Story of a story: Caring For Dragons and Growing A Flower

I thought it would be fun to make what I call “story of a story” posts, which detail the route a story had taken from completion to acceptance. Another person called it “anatomy of a sale,” and I didn’t feel right stealing that, so I came up with my own name for it.

This 2k-word epistolary Vietnam War story was written and completed during August 2019. I had 3 people I know from Viable Paradise and Taos Toolbox critique it before submission. The story got higher-tier personal rejections from F&SF, Augur, and Strange Horizons, and a form from Uncanny. I submitted it to Podcastle in October, got a bump notice a day later, and the story sat there for a total of 90 days before it sold on January 13th, only 4 hours after my dad passed away.

Short Story Acceptance #14

I found out this morning, just 4 hours after my dad passed away, that my epistolary Vietnam War story “Caring For Dragons and Growing A Flower” was accepted at Podcastle. A few days ago, I read the story at my dad’s bedside. Even though he was comatose, I like to think that he heard it and enjoyed it. He was my first audience. Now Podcastle will help me lift up the story to an even bigger audience, complete with Vietnamese-speaking narrators for three characters. I will forever remember this day, my first SFWA sale, as one full of bittersweet tears.

This week had been the longest and hardest week of my life. On 01/05, only 4 days of being out of state to start school, I got a call from my mom about my dad sustaining a hemorrhagic stroke while riding his bike. I flew back home the next morning and had been in the neuro ICU to see Dad and handle the flow of visitors every day since.

This story is about a wife losing her husband and a young daughter losing her father, so it’s intensely, painfully personal and honestly, I would have been so crushed to have gotten a rejection instead of an acceptance this morning. I wrote this story 4 months ago, so it wasn’t like I had written the story inspired by what happened to Dad. Stars just happened to align, amazingly enough. The themes of fiction come to life, the timing of the acceptance…it astounds me. I’m so grateful to Podcastle for giving this story a chance, a home, and a voice.

My novelette “Saga of The Knapaleith” now available to read

Today Zooscape has released my novelette, “Saga of The Knapaleith” into the wild! (It’s free to read on Zooscape Issue 4!) I had so much fun writing this. I had drawn on influences from Watership Down, the Icelandic language, and Norse mythology to build the world of these Arctic foxes in Viking-era Iceland, similar to how the rabbits in Watership Down had their own language and mythos.

Here is a glossary of Arctic fox terms:
Stokk – The leap that Arctic foxes make to pounce on prey buried in the snow.
Vaeli – Lemming. Derived from the Icelandic word for foods: matvaeli.
Knapa – Anything that carries a man on its back. Foxes use this term for both horses and boats, which carry men on land and sea, respectively.
Bjarr – A temporary state of terrible wrath and rage. A fox that goes bjarr is capable of incredible strength, but it doesn’t last long and the fox is left feeling weak and helpless as a kit. The human equivalent is “berserk.”
Solvirrk – Lightning, thought to be teeth of Ylirr and a sign of his wrath.
Merrk – fox droppings. To “make merrk” is marking territory.
Leith – The den leader. Used as an honorific suffix.
Rowf – Dog.

Ylirr-rise – Dawn, sunrise
Ylirr-high – Noon
Ylirr-down – Sunset, sundown

Ylirr – The sun god.
Kaila – The goddess of ice and snow.
Vaeleith – The god of trickery, mischief, and chaos. His name means “leader of vaeli.”
Dautha – The goddess of death.

Taos Toolbox Day 14 (7/20/2019)

Last day of the workshop. Well, yesterday was really our last day, because today is just parting ways and heading home. I left Angel Fire at 8 AM and carpooled with Brian L, Emily W, and Kent back to the airport in Albuquerque. We followed along the Rio Grande during most of our trip.

At a gift shop in the airport, I made impulse buys: an ocarina with a wolf painted on it, and a little book on Native American animal stories with gorgeous artwork. Emily’s flight was later, so we went through security together and she hung out with me up until I had to board my plane. As soon as I arrived in Houston, I satisfied my craving for Vietnamese food with a hot bowl of pho tai.

It’s been an amazing two weeks. The workshop includes Toolbox in its name for good reason. I came away with a much more solid grasp on craft, a bunch of signed books, and a bunch of new friends whose careers I’ll watch with great interest. Everyone’s prospects seem promising, and I look forward to seeing more of their work in the wild someday. Post-workshop depression will hit me hard. Keeping in touch with my classmates on Slack will alleviate that, hopefully.

Welp, I didn’t see any bears, but that’s probably best because I’d rather come back home in one piece.

I want to write more sci-fi short stories, so this is what I’ll do to reach that goal and get better acquainted with the genre: read more science articles through resubscription to Science News magazine, read “How To Build A Planet” per Nancy’s recommendation, subscribe to Asimov and Analog, look to my more sci-fi savvy classmates for support and advice.

Below are mementos from Walter and Nancy, who are treasure troves of great feedback, advice, and funny true stories.

Taos Toolbox Day 13 (7/19/2019)

Last set of critiques today: Carina Bissett (surreal fantasy with portal bees), Emily Fockler (fantasy with “hags in the crags,” as Walter put it), and me. Nancy’s advice on tension during Carina’s critique: Make sure the readers know what’s happening now, so they can worry about what’s going to happen next. I had submitted an old short story based on obscure Vietnamese folklore, partly because I couldn’t get the beginning of my new novel in on time, and I wanted to know what I could do to improve that short story so it can sell. Nancy telling me that I could cut 1k-1.5k words was music to my ears. I’ve been wanting to cut the darn thing because the shorter the better, but I couldn’t figure out how. People gave me good suggestions on rewriting the ending and tightening the middle.

