29th July

or: Leaving this month’s post to the last minute, and other procrastinations.

A strange month in all. Let’s start with a highlight.

I got a new First Reader gig. With Fantasy & Science Fiction. Charles Finlay put a call out for applicants, I applied, my application was accepted. The team got to work just as the submission hiatus ended and have worked through nearly a thousand of the over eleven hundred submissions received. I’ve read some awesome stories. I look forward to some appearing in future issues.

One of the things I have noticed is more than a few stories where sirens of some sort are a key feature of the tale. I blame Rhonda Parrish. Her Magical Menageries collection Sirens is now out, and that means there are a few related tales that weren’t included still available. I myself wrote two stories for the anthology. One never got as far as submission, the other never made the cut. I hope to do better with the Equus call – though I need to get my finger out and finish writing the story.

Which means I need to be busy writing because over the next four months I am challenging myself to write a 40k word novella. To be fair, I have about 15k of early draft work done, but it will still be my biggest challenge. This is a story that has been with me for some time. Elevator pitch? The crew of a small salvage ship scraping a living on the fringes of the solar system find a derelict space yacht. It’s been drifting for two hundred years. What they  discover aboard sends them on a journey back to all the things left behind, and will change Earth/Mars relationship forever. How does that sound? I’ve never done one. The reason I’m undertaking this is to submit it to the Ab Terra call being edited by Yen Ooi.

In other, non-writing related news, I was at the hospital on Wednesday. I received official diagnosis of Chronic Fatigue. This wasn’t a surprise, but rather the culmination of a couple of years deterioration in my health. I had hoped my most recent malaise was a recurrence of glandular fever I suffered three or four years ago, but the blood work all came back as negative. The frustrating thing is on Wednesday I really needed to be sat at home with my foot up, as I couldn’t I have now strained ligaments. The constant pain is sapping. Imagine bad toothache, in your foot, for three days. Of course, as the family carer I’ve had to do more than I should, thought today and tomorrow should be days I can rest. If I’m sensible I’ll do some writing, or editing. It’s all highly annoying as I’ve just purchased a bike (2nd hand) to try and rebuild some strength, and have been swimming at the local beach (Cawsand).

Next month I hope to move back to weekly updates to help keep track of my novella progress.

 

16th June

Why have I lapsed into monthly posts?

Because I feel I’m just repeating myself.

Writing’s hard; I’m getting better; repeat.

And I am getting better, as several acceptance in 2016 attest. But there’s still more to learn.

I am an incremental learner. Each advance builds on the last, and I find it impossible to go back and retro-fit stories which is a shame, it means there are trunked tales that are solid in conception, but poor in execution.

To aid advancement I’m always trying to learn. Currently I’m taking Cat Rambo‘s Advanced Workshop. I did the initial class about 18-months ago and found it hugely beneficial. Something I forgot, before signing up for this one, was the effect of time zones. I’m not sure what time the class is for Cat, but for me it’s 0100-0300h. The net effect is ensuring, as the only male in this class, that I don’t take up too much space. I’m so tired by the time it starts I require 3-4 times as normal to think about what has been said, and then extra time to formulate a response (this last bit is irony – I work really hard on not being a ‘Me Man, Listen’ type of person, sometimes I even achieve it).

I really enjoy the way Cat takes a class. There is a freeness to it which allows for discussions to move into areas that may have been unanticipated. Her anecdotes and name dropping are light and purposeful. When discussing class submitted stories Cat always looks to be positive and upbuilding in her comments, but she does not shy away from pointing out weaknesses and areas of concern.

I definitely recommend considering one of Cat’s classes and, if being awake in the middle of the night is really not your thing, then have a look at her on-demand offerings.

One of the recurring themes in writing, or more accurately in becoming a published writer, is persistence. You read, and are told of, writers who submitted and submitted and submitted, facing rejection after rejection. This is a truism.To rack up the rejects that allow  for an acceptance I have been running on a program of averaging one submission per week, and always having at least ten stories out for submission. This has been a useful tool to ensure I don’t hide away from submitting work based on rejections (or critiques – more on that below). Currently I am on my lower limit of ten stories out, and a few of those are very near the point where they’ll drop off one way or another. So I must put a couple out to make sure I have a cushion.

On the matter of critiques. Over the past few months I’ve had a few from people who have read stories and then made suggestions which, I can only assume, are based on how they would tackle the story, instead of considering the story before them. One went so far as to posit that it would be better to delve into who a secondary character didn’t want to return to his hometown after war had ended. That I dealt with it in two lines (not wanting the stultifying family life, or a return to the seminary), that this was a secondary character, and that this was a short adventure story seemed to have bypassed the reader. I was most frustrated, and it took effort not to respond (remember, no matter how poor the crit a sincere ‘Thanks for your time and effort’ is the standard response. Maybe different if you pay for it, and feel it misses the point, but otherwise just smile and wave).

This has made me think about my critiquing methods. I’m an editor by crit nature (because it’s easy to see how to make other peoples work better). I’ll make suggestions on lines, paragraphs, and ideas. What I need to ensure is that I provide reasons for my suggestions, and that they do not fundamentally alter the story under consideration.

Thus ends this month’s maundering.

 

 

May 15th

I’ve written a big chunk of words this month. I like that.

I’ve had feedback on several stories over the past month. That’s good. I’ve not enjoyed it.

