Sunday, December 11, 2011

Revisiting an Old Manuscript

So I mentioned in my last post that since I reached the milestone of 400,000 words for the year, I planned to spend the balance of December, and possibly a little of the beginning of next year, working on a little ‘fun’ project.  Well, allow me to elaborate. 
First, a little background. 
When I was nineteen years old, during the spring and summer of 1987, I wrote a novel.  More precisely I wrote a complex outline and summary for a novel (46 single-spaced pages) and then wrote almost two hundred pages of the novel itself.  Something then discouraged me, and I put the novel in the proverbial drawer, where is has languished for over twenty-four years. 
This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Novels written by teenagers usually aren’t that good.  (and no, no apologies to Christopher Paolini)  This one wasn’t the exception, either.   It was a standard Tolkien Fantasy knockoff with Elves, Dwarves, Dragons and such, set in a standard medieval Europe-like milieu.  Such books were all the rage back in the seventies and eighties, with the likes of Terry Brooks, Stephen R. Donaldson, David Eddings and others cranking ‘em out.  I lapped ‘em up like crazy, so it is no surprise that such was the leanings of my first attempt at a novel. 
I came across that manuscript in an old filing cabinet recently, and I actually read it in its entirety--with much delight.  And no, it wasn’t that good, but it was fun to see what my skills were at that point in my life, and also my weaknesses.  I was a little disappointed when I got to the chapter where it abruptly ended.  Yes, in spite of how bad it was, I was enjoying reading it. 
I found a note I’d placed in the same folder where I’d kept the manuscript that outlined my reasons for abandoning it.  I’d been browsing the bookstore that day and I came upon a published fantasy novel that I decided had quite a few similar elements as my little opus, and I think the experience just deflated me.  I wrote a few more pages, but the burning drive to finish the novel just wasn’t there.   I think I’d been so driven because I felt I’d had a very original premise for this novel.   One that hadn’t been done yet in genre fantasy. 
That premise?  My main character was a dwarf who wanted to become a wizard.  And you see, according to the tropes of the day (as started by Tolkien, but reinforced by later, copycat authors, and of course Dungeons and Dragons), dwarves are inherently non-magical.  So I had a character, and a seemingly impossible goal, and I sat down and created a rich but quite derivative world in which to tell this story.  I did a lot of research into Norse myth for this work, and I think that is why there were so many similarities to the published novel I came across (which was, for full disclosure, called “The Plains of the Sea,” by Neil Hancock), right down to several names I’d used.   Old Mr. Hancock had mined the Norse mythos as thoroughly as I had--perhaps even more so. 
So, flash forward twenty-four years.  I’ve reread the manuscript, and while I don’t think I’ve got anything even remotely usable on my hands, I did enjoy it, and I sort of wished I’d finished it way back then.   So now, I’m thinking, just for fun, I may do just that.  It shouldn’t be too hard, as I’ve got the detailed outline and summary that I created, I just have to pick up where I left off and complete the prose.  The only question is, of course, would this be a valuable use of my time? 
Before I answer that, I’ll say that the original writing of this novel WAS a good use of my time.  I taught myself a great deal about writing that summer by simply going through the process.  The technique of writing an outline and summary for the whole thing first was a good and useful method, one which I think I will use on future novel projects that I have planned.  Then going through the day to day writing of the thing, even though I didn’t finish it, still proved to me that I could handle a work of that complexity. 
So, on the one hand, finishing out a novel that I feel has no hope of success would seem on the surface a waste of time.  But, I don’t plan to spend that great of a deal of time on it...maybe six weeks or so, and I think there can be some benefit.  I’d wanted to start on my novel called “Behavior” at the beginning of next year, but I still feel my mind is geared toward the short fiction I’ve been writing, and I need to do something to sort of ‘ramp myself up’ to the task of writing a novel.  So I think the exercise won’t be completely without benefits.  I’ll no doubt learn a few things along the way, so I think it could be time well spent.  Most established authors maintain that a writer has one or more ‘bad novels’ in their system that need to be gotten out before their better work emerges, so perhaps “Shillelagh” (as this novel was titled) could be one of those. 
So, I’ve set a few rules for myself in this endeavor.  The main one is that I’m going to stick to the story as plotted by my nineteen-year-old self, plot holes and all.  Also, no going back and fixing issues in the first two hundred pages that were already written.  (It is full of problems like POV issues, gaps in the causal chain, unresolved character arcs, etc).  As for the rest of the writing, if I can address any of these issues at the sentence level, then that is fine, but no major changes at the chapter level or greater. 
Part of me also wants to try to channel that nineteen-year-old’s voice when I write the rest of it, but that might just be asking a bit too much, and really isn’t necessary, since I’m writing this only for an audience of one...me. 
So, here I go, revisiting some characters and a world that has sat frozen in time for over half my life, waiting for the tale to be told.  I’m almost excited to begin this endeavor, and I think that nineteen year old I once was would be pleased.  Get ready to find your magic, little dwarf!
I’ll keep you posted on this little project as it develops. 

Chris

Saturday, December 10, 2011

400,000 Words!

I entered my daily word count in my tracking spreadsheet yesterday and discovered I’d hit 400,000 words for the year.  I’m quite proud of that, I must say.  My daily goal for this year has been a thousand words a day, so with a couple weeks left in the year, I can say that I’ve happily blown past that milestone.  (Hit 365K on November 9th).    It has truly been a year of living like a full time writer.  Here’s hoping I can keep up this pace, or something close to it, for many years to come. 
As I check my spreadsheet, I see that these totals include 124 complete short stories, ranging in length from a few hundred words to twelve thousand, plus quite a few unfinished pieces.  Some are crap, some are salvageable, perhaps a few are good. 
I’m planning to start on a novel at the beginning of next year, and I think the thousand word-a-day goal will work well for this.  I don’t want to completely stop writing short stories, though, as I’m learning a lot still from that format, and I’m having a little success selling a few.  So perhaps I’ll split up the week, and work perhaps four days a week on a novel, and spend the other three on shorts.  Another way to do it might be to set a goal of a certain number of short stories per month.  This was suggested by Gary Braunbeck, our writer-in-residence this summer at Odyssey.  While he spends most of his time on Novels, he says he tries to write at least one short story a month, so he ends up with twelve a year.  That’s not a bad goal, though I may try for a few more a month, since I’m writing a lot of flash fiction. 
But if I keep up the thousand words a day, that should easily allow me to produce two or so ‘rough draft’ novels next year, and still have quite a bit of words left over for short fiction.  Of course there is also the need to do revision, particularly for novels, so I’ll have to work that in somehow as well.  I really haven’t done a great deal of revision this year, so I need to improve on that. 
For now, though, since I’ve reached this milestone, I’m thinking of taking the rest of the year off from ‘serious writing’ and work on a little fun project for a change of pace (not that ‘serious writing’ isn’t fun as well).   I’ll let you know what that is in the next post.

