Kindle Vella Update

black letter blocks on yellow background
Photo by Thirdman on

Introducing – The Winnowing

The first episodes of my new Kindle Vella seris have made it through my writer’s group and I’m revising them now. The story is good (IMHO), and I have plenty of twists and turns planned to keep readers turning pages. I’m still not convinced Vella is a perfect fit for me, but I won’t know for sure until I try, right?

Anyway, I’m wading into this one week at a time. The story is outlined, I put a beat sheet together to keep my characters on track, and there is still a lot of room for discovery writing before the series is finished. I’m plantsing my way to the finish line one week at a time.

The Hits Start Early

Vella readers don’t have time to dawdle, and characters in this series don’t either. The first scene of the story goes from status quo to inciting incident as fast as I could manage while giving readers a chance to get an idea of who Hank porter, the main character is before unleashing pandemonium on the world (and Times Square). Each episode (or chapters for those of us whoe write novels) is a balancing act between action, character development, and plot progression. Each week will have all three elements but the proportions may not be consistent.

What is the Winnowing?

I’m so glad you asked, heading thingy. It’s a terrorist plot to remake the world (or at least the people of that world) into a magical utopia. Maybe a magical dystopia is more accurate, as the maestro behind the plot intends to rule the new world as a tyrant. But he has to get there first. Hank and a motely crew of would be resistance fighters are the only people who stand a chance of stopping the plot.

So once the first episode goes live, I’ll post a link here on the site to make reading it easier. Vella is notoriously difficult to navigate, so I want to make the process as simple as possible. This is one of the main worries I have about trying the platform out. But you can’t make omlettes without cracking eggs – or something. Stay tuned for more updates and a release date.

Kindle Vella – My First Attempt

black tablet computer on brown wooden table

So, I’ve spent a lot of time working on short stories over the past couple of years. Some are arguably better than others, but this spring I found Kindle Vella. It is a tiny new platform on Amazon that is designed especially for short stories. I thought, “What a perfect fit.”

So I have concocted a short story series to try my hand at their episodic short story format. I have my reservations about the process, but what the Hell. Here goes nothing. You can follow along if you like, or just catch a few highlights of my experiment here. I have a solid outline and the first few episodes ready for beta reading. Wish me luck.

The Story…

Set in an ordinary world, much like ours, but beneath the surface magic has been simmering for hundreds of years. Before the story begins, a group of shadowy figures have opened the floodgates for magic to return. In the first Episode readers will meet one of these shadowy figures, the Thresher, who unleashes a sinister plot in New York City. Pandemonium ensues…

Readers will also meet Hank, a happy go lucky aspiring actor. He spends his days auditioning and looking for behind the scenes work on Broadway, and his nights waiting tables to pay the bills. Hank is front and center when the Thresher begins his diabolical plot, which will prove to be a blessing or a curse from Hank’s perspective.

Once I have the story live on Kindle Vella, I’ll put a link up so the story is easy to find. In the meantime, I’m still writing. I hope, you are, too (if that’s your thing).

Break the chains of your imagination.

five boys standing near body of water
Kids at play

I had a revelation of sorts while I was waiting to find out I’d been rejected again. Not like some broken record of imposter syndrome or anything negative. Instead, I realized I’d been limiting myself with my writing. The insight is simple, but if I forged chains to hold back the breadth of my imagination, maybe others would benefit from reading about my epiphany.

I’ve always thought of my work in terms of Novel length stories, or short stories. I knew there were other formats, but I didn’t really feel that novellas or any other medium fit me well. Studying screenwrtiting this year gave me so much more insight into not only the process of writing, but into ways to show and tell stories. The revelation was like discovering I’d been playing in a large sandbox, but that it was only one of many on the playground.

Use of childhood spent at play is intentional

I spent a lot of my childhood playing alone. Before I discovered reading for entertainment, I told myself stories while I played. I suspect children have done the same thing for longer than there have been anatomical humans. But as I grew up, I had less time or reason to continue those stories. As I wandered through adulthood, I still had plenty of stories in my head, but they didn’t have much of an outlet.

