Category Archives: War Journals

My Monkeys on Attack in the Year’s Best SF!

I’ve been a bit busy promoting my fantasy novels because one was temporarily free, the other had just come out, and both by most folks accounts are pretty awesome, so I’ve been a bit behind on my sci-fi.  But NO MORE!!  You guys remember my steampunk cyborg attack monkey story, “A Song of Home, the Organ Grinds?”  Well it’s been included in Baen Books’ Year’s Best Military & Adventure SF Volume 5.  For those of you who don’t remember because you never read it, here’s what the discerning folks over at Tangent had to say about it:

Even among the more restricted form of military SF there are some unconventional pieces. I thought James Beamon‘s “A Song of Home, the Organ Grinds” was one of the best stories of the year and was amazed that this “year’s best” was the only one to select it. No one should miss this alternate history tale of the Crimean War with a street urchin press-ganged into combat aboard an airship crewed in part by vampire attack monkeys.

No one should miss this, their words not mine, meaning you, meaning definitely check out the book.  The Year’s Best Military & Adventure SF Volume 5 is available directly on the Baen site and other online retailers (Personally I’d go to Amazon.  There’s a crazy amount of price disparity among sites, which I find both strange and perplexing).  You’ll not only get a chance to check out my story but eleven other stories such as the widely acclaimed “Thirty-three Percent Joe” by Suzanne Palmer.

Plus there’s a VOTE!  Readers get to decide which of these stories is the best of this year’s best.  The BESTIEST!  Once you check out the book, head over to the Baen site to vote on your favorite.  I’m hoping it involves killer steampunk attack monkeys…

 

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The Impact of Your Work

This humble post is about a story and a song, neither of them mine.

Let’s start with the story. Back in 2009, when I began my first foray into real writing and couldn’t get published to save self-esteem, I’d do market research at all the top magazines. Not only did I want to know what kind of stories they were looking for, I wanted to see what successful writers put in their stories, maybe get a glimpse at their secret sauce. Eventually I ran across Sock Heroes over at Strange Horizons. The first paragraph is a mere two words and from reading those words I was instantly hooked. Unlike some characters who come with built in empathy–the plucky orphan, the hooker with a heart of gold, the starry eyed youth–the protagonist was one I couldn’t care less about BEFORE I read those two words. And just like that, I cared. The author M. Thomas skillfully built on that empathy and by the time I was done I was simply amazed. I realized in no uncertain terms you could write about ANYTHING and it will make for an awesome story, if done right.

Her story spoke to me, and I wanted more from her.  Strange Horizons hosted another story called Beguiling Mona. I don’t have to sell you on how good it was; anyone familiar with my work can see how this story inspired me. Even hungrier now, and pretty much a fan at this point, I looked for more of her stuff.

And that’s where it all went dry. She had written from 2002 and stopped at 2006. By the time I had discovered her, a great many of the magazines and sites she had been published in were defunct.  Googling M. Thomas is probably the worst Google search I’ve ever had to conduct. Thomas can be a first name, a middle name and a last name and M. is just M. I literally could put M. Thomas with the name of the story with the name of the publication it was in into Google and have to damn near scroll to the bottom of the page to find a hint at the right person and oftentimes that was the SFF database ISFDB and not her actual work.

I’ve never figured out what happened to M. Thomas. I don’t know if she just gave up on writing, if life got in the way, or if she’s no longer with us.  I’d like to tell her that I learned much from her examples, especially with character development. Perhaps I’ll share those lessons with my fellow aspiring writers out there in a Creative Combat Arms section sometime in the future. Mostly, I’d like to thank her for enriching my life with her stories.

Her website never worked. It was ironically called www.found-things.com.

Let’s move on to the song. Much more recently, a couple months back, I stumbled across “The Last Laugh” on Netflix. Starring Richard Dreyfuss and Chevy Chase, it’s about an old comedian and his even older manager who decide to do one last comedy tour. So Chevy’s on a date with Andie MacDowell and they stop at a singer performing at a street corner. The song took over, this was at 53 minutes in, and it was bigger than the movie.