Chris

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Pearl

One of my favorite writers, Lucius Shepard, is also a Facebook friend.   He was recently in Nantes, France, and posted a little story on Facebook about the singer Patti Smith.  He had seen her in the Seventies, wild and out of control, most likely messed up on drugs.  The next time he saw her was just recently in Nantes, and he described her as a sixtyish lady in a long coat and boots, waiting in a hotel lobby, a smile on her face and bouncing on her toes.  He lamented not catching her recent show, but said it didn’t matter, as ‘the little dance’ she did in the lobby had answered all his questions about her.  “Patti Smith has survived her personal rock and roll and, as do some few survivors, has grown a pearl around the sadness that entails.”
That last line struck me as an incredibly beautiful piece of sentiment, and I couldn’t help but reflect on it throughout the day.  Everyone has some measure of sadness in their lives, and most of us try to move beyond it, or dispel it, or drive it from our lives through whatever means we find at hand--perhaps religion for some, or drink or drugs for others, or sex, or baking or perhaps, for some, through art.  But no matter what we do, that sadness never really leaves us, it just becomes a part of us, like a scar that tells the story of the roads that we have traveled. 
The concept of “growing a pearl around it” is quite a powerful thought, for that’s what we, as writers, are hopefully doing when we take whatever measure of sadness is dealt us and turn it into something beautiful with words.  I’ve had great sadness in my life at times, but I’ve never found a greater opiate than putting pen to page and turning those sour, ascorbic lemons into lemonade, or turning the painful, gritty grain of sand into a pearl, as Lucius so beautifully put it. 
Such thoughts leave me feeling dreamy and poetic as I sit down for my daily writing session.  All is well in the world, but somewhere, through the quantum throes of time, hurt lingers.  And there is always room for another pearl....

Friday, November 4, 2011

Gender in Writing

I was reading some comments on a story on Every Day Fiction where a commenter was critical of the author (a woman) trying to write from a male point of view.  He backed up his comments with a link to a website called Gender Genie, which he said detected that the author was a female as well.   Turns out Gender Genie is a little site where you paste some text in a window and an algorithm developed by some scientists evaluates the prose and guesses the sex of the author. 
This got me to wondering, how would the Gender Genie identify the sex of my writing?  Not that I really care, but I couldn’t help but wonder, after reading this, how I, a male author, was doing on the few occasions when I tried to write from a female point of view. 
As I scanned through my folder of stories written during the past year, I realized that the bulk of the first person stories were from male POV, and the majority of the third person stories utilized a male as the POV character.  I did have a few first person stories that I’d written from the POV of a female character, so I decided to check those first. 
First up was a story called “Django,” about a woman who meets an eccentric man at a Renaissance fair, told from her POV.   I pasted a thousand words of the story into the Gender Genie, and this is the result I got:
Words: 1007
(NOTE: The genie works best on texts of more than 500 words.)

Female Score: 1306
Male Score: 1242
The Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is: female!
Cool.  I managed to fool the Gender Genie.  One down.  I pasted in another story, this one called “Fly,” told from the POV of a winged girl who is captured and held prisoner in a bleak city.  I seemed to have fooled Gender Genie again:
Words: 1022
(NOTE: The genie works best on texts of more than 500 words.)

Female Score: 1437
Male Score: 1280
The Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is: female!
I tried a third female POV story, this one called “Moonshine Girl and the Golden Cat.”  Same result.  Female. 
I was Feeling rather proud of my gender bending abilities in fiction, but nevertheless I decided that as a control I’d better paste in some of my male POV stories as well.  The first one I selected was a little piece of flash called “Lessons Never Learned.”   It’s a first person piece told from the POV of a man who has lost his wife.  Here were the Gender Genie’s results:
Words: 976
(NOTE: The genie works best on texts of more than 500 words.)

Female Score: 1474
Male Score: 958
The Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is: female!
 Hum, I thought, that’s weird.  But it was a bit of a touchy feely sort of story, so I quickly pulled out another male POV story, this one a gritty piece called “The Dirt Under my Fingernails.”
Words: 663
(NOTE: The genie works best on texts of more than 500 words.)

Female Score: 782
Male Score: 693
The Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is: female!
Uh oh.  Something is amiss here.  I plugged in a few more stories.  Female.  Female, Female.  Is Gender Genie trying to tell me something?
I was about to give up on the whole process, when I came across of couple of recent pieces of flash that I’d written called Cobweb and Mustardseed, Both written from a female POV.   I pasted in Mustardseed first.  It’s the story of a streetwise prostitute in New York, told in the first person.
Words: 1016
(NOTE: The genie works best on texts of more than 500 words.)

Female Score: 794
Male Score: 1154
The Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is: male!
“Cobweb,” told from the POV of a female dancer in a Shakespeare production, scored the same as well—Male. 
Hum.  I finally had a male result, but these times I was trying to sound female.   Or was I?
The accuracy of the Gender Genie notwithstanding, this exercise got me to thinking about how much I try to manipulate gender in my writing, or if I consciously do it at all.  As writers, we are nothing if we are not keen observers of life, and I like to think that I can observe the world through more than just “male” colored glasses.  
The bulk of my stories are third person, and I like to think that I remain somewhat gender neutral when I write in this manner, but this exercise has got me to thinking that maybe I don’t.  In reading various pieces of fiction over the years, I must admit that sometimes a piece feels as though it were written by a man or a woman to me, though I’ve never really tried to identify why.  Other times this is not the case, and I’ve certainly found plenty of examples where male or female characters written by an author of the opposite sex still felt quite genuine to me.   I’d be interested to hear other people’s opinions of this issue. 
As to the original commenter’s post, which stated that female authors should not try to write from a male POV, I am inclined to heartily disagree.  Whether any writer, male or female, succeeds at writing an opposite sex POV is strictly in the eye of the reader, and there are many different perspectives out there. 
What do you think?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Flash Fiction Frenzy

It’s been a week of flash fiction frenzy. Not only have I been writing it like crazy, but I just got word that in addition to the two pieces that sold last week (Annie’s Book and Nikki Comes Home) to Every Day Fiction, I’ve sold a third to Weird Year. It’s a little piece called During The Eclipse that deals with myth, religion and the nature of belief, all in about 650 words.

Yes, that’s why I love flash fiction. You can seemingly pack so much into such a little space, it can really pack a punch. And it is often what you don’t say, but only hint at, that often leaves the most impact.

I think writing flash is a great exercise for a writer; one learns a lot about brevity and being succinct, and using one’s words to their greatest effect. I’m also glad the form has grown as popular as it has, because I enjoy reading it. It is almost the perfect format for the fast-paced, please-me-now world of the internet.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Quick Update

In the past few weeks I hit a couple of milestones in my writing goals for the year:   I reached both 300,000 words and 1000 pages.   The word count goal is the most important, as I’ve tried to keep myself to a thousand words a day all year.  This really keeps me motivated, even on days that I don’t feel like writing.  It’s good to see the totals add up in the little Excel spread sheet that I use to track my writing.  At this pace, it looks like I could go over 400,000 words for the year. 
I consider this quite an accomplishment.  I’ve never maintained that pace at any time in the past, but I’ve found it very doable this year, particularly with the extra time afforded since retiring from my full time job.  The 400K words is all short stories or novellas, but I think it’s a good number, as I am eventually planning to move more fully into novels, and this represents the number of words necessary for perhaps three novels of good length, or perhaps four even if we go with a more standard length.  
Now no, I don’t plan to work toward writing four novels a year.  I think that’s asking for too much, and probably stretching the creativity too thin.  I think I will be happy with writing one to two first draft novels a year, interspersed with some short stories and novellas.  The rest of the time will be spent on revision, which is something I haven’t done enough of this year. 
Revise, revise, revise, or so they tell me. 
Also on the good news front, I just had another couple of sales to Every Day Fiction.  They're flash pieces; one is called “Annie’s Book,” and the other "Nikki Comes Home."  They should be coming out in October or November. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Old Titles List Discovered

So I was shuffling through some ancient files this morning. (Read:  College.  Twenty-four years ago.  Stuff I originally wrote on my IBM PC jr and saved to floppy disks that were actually floppy)  While doing so I came across this list of short story and novel titles that I compiled sometime during college.  These were stories that I either had written or planned to write, with the majority of them still being in the planning stages. 

