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

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Long Wait

I don't understand how novelists do it. Imagine taking a few YEARS to write something, hone it to near perfection, and producing a finished draft to be submitted to an editor.  Short story writers differ from novelist only by word count and disposition. The pace of their submissions must be greater and they face the inevitable self-doubt of speed.  You* usually wish you could retract it one microsecond after it leaves your desk because there is always something that MUST be changed. But it is too late.  You can only wait until the rejection comes.

So you wait.

 Editors get  LOT of submissions from agents and random unknowns like you.  Although most of these pitiful pieces are unsuitable, unwanted, or just crap, they still must be read enough to justify a discard.  That takes time and, if you aren't a current darling, it might take months for the editor to get to your gem.

So you wait.

 And wait some more because your submission is the 1,256th piece the editor has to look at this month. You wait for the editor to quickly work their way through the poorly written and infantile plots of the pieces preceding your submission.

So you wait as the date of the expected rejection passes.

Could the delay mean an acceptance is forthcoming?  What if your submission has been set aside pending something better?  OMG, what if it has been lost?  Perhaps waiting a bit more might resolve the issue.

Months pass and the damn cat is still in the submission box.

Meanwhile you produce yet another piece or two realizing that you are no more than a field hand being paid by the bagful for the fruits of your labor.

Whether the metaphoric cat is dead or alive matters not. Waiting is part of a writer's life.  Regardless of whether you write long or short, there is little that you can do until the cat leaps out or the box begins to smell.

You write!

*And by this I mean I.


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Monday, March 6, 2017

Euphoria......and then

There is a certain sense of exhilaration  that comes from correcting the last mistake, dotting the final period, or changing "just a little bit of...." and shoving the piece out the (virtual) door.  Doing so rings a note of finality that, despite all odds, setbacks, trials, and tribulations you have finally completed the Herculean task of writing the complete, perfect story.  The stable is now clean.  It is a wonderful time.

Regardless of whether it is a short story or a bloated novel the accomplishment is something to be celebrated.  Now, you swear, you can get onto something else and, by damn, you WILL NOT make the same stupid mistakes that made you do all those rewrites, edits, and changes as you did on the just completed manuscript. Bravely you go forward, writing like a fiend, piling up pages of creative narrative that will not doubt achieve Nebula status and.....

Oh crap!  I discover that you've written myself into a corner, but maybe if you make a tiny change back there on paragraph three... But that means  have to rewrite pages 5-10 and probably change the focus or....Why did I start THERE?  No, no, the story actually starts on page six, which means you need to throw out the first five pages and..  Gott in Himmel, that changes the entire story arc, but no problem..

And so it goes, one manuscript after another. You suddenly feel that you  may never learn from your mastakes. You are doomed to haunt the halls of futility heavily bearing the chain of inadequacy on your shoulders while ever searching for the perfect word, the perfect sentence, and the cogent paragraph and correcting spelling, punctuation, and grammar along the way.  But maybe this time, on the tenth edit this one might eventually be finished.

Or abandoned.



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Monday, February 13, 2017

Novels vs Short Stories

I' may be a strategic plotter but I am a tactical pantser; that is, I generally lay out a general idea of how a story should evolve and then, working at scene level, just blast out whatever the muse demands, knowing that any errors will be caught in subsequent painstaking rewrites/edits.  I edit at the strategic level, moving whole scenes about or alerting the plot in non-significant ways (this ofter requires even more tactical adjustments at the scene level.)  I rewrite at the scene level, usually by line edits where the turn of word dominates.  That all sounds so clinical and cold but I can assure you that the execution is emotional and messy as hell.

Writing is always a struggle to find the right word, sentence, or scene.  I usually have to fight my way through mistakes, wrong turns, and confusion.  Throughout the process I am beset with disappointment, frustration, always filled with self-doubt, and continually worryring if the damned muse will suddenly, in the middle of something critical, decide to take a vacation. Nevertheless I plough ahead, often turning over the plot to see what might emerge from the seeds I strategically planted and if they produce a harvest worth the effort.

I often wonder if there might be a single meta-form from which any novel may be generated.  It would have to start by introducing the situation and character, introduce some difficulty that fails to be reconciled, posit possible actions, only to have those fail; one after another. Developing a way to overcome opposition follows, which leads to the actual execution/solution, and dribbles off into a satisfying denouement. Emotional peaks should occur at regular intervals, as does bathos and pathos. Stitching the novel together are the principal characters wandering among interesting scenery with their spear carriers, foibles, biases, and problems.  Emotional/action high points should be punctuated by adjacent calming sections .

Sure, easy to do. Nothing to it; that is if you can come  up with the driving plot, intriguing characters, enticing settings, and enough material to make the entire thing INTERESTING.  Piece of cake.

Which is  why I write short stories.



