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Posts Tagged ‘writing’

A while ago I was considering participating in an anthology for charity. My sister provided original art for their first volume, and money raised selling the book went to a group supporting victims of domestic and sexual violence. Volume 2 called for origin stories: old religions told newly, entirely new ones invented, character origins, however writers chose to interpret the phrase, “In the beginning…”

Intrigued by the concept, I quickly produced a story which my writers’ group described as “Just So Stories meets OMNI Magazine.” It’s fun and cute, and also brief at 500 words – too brief, as it turned out, for the anthology has a 2000-word minimum. I sent a message asking if the minimum was firm.

While waiting for a reply, I began to have second thoughts about my submission. I hadn’t read Volume 1; what if the editors had no taste, and my story ended up collected with a bunch of clunkers? They also hadn’t (still haven’t) selected a charity. What if they chose one I could not support? I considered sending the story off to a pay magazine. Mostly, though, I did nothing.

Finally, word came back that the minimum was firm. The editors offered to help me “expand” my story. No thanks, I thought; not going to mess with a good thing. I turned back to the pay magazines – only to find that every single one was closed to submissions.

More nothing. Then F&SF opened last month. I dawdled and postponed. I really wanted to submit to Uncanny Magazine, a new-ish publication specializing in new ideas and new writers not getting seen by the mainstream. I supported them on Kickstarter in their first year and have loved the result. But they remained closed. So I did nothing, intending to send the story off to F&SF and yet not doing it.

Then, today – mere days after I signed up to support the magazine’s Year 3 – Uncanny Magazine opened to unsolicited submissions. I flew to the web page, ready to roll.

And encountered their 750-word minimum.

Fine. F&SF it is.

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Conundrum

Recently my sister invited me to submit a story to a group that sells themed anthologies for charity. I haven’t read the group’s previous work, but the theme of the next collection intrigued me, so I wrote a story with intent to submit.

After a couple of false starts and a lot of nothing, I finished the story. My writers’ group delighted in it. I went back to the charity group – with second thoughts now, as a charity hadn’t been selected, and what if I didn’t like it, what if I’d rather sell my story – to find that I had only a quarter the preferred minimum word count.

I’m not going to quadruple the story’s length; that would entirely not work. I messaged the group, to ask if the minimum was firm: the answer was “kinda” and “we’ll get back to you.” They haven’t.

Do I wait? Do I submit elsewhere in a hurry, and hope for a response before the charity group’s deadline? Do I submit without concern for the charity? The magazine I would most like to appear in is not currently accepting submissions, but what if they open next week? Next month? Do I submit to one of my old standbys, because why the hell not? Last time one magazine got back to me in 24 hours…

It’s possible that this is why writers are crazy.

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It’s been a while, hasn’t it?

In truth, I’ve fallen well behind of late. Job and life circumstances pushed my writing aside, and even though the schedule is clearing up, after so much time it’s hard to get back on the horse. I almost have to force myself to sit down and type, and I’m rarely happy with the result. There’s a reason conventional wisdom advises daily word counts: it’s easy enough to slack off, and so much harder to get started again.

Still, I’m getting there. And in spite of so little activity I am not without news. My local library put out a call to local authors in the fall, inviting submissions to the e-book catalog. Through an agreement with Smashwords, the library would purchase the chosen books and make them available to patrons. I have a “why not?” attitude when it comes to this sort of thing, so after some consideration I selected and submitted “The Edge.”

A few weeks ago I received notification of a purchase on Smashwords. Very little data accompanies these notifications; I assumed it was a friend who’d let his coupon expire and was embarrassed to ask for another. Then, yesterday, I received this:

“Congratulations!  Your book, The Edge, has been selected to be added to the library’s e-book collection as part of the Library Writers Project.  We had nearly 150 submissions to the Library Writers Project this year and yours was a standout.  Your book will be featured on the Multnomah County Library OverDrive web site, which is accessed by 20,000 unique users monthly.”

By this time I’d forgotten about the project. Of course it was a delight to receive the email: “Congratulations!” and “standout” and “20,000 unique users” are all wonderful to hear. But the real treat is this:

“The Edge,” at Multnomah County Library

My book. My library. How cool is that?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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