Read a Few Issues – Deep Magic

A friend of mine is a stage actor and as such a freelancer by nature. He’s been talking to a business coach, whose raison d’etre is to help people make the most of their careers. When the talk fell on how to put together a play for the public, she wasn’t impressed. 

“What I don’t understand about theaters,” she said, “is why they spend an enormous amount of resources putting on a show without finding out what people really want to see.”

She’s got a point. You won’t find a professional business putting thousands of dollars into a product without scrutinizing the market first and asking: is there a market for a new product, or can we create one?

Which is why I’m now committing myself to writing a series about short story magazines. About what kind of fiction each magazine prints, which tone it has, if they have a specific focus on plot, worldbuilding, characters, politics, etc. Every editor has a vision for their magazine, and if your writing fits that vision, you have a better chance of hitting the sweet spot. In theory, at least. You’re still competing against hundreds of stories every month, so there are no guarantees, but margins count.

Deep Magic

For this episode, I’ve been reading Deep Magic. And as it happens, they just reopened for submissions.

The magazine’s About Us page says the Board consists of Brendon Taylor, Charlie N. Holmberg, Dan Hilton, Jeff Wheeler, Kristin J. Dawson and Steve R. Yeager. I’ve been reading the Spring and Summer 2020 issues, which have Brendon Taylor and Jeff Wheeler respectively signing the editorials. I suppose other editors might have picked other stories, but the stories in the two issues share enough similarities for me to pinpoint some tendencies.

What they say about themselves

“The name Deep Magic pays homage to C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia. From June 2002 to June of 2006, Deep Magic was a monthly e-zine operated by a nonprofit organization founded by three friends who had a mutual love of SFF and a desire to promote clean writing within those genres. Deep Magic is now a quarterly publication that pays professional rates for SFF short fiction, relaunched by the same three friends, with help of other industry professionals who join in Deep Magic’s mission to create a safe place for minds to wander. If submitting a story, please see our submission guidelines. We will consider stories within any sub genre (epic, paranormal, steampunk, etc). The best way to get our attention with your submissions is to create great tension in your story.”

(Source: https://deepmagic.co/about-us/)

‘Clean writing’ and ‘a safe place for minds to wander’ stand out, since they differ from the description of other magazines. The homage to C.S. Lewis made me wonder if that means Deep Magic publishes Christian fiction, but the contents of the stories aren’t biblical. And in the words of Brendon Taylor in this interview, clean mean stories that are free of graphic violence, sex and vulgarity.

It’s clear from the stories that the editors adhere to these guidelines. There are stabbings and fights, but no-one’s guts are spilled at agonizing length. There’s no sex or swearing in any of the stories either.

The submission guidelines also link to an article with input from Deep Magic editors and first readers. The topics here are hooks, tension, and endings, and though the comments are short, it’s clear from the two interviews that Deep Magic wants stories where something happens and the tension is high. Both links are worth following if you submit stories anywhere, not just at Deep Magic.

What did I read?

Each issue contains original short stories and novelettes as well as novel excerpts. Since the topic of this series is short stories, I’m going to leave out the novel excerpts, but they generally match the magazine’s style anyway.

Spring issue 2020 contains five original stories:

Before the Journey by AC Cobble

Seb Dreams of Reincarnation by Aimee Ogden

The Space Between by Larry Hinkle

Mama Cascade by Samantha Mills

Sorieul’s Eyes by Jeff Wheeler

Before the Journey by AC Cobble is a prequel to the author’s series about Benjamin Ashwood (which I haven’t read). I use the word ‘traditional fantasy’ elsewhere in this overview, but high fantasy doesn’t get much more traditional than this. The story starts in a tavern with a cast of a magician, a rogue, a swordsman and a princess/future magician’s apprentice. They even get a quest at the inn (slay the demon that’s harassing the nearby village). The story also offers an insight into the politics of the world and the use of magic, so the themes of this story are clashing empires as well as demon fighting and sword & sorcery. The story’s driven both by plot and the world it takes place in.

Seb Dreams of Reincarnation by Aimee Ogden is a science fiction story about a retired starship. That is, Seb used to be plugged into a starship with full control over everything, so when he returns to a life of not being connected to a ship, his world seems empty. So, what does Seb do next? The story has a clear plot – starts at the beginning and ends somewhere I didn’t quite predict. Since the plot is about the way Seb changes, the story was also the most clearly character-driven story of the selection. I’m not doing a review, but I definitely recommend this story, simply because I cared a lot about Seb.

