"Sin Titulo" in the June issue of Intergalactic Medicine Show

by Dan Stout in


My story "Sin Titulo" is in the latest issue of Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show

It's about summer, friendship, teenage crushes, and a devil in a ten-gallon hat. 

I like this story quite a bit, and I'm glad to share it with a wider audience. And I'm even happier that this gorgeous illustration by Nick Greenwood is accompanying it. 

Hop over to IGMS to read a preview, and subscribe to read the full story and a year's worth of episodes!

 Illustration: Nick Greenwood

Illustration: Nick Greenwood

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by Dan Stout

Columbus Arts Fest Reading

by Dan Stout in


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Thanks to everyone who braved the intimidating clouds and made it to the Columbus Arts Fest in time to see an aging nerd read a story.

Public readings are still new to me, and I find them to be a strange blend of fun and deeply terrifying. Kind of like getting on a poorly-maintained fair ride operated by a carnie with meth teeth.

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by Dan Stout

Saturday Morning Terror: ABC Weekend Specials

by Dan Stout


ABC Weekend Specials was a long-running staple of Saturday mornings. While it didn't limit itself to tales of terror, in the decades that it aired it introduced kids to "gateway horror" like Miss Switch, The Two-Minute Werewolf, and -- my personal favorite -- Bunnicula.

I came across the intro on YouTube and I'd forgotten how much I loved hearing that opening music. 

by Dan Stout

Skreeonk!!

by Dan Stout


I keep journals, filled with ephemera, sketches, inspirational lifts, and random story ideas.  They're essentially little time capsules, ready for me to go back and stare in wonder at the weird things that at the time I thought were good ideas.

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One of the perks of this kind of bookkeeping is that I get to decorate the journal covers however I see fit. This time around, I went with the big green kaiju, in a black-on-black design. 

Credit to Art-Minion-Andrew0 for the stencil design.  

by Dan Stout

Learning my Lines: The Big Sick

by Dan Stout in ,


One of the most powerful tools available to writers is to read and study the work of those who have gone before. For me, hand copying and examination can reveal the techniques of another author and help me advance my own craft. I've written up some of these observations to share with other readers & writers.

Okay, so this is a bit of a departure, as this time around Learning my Lines looks at a screenplay, rather than a novel. 

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The 2017 romantic comedy THE BIG SICK was written by Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon. Based on Nanjiani and Gordon's real-life story, the film is touching and brilliantly structured. It's a stunning example of how to take true events and find the deeper Truth at the story's heart. 

THE BIG SICK is excels in many areas, but there's one area in particular that really shines: the forces keeping the leads apart

A massive hurdle for writers telling relationship stories or arcs is how to put obstacles in the characters' path. It's difficult to show two people who have enough chemistry for the audience to root for them to be together, but who also manage to somehow not get together for most of the story. Far too many writers resort to one character having a 'secret' that they inexplicably refuse to fess up to the other. If you've watched many romantic comedies, then you've seen a dozen variations of the man who can't admit to his soul mate that he's not actually a construction worker -- he's the billionaire who owns the building, or the woman who's secretly a journalist writing her 'big break' article about dating jerks, when she accidentally meets her dream guy. Generally, these are the plots that could be resolved with a five minute conversation. 

But in THE BIG SICK, the conflicts working against the leads aren't easily swept aside. Nunjiani's family expects him to enter into an arranged marriage, and the idea of him dating outside Pakistani circles is seen as disrespectful to his parents. But Kumail's family are never depicted as caricatures. They're not afraid to pressure him, but they're still his family, and he loves them. Kumail lies to himself and Emily in order to avoid the inevitable conflict between committing his love for her and the inevitable fall-out from his family. It's a weakness, and we're hoping he won't do it, but his behavior is totally understandable.   

The same is true for Emily's character, though I won't go into them here as they're are a bit more spoilery. Suffice to say that the issues she faces are serious problems that can't be resolved with a short conversation. Her response to these obstacles are both sympathetic and proportional to the nature of the hurdles placed in front of her. 

Since this film is based on true events, there's an obvious reason why the characters' motives seem so realistic: They're what actually happened. The real life Kumail and Emily had serious motivations and reasonable reactions, because otherwise they wouldn't have done them.  For those of us creating fiction, the trick is to craft characters whose actions feel every bit as ground in reality. Easier said than done, right?

This is where all that work you put into fleshing out your characters pays off. If you have two characters drawn together (romantically or not) then ask yourself what kind of obstacle makes it difficult for one (or both) of them from fully committing. Ask your characters what they'd do to overcome the obstacle, and then keep upping the physical or emotional threat until the answer is that they wouldn't-- your characters would run away, even risking the loss of love or friendship, rather than face it. And if you don't get an answer at all, then it's time to do the work of learning the twists and turns of your characters' psyches. 

by Dan Stout

"Fettuccine and Shrimp..." audio is live at Toasted Cake

by Dan Stout in


This is one I'm especially excited about!

