Hello, and welcome to the fifth issue of Aphelion's 20th year!
First off, while it was fun to sit in an editor's chair for short time,
Aphelion has a new Short Story Editor. Thanks to Andrew and the kind
folks over at Critter's Workshop, Carolyn Geraci e-mailed me about the
position. We exchanged several e-mails about it. The upshot is that
Carolyn seems a perfect fit for the team. She has been sent all the
submissions that had arrived while I was working on the short stories
for this issue. I understand that she is already hard at work on the
July issue. She can be reached at the normal submissions address for
I'd also like to congratulate Daniel Johnson on the successes he has
had with the Flash Fiction contests over in the Forums. He has brought
a lot of new people in to try their hands at writing Flash.
Participation in the challenges has gone way up. I hope that this will
also bring more readers and writers to the rest of the zine as well.
A long, long time ago I wrote a short piece detailing how I go about
fine-tuning a story of my own for publication. I've refined that a bit
over the years, naturally. The internet isn't as wide open as once it
was--even as it has grown far larger. The technology available has
changed, too. There is a whole lot more variety of computers, programs,
websites, and more.
I'm a very visually-oriented type of writer. I see pictures of what I'm
writing as if I were watching a video. This is the way I work... if you
do it differently, more
power to you. I'll be as general as I can so that I don't have to break
it down into genres or
whatnot. Also, I'm writing this the way that I talk, instead of using
the proper grammer that
a story would call for.
Every writer runs into this question sooner or later; "How
do you make up all this
wild (insert explitive as desired) ?" And you look at the poor sap as
if they haven't a clue
what an imagination really is after all. Somehow,
"it just came to me-" isn't a good enough
answer- not even for yourself. Is writing a story such a mysterious
process? Maybe so, but
I'm about to take a shot at illuminating some of the darker areas. Got
your sunscreen? OK,
lets spread a little light...
Usually, a story starts with a daydream. ("Well, DUH!"
I can hear you say.) You, the
writer, drift off into what is essentially your own little world. A
scene plays out in your
mind, you watch it, and guide it a bit to a conclusion that you like.
Or it may be only a
sentence rather than a daydream that acts like a movie clip. The entire
Mare Inebrium series
was spawned by the sentence "'That's the trouble with time travel,'
said the man with blue
hair." This sentence sat in my notebooks for several months until I
thought of a story to use it in. It was a good hook- a good first
sentence for a story. It catches the reader's interest
enough for them to try the story. For short stories, you can't aford to
let the reader be
bored by the start of the story. You'll lose them to another writer,
sure as can be. In a novel,
you can take fifty pages or more to get to the point. (And I'm likely
to think that its a boring book.) In a short story however, you may
up with twelve pages to tell the entire tale. So narrative hooks become
important tools to
build your story with.
So you've got your daydream and you've got your narrative
hook, so what do you
do with them? Well, then you ask yourself "what happened before this
scene- and what will
happen afterward?" Then you start an outline. You might think that an
outline of a story is
the most useless thing because you can never stick to it. The story
evolves into something
else as you write it and the outline bears only a passing resemblance
to the finished story.
Don't get ahead of me. I know, my stories never resemble
their outlines either.
Relax, its normal. Take a deep breath and remember your daydream. Then,
plot your story
out in really general terms and save the file as your outline. Most
stories run to a sort of
format. This can help make plotting the tale easier, but don't let the
format become a trap.
Stay loose, you'll want to be able to change directions in the story if
better ideas come to
The general terms really help since you can flesh them out
in a multitude of
directions- telling a different story in each direction, so to speak.
Now, add in some detail.
Write some dialogue, describe your characters, set the stage the story
will take place on.
Work from your outline and add these new details to it. Keep saving the
file, but don't
overwrite your outline file, save the fleshed-out outline as a working
copy with a different
filename from that of your original outline. Then you daydream some
daydream gets better, more detailed, and you add the new stuff to your
Unused parts of your outline keep hanging around in your working copy
until you either
flesh them out or delete them. Over and over again- until you have your
But you're not through yet, not by a long shot.