Without a place to flourish, stories, characters, settings, and plots can wither and die. Like allowing the Nothing to destroy Fantasia, (look it up if you don’t get the reference) storytellers need to get those ideas out of their heads. At least I do. But that is only one facet of the journey. If alll I ever write are novels and short stories, that would be fine, but writing scripts with those stories gives me more insight into storytelling.

In other words, writing in more formats, even (I know, it’s shocking) in more genres can make us all better writers. I may never be a great romance writer, but if I can pull off a love story in a feature length film, or TV pilot, I’m sure I can do the same thing in a novel or short story. The same is true of other genres and formats. A play about a murder most foul can teach me to show my audience a dramatic incident in other formats, too.

Just do it.

I’ve put this theory into practice already. The first product is a finished script for a parody you tube show. I set up a channel for a family summer project, but now, its grown into a much more substantial production. It’s made me reevaluate how I tell stories and connect to my readers. I encourage everyone to step outside their comfort zone a bit and see if the same is true for you.

The chanell I’m using is: – check it out if you want a quick laugh. But whatever you do – keep writing.

Resilience in the face of rejection.

entrepreneur rejecting offering from man with outstretched hand

Rejection Hurts

No matter if its a personal rejection or a professional interaction, not being accepted can feel like a punch to the gut. It takes the wind out of my sails more than I’d prefer to admit, but a rejection (or a hundred rejections) doesn’t define a creative. What I do after the punch is what really matters.

Will I shut down the creative process I’ve built up? Should I listen to that nagging voice in my head that says I’m not going to make anything of myself? Does anyone out there really want to hear what I have to say anyway? Those questions have been with me since I started writing again in 2017, and I doubt they’ll disappear with or without more rejections.

The important answers aren’t in those questions or a dozen other negative thoughts that come to mind when I read another rejection email. The important response is to keep writing, to keep reading, to keep looking for inspiration, and to keep sending out stories with characters, themes, and settings that I am passionate about.

I didn’t get in to a writing program this summer.

That really bummed me out, harshed my Zen, and hurt my feelers. The one thing it didn’t do was make me want to quit. I hope that by sharing my response, it may help other creatives who face similar issues. There are only so many seats at the table, only so much room in a magazine issue, and only so many novels published by a given imprint in a publishing cycle. I keep at it till something sticks.

Here is another lesson rejection has taught me, I keep getting better. Nothing causes me to evaluate my work more than, “We regret to inform you…” Rejection forces me to seek out new ideas, to scour my work for flaws, or as my writer’s group likes to say, “Opportunities for improvement.” All of which helps me grow as a writer.

Maybe there will be a few more (or dozens more) rejections between me and my goals. Maybe I’ll be picked up for the next project I write. Either way, I’ll keep my butt in the chair and write. I hope you stick to whatever you’re creating, too.

Let me dust this thing off…

man in gray crew neck shirt wearing a goggles

Believe it or not, I’m still writing. I’m still seeking out places to send my work to. And I’m still waiting for an answer back from this year’s Veteran’s Writing Program. Honestly, the waiting has put a bit of a slowdown on my other projects. Not because of writer’s block or anything like that, but because I’ve been studying a lot the past three months. I have been studying screenwriting, more approaches to short story form, and storytelling (and showing) in general.

Time keeps on slipping…

The wait is almost over. The Writer’s Guild Foundation will announce the writers accepted into this year’s mentorship program by April 19th. I may or may not be a part of that group, but I’m still hoping to make a trip to LA this summer if my muse should see fit to accompany me. Either way, I keep writing, studying, and creating. The fire of a thousand stories still burns in my belly. (I hope it wasn’t something I ate.)

At any rate, I have written some new stories. I revisited a real-world setting from my youth in Lake Forest, Illinois, for my most recent story. It’s a contemporary fantasy set in a fictionalized version of the far Northern suburbs of Chicago (for any of you unfamiliar with the area). I took some random elements and crafted some new characters with a magical background element that rushes to the forefront of one particular character’s life.

