19th February

A Dearth of Confidence

I can talk a good game. Words have power, spoken words even more so. This is why I try and project a nice positiveness with regard to my writing. The truth is more timid. Receiving rejections that say ‘Close, but no cigar’ can be a fillip initially, a driving force to work on something else. Eventually it becomes a burden, a weight of proximity to success that is not alleviated by the achievement of such.

Which is what has been happening for a while. I send stories out, I receive kind words, but ultimately a decline. It has led to a kind of creeping paralysis. In some of the stories I can see the structural deficiencies. Others, it really is just finding the right home for it, finding someone who interprets the story in the way I wrote it.

I knew this malaise was there. I could watch it creeping along, like poison from a wound that spreads inflammation along the veins. The infection was spreading deeply, beginning to affect even the process of formulating story ideas. A splurge of submission in January was merely a quick blast of oral antibiotics, providing a short term limitation of the effects. A class with Cat Rambo proved to be a consultation with a Doctor. It identified areas still to work on, it provided encouragement that the disease could be over-come.

Somewhere over the past couple of days there has been a turn-around. I first felt it when the basis for a story arrived last Thursday. It has been a goal for some months now to write a story with orthographical ligature at it’s core. No ideas had presented themselves, but last week one popped into my head, nearly fully formed. I scribbled it down and immediately put it aside to think about yet more. Then an idea for a Robinson Crusoe in Space story peeked above the mental parapets. This idea was welcomed with open arms, especially when Bascomb James confirmed he hasn’t had a submission along these lines for the Far Orbit: Apogee anthology he is collating (this was during the monthly WorldWeaverPress twitter discussion, #SFFLunch).

After mulling that idea over for a few days I was able to sit and lay out an initial story plan. It will deviate from that significantly as I write, but oh, it’s good to have that plan there, to see ideas and reasons for writing come together (by reasons, I mean a purpose for the story, as opposed a reason to write).

So, I have a goal. Two new stories to first draft stage in the next month. ‘Not much of a challenge’ I hear from some quarters. Well, no. But then writing is currently a hobby, not my job. But as a hobbyist I don’t want to be a dilettante, I want to become an adept.

As a final jolt to push back the ever present doubt and paranoia that I (and a lot of writers) feel, I received a request for my paypal details and author bio. This for a short story accepted some months ago to an anthology being put together by Chris Kelso, and based in his Slave State reality.

Being a writer is such fun.

5th February

Dear Lance…

This blog is for detailing my writing. But occasionally a topic arises that demands attention. The last few weeks the subject of Lance Armstrong has once again come to the fore, mainly because the BBC thought him worthy of interview.

In it he suggests that maybe it is time he be allowed off the naughty step, that his punishments have been too harsh. Others, including a man who walked away from the systemic cheating of professional cycling, have voiced a similar idea. Well, here’s why they’re wrong.

For many years I was a staunch advocate of the innocence of Lance Armstrong. How could anyone have the terrible disease he did, then put his life and career at jeopardy by taking drugs? Not only that, while other accused riders prevaricated and dissembled (before being unmasked as cheats) Lance always stood right up, called his accusers out, and denied it – to the point of winning a court case for libel. No, for me, Lance Armstrong was the poster boy of triumph against adversity.

I discussed the case with my Brother-in-law, himself a keen cyclist, and now the owner of a bike shop. At that point I was swithering in my conviction. There were so many rumors and reports, so many in the pantheon of his peers had been discovered to be cheats. My B-i-L’s view was simple. This was the most tested cyclist on the planet. And if he was cheating, why risk taking on a libel lawsuit?

My faith returned to true north. Lance was clean.

It stayed that way right up until the USADA report. I read the entire thing, I read the references and the appendices (yeh, all of them). By the end I was utterly convinced of its conclusions. Others remained unconvinced, feeling it was a hatchet job to take down an all-American-hero. Well, even they had to agree its truth when Lance admitted guilt to Oprah, right there on television.

I remember a particularly odious tweet Lance put out around the time of the report. A picture of himself laying on a couch at home, his seven maillot jaune in glass frames hung on the walls around him and a tag line of something like ‘Just chilling.’

So, my firm belief in the innocence of Lance Armstrong was overturned. But it is not a mere sense of wounded sensibility that gives me the firm desire to never hear or see the man on a screen or radio ever again. I’ll be honest, I don’t want to see any one convicted of deliberately, knowingly, and illegally taking performance-enhancing drugs being allowed anywhere near the sport they defiled. But again, this is not the driver for my belief in Lance being permanently excluded from the media spotlight he seems to believe is his right.

