Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Curse of the Galley


It takes hours of Herculean effort to finally get a story polished to the point that some kind editor finds it acceptable enough to respond with a contract.  That response indicates that the work was not, like so many, a failure and doomed to sit in the darkness of a trunk forever.  The response alone is ample reward for what was clearly a well-composed, structured gem of the genre.  Pat on the back, cheers, and dancing follows before the writer must return to the electronic anvil and pound out the next speculative masterpiece as the pleasant glow of success continues.

That is, until the galleys arrive.

You read through them and are devastated. Clearly whoever prepared the galleys screwed up the sentence structure, substituted inappropriate words in some places, misspelled others, and clearly randomly missed the stellar punctuation.  You experience feelings of being violated, abused, and hurt that some ignorant lackey could so interfere with an obviously well-crafted story.  With rightful indignation you vow to go through the galleys mistake by agonizing mistake against the clean submitted manuscript and reveal what that unskilled fool had done.  The harsh words of a cover letter are forming as you proceed to the first error.

Hmmm, the galley seems to agree with the submission.  All right, so maybe you made that minor mistake,   You correct it and move on.  At the second error you feel shame that you had so poorly chosen that word, when another would be so much better.  You concede the point and correct that as well.  Later and you blush that you structured a sentence so badly and scribble a better phrasing in the (virtual) margin.

And so it goes, page after page of correcting what you realize with growing horror were your own damn mistakes!  The galley bleeds from wounds inflicted by your red pen as you try to undo the damage and bring the story to perfection you require.  There was no abusive copy editor: You have been the perpetrator of these mistakes.  The red ink makes clear where the necessary changes are needed, except in the process of corrections even better phrasing occurs.

Finally you return the much edited galleys, satisfied that you have avoided embarassment and polished the submission to gleaming perfection.  Only to realize moments later that there were a few more things you should have done.....

Is a story ever finished?



#SFWApro





Saturday, May 6, 2017

Persistence

Every writer eventually comes to the point where they question whether to follow the arc of their writing career or to find something equally fascinating and interesting elsewhere.  Perhaps this angst occurs when you find that you just can't write another crappy scene/story/novel like the (mostly unsold) hundreds you've struggled with before. Or maybe it happens because you discover that you just can't muster the elegance and sophistication others seem to achieve without effort. Maybe it's because you want to add depth to your project but have not yet developed the skill and/or emotional intelligence to pull it off.  Could it be because you are simply tired of sitting for day after day trying to get something done or editing your earlier crap drafts into the crystalline clarity readers demand?

Well, join the crowd.  Your angst is the curse of being literate in a world that places little value on the effort involved to produce a cogent contribution to literature.Yours are no different from the difficulties of millions of us who daily struggle with the challenge of sculpturing raw words into elaborate stories that resonate with readers.  The great majority, regardless of how much they struggle, will not succeed in ever publishing their work or gaining recognition. Those so discouraged may decide to consign their efforts to the trash, unread and unmourned. Alongside the trail of literature are the remains of the many who wanted their words to inform the world but only saw their creations die unrealized.

Despite the many setbacks there nevertheless is that burning desire of every nascent author to express their personal view of the world as it should or could be, or discourse on another's view. There is a long line of literature stretching back thousands of years that speak to the human condition, to dreams, and aspirations, all of which beg commentary through whatever glass the writer wishes to use.  It matters little how successful you become so long as you continually perfect your craft, hone your sense of structure, and continually craft more interesting stories.

In the end, the only audience that counts is yourself.



#SFWApro

Monday, May 1, 2017

Depression

By the time I publish this RavenCon will be over and done and I will be exhausted.  Too many panels*, too many friends, and too little time for a decent conversation, which, in all honesty, is what a convention is all about. If I missed anyone let me apologize for the oversight.

