Author Archives: Quincy J. Allen

About Quincy J. Allen

Quincy J. Allen, a cross-genre author, has published a litany of short stories in multiple anthologies, magazines, eZines, and one omnibus since he started his writing career in 2009. His first short story collection Out Through the Attic, came out in 2014 from 7DS Books, and he made his first short story pro-sale in 2014 with “Jimmy Krinklepot and the White Rebels of Hayberry,” included in WordFire’s A Fantastic Holiday Season: The Gift of Stories. Chemical Burn, his first novel, was a finalist in RMFW’s Colorado Gold Contest in 2011, and his latest novel Blood Curse, Book 2 in The Blood War Chronicles, is now available in Print and Digital editions on Amazon and digital formats on Kobo, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, and Smashwords. He is currently working on his first media tie-in novel for the Aradio brothers’ Colt the Outlander IP, and expects that book to release in early-to-mid 2017. He also has a short story appearing in an upcoming Monster Hunters, Inc. anthology from Larry Correia and Baen due out in 2017. He is the publisher and editor of Penny Dread Tales, a short story collection in its fifth volume that has become a labor of love. He also runs RuneWright, LLC, a small marketing and book design business out of his home in Colorado, and hopes to one day live in a place where it never, ever, ever snows.

Fighting the Huns

It’s always been easy for me to write, especially with the advent of the computer and keyboard. It’s safe to say that writing was what got me through college and even added to the reasons why my IT employers kept me around over the years. I can’t think of a job I had over the past twenty-five years that didn’t involve writing of some kind, whether it was technical specifications, user guides, or policies and procedures for the departments I was involved with.

However, there’s a difference between writing as a facet of your job and turning your writing into a career. That’s an entirely different kettle of fish. I’ve mentioned it before, but part of what kept me from pursuing writing as a career when I was twenty had to do with being convinced by someone else that I didn’t want to be a starving artist the rest of my life. There’s more to it, though. There is, in fact, a litany of reasons why part time and hobbyist writers don’t undertake the challenge of becoming a full-time writer. If that litany of reasons has a name, then that name is fear.

There is certainly the fear of not earning enough to pay the bills. The bigger fear, however, is the fear of actually making it: of putting your words out there for all the word to read. Writing is not unlike streaking, albeit in an intellectual rather than physical way. Writers pour themselves into their words. All their fears and hopes, all of their creativity becomes manifest upon the page for anyone and everyone to see. And in that process, there’s a sense of something akin to violation, or perhaps desperation is a better word for it. We have these words inside us, and we want to put them out there as a method of being accepted and even enjoyed. We hope that our words will prompt emotional responses or take readers to places they’d never even dreamed of. And if we do this, if we make the countless hurdles that must be crossed in order to achieve even a modicum of success, then there becomes an expectation on the part of readers that we’ll keep doing it.

I’m reminded of the Pink Floyd’s song What Do You Want From Me. It encapsulates this emotion of how hungry an audience can become. And as an artist, having achieved the successes that we all hope lay ahead, there is a feeling of obligation that can consume a creative mind… an obligation to continue feeding the need. For some that obligation has led to self-destruction.

And on the flip-side of achieving success is the haunting question “Will the words be good enough?” Will people hate what I do or, worse yet, relegate me to the abyssal ignominy of never-having-been-heard-of. Will all of my endeavors, pouring heart and soul into my writing year after year, go utterly unrecognized or somehow misconstrued and reviled?

Add to that the sacrifices that I now know are necessary to make it as a writer, and you get a volatile mixture of pain and sacrifice and responsibility that make the whole gig, if broken down into those disparate parts, something that doesn’t sound at all appealing. However, looking back on the past five years—five years where I’ve never been happier stumbling and bumbling and failing here and there—I wouldn’t trade them for anything.

You see, all of the trials and travails, the doubts and fears, they are all nothing more than Huns at the gate of a writer’s sanity. They can stop us from trying, instill us with a fear that freezes us and prevents us from chasing the dream. I was forty-two years old when I finally overcame the Huns and decided to chase the dream no matter what the cost.

