The 2023 July Short Story Challenge – Day by Day

For starters, Smashwords is currently having its annual summer sale, where you can get plenty of e-books at reduced prices or for free, including several of mine.

The 2023 Hugo finalists were also accidentally announced for about an hour on Sunday night, but since the list was not yet final and posted in error, I guess we’ll go back to waiting for the finalists, which is currently turning into Waiting for Godot, while I will go back writing a story a day. For, as already mentioned, blogging will be light this month, because I’m currently doing the July Short Story Challenge again.

ETA: We finally do have Hugo finalists, so expect the usual Hugo finalist commentary sometime tomorrow.

What is the July Short Story Challenge, you ask? Well, in July 2015, Dean Wesley Smith announced that he was planning to write a brand new short story every day during the month of July. The original post seems to be gone now, but the Wayback Machine has a copy here. At the time, several people announced that they would play along, so I decided to give it a try as well. And then I did it again the following year. And the next. And the next. If you want to read my post-mortems of the previous July short story challenges, here are the posts for 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022.

Because I’ve already done the July short story challenge eight years in a row now and always found the experience very rewarding, I’m aiming for a repeat this year. Though I’m only committing to one week for now.

In previous years, I’ve always done a post-mortem post about the July Short Story Challenge in August. In 2019, I also started keeping a running tally of all stories written to date right here on this blog to hold myself accountable. It worked well and so I did it again in 2020, 2021 and 2022. I will do it again this year as well and will update this post with every new story. This tally will be very basic, listing just the date, title, word count, genre, series, if any, and maybe a one or two sentence summary/comment.

Most of these stories will become longer in editing. Many will eventually change their titles and some may never see the light of day at all.

If you want to follow along with the challenge, bookmark this post. And if you want to play along or cheer me on, feel free to do so in the comments.

And now, let’s take a look at the stories:

July 1, 2023: “Bodies Are My Business”, dark fantasy, 2240 words

Shaezius is a graverobber, dealing in artefacts, body parts and entire bodies. Even though there is a lot of demand for his wares, Shaezius and his fellow graverobbers are locked in a steadily escalating arms race with the guardians of the city’s cemeteries. The latest round of escalating security measures may be the worst yet, because it involves magical barriers that no human being may cross without having the soul ripped from their body…

The inspiration for this story was twofold. The immediate inspiration was seeing a photo of a tripwire activated cannon that was supposed to deter graverobbers in the eighteenth century. The other inspiration that I occasionally do translation work for a company that sells preserved human bodies and body parts to medical schools, museums and the like. And there is a lot of rigmarole involved in the export of preserved dead bodies as well as a lot of hypocrisy.

July 2, 2023: “Grandmother”, crime fiction, 1533 words

Enrique’s life was turned upside down, when his adoptive parents were arrested for supposedly stealing him and Enrique was reunited with his biological grandmother, a woman who cannot let go of the past. With his parents on trial, Enrique goes to see his grandmother to try to persuade her not to testify and drop all charges one last time…

The inspiration for this story was reading an article about babies born in Argentinian prison during the military dictatorship. The parents were usually murdered and the babies given up for adoption and often ended up with military families. Decades later, these now grown children learned the truth about their origins and were reunited with their grandparents, while many of the adoptive parents were put on trial.

It was harrowing reading, but as I read the article, I also wondered how those children would feel to see the only parents they ever knew hauled off to jail and suddenly find themselves faced with grandparents who were complete strangers. Especially since not all of the adoptive parents were actively involved with the military dictatorship, but were just people desperate to have a baby who didn’t ask the questions they probably should have asked. And indeed, of the various cases presented in the article, at least two, both of them men, were extremely ambiguous about the whole situation and protective of their adoptive parents. One man had completely broken off contact with his biological family and another was irritated by the fact that his biological grandmother insisted that he change his name.

Not sure if this story will ever be published, because it’s dark and not very politically correct. However, it cried out to be written.

July 3, 2023: “The Night of the New Moon”, sword and sorcery, 2178 words

Syltja is a girl from a small farming village nestled among dense woods, where the shadow demons roam. When Syltja is caught out in the woods on the night of the new moon, she is saved from the shadow demons by Kaltak, a wandering warrior. Kaltak spends a few weeks in the village, recuperating from a battle injury, and Syltja falls in love with him. Yet Kaltak’s destiny lies elsewhere and Syltja knows that eventually he’ll leave…

This is a sword and sorcery story about a wandering barbarian warrior saving a young woman from some terrible danger. However, the story is told from the POV of Syltja, the woman left behind, when Kaltak leaves to seek his fortunes elsewhere. The idea was to take one of the many women a typical sword and sorcery hero in the Conan mold meets (and beds) on his travels and tell the story from her perspective as one of many women left behind, as the barbarian hero drifts in and out of her life.