Now comes the editing, proofreading, and the most important
someone else read the story. That's the part that can hurt- when your
reader suggests some
changes. Proofreading is more than just running your spellchecker once.
You have to read the story to see if you still have
errors like "cap" for "cat" and so forth.
Now its time to show you a little of what I've been
blathering about. Here's a really simplistic example that we can turn
into a story, of sorts:
OUTLINE: See Dick and Jane. See Dick and Jane watch Spot. See Spot play. Play, Spot, play.
OK, pretend that was a word processor file and save it. Now
let's flesh it out a bit for a first draft.
1st DRAFT: The two blue-skinned children languidly waved a score of tentacles in the chlorene sented air as they gazed through nine multifaceted eyes at their pet. The fanged carnivore slathered with barely contained rage as it dismembered a small helpless herbivore that had chanced through the forcefield. The children wriggled their membranes and altered their shapes with glee at the sight. The pet carnivore dashed back and forth on its twenty legs, batting the prey about from claw to claw.
Now, that's got it a bit more fleshed out. Save it again, but
with a different filename. That's a nice first draft. We need to
spellcheck it and see if anything else comes to mind to add to it for
the second draft.
2nd DRAFT: In the frosty light of two dim, far off suns a savage emtertainment played itself out before the eyes of two inhabitants of the yellowish -green world with four moons. The two blue-skinned children languidly waved a score of tentacles in the chlorine sented air as they gazed through nine multifaceted eyes at their pet. The barely-tamed fanged carnivore slathered with barely contained rage as it dismembered a small helpless herbivore that had chanced through the forcefield that formed the pet's enclosure. Random sparks flickered as sand struck the fence of energy. In the ultra-violet light the carnage looked even more eerie. The four meters of the carnivore's height bristled with thorny spines and two of its front legs ended in large, serated pincers. The prey was chased around the enclosure until its sides heaved with the torture of drawing each painful breath. The children wriggled their membranes and altered their shapes with glee at the sight. The pet carnivore dashed back and forth on its twenty legs, batting the prey about from claw to claw. "This is great practice for 'show and tell' at school," they said. "Miss Jmwiruhsjhduski will be so surprised when Spot eats her vital organs," "I'll bet she squeals in anguish as she re-generates her lacerated flesh,"
Well, the second draft is coming along nicely. It turns out
that Chlorine was misspelled in the first draft. A bit of tweaking,
some more spellchecking, and I think we'll have something. I'm not sure
what, but it'll be something. This is about where
I'd put the story online and invite some friends to read it and e-mail
me comments. Meanwhile, I'd think about what I have and where its
going. If I received any comments that sparked new ideas or pointed out
flaws, I'd give that some thought too as I did my re-reading.
OK, I'm going to digress a bit now because I don't want you
to get too bored with the story we're working on. We'll come back to it
in a few paragraphs, after I've blathered some more about my personal
writing habits. We'll just pretend that we're waiting for comments on
the second draft to show up in the e-mail.
Since most of my writing winds up online, I like to take the
editing a bit further than most folks. It makes it easier on me in the
long run and it has the added virtue of making webzine editors worship
your submissions. Well, not worship exactly, but you get the idea. Its
nice to get a submission that you don't have to read four times in
order to publish it. (Read to accept/reject, proofread if accepted, add
HTML tags, proofread HTML) Submitting in HTML shortens the process by
three steps. Any online editor will like that. Of course, you still
have to write good stories 'cause no one is gonna publish your stuff
just because its already HTMLed. 8^)
It just shows the Web editor what submitting a polished manuscript
shows a print editor- that the writer is serious about his work. It
lets the quality of the writing show through more clearly, too. Now you
have to remember, I've gotten most of Aphelion's best stories as
ordinary word processor files- I'm just saying that I had to go over
them more often to get them ready to publish.
