14 April

I’m fully moved. In the new house, old one closed out. Still loads of boxes lying about, but we’re getting there. Wish my ME didn’t make things hurt quite so much.

I received my first story acceptance of the year yesterday. Much joy. And a story I sweated blood over when writing it.

Now I’m trying to see a way to complete the novella challenge that I’m part of. 2 weeks in, 4 to go, and 0 words written. I came in with a strong start, but the story refused to go in the direction needed and for the challenge I’m involved in I neither wanted to force it, nor run in the direction it has turned. It gets to sit on a back burner again, and later in the year I will write the sweet coming of age story that it is striving to be.

Secondly I turned up a flash story I’d enjoyed and wrote it out from 400 words to about 1600. It gave me some very useful ideas, but the alt-earth noir just didn’t feel fresh enough to run with.

So, now I’m on my third attempt. I’ve written a sketch for the intro, and half of the 1st reversal. I’m trying to get things clear in my head, so that I can hit the ground next week with 3 weeks to write 18k+ words.

I have survived the move.

I will overcome the ME.

I will write this novella by the deadline date.

January 11th

I’ve had a lovely Occupation Therapist here for the last hour discussing my ME. I now get to partake in a seven week workshop on the issue (only 2 hours per week). That’s the most I’ve discussed my diagnosis since it was diagnosed in the middle of last year. The asperger part of me is dreading these group sessions, the writer part of me is excited.

Talking of writing, I’ve been doing some. There’s a flash piece for a CODEX competition, and a longer story I’m working on for a call by Afrocentric for their Afromyth anthology call. I submitted to the Afrofuture anthology and my story is on hold with them until the call is closed and final decisions on inclusion are made. I was also invited to submit to the Afromyth and Afrosteam calls.

This was most heartening. The story on hold is about a Nigerian-American woman in a round the world yacht race (time travel & whaling ships also appear). The anthologist is, coincidentally, a Nigerian-American woman. To have written a story she’s decided to hold for final consideration makes me immensely proud. It means I, to a worthwhile degree, have managed to write a character other than myself. I hope it wasn’t a one-time deal.

In other writing related news I’ve set up spreadsheets to track my writing and submissions for the year, and set myself goals for both. I’m currently tracking for submissions, and about 1700 words down on writing, though the ME has been bad and the concomitant brain fog has combined with self-doubt and starting-a-new-project fear to slow things down. I think I’m seeing a form for the Afromyth story, I’m currently trying to wrestle the idea into shape, and hopefully this will shift the logjam.

One of the ways I’m doing this is by using a writing formula. That sounds kind of dry and boring, but it seems to help. I first used it on a story that is currently finished, and being studiously ignored for a month or so. Under a provisional title of Stormville and the Coup (sword & sorcery in a Conanesque manner) the story started with an opening paragraph written about eighteen months ago, and then forgotten about. When I re-read the fragment I really liked it, but wasn’t sure what to do with it so on a piece of paper I wrote:

Introduction

1st reversal

small victory

2nd reversal

denouement

twist

Then in each section I wrote a rough idea for what should happen. The finished story does not follow that plan exactly, indeed the nature of the MC changed from the start of writing to the finish to the extent that I had to do a re-write to consolidate her. But the main thing is this gave the story a structure for me to follow and, I think, I’ll be using it more. One thing I found is this gave me a story of about 10k words, and could easily have been more. I think a 5-7k story will need a tweaked version.

Now, time to go make Cornish Pasties with my daughter.

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.

January 31st

29th 753

30th 508

31st 980

Between the 22nd & today I have written 6843 words of new fiction, plus my blog posts. I’ve completed two new stories, one of which has been submitted (and not yet rejected!)

This is vindication for restarting my 500 per day.

Next month Im working on a month total of 14,500, but hope to blast that in the first 2-3 weeks, as I have a story to edit for a end of Feb submission, and I have a suite of stories to edit & proof for self publishing.

Beyond that I’m also about to start Couch-to-5k, a diet, and 25 days of teetotalism (I’m away with the good lady for our anniversary at the end of Feb – not staying dry for that – there’s champagne to be drunk!).

