Category Archives: Workshops

Five Story Collection: Crimes against Literature

Five Crimes Against Literature, a ~23,500 word collection of short stories, is now available for the Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and Smashwords:

Five preposterous tales of far-ranging absurdity.

Professionally published writer Alistair Ainscott unleashes a vile compendium of five literary transgressions, a special room in hell for the serious-minded: “The Ferro-Erotic Roaches of Kiki,” “Occupy Stinking America,” “Maiden Voyage of the Pink Plastic Ponies,” “Captain Disaster and the Twin Terrors of Unholy Matrimony,” and “Why Oranges Are Apples”, plus an excerpt from “The Flies Dropped Dead.”

From aliens with bizarre sensory perceptions, a boy-with-bad-breath meets supermodel-girl story of wayward romance, a superhero who drives a rusted-out International Harvester Scout and saves a solo Dad from the clutches of his own twin toddlers, or a play with a swarm of eccentric characters– an inept vampire, the Pissy Flippin’ Bastards, the Harbingers of Doom, Death, Destruction and Other Nasty Things– well, what ends up on the page ranges from preposterous hilarity to full-blown crimes against literature.

“Five Crimes against Literature” Copyright © 2012 Alistair Ainscott, Published by Rapid-Dynamix Publishing

Cover illustration © Philcold |




Filed under E-Pub, Indie Published Stories, mystery, Short Stories, Short Story Collection, Stories Available, Workshops

Five Story Collection: Strange Obsessions

Five Strange Obsessions, a ~17,000 word collection of short stories, is now available for the Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and Smashwords:

Five Strange Obsessions coverFive offbeat speculative tales of strange obsession.

Professionally published writer Alistair Ainscott presents five offbeat speculative tales:  “The Thriller Writer’s Workshop,” “Tailor Maidens,” “Occupy Stinking America,” “Assailing the Void,” and “Trinity of the Sands.”

From hotshots with something to prove, a romance of bad breath and extreme plastic surgery, to one man’s burden to atone for nuclear holocaust, it doesn’t get much stranger.


“Five Strange Obsessions” Copyright © 2012 Alistair Ainscott, Published by Rapid-Dynamix Publishing

Cover illustration © Rolffimages|

Leave a comment

Filed under E-Pub, Indie Published Stories, mystery, Short Stories, Short Story Collection, Stories Available, Workshops

VOMIT SETTING ONTO THE PAGE. (and 100th Submission, 75th Rejection, & Short Story #31 Mailed)

It’s been a while since I last posted but things have been busy. Since Oct 7th I received 9 rejections (one piece rejected twice) and mailed out 11 pieces. That brings my race score to 25.

I also passed some milestones this week, with the 75th rejection of the year coming in and the 100th mailing of the year going out.

I still also have one piece being held by an editor for possible publication. No clue when I will hear back about that, but it’s for a market that pays professional rates.

I mailed off Short Story #31 of my 2011 Short Story Challenge several days ago, a short strange one about a character with phantom limbs.

I have also finished a first draft of the short novel at about 31,000 words as well as a first draft of a 5,000 word short story that I was thinking of submitting to an anthology call. So, lots of words coming through the keyboard, but finding time to do some editing (as opposed to producing new words, which has been my priority) has been a challenge.

I started a new piece this week as well where I decided to have fun and follow explicitly the directions that Dean Wesley Smith gave us for one excercise at the June 2011 Short Story workshop when he was none too pleased about the results of a previous assignment about story setting:


So I went and did just that and have a 2,500 word start on another story where the first six pages do nothing but layer in a creepy setting bit by bit, filtered through the viewpoint and opinions of the main character. I rather like how it has turned out so far.

The reason to “vomit setting onto the page” is that, as an early-stage professional writer, it is too easy to focus on plot and other story aspects and leave the setting too thin. That leaves you with a white-room story full of fake details (“the bench” vs. “the grubby oak-planked bench capped with wrought-iron finials,” for example). This also brings particular and concrete details into your story that evoke the five senses.

On this new story, I’m admittedly a bit stuck on where it will go next. But I have a solution for that, as well, thanks again to another bit of advice that Dean pearled out during the dinner on the last night of the workshop.

One of the students asked Dean how to flesh out a big idea, how to get going on it, how to develop it to its full potential. Dean had a great, short answer that might seem trite at first glance but actually encapsulates a lot of wisdom:

“Just start typing.”

