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Archive for the ‘Rant’ Category

This Is Not a Post

See? I’m not posting.  Because I’m too damn busy with this stupid novel draft to post.  Seriously.  What are you still reading? Nothing to see here, move along.

I’ve added three chapters so far on top of what my outline had planned for this novel.  I was worried before that I’d come in under 100k words, now I’m hoping I don’t go too far over.  Apparently this plot was too linear for my brain to handle and so it had to insert some more tough choices just to further mess with the main character.  Hopefully the novel will be better for it, however.

I’m predicting this will add two or three days to the schedule.  Will Nobu write through the weekend?  Say tuned.

Wait, don’t stay tuned.  Remember? There’s nothing to see here.

(I’m convinced: only insane people write novels.)

Sometimes it Pours

Woke up at 4am because of the cat.  Stayed awake because I’d been having an awesome dream about being a stowaway on an alien ship that then got attacked by pirates and knew it could be a super cool short story.  Normally when I have a story idea it has to brew for a week or a month or a year.  Apparently all this one wanted was about 4 hours.

Well, it’s a story anyway.  After 7.5 hours of nearly continuous writing, the monstrosity that is “Crawlies” is now complete.  After a “oh god how messy is this” editing pass it stands at 7715 words.  Bleh.  I was aiming for 4000.  Is this what plot does?  Cause baby, this story has plot.  Hell, it’s got everyting. Provided that everything means aliens, pirates, an 11 year old protagonist, bombs, and exploding head jokes.  My research firefox window currently has open windows from wikipedia for oxygen toxicity, acute respiratory distress syndrome, and squid.  Lord save me, there’s even slang.  It was like this character waltzed into my head and wouldn’t shut the hell up.  Of course, she’s 11, she doesn’t shut the hell out anyway.  I wish writing was always this easy.  Even if it doesn’t let me do anything else.

Now that my work day is gone, I’m going to go eat something (sorta forgot to do that in the ‘writer will finish or she gets the hose again’ fog I’ve been in most of today).

In the other kinda of ego-boosting news (no, not the yet again “close but try again” rejection I got today), one of my poetry chapbooks sold at the bookstore COLD.  As in a random stranger who is no relation to me chose my little self-published being sold on commission chapbook all by himself with no arm twisting from my mother and paid COLD DELICIOUS CASH for it.  I feel pretty good about that.  Poetry is hard to sell, and this means that mine was good enough to attract a random human’s interest.  Or you know, so bad he couldn’t resist buying it to chortle at the next wine and schadenfreude party.  I’m going to believe the former.  For my peanut-sized ego’s sake.

Ok, now, to post this monstrous new baby of mine somewhere for critique.  Oh why oh why is it so long?  Curse you baby.

But I love you.  In fact, today (and probably only today), I love writing.  Thank you writing gods.  Now, can I please have a nice compelling dream about how to finish this novel? K thanx.

Oh yeah, and if you think I was kidding about my mother arm twisting people, you should talk to Ken Scholes*.  I’m surprised he made it out of there without a chapbook.  Lucky bastard.  You know you’ve hit a sad sad hole in your social life when your mother has to do your networking for you.  Thanks mom.  28 is just like 8, somedays.  At least she didn’t try to arrange a play date or anything.

(*Ken Scholes is, in fact, as far as my limited mother-twisted arm contact with him has gone, a supremely tolerant and nice guy. Buy his books).

Hard Work Ahead

I’ve been reading over all the comments I’ve ever gotten on my writing.  Between the MFA classes, the editor comments on rejections, and the two con workshops I’ve done (not to mention the great help my friends give as well), that’s actually a ton of feedback.  And I see a pattern, a very annoying pattern.

I think I’m weak at plot.   Not that I don’t grasp what plot is, or that my stories exactly lack it, but the kinds of comments I often get involve the structure of how and why things are happening, or my personal favorite (heh) comment that recurs a lot which is “this would make a great chapter of a novel”.  When my plots are strongest, they reach too far and involve too much for the short story frame.  When they aren’t, well, readers are confused by what’s happening or don’t feel that the ending was satisfying or inevitable.