The Space Between by Larry Hinkle is a short science fiction story with horror elements that takes us on an almost Uber ride into the unknown. Along the way it unfolds the rules of a world that isn’t quite ours. There’s a clear plot that goes hand in hand with scientific explanations of this particular world. There’s less focus on the characters, but then again, this is quite a short story that accomplishes a lot on only a few pages.

Mama Cascade by Samantha Mills most definitely doesn’t take us on a river cruise. Rather, it’s the story about a young woman and her relationship with the river goddess, shaped by the appearance of foreign (European?) invaders. The main character, Arwa, must learn from Mama Cascade in order to hold back the invaders and defend her people. I’m not spoiling the story by saying that things do not go as planned, and that’s part of the charm of the story – the world changes, the people change, and there’s no survival in staying the same.

Sorieul’s Eyes by Jeff Wheeler is a novelette set in his Muirwood world. Jeff Wheeler is the founder of Deep Magic, and delivers a plot-driven story in a world that isn’t explained in depth, but is obviously a world of empires, warlords, assassins and magic and as such another example of ‘traditional fantasy’. The main character is a kishion, a slave assassin, who’s forgotten his past after a magical ritual. He’s adept at killing, but when he meets Sorieul, a healer who knew him in his earlier life, new emotions start to wake in him. I have a feeling that there’s more of this awakening to be found in Wheeler’s novel, but in the short story it’s not explored in depth. 

Summer issue 2020 also contains five stories:

Shackles by Michael Wisehart

One Way by Gerri Leen

A Tale of Two Thieves by Sarah C. Roethe

Blackheart by David VonAllmen

Standing with Centaurs by Jennifer L. Hilty

Shackles by Michael Wisehart is a fantasy novella set in a universe already established in one of Wiseharts series of novels. We follow Ferrin, a blacksmith, whose magic abilities are about to get him into trouble with a group called the Black Watch. The story is told as it unfolds, from the smithy via the local society of magic users, and Ferrin’s subsequent dealings with the Black Watch. It’s plot oriented rather than focused on the character’s journey, but we get to know Ferrin quite well along the way. 

The story is pretty traditional, both in the way it’s constructed – we start at A and go on to the ending – and in its themes. Magic is a thing in this world – some people, like Ferrin, use magic in their everyday tasks, and others seek to use people like Ferrin for their own purposes. The technological level in the story is horses and blacksmithing, so the world should be familiar to readers of high fantasy.

One Way by Gerri Leen is a science fiction short story which dares to experiment with form. The main character, Lydia, is on an exploration mission, and her life support is failing. She has a deep understanding with the spaceship’s AI, Vesta, and she seems to be going to her death voluntarily. The rest of the story is played out in reverse, telling us what happened weeks and months prior to the first scene, and how Lydia and Vesta came to be where they are.

A Tale of Two Thieves by Sarah C. Roethe brings to life Anna and Kai. Anna is a thief and sometime mercenary, who rescues Kai at the beginning of the story, and Kai turns out to be 1) a decent chap with a lot of integrity and 2) not quite up to surviving in the wild on his own. Kai’s good heart gets them into trouble when they come across a band of ruffians, who have abducted a bunch of women to sell into slavery.

The worldbuilding, again, is traditional – a rural setting, a roguish character and her moral counterpoint, and a quest. Things go from A to B and the focus in the story is on the action rather than the characters. The author, however, manages to show us quite about her character through their actions, bringing out their different natures in a way that benefits the story. 

Blackheart by David VonAllmen is a swashbuckler, no doubt about it. A lively pirate plot on the high seas to steal the storm magic from Lord Buckworth’s fleet. The writing and dialogue is snappy and the pirates are as piratey as can be expected. A good story embedded firmly within the pirate genre.

Standing with Centaurs by Jennifer L. Hilty takes us to a university in a future, where aliens go to college with human students. It’s a story about prejudice and overcoming it, and as such it’s in the vein of traditional YA stories in high school or university, only with aliens playing the role of the outsiders taking the brunt of prejudice.