What I like to do is to HTML the story after spellchecking
and then read it in my web browser. This gives me a better idea of what
the actual layout of the story will look like, as well as making it
easier for me to spot errors. I bounce back and forth between the
browser, the word processor, and the HTML Editor to make corrections.
That's called "multi-tasking" and it's most useful on complicated jobs.
It sounds clumsy, but it actually works rather well. It works rather
like this- I write the outline in my word processor, save it, flesh it
out in a first draft, save it with a different filename so that the
original is not overwritten, and proofread it. That gives me two
documents; the original outline, and the first draft. Then I open the
HTML editing program, copy the first draft into it, HTML it, and save
it as an .HTM file. Since I have webspace online I can use, I usually
put each draft online and ask the staff and other friends to comment if
they wish. Then I open a web browser and read it several times. While
I'm reading, if changes occur to me I'll add them to the HTML copy.
I'll also copy the changes back into the word processor file. This
gives me my second draft. If the staff or any of my other friends have
offered comments I can keep these in mind as I re-read the story.
To trim the process a bit, sometimes I don't correct the
word processor version until I have the
HTML copy corrected. Then I shut down the browser and copy the HTMLed
the processor. There I can remove the HTML tags and tweek the text
layout to give me
back the italics, underlined text, and other goodies that get lost when
the HTML tags are
deleted. I usually do a global search for one tag at a time and tweek
the text to match what
the tag was a command to do. I have to do that because the HTML editor
that I used back in the day didn't show italics as italics on the
screen. They look no
different from the rest of the text, they just have HTML tags on either
Nowadays, of course, there are all sorts of word processors
that will show you yout text in different views. You don't have to do
all the copy and paste stuff that I discribed above. Now I'd use Word
to write in, and I'd sometimes use KompoZer to check the page layout.
Back in the day, I used an older HTML editor called, oddly enough, HTML
Writer. I've tried some add-ons to "Word Perfect" to make it convert
word processor files to HTML, but I didn't like them much. So I always
come back to the tried and true. As I noted in the bold text
above, I now use Word quite a lot, and also a free program called
KompoZer. As I said before, its easier for me to
spot errors reading a webpage than a word processor file. And if you
are going to submit to e-zines anyway, it makes sense to learn HTML.
HTML is actually pretty easy to learn and can enhance the story in a
number of ways. For an example, look at Jim Parnell's third story in
Aphelion, "Over the Hill" back in Issue 15. It was
submitted in HTML, with an illustration, a special background picture
to make it look like a pulp magazine page, and special font notation to
add to the pulp zine look. It didn't use Aphelion's page layout format,
instead it came as a package deal and presented an opportunity make a
more immediate impression on the reader. Of course, it didn't hurt that
the story was good too. If it had been a bad story, no amount of window
dressing would have gotten it considered. Which brings us out of this
digression and back to the matter at hand.
While you're reading the story to proof it, you can usually
spot a place where you
feel that the text isn't quite right. You see how to fine-tune the
dialogue or the set dressing
to better suit what you want the story to say. That's called editing
and sometimes the writer
is too close to the story to see when a change should be made. So you
get someone else to
read it and tell you where you lost them, or where more description is
needed, or more
dialogue... whatever. Your reader is invaluable when they're honest
enough to risk hurting
your feelings by actually pointing out flaws that they see. Its more
helpfull for your reader
to tell you "it was great up to the last two paragraphs, then it was
unclear just what
happened" than it would be if they just said "great story, I liked it."
What I like to do is to
put the story online and let the Editorial Mafia look at it when they
have time. They'll send
me some e-mail and let me know what they think and I'll make some
changes or add more
detail. Sometimes the comments let you see the story or characters in
an entirely different
light. While I was working on one story, my reader commented that I
should change the
dialogue for one characater because the way I had him written made him
sound as if the
were going insane. Instead of changing the dialogue, I saw a whole new
plot twist and had
the character merely pretending to have a nervous breakdown in order to
make his enemy
underestimate him. A plot twist was born. But, if I had been
thinner-skinned I might have
just gotten mad that someone was challenging my deathless prose. You
have to be adaptable
to accept criticism, and profit by it.