I’m really happy with this one.

July 4, 2023: “Refuge”, cozy fantasy (sort of), 2494 words

Jory is an exiled prince, king now in theory, who has spent the past twelve years living in the Citadel of Shadow in the Valley of Rocks, where his father and the remaining defenders of the realm withdrew, after the Dark Legions of Zarkoz swept across the land. To Jory and young sister Melly, the secluded valley and the citadel are the only home they’ve ever known. But when his father doesn’t return from a raid, Jory finds himself king of a land he has never even seen. So he ventures out of the Valley of Rocks on a scouting mission to see the terrors of the Dark Legions for himself. He also gets a kiss from a girl selling cherries by the roadside. But he can’t wait to return home to the Citadel of Shadows, even though he knows that he will have to leave eventually to take back his kingdom and free his people.

The inspiration for this story were two pieces of fantasy art by Nele Diel, this one and this one. I wondered who the person heading through that lonely valley and towards that sinister looking fortress might be and finally thought that maybe the forsaken valley and sinister fortress were just someone’s home.

As for why it’s cozy fantasy in spite of some terrible things happening, it’s basically the story of a boy and his horse who just want to go home, see his little sister and get a hug from his mentor.

July 5, 2023: “Bowl” (The Culinary Assassin), crime fiction, 1488 words

The world’s only gourmet hitperson eats a poke bowl and kills a corrupt civil servant who also mispronounces “chicken  satay”.

Inspired by having a poke bowl for lunch as well as by a recent scandal about a corrupt civil servant.

I really need to collect those Culinary Assassin stories, since I have about twenty of them by now.

July 6, 2023: “The Wolfs”, suburban fantasy, 1627 words

A werewolf couple moves into a suburban cul-de-sac. Hijinks ensue.

The inspiration for this was walking past a suburban house with a neatly kept garden with garden gnomes and the like and a sign on the door that reads “Wolf”. I thought, what if they were werewolves. The story grew from there.

July 7, 2023: “The Golden Wishing Flower”, fantasy, 600 words

In a temple high in the mountains grows the fabled golden wishing flower. Pluck a petal off the flower and make a wish and it shall be granted. However, there is a price. For there is always a price…

I was busy today and only had time for a flash story. The inspiration was this piece of fantasy art by Nele Diel.

July 8, 2023: “Same Time Next Year”, fantasy, 1400 words

Every year, Marilia makes a pilgrimage up Darkshard Mountain, allegedly to commemorate surviving being sacrificed to the dragon Grikorax, but in truth to meet her best friend.

This is another story inspired by a piece of fantasy art, namely this one.

July 9, 2023: “Cupcake Girl” (The Culinary Assassin), 1484 words

The world’s only gourmet hitperson realises that someone is following them. Someone familiar. A young woman who happened to work in a pastry shop, where the culinary assassin killed someone a few months ago. But how did she find them? And how can the culinary assassin get rid of her, preferably without killing her?

The idea behind this story was realising that at least in the US (Europe is a little different), food only shows up in cozy mysteries about cupcake bakers solving crimes. So I thought, “Why not put a crime solving cupcake baker on the trail of the culinary assassin?”

I’m really pleased with how this one came out.

July 10, 2023: “The Last Guardian”, fantasy, 711 words

On the island fortress of Yarzar, a lone guardian has been keeping watch for fifty years now, to defend the island against an enemy who has long since stopped attacking. The relief he was promised never arrived either. But the nameless guardian is faithful and keeps guarding his island and his secrets.

Just a very short story this time around, because I was very tired. The inspiration for this one was a mix of some fantasy art of a crumbling fortress in a lonely valley, an episode of the 2002 He-Man cartoon where a lone warrior guards an island full of mystical artefacts until He-Man and Skeletor show up to fight over them and the artefacts are destroyed and stories of Japanese soldiers holed up on Pacific islands decades after the end of WWII.

July 11, 2023: “Reunion”, cozy fantasy, 2823 words

Oreg is a half-orc, product of a youthful indiscretion of his human father Lord Caerwan. At least that’s what Oreg believes. He grows up in Lord Caerwan’s dark castle, lonely, abused and unwanted, with only a single friend in the whole wide world, his human half-brother Tristan.