I’m ok with folk music and really not much for country… I think I can count on one hand the number of country songs I like and I’d still have enough fingers left to gouge some eyes in a bar fight. This song sat squarely  in the middle of those two genres and it absolutely spoke to my soul.

I tried to Shazam it and it failed. I ran it back, played it again and Shazam failed again. And again. I waited for the end of the movie, got her name, Jessie Payo, from the credits, did some Googling and still couldn’t find her.  And when I say Googling, I mean her name + fractions of song lyrics, maybe add the movie when that didn’t work, maybe change the lyrics to something else in case I misheard it with all that movie dialogue going on around it. Still nothing. In this day and age it’s like she wasn’t trying to be found or something!

Today I woke up, watched a show and afterwards decided I wanted to hear the song again. It still moved me and I realized why. It’s like a flash fiction story. The song encapsulates this brief span of time after you’ve gotten to know someone enough to be comfortable and trusting but before you and that other person are in a relationship and building it.  It’s not about love but rather the journey of discovery towards something that could be love, something neither of you’ll know until you go on the journey. For me, it brings me square back to over twenty years ago, to warm Louisville summer nights and two people who both knew whatever the hell they were doing made no sense but still took that journey together. So when I hear this song, it’s like my wife’s singing it to me.  And I recall a time that was pure magic and become joyful we decided to take that journey that didn’t make any damn sense together.

I decided to try to find Jessie Payo and her song again. And I found both. This is Jessie Payo’s website and this is her song Dance Real Close as I heard it on the movie. When you go to the comments section of the song’s page, you’ll see troves of folks pouring in, saying the movie brought them there and they searched and searched and searched and they were so glad to finally find it.

It’s amazing, the impact your work has had or will have on people. Scores of die-hards may find you and tell you or you may never know the extent.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a household name. It only matters that you put your skill of craft and passion into it.  That piece of your soul will speak to others in a language all its own and enrich them for having discovered it.

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New Year Contributions to Gaming Fiction

My first post of 2019 is one of triumphant fashion.  For those of you who still haven’t succumbed to your that growing, gnawing, ghastly curiosity and gotten yourselves a copy of my novel Pendulum Heroes, featuring gamers stuck in their avatars, it’s now available on NetGalley.  Some of you may remember my last post where I mentioned the extreme expense of NetGalley… fortunately my active membership in SFWA not only proves I can write stories that are entertaining to someone other than me, but also affords me the opportunity to feature my novel on their NetGalley page for a fraction of the cost.  I think this is one of the best perks available for indie novelists like me.

And for those of you who want a teaser, a small taste of my brand of gamer fic, my flash fiction story The Familiar Monsters recently dropped over at Daily Science Fiction.  This makes my eighth time appearing over at DSF and it’s always  a pleasure to see my story debut over there.  They make little fanfare about it, so I kinda know as it hits my inbox or people come from all over the webz to tell me they dug it.  This one’s my first gamer fic to appear on the site and you can see that, just like in the vein of Stephen King when he says it’s never about the monster,  with me it’s never about the game.

So if you’re new to this sub-subgenre, try it out on me.  But hurry on the NetGalley thing… it’s only on there for a limited time.  Sometime next month it’ll go away, I dunno when exactly and February’s a short month, so act now or act now-ish, just as long as you don’t act crazy in the DMV… don’t be that person.

And of course, you can always just drop over to your favorite distributor and buy a fun new novel.

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Confession of an Indie Novelist

Cry Time is over!

I’m going to close out this year with a confession. There was a part of me that wanted to be done with writing. It’s so much work, you know? And not just the writing, the selling, that’s the herculean experience. And it was something I wasn’t doing, selling, not in record numbers or even moderate numbers. My novel was kinda just adrift.

I was running into a wall, problems of white noise and market saturation. Indie writers are legion. There are no barriers to entry. Plus, we’ve all heard the success stories, how nowadays the indies are forging ahead of the Big Name Publishers, getting huge fanbases and reaping fortune and glory. We all want that… if you don’t want that, you’re dreaming wrong.  Envision, a million indie writers trying to move five million books, attemping to wedge into a spot reserved for a handful.

