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Month: May 2009

And then… calamity struck

And then… calamity struck

Well, okay, that might be a little dramatic. Here’s what happened.

I have been using Open Office for a while. I have a soft spot for open source software — a lot of it is pretty good, and various friends and even one Professional Writer had said that it worked great for them, had all the features they needed, etc. I created my manuscripts, formatted them in 12-pt Courier double-spaced page-numbered and properly headered goodness, and then sent them off into the wilds, to editors.

Yesterday I got a very speedy rejection from one of them. No problem, thought I, on to the next market! I pulled up the submission guidelines for the next in the list, and double-clicked the manuscript .rtf file to format it for the new editor. It opened in Wordpad, instead of Open Office.

Oh. Em. Effing. Gee.

Spaces where there were none, specifically after every closed-quote. Some paragraphs were double-spaced, some were single-spaced, some were 1.5-spaced. An entire chunk of the document was in all caps. How does that even HAPPEN? The title was centered, but the by-line was left-justified. It was a mess. Any editor opening that would have to think to herself, “learn to format a manuscript, kid,” and send an instant rejection.

This is probably also the case with the second story that’s out for submission right now. I’ve been too afraid to look.

It was so bad that rather than trying to strip formatting and fix it, I decided the only way to be safe was to re-type the whole damn thing in Word. So that’s what I’m spending my day doing. Fortunately I type fast.

It was a surprising and very unwelcome speed bump. There was a part of me that wanted to curl up and just ignore it for a while, put those stories on mothballs so I don’t have to feel the embarrassment of seeing what that editor saw. But that’s not how we’re doing things anymore, is it?

So here I sit, hammering out words (and tightening a little bit since I am taking a full pass at it again, may as well, right?) Another hour and I should have this out to the next market. Then I’ll look at the other one and probably start retyping that one as well. Not sure what to do about the existing submission. Sigh.

I need to get this out of the way so I can get back to Devotions. Must keep moving forward. In the immortal words of Ian Faith, “It’s just a problem. It gets solved.”

On trusting ourselves

On trusting ourselves

The short story that I’m working on right now has beginnings that date back to 2005. It has alternately sat in drawers, completely forgotten, or been dusted off, workshopped and reworked. It’s been cut up, put back together, and has changed directions several times until it’s not even recognizable as the story I wanted to tell.

I just read the original opening that I wrote back in 2005. I cut it and discarded it years ago at someone’s suggestion, I don’t even remember whose, and I cannot for the life of me understand why I did that. I like that opening. It says what I wanted it to say. Not having it there changes the whole story. Can it be tightened up and made better? Of course. But I don’t think it had to totally go.

I suspect that I did it because someone else told me to. I think it’s as simple as that. In the process of learning the craft of writing I have eagerly accepted critique, and I have assumed that the people critiquing me know better than I do. Back when I was first working on this one that would have been especially true, because I was just starting to get involved in writers groups and workshops. I believe that it is still true to a great extent — who knows whether a story works better than a reader? And a skilled writer can of course explain why something does or does not work. Input is absolutely invaluable.

But I took that feedback to the point that the story I wanted to tell isn’t even there anymore.

How do we choose what to listen to and what to discard? When we’re told from day one to kill our darlings, and when someone says — with or without a plausible reason — to do this instead of that, how do we know when to trust them and when to trust ourselves instead? I think learning that is a skill just like any other, and it will take practice.

I’m putting this story back together. Fortunately I keep every iteration of every draft, so it’s all in this folder, I just have to find it. There will be some word-whacking needed after it’s reassembled, because it is a very long story, but in the end it has to be my story, not someone else’s.

I remember this feeling…

I remember this feeling…

What is there to say about a week like this one except DAMN it feels good? In the past week, I…

– wrote 5000 words on the novel
– sent Habitat back out for submission with a new opening (and took it off the site in order to do that, sorry)
– finished and submitted Ill Angels (FINALLY)
– pitched a podcast idea (unfortunately to the wrong market – sadness – but I learned a lot just doing that much!)
– posted Sweetwater Kill here on the site

Getting Ill Angels off my back is a very big deal. That story has been eating at me for a very long time. I suspect it will need another round of revision after the first rejection, but for now it’s Somebody Else’s Problem (aka Slush.) And of course it means the others move up in the queue.

Every week should be like this one. And to some extent, every week can be.

Balancing multiple projects

Balancing multiple projects

Something I continue to struggle with is knowing where to apply my energy at any given time. I have so many goals, so many projects, and they all seem like Highest of All Possible Priorities. Even if I manage to get them sorted by priority there is the Inspirato Factor that might keep me working on something lower priority just because I’m in the zone.

That’s what I’m trying to figure out today. I have some specific goals this year, and one of them is time-sensitive: I need a short story that I like enough to use it to apply to Clarion West. That needs to be done by February. I’m under no illusion that the next story I finish is going to be The One — or the second, or possibly even the third. I need to produce a bulk of work over the next few months so that during the first part of 2010 I can select the one I like best and polish it until it shines.

