Wednesday, December 3, 2014


So NaNoWriMo 2014 has been over for a few days. All in all, a successful year. I met my own goal (yay!) by the skin of my teeth and a last-minute 3,000 word chicken chase on the moon. What's more, the Birmingham region's 355 participants racked up a solid 5.6 million words of ficiton. Nice going, guys!

This was my eighth year doing NaNo and my seventh win, so the question might be asked whether or not the contest does anything for me anymore. The answer is... well, yeah.

Mind you, I'm stretching myself each year and not just relying on the old 50,000 word goal as my sole target. Last year's crazy stunt was to produce and publish a ten part serial during the course of the event, which demanded even stricter deadline control than normal and a violation of my "no one sees my early drafts" rule.

This year the goal was short stories, which have always been a challenge for me. In the past, the first draft of a single story would take me just as long as a whole NaNoNovel. For this month, I was required to churn stories out at the pace of a young Robert Silverburg (without the corresponding level of quality, unfortunately). This year's event taught me a lot about the short story process and how to get the damn things down on paper without being precious about it.

My starting goal was 10 stories of about 5,000 words. It ended up more like 1 essay and 6-8 stories depending which ones you count and how often you count them. I hope that at least three of them are things I can polish into a non-embarrassing shape and set them loose into the wild. Another is a new romp staring The Whisper, which I'll be posting here shortly.

Another thing I re-learned for this NaNo, and you'd think that I of all people wouldn't have to learn this, is to Embrace The Pulp. I'd pretty much taken a year off from my own writing, and in that time I've been consuming contemporary short fiction that, while still in my SFF comfort zone, is definitely of a more literary bent, all the while with the realization that my stuff would never, ever fit in with the stories I was reading.

But like Ben Folds says, "You've got to learn to live with what you are," and I'm a pulp writer god dammit. Soul-searching, new wave, deeply personal examinations of the human condition of the kind you find in Clarkesworld and such are awesome, but that's never going to come out of my typewriter. I'm from the tradition of stories with chase scenes, fight scenes, and characters who want to kill each other. I'm all for stretching myself, but to be happy as a writer I've got to stay true to my roots.

So, in the interest of challenging myself and keeping the pulp pulpy, I'm hereby announcing my crazy stunt for NaNo 2015: My next 30-day novel will be interactive in the style of the "Choose Your Own Adventure" series, in honor of the late, great R.A. Montgomery. I'll polish it up and post it here on this blog with all the story paths hyperlinked for your Choose Your Own Adventuring pleasure.

There you go. Now I'm committed.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Smells Like NaNoWriMo

Well, it's that time of year again, and not a moment too soon. As my lack of activity on this blog will indicate, my writerly ambitions have been lying fallow this past year. However, an unexpected short story sale (which will appear in the very next issue of Leading Edge, hip-hip-hooray) has spurred me to action.

Last year my crazy NaNo stunt was to write a 50's pulp serial and post it chapter-by-chapter right here on this blog. This year's crazy stunt will be to write... dun dun DUHNN ... 10 short stories in 30 days.

I'm hereby dubbing this November's lunacy The Dragonfly King and Other Stories.

The title piece was originally a story I did for Flash Fiction Night two years ago, but I haven't posted it here because I felt that it was too truncated at 1000 words. I plan to rewrite it from scratch, give it a little more breathing room, and should the gods smile upon me I'd like to shop it around after all is said in done. In fact, what I'm hoping to get out of this year's NaNo are a bunch of story drafts that I can polish up in 2015 and set loose into the wild.

And just in case anyone cares, one of the shorts will feature my hero from last year, The Whisper, and I'll publish his new adventure right here on this blog, where he belongs.

Let the games begin!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Meanwhile, in the real world...

Lots of stuff been going on, interfering (as life does) with writing. On the upside, I've got a new kitchen, a new job, and I've made it all the way to green belt in Tae Kwon Do.

On the writing slate for this year, if I can light a fire under my ass, I've got two short stories that need revision and sent out, I've got a novel that needs a pass through the meat grinder, and maybe.. just maybe.. I'll do an edit on The Whisper and offer it up as an ebook. Apparently from my non-spambot page hits, people are still stumbling across it and reading it. God only knows why.

At the end of last year, I turned over Write Club to the capable hands of Katherine Webb and Russell Hehn (Hi guys!), but that still didn't stop me from pitching in once again for the annual Flash Fiction Night.

Because, look! A new story:

Dying's Easy

by Jared Millet

Stop me if you’ve heard this.

A horse walks into a bar. The bartender says “Why the long face?”

The horse says, “Don’t even start. We’ve got trouble. A priest, a rabbi, and an atheist are about to come in any second now.”

“What?” says the bartender. “Here? How’d they get across the road?”

“How do you think,” says the horse. “They followed the damned chicken.”