That’s what I would tell my younger self: ignore the fears, take the sacrifices in stride, and face down the fears like so much ash on the wind. If I had started doing then what I’m doing now, I’d be well ahead of the game. I’d already have made the transition into full-time writer and created at least a couple of noteworthy compositions. As a result of letting the Huns get to me, I’m twenty years behind schedule and have a long, uphill battle to get where I’m going. And now that battle is made more difficult because I’m fighting time as well. In your forties, when your back hurts and your knees ache, when the silver and gray creeps into your hairline, and that hairline starts to fly south for the inevitable and utterly final winter, you realize that the clock is ticking, has always been ticking, and of late seems to be ticking faster.

There is no time like the present, and I should have realized that when I was twenty, not twice that age. They say youth is wasted on the young. I’m here to tell you that if you’re young and you have even a glimmer of hope that you can become a full-time writer, get started now. Suck it up. Give the finger to your fears and invest in your future now. It only gets harder the longer you wait.

 

Q

Raindancers

Everyday living for most people can be compared all-too-easily to what drought means for farmers, what the dry seasons meant to American Indians. It’s a barren time full of silence and waiting and subtle, fatalistic dread that nothing is going to happen, that life will wither and perhaps even die. And it’s that need for green, for life and living, which brings comfort and joy and the heights of emotional salvation when the rains finally come. One could make the argument that we read drama and fantasy and horror because we have an inherent, hard-wired need for emotional input—a need for rain.

That’s a writer’s job, at least some of the time. We must don the doe’s skull and bright feathers. We must clothe ourselves in tanned hides and wrap bone rattles about our wrists and ankles. We must dance, sprouting clouds of dust as we stomp our feet and we sweat upon the hard-baked clay of everyday life.

It’s our job.

One of the hardest things writers have to live with is the uncertainty that their dancing has brought rain, sprinkled or poured a little bit of life into a reader’s existence. The truth is that most writers, especially at the beginning of their careers, never find out if their dancing has borne precipitation. There is this gulf—a fundamental disconnect—between writer and reader, one that leaves writers with cracked lips and dusty throats.

I recently had two experiences—more milestones in my career—which gave me tangible evidence that my own dancing was not in vain. Last fall I submitted a short story called Family Heirloom to the magazine Steampunk Trials. It’s a steampunk take on the Underground Railroad where a white widow and a freed slave build an Underwater Railroad in Missouri.

Included in the acceptance email was a very simple accolade, and one I’ll never forget. The story had brought tears the editor to eyes. When I wrote that story, it was with the absolute intention of touching, playing upon the heartstrings of the reader. I intended to bring forth the emotions of suffering and sacrifice, highlight the resolve of an individual to carry on and enrich the lives of the next generation in spite of tragedy.

Because of that first editor’s response, I chose Family Heirloom as the lead in a short story collection of mine that came out this summer. It’s not a best-seller in no small part because it contains cross-genre short stories, which is really a double-whammy against people even looking at it, let alone buying it. And yet, in spite of its uphill battle to gain recognition, I recently received another bit of rain. One of the reviewers up on Amazon said the same thing as the editor: that the story had brought tears to his or her eyes, and that other stories in that volume also had profound emotional effects. A reader took the time to let me—and the world—know that there was rain to be found between those pages.

For a writer, there’s nothing better than that.

So, to all the writers who read this, I can say but one thing: keep dancing. And to every reader, for all the rain you have been given by authors, give them some back. Give them the rain they need in the form of emails and reviews and word-of-mouth praise for the rain that has sustained you.

Drought is a fact of life, but we all possess the means by which we can bring rain to those who need it.

 

Q

1796 Days to Success

It’s been 1796 days since I turned my back on Corporate America.

Okay, okay, so it turned its back on me. I got laid off from an IT job back on July 15th, 2009. Some days later, I woke up with an epiphany: I could either A) go back to the corporate world and be miserable for the rest of my life or B) I could do what I always wanted with this existence and take a shot at a writing career, risking the very real possibility of dying as a starving artist, but a happy one.

