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.

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.


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