Monday, October 25, 2010

Burnt Out

Earlier this year, rejection after rejection poked through my thin skin and made me want to quit writing. I thought I wasn't good enough, and I walked away. From March until July, I really didn't write much of anything. Real life sucked at the time, though that's no excuse; some of the greatest writers have written their best work while their lives crumbled around them.

In July, though, I decided I wasn't going to let rejections beat me, and I started writing again. This time, I was more focused, and a few stories into my return, I was writing better, and more prolific than any other time in my life. A handful of stories, a ton of submissions, and a bunch of rejections later, and here I am.

But "here" isn't a good place. It's a tired place with no good ideas and no real distinct voice. See? How shitty was that imagery? 

The point I'm trying to make is that I'm tired, and I'm burnt out. I'm not bothered by the rejections as much anymore, but I literally haven't stopped writing since that night in July when I made the decision to refocus my life. Maybe I need a week or two off? I could catch up on my reading, let my muse nap a little bit. 

I don't know if it's the right answer, but I'm out of answers now. I'm not a prolific writer by any means, but in the last two months I haven't even come close to my modest daily best of three or four thousand words. That's too long to be a slump. I think if I let my brain reset a little, it can only help. 

In the meantime, I've still got eight stories on the market, and all but one or two of them are good for another dozen submissions before I trunk them, so no matter how long this hiatus lasts, you'll be getting regular updates from Yours Truly, so there's no reason to not check in on me from time to time. 

Until next time.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Hothouse of Horrors

Well, I've left the writing group I joined about a month and a half ago, putting an end to one of the most dysfunctional experiences of my life. What I thought was going to be a professional group of writers interested in the common good turned out to be anything but that. 

Hint: when the person running the group is more interested in you flying to England to have sex with them than giving helpful critique of your stories, it's time to leave. 

Anyway, back on my own again. And in a way, it feels good. I'll miss the advice of the more helpful members of the group, but it just wasn't worth it to stay. 

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Waiting Game

Submitting your work for consideration takes a kind of courage some writers don't possess. I was one of those writers for the better part of my 20s. Now, just a few months from my 30th birthday, my urgency to get published wins over fear of rejection. But some things don't change, no matter how many times you take that leap and submit your work.

Waiting is the worst. Well, okay, it's the second-worst. I currently have seven stories making the rounds right now. Thanks to places like Duotrope Digest, writers now have some idea of how long they can expect to wait for a response, which is both a blessing and a curse. When a story nears the estimated response date, I can't help but get nervous. A decision, most likely, is imminent. It's like waiting for the guillotine to drop. 

A perfect example is my story "Glory in the Wasteland", which is currently on submission at Lightspeed. One of the quickest turnaround times in all of genre fiction, Lightspeed's average response time is something like two days--a day and a half for rejections, five and change for rejections, and I think it's somewhere like three days for rewrite requests--so you know from the moment you submit that you're going to hear back quickly. 

Being the pessimist that I am, my first fear is "I hope I don't hear back today," because it will invariably be a rejection, and who wants to set a person record for quickest rejection? But I've been "Under Consideration" for two days now, which, if you listen to Neil Clarke of Clarkesworld magazine, could mean good things. ...or it could mean that the editor took the weekend off, and hasn't gotten around to sending my rejection letter yet.

I have been driving myself crazy with this submission, but this seems to happen every time an estimated response date nears; I will find myself checking my hotmail account every five minutes, checking submissions systems every ten minutes (if applicable), opening and closing and reopening tabs just in case it isn't refreshing properly, etc.. 

Does anyone else go through this? I suppose it would be easier if I had kids to worry about, or some other real life issue to take up my time, but unfortunately (or fortunately) I have most of my time to dedicate to writing. And yet when these dates roll around, the one thing I can't do is concentrate enough to write! 

