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.

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.

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.

January 15th

How vital is research?

Having never visited the US some may view it as the move of a putz to embark on a cycle of stories set exclusively in that country.

meh!

Writers constantly write about places they’ve never been. Hence the term, fiction writer.

But this week made me really appreciate how vital (yes, the title isn’t really a question at all) research really is.

My good friend Megan Lewis was taking an initial look at the story I have set in Minnesota. It’s an alien invasion story with a non-traditional structure (in that it ends a place where you think ‘What, is that it? But, what… grrrr, lazy writer’). In researching the story I had spent much time on google earth scrolling up and down roads and suburbs south of Minneapolis, for that is where the setting is. On her first read through Megan picked me up on some line-of-sights descriptions being unworkable, and a route taken by characters making no sense to a resident of the area. She also picked up some rogue Britishisms and a few incorrectly used Americanisms.

So what? Well, for me, it is where factual and fictional intersect. I’m more than happy for this process to be undertaken. I want my tales to have reliable and identifiable roots, even where other events are ridiculous and fantastical. And taking the time to do my own research, and then having someone local to the area check that research, helps me to do that.

Other things from the week include a great opening class with Cat Rambo, and it was nice to (virtually) meet fellow classmates Frances, Elizabeth, and Mark. The next five weeks look to be fun, and challenging.

Yesterday WorldWeaverPress held #SFFLunch on twitter. Editors from the various imprints of WWP made themselves available and some interesting lines of chat sparked of. I admit my main interest was in picking up hints for another submission to Bascomb James Far Orbit: Apogee anthology. While declining my first submission he was very kind in advising me that it was ‘sooo close‘.

Over at Spark: A Creative Anthology I am slowly getting to grips with my role as a Senior First Reader, and the whole first reading team is working hard to reduce the submission backlog. Brian’s determination to provide feedback for every submitter is one of the things that drew me to volunteering as a first reader in the first place, and now that I am more heavily involved in the process I remain convinced that his vision for the submitters is worth the enormous effort. We can always use more first readers. Why not come and do a bit?

January 9th

I’ve signed up to a class.

Cat Rambo, amongst all her other activities, manages to run classes for aspiring writers – with a focus on short story SF.  Fortunately the time difference is enough that what for her is an early(ish) start, is for me an early evening. So for the next six Saturday evenings at 6pm I’ll be headphones on and into cyberspace.

After my last post I had a lovely response and already have three people who have said, ‘Yes, we’ll help with your short story collection.’ A couple of them have already signed into the Slack channel I’ve set up. I chose the ten stories that I want to be in this first volume. At present that is about 35k words. I know at least two of the stories need extensive revision, and possibly extending, so the final tally will probably be up near 40k.

As part of the project I’d like to include either photos, or art rendered from photos. I have someone who will be doing the graphic work for me, but I don’t have the photographs. I’ll put a list of what sort of thing I’m looking for below (and what states) if you feel that you can help, let me know. Any picture must be yours, and you must be willing to allow me to use it. Anyone who does this will be credited in the final publication.

Now, I’ve done a story for Flash! Friday (see also the dedicated page), and I have one underway for The First Line. #amwriting

These United States Volume One:

State & picture desired NB the picture must be taken in the state.

Alabama – Any small town street scene.

Arkansas – The Lumberyard, Eureka Springs – or a shot of a ‘Welcome to Eureka Springs’ sign.

California – San Diego. Somewhere around the 900’s on 1st Avenue.

Delaware – Open countryside, preferably with a river.

Iowa – The State Fair.

Kansas – Somewhere pretty in Topeka, or Milford Lake.

Maryland – The Letelier and Moffit memorial on Sheridan Circle, D.C.

Minnesotta – A shot of Minneapolis showing the Wells Fargo Center & Capella Tower.

Montana – A view of Missoula.

South Carolina – A cabin by a lake.