Add magic, and let the hijinks ensue. Poor kid isn’t even going to know what hit him. But that’s just the introduction of the fantastic to the story. There are more layers to peel back as I get into this new world, which is very different from Fantastic America, my Jack stories, or anything else I’ve been working on lately. At least the themes I intend to tackle are different, and the mechanics of the magic system are inherently different. I hope the humanity and reliability of the characters remain the same.

I’ll be sure to update the site next week with news of my acceptance to or rejection from the program.

Syd Fields, Dan Harmon, and Blake Snyder

potted plant near a sofa

I haven’t posted anything here in a while, and most of the posts I have made were short updates. This was going to be another of those posts, but I changed my mind as soon as I started typing the header. I’m still going to give you an update, but I’m going to dive a bit deeper with the content than I have been lately. I hope you enjoy.

What have I been up to?

What a great question, I’m glad I asked. For the past three months I’ve been reading about story telling, writing new stories, and learning a new aspect of the writing craft – screenwriting. If you recognize the three names at the top of this post, you may even know why I have fallen silent for a while. Each of these writers approach writing for the screen from different perspectives, but they are all creating a similar finished product.

I started with Syd Field and his updated how to manual, Screenplay the Foundations of Screenwriting. Syd taught lots of people how to write for Hollywood. The format was similar to the three act novel structure, and that made following his book easy. There are a lot of functional differences between novels, short stories, and screenwriting. Syd slides those lessons in as I read, so I never felt overwhelmed by Hollywood jargon. If anything, I felt like a fan granted a tour of the writers room that I didn’t even know existed.

I learned something else after finishing his book. My next writing project felt easier to write, because the principles I learned for screenwriting worked just as well for short stories. Three acts are the same, the turns between acts land in the same places, and building characters and settings that grab your readers is as universal for every story I’ve ever read as it is for any movie or TV show I’ve ever watched.

I had never heard of story circles.

I’d watched quite a bit of Dan Harmon’s work without ever realizing it. Community has provided me with meme material for years, and I have enjoyed every Rick and Morty episode I’ve watched. But I’d never looked behind the scenes at the writer until I started studying screenwriting in earnest. The story circle makes so much sense to me. I spent a solid month working through permutations of Dan’s eight point method, and loved how easily it fit stories I’ve already written, and projects I still have in mind.

Of course, I’m never satisfied with learning one or two new ideas. I have to experiment with new things, and try to mix them together. So the venerable three act structure had to collide with story circles on my desk. I have been having so much fun, I almost feel guilty. Well, maybe not guilty, but I do feel like I would have saved myself a lot of trouble if I’d learned these things sooner. No MFA in college is definitely haunting me as a writer now.

What about Blake?

Again, I’m asking all the right questions. Syd and Dan have some terrific insight into writing and specifically screenwriting, but Blake has perhaps the best practical advice for screenwriting I’ve come across yet. I’m not all the way through Save the Cat, and I won’t spoil it for anyone who has yet to read it. Blake pays homage to Syd in his introduction, so I knew I was on the right track from the very beginning. I’m loving what I’ve read so far, and once I’m done I plan to play theoretical collider all over again. A unified screenwriting technique is on my horizon.

If not for the screenwriting program I am trying to get into, I never would have considered writing for the screen. My attention was focused on novels and short stories. The visual storytelling that Hollywood is famous for would never have occurred to me, and I would have missed out on so much good advice. Even if I don’t make it into the Veterans Writing Project this year, I have put in the work to improve my craft and write better stories. Not a bad way to spend the dark weeks at the end of winter, in my humble opinion.

Tom Petty was right…

photo of brown labrador retriever sitting in front of driveway

The waiting is the hardest part.

I haven’t posted here in a while, but I have been busy! I’ve written a new Jack story and started a new short story series. But I’ve done all that to keep my mind occupied while I wait for word back from a writing program and retreat I signed up for in January. Its only been two weeks, and I won’t get an answer back until April. Not knowing is driving me a bit crazier than usual. I’m a writer, so some crazy is normal for me, but this is ridiculous.