So now let's get back to our putitave story. All right, lets
pretend that we've gotten some e-mail about the story that says "very
descriptive, but where's the dialogue going? What's the story about?"
So you think of some things for the characters to say, some more
details to add to the setting, and start looking back at your outline
to see what plot points you missed. Let's quickly take a look at that
old outline again and see if we missed something while setting up the
OUTLINE: See Dick and Jane. See Dick and Jane watch Spot. See Spot play. Play, Spot, play.
OK, I see it. There's no ending, no direction. We'll have to
think of something.
OUTLINE: See Dick and Jane. See Dick and Jane watch Spot. See Spot play. Play, Spot, play. See Dick and Jane have fun at school with Spot.
Now that ought to be fun to write. I'm just allowing my
imagination to flow here for this story.
3rd DRAFT: In the frosty light of two dim, far off suns a savage emtertainment played itself out before the eyes of two inhabitants of the yellowish -green world with four moons. They called their world mumble-mumble-blah. The two blue-skinned children both languidly waved a score of tentacles in the chlorine sented air as they each gazed through nine multifaceted eyes at their pet. The barely-tamed fanged carnivore slathered with uncontained rage as it dismembered a small helpless herbivore that had chanced through the forcefield that formed the pet's enclosure. Random sparks flickered as sand struck the fence of energy. In the ultra-violet light the carnage looked even more eerie. The four meters of the carnivore's height bristled with thorny spines and two of its front legs ended in large, serated pincers. The prey was chased around the enclosure until its sides heaved with the torture of drawing each painful breath. The children wriggled their membranes and altered their shapes with glee at the sight. The pet carnivore dashed back and forth on its twenty legs, batting the prey about from claw to claw. "This is great practice for 'show and tell' at school," one said. "Miss Jmwiruhsjhduski will be so surprised when Spot eats her vital organs," said the other ameboid child. "I'll bet she squeals in anguish as she re-generates her lacerated flesh," added the first- and they both laughed in derision. The next diurnal period, the two children sloshed their way to school with their pet encased in a portable forcefield. When the teacher angled her body down to inspect the cage, the children released the carnivore by remote control. The beast, once freed, bounded, slathering about the crystalline chamber. Shattered desks crashed in it's demonic wake. It's fangs dripping acid drops on the school-room floor, it leapt upon the hapless adult teacher and severely tore her pink and green paisley dress. The Janitor's bright blue skin glistened with sweat, whether from fear or exertion, as he wrestled with the playfully murderous pet. The childred quivered their bodies with delight as they watched the grown-ups cope with the slathering, be-fanged monster. "You are both going to get detention for this," the teacher wailed in anguish.
Well, for the third draft I changed a few words to make the
sentences clearer. There was a repeated word ("barely") in one
paragraph that worked out better after dropping the second "barely".
Even more developement was added as I thought of new details. I find
that working on several projects at once makes it easier to keep at one
task that gets boring, like proofreading. I have to take a break from
re-reading a story, so I do the proofing in stages. Between
proofreading sessions I'll go look at astronomy pics for new cover
pictures, or go to a chat network and look up old friends, or draw
something. Whatever it takes to get my mind off the story. But I have
to eventually come back to the proofreading or the story never gets
Is the idea of the process a bit clearer now?
So you make changes, post them again, and collect more
criticism. Over and over
until you work the story up into the best it can be. You're going to be
thoroughly sick of
the thing by the time you get it ready to submit. With "Sins..." I was
writing the bulk of the
story over about a eight day period and posting each day's work for the
staff to read for
comment. Some suggestions I adopted, some I didn't. For instance, there
is a point in the
story where one character drops a bombshell of information and another
making a joke. Jeff thought that this point would be the best place to
end the story- with a
punchline -but I had more I wanted to say and kept writing. In another
place in the text,
Jeff thought that adding one part of the outline would detract from the
rest of the story. In
my working copy, I had always included the parts of the outline that
had yet to be fleshed
out. Jeff looked ahead at where I proposed to take the story and told
me "don't even go
there..." or words to that effect. What I had in the outline would have
slowed the story
down and added un-necessary details. So I dropped that angle and
polished what I had left.