Writing is solitary, it is a matter of ego. Mine is suffering at the moment.

I can’t get the mechanics correct. It’s a problem of converting an idea into a story that drags people along.

Ho Hum

Time to level up.

Oh, and my glandular fever is playing merry hell, so I feel physically crap, and mentally everything is foggy.

19th March

I can’t have a high, without seeking the low.

There’s a strong streak of self-destruction that runs through me – it’s a parental influence and I’m well aware of its source – whereby I cannot experience success, no matter how minor, without immediately feeling a deep rooted sense of failure.

So, I have my first pro-acceptance, and immediately I’m looking at my other work and thinking, ‘Yeh, but that’s all crap, isn’t it. I should just give up. No one wants this derivative, single-dimension, turgid, typo-filled dreck. Grief! I can’t have a well executed original idea if I try!’

On top of this my glandular fever is spiking, so holding onto a single idea and manipulating it is a struggle (as is staying awake all day).

That all sounds kind of ‘Woe is me!’ And I suppose, to a certain extent, it is. But it is also writing honestly, laying out an inner part of myself that I don’t like people to see because it’s part of me I don’t like admitting to.

Writing is easy. All you do is sit at the typewriter (or keyboard), open your wrists, and bleed onto the page. Yeh. I don’t do that. Writing is a further exercise in not being me, in exploring realities other than my own. Is that why it’s a struggle? Or is it all the typos? The meandering sentences? Or how about the jejune ideas?

But I still want to write. Oh, a writer NEEEDS to write! Right? Meh. I don’t need to do anything, except breathe. But there are things I want to do to a greater or lesser degree. I want to write to a greater degree. I want to not suck at writing. I want to…

Yeh.

Today is low.

My ideas are weak. The execution is poor. My grasp of basic English shows me up.

This being the case I’m grappling with a blank page, and writing. Writing, with words, and words. The best words (I have all the best words).

Because, while I have a self-destructive streak, I also have a very, very strong ‘Ain’t no-one tells me what is what.’ Especially where that no-one is me.

16th March

I received an acceptance, and a contract. My first pro sale. That’s significant. It’s only a three hundred word story, so not likely to make my fame or fortune. But it’s the next step up the ladder.

Currently I have 11 pieces out for submission. The last four or five I think are heading towards the territory I need them to be, but we’ll see what the editors have to say.

As part of the continual effort to move forward I’m doing a tuition with Richard Thomas. This was a backers reward for the new magazine Gamut which he is launching with a stellar cast. I suspect I chose the wrong tory for us to workshop, but it already I have added a new process to my writing structure, and look forward to incorporating it in my next project (which as of yet is not decided on).

Let’s see what happens next.

March 2nd

I did some editing. But only a smidge.

Then I played about a bunch on @LossLit 

And a killer story idea strikes me, like a flat iron upside the head. Not the words that make the story, just the bundle of bones that make the skeleton, and not even all of those. The heads there, the legs too. I have arms,pelvis, and spine. But the ribs, where the heart sits, is missing. Not so much missing, as not yet present. In a moment of sense and clarity I’ve recorded what is available and that should allow me to tease out the the rest if it remains elusive.

AND, I’m firing up the printer, so I can edit on paper.

 

26th February

I’ve not written a blog post because I’ve had nothing to say. Better to say nothing and be thought a fool, than to open one’s mouth and confirm it, as the saying goes.

I’ve been writing a story that has a strict 2k word limit. My initial draft was over 3k. The venue the story is for is on my ‘hit-list’. I have a story for it that has been in production for about 14 months, but is still not finished because I’m still seeking the right balance of theme/presentation and don’t want to spoil the core idea with a less than best story. The current story, though, is a beast of a different nature. I jotted down the parameters, did an solo idea-blast session, then a short free-write to coalesce the better ideas.

From there the story flowed out & 3k words later it was time to start cutting. I did a whole bunch myself, then reached out for help. Mark Schultz did a first pass for me and gave some solid help, then kicked me in the butt and said ‘finish the rest’. So I did. But being a delicate flower I asked for more help.

My fellow first reader at Plasma Frequency, Gemma, stepped in.

She spotted the flaw at the heart of the piece.

See, in cutting it down from 3k to 2k I had lost all the subtleties that allowed the MC to be the MC they were. I ended up with an easily guessed twist and on the nose dialogue. Panic time. (Also, this came on the same day I had 2 submission rejections, and one of them pointed out several 101 typos – it was not a good day for my writing confidence).

Option 1, the easy option, was to do nothing. Forget the whole thing and put the story into my burgeoning ‘to be revised file’. Option 2, the cowards/fools option, was to submit it as is. This was never going to happen. Option 3, wallow in self pity and then do the damned edits required.

I went for Option 3. It reads better. The feedback is positive as well (apart from an odd typo).

I’m in no way sure that this submission will get past the first readers, never mind anywhere near publication. But I am massively pleased that I chose Option 3. Too many times I’ve tried Option 2, so many of my pieces are victims of Option 1 (often as a result of being put through Option 1).

Onwards and onwards.

7th February

3526 words for the first week of February. Not the massive start I hoped for, but I lost one day to being out, and another to inertia.

I’ve also had two stories this week that I queried. One was rejected five days before my query, the other had never arrived at the target market.

There’s no clear way of explaining what has happened in these cases, I’d just say, keep good track of your subs.