So, January has been a month of hell, but I accomplished some new writing and that’s good.

Tomorrow counts as my official start to the year 2016, I aim to hit the ground running.

January 28

524 words.

That’s now 7 full days of daily writing. I’ve written 4,602 words, an average of 657 per day, 131.4% of daily target. Go me.

More importantly than that, I’ve completed two stories and taken part in two flash challenges, so this has all been writing with a purpose, a focus.

One of the stories has even been submitted. The other needs to lose just over 1000 words before I can send it to the call I wrote for.

 

On other things than writing:

There’s been a small furore in the media recently about the All White Oscars, and the ensuing discussion wound it’s way to a forum I follow where someone asked views on actively choosing to have non-SWM (straight/white/male) writers in anthologies.

I’ll be honest. Up until a few years ago I was a straight forward ‘quality of work should be the only criteria’ kind of person. It appeals to my innate sense of justice, of fairness. And of course, in some things that is a perfect ideal. Where the only qualifying factor is a certain skill, then choosing on that skill alone what to do.

But what about choosing who goes in an anthology? Again, you can say only quality of work should matter, and things like a blind reading panel means only the good stories can be selected. But here’s a thing. Choosing a story is all about the subjective. Sure there are obvious skills, but most anthologists will receive a plethora of entries – I know of one who is currently complaining about the task of selecting a final line up from the stories that survived the on-going cull which occurred through the submission period (I didn’t make it that far).

So if it is such a subjective process, why not choose to have more non-SWM’s?

Someone objected to this idea, suggesting it was denying us poor SWM’s a fair chance. Really? How? We have so many opportunities open to us, and this isn’t closing them, just giving others a better opportunity at being heard.

I do not believe that the majority of bias for SWM is conscious. Some of it definitely is, but my belief is the majority is unconscious bias. That means it is lazy bias. It means people aren’t engaging with the world around them and considering what inequalities they see, and thinking about what part they can play in changing things. That’s why I am all in favor of conscious bias. If the upshot of that is I have to submit a piece more times, or have to develop my writing skills to a greater degree, how am I hurt? If an anthology is going to have twenty stories, and last year they were all SWM, but this year at least 50% will be non-SWM, I still have better odds at being selected than my non-SWM compatriots, I’m still getting a benefit.

Choosing based on characteristics rather than skills is not nice. It’s objectionable. But it happens every day, and most days the results go my way. Maybe not for me, but for my SWM type. We get the job, the free pass for being over the speed limit, the promotion, the raise, the well, let’s be honest, majority of things. So let’s try a little conscious bias, start leveling the playing field a it.

April 20th

Of Apiaries and Shimmery things

It’s been quietly mental the last week or so. A post or two back I mentioned my unsuccessful attempts in regards to the flash fiction blog competitions I enter. Well, I’ve now won one of them twice. Which is pretty awesome. The corollary of winning is that the following week I set the prompt, and judge the entries. This was an interesting experience.

Since I stepped down as a Senior First Reader with Spark: A Creative Anthology I have done only a handful of first reads for the magazine. It was just too difficult. Mentally I struggled to be in a place where I could be objective about the piece in front of me, and at the same time disassociate my own writing from the judging process. In the first week that I judged Finish That Thought there were eight entries. It almost caused a meltdown. Thankfully the stories were good and carried me through, but I had to let Brian know I wouldn’t be doing much reading right now. I hope to get back to it soon. In the mean-time if anyone fancies spending an hour or two a week reading submissions to a great magazine, go here.

I intend to do a post tomorrow, or by the weekend, about a couple of great classes with Cat Rambo because the rest of the post is going to be about my current WIP, and the magazine I’ll send it to first.

I’m writing a story about a world with cat-sized bees, an unusual queen bee, and someone who requires apatoxin (found in bee venom). I intend to submit this story to Shimmer. Shimmer is one of my ‘hit-list’ markets. Any time I have a story idea, it gets run against the hit list, and that may or may not determine how the story develops. This one felt like a shimmer sub from the start. But it scares me. I don’t have a pro pub yet, and Shimmer is a pretty exclusive club. So apart from a story idea, and stalking the editors on twitter, what process is there to go through?