This month, the Fictorians are doing a sort of mileage-check on the goals we set back in January. We’ll be doing a wrap-up in December (for which I’ll be the cat-herder), but I wanted to focus on what’s happening this June. It’s a HUGE month for me. In it, I got my first pro contract for a short story and I got back the edits from a publisher who has picked up Chemical Burn (my first novel and a finalist in the Colorado Good Fiction contest back in 2010). But the biggest news is that I had not one but two titles come out on June 11th.

FinalCoverThumbnailThe big one for me is Out Through the Attic, a short story collection that includes some of the best stories I’ve had published since I set out on this journey almost five years ago. It’s a cross-genre smorgasbord of science fiction, steampunk, paranormal, and fantasy shorts that I hope people come to love. The folks over at 7DS Books were interested in picking it up, so now I have the opportunity to share it with the rest of you. They liked it so much that they asked me to write a novel for them, which should be out by late summer or early fall.

PDTIV_ThumnailThe big news for my imprint, RuneWright LLC, is the fourth volume of Penny Dread Tales, namely Perfidious and Paranormal Punkery of Steam. It’s a journey through the darker byways of steampunk, with a host of demons and necromancers, where heroes and villains get their hands—and even their souls—just a bit sullied. On top of the fourth installment coming out and because the PDT series has gone so well, K.J. Anderson over at WordFire Press wants to do a “Best of PDT,” which I hope to see in print by early fall.

And all of this in June.

So, how did this happen?

Ultimately, the answer isn’t an easy one. In order to get here, a writer has to be willing to sacrifice… at least most of us, anyway. Some get lucky and land a big book deal right out of the gate. But most writers, the ones you love, worked their fingers to the bone for years in order to put your favorite novel on your bookshelf. There’s the long hours, the working a day job (or two of them), with writing and editing and conventions and social media and everything else that goes with running a sole proprietorship as a writer.

That’s the answer, by the way. Every writer you know is running a business—often times all alone or with the support of a short list of people who believe in them (or at least tolerate the madness that is writing). I think that’s what you have to be prepared to do if you’re going to set your feet upon the path of “writer.” And I say the following with a great deal of humility and respect: if you’re not willing to sacrifice for years, you should save yourself the trouble and get out of this business now, because the odds are you have three or five or ten years of grinding away, day after day, in your future.

Either you’re in it for the long haul, or you’re losing time with your loved ones for little or no reason.

I can say this, however. Inertia is one of your best allies. If you keep grinding… keep writing… keep submitting… keep getting one rejection letter after another until things start to pop for you, then the odds are that you are going to make it… in one form or another. There are varying degrees of success, and I’ve set my sights upon snow-birding in a small home in an equatorial region, but the truth is that you just need to keep at it, every day like it’s your job… because it is your job.

Make that choice with both conviction and open eyes, and you almost can’t miss. I pretty much bet my house on it. I have a long way to go, and it’s my hope that more and more people buy the books that I put out there into the world. The more they do, the closer I get to my own dream, and the easier it will be for me to cut out the other two jobs I work and focus on my writing. I want to give you all two books a year, and twenty or thirty short stories on top of that. Each year, every year, for the rest of my life.

That’s what it is to be a writer… of hoping that your writing gets good enough and is well received enough to allow you to give everything you have to the people, the readers, who help you maintain the madness of writing.

 

Now go write something. Or read something. This is the best business in the world, and each and every one of you has your part to play in it.

 

Q

A Take on Hell

Roger Zelazny is one of my favorite writers of all time, in no small part because of The Chronicles of Amber. Hell, I once contemplated changing my name to Corwin. Read the Amber series to get that.