My newest story is set in an inconspicuous suburb of Baltimore, Maryland. It revolves around Hannah Davidson, a medical research grad student who has come to stay with her mother and grandfather for the summer. The troubled son of a wealthy family takes an unhealthy interest in her, and the result sets more in motion than Hannah can handle. I enjoy remodeling real world settings into fictional universes, and giving details and back story to Angel’s Landing has been no different.

I won’t spoil the read for anyone, but I will say not everyone or everything is as it seems in the small town and countryside of this new story. Somethings will even change right before Hannah’s unbelieving eyes. Stay tuned here and I’ll share more later. Thanks for sticking around while I wait for news about my application.

Yes, it’s still winter…

flower sprout from the ice covered ground

But spring fever has struck me earlier than normal this year!

I have so many projects in motion right now. I’ve finished a fourth jack story, and I’m so pumped with how the series is coming along. I have the manuscript for Fantastic America out again (fingers crossed). And I’m applying to the Veterans Writers project, which is for screenwriting (something I’ve been studying since last Summer). All of that and I keep coming up with new premises for the story I’ll tackle next.

I didn’t intend for this to be an update post, but it turns out that is where this is going. I have an idea bumping around for a writing craft post for next week, so keep an eye out for that if you’re interested. In the meantime – keep writing!

Am I living through a winter slowdown?

macro photography of snowflake

I’ve spent the last few years learning how to tell (I mean SHOW) the stories I want to share. Along the way, I took lots of courses, read books on craft, tried lots of writing software, hired coaches, and joined writers’ groups. Altogether I’ve spent thousands of dollars and many hours relentlessly pecking at my keyboard. I’ve made goal lists, checked off boxes, and patted myself on the back for the content I’ve created.

I have lots of short stories, and a completed manuscript, but I’ve sold next to nothing. The constant stream of rejections has made an impact on me at last. In this overcast wintry period between Halloween and New Year’s Day, I’ve avoided the urge to write. For me, writer’s block has always been an obstacle best overcome by sitting in front of the keys and writing. I might procrastinate, or make excuses, but ultimately I sit back down and write. Until now.

I wrote a post about a health scare I had around Halloween, I went into a diabetic coma for a few hours. That scared me. I changed a lot of habits I’ve developed over my adult lifetime, and could easily use that as an excuse to justify my behavior. That’s all it would be though, an excuse. The slowdown is all on me, and I’m the only one who can fix it.

This post is part of the overhaul I need to get moving again. So, thanks for reading this if you’ve made it this far. Sometimes the best way for me to work through my struggle is to type it out on the page. This is one of those times. I have a lot more stories to write, more worlds to build, and more rejections to log in my excel spreadsheet. It only takes one acceptance to get the ball rolling, right? So I write.

Wednesday’s Child: Trying to find Jack a home.

close up shot of a person signing a document

This summer, I started writing a new series of short stories about a character named Jack. I’ve been trying to find a home for these stories in print or online, but that hasn’t stopped my muse from giving more to write. So far, I’m on Jack’s fourth installment. I have about twenty more stories outlined, but there is little or no limit to how this series can develop.

Case in point, I was finishing story number three when my critique group needed someone to fill in for another writer. I sat up to finish the story but in the process, realized it was too long and the last section had treated a very formative set of scenes in summary. Here I am now with a great outline of story number four, and a perfectly shortened number three.

My writing doesn’t always split itself out so well, but I’m hardly complaining. If anything, the simple split and continue experience has made me double down on what I want to do with the whole series. Its also one of the most fun writing journey’s I’ve been on. Thanks to all the Muses, but especially to Hope, who I am personally attuned to.

In the mean time, I still want to find an editor who sees Jack’s potential. I can’t wait to share his story with you, but I’ll summarize a bit here: Jack lives in modern day Philly, he’s down on his luck, but gets an amazing, even mythical opportunity. His story goes from mundane and mediocre to unbelievable and breathtaking. Each episode pushes into wilder and more fantastic territory. I’m loving writing the stories, and I hope other people will love reading it.