Full disclosure:  I loved titles then, and I love them now.  Give me three odd words and I’ll gladly arrange them into a title, and then my mind immediately starts creating a story to go under them.  It was how I liked to work back then, and how I still like to be inventive now. 

Just for fun, I’ve attached the list of titles for your perusal below.  If memory serves me right, the ones in italics are all the ones that I can remember having completed back during college.  Most of the rest were just ideas that I had that I had given a title to, or just some words or a phrase that I thought sounded cool. 

 Short Stories Titles
-----------------------------------------------------------------
1.   Far Pavilions
2.   Father Figure
3.   Way Down South
4.   Free Enterprise
5.   Boomtown
6.   Bellum Bellum
7.   Blue Song
8.   Michaelangelo's Going Out of Business Sale
9.   Sound and Steam
10.  Creativity is Neuron 151 Firing Twice
11.  Spin, Infinity!
12.  Worlds Apart
13.  Mars Needs Women
14.  Shades
15.  Socrates, Please!
16.  The Church of Christ Bar and Grill
17.  In the Rain18.  Northern Girl19.  Soar!
20.  Bend Sinister
21.  South Seas Sun Co.
22.  Jihad #83q
23.  Insensation
24.  The Having Been Loved Man
25.  To Raise, Again, the Dead
26.  Lettuce, Thank You...
27.  Boobs
28.  Breezeway
29.  Fish
30.  Greenway
31.  Heart of Stone
32.  Storm Warnings
33.  A Clockwork Banana
34.  Designs
35.  Taylor's Place
36.  Stones
37.  A
38.  In Black Mourn I
39.  Carols
40.  Refrigerator Repairman
41.  Stream of Consciousness
42.  White Stuff (Snow)
43.  King
44.  Kid
45.  Victoria
46.  Third Person
47.  Inferno Lost
48.  The Mephistopholes Gambit
49.  A Penny Earned
50.  Raindance
51.  Windy
52.  Cassanova Jones
53.  Ice on Pearls, French Say (Ici est Parle Francais)
54.  The Supreme Conversation
55.  Banner of a Thousand Lands
56.  Weeds are Would-be Flowers, Man
57.  The Antarcticans
58.  Faraway's Star
59.  Leap Year
60.  A Vision Once I saw
61.  Our Grandfather's Plan
62.  Carrabeing
63.  The Belt of Orion
64.  Arc to Arcturus
65.  The Heart of Antares
66.  Olympus Mons
67.  Red Train
68.  The Melancholy Man
69.  Madonna and Child

Reading through this list brought a smile to my face, as it reminded me of some good writing times back in college.  College was an intensively creative time for me and my writing, and I got a lot done then, in spite of (or perhaps because of) all my classroom workload.  Why didn’t I finish more of these stories?  Well, that would have to do with me getting hired by the FAA as an Air Traffic Controller during my senior year of college.  I suddenly was so beleaguered with ATC training that I had to leave college temporarily (I finished up a few years later) and I suddenly had no time or energy to write.  It was great to have a good job, but getting it probably set my writing career back twenty years, because I didn’t write for a long time, and when I did I just didn’t have the energy or drive to stick with it.  Thankfully, now that I’m retired that is not a problem, and I am trucking along great this year with the writing.

Since I love titles so much, I think I will go back and see if I can mine this list for some titles that appeal to me now, and perhaps create some new stories to go under them.  I particularly like Michelangelo’s Going Out of Business Sale.  I remember where I got the title...it was an art store commercial on the radio, but I had no idea what sort of story I had in mind for it back then.  Guess we’ll have to come up with something now.   I’m also inspired to go back and read some of these old college short stories, which thankfully I archived from floppies to hard disk a long time ago, and see if there are any that could potentially be updated and/or brought back to life. 

Oh, the list also contained some titles for novels I had planned back then.  Here they are:

Novels Titles
----------------------------------------------------------------
1. Winter's End
2. Samson Sound
3. Padre South
4. Fiji Archipelago
5. Raindance
6. Baron Red
7. Bend Sinister
8. Obsidian
9. Lancelot
10. Shillelagh
11. A Boy and His God
12. Autumn
13. First Person
14. The Antarcticans

Reading through this brings back memories as well.  Shillelagh I actually got about two thirds through when I was nineteen.  It was a Tolkienesque standard fantasy knockoff about a dwarf who wanted to become a wizard.  Samson Sound was about a deaf kid who discovers he is an amazing baseball player, only to lose the talent when he gains his hearing back.  Padre South was about a band of outrageous college kids and their adventures during a summer on Padre Island, written in the style of Steinbeck’s Cannery RowRaindance was about a planet of perpetual rain.  Bend Sinister was the story of a bastard son of a king and his rise to power on a medieval world reminiscent of feudal Britain.   A Boy and his God was about a child–the sole survivor of a plane crash in a South American Jungle–who invents his own religion to explain his surroundings.  Winter’s End was a fantasy about a world locked in an unending winter which I’m actually gently trying to nurse back to health as a current novel project.  Most of the others I can’t remember exactly what I had in mind–may have just been a title.

So, I had some ambitious goals way back then.  Perhaps some of these works will make their way back into future projects.  For now, I’m hopelessly caught up in nostalgia, so I will have to tear myself away from these old files so I can actually get some new writing done today.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Thoughts on NPR's 100 Best SF/Fantasy Books

Well, NPR just released their list of the 100 greatest Science Fiction and Fantasy books.  Since I’m a fan of both NPR and Science Fiction/Fantasy, I thought I’d make a few comments on the list.  Like anyone who encounters this list, there are some things I’m happy about, and some that I’m not.  Overall, I think it captured most of the classics, but snubbed a few, and it left something to be desired in its exclusion of some deserving contemporary authors. 

I was happy to see that Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings came in first on the list.  I feel it is the seminal work of speculative fiction of the twentieth century and thus deserves this lofty station.  Yes, I’m a bit biased in my love of this book, but I think most would agree that Tolkien had a powerful impact on the genre that fantasy was to become.   I also cannot think of a single other work of fantasy (or science fiction) that has had as great an impact, so I couldn’t really see anyone else on top of the list. 

This leads me to another thing I like about the list.  I’m glad they excluded young adult and horror from the list.  While there are certainly some worthy titles in both of those categories, I think first that SF and Fantasy deserve to be represented alone (both could have probably had their own 100 greatest list) and second, since this list is voted on by readers, and thus basically a popularity contest, they could have ended up with something like the Harry Potter books, or worse yet, something like Eregon topping the list.   Not to slight J. K. Rowling, her HP books are highly entertaining, but despite their great sales numbers, they are not the best of the best when it comes to the classics of speculative fiction. 