Regardless, when the Fictorians said they wanted us to do a blog on our favorite book that nobody ever heard of, I chose something that has stuck with me over the years because of a personal fascination. When I reread the work for this blog, I was surprised to see that Zelazny had as much or more of an interest in the author—and the work—as I do, and perhaps for the same reasons… although Zelazny’s appreciation probably runs deeper because… well… Zelazny. In the forward, he wrote about the author and this work:

“I read the beginning to see what he was doing. I don’t know him personally. I know little about him, save what I can tell from his writing. When I realized where he was going with this story, my first reaction was, “He isn’t going to be able to pull this one off.” Not without getting trite, or cute, or moralistic—or falling into any number of the many pitfalls I foresaw with regard to this material. I was wrong. He not only avoided them all, he told a fantastically engaging story with consummate grace and genuine artistry.”

I’d cut off a thumb to get praise like that from Zelazny… the left one, anyway, because I hit the space bar with my right thumb.

Now here’s the opening sentence to my favorite novel that you probably never heard of:

“Snow, tenderly caught by eddying breezes, swirled and spun in to and out of bright, lustrous shapes that gleamed against the emerald-blazoned black drape of sky and sparkled there for a moment, hanging, before settling gently to the soft, green-tufted plain with all the sickly sweetness of an overwritten-sentence.”

In that first sentence, you have delicious, savory, thick verbiage that rolls off the tongue like honey and hot bacon fat… and wraps up with that same tongue pressed squarely into a cheek. Irreverence, it seems, is not always a bad thing.

The novel is To Reign in Hell by Steven Brust. Sure, everyone (well, everyone who’s anyone) has heard of the Jhereg series, and that, too, is one of my favorites. Jhereg is what put Brust on the map, at least for me, anyway. But To Reign in Hell is something different. Something special.

Let me point out that I’ve had a fascination with treatments of the Devil for a long time. In truth, my fascination with Western Civilization’s most infamous villain started when I turned away from the Catholic Church at the age of seven. I should point out, before the whispers start, that my fascination probably isn’t what you think. I’m not interested in gleaning power or sacrificing livestock to appease some ridiculous icon of evil. Nor am I interested in tearing down its antithesis. No.

Evil, such as it is, resides in the hearts of men—and women—alone. And whatever good our species is capable of rests in the same, meaty tissue. Where one seeks strength is as individual a decision as I can imagine, and I could fault no one for seeking strength wherever they might find it. Life can be a trial.

What I find interesting is the story behind that icon of evil. The evolution of Western Civ’s theism can arguably be said to have started with the Torah and Old Testament, transitioned into the New Testament, engendered the Quran, and has splintered and evolved into myriad interpretations of a common theme.

And the Devil is there, in every one of them, in one form or another.

Now, there has always been a phrase in that story that bothered me: “favorite above all others.” Satan, originally “the morning star,” is said to haven be the first angel, and favorite to Yahweh. Imagine that: the best of friends falling apart so far that an entire world lies between them and an endless cornucopia of souls lies in the balance. How does that even happen?

Steven Brust, also one of my favorite writers (again, probably not why you think, and yes, I have a lot of favorites), appears to have been fascinated by this very same conundrum. Like any good speculative fiction writer, he asked himself where Yahweh and Satan might have come from. Then, quite logically, he asked himself how they ended up where they did, one ruling in Heaven and one reigning in Hell.

It’s a story of love, naturally, and how the love between reasonable beings can be twisted and turned and corrupted by… well, there are no spoilers here. What I will say is—true to the Bible—deceit and pride are things that can bring us all to our nadir and literally ruin everything.

I abhor deceit more than pretty much anything, so this work touches me deeply. And as I read through the text, I was struck by something that has been troubling me for the past decade-and-a-half. It is also why I think To Reign in Hell may end up being timeless, or at least should be.

This country, perhaps the world, has lost sight of what Truth means… why it’s important… and why those who shit on it everywhere we look should be brought to task.

Look around America these days, just take a good long look at how two camps are at each other’s throats in damn near every news report. Those camps are being goaded on by pundits who take great delight (as well as plenty of power and monetary gain) by fanning the flames with deceit and half-truths… on both sides. Clearly, there are some who feel that there is more to be gained in conflict than in working together.

Such is the true nature of the Beast.

To Reign in Hell is something that all Americans alive today should read. And if they did, I could only hope they might seek out their own Abdiel, wherever it might be hiding. And do what comes naturally.