Put out two short stories last week, both of which had passed peer review of my writing group before submission and one that the editor asked me to rewrite.  A good week which left little time to start another until this week; the week when you are probably reading this meandering prose.  I feel like a time-traveller in that I'm probably getting my tenses mixed up between the now of writing and the whenever you are reading this, which might not be for weeks after I put it up, making my opening paragraph inaccurate in the extreme. Maybe I should use future-intentional verbs: declarational (implying  intent), assumptive (implying that it will definitely have happened), or rhetoricalish (in the sense that it probably won't happen at all, but it's just being mentioned for effect.)

So, I'm on an imposter panel, which will probably devolve into agonizing soul searching about why everyone wants to piss on you, a submissions panel in the last hour of the last day probably be attended by those with hangovers that just want a quiet place to sleep,  a reading where I hope someone other than a relative is present, then a couple on exposition and MilSF in which someone will inevitably argue the virtues of a Glock .223mm versus the Walther P38 or some similar argument about future weapons a la STAR WHATEVER's.**

Great fun!

By Monday I will be exhausted.





*Well, I did ask for them
**Most of these did not  come
to pass, thank heavens!

Monday, April 24, 2017

That Damn Dark Presence

I must have hit a nerve: three separate conventions have placed me on an Imposter Panel.  I guess they want to exhibit me as a sample case since my self-esteem, as far as writing ability, is so pathetically low.*

For those of you who have not experienced this affliction, let me explain. Imposter Syndrome is a curse that, in its simplest form, is the belief that everyone will eventually discover that you are not that deserving of whatever status you've earned.  You daily fear that when (not if) you are eventually exposed your reputation will be destroyed forever.  They do not see the panic, sweat, concerns, and mistakes that haunt your early drafts and that it is only through sheer luck you are finally able to produce a readable page.  Every completed submission is followed by days, weeks, and months of nibbling doubt. Even after something is accepted you fear the copy editor's blue pencil for it is they who clearly see how poor are your compositional skills.

The imposter syndrome is always present, a looming menacing presence standing behind you as you struggle with your muse, It is a presence that soundlessly screams that if only you had a modicum of appreciation for English you would not produce the dribble of meaningless crud that only wastes electrons. "You will never be able to improve this draft" the presence shouts as you struggle with each hard-fought sentence. straining for a better way of expressing it.

The imposter syndrome is also present when you meet a writer appears to effortlessly spin gold from dross, never choosing the wrong word or composing a bad sentence, never struggling with the effort to bring life to cold words.  They often declare that everything they produce is perfect on the first draft.  But if you get real close you will recognize the dark presence lurking over their shoulder and the fear that their failure may too be eventually discovered.

Imposter Syndrome is what drives us to continually improve and grow.



*I may have mentioned 
this a time or two



#SFWApro

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Writing as a Career Choice

Last year I was on a "So you want to be a Writer" panel.  Most of the large audience indicated that they aspired to become published writers. Among them were a few bright young things who declared that they wanted to support themselves by writing full time. This is a nice dream and one that an infinitesimally small percentage of writers achieve, and usually only after years of struggle to develop the necessary skills.*

So the panelists gave them the practical advice that it would not be a good idea to plan on a lucrativ writing career.  The economics of a writing life are brutal:  If you want to earn enough to get out of poverty (i.e. At least $24,950) so you can get out of the basement** you have to write a lot of words!  The market for short stories (100-40,000 words) pays nothing at all to a magnificent $0.08/word in genre magazines. You would have to sell (there's the rub) 300,000 words each year. Given that the average magazine short story is around 5,000 words, you'd have to write and sell sixty-five stories, enough to fill seven paying magazines! The chances of editors accepting that many from a single writer are negligible so you will be doomed to stay obscenely productive in the basement or, alternatively, trying to make your spouse understand that you have no time to clean the house, fix dinner, or have kids.