This brings to mind the fact that Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy came in second.  While I like the book, I find it an odd second place in the entire canon of SF/Fantasy.  It would seem more appropriate to me for something by Heinlein or Clarke to hold this place on the list.  But at least those two are represented somewhere further down the list.  I was saddened to find that Alfred Bester didn’t appear on the list.  His two novels, The Demolished Man, and The Stars My Destination are integral SF works that should be on anyone’s speculative fiction reading list. 

As to what was included, I was not thrilled to see graphic novels included in the mix.  While I love Alan Moore’s Watchmen and Neil Gaiman’s Stardust and the Sandman series, I don’t think of them in the same mix with straight up novels and story collections.  They are a different art form, no pun intended.  Leaving them out could have opened up space for writers like John Crowley, whose novel Little, Big practically redefined Fantasy in the early eighties.  Or Tim Powers, whose exclusion from the list is practically a travesty. 

I was also disappointed to see a commercial movie tie-in like Tim Zahn’s  Star Wars inspired Thrawn Trilogy on the list.  Nothing against movie tie-ins, they are often entertaining and well written, and they generate some well–deserved revenue for SF authors, but I just don’t think derivative works like this belong on a 100 best list.  Especially when so many well known authors of original fiction, like Lucius Shepard, Michael Swanwick, Frederick Pohl, Tad Williams and others didn’t make the list. 

I also found it interesting that authors with series books had the whole series listed, rather than just one book.  The main reason that I prefer this is the fact that it opened up more space on the list for other authors, even though in some series, the later books might not hold up as well as the first ones—Frank Herbert’s Dune books being a good example.

I also found that I disliked the fact that Neal Stephenson had four books on the list.  Not to slight his books—he is a brilliant author, but to have a list with four of his books and not one by Samuel R. Delany, or Octavia Butler, or worse yet, Fritz Leiber, is to me unthinkable.  Leiber, perhaps almost as much as Tolkien, helped define modern day genre fantasy with his Fafhrd and Grey Mouser works.  It is inexcusable that the list excludes Leiber. 

So that’s my two cents on the list, which all in all isn’t too bad.  I like when entities like NPR or other places do these sort of things, as it helps promote authors’ books, and gets people talking about books, just like I’m doing right now.  I’m sure I’ll take some flak for some of my opinions, but hey, that’s the way it goes. 

In reviewing the list, I find that out of the hundred, I’ve read forty-nine books on the list, including seven out of the top ten.  There are several more on there that I’d like to read, so thanks, NPR, for bringing them to my attention. 


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Seventh Sale of the Year!

Just got word I've made another sale, my seventh of the year.  This time it's a short story called Rainbow Girl, to Golden Visions Magazine.  This was one that the editor had requested a minor rewrite on a while back, which I was happy to do, and I believe it made the story stronger.  It's estimated to come out in their winter issue, so there's a little wait, but not too bad. 

Rainbow Girl was the first story I wrote after my mother died back in January, so it is perhaps noticeably dark and grim.  It is a short piece about addiction, desperation and death.  But don’t you agree that sometimes it is the dark pieces that feel right at those difficult times of our lives.  Writing such is a way of dealing with the grief. 

I haven’t done a lot of dark writing yet in my career, but it is definitely an area that I would like to explore more in the future—just without the real life inspiration!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Musings on Odyssey

Well, now that Odyssey has been over for a week, I figure I am well-rested enough to finally make a blog entry about the experience.

All I can say is that it was amazing, intense and overwhelming. And even these words don’t do it justice. I knew it was going to be these things. I’d heard countless testimonials claiming the same. But to finally actually experience it was both surreal and profound. I am moved by the experience.

First, I’ll just say that Odyssey made me very happy...happier than I’ve been in a long time. I’ve been writing since I was a kid, and dreaming of being a writer for just as long, but other than perhaps majoring in English in college, I’ve never done anything quite as profound and dedicated toward furthering my writing ability. I’ve never been immersed in writing–fiction writing–in such an all-encompassing way before, never been surrounded by so many other talented students of writing before, and never have I met a teacher like Jeanne Cavelos before.

I’ve read books on writing and so many of them are nebulous and oblique when it comes to craft. Ditto for some of the short seminars and panels on writing that I’ve experienced–some even taught by well known and best selling authors. There was nothing vague about the teaching at Odyssey. It was a thorough and broad program that really got into the nuts and bolts of writing, from a brief treatise on grammar to the mechanics of plot, voice, character, and several other aspects of the art and craft of fiction writing. I knew I’d learn a lot at Odyssey, but I didn’t realize how much, and how much of a jump start it would give to my abilities. Even in the first week, I could already look back on older work and see flaws that I hadn’t noticed before. From here on out, I have a new paradigm on how I write, and how I rewrite.

There were many great things about Odyssey. But I’d have to say the greatest of them is the main instructor herself, Jeanne Cavelos. Jeanne is the heart and soul of Odyssey. She is Odyssey. She has to be one of the most talented writers and editors that I’ve ever met. Getting a three or four page critique of a story from her is humbling, but also eye opening (or perhaps mind opening is a better way to put it). She is the best asset and resource at Odyssey.

But also important and worthwhile is the interaction with the fifteen other students at Odyssey. This is all part of the process of immersing one’s self in six weeks of writing intensity. In this case, it takes the form of reading and critiquing each others’ work. I knew this was a valuable skill that I wanted to learn, because I’ve long wanted to begin to interact with other writers out there, and critiquing through various writers groups is a great way to do that. But I also found that critiquing others work is a great way to hone my own skills. Seeing other writers’ various strengths and weaknesses and identifying them in a critique can help me identify the same in my own. This was perhaps one of the most unexpected benefits of the Odyssey format.
I’ve also made some great new writing friends that I look forward to interacting with in the years to come–not only my classmates, but other Odyssey graduates (Odfellows) from years past. There’s a great network setup to interact with graduates from previous years.

So, all in all, I would have to say that the Odyssey experience for me has been priceless and invaluable, and has accelerated my growth as a writer by a factor of several years. I’m proud and humbled that I got the chance to attend.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Another (Novelette) Sale!

Just got word that I’ve made another sale. This time it is for my novelette, The Night Bigfoot Attacked Marshall, Texas, June Fifteenth, 1977. Despite its somewhat cumbersome, monstrous title, this isn’t actually a work of speculative fiction, but it is my first piece of mainstream fiction to sell in quite a while. I’m very excited, as this story is very dear to my mine and my wife’s hearts. Set in 1977, it’s the story of two boys who search for Bigfoot in the east Texas woods. While not exactly autobiographical, I have definitely mined a lot of my own childhood in East and North Texas for this tale. It is sort of my own personal ‘Stand By Me," I guess.

Here is the blurb that I wrote for the publisher:

Jack Horn and Scotty McKay are two young boys brought together by their fascination for mythic monsters, particularly Bigfoot. Scotty believes he has sighted the beast, and the two boys take to the woods behind their houses in a quest to find the creature. But what they discover is something eminently more terrifying—and real.

I’ll keep you posted when it comes out.

