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About Art

“… It’s not about the artist’s name or the skill required, not even about the art itself. All that matters is, how does it make you feel?”

I love it when a show goes meta.

The above quote, from the new Netflix series Daredevil, could be about the painting on display, or the show itself, or all television, or all media, or all art. People like to talk about talent, or skill, or quality, but the truth is that none of it matters. Few argue that the Twilight series is well written, and yet it has its impact. Not many consider television to be high art, and yet – as fans of Sherlock or The Sopranos readily demonstrate – it makes people feel.

A name can attract attention. King, Rowling, Lucas, Mirren, Wiig. One gets a sense of what to expect from a name. Skill also helps. The gorgeously constructed filmic world of Blade Runner, the artistry of The Night Circus, the vivid color of a Van Gogh painting, all require some ability on the part of the creators. And of course the medium makes a difference: television, music, sculpture, print, all have varying levels of accessibility to different audiences.

But in the end, none of it matters.

An artist’s name may get your attention. Their skill may impress you. The piece of work itself may be of a type you typically enjoy. But if that piece doesn’t move you, doesn’t touch you in some way, then it is a failure.

Daredevil is a television show. It is associated with names – Marvel, Daredevil, D’Onofrio – that may attract some viewers. Fans and critics consider it a well-made example of the form. Released on Netflix, it is easily accessed by a wide audience.

But none of this explains – and none of this generates – the emotional response the show has received. That is something else entirely.

And all that matters about art is how it makes you feel.

I have never had any illusions about making a living as a writer. I know that the people who do it are incredibly talented, incredibly persistent, and incredibly lucky, in increasing order of importance. I may develop talent; I am capable of persistence; but there’s nothing I can do about the luck.

Somewhere in the deep dark past I ran across that axiom of the salesperson, “It takes 100 noes to get a yes.” Truth or exaggeration, it’s a useful idea to keep in mind when submitting stories to magazines. Having fewer than 10 rejections currently, I have a ways to go. I also believe that my writing has a ways to go, and the way to get there is to write. Finishing – and submitting – those extra 90+ stories can only expand my storytelling ability.

Some people don’t like to submit their work. They don’t feel their work is good enough, or they’re afraid of the pain of rejection, or they just don’t think it’s worth the effort. I began submitting with a “why not?” philosophy. The worst that can happen is that I don’t get published; since I’m already not getting published, that doesn’t really seem like a bad thing. More than that though: A possibly apocryphal story involving Golden Age editor John W. Campbell relates a conversation with a young writer, who claimed his work wasn’t good enough to submit to the magazine. (Campbell edited Astounding Science Fiction in the 1940s and 50s.) Campbell then dressed down the youngster for presuming to dictate what should and shouldn’t go into his magazine. That is what editors are for, after all. The writer’s job is just to write.

A friend of mine recently lamented yet another rejection, and complained, when I put forth my “100 noes” theory, that her stories were GOOD. Of course they are, I wanted to tell her. But why on earth do you think that matters?

Quality is no guarantee of success. I reminded myself recently that while J.K. Rowling’s highly successful Harry Potter series was rejected by 12 publishers before finally being picked up on the word of an eight-year-old – and many other well-known authors have had similar experiences – there is one famous work that has never been rejected by any publisher.

Its author is E.L. James.

Write if you want to write. Submit if you want to submit. Rejection means nothing. If you get published, and that’s what you want, good for you. If you don’t – well, what of it? Most people don’t.

Write if you want to write. Otherwise, stop.

In other news…

Analog SFF rejected ‘No Such Place as Home’ without notifying me. I only know because I logged in to their submission form to check.

Because I am a glutton for punishment, I submitted ‘Counter Clockwise.’ There go another 4 months before I can make my book public.

On the other hand, I can now put ‘No Such Place as Home’ on Smashwords.

I’ll keep you posted.

Fanfic and Feedback

Fan fiction is a fascinating phenomenon.

(Okay, I’ll stop the alliteration.)

Writers, generally, want to be read. They want people to see their work, read their work, and like their work. (Ideally also buy their work, but I’m setting that aside for right now.) Most writers, however, experience a wide gap between themselves and their audience. They’ll get beta reader and editor feedback, of course, and getting published is a kind of feedback too (they like me, they really like me!) but for traditional authors it can take months for reader reactions to trickle down. Write the book, edit the book, sell the book, give it away even, and hope for those Amazon reviews to start rolling in. (Along with the dollars of course.)

Fanfic, on the other hand, has instantaneous response. Post a work on AO3 or other site and within minutes the hits start happening – followed by likes, kudos, comments, whatever form the site’s feedback takes. It is fast and it is – or can be – massive. Popular works may have hits in 6 figures. Some have hundreds within their first hours of being posted. And fic readers, when they like something, they say so. They are effusive in their praise. They gush. And that reaction has an effect on the writer.

I have some small experience of this.

I don’t write fanfic to be read. I write it because sometimes, when a story ends, I’m not done with the characters. I want more of them; I want to spend more time in their world. Sometimes I want to delve into a character’s thoughts and feelings, to explore their experience in more detail. Because I have an extremely low tolerance for either bad writing or erotica, reading other people’s fanfic is an unsafe choice for me. If I want more, I have to write it.

The pieces I put up on whofic, back when I first started this little writing game, got limited response: a few hits, an encouraging comment or two. Nice to hear, but it didn’t change anything I did. Then, I posted my first Broadchurch fic on AO3, and received this comment:

“Good start! Looking forward to the next installment.”

I wasn’t planning a next installment. The piece was a standalone, an epilogue, an extra moment of resolution to an emotionally harrowing series. It was enough. And yet, when I saw that comment, my brain began to spin: what if there were more where that came from?