After our last “class” ended, Suzanne, Emily W, and I took the scenic chairlift. The mountainous views were spectacular. The slope at the top was particularly steep, probably a black slope. The chairlifts were going pretty fast, like a mini roller coaster, so getting on and getting off sent the adrenaline pumping. Emily might have uttered a bunch of panicked expletives during those moments.

 

 

Clayton, Emily W, and I drove down to Taos together. Farewell dinner is at Lambert’s in Taos. I tried elk tenderloin (which I’ll most likely not try again, not because it tastes bad, but because it’s so pricey). I asked Nancy for her opinion on how she would characterize our class. She deemed us the Improvement Class, because we’ve made the most improvement on our work from Week 1 to Week 2. I’m glad we weren’t the Party Class, or the Class With the Most Drama. I had Walter sign my copy of the first book of his Dread Empire’s Fall series before we said goodbye to our instructors. Wen had brought gifts from China for all the ladies in our cohort, so her gift to me was a lovely patch of the rabbit in the moon. The villain in Guardian Lion, the YA Asian fantasy novel I wrote back in 2016, is based on the moon rabbit, so I’m amazed that Wen had picked out the perfect thing to give me.

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After dinner, I had ice cream with Suzanne, Emily F, and Wen. There was some kind of festival going on, so we walked around while eating ice cream and Emily got a hand-made bracelet of her mom’s name, which is apparently hard to find on personalized items. Once we got back to Angel Fire, I hung out at Emily F’s suite to carry out the plotting session for SEAL Splintered, and Emily really helped me flesh out the storyline of my 2nd POV character, Isaac.

 

Taos Toolbox Day 12 (7/18/2019)

Critiques today: Zhou Wen (sci-fi/horror with melting people and an alien language decrypted by physics), Kate Thomas (sci-fi with bunny-ear aliens and missing house), Kent Bridgeman (“AI gone wrong” story with destroyer goddess motif), and Mark Bailen (old west supernatural fantasy). A scene in Kent’s story featured a Peruvian restaurant and a belly dancer. I was amazed that none of us brought it up as a funny remark during critique, though I wrote on the margins of his manuscript “this place sounds very familiar!” Nancy and Walter gave a sobering talk on the ups and downs (especially downs) of their writing careers. They didn’t sugarcoat anything. If you want a stable career, full-time writing is the wrong choice. Writing really is a labor of love.

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Spoiler alerts that are illegible and subjective to change.

When we split up after class, I stayed behind in the critique/lecture room to plot out SEAL Splintered: a new sci-fi novel about Splinters: superbeings born from death by dismemberment. I’m eager to write this out after revising August And Counting for the querying stage. When I conceived SEAL Splintered, I thought about only writing from the close 3rd person POV of Aubrey: a female Navy SEAL who must adjust to a new world and life after being blown up by a grenade turns her into a Splinter. Using the flash card method really helped me map out the 2nd POV character: Aubrey’s husband Isaac, which I hadn’t considered and introduced until that plotting session. Making an anti-hero the 2nd POV gives me more flexibility and freedom. I can now show how the villain, Yunru, is manipulating and exploiting Isaac when he isn’t interacting with Aubrey. Now I got two POV Asperger syndrome characters to handle. It’ll be a challenge, but I’m up for it. I had to stop after I ran out of cards. Toward the end of my plotting session, the Baranowskis dropped by to help me run through what I’ve laid out in cards. I really appreciate them coming into help, since Laura hadn’t been feeling well.

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Left to right: Laura, Mark B, Brian H, Scott
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Left to right: Scott, Kent, Mark P, Kate, Rob

After dinner plus lots of chips & and salsa to go around at El Jefe with the peeps above, it’s beer and hot tub time with Walter, Emily F and W, Suzanne, Scott, Brian H, and Mark P until 10 PM. Scuba diving and fanfiction were just a few of many topics in our conversation. Lesson learned that night: don’t jump into the hot tub right after a big meal. Then up until midnight, Emily F and I had plotting sessions for our new novels. Mark P, Suzanne, and Scott helped us out.

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Emily F mapping out the setting of her city-in-the-sky novel to me, Suzanne, Mark P, and Scott (not pictured)

Taos Toolbox Day 11 (7/17/2019)

Nancy covered a bunch of miscellaneous material that she hadn’t had the chance to cover on prior days: three kinds of plots according to Heinlein and Asimov, characteristics of a blockbuster novel according to Al Zuckerman, among other things. Walter had us do a writing exercise: write 15 minutes of fiction in a familiar setting (so we don’t have to spend so much time with worldbuilding). I wrote 148 words in 15 minutes, which was below average. I’m a slow writer who edits as I write. I want to be more spontaneous and willing to let the words flow. Four critiques today: Emily Wagner (dystopian sci-fi), Brian Hinson (sci-fi inspired by Apollo moon landing), Brian Lesh (urban fantasy with living cities), and Clayton Kroh (weird fantasy with feral woman). Nancy and Walter made a joint career talk on how to approach the outline, synopsis, and query letter.

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In the evening I read stories to be critiqued tomorrow and bounced ideas off of my classmates to help with building my interstellar ER short story. Sci-fi isn’t my wheelhouse, so it really helps to get pointers from people who know about the technical details to make sci-fi plausible.