The amazing Tina Connolly has done a reading of my short story, "Fettuccine and Shrimp in Bayou Cream Sauce" over at the Toasted Cake podcast

Tina is a fantastic reader, and I think she perfectly hit the story's notes of humor and melancholy. 

It's free to listen or download. Or better yet, subscribe to the podcast! Tina's story selections are top-notch, and Toasted Cake is a terrific source for quality audio fiction.

 

by Dan Stout

Learning my Lines: Throne of the Crescent Moon

by Dan Stout in ,


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One of the most powerful tools available to writers is to read and study the work of those who have gone before. For me, hand copying and examination can reveal the techniques of another author and help me advance my own craft. I've written up some of these observations to share with other readers & writers.

 

There's a lot to love in Saladin Ahmed's Throne of the Crescent Moon. But one thing I took away was his nimble shuffling of POV chapters, each jumping to the character who is most logical to follow without becoming confusing. 

He does this a few times in the course of the narrative, and each time it was clear what was happening, who was involved, and when everything was taking place. That's not something I can say about every book I read.

The best example -- and the one that really made me sit up and take notice -- happens just over 25% of the way into the story.

At this point in the story the protagonists are arguing, and tempers flare enough for them to stomp off and give themselves (and each other) some breathing room. The next two chapters each follow a different character in the wake of the fight, jumping back to start a few seconds later after the argument ends, as if they're all tree limbs extending from a broad trunk.

The "trunk" chapter is written from the point of view of a character named Litasz. She and four other people are in a room, and as the chapter comes to a climax, Litasz's old friend Adoulla  ends an argument by storming out of the house. 

"Some fresh air," he blurted, and bolted for the door, slamming it behind him.

After this comes four brief paragraphs establishing how the roomful of people react to Adoulla's departure. The next chapter begins:

Adoulla slammed the heavy wooden door to his friends' shop behind him. 

So we're slid back in time, prior to the last four paragraphs of the previous chapter. But look at what Ahmed's done here: he's hanging his time shift on the strong physical act of slamming the door. That's an action that all readers will relate to. We know what it looks like, what it sounds like. Hell, we've probably done it ourselves a time or two. 

Even better, the door slam is a turning point in in the trunk chapter, and it happened only a couple pages ago. Further, Ahmed uses the same verb, "slammed," reinforcing the connection. Even a casual reader will remember it when the next chapter begins. 

So with this new starting point, we follow Adoulla as he storms off from the argument and collects himself. Clever enough, but what blew my mind was that the following chapter begins like this:

Raseed bas Raseed watched the Doctor storm out of the shop and slam the front door. 

We're back in time, but as a reader I still knew exactly where we were!  Ahmed's use of the door slam in the trunk chapter marked it in memory. The use of it in the following chapter underlined it. And now, many pages after the original event, I slipped back into the time stream with no trouble at all. 

Note the recurrence of "slam" yet again, and that this POV shift is happening immediately after the chapter following Adoulla. If we'd stayed in his POV for multiple chapters, I suspect that I'd have had a harder time returning to the door slam, but as it's written I found it easy, even natural to do so.

The new chapter follows Raseed as he travels into the city. While we're in his POV, our experience is enriched by knowing what is happening to Adoulla simultaneously. 

 

Throne of the Crescent Moon is great fun, but it also displays some pretty skillful handling of reader expectations. Reading it helped me learn how to lodge a moment in a reader's mind, and then use that later, like a rock climber setting a piton. 

by Dan Stout

Alpha-7 DE11 Audio Adaptation up at Centropic Oracle

by Dan Stout in


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My short story, "The Curious Case of Alpha-7 DE11" has been adapted for audio by the good folks at Centropic Oracle. 

I particularly enjoyed this audio production, and the attention to detail in the performance and sound design. 

You can listen for free here, and The Centropic Oracle is a great source for all kinds of fun audio from many more authors. Check them out, and tell them I sent you!

by Dan Stout

Learning my Lines: Sparrow Hill Road

by Dan Stout in


One of the most powerful tools available to writers is to read and study the work of those who have gone before. For me, hand copying and examination can reveal the techniques of another author and help me advance my own craft. I've written up some of these observations to share with other readers & writers.

This excerpt is from SPARROW HILL ROAD, by Seanan McGuire. The quote below comes early in the book, and demonstrates how to quickly create a bond between reader and character.

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by Dan Stout