Well, some time ago those editors did a twitter chat and gave some insights into hot buttons. I kept the chat and here it is:

Tobler: Birds, angels, pyramids, awesome women, abandoned places, cities in clouds, drag queens, confidence, demons, weird, buttons

Tobler: Ice cream, possibility, skilled hands, food magic, small cities, sprawling cities, maps in the stars, maps in the waters

Tobler: Dichotomies, imbalances, circles, monkeys, jungles, temples, moons, daughters, journeys, goodbyes, pleasures in the weird.

Tobler: Unusual hobbies, book magic, creativity, pears, bears, lairs, love that cannot be but still is, compasses, lockets, rockets.

Tobler: Islands, mountains, bridges, rivers, Mars, Pluto, Africa, Peru, Antarctica, China, Greece, New Zealand, fields of clover.

Tobler: Stories that are wholly confident in their direction, no matter how strange.

Wodzinski: layers and nuance and shades of gray.

Tobler: Yes. Nothing is only one layer–the best cakes have several and each changes the meaning of what came before. Mmm, cake.

Tobler: Diversity, experimentation, fun, bent, weird, twisted, beauty in unexpected places, honesty in ugly places, ghosts, air, sky.

Now, I haven’t tried to be a hot button whore and hit everyone, but I have tried to salt one or two of them through the story. A notable absence will be badgers. I hope that will not be a fateful blow. I believe Simmer likes the badgers, or uses them as staff, something like that.

Anyway, back to the story. It was stalled. I had the beginning and middle & very end. But there was a chunk missing, and it refused to come together. Then I read a tweet saying that Shimmer needed some stories which didn’t end in death, gloom, and destruction. Well dang, that’s my palette, my œuvré. It was also the nudge I needed to unblock the story. The ending has gone all warm and fuzzy, in a really bizarre way.

It may yet lack shimmer, but it’s given me a story. Now, all I need to do is sim sub it and at least one Shimmer editor (this one) will welcome me like a god. 😀

January 25th

A Challenge! I’m going to attempt to write three flash stories with a common thread that, at the end of next week, will be a single complete story.

Well, I’m guessing it’ll need some linking work, but that’s the challenge.

Three flash prompts – one united story.

Check back to see how that goes.

Come the Revolution

Part One

None of us really believed in the revolution until the night Baz-Baz Chinnelle went missing. He’d always said he and Gina would get out before it started. I’d picked up their mail direct from the station. Not a hardship, the freight-train from Yeginder got in just before I came off shift. A cold breeze blew up the Wyrnal Canal and down my neck and I looked forward to a cup of chai with, if I was lucky, some of Gina’s home-cured marhog bacon on a still-warm bap.

The first indication anything was wrong sat on their door-step.

“Hey, Carradine, what you doing sitting in the cold?” I bent and stroked the overweight tabby who viewed Baz-Baz and Gina as butler and maid. She meowed plaintively. I knocked the door. Carradine mewed again. I knocked louder. When it remained unanswered I leaned an ear to the wood. A faint tinkle of wind-chimes was the only sound from inside.

This was the first time I wondered if Baz-Baz’s revolution was going to happen. Gina never missed the weekly packet of mail from back home, never. And they both doted over the fat cat who rubbed against my leg.

“C’mon, Carradine.” I scooped the cat up and headed to my flat. Carradine didn’t seem impressed, but a few chicken scraps and some milk mollified her.

If the revolution was coming, it seemed sensible to prepare. My tiny garret flat began to look like a store-room. Boxes of tins, jars, and bottles were stacked everywhere. I put a new lock on the door, and installed a sliding barrier behind that. It was strange, though, I seemed to be the only one preparing. I said that none of us believed in the revolution until Baz-Baz and Gina disappeared. Afterwards it was only me that believed. The others wrote him off as an ex-cadet with memories of hope, but no future other than the castles built in his mind.

“Gina’s dragged him back to her hometown,” Jonas said.

The others agreed.

“But, the revolution—“

Carra interrupted me. “Sar-Chona’s always revolting.”