The student looked at him incredulously and started to rephrase the question. To which Dean said, “No, really, just start typing.” His point was that the place to do world-building is at your keyboard, with probes and bore-holes drilled in the form of stories. If a particular story veers off of your big idea, well so what. Let your subconscious, creative mind take you where it will, finish off that story, and take another whack at it with your next story. And then the next. And the next. Soon you’ll understand your “big idea” better, and through the process of exploration in story form, likely come up with many twists and turns and improvements on your idea that you never would have otherwise.

Now, I may have little track record as a fiction writer but I’ve worked in advanced R & D for my entire professional career and so I could see the wisdom in Dean’s words. It’s way, way to easy to paralyze yourself into inaction because an idea seems to big or too difficult or too vague in its present form. You just have to build stuff, try things out, and gradually via exploration-through-experience something interesting will come out of it– as long as you trust yourself and permit yourself to have some whiffs along the way.

Leave a comment

Filed under Dean Wesley Smith, Kris 'n' Dean Short Story Workshop, Novels, Short Novels & Novellas, Rejections, Short Stories, Story Challenge 2011, Workshops

Short Story #28 Mailed

I was on travel with the family this weekend, so no time for writing really, but I did whip out one short-short on the iPad for a short fiction contest. It’s the shortest story of this year’s challenge so far, but finished, titled, and mailed, so I’m counting it :-). I also wrote a 500 word fragment in which I have no idea where I am going, so I will shelve that for now and may or may not return to it.

This week I am focusing my effort on working up something to send to the Writers of the Future contest. The deadline is midnight on Friday so I’ll have to write this one fast and hard. This one will be a complete redrafting of a story that I wrote at the Kris ‘n’ Dean short story workshop. By redraft I mean I’m not even looking back at the original manuscript, just starting from a similar idea of what the story will be. It was a story with a nice rich, lush setting– setting is probably what I do best as a writer– and Kris commented that it was beautifully written but left too many story questions unanswered. And actually, at the time, I remember being relieved at her comments because all the same questions had been nagging at me as I wrote it– I knew I had left them dangling– but under a tight time deadline I hadn’t been able to figure out the answers. And a number of people at the workshop liked the story even as it was (we all read each other’s stories, in addition to a hefty writing load). As Kris said repeatedly during the workshop, “It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it does have to be finished.” Where “finished” means at least 3,000 words, with a beginning, a middle, and an ending– as well as that closing validation that gives the reader permission to leave the story.

My daughter was sick last night, so there was little time for writing, but I did manage to pound out an 800 word start on the new story for Writers of the Future, again on the iPad. I never would have imagined that the iPad would be such a useful tool for writing, and to be honest I only downloaded the iWork Pages application to study and experience how Apple handled a multi-touch word processor– professionally, I work in interaction design– but I’ve noticed that a hefty percentage of my stories are getting their starts on the iPad. So it seems to encourage lowering the mental filters that let words flood onto the page, and it’s a great “shim” device for wedging into those little crevices of writing time that appear here and there in daily life.

In the past week I also received 5 rejections and sent six manuscripts back out in the mail. That brings my race score for manuscripts in the hands of editors at pro-paying short fiction markets up to 22.

Leave a comment

Filed under Flash Fiction, Kris 'n' Dean Short Story Workshop, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Rejections, Short Stories, Story Challenge 2011, Workshops

Short Story: The Thriller Writer’s Workshop

The Thriller Writer’s Workshop, a 3,450 word tale of mystery and psychological suspense, is now available for the Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and Smashwords:

The Thriller Writer's Workshop by Alistair Ainscott

Hotshot faculty member and amateur writer Martin Sanderson attends a Thriller Writer’s Workshop at the ragged edge of the world on the Oregon Coast and finds that he’s in way, way over his head. But Sanderson has a thriller of his own to write and intends to show these so-called professionals just why he belongs right there in that chair with the rest of them.

“The Thriller Writer’s Workshop” Copyright © 2011 Alistair Ainscott, Published by Rapid-Dynamix Publishing

Cover illustration © Rolffimages |

The Writing of The Thriller Writer’s Workshop

After I corresponded with Dean Wesley Smith about the 2011 Short Story Workshop and he invited me to participate, I was struck by a sudden irrational fear that it would be a total disaster and that I would completely embarass myself. Now you have to understand that many of the students attending these workshops are early-career professional writers who are well ahead of me in terms of publication credits and accomplishments in the world of fiction.

So, I bottled up those fears and tried to imagine the worst possible way it could turn out for a fictional character that I put in a similar situation. And this story was the result.

Now of course, the actual workshop was nothing like what’s portrayed here and both Kris and Dean were most gracious hosts, although Dean did get a little gruff when too many fake details snuck into the settings for one of our class excercises now that I think about it…

Thanks and I hope you enjoy the story.