Confronting Mortality

I nearly died Saturday night. That would’ve sounded like the setup for a joke to me, until I woke up in the emergency room. There was nothing quippy or funny about my condition, or the surety that I’d put myself there.

My health has been less than optimal since 2005, but I’ve changed my habits very little in response. I became more sedentary, and missed the more active lifestyle I’d had before. But I kept eating the same, kept drinking the same, and ignored ever more strident warnings that I should change both.

Saturday night, I was out with friends celebrating Halloween. It was the first time I’d been out in a couple of months, and also the first time I’d had much to drink. Sober me had taken it easy for several hours, but by 1am, drunk me had taken over and forgotten how alcohol tolerances work. I got a stark reminder.

Changing behavior is difficult, but not impossible. I’ve already changed my diet over the past year, and gone without alcohol for weeks at a time as well. Turns out, I need to do more than that. I’ve seen family members who wouldn’t put the bottle down, and buried them when the bill came due. I’ll choose a different path, no matter how difficult it may be.

I’m alive, and I plan to stay that way as long as possible. So Happy All Saint’s Day from the land of the living. May we celebrate another one together a year from now.

Rome Fires My Imagination…

roman forum with old building facades and columns in city

Years ago, I had the opportunity to visit Rome. By then I’d already read some Roman history and had a detached appreciation for the Eternal City. Walking through the ruins was a different experience altogether. My writing often reflects the two extremes of my imagination and our modern reality.

The glory of Rome faded well over fifteen hundred years ago. The city today is still impressive, but a visit to the Colosseum only shows the bones left behind. Imperial Rome is reduced to a tourist attraction and lives only in obscure literature (or fiction if you write like me). That doesn’t stop me from taking building fantasies from what remains.

What it means for me:

The picture above is from one edge of the Roman Forum, specifically the back of the Curia Julia (the senate house). This building was once the scene of political intrigue and pivotal moments in Roman history. Today its a crumbling shell of long faded grandeur, but that isn’t why it is important to me.

The ruins of Rome, (or a dozen other places that inspire me) are important not because the were once more imposing, but because they are a physical link to the events that shaped human history. I love ruins because my mind can recreate the splendor they once held, fill in the missing scenery with imagination, and bring the past (or some version of it) to life again.

How I use the past for today:

The skeletal remains of the past come to life in my writing, and with those images, I can build new settings. I can recreate what ancient events may have been like, or extrapolate new scenarios based on those events. Ruins are a canvas for my words to paint new images that may thrill and amaze my audience.

Ruins are a common ground other people can relate to before I add a heavy dose of the fantastic. Rome is a personal favorite because I have read so much about its people, places, and its history. That history echoes into the modern day as we grapple with issues the Romans dealt with long ago.

Rome wasn’t all glamor and prestige. It also saw crime, poverty, and corruption. The messy and undesirable parts of the city are just as important to me as the triumphs and monumental architecture that has survived. Rome is an expression of the human condition locked in fallen stones and rebuilt plazas. Tourists come to gawk at the bones (or the art, the architecture, the religious sites, the modern city, or whatever draws them there). For me, Rome is the muddled ideal of what humans are capable of when we work together.

The perfect elements of writing exist.

The problem for me is getting those elements on the page to remain acceptable outside my head. There is so much subjective and connective tissue lost between my imagination and how those ideas translate into words, that I have trouble not feeling like they have become the two dimensional T-rex from the meme above. Other writers may have this problem too, and my only advice for combatting the feeling is to edit the words until you reach the dragon above the T-rex. It is possible, I swear it!

Practice makes perfect…

close up of person writing in a notebook

Writing, like anything else worth doing well, takes practice. Even talented writers have to put in the effort to make their work publishable. Plenty of self-published stories show good and bad examples of this maxim.

My earliest short stories are riddled with terrible examples of what not to do. In my haste to publish, I thought I had done excellent work. Some lessons are best learned the hard way, but there are less humbling ways to learn the craft of writing. Those ways haven’t been my path, and I’d love to help others avoid the pitfalls I created for myself.

Read about writing.