This means I gotta roll up my proverbial sleeves and work on this.  I don’t think it’s necessarily an issue in my novels since the longer form lends itself to plot development (plus I outline constantly with novels).   My short stories need work.  I’m not going to worry too much about the ones already written.  They are what they are and if I can patch them up I will, but going forward with the next few shorts, I’m going to work damn hard on making the structure sound.  There are plenty of formulas for plot out there.  I don’t tend to follow them, instead letting the story develop on its own.  Maybe I’ve strayed too far, however. Clearly something isn’t working because my stories are getting the “close but no” response.  The comments from others hint that it might be plotting issues.

The good news is that this is something I think will be reasonably easy to fix.  It’s just going to take me staying mindful of where a story is going.  I think the next few short stories I’m going to do mini-outlines for, same as I do for my novels just on a smaller scale.   I’ll probably outline scene by scene and see what results. I may also try to fit some of my ideas to plot structures (likable hero overcomes seemingly insurmountable odds, or hero tries, makes it worse, tries and fails even worse, then finally succeeds, or one of those formulas that abound out there for story structure).

It’s weird.  I used to hate writing dialogue and I felt like every character I had sounded the same.  I started working hard to build characters up and get my dialogue to sound normal.  Soon enough, I started getting comments on stories that my dialogue and characterization were great.  Then it was that my beginnings were always rough.  So I started working on beginnings (still am, I think beginnings will always be rough for me since I tend to write my way into the story).   Sometimes I feel like my writing is this monstrous creation.  I poke at the weaker parts and build them up, then realize that other parts are now weaker and my monster is lopsided again.  So I poke at those parts, rinse, repeat.  It looks like plotting is the next weak limb that needs beefing up.

The novel is progressing.  I reread a few chapters (and ended up doing some line editing since eeks I’m wordy in my rough drafts) and am part way into the next chapter.  I’m guessing I’ll finish somewhere close to 100k words, maybe a little over since I’ve got some scenes to add to help weave it all together.  I’m rebuilding my writing momentum and optimistically hope that I can get back up to a chapter a day by the end of the week.  I need to sit down with the outline tomorrow and update it with the new scenes I’m imagining for the end of each of the upcoming chapters.  It’s tough to split the main characters up since the main plot right now only pertains to one of them, but I think as a reader I’d want to know what’s going on with the other two during this time, plus I need to show the passage of time since three years are about to pass but for the main character it’s going to seem more like a few weeks.  I can do this.  I’ve passed the half-way point, deep into the murky middle of the story.  It’s a linear story, no real twists or turns here, just a horrible climax to build to and a bittersweet ending.  Head down, keep writing.

Last Post til Worldcon!

Well, until after Worldcon really, since I’m not bringing a laptop and most likely won’t be checking the net while I’m there.

Finally got a response  about Delilah.  Great response short of a sale, sigh.  They held the story for over 5 months, but in the end decided that due entirely to the biblical retelling nature of the story they had no spot for it.  Apparently they loved it otherwise though and want to see something else.  *rubs hands together*  Fine! Something else you say? I has something else for you…

Well, I’ll have something else for them after Worldcon.  I’m beyond oh god oh god I’m full of lame panic and into the “I hope all those reservations I made back in Jan still are good” and “where did I put that thing I totally need for the trip” panic.  I made a list, and now I can’t find my list.  I’m made of organized, really.

If anyone wants to catch up with me at Worldcon,  I’ll be the terrified looking one with the short blue and orange hair.

I’ll be taking notes while I’m there and hopefully posting the funny, strange, or useful stuff here afterwards.

Worse? or… Better?

Got my workshop assigment for Worldcon.  (Yes, I’m obsessing… this is me, remember?).  The people leading it are freakin awesome and people I’d love to meet.  The other two people in it with me? Also awesome, which I was able to glean via google.  Thank you google for making me even more insecure.  Both of the people with me are published already.  On the one hand, I can’t wait to get their stories because I’m betting the stories, even in draft form, will be pretty darn good.