Oreg doesn’t mind the abuse and the beatings. He figures he deserves nothing else. But when he finds marks on Tristan’s back, he decides to stop the abuse once and for all. With a blade at his throat, Lord Caerwan finally tells the truth. Oreg isn’t his son at all. He’s a full-blooded orc that Lord Caerwan stole from his parents as a baby to raise it as a pet monster, loyal soldier.

So Oreg and Tristan flee the dark castle and set out to find Oreg’s real parents, not sure if they’ll be welcome there…

The inspiration for this story was this series of sketches by Julie Dillon of a family of Ram people, which I saw in my BlueSky feed. Yes, I have a BlueSky account now and you can find me here, if you want to follow me. The sketches show a Ram person reunited with his parents after he was stolen from them as a baby. This sparked a story about a young Orc who was taken from his parents as a baby and raised by cruel humans, until he runs away and goes in search of his family, his little human brother in tow.

I’m very happy with how this story turned out and I’m pretty sure it will show up somewhere eventually.

July 12, 2023: “The Great Apple Heist”, cozy fantasy, 1294 words

Three gnomes plan to steal fallen apples from a garden, but encounter a terrifying opponent in the form of Mr. Pickles, the cat.

This is another story that was inspired by a piece of fantasy art, namely this one by Jakub Rozalski. For some reason, my brain seems to want to write cozy, fairly low-stakes fantasy this July.

July 13, 2023: “Anniversary”, gothic horror, 1239 words

It has been three years since Madeleine’s fiancé Raoul vanished on the night of the full moon. His body was never found, only his boots and shredded clothes were discovered by the side of the road that leads through the thick dark woods, where the wolves roam.

Every year, on the anniversary of Raoul’s disappearance, Madeleine returns to that spot by the side of the road, where Raoul’s torn clothing was found, to lay down a bouquet of roses. However, something is watching her from the woods…

Yup, it’s another werewolf story, the second to result from this year’s challenge. This one feels more like something that might have appeared in Weird Tales in the 1920s or 1930s. The inspiration was a piece of fantasy art of a wolf lurking in the woods and watching a woman laying down some flowers.

July 14, 2023: “Sucker”, horror, 784 words

Celeste is a three hundred year old vampire preying on tech-bros in San Francisco. They’re dull bores and their blood tastes of energy drinks and meal replacements shakes, but a girl’s got to eat.

I’ve had werewolves, so here comes the vampire. Inspired by a piece of fantasy art featuring a female vampire next to her male victim with a look that says, “He just wouldn’t stop mansplaining, so I had to drink him dry” on her face.

July 15, 2023: “Taking Flight”, cozy fantasy, 1512 words

Featherless has grown up in an eagle’s eyrie, but unlike his siblings he has never feathers nor wings and cannot fly. However, all he wants is to soar high above the valley with his siblings and his mother, so he builds himself wings from discarded feathers and twigs.

When he almost dies trying to fly, his mother Shadowbeak finally comes clean and tells Featherless where he truly came from.

The inspiration for this story was a news headline about a missing toddler in the French Alps, where one of the theories was that he might have been taken by a bird of prey. Of course, it’s much more likely that the kid had an accident or that another human being is at fault. But somehow the idea of a human child growing up in the nest of a bird of prey stuck in my head and so a tragic news story resulted in a sweet fantasy story about parental love across species lines.

July 16, 2023: “Cabinet of Horrors” (Owen Drake), horror, 885 words

Three guests have vanished without a trace in room 13 of the hotel Zum Blauen Enzian in the Swiss Alps. Plus, by night terrible screams can be heard from the haunted room.

Since neither the police nor the church can help, Karoline Oberhänsli, landlady of Zum Blauen Enzian, engages the services of Owen Drake, hunter of ghosts, demons, monsters and things that go bump in the night. Can he exorcise the curse of room 13, before becoming consumed by it himself?

I was tired today and only managed a very short story. The inspiration for this one was seeing a picture of a wooden cabinet on Twitter, where the wood grain and knotholes seemed to form an image of a face. So I wrote a story about a haunted cabinet in a haunted hotel room. Coincidentally, this is the second story in a row set in the Alps.

July 17, 2023: “Bathroom Break” (Owen Drake), cosmic horror, 573 words

College student Owen Drake had too much beer at a frat party, so he heads to the bathroom, only to find an unspeakable horror sitting on the toilet…

Another really short story, because I was busy. The inspiration was some horror art on Twitter of Cthulhu or some other tentacled horror emerging from a toilet. I wondered how it came to be there and then thought, “Maybe Cthulhu just needs a bathroom break.”