That brain-spin resulted in an entire series of fics, some of which have received over a thousand hits. For a dabbler like me – particularly one who doesn’t write that staple of fanfic, erotica – that’s pretty impressive. They’ve also received some rave comments. Readers love the stories and want more. Even after I closed the series – S2 made the entire plotline moot – commenters expressed hope that I would resume.

It is a little bit hard to say no, even when I know the story is over.

I continue to write fics here and there as inspiration strikes. Most of them, like my whofic contributions, get little attention. Every now and then, however, one of them will surprise me. In the middle of Broadchurch‘s second season, a moment with Ellie’s thoughts as she waited to see Alec in the hospital received 25 kudos in its first 24 hours online. In the aftermath of Daredevil, Matt’s chance meeting with the Ninth Doctor and Rose had a similar response – and now has the highest kudos-to-hits ratio of anything I’ve ever posted. An exploration of the dissolution of the Ponds’ marriage received startlingly high praise, given the number of similar fics and the exacting tastes of fans.

It makes me wonder if I’ve got more of those in me.

Writing fic is fun. Writing known characters true to form is a challenge that helps me become a better writer. Getting inside characters’ heads helps me become a more empathetic person. Writing fic is a great exercise and a great opportunity.

And every once in a while, it’s really really good for the ego.

On that note, a reminder: ‘The Edge,’ an original story with roots in fanfic, is free right now on Smashwords with coupon code ZX74D.

Free Stuff!!!

More on that exciting topic shortly…

I had an experience with what one might call ‘writer’s block’ with regard to ‘Dragon of St. Johns.’ I was stuck; I didn’t know where to go with the story. What kind of arc could I take such a young protagonist on? How do I make a story both engaging and safe? Fun but not dull? What the heck happens to these people anyway?

Part of the problem was that what with work being busy and weekends being full, I went about 3 weeks without writing anything at all. Now, I consider writing a hobby, a thing I do for fun, and not a thing to stress out over, so I didn’t beat myself up over those three weeks. However, I noticed as time went on that I was thinking more and more about writing, and missing it. NOT writing was stressing me out. And then when I had time again, I had no ideas. I stared at ‘Dragon’ blankly, bored with it and annoyed. I played around with some old ideas. I wrote a thousand words of something entirely new. I got nowhere.

I read somewhere that after taking a break, it’s advisable not to try picking up where you left off. If you’re out of practice, your material will not feel good, and it will not match what you did before. It’s similar to sports that way: if you miss a few practices, you can expect to perform poorly and feel sore afterwards. You have to work back up to where you were.

So that’s what I did. I wrote with no expectations on myself, no pressure to work on this thing or that or to get anything right. I did my best not to worry about it. I went back to my writers’ group with nothing to read, knowing that being around the group has helped me get going before. And eventually it worked. Preparing for this week’s group, I felt motivated to write something, anything, just to not show up empty-handed again. I’d gotten them engaged with ‘Dragon’ and I knew they wanted more. At long last, new ideas stirred in my mind. On the bus ride over, I wrote whole new scenes, and rearranged others, and finally put together some idea of where the story will go and and what will happen.

I didn’t read it, as it was still an incoherent mess, but there were enough readers that I felt no pressure. And now I’ve got something to work with. I’ll have something to read for next week’s group.

On a similar note, this weekend I finished reading a collection of stories by Leigh Brackett, co-scribe of The Empire Strikes Back. I had mixed feelings about the stories – review here – but something she said in the afterword stuck with me. She’s a pantser; she gets an idea and writes, and figures things out as she goes. That’s how I write too. But, she observed, that technique often gets her into “box canyon[s] with no way up the walls.” This is also my experience. The story hits a dead end and there’s nowhere to go. Her solution was to learn, by collaborating with her husband, something about plotting. She didn’t elaborate on what she learned, but it’s something for me to think about. Having an outline is like having an escape route planned in advance.

The down side is, you need to know the end before you start, which I never ever do. But still, it’s something to think about.

Now, on to the Free Stuff!!!

‘Ghosts’ is now on Smashwords! Download it here – and through the end of summer, get it free with coupon code GR72Q.

I also made ‘The Edge’ free for Martha Jones fans – see my other blog – and that coupon is good through June 30. Find it here and use code ZX74D.

Happy reading! And happy writing too, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Sunset haiku

Showoff sunset taunts

dormant volcano sulking

silent in the east.

Busy busy

The first quarter is almost over, and finally something has been accomplished. (More or less.) First things first:

‘Counter Clockwise’ is finished. It’s been added to my latest book, and submitted to Science Fiction and Fantasy Magazine. It will probably be at least 90 days before I hear back, and chances are I’ll try Analog if it’s rejected. So book and e-book are still pending for a while.

‘No Such Place as Home’ was submitted to Analog in January and is still pending. Historically Analog has taken much longer to reply than SF&F; I’m hoping for the two replies to coincide sufficiently that failing acceptance I can quickly switch them around and resubmit.

‘The Dragon of the St. Johns Bridge’ second draft is finished, with one or two more sections to be presented to my writers’ group. Once that feedback is applied, it’s off to the other half of this collaboration, my sister and illustrator Rebecca.

Finally, ‘Ghosts’ is finished (again). It was one of my very first stories, the first thing I wrote that wasn’t Doctor Who fanfiction (though it still kind of is). Like ‘Dreamscapes,’ it’s a wonderful story, but the present tense (a fanfiction hangover) had become increasingly unbearable. Now, reset comfortably in the past, it’s a much more pleasant read for a regular non-fic audience. ‘Ghosts’ is back up on Lulu and will be on Smashwords soon.

Up next: ‘Dragon of Paris!

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