On the other hand, and it’s a big hand, I’m somewhat intimidated.  I realize it’s just a workshop, but this whole damn con is in some ways my introduction to the spec lit “scene” so to speak.  I’m freakin new to this whole writing as community thing.   I’ve taken huge steps in the last year.  Joining OWW was a big step (strangers! seeing my writing! oh noes!).  Getting into an MFA program was a huge step (professors! seeing my writing! oh noes) (dropping out was another step, though Iv’e decided to commute that to a sentence of a year off to think about things and look at options).  Starting to actually send things out on submission was the biggest step of all (editors! seeing my writing! oh n- you get the idea).

And now going to Worldcon.  I got my feet wet at NorWescon (pro writers! seeing my writing! oh noes!) and had a blast.  I know objectively that I’ll be fine.  I’m looking forward to putting faces to names and now that I’ve gone over the huge programming schedule, there are definitely interesting panels to go to.  I’ll have way too much to cram in, I’m sure.

And the workshop.  I wonder if I made a mistake subbing a story I really love that’s on version 9 or so.  It’s gotten a few form rejections and a couple positive rejections, but still, it’s just rejected at this point.  I subbed it because I’d like to hear not only how to improve it but really I’m hoping to understand why it isn’t quite hitting the editorial spot.  But man, between the starry list of workshop leaders and the two other already publishing workshop-ees, I’m  intimidated.  I know objectively that I’m nowhere near the number of rejections where I should start wondering if it’s me/the writing, but subjectively I have high standards for myself that so far I’m not meeting.  I’ve watched what happens sometimes in workshops to the worst story in the room, so to speak.  It often isn’t pretty.  Not that I fear people being mean, I doubt they would be.  But as an introduction to people I might want at least a professional relationship with, well, being the worst writer in the room… it’s scary.

I just keep returning to the W.S. Merwin poem “Berryman”.  “You can’t ever be sure”.  I don’t know if I’m ever going to be any good at all.  But I’ll keep trying.

Anticipating Anticipation (Worldcon)

I’ve been getting zero writing done due to moving and now to travel plans.  First Alaska, then I’m home for two days and finally off to Worldcon in Montreal.

I’m super nervous about Worldcon.  I know absolutely no one going, I’ll be totally alone.  I’m not so worried about the travel part of it since I survived traveling in Europe by myself no problem.  I’m just not sure what to expect and what will happen while I’m there.  I’m also slightly sad because this will be the longest my husband and I have been apart, pathetic as that sounds (sigh).  I know I’m probably freaking out about nothing and that once I’m there I’ll be fine.  There will be things to do and probably people to talk to.   But I can’t seem to help being a little nervous.  I’d unrealistically hoped to have sold a story or two by now so I’d at least be a SFWA member and have an icebreaker that way, but I likely should have started subbing to markets before Feb of this year if I’d truly wanted that to come about from the real world standpoint.  Oh well.

I’m going to take Kim Stanley Robinson’s advice and just go and enjoy myself (I had the good fortune to be able to talk to him about Worldcon this last Spring).  And bring a notebook.

I also have little simple business/calling cards now.  They’re very basic with name, email, link to this blog etc…  I wasn’t sure what to put as the title part, so I just went with writer and editor.  I’ve actually been paid to edit things professionally (unlike writing fiction so far…sigh) so I figured I should put that on the card.  But since I’m writing full time I added that anyway.   Someday I’ll be able to change that to “Author”.  Someday.

Speaking of that ‘someday’, I have a story into the workshop at Worldcon.  It just came back with a rejection, though again a nice one.  I’m close, I can feel it.  I haven’t gotten a form letter for the last seven or so rejections, however, they are still rejections.   I also have two stories that seem to be in serious contention for publication and are being held for “further consideration” whatever that might actually mean.  I suppose for 6 months of submitting, this is good progress.  It feels slow sometimes and whenever I talk to my family I get frustrated because they don’t seem to understand that a writing career can and likely will take years until it’s paying at all and likely will never pay all our bills, ever.