In the mean time, I’m still here at Odyssey, so back to work for me!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Mystic Signals Cover

The cover for Mystic Signals Eleven, which contains my novella 'The Miller's Tale,' has been released.  The issue should be available soon at Amazon.com and other venues.  I'll post a link when it's available. 

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Writers of the Future

Just got notice that I've received an Honorable Mention for my story In Black Mourn I in the second quarter of this year's Writer's of the Future contest.  This was my first time to enter the contest, which is perhaps the largest in the genre, so I am happy to start off on such a good note.  I plan to continue to enter each quarter until I either win, or get enough pro sales that I no longer am eligible for the contest. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Red

My Story, Red, is now online over at Jersey Devil Press.  Check it out!

Chris

Saturday, June 18, 2011

200,000 Words

Just logged in my daily word count on the spreadsheet I use to keep track of such things, and saw that I had hit the milestone of 200,000 words for the year. It seemed like such an auspicious moment I thought I’d better commemorate it with a quick blog entry. As you may know, I’m two weeks into the Odyssey Writing Workshop, and the workload is such that there’s not much time for blogging, or anything else but writing and critiquing classmates' work.

It’s been quite an amazing experience, though. I find I’ve been working from about six a.m. until about eleven at night, but it’s been quite rewarding. I’ve been cranking out about 12,000 words a week, so just under double my usual weekly output. I’m also learning a lot through the lectures and the critiquing process. I feel like I’ve learned so much new stuff about writing that its like using a sling shot my whole life, and now I’ve suddenly been given a machine gun. But of course all this new found knowledge means I’ve got to change the way I’ve been doing some things in the past.

Anyway, that’s about all the update I’ve got time for now. Back to work!

Chris

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Odyssey

I've made it!  I'm here in lovely New Hampshire in the midst of the workshop.  And there's as much work load as was rumored, so it looks like I won't have much time for blogging until I get back.  So I'll just make a nice update of the whole experience then.  For now,

Write on!

Chris

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Sale - Every Day Fiction

Just got word I’ve had another sale, this time for the story "Lessons Never Learned" to Every Day Fiction. EDF is a great market that is similar to Daily Science Fiction in that they publish first via email to subscribers and then archive on a website. I like this method very much, and I subscribe to both EDF and DSF. I enjoy the quick read of a flash fiction or short fiction piece each morning to start my day off. It’s fun, and a great way to get into the writing mind set early in the day.

There was one change the editors requested, and it made sense to me. I didn’t provide clues to identify the gender of the narrator until late in the story, and this was disquieting for many of the first readers at EDF. Once they pointed it out, making the change made perfect sense. This is one of those problems when you, as the author, proofread your own story. Since I, as the author, knew the narrator to be male, the confusion didn’t stand out to me. But as soon as someone mentioned it, the confusing stood out prominently. Correcting this little bit of confusion serves to illustrate the importance of the writer and editor working together to make a better story, so I thought I’d take time to mention it.

Also, speaking of "you;" this story is epistolary in nature, i.e. the male narrator is addressing his deceased wife. (The gender of the spouse was not revealed until late in the story as well. I’ve fixed this now in the second sentence.) I would have to say an epistolary story is about as close as I will ever come to writing in the second person. A true second person story, where the author addresses the reader as if the reader is doing the action of the story, always sort of puts me off, and seems a bit smug on the author’s part. Epistolary stories, i.e. those written as a letter, don’t bother me in that way, because in the case of these, the ‘you’ is just another character in the story, and not the reader. It is as if we are privy to someone’s private communiqué with another character. In my story there is no letter, but the first person narrator (and not the author) is definitely addressing his deceased wife, (and not the reader) so it is still epistolary in nature–sort of like a mental journal entry on the narrator’s part.

I mentioned this story in a previous entry on music and writing. It’s title comes from the Walt Wilkins song of the same name. I think I will go put the album on the iPod this morning as a way of celebrating, and to perhaps see if there are any other story prompts in there.

Chris

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Revisions

One of the aspects of Odyssey that I’m really looking forward to learning is how to revise. Some writers write a very rough rough draft, and then chisel and cut away, or mold and build up their story into a more polished final form. I tend to write in a manner that is summed up in a Stephen King quote (which I am paraphrasing from memory, so I don’t know how accurate it is) that writing is like digging up an artifact, and it is pretty much in its final form at the first digging, and any amount of messing with it afterward risks its destruction.

This is not to say that I don’t think that many of my stories still need work, it is just that they often feel very finished to me when I first write them. I still edit for spelling, usage and clarity, but I don’t really find myself changing the overall story all that much. I hope to change this behavior (at least I think I do) because I think there is much to be gained in the rewriting process.

I’m thinking of such things today because I just did a major rewrite on a story that I’ll be submitting at Odyssey, and while I think the story is stronger than it was before I started, I know it could be better. The story in question is one called Night of the Green Devil, and first of all I am proud that I was able to cut over twelve hundred words from the story, and not really change the gist of it all that much. There’s a saying that you can always cut ten percent out of a story, and this is probably almost always true. In the case of Green Devil, I was able to do it by eliminating one of the story’s most troubling aspects: The fact that over one third of it was told as a first person flashback.

I had submitted this story several times, and it had of course been rejected. The last rejection had a comment that said the first person flashback was lengthy and awkward. I had to agree–I always had felt it was, but the problem was, I really needed to start the story in the present, and then fill in back story from sixty years earlier. As the back story was events that happened to one of the characters, I simply had him tell it to the other character.

Fixing this felt really good, as it not only eliminated all those extra words that were necessary to have the two characters talking to one another, but it gave the back story section a bit more immediacy. I simply did it by making a break at the proper point, writing a header entitled "Sixty Years Earlier," and then continuing the tale in the third person. (Third person to me feels more story-like and proper, though I have written several stories in first person) When I finished the back story, I simply jumped back into the present time action. It seemed to work.

The only drawback is that I didn’t change the back story a great deal--other than substituting "he" for "I" and "Their" for "our," and so on--so much of the back story section feels like telling instead of showing. I’ll probably get dinged for this at Odyssey, but that’s okay for now. I’m looking forward to the critiquing process help me make this one a better tale, and for the moment, it is just under the word limit for Odyssey, so I didn’t want to add too much to it.

On another revision note, I got anther request for a revision on a story from a submission. This time just a few changes, which I made and resubmitted. The story is called The Night Bigfoot Attacked Marshall Texas, June 15, 1977. It is based on my own childhood, and is one of my favorites of my stories, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed on this one.

Chris
 

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Ed Woodian Adventure

I was browsing the web the other day, looking at some writing sites, and I came across a page requesting submissions for a very unusual anthology. No doubt some of you have heard of the infamous Plan Nine From Outer Space, Ed Wood’s master opus that is considered by many to be the worst film ever made. Well, this anthology posits "what were the first eight plans?" And the ‘plan’ is to publish eight short stories that tell us just that.

Goodness, but I was drooling at the prospect of writing one of these stories. I grew up watching campy, grade-B, low budget sci fi movies on late night television, and even though I outgrew them, I still find their unintentional hilarity to be quite charming. I feel the same about Ed Wood’s movies.