Since yesterday’s story featured a ghost and monster hunter, I decided to reuse the same character for today’s story. So Owen Drake is a series character now. This story is actually his origin, since it chronicles his first brash with the uncanny, unknown and the weird.

July 18, 2023: “The Skeleton in the Closet” (Owen Drake), horror, 1322 words

Owen Drake, self-styled hunter of ghosts, demons, monsters and things that go bump in the night, is hired by real estate agent Karen DeVane to investigate a haunted house, after three potential buyers have already bolted.

Owen is still new at this whole monster hunting thing. Can he find out just what is lurking in the walk-in closet in the master bedroom and how to persuade it to leave?

This is the third adventure of my somewhat hapless monster hunter Owen Drake, so he definitely is a series character now. Like the previous stories, this one was inspired by some horror artwork of a ghost in a closet.

July 19, 2023: “The Monster Under the Bed” (Owen Drake), horror, 1525 words

Owen Drake, self-styled hunter of ghosts, demons, monsters and things that go bump in the night, is visiting his older sister Kate, who doesn’t think much of his extracurricular activities. Nonetheless, the sceptical Kate asks Owen to put on a show and pretend to exorcise the monster under the bed that her five-year-old son Liam is scared of. Owen agrees, because he is very fond of Liam. However, to his surprise, there actually is a monster under Liam’s bed…

Another Owen Drake story today. Sometimes this happens during the July short story challenge that a bunch of stories set in the same world or featuring the same characters come out in a row. Owen is becoming an actual character by now, which is also why the stories are getting longer.

July 20, 2023: “The Fridge Goblin” (Owen Drake), horror, 1630 words

Owen Drake, self-styled hunter of ghosts, demons, monsters and things that go bump in the night, get a call from his college pal Josh, because a goblin like creature has taken up residence in his fridge. How can Owen lure the creature out of the fridge and get rid of it forever.

Another Owen Drake story, so expect a collection soon. This one was inspired by a piece of art showing showing a goblin like creature peeking out of a fridge.

July 21, 2023: “It Came From the Summer Hole…”, humor, 404 words

Every year, at the height of summer, when there is a draught of new stories, the editors of newspapers and TV news programs make an offering to the gods of the news cycle. That’s when the summer hole opens and spits out a news story that will keep everybody busy for the next few days.

I didn’t feel well today, so I only managed a flash story. This was inspired by the brouhaha about the lioness (since revealed to have been a wild boar) spotted in Kleinmachnow near Berlin. Someone tweeted: “There’s a lion loose in theb outskirts of Berlin and no one knows where it came from”, whereupon I thought, “Well, it obviously comes from the summer hole”, i.e. the dead time at the height of summer, when newspapers and TV news are filled with bizarre stories about wildlife on the loose, random small fry politicians making terrible proposals (the classic “Let’s introduce forced labour for young people” was aired again today by the Social Democratic Party of all people) and stuff like that.

So I thought, “What if the summer hole was a real portal from which news stories like the lion of Berlin who was a wild boar emerge?” The story grew from there.

July 22, 2023: “The Electrical Angel”, holiday science fiction horror, 1380 words

Our unnamed heroine orders an electrical tree topper angel from a dubious online shop and experiences an unpleasant surprise as the angel gradually transforms the Christmas tree, the cat and the entire house into some kind of cybernetic nightmare…

The inspiration for this story was the 2023 San Diego Comic Con exclusive Masters of the Universe Motherboard figure. If you’ve seen Masters of the Universe Revelation, Motherboard is an angel-like statue worshipped by a bizarre techo-cult, which infects its worshippers with a techno-organic virus, turning them in cyborgs, starting with Skeletor’s Evil Warriors.

When I pre-ordered the figure – you can also buy her online – I made a joke on Twitter about her transforming my other figures and the house into cyborgs, which prompted the idea, “What if the figure could really do that?” And since she looks like an angel, the story turned into a holiday story.

July 23, 2023: “Travel by Dragon – A Unique Air Travel Experience”, fantasy, 341 words

Do you want to travel through fantasyland? Why not consider a dragon?

I was very tired, so tired that I even forgot to update this post yesterday, so I only managed a very short flash story in the form of an advertisement for travelling by dragon. The inspiration was this beautiful piece of fantasy art by Yong Liu.

July 24, 2023: “Beyond the Grave”, dark fantasy, 1065 words

Ezeghor is a prince turned necromancer who was banished from the homeland. One day, he returns and breaks into the royal tomb to use his powers to raise the spirits of his royal ancestors and sic them on his brother Rethum, the lawful king.

