October 3rd

Last year I started a short story with a working title of Epecuén. The name is that of a town in Argentina which was flooded out of existence in the mid-eighties. In my head the story is a tale of magical-realism, the town is sacrificed to save the nation. The details of this were hazy, but it felt like a good hook to work with. After about four and a half thousand words I was running in to walls and couldn’t find a way through, under, or over. I set it aside.

At the weekend I re-opened the file and read through it. I love the writing. It is sweet, and emotional, at least I think so. I have aspergers, emotion isn’t an easy reach for me and I’ve been fighting with adding it in for a couple of years now. Reading back Epecuén was a valediction of the work I’ve been doing. And I realized why the story was blocked for me. What I have written – about one-third of the final tale I reckon – is actually a sweet coming of age story. No magic anywhere in sight.

Now I have a problem. Do I continue with it as is, which is very much not my œuvre, or go back to the initial idea. I really can’t figure it out yet.

And as I’m not writing enough at the moment, I’m not rushing it it.

That’s not saying I’m not writing, or editing, or submitting. I am. This week I submitted a new story to one of my top target markets. The final edit made me really happy. I go to places that are uncomfortable in both subject and execution, and I’m happy with the way it has come out. I’ll see what comes with the submission.

Now, I need some help.

I have another story I love. It’s about an elf, and a vampire, and a murder. It’s set in snowy Nebraska, and there’s not a human in the world. Think Jessica Fletcher, as an elf, solves her first small town mystery. But can I get anyone to sniff at it? No. Where do I send it?

I’ll leave that here. It’s early October. I hope to write again in a few days.

 

Advertisements

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.

 

 

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.

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.

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 5

My nanny died last week.

That’s the last of my grandparents. My parents are now orphans. Cast alone into the rest their lives. It’ll happen to me at some point. It’ll happen to you.

Shit.

I wasn’t with her at the end. Had my Dad been later in arriving I would have, but when he (and mum) turned up I didn’t need to stay any longer. I left. She died about an hour later, while I sat alone in an Edinburgh street and ate a poor kebab (my first sustenance in fourteen hours). Her death was hard.

When I was in my late teens I would head up to Nanny’s (so I didn’t have to arrive home) at late hours, and a bit squiffy. She never judged, just let me drink tea, have a sandwich, and crash. But often, we sat and discussed our differing views, political, religious, etc. She was strident (an inspiration) and never gave way to bullshit. At the same time, she never decried my views, but gave them credence. It was a powerful lesson.

Giving others the power to own their beliefs, while holding your own, takes strength, power, and compassion.

So much of the shit we see on the internet today is about people regarding their beliefs as sacrosanct, inviolable. That is wrong.

I will discuss my beliefs with anyone. I’ll explain why I believe them to be correct. But I will not demand that others believe the same. We have free will. Whether you believe (like me) they came from a deity, or not is pretty much irrelevant. When you demand that others hold your belief system, you are in the wrong.

Hopefully I can retain the same equanimity in the face of my own mothers difficulties. Today I learned that she has a(nother)lump under her arm. Having just out my 90 year old nanny, the prospect of a similar occurrence with my mother is hard. Tonight I am drinking more than I should.

But here’s thing – and I don’t know if it is my Asperger’s, or a defense mechanism, or an aspect of sociopathy – but what I remember from the process of my Nanny’s death are definite, finite, moments. The first I saw her in the hospital bed I knew she was dying (I’d seen my wife’s grandparents at a similar juncture). When her blood pressure crashed and the nurses turned the monitor off I knew her demise was imminent. I was ahead of my aunt. It wasn’t fair to try and tell her so. About midnight my aunt lay her head on Nanny’s pillow and wept. The image is clear in my head, I locked it there. I consciously thought of the emotion on display, of the withered and fading mother, and the grief drawn daughter weeping with out succor.

The next time conscious grief grasped me it was more personal. Driving with my wife and children towards my Nanny’s house my youngest asked if we were stopping for lunch (she’s ten, but autistic). The response that rose within me was ‘No. We’re going to nanny’s first.’ Then I caught up with myself. We weren’t going to Nanny’s. She wasn’t there, would never be there again. I wept. From the Meadowbank Retail park  to Jock’s Lodge I wept (I wept writing this).

Never to have such a key part of your life interact again is a tragedy. Next week is my Nanny’s memorial (she’s being cremated). I’ll listen to a minister who didn’t know her waffle on about things that are non-scriptural, and weep again because I loved her and she meant a great deal to me. In six months, or a year, or more, I’ll be at another funeral. This will be the funeral of a friend, not related, and I’ll weep copiously. Not for them, but for my Nanny. All the memories I screwed down deep will demand a release and that will be it. It’s what happened with my grandad.

And all the time I’ll be locking emotions away, screwing down the things I’ve seen and making them part of a narrative. The narrative won’t be my Nanny’s demise, or my response to it, nor my Aunt’s. It will be the death and response of a character in a story.

Unless my mum dies.

Say what?

Yeh, I got a phone call from Dad this PM saying Mum has found lump, and is off for tests. This isn’t the first lump, or tests, or even medication. It is the first time I’ve been told at this stage of the event, and not well after (btw, I’m the firstborn, the oldest child).

I’m kind of worried. Two bottles of wine, and the writing stories, worried.

Thing is, I’m locking away memories of how it feels even now. Putting fingers to keyboard is part of the process. Whatever happens happens. But I never want to forget the depth of emotion, the rich breadth of feeling and action which comes from the end of life struggle. Until I write it out that is. When It comes out as words, the pale imitation of memory, then I’ll be happy to let it go, until I need it again, and again, and again. Constantly writing things I once felt, or imagined I may have felt, if I was another person, in another place, at another time.