I don’t know.  I think I’m just at a slump.  Once I get home from Alaska and Worldcon I’ll dig into Chwedl.  I always feel better when I’m writing.  Maybe I’ll take a notebook on the boat in Alaska and do a short story or two.  I’ll have nothing but time, after all.  Time to worry about Worldcon.

Insomnia and a Story a Week

Well, my mission to revive Short Story Monday is failing so far.  I seem to be sleeping only about every other day which is doing wonky things to my brain.  Between that and packing to move, my writing productivity has dropped far too much.  I got my third chapter out for the novel chapter exchange with my friend an entire week late, for one.  This has to end.

This morning when I couldn’t sleep I worked on a new short story and managed about 1000 words I don’t totally hate.  I think I need to let the rest percolate in my head for another day.  Hopefully tonight I’ll get some sleep and that will allow me the brain power to finish it.  The story is somewhat different from anything I’ve tried before, so no idea if it will work or not.  I think the beginning is super rough, but my beginnings are always the worst part.  Which is really unfortunate, since beginnings are the first thing people see when they’re reading.  I truly have to work on that.  It’s what editing is for, right? Right?

I realized though that this story might qualify in terms of theme and feel for the Shine anthology, which means I’d have to get it done and through draft form by the end of July.  It’s entirely possible, depending on how many drafts it is going to take.  I’m hoping not ten, I think I can reasonably do four drafts in the timeframe, depending on where my beta readers feel the story is at.  Of course, I haven’t written the end yet, so my normal predilictions for disaster or ambiguous endings might disqualify it from that anthology, but I’ll worry about that when I get there.  I can always try a happier ending version.

In other news I queried on Delilah again, since they’ve had it now for 4 months.  Still considering it, apparently.  This is a good thing, I think.  But damn I’m impatient.  It could be my first sale… meep.  I just want to know.  I hate wait. (Yeah yeah, wrong profession, move along now…)

I’m starting to mini-panic about World Con.  I don’t know what I’m going to do there.  Sure, go to panels and all that, but I’m going to be all on my own.  Will I have the courage to talk to strangers?  Will they even care what I have to say? So much easier to hide at home, but I’ve been dreaming about going to Montreal and to a World Con for years and now I can have both at once.  Even if I won’t be able to afford to eat while I’m there, heh.  I guess I’ll go and try to let things happen as they happen.  I’m sure it won’t be nearly as scary as I think it will be. Probably.

I haven’t been staying nearly far away enough from Clarion West blogs as I should. Whoops.  Slightly depressed now. I really wish I were there.  I’m ready, even if apparently my writing isn’t.  I figure I have about 30 weeks until I have to have something new ready for next year’s application.  Last year I took a real gamble with the story I chose because even though I love it, I’ve gotten very mixed response to it from “this is really cool, I couldn’t stop thinking about it (the gist of comments from a really well-known author!!!)” to “this doesn’t make much sense, why is everyone crazy and what’s going on?”… I guess I chose poorly.  Next year I’ll try to send something (or two somethings) that get a more universal okay.

Bits and Thoughts

I’ve been catching up on my issues of Analog and Weird Tales.  Often times I find Analog stories to be too technical for me to engage and Weird Tales stories too ‘horror’.  I prefer stories that focus on character first and everything else second (yes, I’ll even forgive a lack of coherent plot if the character issues drag me in enough).

However, I found two stories so far that are made of so much awesome I have to share how much I loved them.

The first is a short piece in Weird Tales Nov/Dec 2008 titled “How to Play with Dolls” by Matthew Cheney.  I assume looking at the length that this is flash fiction, which is a very hard length to do well in any genre.  Cheney pulls it off beautifully.  The story is engaging and haunting and full of just enough weirdness.  The images are perfect and there’s the right balance of telling and emotion.  He handles the underlying issues of the little girl in a way that isn’t overdone and the ending is strong, poignant even.  Find it, read it.  It’s flash at its best, in my opinion.