This one has potential, but I think it needs a little more. The inspiration was this piece of fantasy art by Nele Diel.

July 25, 2023: “Raven Town” (Kurval), sword and sorcery, 2099 words

In his mercenary days, Kurval and his faithful steed Shadowmane are wandering through the desert with dwindling water and food supplies. When they spot a town on the horizon, it seems like salvation is finally at hand. However, the town is cursed…

This one was a bit of a surprise. It started off with this piece of artwork by Maya Squar, which shows a deserted Old West populated solely by ravens. So I started writing what I initially thought would be a story about a traveller wandering across a post-apocalyptic landscape, when I realised, “Hey, this would actually work as a Kurval story”. So that’s what it became.

July 26, 2023: “Last Train Out”, post-apocalyptic, 1123 words

When the world ended, Elise’s parents tried to escape on the last train out of the danger zone. However, in the chaos at the station, Elise was separated from her parents. She hid in a kiosk and once she dared to come out, Elise tries to do what her father asked her to do in his last to her, “Take the train and get the hell out of here!” So Elise and her cat Northview wander the railroad tracks of a post-apocalyptic world, looking for the train that will take them to safety.

Another story that was inspired by a piece of concept art, namely this one by Eddy Mendoza.

July 27, 2023: “Precious”, post-apocalyptic, 828 words

Ron Jaeger is the captain of the Shady Hills Neighbourhood Watch and the closest thing to “the law” that exists in this post-apocalytic world. When Matt, a young man from Shady Hills, come to him and tell him that he accidentally killed someone while scavenging in what he thought was an empty house, Jaeger feels compelled to investigate and finds something unexpected…

Another story that was inspired by a piece of post-apocalyptic art, namely this one by T.J. Foo.

July 28, 2023: “The Cave in the Forest”, cozy fantasy, 1094 words

Tig is a child slave forced to work in a mine. One day, he runs away and flees into the forest surrounding the mine, because anywhere has got to be better than what he’s running from. Hungry and tired, he spots a light among the trees, a light emanating from a cave…

This story was partly inspired by this piece of fantasy art by Nele Diel, which provided the cave in the forest. The little boy fleeing a slave mine was inspired by an episode of the 2011 Thundercats reboot, where Lion-O and his Thundercats learn that many of Lion-O’s subjects have been enslaved by their enemies (interestingly enough, Lion-O never once wonders what happened to all the other inhabitants of Thundera, though it’s likely that several of them survived the destruction of the city) and are forced to work in a mine. Lion-O proceed to free them the slaves and manage to locate the villain Mumm-Ra’s lost sword in the process.

July 29, 2023: “The Tree of Souls”, dark fantasy, 838 words

So you want to venture into the land of the dead to retrieve a soul? Trust me, don’t do it. Just don’t. It’s a very bad idea. But if you absolutely must do it, here are a few handy tips…

This is another story that was inspired by a piece of fantasy artwork, namely this one by Nele Diel.

July 30, 2023: “The Lighthouse Keeper”, cosmic horror, 829 words

Ebenezer Hall is a lighthouse keeper and also the last line of defence against the eldritch horrors that live beneath the waves…

Yet another story that was inspired by a piece of fantasy artwork, namely this one by Jakub Rozalski.

 July 31, 2023: “Mists of Revenge”, dark fantasy, 2017 words

The cruel tyrant Kovrak rules the land of Avraughor with an iron fist from his fortress deep in the mountains of Kaledum. The fortress is said to be impenetrable, at least for humans.  But three conspirators, a wizard, a nobleman and a young woman, have a plan…

This last story for this month was also inspired by a piece of fantasy artwork, namely this one by Nele Diel.


And that’s it for the 2023 July Short Story Challenge. I wrote 31 stories in 31 days. This year’s stories tend to be shorter than those of previous years, probably because I was buried in translation work for much of the month, while normally the workload gets less in summer.

This year’s stories are a mix of horror and dark fantasy on the one hand and cozy fantasy on the other, which is certainly an odd mixture. For some reason, there are also several stories featuring necromancers. Not a lot of stories featuring established characters, though there were two Culinary Assassin stories and one Kurval story and I also created a new character with ghost and monster hunter Owen Drake.

This entry was posted in Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The 2023 July Short Story Challenge – Day by Day

  1. Pingback: Pixel Scroll 7/12/23 You Can Scroll Scroll Scroll, You Can Pixel Pixel Pixel, But You Got To Know The Metastory | File 770

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *