Saturday, September 24, 2011
Nothing new about that. I've started, what? Five or ten novels in the last decade, easily. I even wrote a whole first draft while listening to mortars scream in the blue skies of Baghdad. So why am I announcing I'm writing a novel?
Because this is one I'm going to finish.
Working on all these sci fi short stories last year has given me enough ideas to build a world. And not just any world. A world in which I can set an:
EPIC SPACE OPERA!!!
Why Space Opera? Because it's cool. You can sweep across space and time. You can have aliens with crazy bodies and out of control sense of identities. You can have space pirates. You can explore socio-cultural-metaphysical issues.
In short, you can do whatever the hell you want.
I'm going all in on this one. I've already passed the 10,000 word plateau and I feel like I'm just getting started. Which is good, because I am.
2012 must be the Year of the Novel. If you think so too, head over to W1S1 or Absolute Write and sign up for the W1S1 Novel challenge.
Sunday, August 7, 2011
Basically, the big brains at FSU has found that we generally learn a skill consciously with a great deal of thought. At some point, the skill becomes largely unconscious, and we can do it without thinking about it. Driving a car is a great example of that. Most of us can drive to work and not even remember how we got there.
When a skill becomes unconscious, people tend to hit a plateau with development. In order to go past this, they have to pay close attention to what they are doing and get feedback. In other words, you need to drench the skill from the depths of the unconscious and back into the light to keep improving. Practice, they say, should be difficult.
I think the same applies to writing. It is easy to let the words form on page without much thought, once we've attained a level of skill. But the important thing, according to these experts, is to continually pay close attention to the prose and keep trying to improve it.
As always, I'll experiment and report back how it goes.
Sunday, July 10, 2011
While I have unfailing faith in all my stories, I was surprised at how well this one did. It was a shorter humor piece and a modern satire based on the prompt "last contact". I'm glad so many people read and enjoyed it.
The final judges were Timothy Zahn, Mary Turzillo, and Diane Turnshek. Which means real spec fic authors read my story and gave it 1st prize! Exciting!
It also means I can be a little less tongue and cheek when I tell my wife I can't mow the lawn because I'm working at my "other job". I also had a moment on Duotrope where I clicked "Acceptance" instead of "Rejection." My story will be published in their Confluence Program, so this is my first official publication as an author.
It's ironic that it came on the heels of my 50th Rejection Extravaganza--- or is it?
Having read through a lot of Redstone related stuff in preparation for their upcoming contest, I learned that the origins of Redstone lay in the fact that many sci fi markets actually publish fantasy. This is very true. The only pure sci fi pro mag I can think of off the top of my head is Analog.
So here's where I'm at for the year:
There's still time for that one lucky editor to discover me!
Sunday, June 26, 2011
I feel that this places me at another cross roads. I think the initial fork is when you decide to write and sub. Then, after facing rejection after rejection, the goal seems to be much for formidable than you initially thought.
I think this is a point where many new writers quit. They pack it in, fold it up, and move on to something else.
I, on the other hand, am of the feeling that I've invested way too much time and energy developing as a writer to pack it in now. I've gotten a few positive indicators -- encouraging rejections, a few short listed stories, etc.
But most importantly, there are several great stories I'm working on. How can I forget about those?
Sunday, June 5, 2011
There is a lot of controversy in the writing world about quality vs. quantity. The driving philosophy behind W1S1 is that you churn out a lot of material. Given time, that material will get better. Some critics think that this is a horrible way to go, and that you're just vomiting out words without taking the time to really craft a good story.
Having gone through this thus far, I must say I think the W1S1 approach, coupled with critiquing other writers, has been a fantastic experience for me.
My writing has improved as a result of this process. Even though I've not published yet, the quality of my rejections and reader reactions are substantially improving. Further, I'm catching less flak for the basics--- structure, voice, etc.
I've also developed bullet proof skin for rejections, a handy thing. I usually get at least one a week. They are a common, every day part of my life now, and I no longer fret over them.
Will it pay off in pro pubs? Too soon to tell. But I feel like I'm finally starting to hit a sweeter spot with my fiction.
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
It takes me at least a draft or so to see what the story is like and to flush out some interesting details. Then I can go back, choose a good POV, develop a voice, and let her rip.
I've also noticed that a short story can really only hold one idea. So I'm learning if I want to write a story about a big giant lizard, I don't want to also write about re-animating the dead. There simply isn't enough room.
Even so, I'm working more efficiently than my 10 draft past. What I did at the beginning was write the story, then go back and rewrite using it as a template. However, this locks in a certain voice and structure that may not be necessary.
With my novel in progress, at around 15,000 words, I've come to the conclusion that my main character is boring. It's a problem when the secondary characters are more intereting (actually, there are two main characters, but the primary one bores me). So what am I going to do?
Trash and rewrite.
The question is, will I be more successful this way? Right now, I've still had a grand total of 0 acceptances (althought I do have a short list, so that is something).
On the bright side, 1 acceptance will improve my rate by infinity!
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
I needed to take some time and tend to my wounds. By which I mean, focus more on writing that submitting. I must admit that my writing is improving my leaps and bounds. I'm officially in Story 2.0 mode now. My next generation of stories is about to go flying through the submissions process, which means I'll likely end up with 21 more rejections.
But that's okay. Rejections do sting less when they become an accepted part of life. Like bugs and camping. You go camping, you get bit. That's the price of camping. You write and sub, you get rejected. That's the price of being an author.
I think my next teachers will be the pulp authors of old. I was reading a pulpy story on one of my critter sites, and it sure looked like fun. The snappy attitude, the larger than life characters, the twists and turns to keep things moving.
So I'm trying Lester Dent's master formula on my current story. The rub is, the story started as a sort of sci fi think piece. As such, it was getting boring. With Lester Dent's magic forumula, it suddenly seems more interesting.
The pulp tip of the day: When your characters are talking, have them doing something.
"You bring the map?" Charlie asked.
"Sure I brought the map. Why wouldn't I?" Nick said.
"Because you never bring the map."
Now, add action:
"You bring the map?" Charlie ducked as the flaming arrow whizzed over his head.
Nick aimed his pistol over the wall and squeezed off a shot. "Sure I brought the map. Why wouldn't I?"
"Because you never bring the map," Charlie said. He slapped a fresh clip into his .45.
PULP IT UP!
Friday, April 29, 2011
The hard part for me was breaking out of the generic word symdrome I wrote out in my last post (two posts ago according to Blogger--- the internet has been doing weird things to my posts lately, even on forums). I blame part of this on my job. When I write a legal review, I want to be clear. When I write a story, I want to be evocative.
Now it turns out I have a bad case of HWS: hack writer syndrome. All I want to write about is nail biting suspense, monsters emerging from interdimensional portals, people going mad, and violence. Lots of violence. Ultraviolence, you might say.
But really? Isn't there another way to resolve conflict than pulling out a Colt .45 and splattering the bad guy's brains across the wall?
Apparantly not. I was writing a story about old age and death, a wistful meditation on change and impermanence.
You know where it went? A retired government assassin fighting genetically enhanced mutants. Does that sound wistful? Meditative?
This is one reason I'm writing a novel. When I feel like writing about some one dodging laser blasts or discovering some horrible secret, I can stick it in there.
When I write short stories, I want to write something---
---meaningful. But still involving. Like many others, when I read a "literary" piece, I end up scratching my head. How then to write something interesting, engaging, and meaningful?
This is the holy grail of genre writing, I believe.
But its hard to shake the hack. I set out to write a story recently, dipping into my warm, wonderful child memories of growing up in the Midwest in the late 1980's.
It features a child murderer, a psychopathic pre-teen, and a ghost.
Saturday, April 16, 2011
Stage 1: Hopeful. Timid fingers tap across the keyboard. A story forms. How exciting! It had a beginning, a middle, and an end. He reads it through, again and again, making sure the flow is smooth and the writing is clear.
Stage 2: Elation. At last! He has finished a few stories! Now to get them published. Excited, trembling he finds a list of possible places to send his work. There are so many. Who will have the privilege of first publishing this dynamic new writer? He sends off his work, a tear in his eye.
Stage 3: Dreamy. Which award will he win? The Stoker? The Nebula?
Stage 4: Denial. Ouch, a rejection! How could they reject a great story like that? Look at the drivel they publish by "established" writers! All those -ing words and adverbs!
Stage 5: Grief. More rejections. He's a terrible writer. He should give up. His time might be better spent surfing the internet. Or taking up a new hobby. He was good at pinewood derbies so long ago. Ah, the innocence of youth. His wife says things like "Oh God, do I have to hear this again?"
Stage 6: Anger. Even more rejection. What's with these editors? He can't be that bad! Form after form. Look at all those horrible writers on the internet. They don't even have complete sentences! He writes a story about how the evil editor gets eaten by an alien plant. That'll show 'em!
Stage 7: Bargaining. Forget the Nebula. He just wants to publish in a reputable magazine.
Okay, a pro magazine.
Okay, a semipro magazine.
Doesn't anyone want to read his stories?
Stage 8: Non-acceptance. He won't accept defeat. Ever. Repeat.
P.S.: As an interesting side note, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, who came up with the Five Stages of Grief, was convinced of the validity of near death experiences.
Thursday, April 14, 2011
For a while, I've been disappointed. Good feedback is difficult to come across, even in a forum dedicated for feedback. I wanted more people to look at MY stories. Give ME feedback.
In the meantime, I've been looking at other people's stories and developing my own ability to critique. Now I'm starting to think that the true value is not in getting solid critiques for my stories, although these are helpful.
The true value is developing a critical eye.
I read an article about how getting a job as a slush reader can make you a better writer. I looked into it, and discovered an average slushie is expected to read at least 10-20 stories PER WEEK!
Reading all these workshops subs, I'm probably looking at an above average slush pile. After all, workshop submitters care enough about their work to ask for feedback. What has popped out at me are two common beginner mistakes (which I make as well).
The first is underwriting:
The cowboy walked into the bar.
While gramatically correct, there are no vivid images here to spark the imagination. I read this and all I see are words. This could be any cowboy anwhere in the world, at any time from 1800 to the distant future.
The second is overwriting:
The weather beaten, road weary gunslinger curled his lip, a scar connecting the corner of his eye to the end of his chin, as he shoved through the vented, swinging, wooden doors to the saloon and put his road dusty leather boots on the polished hardwood floor.
Too much! I'm overwhelmed and confused. I don't know what's going on now.
I think we're looking for some sort of happy medium. I don't know what that medium is yet, but when I find it, I'll let everyone know.
Monday, April 11, 2011
1) Details. Look at the opening of this story and notice how the author incorporates precision and detail in showing the texture of his world.
The last shot fired in the Battle of Chametla hit Private Arnulfo Guerrero in the back of the head. It took out the lower-right quadrant, knocking free a hunk of bone roughly the size and shape of a broken teacup. This shot was fired by a federal trooper, who then shouldered his weapon and walked to a cantina on the outskirts of town, where he ate a fine pork stew with seven corn tortillas and a cup of pulque. The shot was witnessed by Guerrero’s best friend, Corporal Angel Garcia, and by Guerrero’s dog, Casan. Casan was a floppy-eared Alsatian he’d stolen from a federales base the year before.http://www.tinhouse.com/magazine/current-issue.html
2) Motivation Response Units. It isn't enough to show the action. We need to see the character's reaction. Learn more about MRUs here:
Example 1) Just the action.
The tiger dropped out of the tree and sprang toward Jack. Jack raised his rifle and fired a shot. The bullet grazed the tiger's left shoulder. Blood squirted out of the jagged wound. The tiger roared and staggered, then leaped in the air straight at Jack's throat.
Smooth, easy to read. But missing something.
Example 2: Action plus character response
The tiger dropped out of the tree and sprang toward Jack.
A bolt of raw adrenaline shot through Jack's veins. He jerked his rifle to his shoulder, sighted on the tiger's heart, and squeezed the trigger. "Die, you bastard!"
The bullet grazed the tiger's left shoulder. Blood squirted out of the jagged wound. The tiger roared and staggered, then leaped in the air straight at Jack's throat.
Very different. In the first one, it is like we're observing the scene. In the second, we feel it.
Thursday, April 7, 2011
No, because it was a fantastic rejection from one of the top magazines in the Spec Fiction business. I feel some measure of validation as a writer.
I think a lot of writers feel this way. I've been churning out all these stories, but it is difficult to tell if they're any good. Some of them look good to me, some not so good, but what do I know? I'm trapped in my own head. I'm not an expert. No one wants to be the self deluded fool holding up diamonds made of glass.
Like being a defense attorney, it seems that as writers we are bound to lose most of the time (which means rejections). One of the keys to surviving in such an environment is to re-define success. An acceptance is a success, no doubt. But a rejection can be a success. A form rejection can be a success if it is a high tier rejection. Getting a rejection from an editor as opposed to a slush reader can be a success. Simply getting 100 rejections, which means you're producing and submitting, i.e. an actual writer, can be a success.
Tuesday, April 5, 2011
Before I say what that thing is, let me say that I've always prided myself on being a quick learner. I've also developed, over the years, a sense of objectivity. I feel that I can see my beauty and my flaws, without being blind to either.
My main character flaw has been patience. This was ironically drubbed into me at a meditation retreat where I was assigned the Kanthi Kuti. Kanthi in pali means patience. Patience has never been a virtue of mine. I like to resolve things quickly.
So I think my fiction needs more polish than I'm giving it. I think I'm trying too hard to produce a great quantity. And I think I've done a good job, I've got some favorable rejections. But they are rejections. Taking a hard look at myself, I would say my writing is currently short of the professional range. It lacks the snap and polish of a pro piece. I would say I'm writing at somewhere in the semi-pro range. I've been primarily submitting to pro markets. If I focused more on the semi-pro, would I have more success? Maybe. I might be overestimating myself.
My goal for this month is to focus on rewriting a few of my pieces. I need to figure out how to make them sparkle for the pro markets. I think part of it is by developing the depth of the world they are set it. This is part of the literary piece of literary genre fiction, I believe. This level of development requires: *gasp* PATIENCE!
I'm trying out a few online workshops to help me with this part. We'll see how it goes.
Monday, April 4, 2011
I submitted a story. It went into their queue. Slowly, over the next day and a half, it crept up higher and higher to #1.
And it stayed at #1.
And it stayed at #1. I started to get excited. I was rounding on 4 days for a 2 day rejection place. I had *gulp* made it out of the slush pile.
So I got a rejection from JJA. It it didn't work as a reprint. Good luck on finding a home for your reprint.
A reprint? Why, I haven't even published yet! What's this about a reprint?
So I sent back a message. It's not a reprint! Won't you love it now?
JJA sent back immediately. He pulled my cover letter. Yep, I'd written "previously published" instead of "previously unpublished".
And besides, it didn't work as an original story, either.
So I'm counting that as 2 rejections, for the price of 1.
And I'm changing my cover letters.
But here's a toast to Lightspeed and JJA. Immediate response, and he cleared up the error quickly. He didn't have to do that, on his own time, probably from home. But he did. I think that says a lot about him as a person.
