fiction spec fic The Unexpected Thing work in progress YA

the unexpected draft

Today ought to be one for celebration, except I feel as though I’ve been run over by a truck. Massive, massive headache, nausea, compromised balance. Bleargh. Also I’m too broke to buy Champagne. Maybe when the income-tax refund appears in my bank account.

Around 7:30 (EDT) this morning I wrote the last line of the first draft of The Unexpected Thing. Though tempted, I did not append Fin: it’s not a work suited to that variety of preciosity.

It is, not unexpectedly, enormous. 144,000 words. Set up in fairly standard MS format (12-point type, double spaced, one-inch margins all around) in the typeface I prefer to work with (clean, artful, eccentric but highly legible on screen, and doesn’t make my eyes bleed): 423 pages, exluding title page, divided into sixty-two numbered chapters, themselves parceled out—somewhat unevenly—among thirteen titled parts.

But few computers will have Bouwsma Text installed, so when I start sending The Unexpected Thing around to beta readers I’ll have to reset the MS in old standby Times New Roman (a face I find far less readable than everybody likes to claim, and ugly besides, but which has the advantage of closely approximating, in standard MS format, the page count of a typeset book). In 12-point TNR: 477 pages.

But book editors, nostalgic for the days of typewritten MSs on paper, are said to prefer 12-point monospaced Courier (which does make my eyes bleed): an eyebrow-raising 643 pages.

There will be cuts! A lot of them. Ideally, from a marketing standpoint, I’d get the thing down to 100,000 words or shorter. I have some doubts about that—we’ll see what early readers say. The first order of business, however, is to find loose ends and either pull them out completely or stitch them up properly; reconcile inconsistencies; split up at least two chapters that got rather out of hand into more manageable pieces. Symbolic target date for a second draft fit to be shared: 8 May 2011, the narrator’s eighteenth birthday.

Would you like to be among the few, the proud, the beta readers? Drop me a line or leave a comment, and accept my thanks in advance.

But what’s it about, AX, you ask, what’s it about?

If I could tell you in five hundred words I wouldn’t have bothered with the other 143,500. Ha. Ha.

In all sobriety, the arts of the synopsis and the elevator pitch I have never mastered. Beta readers will be begged, please, to help.

The Unexpected Thing is about:

  • two lovely young men who fall in love;
  • their friends and families;
  • the entirely imaginary fifth-smallest sovereign European nation, an island in the Adriatic off the coasts of Montenegro and Albania;
  • the uneasy transition from rule by a divinely appointed aristocratic caste to some form of parliamentary democracy;
  • incursions by gods and other powers into the twenty-first and earlier centuries;
  • discovering yourself to be, unsuspected, a wizard with vast capabilities;
  • being beaten half to death by, first, a god and, second, your own dad and big brother;
  • friendship and enmity and reconciliation, discovery and loss, people and dogs, life and death and, yes, love;
  • Nate and Rusty’s summer vacation.

In other words, just about everything that matters. Except cats! I left out the cats! Jane and Charlotte are incensed* but me, I’m really pretty pleased with it.

* “That dog died almost a decade ago,” they grumble. “It was tragic at the time but get over it.”

Table of Contents

I Turn Sixteen

I Finish out the School Year, Maybe Fall in Love

My Boyfriend and I Have a Day for Ourselves

My Uncles and I Leave the Country, Reach the Island

I Have Impressions of the Town, Make Friends, Maybe an Enemy

I Am Not Myself

We Learn of Deaths in Far Places

We Retreat to the Sunset Villa

Terrible Events in the Commonwealth

I Am, We Are Addressed by Gods

Terrible Events in the Serene Principality

I Am Rescued, Comforted

We Are Happy Boys, All Things Considered

fiction short stories spec fic work in progress

stocktaking, early spring


Winter 2010-2011 was not enormously successful in terms of getting things done. Well, I made a lot of books for other people and one for myself. But not a great deal of consummated writing. Stories I worked on, ought to have finished, but did not:

“Liam and the Changelings”—the fourth Liam story, following “Liam and the Wild Fairy” (published in Icarus #5, Summer 2010); “…and the Ordinary Boy”; “…and His Dads.” There should be seven of them eventually, with “Changelings” to be followed by “…and the Coward,” “…and the Pornographer,” and “Liam Discovers Fairyland.” 200 words of the most recent attempt to figure out what the story means to do.