So there’s the priority: short fiction. Lots of it, in completed form. What’s the problem?

The problem is I’ve spent the past couple of weeks with my head in the draft of a novel, and I have What Happens Next pretty well figured out. Novels being the enormous efforts that they are, I am loathe to move on to something else and lose the steam.

I don’t know what the solution is. Right now I’m toying with the idea of applying some techniques from my day job to managing these projects. I have been working on a treatment for the novel, by which I mean something more detailed than an outline but less formal than a synopsis. I have basically the first four chapters planned in a fair amount of detail, both new material that needs to be written and the existing material that needs rework. I could view those four chapters as ‘a project,’ work on it ’til it’s done, and then move on to the first short story, work on that ’til it’s done, plan the next couple of chapters, rinse, repeat.

The only thing I have to lose is time, but time now matters to me in a way that it never has before.

Outcome of Weekend of Productivity

Outcome of Weekend of Productivity

I set myself what was really a pretty impossible goal this weekend: 15,000 words in three days. The reason I can say with some assurance that it was pretty impossible is that I’ve only had one 5,000 word day in my life, and that was during NaNoWriMo of 2006, when I was already in the habit of writing a thousand words on a *bad* day. So to go from essentially 0 to 5k just because I said so was more than a bit of a reach.

Going from zero to 1,800 is nothing to sneeze at, though. That’s what I wrote on Friday evening. Yesterday I cleared 2,000. It was excruciating, and took me most of the day. Today I had a hell of a time trying to unstick a scene I’ve been stuck on, but I did, and the result was another 1200 words.

The purpose behind this exercise was just to do more than I have been doing, to get through the pain of decalcifying my brain so that I can start producing reasonable amounts of work on a regular basis.

I got what out of it what I wanted, even if my total product was only 1/3 of what I had originally aimed for. Progress, not perfection. I’m comfortable with that. Tomorrow life returns to normal, with a day job and an hour or two at night to try and eke out some fiction. It should be a little bit easier after this weekend’s effort. We’ll see.


Bouncing back, and new fiction heading your way

Bouncing back, and new fiction heading your way

I don’t know if you’re reading the same blogs I am, but the field is adapting faster than I ever dreamed it would or could. The traditional publishers are jumping on the e-book bandwagon, Amazon is now in the publishing business, the short fiction market is trying hard to rally and I think it may very well do so in a digital form.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you’ll notice that I seem to have rallied a bit as well.

I’ve got a little confidence back. Part of that is reading through some of what I’ve done and thinking “hey that doesn’t suck nearly as badly as I thought it did.” Part of it is that I have enough information now that I feel like I have a pretty clear sense of the playing field. Some of the things that seemed obvious to me as goals once upon a time seem attainable once again. Out of the slough of input and processing of that input a simple truth became blindingly clear:

Getting payment, distribution, and readership is inherently better in every possible way than not getting those things.

So why would I not try?

I went back over my old blog posts to find out. I found it pretty easily. It really jumps right off the screen:

I gave up.

I was tired, and it had become too hard, and I gave up.

Sherry, a Twitter acquaintance and fellow writer, sent me a very thoughtful email after I posted that entry that gently and kindly said that she hoped I would change my mind. I have, largely.

Sherry, you are cordially invited to say “I told you so,” though I suspect that’s not your style.

Not entirely, though. I’m not going to stop putting stories up here, I’m just not going to throw in the towel and never try to sell them first.

So in the post that follows this one you’ll get a story I wrote a few years ago and sent out into the world to gather rejections. Most of them were very nice, personal rejections, but they were… not sales. I’m attached to this one, probably for all the wrong reasons. It’s an early effort and one of the first things I ever workshopped. I’m glad to finally give it a home. I hope you enjoy it.

(You can follow Sherry on Twitter at @Sherryk_US or read about her work at her site:



One of the things I’ve really missed out on is the SFF community. Since the rise of the internet I’ve had a one-way peek into it by way of people’s blogs and Twitter. It has reinforced the idea — I’m going to go out on a limb here and just call it a ‘fact’ because I’ve seen it said by so many people, both pro writers and fans — that the heart of the SFF community lies in the cons. The cons which I have never attended.

“Community” in this context is defined this way:

(n.) a social, religious, occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists (usually prec. by the): the business community; the community of scholars.

The SFF community includes readers, writers, artists, actors, and assorted industry professionals. It’s a big community, and from what I’ve read a very supportive one. It includes people working in and consuming different media, from short fiction to novels to comics to television and film. The coolest part, it seems to me, is that there is no line between the people creating the media and those consuming it. It’s just one big tribe, with people playing different roles. And in a lot of cases, people are playing multiple roles, (see John Scalzi, who is a creator of SF, a consumer of SF, and a contributing fan of SF.) Every creator is also a fan.