Saturday, April 2, 2011
When I came across this, I groaned. Oh no, isn't it enough I go over my drafts time after time?
I tried it recently. Oh my God. Things that you think look good on paper sound much different to your ear.
This was codified by Elmore Leonard in his writing article: if it sounds like it's written, re-write it.
Thursday, March 31, 2011
1. Read the classics of your genre. There are at least 100 must read book per genre, not including sub-genres. Many of these books were written early last century. But they're classics.
2. Read the classics outside your genre. Prevents you from getting tunnel vision.
3. Join workshops. Learn how to critique and edit. Critique and edit hundreds of stories.
4. Read the market. Read 3-4 issues of the magazine you wish to submit to. Due to a 40:1 ration of rejections to acceptances, you should be reading at least 120-160 magazines. You also want to stay up to date.
5. Read the Year's Best, so you know what the cutting edge of your genre is.
6. Read slush. Nothing gives you an insight into what makes a good manuscript by reading hundreds of them.
7. Begin to write a story. Too late, you're DEAD!!!! Too bad, because once you have a few good short stories, you might be ready to write a novel. Of course, you now have to repeat 1-6 with the novel market in mind.
Monday, March 28, 2011
Thank you for expressing your interest in rejecting my story. Over the past few months I've had many people interested in rejecting my work, making it quite difficult to decide on which ones to accept. Make no mistake that your rejection letter was one of the higher quality ones I receive on a daily basis. However, due to the high number of rejected submissions received, I am sorry to say that I cannot accept your rejection letter at this time. I will be looking forward to reading my story printed in your magazine in the near future. Thanks again.
I appreciate your interest in rejecting my work and am willing to consider accepting further rejection letters in the foreseeable future.
Wouldn’t you like to knowhttp://hubpages.com/hub/Dealing-With-Rejection-Letters
I dived into Google to find out. What I discovered is that no one really knows. One answer revolved around whether you could easily summarize it.
Another tongue in cheek definition suggested that if you look in a mirror after reading it, and your eyebrows have moved closer together, it is literary. Under this definition, literary means hard to read. David Foster Wallace, Ulyssus, and things they forced you to read in high school.
A third definition was that literary focused on the technique of writing more than telling a story. It was about fine words and a general aesthetic. This seems true of non-genre Workshop writers I've come across. I generally don't "get" this sort of thing.
Another is that literary fiction doesn't focus on the plot and the action like genre fiction: it focuses more on characters, characterization, etc. It is more aimed at giving the reader an emotional or insight experience than simply entertain. This one makes more sense. But how much genre stuff have we all read that is more literary? The Club Dumas, The Name of the Rose, almost anything by Kurt Vonnegut, Lord of the Flies. That's just off the top of my head.
A good example of this is the short story, Spar. The plot is so simple I could write it in one line.
People don't generally read literary. When I was in my twenties, I had grand dreams of writing stories about literary things, but in a way everyone could enjoy. I think this is the dream of many speculative fiction writers today. It is certainly the dream of many spec fic magazine editors. I've tried to make my stories about something, but also with a clear plot and interesting things happening. Sometimes it doesn't quite make it, and I have another trope story (which are fun, too). All a part of the learning curve.
Saturday, March 26, 2011
This is an ominous premonition for the week. And the dark side of Write 1, Sub 1.
I also bought a big stack of envelopes to haunt Fantasy & Science Fiction and Realms of Fantasy. Won't take e-subs? Heh. That won't stop me.
In other news, the pros are horning in on 10Flash. It doesn't even pay pro rates. Soon, I'll won't even be able to publish on my blog.
Thursday, March 24, 2011
A while ago, I started a novella. I didn't mean to, it was just that the story was taking longer than a usual short story. So I wrote and wrote. When I got to 10,000 words, something strange happened.
I stalled. I got bored. I wanted to trash it and move on.
Thinking back to my prior unfinished novels, I noticed I always hit a wall at 10,000 words. And every 10,000 thereafter.