I miss my Nanny.

She died last week.

 

 

 

25th May

Last time I wrote was over a month ago. Pretty shocking, especially as I anticipated another post a few days hence. Instead we ended up in Cornwall for two weeks. Since we got back it’s just been hectic. So let’s try a small recap.

At my last post I mentioned doing a few classes with Cat Rambo. They were great, helpful, and interesting. I’ve done a few with her, and should her schedule allow (Congrats on SFWA presidency!) for classes that coincide with not the middle of the night for me, I hope to do another one.

With respect to my story about bees, that I intended to sub to Shimmer – it’s with them now. I am in trepidatious anticipation of a response. Whatever the status of that it is a story I am immensely proud of and I need to say a big thanks to Mark & Gio for help in polishing the story.

Why am I suddenly writing a post today though? And why the hiatus?

Well, the trip to Cornwall turned into a scouting trip. We are looking to move down there. The climate is just that little bit better, and it helps my wife’s (and my) health. We know the area we want to go to, and we already have some friends in the area (some of them new). This means that the past couple of weeks have been a flurry of examining costs and ensuring that what we want to do is both practical and affordable. On top of that, I’ve still been writing and editing and so the blog slid by unnoticed.

So what prompted today? Mary & Patti from Nebraska. I’m sat in my local coffee shop doing a little light editing when they sit down at the adjacent table. As I’ll literally do anything to avoid editing I engaged them in conversation and they were kind of amazed that someone in rural Scotland had any idea where Nebraska was, never mind that the big college football team is called the Cornhuskers. They asked if I had any details, and there was only my blog. which I suddenly realized had been neglected.

So thank you Mary & Patti. I hope your trip is fun, enlightening, educational, and productive.

I also have some publication news.

My story Shell County Vodou is part of the Slave State anthology put together by Chris Kelso. It’s available on Amazon NOW (i.e. – spring a few bucks and read not only me, but a whole bunch of wonderful writers).

I’ve also had acceptances for a short story and a couple of poems, though details will follow later.

April 1st

I have only one writing project on the go. There are several in back burners, but only one in production as it were. It’s a story of a woman who will do what she needs to do to protect her family. With that as a strap-line I’m almost falling asleep, and I’m the one writing it. I hope the finished product, with it’s evocative location, cat-sized bees, and hopefully disturbing twist towards the end will help secure it a place in it’s intended home. We’ll see. It may just not shimmer enough.

I do have a story recently (just before midnight yesterday) completed. This is a flash piece of about 1200 words, and came about when Frances tweeted about Smells in the Snow. It sounded to good a prompt to miss. Frances has also completed a story and Mark was also joining in – though he has been crazy busy whipping into shape a submission to the Crossed Genres Novelette call.

As ever my writing week has been filled with flash prompts. A couple of entries have garnered nice comments and special mentions, but a win remains elusive. But then, I am going up against some phenomenally talented writers. A by product of the flash entries was joining in #PoemCrawl on 28th March. What a great time. A new prompt every fifteen minutes or so, then the twitterverse, at least the portion using #PoemCrawl, lit up.

I’m unsure what April will bring. Apart from a meet up with my own personal writing guru, who happens to be in Edinburgh for a while. And my prose poem The Maker being the first story by E&GJ‘s new imprint Zetetic.

March 4th

Update

Nothing much is happening. I’m working on the first draft of another submission for the Far Orbit: Apogee call. Robinson Crusoe in Space is the loosest of interpretations.

The draft is nearly finished. Then it’s time for edits and re-writes and away by the end of the month.

After that I will be writing my Orthographic Ligature story, well the first draft anyway. I know where I want to submit it to, and I have until later in the year to work on it.

So my focus will be on working the ten stories for my first volume of These United States. I’m looking forward to really digging into these.

As a finalé I’m going to talk about reader comments. Some of the markets I submit to provide reader comments as part of their rejection feedback. I like these. I have a writing style that is developing and I’m aware that some of the structures I use don’t work for a majority of readers. Having an idea of where individual readers had an issue is allowing me to consider how much I amend my personal style.

A few days ago I received a(nother 😀 ) rejection. Hey-ho. There were four comments. Two of them succinct, suggesting the story wasn’t weighted correctly for a flash piece. Valid opinions. A third saying it needs to be a longer story. Fine. And a fourth that lambasted my choice of character names and called into question my familiarities with the realities of which I was writing. There was nothing about the story itself, just a diatribe (based on the readers ‘feelings’ on the matter) and an attack on me as the writer.

Working as a First Reader with Spark: A Creative Anthology (another market that provides feedback) I am well aware that it can be tricky to remain polite and positive when writing a note. Thankfully we have an excellent point man who weeds out the snarliest of any comments that are made, and only passes along the most constructive and, if possible, positive comments.

I know how easy it can be to wonder ‘What were they thinking?’, but there is a Golden Rule in offering critique. Critique the writing, not the writer.

Now, I had done my research on the names used in my story. And I’d chosen to use a fiction writers prerogative to tinker with how I used them. For one I anglicized the name a little, for the other I dropped a letter (though I should have used an extension in the middle name of the MC). I know that, for all their ridiculousness, Ian Fleming always used real names in his stories, pulled them right out of the telephone directory. I don’t do this. Neither do I randomly assign names based on gut instinct.

I don’t know the reader, or what their real issue was. However, I was reminded that when I am commenting on a story it behoves me to remain polite, even if I can’t be positive.

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.