Planetary haiku

Three gleaming planets
lined up in the eastern sky
covered in robots.

Lately I’ve been waking up to Venus shining in my bedroom window. Yesterday I learned she wasn’t alone; this morning I went out to see Venus, Mars, and Jupiter lined up in the sky, with the crescent moon shining overhead and Orion keeping watch alongside. Mercury might have been visible too, if I’d had a clear horizon.

Earthsky’s Visible Planets

Mars is much made of these days, with its water and its Ridley Scott movie and its Curiosity Rover. The red planet has quite a complement of robots aboard: active rovers Curiosity and Opportunity, orbiters Odyssey, Express, MRO, MOM, and Maven, and a whole litter of past missions. Venus most recently played host to Messenger, but has its own share of defunct machines scattered about. Galileo orbited Jupiter for two years and dropped an atmospheric probe before falling to its own demise in the gas giant’s eternal haze. It was startling to look up at those specks in the sky and realize that humanity has touched them.

Saturn is an evening star these days. If Portland’s own eternal haze should lift tonight, I’ll look for that gleaming yellow speck and think of Cassini.

Earth, the pale blue dot.

Earth, the pale blue dot.

It appears that reading about writing helps me write.

‘Generation One’ came almost whole out of reading How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card. John Truby’s Anatomy of a Story formed and guided ‘Dreamscapes’ and ‘The Edge.’ All kinds of things came out of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird.

Now, I’ve been dry for close to five months. Finishing ‘Nicky’s Dragon’ was a struggle. ‘The Way’ has started and stopped a dozen times. So has ‘Cambaria.’ No new ideas, no new beginnings.

This week I picked up Now Write! Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror, a collection of essays by genre writers on topics from title to character to setting to sitting down in front of the keyboard and getting things done. This week I wrote 4000 new words on an old idea, fresh and alive again, and a thousand or so on two entirely new ones. I wrote a half-dozen blog posts, and added content to a bunch of character bios on Fanlore. I’ve hardly gotten any actual work done; I’ve written in notebooks waiting for the bus, in the car, on my home computer for three hours at dinnertime, an entire morning at my job. I don’t want to stop.

It’s probably a coincidence. But that doesn’t mean that next time I get stuck, I won’t pick up a book.

Since both fiction and grief have been frequent themes here, I’d like to share a comment I made over at The Mary Sue:

Fiction is a wonderful way to process real-life trauma. Reality is too real sometimes; you can’t let yourself feel what you need to feel, it’s just too big and too hard. But in fiction you can let it in.

I lost my mom when I was a teen, both too young and too old to process it appropriately. Since then, two fictional characters have given me access to that process. One, I won’t identify, because you might read the book and oh boy not seeing it coming was everything. We’ll just say she was so like my mom from the beginning: taking care of everyone, not worrying about anything, just handling it, basically just eternal in the way moms are. Having a POV character wake up to find her GONE was traumatizing in the worst/best way. I definitely dealt with some unprocessed emotion after reading that book.

The other was Lis Sladen/Sarah Jane Smith. The actress, also like my mom in many ways, had just passed when I finally watched ‘School Reunion.’ The whole conversation about how things change, and time passes, and everything ends – especially given that she was already gone, her impact made – was incredibly empowering to me.

So yeah, fiction can cause you grief, but fiction can also help you deal with that grief, in ways that sometimes the ‘real’ world cannot.

(Original here.)

Also, here’s the poem I wrote for that first, unidentified character (beware, there’s a clue in the comments): Misunderstanding

and for Sarah Jane: Angel and Goodbye, Sarah Jane

I just received my quickest-ever rejection from SFF: about 24 hours.

I like that so much better than the four months Analog takes. I know where I stand; I can now do what I want with the story; and the new editor puts nice supportive messages in his rejection emails. I don’t know if it’s just because he’s new and trying to be extra awesome, but I hope he keeps it up, because it IS extra awesome.

And as a bonus, ‘No Such Place as Home’ is now up on Smashwords.

Check it out here!

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.


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