The story in Analog that caught my attention is in the June 2009 issue.  “Attack of the Grub-Eaters” by Richard A. Lovett has a somewhat unfortunate title in that I read the title and winced.  I had no idea what to expect.  Then I saw the format of the story, which is in forum posts and winced more.  When reading short stories, however, I always give a story at least two pages to keep me reading.  It took less than that for me to be hooked in this story.  By page three I actually stopped, went and got my husband, and started over reading it to him again (that was before I even got to some of the more awesome parts of the tale too).  The framing of this story is totally unconventional, but it works.  Hell, it better than works, I think it allows for the author to build tension and utilize dialogs in ways that a normal story structure wouldn’t.  In parts it’s laugh out loud funny, in others I was reading the way I’d read a particularly juicy flame-war; that edge of the metaphorical seat “oh god what’s going to happen next…” sort of car-crash-can’t-look-away sensation.  And thinking about it now, I guess “Home and Garden Saves Iowa” wouldn’t have been a great title either, though perhaps more apt.  Screw the title.  The story hardly needs it.  I’m going to give this copy of Analog to my dad I think, since his mole killing competitions with our neighbors are the stuff of (small town) legend.  Again, find the story and read it.  I can’t gush enough.

All right, setting gooey fangirlness aside now, back to writing related stuff.

I posted a story in the JBU slush.  I’ve lurked on that site a while, sometimes out of schadenfreude but mostly out of genuine curiosity about the way they do things since JBU is unconventional in many ways.  I’d never posted a story for consideration for two reasons.

One, JBU likes optimistic and often lighter work.  I don’t really write optimistic stuff.  My stories are often about people trying to deal with bad things that don’t necessarily have a rosy resolution or explanation.   After I wrote the story that became The Spacer’s Blade, I thought “hey, maybe this would work for them”.  I didn’t post the story immediately after I wrote it, however, for reasons that lead me to reason number 2 of why I’ve never posted there.

JBU slush has some of the most blunt and to the quick critiquers of anywhere I’ve ever seen.  In some ways it’s refreshing to not have to wade through a bunch of accolades that essentially mean nothing in terms of how to improve one’s writing.  In other ways, I don’t know why anyone would put themselves through that process without first getting the story as far as they could on their own.  Before this, I didn’t feel I had a story that was nearly up to snuff yet for that kind of criticism.  I didn’t want to waste my and other people’s time with typos, loose sentence work, and other easily fixed but sloppy writing mistakes.  (Caveat, this does by no means imply that I catch all that stuff in my various drafts.  Errors sneak right past me all the time.  I just try to make sure they have to roll a nat 20 to do it).

The story I posted is the fourth draft.  It’s been through the sff online writing workshop and critiqued by four pros at Norwescon.  And it still got mixed review at JBU.  I’ve rewritten the beginning paragraphs for the third time now based on what I’ve been told.  I’ve had two readers go over it and the third will get to it this weekend before I post the revision in the Slush.  So what is technically version 2 for the slush and version 5 for my records will, in fact, have gone through three revisions post the revision I did based on comments before the JBU sees it again.  I do this partly because I really want to be a professional writer, but also because once again, I don’t want to waste time with simple mistakes.  I want to know what the readers think of the STORY, not get bogged down in the sentence level stuff.

That said, I’m not taking all commented advice.  I can’t.  It’s one of the things I’ve learned about the dangers of workshopping.  Not everyone is going to like everything.  A writer has to parse what advice will improve the story and what might improve it but turn it away from the original vision in the writer’s head.  I know the story I’m trying to tell with The Spacer’s Blade.  If in the end I work out the things that people point out that I agree are keeping it from being that vision (because, hey, it’s not there yet- I’m pretty hard on myself as a writer too) and the barflies still don’t think it’s what they want, that’s ok.  Maybe it isn’t a fit for JBU.  I think it could be, but I’m going to try to walk the fine line between what people want to read and the kinds of stories I want to tell.

