Sunday, February 20, 2011

Submission Updates

I mentioned "The Machine" getting a very friendly and helpful PRL from On Spec in my last post, but I just realized I didn't tell you guys about the rest of the stories I have out.

"Glory in the Wasteland" was rejected by Asimov's Science Fiction on November 17...the same day "Broadcasting Live From Bensk" was rejected by Pedestal Magazine. Yes, that's right: A double-whammy, two rejections in one day.

"All Debts Public and Private" was sent back by Ploughshares on November 20th.

"...And Other Significant Junkies" rejected on November 27th. Four rejections in ten days.That one, believe it or not, is not a record: From September 27th to October 5th, I received 5 rejections, a record which came very close to toppling in November, but did not.

Only "The Machine" has been sent submitted elsewhere; the stories listed above are all on hiatus. I don't know why I didn't send them out. I guess I was feeling down about my writing and thought it was pointless. But part of it is also that I just don't know how good these stories actually are. When I went back and reread "The Machine," I knew I had a good story. Even with the apparently-confusing introduction, the story itself is strong, and I still enjoy reading it. I need to sit down and read these stories again to know if any of them are ready.

And not just if they're good, but if they're in my voice. If they read like I wrote them. I have always been told that there are no rules, but I guess I never really understood what that meant until I read McCarthy. That book ("The Road', and subsequently, "Blood Meridian") showed me that there are no rules. Here's a man who writes a story and doesn't give a fuck if there aren't enough commas for your liking, doesn't care that there isn't one quotation mark to be found. Fuck your rules, this is my voice, is what he says with his writing.

Well, now I know, finally, that I can take the mask off. I always tried to dress my writing up so it looked like it fit, like it belonged, but to hell with all that. I'm not doing that anymore. The quirks that made my writing unique and appealing to my teachers when I was growing up, that stayed with me into my 20s, and were pounded out of me by every bit of writing advice I've received (save one, of course: "there are no rules"), are all back. I'm back. I'm not going to force my writing into a niche anymore just because that's the "right" way and my way is the "wrong" way.

To quote Romany Malco's character in "The 40 Year Old Virgin" (no, seriously!) "What's felt right to you don't work; it's time to try some wrong, dog."

Thursday, February 17, 2011

I, Writer

Howdy, stranger.

It's been too long.

The last time I was here, I said I'd take a week or two to rest. A week or two become three and a half months. No doubt time I will look back upon as an old man and wish I could have back, swear now I know how to use it. Don't they say youth is wasted on the young? Enough of it has been wasted on me, I think.

Maybe I shouldn't be so tough on myself. I didn't stop writing because I was afraid of the rejections or failure. I stopped because I was tired. All summer and into the fall, I tried to cram in all the experience I didn't get in my teens and 20s before my 30th birthday. Like a midlife crisis, but instead of sports cars and girlfriends ten years my junior, I overcompensated by sitting in front of my laptop so long that I got a monitor burn. Yeah, I had "OpenOffice" seared in my forehead backwards for a week.

I even had trouble reading. I'm usually able to sit down for hours with a good book, but it was getting to the point where I wasn't reading much of anything, and even after I took a break I was having a hard time reading without getting distracted.

Wasn't all bad, though. I received a lovely new Nook on Christmas, and that has completely cured me of my reading trouble. I've already torn through three books this year (China Mieville's Iron Council and Looking For Jake, and Cormack McCarthy's The Road) and I'm deep into another McCarthy tale, Blood Meridian, as well as Mieville's latest, Kraken. (I know, kind of McCarthy-Mieville heavy. Don't worry, I've also got Jeff VanderMeer's Shriek: An Afterword) on deck, and even a non-fiction by Physicist Brian Greene entitled The Hidden Reality, which is about quantum physics and parallel universes. So I'm really back into the swing of it, as far as my reading goes.

The reason I titled this entry "I, Writer" is because once I started reading again, it wasn't long before I started feeling that old pull again. Every time I'd turn it on I'd get drunk on words and story and have to shut it off and write. Got about four thousand words into a short before I ran out of steam. Hey, it happens.

Then I got a personal rejection for "The Machine" from the friendly folks at On Spec magazine. They said the plot was broken because the initial setup was steampunk, yet the characters were modern. I was blown away by this response, because I definitely did not intend the story to appear at all steampunk.

How do you like that? Accidental Steampunk! I just started a new genre.

Anyway, I went back and revised it, and that really got my blood pumping. Not just the revision itself, but that I really, really loved it. I think I did a great job! I really do. I only wish I had gotten it this polished before I sent it out the first time. I'm starting to run out of pro genre mags, as this is easily my most well-traveled piece. But it's off at another market, and we'll see what happens.

As for me, I've already begun working on another piece. Literary, not genre. Nice change of pace, I think. It's about a boy who gets bullied at school. I can already see the Cormack McCarthy influence in it (No quotation marks, very few commas), and I'm really enjoying myself. I'm telling the story out-of-order, as well. Don't know why. It just feels right. That's the thing: I'm feeling so artistic lately, like I've got all this creativity inside begging to be let out.

I'm excited to feel this way, but it's tempered with regret for what had to happen to get here. I also have to confront what happened at the writing group, as unpleasant as that will be. I know my reasons for leaving were sound, but I have to ask myself if I was really just in a bad situation, or if I might have brought the troubles on myself. There were some good people there. Mike was much too distant for my taste, and I wasn't comfortable with a fellow relatively-unaccomplished writer being "in charge", but I don't know that I handled it correctly.

I was put off by how she spoke to me, but could I have handled it better? I feel  I may have started counting enemies before anything happened. Maybe that combative mindset hurt me.

I don't know how well it would have worked out in the long run regardless, but I can't deny that I learned something from it, even if those lessons weren't the ones intended.

Anyway, I'm just glad to be writing again. This time around I know what my priorities are, and in what order they belong. I write because it's fun, not because I feel like I have to get my career going. I'm not going to be a famous author by 30 (since I already am 30) so I can stop panicking. No more pressure. No more deadlines.