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Month: August 2009

mai full dans card. let me show u it.

mai full dans card. let me show u it.

Wow. So, as I mentioned a couple of posts ago, I’ve got a lot going on. Still, or again.

Starship Sofa sure does like their 7000-word stories. It works out to be about 40 minutes of finished recording, which takes roughly three times that to actually record, now that I kind of know what I’m doing. I have to get comfortable with the material, though, and that takes a few read-throughs – I don’t know if everyone else on the podcast is reading cold or what, but I’m not comfortable doing that. That first disastrous effort (which turned out all right in the end) took many, many readings before I felt like I could do it worth a damn. I owe it to the author to read it well (though I’m sure I’m not reading it the way they had it in their head,) and I owe it to the Sofa.

The SFWA stuff is such a good education, especially as a run-up to World Fantasy in October. I have realized how woefully under-read I am in the field; a couple of years ago I decided I was going to read every Nebula-winning novel there was, but I haven’t followed up on it. I still think it’s a good goal, though. (Hm and certainly worth a series of blog posts if I ever get to it!)

It’s really the exact same set up I had going a month and a half ago – a lot of commitments, plus my own stuff. It can look like a giant pile of OMG How Am I Going to Get This Done, but really it’s giant pile of Awesome Payoff That Just Needs A Little Attention.

Two rejections came in over the past two days – one personal and complimentary, and one form. Both stories are already sitting in new slush piles, as they should be.

And then there are all of these drafts sitting around waiting for some love, some red ink, and someone to reject them. They call. I must heed.

On rejection

On rejection

So let’s talk about Rejection.

Man. I’ve been doing Rejection for a long time now. My very first rejection was from Cemetery Dance, a horror mag. It was a form rejection that looked like a copy of a copy of a copy of a manually typed page.

I framed it. It was my first.*

Since then I’ve been rejected by some of the best: Gordon Van Gelder has rejected me, Orson Scott Card has rejected me – I’ve been rejected by interns (McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern) and Editors in Chief, (Apex.)

I am always disappointed. I always heave a deep sigh. I’m never hurt, though. Not even by the rejections beside me, dated a couple years back. One is a quarter-sheet with check boxes – the ones checked are “Lacked any (or too few) of the following elements, which are imperative essentials in the fiction we buy: the dark fantastic, surreal, bizarre or strange,” and “The plot offered nothing new or interesting.”

Another rejection, for the same story, is another oft-copied full-page form rejection, with “disappointing ending” circled. At the bottom someone scrawled “poor ‘surprise’ ending” and stuffed it in my self-addressed stamped envelope.

I wasn’t hurt at all by any of that. Frankly, I agreed.

I sent the story back out anyway.** That same story garnered other hand-written rejections, including these:

“Good writing and sense of place, but unfortunately, I must pass on this one; though strictly a subjective call.”

“A nice piece of dark fiction.”

This is a strange game, this writing thing. We get conflicting messages; it’s hard to sort it all out.

I guess the key here is that everything I said above is wrong. They didn’t reject me. They rejected my story. Just that story. Not the other ones that I didn’t send them. Just that one.

So I sigh, and then I open my Submissions spreadsheet, and I enter the date that I received the rejection and anything notable about it (form letter, hand-written invitation to send more, note that it started too slow, etc.) Then, if I haven’t already, I go to Duotrope’s Digest and figure out where to send it next.

Submitting stories and receiving rejections is how I demonstrate to myself that I am taking my writing seriously.

Of the five I have out there right now, one is well past the normal turn-around and the other is right at the normal turn-around as reported by Submitting to the Black Hole. This could be a rejection-heavy week. The best thing I can do to prepare for that is to go pick the next market, and then get back to work on the next story.

* I went looking for it when preparing this blog post and couldn’t find it. I am distressed.
** A few more times. I have since declared that story ‘retired’ because as noted above, I tend to agree with the criticisms of it far more than the praise (though I sure did appreciate the praise.)

In which our author actually produces something

In which our author actually produces something

There are so few wins in the life of an Aspiring Writer. Lots of rejections, lots of failures, lots of days where no writing happens, lots of stories not being quite what we want them to be. But last week I had a succession of victories (a succession of successes?) It was the kind of week that left me (briefly) feeling like I had accomplished something:

1. Finished the first draft of a new short story, the abbreviated title of which is “…They Are Living Still.” This is the story I was recently saying I loved, and then hated, and right now kind of tolerate.

2. Finished two critiques for Critters. I rejoined a while back, and lucky for me the auto-suspend feature is broken so even though I hadn’t submitted a single crit in months, it was still emailing me. I did one crit per day on two successive days, and I learned something from each.

3. Had a brief but reassuring conversation on Twitter with an author I respect. There’s another blog post to be written about that, but for now, it prompted me to do #4.

4. I decided to challenge myself: I gave myself 15 minutes to build or adapt a world, 15 minutes to do some brainstorming about character and plot, and 1 hour to write a complete story. I was not sure I could do it; I never had before. I don’t think I’ve ever written a story in one sitting (at least not since high school) so this was a pretty major challenge. The outcome: I did it! I cheated a little bit by using a world I had developed for another short story. But it felt great to have a finished draft two hours after conceiving the idea. I proved to myself that I do not need to deliberate for days or weeks over the right direction for every story. This is important – most of the pending ideas I have right now are kind of epic and may well be beyond my current skill level, but that should not mean that I don’t generate new material.