Anyway, here's a list of my open submissions and where they currently are:

The Bright Walk / The New Yorker / 83 days waiting / 134 day mean average RT / 90 day EstRT
Postcard From Arborville / / 50 days waiting / 190 day mean average RT / no EstRT (this could be out a year)
The Machine / On Spec / 17 days waiting / 134 mean average / 180 EstRT
All Debts Public and Private / Ploughshares / 14 days waiting / 76 mean average / 150 EstRT
Broadcasting Live From Bensk / Pedestal Magazine / 13 days waiting / 39 mean average / 60 EstRT
...And Other Significant Junkies / Glimmer Train / 6 days waiting / 66 mean average / 90 EstRT
Glory in the Wasteland / Lightspeed Magazine / 4 days waiting / 2 mean average / 14 EstRT

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Time is on Your Side

About a month ago, I finished the first draft of a short story called "Glory in the Wasteland." After the first draft was done, I moved on to other things, leaving it unedited.

Yesterday, I returned to the story, and gave it a good read-through. The story, overall, was great, but I cringed at a few touches I had thought at the time to be "cool" and "Tarantino-like." I mercilessly murdered those ugly passages, and now the story is ready for a spit-shining (or total destruction) at the hands of my Hothouse writing group.

The only how-to-write-fiction book I've ever read was "On Writing" by Stephen King (I'm sure many of you have read it, as well), and one of Stephen's many rules is that you should walk away from your story for at least a couple of weeks before editing it. Reason being, he says, only time can create enough distance between you and your story that you can read it objectively. Or, reasonably objectively.

In the few times my impatient butt has been able to wait long enough to adhere to this, the results have been startling. "Magic Words," after a few months, proved to be a flat-out badly-written story, "Dragon Dancer" turned out to be worth keeping, and "Glory in the Wasteland" might just be a winner. No matter what the case, the weeks between readings really does give you a better perspective. You're not longer in love with phrases or styles you used, so if you fall in love with them's a good sign. And if you don't, then you know what to cut.

Give it a try, sometime. Writing is the profession of patience, so it's not like you're in any hurry.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The City & The City

Well, I finally finished China Mieville's "The City & The City" last night. I tore through the last hundred pages in just over a day, as I usually do. Now, I'll preface this by saying I'm a lousy reviewer, so what follows will be very brief, probably clumsy and un-reviewy (the first mark of a bad reviewer is made up words!)

Okay, where do I start with this? The spoiler everyone interested in Mieville or this particular book has already heard is that the two cities in which this story occur--Beszel and Ul Qoma--are located in the same geographic location, so I'm not really giving anything away there. Mieville himself has said so in interviews, albeit somewhat begrudgingly, and lamented spending five chapters building to it when basically every reviewer on the planet give it away in the first line.

So, yeah, two cities in the same place. Of course, your house is in one or the other, and there are various places throughout that are totally in one or the other, but most of the topography is "crosshatched," or shared by both. A building may have a floor in Beszel, and another in Ul Qoma. In some instances, two rooms on the same floor may be separated by three feet, and an entire country.

These are unique and unusual borders, and arguably arbitrary, but they are some of the most fiercely guarded in the world, thanks to the shadowy overlord-ish group known as Breach, who seem to appear out of nowhere when a citizen--or a tourist--crosses that invisible line (which, honest to god, can be as simple as standing still; some crosshatched areas are fine to walk through, but standing still puts you in Breach).

This book is a murder mystery at heart, a detective novel in the vein of Chandler. A young American student living in Ul Qoma winds up dead by a skate park in Beszel, and Inspector Borlu is on the case.

Anyone used to reading the baroque, lavish style of Mieville's Bas-Lag novels (like me) will most likely need a  minute to get used to his voice in this book. I won't say it's stripped down, because that would imply that the prose is somehow worse, or lesser than in the other books, but that isn't the case at all. The prose is extremely effective, and China still sends me running for my dictionary every now and again, but the writing here is more straightforward, more focused, than in his other books.

Borlu, for 99.999% of the book, is supposed to be speaking either Illitan or Besz, which are both (imaginary) European languages, and the prose reads almost as if it is was meant to be translated from them to English, and along with it comes all of the bumps and clumsy phrases that don't quite sound right in English as they do when spoken in the original tongue.

Anyway (great segue!), this book is great. It's a great detective novel written by the best fantasy writer alive today, and that makes for a really cool read. For me, part of the appeal of The Dark Tower series was that it was a fantasy written by a horror writer, and as such, it read that way: King's skill for keeping you off-balance and creeped out lent itself brilliantly to a story about a gunslinging hero fighting his way to the apex of existence; "The City & The City" is the same way, with Mieville's fantasy sensibilities (ancient, mysterious artifacts with "strange physics, and a third, hidden city existing between the other two) making a crime novel something more.