Yes, they are bad. The acting is bad. The scripts are bad. The ‘special effects’ are bad. But behind all the badness there is an earnest zeal and love of film, particularly genre film, that shows through and gives Wood’s movies a little something extra. Wood wasn’t just out to make a buck. He considered himself an artist.

I can say this with authority today, as over the last couple of days I have watched almost every Ed Wood film in preparation for writing the story. (Most have fallen into public domain, and as such are available free on sites like YouTube) I watched Plan Nine, of course, and the infamous Glen or Glenda, Wood’s treatise on transvestitism (he was one himself); as well as Jail Bait (a gangster drama) Bride of the Monster (also known by it’s even more charming title, Bride of the Atom), Night of the Ghouls (the sequel to Bride), The Sinister Urge (a crime drama about the evils of pornography...ironic since wood fell into making soft core porn in his latter years) and a few documentaries and of course Tim Burton’s wonderful biopic, Ed Wood.

A mind warping experience? A bit. But also a gold mine of material to grind up, sift through and regurgitate into a story that I hope will feel like it was written by the great Edward D. Wood Jr. himself. With perhaps an homage or two to a few other particularly bad fifties movies.

There must be monsters, and space men, and ray guns, and cops and gangsters. These were all Ed Wood staples. Also prominent were pretty girls in danger, mad scientists, and dour military men. Wood also relied heavily on the use of stock footage in his films. Perhaps this will translate into some random exposition in the story. Oh, and we’ll have to throw in a transvestite or two. Eddie would have wanted it that way.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Music and Writing

For the most part, when I write, I prefer silence. But on rare occasions, a song will strike me, and get stuck in my head, and furthermore inspire me to write. I’ll then find myself playing the song over and over while I craft a story, with the song playing both a direct and indirect role in where the story goes.

Sometimes it’s the words of the song that inspire the tale. This was the case with a story of mine called "Leaning to Read," inspired by the Josh Alan song of the same name. Of course the finished product came out dramatically different than the song–the two share nothing more than the inspiration of origin. The song is about a relationship gone bad, and the story about telepathy, and a relationship newly found.

Sometimes it’s the music of the song that inspires me. This was the case when I was once listening to a song called "Lessons Never Learned" by Walt Wilkins. The music was so beautiful and transporting that I found myself playing it over and over again. It was coming up on my writing time, so I brought the ipod out with me where I’d set up my laptop, and started the song. I wrote "Lessons Never Learned" at the top of the page, and kept playing the song over and over until I had a little gem of a three page piece of flash fiction. I like to think that the soul of that song somehow made it into the cadence and flow of the story I crafted.

Another couple other songs that I recall that made the ‘play over and over’ routine were "Silent All These Years" by Tori Amos, and "Heroin," by Lou Reed. The first was for a particular scene in my novella "In Black Mourn I" that I was trying to conjure up some poignant emotional power, and the latter for the story "Beauty, Piquant," where the song’s frenzied madness cast its bent upon a scene of a sexual escapade gone wrong.

Since I’m talking about music and writing here, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the music of Donal Hinely and Glasnots has also been quite inspirational over the years. Donal’s music, particularly during his Glasnots years, has a markedly medieval/renaissance flare to it, and it lends itself well to my fantasy stories. Donal’s songs "Firefly Summer Night," "Summer’s Boy," and "Mayfly Matinee" were quite inspirational as I wrote my story "Firefly Summer."

Another artist who’s songs are hauntingly inspirational are those of Nick Drake. Drake was a young British singer/songwriter who released three albums to minimal exposure in the early seventies, and then died of a drug overdose. His music languished in obscurity for almost three decades, until an ad exec used his song "Pink Moon" for a Volkswagon commercial. He rose to a new found posthumous popularity at this point, something for which I am glad, because otherwise I might never had heard of him. His song "Fly" inspired my flash fiction story "Way to Blue," which takes its title from another Drake song.

If you’re having trouble with your day’s writing, you could do worse than throw a song on whatever player you fancy and see where it takes you.

Monday, April 25, 2011

When The World Was Mud Luscious

I wrote a great deal of poetry in High School and College, but not so much now.  I think the poetry was mostly therapeutic then–a function that my prose writing fulfills for me now.

One of my favorite poets, whom I discovered in College, is e. e. cummings.  (I’m told that he never used the lowercase version of his name in his own lifetime, but I find it so clever and indicative of his style that I prefer it)   Edward Estlin Cummings is often considered one of the progenitors of the avant garde style of poetry, and indeed, at first glance, his typographical playfulness would seem to back that up.  But behind the syntactical wordplay lies the heart of a romantic and traditionalist.  When reading cummings, one must almost make two passes at his work; one to glean surface level intentions of his type and line spacings, and another to absorb the meaning behind the words. 

Take this poem, for example:


in Just-
spring              when the world is mud-
luscious the little
lame balloonman

whistles              far                and wee

and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it's
spring

when the world is puddle-wonderful

the queer
old balloonman whistles
far                  and                      wee
and bettyandisbel come dancing

from hop-scotch and jump-rope and

it's
spring
and

         the

                       goat-footed

balloonMan                                  whistles
far
and
wee

The choppiness of the words; the way he splits some sentences and yet runs some words together suggests a breathlessness and passion to the scene.  Spring is here; excitement is in the air.  The textual layout thus enhances the impact of the poem.  But at its base, beneath the typographical tricks, is a simple celebration of the exuberance of childhood, when the world can truly be both mudluscious and puddle-wonderful. 

Moving into today’s writing time, I’m going to use In Just as a prompt and see what sort of story I can come up with.  Hopefully, it will be just as breathless and bizarre.

Write On!

Chris

Friday, April 22, 2011

Another Sale!

Had another story accepted for publication today, this time at Aphelion, a website of speculative fiction.  The story, another novella, is called Barrow Ben.  I’m thrilled to have it find a home, for as I’ve said before, novellas can be difficult sells due to their length. 

Barrow Ben is the tale of a bear who is transformed by a witch into a man so that he might leave the forest and seek out the River Girl, a water spirit who has been kidnaped.  This story has been with me a long time.  I started it all the way back in 1997, when I wrote the first few pages and then ran out of steam.  I would revisit the tale from time to time, adding a few pages here and there over the years.  I loved the story, but I just wasn’t sure where the ending was going, and I didn’t want to force it. 

By 2005, Ben had arrived at a dank city of men where he believed the River Girl was held, and he fell in with some thieves.  But there he sat for another five years, until last summer.  Then I suddenly had an epiphany, and I knew the ending to the story, and how to get there.  The story grew from just under 30 pages to almost 70 in a little over a week and a half.   I was very excited–I had wanted to see how this one would end for a long time. 

So then Barrow Ben was shopped around a few places until he found a home.  I’m happy that it’s an online venue, as I’m looking forward to sharing the story with as many readers as possible. 

Write On!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Musings on Walden

One of my favorite books is Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. If you’re in the market to read some beautiful prose interspersed with little bits of wisdom, Walden is a good place to start. I confess, however, that though I own two copies (one an annotated edition, the other beautifully illustrated with photos of Walden Pond and her environs throughout the seasons), I’ve never read the book from beginning to end.