SFWApro

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Editorial Priviledge

How far should a writer allow their editor to dictate how the final product should appear?  Nothing a writer produces is done without considerable thought and deliberation and, when finished, satisfies the writer that it is complete: The plot is correctly presented, all the principals are as imagined, the settings are appropriate, and the message - the underlying meta story - is clear.

Word choices and sentence structure, not to mention grammar, can always be improved or, if not, modified to meet the market demands that the editor must serve.  Length is optional and can be expanded or reduced to fit the space available.  Plots may be rearranged to improve the story, for dramatic effect, or ease of understanding. The editor might suggest better word choices or delete objectionable items that might affect the story's reception.

Only the most egotistical writer refuses to budge on these necessary technical changes to their work.

Where the relationship between author and editor runs afoul is when the editor insists on altering the plot, changing a character's personality, inserting a message not originally intended, or twist the plot away from the initial concept.  When the editor oversteps their bounds is where the writer must stand their ground, regardless of how desperately they want the tale to be published. To do otherwise is to stifle creativity and violate intellectual integrity.

The negotiation between editor and author tests bounds as the tale goes through the stages of development toward a satisfactory result. There are inevitable conflicts, disagreements, and compromise along the way since egos and professional judgements are involved.  The author might walk away or decide the effort it not worth the hassle.  The editor may similarly quit or simply give up and allow the writer to have their way, regardless of how poor their choice.  But, in more cases than not, the editor and writer compromise, make the necessary changes, and move forward.

This relationship between editor and author is worst is when they are the same person.



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Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Organic Tale

A writer is always searching for an organic tale that is complete in itself, compels the writer to spin it as finely as they can, and which, on completion, requires nothing more to be said. The organic tale's narrative grasps the writers imagination and will not release it until the tale has been written.

The best organic tale is a narrative in which neither character, setting, nor plot can be altered without destroying the story.  It is a tale of change that progresses from a state of disequilibrium that suggest possibilities that evolve through elimination into probabilities that eventually yields a resolution revealing how the protagonist or situation has changed. Throughout, the reader (and admittedly, the writer) is ever eager at every stage to discover what happens next.

While the fervor of writing the organic tale is often high at the outset this feeling diminishes as the writing progresses and the possibilities offered dwindle into mere probabilities as choices narrow.  Only when the resolution finally comes into sight does the writer's enthusiasm return.  It is the dreaded middle is where most writers falter, stumble, change their mind, or quit, sometimes for a brief while and worst, forever.  The middle is where doubt creeps in with its tiny claws, or imagination fails, or hours of staring at a demanding screen frustrates any attempt to lay down sentences that make sense.  Only the strongest or most stubborn continues to the bitter end. But mere persistence does not guarantee success.  More often than not persistence simply perpetuates a failed concept beyond the writers ability to handle.

But when the proper narrative presents itself a writer must apply their mind to the task.  The writer may fail on the initial attempt simply because they lack the experience or skill at that time.  Later, after gaining more of each they may return to recast it with a better narrative.

Such is the dream when one starts any narrative.


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Saturday, January 14, 2017

Conventions

One of the things I've noticed at conventions is how writers, reclusive and introverted troglodytes  by nature and choice, suddenly blossom into affable, garrulous speakers, at ease with voicing their uninhibited thoughts before crowds of strangers. I suspect that their smiles and easy social interactions are masking their inner doubts, their uneasiness, and their burning desire to be back in their cosy cave, slaving at an unforgiving anvil, pounding words into proper form, and cursing their elusive and flighty muse.

Or perhaps the boisterous enthusiasm these reclusive writers exhibit on panels is analogous to a diver's decompression, where freedom from the weighty anvil of creation liberates their inner selves  to range freely.  While participating on a panel, a writer faces no deadlines save the panel's fiftieth minute, nor will their words raise the ire of an eagle-eyed copy editor, and whose spoken words are as ephemeral as the words they write.  Here, they can assert doubtful facts, spin tall tales of their literary prowess, and highlight their recent success without fear of immediate contradiction (of course I am not talking about myself.*)  Panels thus become fora for debate, sounding boards for ideas, and platforms of ego that sometimes reveal more about the speaker than they intend, much to the entertainment of the audience.

In private conversations I've learned that many other writers don a mask to be other than they are by nature, donning socially acceptable (by con standards) dress, and forcing themselves to plunge cheerfully into the chaos of panels, readings, signings, and the inevitable hallway/bar conversations.  At the same time they are ever searching for opportunities, discoveries of a new market, or validation of their worth, ever wary for that bit of idle conversation which might, at some future date, be useful in an as yet unwritten tale.

Writers have little choice but to attend conventions when asked and willingly pay the price of a mask in order to engage in intelligent dialogues with fans and other writers.

*Of course not!


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