In a way, it's like if you could take your favorite sports star and bring him into another sport, and he was actually just as great at that one as he was the first one. Imagine if Michael Jordan hit .300 for the White Sox, instead of flunking out of their farm team? That's sort of what's happened here.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


Seems like I've fallen a bit behind on submission updates, and the like, so here's a snapshot of where I am today.

Since the last time I gave an update, Asimov's has rejected "The Machine," while Daily Science Fiction has rejected "Live From Bensk." Both are back out on the market and under consideration. "All Debts Public And Private" is under consideration, as well. 

"The Bright Walk" is still in the slush at that particular (unnamed) magazine, and has been for 71 days, which is very close to Duotrope's 90 day estimated response time...but barely halfway to their "average" response time of 140 days. So I'll either be hearing from them this month, or more than two months from now.

"Postcards From Arborville" is 38 days out, but there's every chance I don't hear back for 8 or 9 months, maybe more. This market gets a ridiculous amount of submissions, and as such has notoriously slow response times. 

"The Cantina" was rejected by Strange Horizons on September 29, and after rereading it, I really don't think this one is ready. So, as of that rejection, I have "trunked" the story. I might give it a rewrite in the future, or pick its bones for material, but as it is now, it's not going back out. Hey, it happens to the best of us.

"Magic Words," as I think I've mentioned, has been at Basement Stories since August 11, and despite the the site's claim that everyone who submits will hear back by September 15, I have yet to receive a response. About a week ago, I sent a query, but have yet to hear anything. My guess is that it maybe got lost along the way, but I did go back and check my outbox just to be sure, and everything is in order. So either they deleted it, it went to their spam box, or it got lost in the shuffle. Whatever the case, I'm left hanging, and it's very discouraging. I understand long response times, but not hearing anything back almost a month after the date promised is tough. If I don't hear something back within the next week, my next communication to them will be to withdraw it.

What else? Well, my time at the Hothouse has been extremely educational and productive. I'm a better writer already, and I haven't been there more than a month, I don't think. It has been tremendous. Other than that, I'm still writing, still submitting. 

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Based On A True Story

I recently finished the second draft of my latest short entitled "All Debts Public and Private." For the sake of brevity, let's just say the story is about two people reuniting after years apart following a rough breakup. It is more or less inspired by real events in my life; in fact, the desire to write the story came to me when I heard a song that reminded me of her.

It's one of the most personal stories I've ever written, and the writing of it was fueled by emotion rather than inspiration. Now that the rewrites are largely finished, I've been thinking about the experience, and I'm still not sure what to make of it. I'm tremendously proud of the writing, and I think it's probably the best I've ever done. The framework of the story is largely true, as I've said, but the climax of the story is all fiction, and something I'm also very satisfied with. But the whole endeavor has me a little bit worried.

William Faulkner, at the Nobel banquet in 1950, while lamenting how the world had become blinded to the spiritual by a fear of physical death, said,  "Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat."

After writing "Debts," I think I see what he means. I still love science fiction and fantasy, and I still want to write it, but I'll never write anything of substance until I put my heart into it. Even if the day comes when I can spin perfect sentences without need for a writing group to help me, what good are those sentences without feeling? I look back on my work, limited though the bibliography is, and I don't see one story that has my heart in it. Sometimes I give lip service to it, but after writing "Debts," none of feels real.

I should stop before I sound too self-aggrandizing here, but I'm trying to say that I didn't have any trouble writing this story. It isn't the greatest thing ever, but for now it's the best I'm capable of, and I don't think it's a coincidence.

George R R Martin also quoted Faulkner in his retrospective anthology "Dreamsongs," and what made George such a successful writer then (and now) is that he wrote from the heart. I've read stories of his that involved necrophilia, lonely space stations, brain-eating alien jello, and all of it has the heart that all of my stories lack.

All but one, that is.

I wish I knew how to put that same heart into my other writing. I guess that's part of the growing process, huh? Figuring stuff like this out?