For me, the book is too rich to take all at once. It would be like eating a whole dessert cake or Sacher Torte at one time. As writer Ken Kifer noted:

"Walden is a difficult book to read for three reasons: First, it was written by a gifted writer who uses surgically precise language, extended, allegorical metaphors, long and complex paragraphs and sentences, and vivid, detailed, and insightful descriptions. Thoreau does not hesitate to use metaphors, allusions, understatement, hyperbole, personification, irony, satire, metonymy, synecdoche, and oxymorons, and he can shift from a scientific to a transcendental point of view in mid-sentence. Second, its logic is based on a different understanding of life, quite contrary to what most people would call common sense. Ironically, this logic is based on what most people say they believe. Thoreau, recognizing this, fills Walden with sarcasm, paradoxes, and double entendres. He likes to tease, challenge, and even fool his readers. And third, quite often any words would be inadequate at expressing many of Thoreau's non-verbal insights into truth. Thoreau must use non-literal language to express these notions, and the reader must reach out to understand."

I like to read Walden in little bits at a time. Usually I just page through the book and pick a random place to start, then read a few paragraphs, or a few pages. In this way Walden transcends being a simple book, and becomes almost bible-like for me. This is particularly inherent in my writer’s life, as Thoreau’s prose alone can be extremely inspiring. Below is one of my favorite passages from the book:

“In warm evenings I frequently sat in the boat playing the flute, and saw the perch, which I seemed to have charmed, hovering around me, and the moon traveling over the ribbed bottom, which was strewed with the wrecks of the forest. Formerly I had come to this pond adventurously, from time to time, in dark summer nights, with a companion, and making a fire close to the water's edge, which we thought attracted the fishes, we caught pouts with a bunch of worms strung on a thread; and when we had done, far in the night, threw the burning brands high into the air like sky rockets, which, coming down into the pond, were quenched with a loud hissing, and we were suddenly groping in total darkness. Through this, whistling a tune, we took our way to the haunts of men again. But now I had made my home by the shore.”

Thoreau is masterful in his word choice for conjuring up imagery and sensation. One could also learn a lot from the pacing and meter of his sentences as well. There is a power in the simplicity of his prose; he manages to do complex things with simple yet effective word choices. The text is also surprisingly modern for a book written over 150 years ago. Perhaps it is more appropriately called timeless.

I’ve written about writing prompts in a previous entry. I think today I’m going to take the passage above, and perhaps another one of two, and see what sort of story they might prompt for today’s writing.

Write on!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Good News, Two for One!

A great day on the writing front. Two notices of good news arrived today. The first was the sale of another short story. The second was news that I have been accepted to the Odyssey Writing Program this summer. I’m tingling with excitement.

First, the short story. It’s a little flash piece called “Red.” which is a humorous, bizarre twist on the Red Riding Hood fable. It will be published at Jersey Devil Press in July. I originally wrote it with an anthology of Twisted Fairy Tales in mind that was open to submissions. But after I wrote the piece, I reread the guidelines, and discovered the minium length requirements were two thousand words. The piece was under a thousand words, and there was no way to expand it (well, there probably was a way, but I didn’t want to, as it had a nice little comic one-two punch at its present length), so I just decided to shop it around elsewhere. Thankfully, it found a home on the first try.

Now...Odyssey. This is one of the big three writing programs in Sci Fi and Fantasy, the other two being Clarion and Clarion West. Odyssey is more fantasy oriented, so it has always been my first preference of the three. I have wanted to attend Odyssey for years (over a decade, actually) but work was always an obstacle. With retirement, this is no longer the case.

Odyssey is an intensive six week program of classes, workshopping, writing and critiquing. I am almost intimidated by it. Students are expected to work twelve hour days, every day, for the six weeks of the course. It is taught by an editor (Jeanne Cavelos) who has worked for years in the publishing industry, as well as won a World Fantasy Award for her work. In addition to Jeanne, guest lecturers include published and well known writers and another editor.

I’m looking forward to Odyssey, and have hopes that it will take my writing to the next level. I also feel I will learn a lot from the critiquing process, which I really haven’t done a lot of before. Odyssey should also be good for networking, both in meeting the published writers and editors, and also making connections with the up and coming writers that are the other students.

If possible, I will blog about my experiences at Odyssey as they happen. So look for more on this in the future.

Write On!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Writing Prompts

One of the questions writers often get is ‘where do you get your ideas?’ The answer, as most writers know, is that ideas are everywhere. We are flooded with them by the constant stream of sights, sounds, smells, and emotions which we are subjected to every day. Every one of them can be an ‘idea,’ and the juxtaposition of two or more taken out of context and reassembled in a creative way can often lead to a ‘story.’

Sometimes a story will pop into my head almost fully formed, but this is usually the exception to the rule. Often when it comes time for my daily writing, I must take some of those sensory images that have hit me throughout the day, and work on combining them into a story. Sometimes it helps to use ‘prompts’ for this exercise.

Writing prompts can take many forms. There are websites devoted to them, and they often take the form of a starting sentence that one is supposed to take and ‘write the rest of the story.’ I don’t really care for these too much, as for me, the first sentence is someone else’s. Ditto for the little situations that people put toghther–i.e. a story synopsis for which you are then supposed to write the story.

Instead, I like to manufacture my own prompts. Sometimes I will do this by randomly paging through a book (or books) and randomly touching the page, and writing down the word that I touched. I do this about five times, and then take those words, and see what sort of story is conjured up in my mind. I’ve done many stories this way, including one of my recently sold stories, “The Thinning.”

Another good writing prompt for me is using a painting, a photograph, or a song. Sometimes I will randomly search words on Google Images and see what pictures come up. When I find a good one, I look at the various things that are in the image, and see if I can come up with a story for it. The same goes for a song. I’ve written several stories that I really like that were inspired by songs. For me, the song technique has the added benefit of the emotional tapestry that the music creates affecting the story, as well as the images of the lyrics.

Today I wrote a story called “Raincoat,” after listing to Leonard Cohen’s song ‘Famous Blue Raincoat.” It’s not really a great story at the moment–it could use some work–but hey, they can’t all be gems. And sometimes, old ‘not so great’ stories can be hammered into great ones, with a little (or a lot) of rewriting. So for now, “Raincoat” will rest in the metaphorical drawer until it’s ready for that rewrite. And tomorrow, the random splashes of thought and images will converge to form a story as yet unfathomed.

Write On!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The "Good" Rejection

Just received a ‘good’ rejection letter today. What is a ‘good’ rejection letter you ask? Well, I think that it is any rejection letter that offers feedback on one’s story, good or bad. Editors are busy people, and often they have little time for more than a simple, ‘thanks, but this story wasn’t right for us,’ response. So if they take their valuable time to offer perhaps a reason for the rejection, and better still, a few compliments, then this is a good thing indeed.

This letter offered some very detailed feedback from two different editors, which I’ve decided to include below.