I knew this going in. I was hoping to cut through a lot of the white noise by telling potential readers, “I’ve been published in F&SF, and Apex, and Daily Science Fiction, and Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show (making it a point to name drop Orson to catch some clout), and Lightspeed and Escape Pod and I made the Nebula Recommended Reading List and and and.” This was my way of saying, “I know a book from an indie writer is a crapshoot, it could be garbage so hot it melts your ereader or a brave bold crazy wonderful adventure… you should try me out because I’m vetted. I bring a resume of quality storytelling. Won’t you be my reader?”

Few cared. Even reviewers, which was my other ticket to express laning through the white noise. It’s one thing for me to tell you that my book is fun, savvy, quirky, edge of your seat action, and quite another for someone else to say “Holy smokes this rocked… buy it!” Turns out there’s only a very small dollop of reviewers who accept indie books for review. Nowadays most reviewers strictly go through NetGalley, which is quite expensive for a writer to use, I’m talking $400 for the basic option, $600 for NetGalley to place you in the newsletter… you know, showing folks you’re actually there on the site instead of you hoping that your fingers crossed is its own special brand of attractive magic.

Some of the indie reviewers were cool, most were supremely overbooked to the point of being temporarily closed to subs… I believe one guy had a backlog of 180+ books, I still put mine in the queue and don’t really expect to hear back until this time next year. And there were a few others that just didn’t wanna rock with me, take that book elsewhere, my resume be damned… they had permanently stopped reviewing indies because the aforementioned crapshoot wasn’t worth their time.

So I was running into a vicious loop of new readers not wanting to check me out because I had few reviews and reviewers not wanting to read the book because I was indie. It didn’t help that Beamon is a name that sounds like I should be catching footballs or running track, not writing fantasy and science fiction. I love my name, it’s mine, but it’s not writerly until I make it writerly. I look at this as a temporary strike, it only counts against me in the now but well, now is the time it counts. It felt as if very little, if any, of all the accomplishments I had made from the short story trade had converted into usable currency in this space. Don’t get me wrong, I did have some stalwart, Day One fans (thanks to you all!) precisely because of the short stories, but there are soooo many more days after day one and I started feeling them as sales clicked down to 0. My novel languished and for a brief time I just checked out… played some Bloodborne, watched some YouTube, didn’t check the bestsellers ranks or think about it.

And like any real writer, the ones forged of broken glass and duct tape, I came back. I wrote a couple of short stories that are making their way in the slush right as we speak, wrote a few chapters of the third book, got back down to the business. A writer has to write and no amount of commercial success or lack thereof is gonna keep a writer from doing it. Not until all their stories have been told. And mine are still there jockeying for position to be the next one out of my head, onto the page and into the world.

I had forgotten. I was calling myself a writer in the trenches but in the short story markets it felt like I had climbed out, that I was standing over the maze and catching all day sunshine. Sure, I’d still get rejections, but I was on a first name basis with many of the editors of the top magazines. Many of them I had been featured in, or been published multiple times. I felt accomplished, which is a great feeling but an impossible feeling to someone who’s claiming to be your brother in arms slugging it out in these slushpiles to achieve a slight modicum of recognition in print. It was no longer a slugfest for me, where I wrestled with self-doubt and self-rejection wondering what was wrong with my stories or if it was something else entirely.

Going into the novel world felt like starting over, going back into the trenches, back before that first ever SFWA recognized pro sale. Season’s Greetings that was a hard era! Yes, I used Season’s Greetings as an expletive. And here I am, ready to take this hill like I took the ones before this one, bigger hill or not. Overnight success probably doesn’t suit me anyway, it doesn’t have the visceral imagery of bloody knuckles clutching my final manuscript. Overnight success doesn’t make a rocking bio and I definitely want the rocking bio. And I guess to all the writers out there who are fledgling or still feel fledging, this blog is still a relevant voice when hearing the motivational words of authorities , the big names who have been big names forever, feels like getting advice from mom and dad about a world that’s constantly changing. Bloody and battered, I’m still here for you.

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