“The Discovery of Vinhático”—a tale of an American tourist visiting an isolated island in the Atlantic (based on Madeira) and his encounter with its fourteenth-century Scots discoverer. I’ve been trying to get this one to work since September 2009. 5,000 words in the current, seventh attempt.

“A Prince of Antrazza”—novelette or novella of planetary romance in the mode of ER Burroughs’s Barsoom stories. Intended for a market that may not in fact exist. Must check. 5,000 words.

“Handless. Heartless.”—longish urban fantasy of an apprentice wizard, his witch mother, and a lost boy. Loosely based on several variants of the fairy tale “The Girl without Hands” and riffing on motifs from John Masefield’s The Midnight Folk and The Box of Delights. 8,400 words.

“Seb and Duncan and the Sirens”—what it says on the tin: a story about Homer’s sirens on a contemporary Greek island, involving an American nerd college student and his jock best friend. Meant for a forthcoming anthology of fantasy stories about uncanny inhabitants of the sea … except, of course, classical sirens weren’t aquatic. So that’s one problem, of several. 6,000 words.

“The Lagoon of DEATH” (working title, obvs)—a different stab at a sea story for the above anthology. Polynesian (not really) rite-of-passage story: a youth deliberately stranded on a desert island discovers something in the lagoon. Barely commenced: 700 words.

“Stealth vs The Anger”—response to an invitation to submit to a forthcoming anthology of stories about queer costumed supervillains. Sadly or otherwise, this will probably continue to go nowhere. I was never a superhero/comic-book nerd and suspect it’s too late to become fatally interested in the genre. Stalled at pretty much the same 600 words since this time last year.

“Davio under the Hill”—meant to be a highly erotic, highly stylized story of a spear carrier from the Orlando furioso who wanders into Aubrey Beardsley’s take on the legend of Venus and Tannhäuser. I had a market in mind for this one, too, but the deadline swift approaches and I expect the story would too literary for the audience anyway. Only way to make it more obscure would be to write it in ottava rima. Which I might just do! 500 words.

“The Box of Delights”—meant to be my first stab at steampunk, a genre I fail to understand. Possibly why it refuses to go anywhere? 250 words.

“Black Dog of the East”—another attempt to jump on a popular bandwagon: an urban fantasy about a werebeast. The anthology I planned to submit it to closed in November, I think. Oh well. 200 words.

Story completed, submitted, sold:

“Captain of the World”—forthcoming in Speaking Out, edited by Steve Berman (Bold Strokes Books/Soliloquy, Fall 2011). Contemporary non-fantastical story of a gay Turkish-American soccer goalkeeper. So that was satisfying. Except a few days after selling the 7,000-word story I got this notion of expanding it into a 60,000-word YA novel. And that’s not going so well.

Completed stories out on submission:

“Then We Went There”—5,500 words. Starts out as a high-school-bullying story, turns into something stranger. I love this story (partly because it was the first thing I finished after The New People and the first completed short story in ten years), but sympathetic early readers have been baffled and editorial response—when not boilerplate sorry can’t use it—has crucially misunderstood what I was trying to do: those aren’t bugs, they’re features. Or I’m deluded. Can eleven markets (so far) be wrong? Yes. Yes, dammit, they can.