It goes back to his stance when he was proclaiming his innocence. It goes to the way he trashed the lives of people who called him out for being the liar he was. People like Emma O’Reilly, David Walsh, and Betsy and Frankie Andreu. In calling these, and others, liars he induced courts to further enrich him by paying prize money his cheating made him ineligible for, and a payout for libel.

This, then, is the reason Lance Armstrong should forever be banished. He cheated, he lied about cheating, he made personal and vitriolic attacks against people who accused him of cheating, he sued people who accused him of cheating. Then, in his most recent interview, he says he’d probably cheat if put in the same situation.

This is a man who has a moral compass which points only to his own aggrandizement.

Now, let’s make some things clear. Livestrong (his charitable foundation) did a lot of good while LA was lying and cheating his way through his career. I’m sure he’s a personable fellow, and that some are proud to call him a friend. No person is all one shade. As despicable as his public actions have been, I’ll wager there are a myriad quiet private ones that show his decent side. It’s just a shame that they will forever be overshadowed by the lying, cheating, and defamation.

There has been an argument put forward that Lance, and other American cheats, have been dealt with more harshly by cycling authorities than Europeans. The argument goes that because some European cheats got to retain titles, so should Lance. No, the European cheats should lose their titles as well.

Back to Lance. Someone who has publicly confessed that they are a cheat, and that they would do so again, is not someone who should be involved in the sport, in any sport. Of course, politics is still open to him. No barriers that I can see. His arrogant duplicitness looks a natural fit.

Rant over.

Oh, by the way, of course I have a story that ties in with this. It goes back in time to when post-war amphetamines were first being experimented with in the peloton. It’s under one of my writing names and can be found at QuarterReads. The title is ‘A Cyclist’s Memoriam’ and you can read it for twenty-five cents.

(If anyone can point me to a link for a website or twitter feed for Betsy Andreu I’d be grateful)

3rd February

Writing is re-writing

I think the above is the biggest lesson I have learned as a writer.

It’s also the lesson I am struggling most with.

Looking back over a couple of years of concerted writing I can see a vast improvement. Firstly, the basics. Sentence structure, use of grammar, &etc. Having been an avid reader from the age of four, and blessed with a decent level of intelligence I was shocked to realize how much of these basic things I just wasn’t really aware of. I’m still no perfect and more than capable of splitting an infinity or dangling a participle. But less so, and I remember to attribute action and speech correctly on a much more comprehensive basis.

On the story and plot front, that seems to be okay – especially in the world building department, I keep getting compliments on that – though I still have a tendency to have things move to slowly at the front end, or even start in a place that doesn’t serve the story best.

Which brings me to the issue of the re-write.

I really struggle with it. I struggle with stripping a story down to the bones, and re-assembling it to resemble something different to the form I envisaged when doing the initial write.

A good example of this is a current story geefourdotalpha.  I love this story, the tale of a robotic war machine that is mostly destroyed, that lies for centuries in rubble and a growing forest, that develops full sentience, that is discovered by a woman who chooses to live far from the hubbub of life, who then destroys the AI because it threatens her peaceful existence. This story has been around for about 9 months now. It’s been rejected six times (I had thought it five, but forgot the original prompt supplier had been the initial rejection). There have been some kind words on it, but I the most comprehensive response suggested I started the story in the wrong place. I couldn’t figure a way to change it.

I supplied the story for critique as part of my writing class by Cat Rambo and included my rejection notices. The basic agreement was to start the story elsewhere. Mark was very helpful in suggesting what scene to start with and, more importantly, why. But it is still difficult. Now I feel like I am writing a whole new story, but with a more comprehensive prompt. The difficulty is I know why I structured it in the way I did. So I am having to remove that backdrop and re-imagine the whole set up of the story.

This is a thing I am struggling with.

Especially as I know it is an exercise I am going to undertake with a lot of the other stories I have written in the last 12-18 months. At the same time, I’m still trying to produce new output, but hopefully of a nature that reflects he lessons being learned here.

But I also know that if I want to be more than a semi-enthusiastic dilettante then the re-write is a skill i must develop. It is a major item in the writers toolbox, to refuse to use it would be like a carpenter refusing to use a plane and sandpaper. The basic quality of the item constructed may be good, but it will always look unfinished, and therefore undesirable. Finishing a story is one thing, completing it is another. Presently I have finished a number of stories. Now I need to complete them, to polish them so that the grain is revealed, to add the lustre and shine which can add warm appeal.

I have written.

I must re-write.