Monday, September 26, 2011


It is hard to believe that I have been steadily blogging for over a year about my writing life. Who would have thought there was so much to say, so much to deal with?

All I wanted to do at first was to explain - for my own benefit - how I put a story together. This was partially because I was trying to formulate a replicable way of writing short works at the time - a  necessity caused by the disappearance of my natural long novelette or short novella lengths from the marketplace of Science Fiction.  I had to change me rambling draft until i drop approach and pound the dump into some semblance of order to something more rational. Scene Theory I and II were the result and I discovered Scrivener, which was appropriate to the new procedure.

In later blogs I reflected in greater depth about the process of moving something from the creative spark to submittable form, and then went on to test that process on a piece I'd just gotten under contract. there result was a sting of posts as I moved from stage to stage, discovering along the way that I'd forgotten the final step - the eleventh step of the Ten Step Process.

Since then I've discoursed on and on about my emotional issues when writing, the frustrations and joys of bringing an idea to life, and the agonies of turning one's little fantasies loose on the world. I've written about my cats, sailing, hiking, and some other issues of my writing life, but mostly these blogs have been about the way I deal with being a writer and my thoughts on the process.  Much of this I've also converted in talks, presentations, and rambling discussions with others afflicted by this writing curse.

Over time I seem to have acquired a modest audience, some of whom have been kind enough to contact me and (I hope) read some of what I have produced as a writer.  If you are one of these, or just joining their happy group, I hope these little snippets of wisdom(?) will continue to be helpful, illuminating, or interesting.  If there is some aspect that you think I've missed, please let me know.

And thank you for following my rambling blog.

Friday, September 23, 2011


Years ago, the brilliant and insightful reviewer, Michael Dirda wrote the following pean to short fiction in his Washington Post book review column as a forward to a very short novel.
"Short stories contrive to use a single incident to illuminate a whole life: They aim for a short, sharp shock. Novels, those fabulously loose and baggy monsters, frequently transcribe entire biographies, reveal cross sections of society or show us the interaction of several generations.  They contain multitudes.  In between lies that most beautiful of fiction's forms, the novella or nouvelle.  Here, the writer aims for the compression that produces both intensity and resonance.  By focusing on just two or three characters, the short novel can achieve a kind of artistic perfection, elegant in form yet wide in implication. .."
Those words have remained pasted above my computer ever since I first read them and, whenever I doubt what I am doing, I reread them and take heart that I need not pump up my stories to some arbitrary length, that I need not introduce unnecessary complexity and complications to torture the protagonist, that I need not expound endlessly of some fact or circumstance that could be encapsulated in a few words.  No, I can write what needs to be written for that story, neither more nor less and when the final word, be it the five thousandth or the thirty-two thousandth, is written it is the end.  Reading those words tells me there is no need to be embarrassed about whatever length I write so long as I do it with honesty and integrity.

But it sure is nice to make a sale.

Saturday, September 17, 2011


Someone asked about my recent blogs and wanted to know if I was developing an inferiority complex about my writing. My response was that being depressed about the industry in general and my place in it was more about facing the reality that I have to deal with than acquiring a psychological affliction.

My feelings of inadequacy are part and parcel of trying to write better as opposed to not earning a decent return for my efforts.  Daily, I write under a cloud of concern about my place within the genre and deal with rejection as my stories are rejected by successive editors.  Is there angst? Sure, and in copious amounts. Also despair at never achieving more than a footnote in someone else's biography.  Then there is the haunting concern that the well will run dry, that suddenly the words will fail to flow, that someone else - at this very minute - has just written the same damn story in a much, much better way and with great style.   Then there's the gnawing fear that some fan or critic will completely misunderstand and misinterpret something I wrote (and perhaps not quite so innocently.) 

The pressure of keeping my name before the editors, before the public, to keep producing ever better works until I end up despairing of ever topping my past efforts is a constant worry as well.  Each day I stare at my Work in Progress (the manuscript before me and the half dozen or more partially written pieces lying in disorganized array within my work folder) and despair of ever getting anything sufficiently done to my satisfaction.

As if those demons weren't enough, I have to fight my own imagination.  While writing I am beset with new ideas, plot variations, new characters, and twists and, always, my irreverant sense of humor threatens to upend whatever I am trying to hammer into shape.  As if just finishing the umpteenth draft wasn't enough of an effort I still feel the burning desire to re-write, revise, improve, and make whatever I'm working on a bit better. I seem never to be satisfied with good enough.

Maybe I'm not alone in this.  Maybe there are thousands of writers who have their own demons as they struggle to put words on paper, to give birth to some new concept, worldview, or idea.  Maybe all of these demons are part and parcel of what writing is all about, as if the act of creating something new, something the world has not seen before, validates the effort. 

I hope so.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Lonely Middle

DragonCon was a cold bath for all but the most prominent writers or those with a dedicated fan base.  The lesser lights lingered in the shadows, their feeble presence all but disappearing in the overwhelming fire of the famous.

Writers are like stars; some flash brilliantly as novae with a significant work while the vast majority - neither brilliant nor inept - produce a steady stream of readable, and moderately interesting stories.  There are an enormous number of writers who inhabit this realm.  They are the ones who produce enough material to have a (very) modest following, but never manage to put out enough material to produce a decent income.  They are hobbyists for the most part, some investing more time and effort than warranted for the rewards.

Most of these strive solely for the joy of writing and the occasional adulation crumbs tossed their way.  These writers are the other people on convention panels, the ones who sit beside the stars.  They are the ones with the program ribbons standing around watching the long lines at the novelists' autographing tables. They might not shine brightly, but they are the ones who fill the between pages of magazines month after month and give our genre variety and novelty.

These pedestrian writers build the foundations of our genre that are the bedrock upon which the stars build their reputations.  Without the deep background of concepts, images, tropes, and insights these steady producers create there would be no market.  There would be no such thing as an our genre.

So let's hear it for those who labor in the shadows of the greats. Let's hear it for the ordinary writers who consistently produce readable works.  Let's hear it for those who keep this genre interesting.

And why not go out of your way to thank the less-than-famous whenever you can.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Joys of Revision

For some writers the most enjoyable part of the process of getting a story done is the initial creative process - getting down a sketch plan of the plot, figuring out the characters and settings, and how to torture the readers with twists and turns.

For others too impatient to do the above ( altho in all honesty they've probably done this in their head but are loath to admit it) the joy comes from putting the words down, crafting phrases, sentences, paragraphs, scenes, and chapters.  Some will admit that the story takes over and tells itself as the writer provides eyes and fingers to let it flow through them.

For myself, I somewhat enjoy both of these, but don't really see that as a lot of fun.  My stories seldom flow like liquid gold, nor do they self-assemble like Lego blox.  Instead they resemble a random scattering of pieces that need to be assembled by hand and, while fitting them together, making modifications, and adding missing parts.  In a lot ways this is like building a stone fence where the various rocks are neither uniform nor regular but must be stacked into a solid structure.

My personal joy comes from making the scraps fit, of polishing the words and scenes to perfection, of mixing the mortar of flow and continuity, and making the story stand as a unified piece.