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.