The Thriller Writer's Workshop by Alistair Ainscott The Thriller Writer’s Workshop: How far will a man go to prove he belongs?

A mystery story by Alistair Ainscott.

The Thriller Writer’s Workshop available now on Amazon Kindle Store, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and Smashwords.

Leave a comment

Filed under Dean Wesley Smith, E-Pub, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, mystery, Short Stories, Stories Available, Workshops

Short Story: Trinity of The Sands

Trinity of the Sands, a 5,900 word historical mystery and the first story that I have electronically published, is now available from the Amazon Kindle Store, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and Smashwords:

Cover for Trinity of the Sands

Los Alamos, 1945. Mort Whitman helps build “the gadget” that will end the war and immolate untold thousands of men– if it works. As the minds of men mushroom in a dark dream of war, he seeks solace in the white sands of the Jornada del Muerto. But what he discovers there teaches him how justice really works in the New Mexico badlands– as well as how one man can atone for a nuclear holocaust.

“Trinity of the Sands” Copyright © 2011 Alistair Ainscott, Published by Rapid-Dynamix Publishing

Cover photo copyright © @istockphoto/kjschoen

The Writing of Trinity of the Sands

I wrote this story for the Short Story Workshop that I did with Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith (mostly taught by Kris). Kris had some very nice things to say about the story and this version reflects a couple of minor changes she suggested to strenthen it.

But as for the actual writing, this story started with a sinus infection and bronchitis.

I knew I’d have to write a short story for the Short Story Workshop, but the assignment still hadn’t arrived in my inbox a couple weeks before the workshop was to start and to be honest I was stressed about it because I was sick and I knew I had a super-busy week coming up with professional obligations and getting my family chock full o’ young children ready for me to be gone for a week.

I hadn’t been away from home for more than a couple of days on business travel in five years.  Which corresponds, perhaps not surprisingly, to exactly how old my twin girls are.

The first email from Kris arrived about the assignment, but it wasn’t what I expected.

I had to pick a specific historical context– a time and place– from before 1970.

But I didn’t know why. Sure, I guessed I’d have to write a story set in that time period, but what kind of story? And I’d never tried to write a story set in a historical time period before, so I was immediately ill at ease with where this was going.

And I was already sick as a dog. Coughing up stuff like some colony of brown-green algae dredged up from the bottom of the sea.

I was laying in bed, reading Kris’s email on my smartphone, feeling miserable. I glanced at my nightstand and saw Michael Gleick’s biography of Richard Feynman sitting there so I figured why the hell not. Go big.

1945, New Mexico, detonation of the world’s first atomic bomb, I wrote in reply.

It didn’t occur to me until much later precisely how difficult that would be to work successfully into a short story plot without blowing the whole thing up.


The second email arrived a few days later. I now had less than a week to write the actual story.

Write a historical mystery set in your chosen time period.

Convince me that we’re in whatever time period you’ve chosen.  Make it real.  Make it breathe.

Well crap, now I was doomed. I’d never written a story in a historical setting (and here I just mistyped hysterical setting, which I take as a deep psychological hint as to how I was thinking about this).

And I’d never written a mystery story either, and now I had to craft a historical mystery revolving around the detonation of the world’s first atomic bomb.

Well, there was no doubt there about whodunnit.

The thought of someone using the detonation of the first atomic bomb at the Trinity test site in the White Sands Proving Grounds as an ancillary plot element occured to me, but every idea I came up with fell apart. The test was secret. Nobody knew it was going to take place. Even if they did, they probably wouldn’t have taken it seriously; even many insiders had deep concerns that something would go wrong and the bomb would be a dud. In fact an iron containment shell for the bomb was cast at great expense– to contain the radioactive debris if there was only a partial detonation– and the leaders of the project decided not to use this containment vessel only a short time before the actual test.

But even worse than that, the detonation of the bomb itself was such an important historical event that it took over every plot idea I came up with. The story would end up being about the bomb.

I was wishing I could write back to Kris and revoke my historical context. Why had I mentioned the bomb? Why had I been so bloody specific?

But I wouldn’t let myself back out of it. I was going to write a story about this.

So I just started typing. I made a few false starts, which I discarded. One involved Richard Feynman as an actual character in the story. Decided I didn’t want to go down that route. Another centered on the Los Alamos lab itself.

Finally I struck on the idea of a character, someone working at the lab, who knew about the bomb and the detonation but had deeply conflicted feelings about it. Someone with something at stake in the outcome. Someone who would be motivated to solve the problem.

So I started typing and the first thousand words of the story or so came out and I had my start on this story.