What to make of it all?

The stories all live up to the mission statements listed by the editors above. They’re clean; there’s killing and violence in several stories, but none of it is visceral. The single horror story isn’t a blood’n’guts tale either, working through buildup rather than jump scares. The pirates in Blackheart are all short a limb or five, but it’s described with humor and exaggeration instead of pain.

It’s also clear that there’s a focus on plot in every story. Characters change in some stories, in others they pretty much stay the same, but they all have a problem that they solve (or not) by the end of the story. Something happens to the characters.  

As for genres and sub-genres, four of the ten stories are set in what I’d call high fantasy worlds, where swords, rogues, magic, and powerful kingdoms play a role. But while the worlds all have a medieval feel to them, they’re set apart by how magic works in each world.

In ‘Before the Journey’, the magic we see is traditional fire magic (though there may be other kinds in that world). In ‘Shackles’ the main character has the ability to control metal, while other people can do other things. And in Sorieul’s Eyes, magic is used to heal and change emotions. ‘Mama Cascade’ isn’t high fantasy as such, but it has magic too, divine and transformative and part of nature. In ‘Blackheart’, magic’s a power to be hoarded and used by anyone who has access to it. Only ‘A Tale of Two Thieves’ doesn’t have magic.

With the ‘Magic’ in the title, it isn’t a big surprise that magic plays such a big part in the fantasy stories. My takeaway from this is that ‘Deep Magic’ editors love magic, and that they prefer stories about powers that goes beyond what you’ll find in a D&D spellbook.

Four of the stories are science fiction, in two of which scientific concepts are an inescapable part of the worldbuilding. The other two science fiction stories are a little different, in that one is a horror story examining multiverse theory, and the last one is basically a college story with an alien cast. None of these stories are examinations of scientific principles, so if you have a hard science fiction story, you’d probably have better luck sending it to Analog. But if your SF story has science, plot and character, it might find a home here.

To sum up

If you want to sell a story to Deep Magic, it would be a good idea to be inventive with your magic. Build a good plot, keep up the tension and make sure the story come to a logical end. Don’t make the story contingent on blood and guts, but don’t be afraid of putting in both action and major consequences for the characters either. Finally, a sweepingly grand story is probably better than one with a narrow scope.

I hope this will be of help to someone else out there. If so, you can also find my article on Beneath Ceaseless Skies here.  

“World Domination” wins the Niels Klim Award for best short story

A very nice statuette

I’m happy to report that my story ‘Verdensherredømme’ (World Domination) tied for first place for the 2018 Niels Klim Award in the short story category. The other winner was ‘Sortskørt’ (Blackskirt) by Kenneth Krabat.

It’s the first award I’ve ever won, and though it’s neither huge or prestigeous, it was still a great honor to take the trophy home.

Woo! First ever award! Author Bingo Checkmark!

Probability Cruise

My short story ‘Sandsynlighedskrydstogt’ (Probability Cruise in English) will be out in the annual Danish SF Anthology ‘Lige under overfladen 14’ this autumn. The editor even picked the story’s title to name the anthology, so I’m extra thrilled to see this story in print.

“Room Special”

I’m very happy to share the news that I’ll have a story in the anthology ‘Five Minutes at Hotel Stormcove’. The story is called Room Special, and I wrote it with this anthology in mind. Or to be precise, I couldn’t help writing it. The premise made several ideas pop into my mind, and I ended up writing a romantic caper.

The Hotel is a very special place with a history that stretches into the past and far into the future, so there are going to be a wide variety of stories. I know a lot of the other authors from an online writing group, so it’s safe to say I’m really excited to read this one.

‘Five Minutes at Hotel Stormcove’ will be out in May 2019. You can preorder here.

New Book Sent to Publisher

A book comes to town, a book leaves town, a book is sent off to a publisher.

I’m super excited about finishing this project, because it’s a book my daughter wanted me to write — something she could read in our own language. She got to read the first draft (and shoot holes in it) over a year ago. I patched up those holes, let the story rest while another bunch of kids and grown-ups read it, and patched some more holes before doing language sweeps. Deleted about 200 instances of ‘just’ and soooo much other sloppy language. And now it’s done, ready for the world, or as ready as I can make it. 