So looking around for advice, I discovered the following bit:
When you have writer's block, keep writing through it.
Good advice. I'm hoping that if I can conquer a few novellas, I can eventually work up to a novel.
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
The other thing I've discovered is that the horror market is very small, and in large part consists of anthologies. The good anthologies aren't open to slush writers like myself. On the other hand, one sale for $25 will qualify me for the Horror Writer's Association, one of my goals.
W1S1 is a good thing. I'm producing and submitting a lot of stories. Previously, my output was mostly unfinished novels. It's good to be putting stuff out there.
Sunday, March 20, 2011
I have ten stories out right now. Mostly dark fantasty or soft sci fi. I like genre fiction, it's fun. Because I'm starting with the pro markets, there will be many rejections. The first one, I will be honest, had a sting to it. The second one didn't hurt. Further pain, if any, will only be caused by the total impact of the rejections.
The good news is, in my real world job, I am currently a defense attorney. I got an acquittal on my first defense case. It was a good kid, too. Trials are all about stories.
I'm beginning to learn more about myself by seeing what emerges from my writing. In almost everything I've written so far, some one dies. Usually some one very close to the main character. Happy endings are rare, but so are hopeless ones. My literary world is violent.
It makes sense, because I tend to write about things that bother me.
On the story front, I have three in the hopper. A horror, a sci-fi horror, and a straight literary. I have one story ready to sub, but I'm waiting for a particular publisher to re-open. I plan on finishing at least one or two more by the end of the month.
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Monday, March 14, 2011
Of course, F&SF did it faster. By snail mail, no less.
Saturday, March 12, 2011
Three stories in the works, in various stages of production.
Thursday, March 10, 2011
Friday, March 4, 2011
I started off checking out the advice on the professional organizations websites, SFWA and HWA. The main piece of advice I got was to start at the top with professional organization and work down. I also discovered Duotrope and Ralan's, which I have bookmarked up to the right.
Now I noticed that looking through the Duotrope stats, most people don't start with professional rates and work down, they tend to work up. I'm not a fan of that because 1) what if you could get a pro sale, but don't? 2) there are many semi- and non- paying markets. I figure once I exhaust the paying markets, I can submit to these to my heart's content. Also, in order to reach my goal (becoming a member of a professional organization), I need at least one pro sale.
The nice thing about Duotrope is that it tracks my submissions for me. Not only that, but I can put in new pieces and do a search for applicable markets.
Wednesday, March 2, 2011
Strange Horizons: Horror: http://www.strangehorizons.com/guidelines/fiction-common-horror.shtml
Writinghood Horror Cliches: http://writinghood.com/writing/10-cliches-horror-writers-should-try-to-avoid/
Meikle's Horror Cliches: http://horror.fictionfactor.com/articles/cliches.html
The Grand List of Overused Science Fiction Cliches: http://www.cthreepo.com/writing/cliche.shtml
Turkey City Lexicon: http://www.flashfictiononline.com/docs/Turkey_City_Lexicon_Primer.pdf
Sunday, February 27, 2011
Did I write a story?
Did I write a novel?
Did I write a simple poem?
I didn't write anything at all. Well, I did, but that's not what today is all about. Today, I started down the long, hard journey to publication. I sent out two of my stories, The Lunatic, and The Board to professional, paying journals. The first I sent to Weird Tales, and the second to a journal called Shock Totem.
Here is my plan:
1) Write lots of stories. I'm already on the way, there.
2) Publish in a professional market. This is what separates the men from the boys, the women from the girls.
3) Join a professional organization. Most likely, the HWA.
4) Publish some more. Build up a platform.
5) Publish a novel.
6) Relish in the rewards of... Well, whatever.
My wife noticed that I have a box on the computer dedicated to collecting rejection slips. Pessimism? No. Realism. Last time I did this, fifteen years ago, that's all I got.