So, instead of struggling with the workload of short story production, what if you wrote enough novels to stay above the poverty line? The average published novel is about 100,000 words. If you are an exceptional writer you might get by with only writing three drafts or 300,000 words - which is equivalent to sixty-five short stories (see above.)  That novel will sell (HA!) for perhaps $12.00 a copy for which you will get about $1.50,  This means that the novel must sell over seventeen thousand copies for you to reach the poverty level. Further, to maintain that minimum income you must produce a novel year over year without fail and to a major publisher.  Don't even consider self publishing via ebooks or small press; their royalties might be better, but their sales numbers are worse. You might do better than average if you have a large family but otherwise it's a crap shoot to reach that minimum of seventeen thousand copies sold.

Regardless of distribution methods you must understand that all seventeen thousand copies won't sell immediately.  This means that you'd better produce a string of novels whose total sales are at least seventeen thousand copies a year. Not impossible, but definitely a low probability outcome for the amount of work involved.

The advice I gave the I-want-to- be-a- writer audience was this: Get a decent day job that pays the bills you'll have after moving out of the basement, find someone who loves you despite your compulsive addiction to the written word, and set aside a time and place for your writing.  It's a big exciting world.

There are better things to do.

*Also living in their parent's basement 
**Definitely NOT a metaphor                                         



#SFWApro


Monday, March 27, 2017

Lessons Learned

Nothing humbles me more than  editing a piece long laid aside and discovering all the mistakes that went unnoticed.  Now, I'm not talking about spelling or grammar, plot sequencing, or sentence constructions. All of those were* corrected in the fifth or sixth draft and verified in the final pre-submission  read-through, you know, when optimism rides high and I have not yet realized I have not done that final change that I think of seconds after hitting the submit button. C'est la vie I happily shrug; I can correct that in the galleys, that is, if and when they arrive.**

What humbles me is the discovery that the very sequencing of sentences, their style and length is often wrong.  For example, my action scenes should not contain lengthy descriptions or flowery adjectives. Reflections on previous actions, the dialectic of political differences, or the philosophy of western vs eastern  moral consequences somewhat detracts from whether the antagonist is going to chop my protagonist's damn head off with his sword.  The action scene should contain short, descriptive bursts of language that encapsulate the events underway. At the same time a series of short sentences can become tiresome so I have to throw in a few longer ones to break the flow. I think of it as taking a breath before plunging ahead, sort of like a mental comma.

On the other hand I discover that long descriptions of settings helps draw the reader into the story while short, abrupt sentences cheat the reader's imagination (and probably make them suspect my world-building skills) while longer, more carefully drawn descriptions might feed their hunger.

So I chop away at the dreary text, cut narrative to the essentials, and lovingly touch on the stage settings and interesting backdrop, all with an eye to improving the story for another submission

*almost
**and I remember 

#SFWApro

Monday, March 20, 2017

Optimism

I listen to Freakonomics on NPR and am never disappointed. This week they spoke about perceptions of one's situation and how we too often complain about the headwinds and seldom consider the wind behind our back (or beneath our wings as it were.)

I've complained bitterly in this blog about the miserable the life of the short fiction writer, the lack of income, the delay in seeing print, and the difficulty of creating yet another masterpiece* I've also railed about how trying it is to change my style, and always failing.  It seems that in this field there is a constant wind ever resisting my progress.

But then I look on what I have managed to accomplish over the years, the few stories that managed to  rise about my ability and actually touch someone.  I think about the editors who helped along the way, the rich environment in which I chose to participate, and the wonderful advent of electronic tools for creation, submission, and [tbd].

This is a wonderful playground for writers, filled with those willing to extend a helping hand, welcoming newcomers into conversations, and freely giving information that facilitate reaching an editor, a market segment, or a new venue.  Attendees at conventions are wonderful, filling the chairs at panels, providing feedback, and letting writers talk about whatever they damn well please despite the subject. These ate the sustaining winds ever at my back; stronger winds than ever held me back.

And for that I am eternally grateful.

*IMHO