I stewed on it for a couple days and made only a little bit more progress (maybe another 500 words). I was stuck and I was running out of time. I did a little more research online for some specifics about the test site and the White Sands– the desert of the Jornada del Muerto, now that is a cool name for a setting– and then the idea struck me for how the character would resolve his story problem. The Big Problem. How can one man atone for nuclear holocaust?

And I had to get the story done by tomorrow.

So I sat down at my desk and started typing and I stayed there in that chair late into the night until I’d typed another 4,000 words or so.

The next day on my lunch break I cleaned up a couple of plot points that were bugging me and printed it out and stuck it in my folder with all my travel stuff for my short business trip back-to-back with my week-long stay at The Anchor Inn in Lincoln City for Kris and Dean’s Short Story Workshop.

And Trinity of the Sands was the result. I got pretty good feedback about it at the workshop and it was my personal favorite of the four short stories I wrote at the workshop (although one of the others, which I personally thought was kind of silly and stupid, actually got the best response from other readers).

And I’m proud that I can now offer it as my first e-published short story: Trinity of the Sands, a historical mystery by Alistair Ainscott, 5900 words.

This is also the debut of my cover design, my publisher look, and my Rapid-Dynamix Publishing venture. Great fun ahead and I will have a bunch more stories up before too long.

When I have this story up on Pubit and Smashwords I’ll update this post with those links as well. (Updated below!)

Trinity of the Sands ebook cover

Trinity of the Sands: One man atones for nuclear holocaust.

“I have murdered two hundred and twenty-eight thousand men. And one more.”

Trinity of the Sands available now on Amazon Kindle Store, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and Smashwords.

1 Comment

Filed under Dean Wesley Smith, E-Pub, historical fiction, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, mystery, Short Stories, Stories Available, Workshops

Back from the Kris’n’Dean Short Story Workshop

Just returned from the Short Story Workshop taught by Kristine Kathryn Rusch with some guest appearances from Dean Wesley Smith.

It was a blast and god am I tired.

I wrote four short stories totalling about 16,000 words for the workshop, some 3,000 words in various character and setting excercises (there’s another two or three strong short story starts lurking there), and probably another 3,000 words in various assignments and anthologies of the other students’s work that I pulled together.

To make matters worse (better?) I had a scientific meeting right before the short story workshop which required me to read and write extensive reviews on perhaps 25,000 words of dense scientific writing, working late into the night before I arrived in Lincoln City, so I started the week worn out and ended it damn near dead in the ground.

But I survived, I didn’t embarass myself, and I feel like I have a lot more confidence in what I am trying to do as a result of the experience, as well as new knowledge and tools from the insights and feedback that I got from Kris and Dean.

Perhaps the highlight of the workshop for me was getting to listen to Dean read the opening of one of my assignments as a positive example of how to do setting. Given how I had an irrational fear that he’d tell me to retitle my story to “Sucks Beyond Belief” and then to put my cat in the witness protection program because editors get pissed off when you send them something like this, and the next thing you know… well, accidents happen, felines catch on fire…

But no, I actually did something right. I do have to admit, though, that even though he used my piece as a “good” example I still feel my fingers trembling a bit at the keyboard in the fear that fake details or a white-room setting might creep into the opening of my story when I’m not watching close enough, because Dean did rant a fair bit on setting before he huffed out of the workshop that night.

I’m pretty sure Dean made some students cry.

Another highlight was having Kris tell me that this strange and ridiculous story I’d come up with, when cornered and desperately searching for a mental rat-hole to escape into, was actually rather intriguing and that I should just mail it.

No edits. No revisions. No suggestions to fix this or that.

Did I hear that right?

Yep, Just mail it.

Go figure. Maybe there’s some hope for me as a writer of fiction after all.

Dean also thought the title of that particular story was a hoot.

It’s already been form-rejected by Clarkesworld, however, so no literary prizes to write about just yet. And despite Kris’s kind words, I’m still keeping a close eye on my cat.

Overall the workshop sure was fun and I hope to have the opportunity to do another with Kris’n’Dean in the future. Word from the old-timers who’ve done lots of these workshops is that the Character Voice workshop is the one to do.

It was also a real kick to meet all the other students, some of whom have already published multiple novels and been publishing professionally for years already, and see what everyone was up to. One of the things that really surprised me was that every student in the class wrote at least one story (and often more than one) that I just thought was great– or that made me like a genre or type of story, like trailer park zombies, that I never would have thought I would like.

And now I’m fired up to crank out stories and keep writing and see just how far I can push this thing.

After I sleep for night or two, that is, because lordy am I ever worn out.

Leave a comment

Filed under Dean Wesley Smith, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Short Stories, Workshops