Friday, March 31, 2023

Writing Newsletter First Quarter 2023


In the first three months of 2023, I posted the stories “Going in a New Direction,” “Which is Worse?” “A Rising Tide,” and “We Might be in Trouble.” I also reposted the stories “You Can Do Better” and “Puppy Wuppy.” These were posted on my blogs, or other sites.  But in an attempt to get more visits to my website, I started posting a Monthly Story there.  These were “Resolved,” “Long Shot,” and “Work Smarter.”

“Work Smarter” may be a milestone.  Years ago, when I first started submitting stories, I kept track of the submissions in a notebook.  At some point, I entered it all into an Excel Spreadsheet that I’ve been updating for the past, fifteen or twenty years.  This “Submissions” list contains all the stories I’ve submitted to magazines, whether rejected or accepted, as well as all the stories I’ve self-published on blogs or in ebooks, as well as any story I’ve reposted.  But a few years ago, I figured it would be good to have a list of just stories that have been published.  In theory, it should have been easy to just cut out all the rejected or reposted stories, but somewhere along the way I goofed.  And it’s not a simple goof.  Like, story 100 matches in both lists, but 150 in one is 155 in the other, while 200 in one is 199 in the other.  If I had the energy and the time to go through and verify all the dates and everything, I’d … probably be better off putting that energy and time into actual writing.  Regardless, according to the “Submissions” list, “Work Smarter” is my 600th published story.  By the “Published” list, it’s 598.  So I’m in that general area.

Besides stories, I also published two haiku this quarter.  The first was on my Project Mushroom profile, while the second was on my regular Mastodon profile.

In my last Newsletter, I wrote about my Free Story Idea series of blogs.  This quarter I’ve added Lost Wallet, one For Black History Month, and The Chronicles of Alif.  I’ve also continued posting some #RandomStoryIdeas on my Mastodon profile.


In March I started a new blog, Thompson’s Gardens.  The hope eventually is for it to track how much food our farm and garden produces in one year.  This year, and maybe next, will just be spent trying to figure out all the details to do that in a way that’s coherent.  If that sounds interesting, check it out.  Although, there’s no way to tell when there will be a lot of content there.


For some good writing news, I have finally finished the first draft of The Uncapped Pen.  My current plan is to self-publish it sometime in May.  We’ll have to see if I can meet that.


Image from Pixabay.

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Free story idea – The Chronicles of Alif

I have a lot of ideas for stories.  Like, if I wrote a novel’s worth of them every month, I’d still most likely die before getting through them all.  I will admit that some of the ideas probably suck, but I think there are some that a good writer could make something of them.  I’ll just never get a chance to.  So, I give them to the world.  If you can make something of these, go right ahead.  And if these are the ideas I’m giving away, maybe check out the ones I keep.

This idea began when I read some Conan the Barbarian stories.  And the original idea was for a, sort of biblical Conan I named Alif.  By that I mean a holy book collecting the stories of this hero fighting monsters and whatnot who eventually forms a kingdom and is declared a living god.  But as I thought of it, that seemed a bit much, so I toned it down a bit.  The current idea was when this monster fighting hero eventually reclaims the throne that was stolen from him, some flunkies take all the stories told about him and collect them together into two or three books, split into various parts of his life.  Some stories faithfully depict what happened, some bend over backwards to show the glory of the new king and the evilness of the usurpers, and many of them are contradictory. 

Part 1 of the collection tells the tale of how Alif’s father the King was killed and his throne stolen.  The idea was that his first wife and son died in childbirth.  His second wife was four months pregnant but died of some fever.  His third wife bore a daughter, but they both drowned a few months later when their boat capsized.  So the people start thinking that the King and his bloodline are cursed, and some generals and ministers start moving to make a claim to the throne. 

Shortly after the King was born, another boy was born in the palace and the two were raised together and became friends.  The King trusted his Friend completely, and with his help they defeated those that were making moves on the throne.  Now this Friend had triplet sons, and he wanted the throne, but he was being slow and cautious about doing it.

Now at some point, the King took a concubine who became pregnant.  Perhaps he had gone to some oracle (or maybe a Witch) that said no son of his born in the palace would become King, so the King sent the concubine off somewhere to give birth in secret.  To satisfy the oracle, as well as to hide her from the usurpers the King was sure were still in the palace.  She gives birth to Alif, and comes back to the palace to let everyone know the King does have an heir. 

The Friend isn’t happy about this, so he and his sons start massacring everyone in the palace.  The King is killed, all his faithful servants, etc.  The concubine hands Alif off to a wetnurse who has another baby with her, and tells them to go through the secret passage to the river.  The concubine will try to hold the men off.  But before the wetnurse can get away, one of the sons shoots her with an arrow.  The arrow goes through her body and kills the other baby, but she manages to get to the river and sets Alif off in a barrel, or something.  And then she dies.  The concubine has also been killed, and the sons recover the dead baby and assume it is Alif. 

How much of that actually happened, we don’t know.  There aren’t that many survivors from the palace to tell the story, and if you’re collecting stories of the rightful King reclaiming their throne, you want to make sure the usurpers are bad, as in they’ll betray their king and kill unarmed women and babies.  In the later parts with stories of Alif growing up and heroing, we can find out that the three brothers first turned on their father, and then on each other.  Until the brother that killed the baby, ends up as the last usurper king that Alif eventually kills.  Possibly with the help of that king’s daughter, who Alif marries. 