There are so many resources I wish I’d checked into sooner. There are tons of articles, books, videos, and live events that can help new writers. Before I self-published on Amazon, my only writing experience had been work-related or for school. Even in creative writing classes, my teachers focused on the story, not on how to show (instead of telling) it.

Only after I’d found my way into critique groups did I realize how juvenile those stories were to other authors. Thankfully, those two sad Amazon entries made less than twenty sales together (thanks to friends and family). You don’t have to go through that kind of trauma, practice your craft before you push the publish button.

Five years later…

The stories I write now are still not masterpieces of fiction. They are, however, not mangled by my novice voice. I show, I ground my dialogue in the scene, and my descriptions enhance the story rather than trying to take center stage over the characters. I’m as much a work in progress as my stories, but I like to think both are improving.

So find ways to learn about how to write, the details are always up to you, but the methods and structures are there for a reason. You can break those rules anytime you need to, but it always helps to understand them before you ignore them. If you ever have to explain your reasoning to an editor, you’ll be glad to know why breaking a rule works in that instance.

Above all else, my favorite advice still stands: Write.

Writing prompts, contests, and submissions.

black and white browsing business coffee

Writing is more than a hobby for me, and I spend a lot of time putting words on the page. So far, none of that has translated into paid work, but I have placed in some writing competitions and broadened the scope of my writing. One of the best ways I’ve found to do that is by tackling writing prompts.

The world of Torthal, the Crossroads series, and my current Jack story (on submission with magazines right now) are all products of writing prompts. Prompts take me out of my comfort zone, allow me to explore ideas I might not otherwise approach, and give me permission to imagine beyond the limits I normally impose on myself. All of these are great ways to expand my writing, but they also do the one other thing I encourage other writers to do. Write.

Boredom with a given idea or character can set in and stunt my desire to write, but a new prompt opens up a new world to explore. That kind of open ended potential really kicks my creative process into high gear. So that has been a powerful lesson for me over the summer, pushing my boundaries and staying in the chair.

The end of Summer…

sunflower with sunglasses

The past few weeks may be the longest break I’ve taken since I re-started this blog. A lot has happened this summer, from family misfortunes and cancelled plans, to rearranging our home and (my wife’s) gardening before fall. One thing that hasn’t changed is my time in the chair to write.

I’ve made writing a priority for a good long while now, and this summer has been no different. I have some ongoing projects, and some newer characters to talk about. The Crossroads series is still expanding, and I’ve outlined some interesting characters to fill in the countryside beyond Aralan, the Holy City. The latest and greatest story I’m outlining involves a retiring spy for the Aeran Republic, Lydia Antonia Draco.

My Jack short stories have been my other focus lately. Jack Webb lives in a world much like ours, but learns things he’s taken for granted are more than they appear. I have a whole slew of stories planned for Jack, and I’ll share more about those stories as I finish them. Stay tuned, the best is yet to come!

July and a new Jack story…

Jack and Clarity.

jack daniels whiskey bottle with neon lights behind

Jack stories started in Britain and migrated to America with the colonists. They are short stories (or nursery rhymes) centered on the titular character, Jack. You may know Jack and the Beanstalk, Jack and Jill, and Jack be Nimble, or more esoteric tales like Jack the Giantkiller. American versions of these tales and rhymes exist too, where Jack consistently beats obstacles his brothers Tom and Will are unable to overcome.

I’ve added my take to the character of Jack and given him some new obstacles to overcome. The premise is similar, Jack is a regular guy who encounters decidedly unusual situations and characters. His wit, his compassion, and in this case, his employer allow him to triumph over seemingly impossible odds. Anyway, that is where I’m starting off, I’ll keep you up to date with where Jack’s stories lead me.

The Crossroads has been my focus lately…

petra jordan

I’ve been expanding the world of Eliantha and building up the characters who will impact the story of the Crossroads. The more I dive into how that world works, its people, history, and magic, the more fun I’m having crafting the narrative. As I learn more about the contests and challenges I’ve entered, I’ll post more updates here. The next announcement I’m waiting on is next Tuesday, the 28th of June.