“Tattooed Love Boys”—10,000 words. Fantastical adventures of two young American siblings in the contemporary hinterland of Charlotte Brontë’s Labassecour. I’m not the only one who loves this one: early reader Steve Berman wants to have written it himself. Unfortunately, the markets that seemed appropriate have been cursed (two of them died, though one was resurrected) and/or VERY SLOW. The third has had it for going on six months and I don’t realistically expect a decision anytime soon. Augh.

“Like Spinning Stars, Like Flowers”—7,000 words. A finalist, but not winner or runner up, in the 2011 Saints and Sinners Literary Festival Short Fiction Contest. It remains unclear whether my story will be included in the May 2011 anthology from the Queer Mojo imprint of Rebel Satori Press. The festival’s dogged failure to communicate frustrates me a good deal. All my info comes from press releases.

“Liam and the Ordinary Boy” and “Liam and His Dads”—4,500 and 6,000 words, respectively. Not a lot of hope for these, frankly. Instalments in an on-going series, don’t really stand up individually. Lethe Press wants to follow up The Abode of Bliss with a collection of fantastical stories, in 2012 maybe; my intention is to include the entire Liam saga. If I ever finish it.

“The Conjuror of Irem”—7,000 words. Bronze-age Crete. Cthulhu Mythos. S&M. Not a horror story and the Lovecraftian motifs possibly too subtly deployed. I’m always making things difficult for myself. Seventh rejection should arrive any day now. Bar “Captain of the World,” the last thing I finished: in August.

Overall (sing it together): Disappointing. But … but … BUT:

An unexpected thing about The Unexpected Thing, my enormous work in progress, turned out to be that I was incapable of working on it during autumn and winter. It happened in 2009, four months after I started: stalled out sometime in October. And again in 2010: nothing after September. It’s a summer-vacation story, maybe that’s why. I am morbidly affected by climate.

Although the first two weeks of spring in Rhode Island have not been especially springlike—wretchedly chilly with intervals of rain, sleet, and snow (snowing right now!)—it appears just crossing the vernal equinox may have been sufficient to convince my hindbrain. Three chapters drafted in seven days. Seven to go, if I manage to stick to the plan. A reread of the first fifty chapters made me cry four times. No, not from disgust or despair.

Then the miserable prospect of hacking out 30,000 or more words to get it down to reasonable size, running it past early readers, and the still more miserable prospect of putting together a pitch package and, you know, finding a publisher.

The writer’s life, it is blissful.

fiction novella Rahab SF spec fic The New People


The inimitable and astonishing Sandra McDonald, author of the luscious collection Diana Comet and Other Improbable Tales, the science-fiction trilogy commencing with The Outback Stars, and a couple of other wonderful books I shouldn’t talk about because they’re issued under false names, has provided a lovely blurb for The New People.

The New People is a lyrical, intricate story of passion and regret that hooks your heart and never stops tugging. Alex Jeffers creates a tragic but beautiful future full of dazzling details and imagination. Excellent and memorable.

Coming in March or early April from M-Brane Press, bound back-to-back with Elegant Threat by Brandon Bell.

BrazenHead fiction Lethe Press novella SF short stories spec fic

Happy New Year

I was pleased to learn, on the evening of the last day of the old year, that a little story I wrote last fall has been accepted for publication—another excuse to pop open the bubbly! “The Arab’s Prayer” will appear electronically in the second-anniversary issue of Christopher Fletcher’s ’zine M-Brane SF (#24), due around the third week of January, and, in print, in M-Brane SF Quarterly #2.

“The Arab’s Prayer” is near-future science fiction, set in Tel-Aviv in the year 2020, and was indirectly inspired by the video for gay Israeli singer Yehonathan’s anthemic “Waiting for you (Tel-Aviv).”

And as you recover from primal debauchery, keep in mind that the first reading period for BrazenHead, my boutique imprint at Lethe Press, opens one minute past midnight, Eastern time. Click the logo on the lower left of the front page or the last item on the navigation menu above for details and writer’s guidelines.