The Danish market works a bit differently than the American or English. We don’t need agents — although some of the bigger names have them — so I’ve done what new writers do around here and sent a finished manuscript directly to a publisher. 

The market is also smaller, with fewer books being published and fewer established publishing houses (about 10 reputable ones and a tangled undergrowth of semi-self-pubs). The waiting game is the same, though. Two months to an answer from this particular publisher, and no simsubs allowed. The competition is fierce, of course, with every corner of the market saturated with books and established authors. But at least I have a good book to send out. 

So I’ll be waiting, fretting, and probably writing a couple of English short stories in the meantime now that the big project is out testing its wings. 

Work in Progress

I’m currently working on two novels, and I thought I’d share a bit about them here.

The first is a collaboration with another writer, and that’s progressing steadily – we meet once or twice a week to plot and draft, and we aim to have draft one ready by New Year’s Eve. It’s becoming increasingly clear that this isn’t going to happen, but we haven’t set a new goal yet, so New Year’s Eve it is 🙂

This one is urban fantasy/detective type novel, featuring a new species of humans. The novel’s set in Denmark and Bialowieza in Poland, so we’re both on our home turf and out to sea writing this, since none of us have been to Poland. Fortunately we’ve had good help from one of my collaborator’s friends, who comes from Warsaw.

The second novel is an old monster with which I’ve been in an abusive relationship since 2009. It’s been locked down on a hard drive, it’s been revised, it’s been read by my writing group, it’s been shelved, and it’s been rewritten again and again.

Recently I figured out what to do with it, though. The main character never really had a voice of his own before, but lately I’ve been able to hear him speak in my head, and that has made his story much easier to write. So round about now, the book is becoming readable, page by page, and I even think it’s exciting to write it again.

I have two additional novel projects lying around, but I’m not working on them at the moment.

One of them is a YA novel in Danish, for which I just got a favorable batch of notes from beta readers. I’m still waiting for two sets of comments, but sometime this year I’m going to do a relatively quick revision and send it to a Danish publisher. An average publisher in Denmark receives about 800 manuscripts a year, and some of them publish only a handful or two. I’ll brave the odds and post about progress when there’s more news.

The fourth novel is thoroughly on standby for now, but it’s a new and dear friend whom I’m looking forward to spending more time with. I’ve only met this story twice, during NaNoWriMo in 2015 and 2017, but we’re getting along really well. And once I’m done with the other three projects, I’m going to finish the tale of how three very different people deal with being enslaved by a race of aliens who are also saving us from annihilation.

Read Two Old Stories For Free

I’m happy to say that I’ve joined Curious Fictions, an online site that lets authors reprint their SF, F & H stories. So far I’ve added two stories to their library:

  1. Master of Business Apocalypse, which was originally published in the Unidentified Funny Objects 3 anthology.
  2. A Multiverse Love Story, which was first published in AE Scifi, a Canadian web magazine that is down for the moment (but may be coming back later this year).

All stories on Curious Fictions are free to read, but you can support the authors with micro donations by liking the stories.

Lubarbri out in Worlds of SF, F & H III

Once again I have the pleasure of having a story in an anthology from the series Worlds of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror, edited by Robert N Stephenson. The series distinguishes itself by collecting stories from writers in many different countries, many of them exciting new names in the speculative genres.

This story, Lubarbri, is a near-future story about the emotions you can only experience if your brain has been expanded and modified.

You can by the book as a paperback at Amazon:

You can also download it for free/pay what you want in most ebook formats on Smashwords:

 

NaNoWriMo Experiences

You learn new things when you leave your comfort zone, and that’s just what I did while participating in this year’s National Novel Writing Month. I thought I’d share my experiences in case anyone wanted inspiration for increasing their productivity.

But what is National Novel Writing Month (orNaNoWriMo for short), and how does it put you under pressure? Well, it’s a challenge that takes place every November, and the goal is simple yet not easily attained: Write 50,000 words of fiction in 30 days.

Officially, those words are supposed to become a novel, but nobody is looking over your shoulder. You do it for the challenge, and if you end up writing an epic poem instead of a novel, you still win. Even if you only write 10,000 or 25,000 words, it’s progress on your writing project. You won’t get a winner’s certificate, but that’s not the point. The point is to write more and push your limits.