Jeff was right about the detail, but wrong about where the story should
end. I went on with
the the story- past the punchline -and said my say, but did agree that
the story would suffer
if I included that future outline fragment. The story was changed by
the comments I
received. Indeed, it became a better story.
Editing isn't fun, proofreading isn't fun, re-writing isn't
fun, but they all have to be done to make a story your best. Writing
turns out to be lots of hard work, but it pays off in the long run.
When your story appears in publication, its a thrill that can't be
beat. Except maybe by actually getting paid for the story. There's the
moral of this article; If you work hard enough, you can sell your
stories. That's what Aphelion and other e-zines are for, to give the
writer a chance to develop their skills toward the ultimate end of
writing for pay.
There you have it. Writing, my way- and if any of it helps
you, you're welcome.
I left in all the old school details because I wanted you to
see how far things have come since then. Now to the announcements and
Also: June 22nd at 8:00pm EST Authors Stephanie Osborn and Dan
Hollifield will be interviewed, then on August the 9th at 8 PM, Edward
Sullivan and Dan Hollifield will be interviewed on Internet Radio. Both
on the show "Off The Chain," which is hosted by Yvone Mason at Yvonne Mason
is "Off The Chain" I will also have three songs from my
"Displaced Detective Suite" CD available in the premier broadcast of
Yvonne's pre-recorded "Rocking The Chain" music-centric webcast series
also on Blogtalk Radio, which begins at 8 PM EST this Sunday night, May
We are also still looking for writers to do audio interviews with, and
video interviews as well. That would entail using Skype to meet up with
me for a chat. I'll record that, and then splice it into a video to
post on You Tube. The link to those would be embedded on a page in the
Features Section, or on whatever page that seems to be the best fit.
The interviews that are audio only would have some still photos as a
slideshow. The video ones would be a simple screen capture of my
monitor while the chat is running. As I see it, scheduling these would
be the most difficult aspect. This is, after all, a work in progress.
I'll be ironing out the bugs for quite a while.
So, this is still (?) a thing. A fifth video editorial, for which you
will be the first victims-- Um, the first to experience something
unique in the annals of... whoever keeps annals online, as it were. I'd
like to keep them a fifteen-minute format. You know, something that
wouldn't be too long or too boring for viewers to sit through. I don't
know about you, but as I watched myself on the first video, I kept
wishing that I'd speed things up a bit and stop rambling so much. I
also need to work on the lighting a bit. Everything looks a bit too
red-ish for my tastes. I'm still ironing out those bugs as well. And
so, with much ado about nothing, I present to you, Aphelion's next step
into the 21st Century:
And now, this is ALSO a thing! Aphelion's first advert!
Feel free to share this on Facebook, G+, blog posts, and other
webpages. But only with the permission of the page or group owners! Be
polite and considerate, always. You'll have to look up the embed code
for the ad on You Tube, sorry about that, but the code won't display
correctly here. But the Share Code for Facebook and G+ is:
First off, if you do the Facebook thing, feel free to join us
on the Aphelion page there. The link is Aphelion
As an aside, the Editorial Mafia and I have found Facebook to be very
useful. Given our different
locations and schedules, it's come in handy as a way to discuss
production details of new issues. Sometimes there are several of us
using Facebook at the same time, so it's almost like the old chat room
days back in the 1990s.
My first collection of Mare Inebrium spaceport bar short
published in February of 2015 by Dark Oak Press. It is available in
an Nook e-book formats, paperback, and hardback. I also have three
albums of instrumental music out through the Create Space
self-publishing website. If you like, you can click on the photo or the
link below to
fin all the info you would need to purchase my book in your preferred
format, or an e-book of Flash of Aphelion, buy a CD of my music, or
listen to tracks off of the albums on my Bandcamp website. Enjoy!