my thoughts on literature, you can look forward to monthly tips, tricks, insight, inspiration, and exercises. Or, if you just want to support a fiction writer and keep tabs on what I’m up to, that’s going to happen, too. Whatever the case, I just want to help people continue their passion for storytelling and keep moving forward in their endeavors. I have some fun stuff planned for the next few months or so as I experiment with it, so exciting times!

To subscribe to my shiny new Substack, click here. As always, if you prefer to connect with me on social media, the links are in the footer of this website and elsewhere. Click to your heart’s content. Don’t be reckless, though. There’s ne’er-do-wells afoot!

You’re Not a Bad Writer If It’s Difficult and You Choose Grace

An exhausted writer lays his head down at his desk.
Image by Nataliya Vaitkevich, Pexels

I think, if any writer says every day is a good writing day, they’re lying. I think it’s okay to struggle. I have to think that because I struggle often.

I think we (as in human beings) tend to believe in The Natural because we all (as in all human beings) want to believe there’s something we each were specifically designed to do. We want to find our life’s purpose, and we want to fulfill it. There’s a bit of the chosen one complex hidden here, but I think it’s typically fine and healthy. 

Where we might go awry is in the logical leap that, if we find our purpose, it should be easy, right? I mean, when you take a pair of jeans that should be your size to the dressing room, they should go on without much tugging or tummy tucking involved.

In my own case, I’ve spent about fifteen years of my life chasing my writing dreams. That’s a long time, and I haven’t felt like I’ve really accomplished much, if I’m being honest. Sure, I’ve had some wins here and there, but most of those could be attributed to stubbornness versus actual skill or talent. Law of averages and all that.

Despite a world that seems resistant, I firmly believe I was put on this earth to tell stories. That isn’t to say I believe in an omnipotent and omniscient deity that had a plan for me when my parents did the deed, but I do think, given all of my talents, desires, passions, etc., I keep coming back to banging thoughts out on a keyboard. It’s the intersection of what I love and what I think I’m pretty good at (nevermind the other half of the Ikigai).

The trouble is writing fiction is difficult, and in my experience, there’s a difficulty creep. That is, as I’ve grown and improved as a storyteller, you might think it would get easier, but it doesn’t. There’s a principle that google’s failing me on right now in which every new discovery begets a certain number of new questions, and I think the pursuit of every artform is probably a lot like that. Not only are we evolving as people, writers, and readers, but with each project, we spark new ideas that we might not have otherwise illuminated, and as we chase those, inspiration strikes again, and writing then becomes a chain or web of stories that probably wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t started somewhere.

All of that is to say any writing worth writing is an act of discovery, and that is necessarily difficult. Therefore, I don’t think any writer should feel difficulty is an indication that the pursuit is in vain. Quite the opposite, I would think. I would imagine, if we asked every writer who achieved a measure of success, none of them would admit to it being easy for them, and I don’t think that would be a lie.

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