50,000 words amounts to 1,667 words every day, or if you’re like me and don’t write on weekends, it’s 2,272 words per weekday. For some, that may be a piece of cake, but for me it means I have to push myself beyond my usual writing pace.

So what did I learn?

1 – Forcing Productivity Increases Creativity

You have to know where your story is going to write it, right?

Except, during NaNoWriMo you may running short of material and good ideas during the process. Perhaps you wrote down all the good ideas, or perhaps the plot took an unexpected turn, leaving you with an outline that no longer makes sense.

On those days, I nevertheless sat down and reread what I had written yesterday, and started typing new words. And sometimes, the most outrageous ideas would arise after I had typed for a while. I would suddenly know how to solve a problem that I’d struggled with by deviating from the plan, and this would take the story in directions I hadn’t even wondered about before.

These sparks were usually connected to new insights about the characters and the worldbuilding rather than plot, but that didn’t matter. When I found new depths in the characters, they’d also face their situation in a new way, and that led to unexpected plot twists.

Sometimes nothing new came from all that typing. However, the great thing about NaNoWriMo is that every word counts, and if you end up writing something that’s not a good fit for the story, you can always start that scene over, or make up a new one. Getting the ‘wrong’ scene out of the system paves the way for the ‘right’ scenes.

So you can’t write bad words during NaNoWriMo. You can only write words. That takes away the frustration that usually hits me if I’ve worked an entire day on a scene that I suspect I’ll have to throw out later.

2 – Listen to Your Mind

A few days into NaNoWriMo I found that I could stop typing, but I couldn’t put my mind on hold. The creative energies were boiling even when I wasn’t writing. Brilliant!

I’m used to having ideas pop up and demand to be written. Grasping those idea when they surface is actually a skill I’ve tried to hone over the years, because the better ideas often rise up from the subconscious — all have to do is listen to them. During NaNoWriMo, I learned to listen just a little harder, and I think I became a little better at catching those subconscious curveballs. This is extremely useful for a writer, and I can still feel the benefit from this even though NaNoWriMo is over.

There’s a trade-off to being this deeply immersed in a project though. I’m much less sociable when I’m in my own headspace. During November I could feel my mind wandering when I was with other people, and for me that’s not a healthy habit, so I’m also glad it’s only NaNoWriMo once a year.

3 – Work Smarter Not Harder

I’m usually somewhat impatient with my work. When I write something, I want to finish it, get it out of the way and work on the next project. Finish a scene, finish a short story, finish a novel, just finish it. But I already knew that I wouldn’t finish the novel in November (it’ll be about 110-120K words in all), so I might as well adjust my expectations and try out a new way of working.

For me, working differently this November meant switching between projects several times per day.

Early in November I decided to alternate between two novels. The result was that I wrote about 10,000 words on a co-written project and 40,000 words on a solo project.

I also switched between scenes. My solo project has three point of view characters, so I could always switch to a different way of seeing the world if I got stuck.

In effect I threw away my impatience–never mind finishing a scene today, I could always do that tomorrow. Both types of switcheroo worked like a charm. Getting into a different mindset proved refreshing, and often resulted in a new burst of words. I’d do this perhaps four times per day, ending up with chunks of 400-700 words every time, and sometimes more.

It’s a practice I’ve chosen to continue in December, and it works like a charm. Maybe it’s because I had a ton of minor projects waiting for me after November, but it still feels more efficient.

4 – Timing is everything  

Around mid-November I had fallen a little behind, and so my daily word count had to go up if I were to make it. And if 2,272 words per day look intimidating, try looking at 2,600.

For this I turned to the Pomodoro technique of writing 25 minutes at a time, followed by a break. This had the nice effect of breaking the work into manageable chunks, because anyone can write for 25 minutes, right? It turned out I could, at least, and those sessions typically yielded 4-500 words. Suddenly all I had to do was write 5-6 times a day. While this was still high-intensity work, it nevertheless became much easier.

Incidentally, once I started timing those sessions, I discovered that my attention would start to wander after 22-23 minutes of writing, so taking a break turned out to be a good idea.

In conclusion, I can say that I’ll be using what I’ve learned in the year to come – and that I hope to be under considerably less pressure.

And also, if you have any productivity tricks up your sleeve, I’d love to hear about them in the comments.