5. Made a writing friend! @screamingguppy and I had exchanged occasional replies on Twitter but we connected via Google Chat this past week. It has been great talking directly to someone else in a similar place pre-career (though she’s ahead of me – she’s been published and reprinted!) I look forward to meeting her at PAX in two weeks.

6. Took on a couple more assignments from SFWA. I am getting the greatest education doing stuff for them. I recommend volunteering to anyone interested in the SFF field.

7. Finished and sent off the Thing I Hadn’t Been Talking About… I am now a narrator for Starship Sofa! I have no idea when my first recording is going to be ‘aired’ (do we say ‘aired’ on the internet?) and I don’t know if I’d even announce it if I did. It was such a steep learning curve, and my self-confidence went straight to the crapper several times in the process. A couple of times I considered emailing Tony, (Sofa Commander) apologizing, and telling him I couldn’t do it. He was awesome every time I checked in, very encouraging and patient, and I kept at it. I think I’m (mostly) past all that now. I have my second assignment, and am really looking forward to it.

That is a lot to pack into one week. This week isn’t starting off with quite the same bang, but I’m chipping away at a few things. I know that the sense of accomplishment has a half-life of about five days, so I need to use the momentum while I’ve got it. Onward!

Another skill I lack is titling blog posts

Another skill I lack is titling blog posts

Another creative person told me today that he hates everything he does. This is a guy who consistently finishes what he starts and puts it out there for people to see, and with very few exceptions gets recognition for it. And yet, even with other people telling him it’s awesome – sometimes people who are widely recognized themselves – he hates everything he does.

I generally feel the same. Makes me wonder if any of us ever really likes what we produce.

There is usually a point during the creation of a story where I like it, because it’s not done yet. I know what I want it to be, and it still has the potential to become that. The closer I get to done, though, the less I can see on the page of what was in my head, and I am reminded of my very limited grasp of the craft, of my failings, and I despair of it ever being good enough to see the light of day.

Like this story I’ve been working on. I am totally in love with the idea, and there are parts of what I’ve written that I really like – but I’m finding that as the story evolves a lot of those pieces need to be excised because they are not consistent with the story anymore. So, out they go. And as the story becomes more cohesive, it gets a little less romantic and fantastical, a little farther from the original vision in my head. But I don’t know how to execute the original vision; I do not have the skill.

It is getting very close to done, or at least complete, or so I keep thinking – and I can no longer see it through infatuated eyes. I can only see the missed beats, the stodgy writing, the plot holes, the inconsistencies. The only thing I can say I still love about it is the title, but that will probably change soon, too. By the time I have taken it apart, put it back together, and got it ready to submit, I will hate it. I will second-guess the wisdom of sending it out. I will think that it needs to sit in a drawer for a year and then maybe some day I will have learned how to do it right, and I will give it the treatment it deserves.

I have five manuscripts out for submission right now. If I don’t think about them, I’m okay. If I treat the rejections like paperwork – into the In Box, turn it around and put it in the Out Box – it’s fine. If I go and read them, I cringe. I want to take them all back and never let anyone see them. I ask myself what made me ever think I could write, and I consider giving up.

Another friend helpfully reminded me that I don’t have to love my stories.

“You only need to LIKE them enough to finish them.”

Soon it will be time for the mind-games, the self-trickery into just accepting that I’m not going to be able to make it any better right now. It will be time to come to terms with the fact that even though I hate it, I have to submit it; I have to make the Hail Mary pass and know that once it’s out of my hands, it is really out of my hands. I will remind myself that I lose nothing by trying, and everything by giving up.

When in doubt, volunteer

When in doubt, volunteer

Just don’t volunteer too much at any given time. That tends to be my problem.

One of the cool things I was doing for a while was helping out with the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America move to their new website, which has since gone live and is so far getting a lot of positive comments from those who were familiar with the old one.

What was cool about this, for me, was that I got to be a part of the move even though I can’t be a member (being as yet unpublished.) I have learned a lot from the articles SFWA has made available over the years, most notably Myrtle the Manuscript, which I’ve mentioned here before.

What Myrtle did for me was demystify the editorial process. It took the sting (though not the disappointment) out of rejection. I am so grateful to have had that information, and I credit Tappan King, the author of that article (and once-editor of Twilight Zone Magazine,) with the fact that I did not give up.

In fact, I got so attached to Myrtle that I asked to be the one to move her, even though she wasn’t in the content that I was assigned. It was a weird sort of thrill for me to get to post her adventures on the new site.

Anyway, it felt great to get involved. I got to interact a bit with Nancy Fulda and Mary Robinette Kowal, who were both exceedingly kind and patient. I hope that I will get to meet them both in person at the World Fantasy Convention in October.

I also volunteered to narrate someone else’s story for a Podcast Which Shall Not Be Named Until I Finish the Damned Recording. That ended up being a much steeper learning curve than I anticipated, but the guy who runs the show has been cheerful, helpful, patient, and encouraging. More news as it happens.

And somewhere in there I’ve fit some writing. Not a lot, but enough to keep me from going crazy. So far I really like the short story I’m working on, and I have a fair amount of hope that the end result will be pretty close to what is in my head. I have scheduled a Writing Day Lock-Down to get it polished and ready for submission – it worked very well the last time I tried it. I ride along with my boyfriend for his commute to work, and am therefore without a car; I spend the day in a Starbucks with NO free wifi, and so I don’t have the internet as a distraction; I take my netbook, being both more portable and having less fun/distracting software on it than my laptop. It is amazing how effective it is at forcing me to focus on the task at hand.

With that, I’ll leave you with a very funny article on how writing a novel is like falling in love, (hat tip to Booklorn via her Twitter feed.)