It’s a pale horse. He thrashes his tail while the barkeep weighs his options.

“Right. They’ll have to be sorted, then. Where’s your partner?” He nods at the horse’s empty saddle.

“All things considered, he’d rather be in Philadelphia.”

“Cute. Get lost before they see you.”

The horse backs into a dark corner as the door swings open and three men enter, shuffling as if they’ve already had too much to drink. The bartender wipes a glass and looks around the edge of the men’s shadows to see what brought them to his place.

There it is: a car bomb in Haifa, on their way to a conference on religious tolerance. It was over so quickly that the poor bastards still didn’t know what had happened. That was good. It would make things easier.

“What’re you having, friends?”

The priest slumps onto a stool and orders a beer. His voice is tired and Irish. The barman pours a stout from the tap, giving it a perfect, frothy head, and the priest takes a sip.

“Begorrah! If that isn’t the best tasting Guinness I’ve ever had. I must have died and gone to heaven.”

And poof, like that, he’s gone.

The rabbi doesn’t seem to notice. “Excuse me, sir, but do you have any kosher wine?”

“I have a Flam. Care for a glass?”

“Yes, please.” The rabbi sips and says, “Oy, that’s so good you’d think I was in the World To Come.”

And poof, like that, he’s gone.

The atheist glares at the void where the rabbi had been and says, “What is this, a joke?”

“What do you mean?” The barkeep holds an empty glass, waiting.

“I remember the flash. It was a bomb, right? Now I’m in a bar, no idea how I got here, and my fellow panelists just vanished in a puff of smoke. Not to mention there’s a horse playing hide and seek by the dartboard. Is this really the best my subconscious can come up with?”

“Your subconscious?” The bartender wishes the third man would just order his drink. As long as he didn’t accept his surroundings as real, there was still hope for him.

“Then again,” says the atheist, “what if this isn’t a dream? Dying in an explosion wouldn’t leave much time for hallucinations, and this one’s going on for a while.”

“Look friend,” says the barman, “are you going to order something already or not?”

The atheist shakes his head and takes a stool. The bartender sets aside his glass.

“Okay, so maybe I was wrong all along,” says the atheist. “Maybe there is some kind of afterlife. But this ain’t heaven, and I haven’t seen my childhood flashing before my eyes, so I’ll ask you again: Is this all some kind of joke?”

The bartender leans forward. “You want to hear a joke? Here’s one. A priest, a rabbi, and an atheist are driving to a peaceful conference. Some whacko blows them up in the name of God. The end.”

“That’s not funny.”

“Here’s another. A priest, a rabbi, and an atheist are on their way to heaven, but the atheist cocks it up because he can’t so much as order a drink without questioning the nature of existence.”

“Now you’re just being an ass.”

“One more. The whole human race sits alone in the dark. They hear a noise. Knock, knock.”

“Who’s there?”

The barman doesn’t answer. The silence stretches on.

“So that’s it, then,” says the atheist. “Life really is a joke.”

“No.” The bartender pours himself a shot of Jameson. “It’s a joke without a punchline. All setup and no payoff.”

The atheist shakes his head. “It stinks to be right.”

“Almost,” says the barkeep. “You were on your way to finding out what the payoff really is, but you made a wrong turn in Albuquerque and ended up here. Too bad for you.”

“Why too bad?” The atheist eyes the whiskey as the bartender slugs it down his throat. The bartender sighs.

“Because a punchline doesn’t work if you see it coming. So now you’re stuck here.”

“Could be worse.” The atheist looks around. “Where am I, exactly?”

“The bad joke factory. The substrate of human consciousness. This is the shared level of human experience where mankind tries to make sense of the senseless. It’s a lot of work, let me tell you, but I could always use someone to bus tables.”

“But what’s the point?” says the atheist.

“Haven’t you been paying attention? What’s the point of any joke? To alleviate pain. I mean, why do you think people would rather blow each other up? Dying’s easy. To relieve human suffering, even for a moment, that’s hard.”

The atheist eyes the bartender and the pale horse in the corner as if trying to decide whether they’re pulling his leg.

“And this is where all that comes from?”

The bartender nods.

“Okay, then,” says the atheist. “Let me try this again from the top:

“A priest, a rabbi, and an atheist die in a car bomb, but instead of the pearly gates, they end up in a bar. The priest orders a beer and says ‘This beer is so good I must be in heaven.’ And poof! He goes to heaven. The rabbi asks for wine and likes it so much he says ‘Hey, I must be in heaven too!’ And poof, there he goes.

“The bartender asks the atheist what he wants, and the atheist just asks for water.”

“Water?” says the bartender.

“Yeah,” says the atheist. “I don’t believe in spirits.”

This story is copyright 2014 Jared Millet.

It was performed on March 18, 2014, at the Hoover Public Library Flash Fiction Night, sponsored by the Hoover Library Write Club.