The closest I’ve come to being a part of it is in my usual Writers Conference. There is one workshop that tends to be more friendly to the SFF folks because the workshop leader was a horror writer for many years, so he understands our idiom and the level of suspension of disbelief that our work requires. Those of us who attend that workshop regularly feel as if we are a part of something distinct from the Writers Conference over all. We’re a little subculture of people who write “weird stuff.” “Oh,” other attendees will say, “you’re one of Matt’s people.” It felt good.

I feel like I’ve been missing out on experiencing that on a larger scale, getting to know people and making friends of a like mind. I’ve known that for a long time — 2003ish I became aware of the convention-going community, and around 2005 I resolved to find one to attend. But as I wrote yesterday there were always reasons not to go.

Being in a screw-the-obstacles-I’m-living-my-dreams mode lately, I looked up the conventions listed in Locus and elsewhere. The World Fantasy Convention caught my eye. It’s a con geared toward the pros, which let’s face it, I hope to be some day. It’s like being one of Matt’s People on a grand scale. I’ve read about it for years, and it’s within reach, in San Jose. I’m excited about the Guests of Honor: I love Garth Nix’s work, and I collect Lisa Snelling’s art. Why not go?

Gainfully employed – check.
Free that weekend – check.
Really want to go – check.
Adult capable of making my own decisions – check.

Huh. Look at that. No reason at all.

Also on my list are Nebula Awards Weekend, DragonCon, and WorldCon. They will have to wait for other years.

If I really need to justify it to myself, I’ll call it my birthday present to me, because it happens to fall on that weekend. I will spend my 38th birthday driving six hours to my first SFF convention. I am not sure it gets much more awesome than that.

In which our author thumbs her nose at obstacles

In which our author thumbs her nose at obstacles

Today’s list of five things includes a couple of surprises:

– Subscribed to Locus for the first time in years
– Booked a room for World Fantasy Convention in October

Locus and WFC were rash decisions. I just leapt without doing anything more than looking at the calendar and making sure I didn’t have anything on it for that weekend. I don’t usually do that sort of thing – big plans like that usually get deliberated over for weeks or months and then I talk myself out of them with a dozen reasons why I shouldn’t do it. I postpone it until next year, or the year after, or when the kids are out of the house. Well, fuck that. I might not be alive next year.

That’s where I’m at right now.

I felt like this in 2005 — like I was in the river, and the current was strong enough to get past anything that might stand in my way, I just had to allow myself to be carried by it. I feel a little like that again. All of the things I wanted to do then I can do now. And I am not at all interested in reasons why not.

In tangentially related news, I asked for a promotion today. My boss doesn’t see any reason I shouldn’t get it. Good thing – I have interests to fund. ;)

Finishing things

Finishing things

So the blog has lain fallow again for a while.  The lapse does not (for once) indicate a total halt in creativity or productivity, I just didn’t feel like I had anything to share. The ‘five things’ approach continues to work well, and while I don’t always reach five there is always something to show for the day.

Recently I bought a netbook. I had been doing a lot of writing and thinking in various Google apps lately, and I thought hey, this thing is ultra-portable and with my stuff stored in the cloud I could work on it anywhere! Yeah, not so much. Open wifi is still scarce around here, so the netbook quickly became a really high-tech paperweight. That had to change, though, because at ten inches and less than three pounds the dang thing really is perfect for carrying around everywhere.

The obvious solution was to dump everything on a thumb drive, but looking at what “everything” consisted of gave me a headache. I had stuff on the netbook, stuff in Google Docs, Google Notepad, Gmail, and in a pretty extensive directory structure on my laptop. This got me started on a massive reorganization of all of my writing files, a project which is now nearly complete.  

Going through those directories was eye-opening. I had forgotten about a lot of the ideas that I had written down and started worksheets — or even drafts — for. You may be familiar with one of the standard Writer’s Pet Peeves: the non-writer says to the writer “I’ll give you the idea, you write the book and we’ll split the profits 50/50.”  Directories like this are why that proposal is greeted with something less than enthusiasm. We don’t need other people to supply ideas. We aren’t likely to get around to writing all of our own ideas. I’ve got years of work sitting there waiting to be written, and I get an idea for a new story or project at least once a week. 

One of the difficult parts of the reorganization project has been seeing the dates on some of the files – like the original notes on the story I just sent out for critique. That first file was dated January 2005.  When I remember the circumstances that triggered the spark that became the story it makes sense that it was that long ago, but it has evolved so much and so many months passed while I did other things that it’s hard to grasp the four years between then and now.  

Seeing all of those short stories, novels, essays, comic book scripts, ‘first line’ exercises and snippets of fiction put me in a place where I’m not sure if I should feel disappointed in myself or proud.  It’s a lot of ideas.  It’s a lot of drafts.  It’s a lot of rich material full of vision and promise.  (There’s a lot of crap, too, of course, but let’s focus on the positive for the moment.)

But it’s a lot of unfinished work, and as we know, we cannot succeed unless we finish.  

Most people can start a short story or a novel. If you’re a writer, you can finish them. Finish enough of them, and you may be good enough to be publishable. Good luck.  – Neil Gaiman