Even I laughed at that. But no one else believed change was coming. No one. There was an ingrained expectation that The Inspectorate, the city’s security arm, would be on top of any situation. They had a reputation for having spies everywhere, and were run by a woman whose name, Kelly Secnish, was a byword for ruthlessness. Doing a Kelly, or being Kelly’ed meant doing, or having done to you, very bad things.

Two weeks after Baz-Baz flew the coop things started with the unexpected death of Kelly in a shoot out. The city was quiet for two days before hell broke out. I holed up in my flat for nearly a week, watching the city burn, listening to murder and death from the street below, and wishing Baz-Baz and Gina well wherever they had escaped to.

Part Two

Everyone loses in a revolution. That’s my assessment.

When I eventually ventured outside, Sar-Chona was no longer Sar-Chona. I made my way through dark and quiet streets, assailed by putrefactions rankness. The water-pump still worked, something I’d worried about. Returning home safely was a relief.

Over the coming days my outside explorations lengthened. The factory I worked in was a charred ruin. Near the remains of a barricade I met Carra.

“Where’s Jonas?” I asked.

Her face was pale beneath the grime. She shook her head. The expected tears never came. She came home with me and, after eating greedily, curled onto the bed and slept. The cat snuggled against her in sympathy.

Two days later Carra could cry again. She told how Inspectorate forces cut Jonas down as he helped blockade the street, trying to keep back marauders and rioters.

“I never really believed there’d be a revolution,” she said. “I thought Baz-Baz was spinning yarns. He was full of them.”

“This one was no story.”

“No. Where do you think they are?”

“Somewhere safe, and warm.”

We sat in silence. Everyone loses in a revolution. I waited to find out what I’d lost.

Part Three

Normality returns slowly to a city after revolution, the inhabitants nervous to accept safety has returned. The streets were quiet when I checked Baz-Baz and Gina’s place.
The door was open.
I went in, hoping to find my friends, ready to attack looters.
“Who the hell are you?” Asked the stranger. He was as tall as Baz-Baz, and about the same age. And he had a shock-flail pointed at me. My knife suddenly felt inadequate.
“This is my friends house,” I said. “I’m watching it until they return.”
He shook his head. “They wont be.”
He put the gun down. In seconds he went from a looter I was ready to stab, to a sad-faced stranger with the demeanor of a lonely tree in a desert plain.
“What do you mean?”
“Their both dead.”
“What?”
He shook his head, like it didn’t matter.
“Tell me how,” I demanded. The knife wavered in my hand. I gripped it firmly. “And who the hell are you?”
Gina’s wind chimes tinkled softly.
“Does it matter. They’re gone, and so are the people responsible.”
I hadn’t believed there be a revolution. Though I didn’t want to, I believed this stranger who told me Baz-Baz was dead.

January 19th

In Praise of Flash Fiction Do you read Flash? If you read, then the answer is yes. When you read a short news item in the metro as you travel to work, that’s flash. when you sit in the doctor’s surgery and flick through three year old magazines, most of those are flash. Some of what you read will also be fiction (what, in a newspaper, gasp!). Generally viewed as being up to one thousand words, though some places take a more or less stringent view, Flash Fiction is a skill that all writers would do well to learn.

When there are limits on how many words you can use your skills are sharpened, your choice of word and phrase becomes critical. Choosing to wax lyrical about the sensuous texture of a garment, or the unctuousness of a bowl of dolmades, or the gentle interplay of light from the setting sun, well there just isn’t the time and space to do it.Taut prose is good prose. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a place for flowers and purpleness and curlicues. But not for a new writer, and not most of the time.

So how does one go about writing Flash Fiction? What’s the purpose, the point, who cares??? Well, my favorites are lined here. These are venues that provide a prompt and a timescale, so the writing is focused both in scope and time. Yet, consistently, there is a wealth of ideas on display when you read the various entries. So, reader or writer, come have a look. Flash fiction is like the delicious nougat nibble, or bar of Dairy Milk, or caviar blini, or a whole host of other tiny delicious bites. They won’t fill you up, but they will delight you, and give you something to think on for a while.