But before all that, Part 2 deals with a young Alif living on a raft with a Witch.  There is a big river flowing by the palace, and there is a lot of cargo going up and down it.  The Witch’s raft is unique because it goes upriver by magic.  She is an interesting character because there is a prophecy that she can only be killed by someone who knows her name.  So she killed off everyone she could find who knew her name, and it has been like 200 years, so she might be immortal.  Other parts of the prophecy might be that she can only be killed on land – which is why she’s stayed in boats for the past century – and something like she’ll lose her magic if she doesn’t have a pet, so she has a couple dozen cats, and dogs, and birds, and whatever.  Alif is just the latest in a long line of orphans she brings onboard to look after them all. 

I think the story is just that she found this baby in a barrel, or whatever, and took them in without thinking much about it.  But one day she notices something odd about him and reads his fortune and is blown away by what she sees.  She doesn’t tell him what she suspects, but she does send him to some school to learn how to fight.  Not as a gladiator, but more as hired muscle.  This is a tad confusing, because she rarely needs hired muscle.  She won’t turn down shady work, but most of her business is just transporting cargo up and down the river.

Part 3 deals with Alif at the fighter school.  Of course, to our modern views, the school is terrible.  The teachers are cruel and all the older, bigger students are expected to bully the younger, smaller ones.  And Alif is small for his age.  But Alif is quick witted, and starts outsmarting the bullies and teachers.  He may even form a band of some of the smaller students.  He quickly learns fighting and weapons, and adds muscle, but not much.  I’d say he’s more John Wick than Conan. 

Part 4 is when he’s learned all he can from the school and returns to the Witch.  This is when she explains who she suspects he is.  Knowing that he can’t just go to the palace and reclaim his throne, Alif decides it’s best for him to start making a name for himself.  So he sets out to fight monsters and outlaws.  Along the way he rejoins with some of the friends from the school, and he makes new friends. 

I imagine these stories would be the bulk of the collection.  Like, Part 4 can be all the early stories, but then Part 5 will be his adventures in the neighboring kingdom to the north, while Part 6 will be the adventures in the kingdom to the south.  I also imagine most of these stories won’t be accurate to what really happened.  Like, maybe there was an eclipse, and it shows up in two or three stories which are all set hundreds of miles apart.  Or, a lot of these stories are of the type where Alif just shows up in a village – for some reason leaving behind his band of ten guys he always travels with – and defeats the minor monster terrorizing the village, then leaves.  Did it actually happen, or did some enterprising town whip together a monster story and how the great hero Alif defeated it to part some coins from any gullible travelers?  And was the story just gathered in a big sweep of Alif stories for the collection without checking any details?

I figure all of these parts will contain a few short stories loosely connected.  But I think the penultimate Part will be one long story, which will be where he and his band set off on some grand quest.  Maybe stories of his deeds have spread and a king in some far-off land has called him to slay a dragon, or something. 

The final Part, is him returning home and deciding that now is the time to retake his throne.  So he goes and challenges the final usurper king, who probably cheats, maybe with a poisoned blade.  But instead of killing Alif, the king chains him up in a dungeon.  The reason is he is a huge fan of this hero Alif, and he wants to hear all of the stories.  Also, having this defeated, legendary hero chained up in the basement is a bit of a status symbol of badass villainy.  But once he hears all the stories, and the people have forgotten about Alif, the King will just kill him.  During all of this the usurper king’s daughter falls for Alif, and helps him regain his strength.  Maybe she supplies him with the antidote to whatever poison her father uses.  He breaks free, kills the usurper, regains his throne, and marries the daughter. 

And I guess there could be more story collections of what happens with King Alif, but I haven’t thought of anything.  But I suspect he’d be a king more concerned with fighting monsters than dealing with a budget, so I imagine there’d be a few palace coup attempts.  Of course, all of that requires someone to write all the stories leading up to his becoming King.  So if you like this idea, get to work on it.  Or, better yet, get a group of people to write all the stories.  That way all the stories will have different voices, which will help sell the idea it’s not just one person making up everything.

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Same old comfort

Like many people, I’ve rolled my eyes and sighed whenever I hear some studio announce that they’re going to reboot some beloved franchise from decades ago.  Or, you know that standalone movie from twenty years ago that had a satisfying ending?  Here’s the sequel you never asked for.  I groan and nod along as people who know more of the industry explain that movies are expensive things to make, so if people already know about this superhero or whatever, you don’t have to spend as much on marketing so there’s a better chance the movie will make big bucks.  And while people will complain that Hollywood keeps remaking the same four movies and demand something new, Hollywood will keep remaking those movies because they know how to make money from them and new things risk losing money.

For the longest time, I felt that I – obviously – was in the “Give us new stories!” camp.  It seems every few years I hear about a reboot of one of my favorite shows from back in my late teens, early twenties.  And even though some of the original people are involved, I wince.  Because one of the reasons I loved that show so much was because it was different from the other shows at the time.  So that newness ship has sailed.  A reboot would either be likely just a nostalgia sequel, or one of these, “We know you enjoyed all these things from the original show, so we’re going to do something completely different now.” Statistically, the odds of the lightning still being in the bottle are slim. 

But recently, I’ve noticed that I’m getting a bit stuck in my ways.  I still watch new movies, or read new books, but it seems I’m finding fewer gems.  Is the new stuff just not as good as the old, are my views on what I enjoy fossilizing, or as I grow and mature as a person and writer, am I getting more critical?  Are there movies that I would have absolutely loved ten years ago, but now I just shrug and say they’re okay?  Or is life just difficult now?  Like, do I want to watch this acclaimed new movie about the Holocaust, or get some ice cream and just sit back and watch Zootopia for the eighth time?  And the answer is … I don’t know, and likely never will.  Which is annoying, but – I’ll admit – a bit of a comfort.