I like this post-wedding portrait. The old man's dialogue is excellent as is the whole supermarket scene. I like the little reveals of Katherine about her feeling a twinge for the evening and buying a large bottle of wine as opposed to a 750 ml. This really lets the reader's mind wander around about this woman. By the end, though, I wanted more direction, more emotion or action from Katherine. Is she sad? Drunk? Content? Stoic? I also expected more in the rain after she sees the old man dance -- I expected her to go dance with him, but she remains in her seemingly not-too-sad alone state that left the ending a bit flat for me. All the pieces are here, but I wanted them slightly more put together, but I did enjoy the sparse style and simple-yet-effective prose.
-- Editor A

Some very competent writing here. I liked the line " All around her, other people made similar mad dashes to or from their cars; the whole world seeming accelerated by the coming of the rain." But the ending was a bit of a let down for me as well. This piece needs a strong conclusion and I would like to know more about Katherine as a person. I would like to see more work from this author in the future.
–Editor B

The fact that there was a lot of nice things said really strokes the ego, and makes the rejection palatable. I have to say that this was the most lengthy of personalized rejections I’ve yet received. Both editors seemed to key on the downer ending, which I have to admit was what I was going for. So this gives me some food for thought. I can either revise the story, or keep it as it it. Since I still like the ending, I may try a few more submissions with it as is, and see what happens. On the other hand, I just might see what else I can come up with. That’s the beauty of working with your own writing–it’s yours to change (or not) on a whim. We shall see what happens.

Write On!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

One Shy of Fifty

Just submitted a couple more stories this morning, and as I was updating my submission log, I noticed that I had 49 submissions for the year–just one shy of fifty. I must say I’m pretty proud of this. I currently have eighteen out, and I’ve had two sales for the year, so you can do the math and see how many rejections there have been. (Full disclosure, some of these submissions were in late December, but that’s when I started the submission log)

I’ve read lots of different ways that writers deal with rejections, and now, after making this whole thing a rote process, I have to say that I really have no need to deal with them at all. I just pick the next market and submit again. And at one shy of fifty, I have to say that this is the most I’ve ever submitted at any point before. As I’ve said here before, in the past I’d submit a few, and then fall out of the habit. That was a bad thing, and I hope I can say that I’m out of that now. I don’t want there to be a time now that I don’t have at least some stories floating out there in submission.

And I have to say that what has really helped me in this endeavor is keeping track of things. I now have a spreadsheet for keeping track of submissions, as well as tracking the daily word output for my writing. It’s a fun thing to update each day. I’m proud as I see the numbers rise, and these spreadsheets keep me on track, both in my writing and submitting goals.

It’s good to be organized.

Write On!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Re: Rewriting

So I got a letter from an editor yesterday that was neither a rejection nor an acceptance.  What else could there be, you ask?   Let me introduce you to the rewrite letter.

First, the editor complimented my writing, which is always a good thing, and then went into detailing the brief piece of the story that didn’t work for her, and asked if I’d like to do a rewrite.  I agreed.  I’ll let you know how it comes out. 

I think getting a rewrite request letter is a great thing.  Almost as good as getting accepted.  It shows the editor liked the majority of your work, and is willing to publish it if you can just do a little bit of honing.  There may be writers out there whose work is too personal to them to rewrite for someone else, but I’m generally not one of them.  Usually editors are quite keen on story mechanics and what works versus what doesn’t, so it’s good to trust them.  When I was writing for Brewing News, my editor often pushed me to refine an article or a feature until it was better than what I had turned in, and I was always thankful for it.  The piece was almost always better than when it started.  Two heads are better than one, I guess, and I’ve always believed that the writer/editor relationship is a good dichotomy, and a great editor is one who pushes the writer to be better and better. 

So I rewrote the piece this morning, and I’m very pleased with it.  The changes were minor.  Just a couple sentences toward the end of page two, and a few more added at the end of the story.  But it fleshes out one of the two characters more, and gives her a greater raison d’etre.  I pleased with the changes, and hopefully, the editor will be as well. 

Write On!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

100,000 Club

So this weekend I hit one hundred thousand words for the year.

I’ve challenged myself to write at least a thousand words a day, and I hit 100K officially on March 18, which puts my average at about 1300 words a day. Not bad. If I can keep this pace up, I could potentially hit 400K for the year, which would be great.

I’ve had a few days here and there where I haven’t had the time to write, but thankfully, those are few and far between. In contrast to this I’ve had some days were I have doubled, tripled, or even quintupled my goal. I had one frenzied Saturday where I cranked out 5200 words. I’m proud of such a day, but also just as proud of the 1K’s as well. This is a long slow march to a beautiful destination, but it is also a hell of a journey, and if one is not enjoying the journey, what is the point, right?

I’ve been working exclusively on short stories at this point while I try to hone my craft. I have also worked in a little development on a novel I hope to start later in the year, but for now, the short story rules. I’ve had a couple come out at around 10K, but most have been in the nice, compact (and submittable) range of under 5K. I’ve also written a lot of flash, which I’ve really enjoyed. This surprised me, as I didn’t think I would enjoy writing such short short stories, but it turns out I do. It’s nice to be able to pull off a complete story arc in a day–really leaves one with a feeling of a job well done.

I’ve been doing a lot of submitting as well, which makes me feel great also. I just hit forty submissions for the year, and I’ve got fifteen out as I write today. Got a rejection this morning from Ideomancer. I hit Duotrope's Digest to find another market, and voila, the story is right back out there in circulation. I love getting a story right back out there. It feels like I’m a batter at the plate, and someone throws me a curve ball, but I just connect with it and knock back it into the sky. Let’s just hope it drops for a hit, or flies over the wall for a home run.

Resubmitting a story quickly, or having multiple stories out there, really takes the sting out of rejections. I highly recommend it.

Write on, kids.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Into the River and Up to Your Knees

So this is my new livejournal page writing website and blog.  I just had two stories sell this week, and I told myself when I had a professional sale, I would start a livejournal writing blog.  (Ed. Note:  This blog started on Livejournal, but I have ported it over to blogger, as I like the interface better)  I was going to start the blog after the first sale, but I didn’t get around to it, and another one hit.  Perhaps I should keep putting it off, if this is the result. 

Needless to say, I’m very giddy about the sales.  I have been putting an earnest effort into writing over the past year, in which I’ve managed to crank out over 200,000 words, which include about three fourths of a novel, and around thirty short stories.  I’ve also been putting an earnest effort into submitting, which in the past had been hit or miss for me.  I’d get a few rejections and drift out of submitting for a while.  Not so this year, so far, since January first, I’ve submitted about 20 stories, and lo, garnered two sales so far.  A ten to one ratio is not bad, and several of those stories are still out there. 

A bit about the stories.  The first is a piece of flash fiction called “The Thinning,” which sold to Daily Science Fiction.  I hadn’t really written much flash fiction (which are stories under a thousand words) before, but I had discovered that there were a great deal of markets for flash, so I decided to give it a go.  I’ve really enjoyed writing this style of prose, as one has to be clever to fit a whole story into that short a format. It forces me, as the author, to write very tight prose, which is a good thing.  I’ve also been learning how a good flash story hints at much more that is not written. 

The second sale was a novella of mine called “The Miller’s Tale,” to Mystic Signals Magazine.  I was glad to have this one sell, as it is one of my favorite stories of mine.  But at over 17,000 words, there wasn’t a great deal of markets for it.  Novellas are oddball things.  Too short to be marketed as a novel, but usually to long for most short story markets.  It was written over ten years ago, so I’m glad it is finally seeing the light of day. 

Hopefully, some more will hit soon, but I won’t be daunted if it takes a while.  This is a long process, but I’m in it for the long haul. 

Chris