And in the end, no matter how much I want to be published, if I’m not writing the stories that I want to tell, well, I’ve failed even so.  I don’t think it’s an either/or.  With enough work and practice and some more work, I think I can find that balance, that happy zone where what I’m writing is transmitting to the reader exactly the kind of pleasure that I get when I read awesome things (see above gushing, for example).

Now, back to editing something else.

A Bit More About Process

I’m not a seat of the pants kind of writer, even when it comes to short stories.  Now, mind you, I don’t outline for short stories (though I might jot down notes or lines that come to me).  I definitely know where something is going when I sit down to write it.  I do change my mind and write something else to make things make more sense when I have to.  I imagine, however, that anyone watching my short story writing process would think I’m doing it on the fly.

This is because I write short stories in one or two sittings and hardly ever have notes (I usually do research as it comes up, thank you Google).

My short stories don’t start on the page.  They start in my head and sometimes have a very long gestation period.  Novels are the same way, though I tend to write up more notes when thinking about novels due to the sheer amount of stuff going on in my head when it comes to bigger projects.

First, there’s the spark.  Whatever set off my mind with a “hey, this could be a good story”.  From the spark I start to think about what it needs to fill it out, to bring it from cool character/idea/image/line of dialog etc… into being a full story/populated world.  From there I decide if the idea is going to need a novel length to fill it out (ignoring here, for the moment, that one of the most common coments I get on my short stories is “hey, this would make an awesome novel” sigh) or if I can turn it into something shorter.  Frankly, I prefer short stories because I like to just sit down and finish things.  Also, rewriting fifteen pages is far easier than rewriting 300.

But my point is that I spend a great deal of time thinking about everything before it ever sees the page.  I run through potential scenes, characters, what would or would not work in the particular world I’m inventing and why, and other useful questions like that.  I sometimes even start composing in my head and run through different POVs and tenses to feel where I want to start a story.

And then there are the times that I call my version of Writer’s Block.  I never run out of ideas, ever.  However, I occasionally get stalled out because my brain won’t stop with the thinking and focus on something long enough for me to just write something.  It’s why I haven’t been sleeping lately, and why I’ve done nothing but revise things for a few weeks now.  Too many bloody ideas.

So I’m going to have to force-march my brain for now, I think.  No starting or thinking about anything new before I’ve finished the following:

Sparks (fantasy short story), Prince Called Courage (fantasy novella), final edit of Monsters (fantasy short story), two thesis short stories (prewriting for my thesis novel), Chwedl draft (fantasy novel) and the rewrite of Casimir Hypogean (science fiction thriller novel).  The ambitious part of me says I can totally do this by September.  Suuure.

I’m going to do the short stories first, mainly becaues that means I’ll have eight or nine short stories out making the submission rounds while I hunker down to finish the novels.  I want to be done with this all by September since starting my thesis novel early wouldn’t be a bad idea.  Fortunately, ideas are imploding my brains but good when it comes to that novel, so at least it won’t be stalled due to lack of my head working on it.  Which is different from Casimir Hypogean, the bane of my existence.  I’m going to look at it as a learning experience and force myself to finish the rewrite.  If I never touch it again after that, so be it, but I’ve come too far to give up now.  It’ll take about 6-7 weeks of hard work to complete at this point.  I can do it.

So, To Sum Up My Rejection Woe

Clarion West: Rejected.

Space Bones: Rejected (by CW and the place it was out for submission)

Total rejections counting CW now: 5  (four form letter, 1 personal)

It’s almost enough to make a girl start drinking again.

On the plus side, I’ve come up with a cool story to write this week and solved a problem that I was having when thinking about the world of my Giant Novel of Doom that I’m still a decade away from writing.  So at least my stupid brain goes on despite my heart trying to tell it I have no chance and will never ever amount to anything.

495 rejections left.