Friday, May 31, 2013

Rule #4

"You miss 100% of the shots you don't take." ~ Wayne Gretzky
"Why are you making me hold this envelope?" ~ my daughter

Remember Heinlein's rule number four?
"You must put the work on the market."

I've been trying to keep it simple: Keep working, keep trying to get better, and keep sending stories out there. And now, all of a sudden, I have a spate of forthcoming stories! This is no overnight success story. I got serious about writing again in 2011 and have been writing and revising and sending stories out ever since. What has kept me going for nearly three years has been the process of constantly creating new work. Of course, acceptances and publications are the goal. I can't wait to see these stories out in the world and to hear what people think of them - hot, cold, and lukewarm. But, I also feel that getting published is the frosting on the cake. The cake is the work. The work is the constant and truly it's own reward.

The Horses will be appearing in Every Day Fiction in June. I like this webzine at least as much as Daily Science Fiction. Every Day Fiction is less genre bound, so there is always a good variety of stories, and they're always under a thousand words.

Futile the Winds will be appearing in Interzone - tentatively slated for their July issue (247)! This, for all intents and purposes, is my first professional sale. It will be the first time my work will be in a non-on-demand print publication, available on newsstands and in bookstores! And what a gorgeous publication it is, as you can see by the cover of the current issue. I cannot wait to see the artwork for my story.

Cattle Futures is slated to appear in Stupefying Stories special Wild Weird West Anthology, tentatively scheduled for release in July.

Beata Beatrix will be appearing in Bourbon Penn (another gorgeous zine), hopefully in their next issue.

I'll post with links as the individual stories become available. Until then, back to work restocking the inventory! I'll leave you with the thought that's been going through my head this week:

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Fairytale Reading

School is wrapping up around here (2nd and 6th grade), and now that what I thought was going to be a standard revision has turned into a major overhaul, I'm quite swamped. I've got three stories in my revision queue and precious little time to work on them, so I'm resorting to a listicle this week.

I love myths and fairy tales. I love them for embracing the fantastic, for the talking animals and the magical transformations, for the sense that the mundane world is just a thin veil and terrible monsters or good fairy godmothers could upend everything in an instant. A lot of what I am writing right now is in the fairy tale idiom, probably because I love reading them and reading about them. Here's a short and idiosyncratic list of the best of what I've read, with a couple items that I'm currently reading.

Source Material:

Illustration for The Juniper Tree by Maurice Sendak
The Juniper Tree: And Other Tales from Grimm. I have a complete collection of Grimm fairy tales, but this little book is my favorite. There are a couple familiar stories, but most of them are lesser known. They are all illustrated by Maurice Sendak, who truly understands the glorious weirdness and edgy violence that are a part of the fairy tale tradition (before Disney got ahold of them).

While the Grimm brothers attempted to collect fairy tales, writing them down close to their original oral form, Hans Christian Anderson was more interested in using them as source material to write tales that were more literary and personal. My own story, The Gyre, was inspired by the difference between Disney's version of The Little Mermaid and HCA's tragic original. I have the Fairy Tales (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition) and it's a good translation, but you can pick up a copy of his fairy tales at any second hand store.

Everybody knows about the Andersen and Grimm, but there's a world of folk and fairy tales out there. There's so much and they go so deep that it's hard to know where to start! Outfoxing Fear: Folktales from Around the World is a good survey. From there you can jump any number of directions. Try Japanese Tales (Pantheon fairy tale & folklore library) or the Fairy Tales of the Russians and Other Slavs. As for the New World, I've had a copy of American Indian Trickster Tales (Myths and Legends) since college (more about the trickster tale in the next section). I recently read Myths, Legends, and Folktales of America: An Anthology. This is another interesting survey that collects myths and folktales from Native American cultures as well as material imported from around the world by immigrants and African Americans. It progresses through history and includes a chapter near the end called The Rock Hero - "Jesus and Elvis."

I don't just like to read fairy tales, I like to read about them.

I'll read anything my Marina Warner, but a good place to start is, Six Myths of Our Time: Little Angels, Little Monsters, Beautiful Beasts, and More. It's short and more approachable than From the Beast to the Blonde: On Fairy Tales and Their Tellers, which is a glorious brick of scholarship with an emphasis on the place of women in folk and fairy tales, both as characters and as the tellers. I recommend both. Trickster Makes This World: Mischief, Myth, and Art by Lewis Hyde. This book is not just about the trickster character in myth and folklore, it also explores the idea that the rule-breaking imp in all of us is an important creative force. His previous book, The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World, might be even better, but it's off topic. This month I'm reading Breaking the Magic Spell: Radical Theories of Folk and Fairy Tales by Jack Zipes and enjoying it very much. After reading the penultimate essay: On the Use and Abuse of Folk and Fairy Tales with Children: Bruno Bettelheim's Moralistic Magic Wand, you might want to follow up by reading Bettelheim's The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales, which even though it is scholarship with an agenda by a Freudian child psychologist, it's considered a classic in the field and still worth the read. 
Reynard the Fox

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Story Fail, Critique Win! Or, My Story Will Rise Again!

Red Bleed by Jon Coffelt
Another post about failing and just how awesome it can be!

I brought the first half of my novelette, Izzy Crow, to my local critique group on Tuesday night where it pretty much totally fell down. While everyone agreed that the writing was fine on the micro level (I like to think that I’ve achieved some competency in that area), the most consistent reaction overall was confusion. I want to elicit many emotions in a reader, but confusion is definitely not one of them.

While writing, I had hoped that I was pulling things off brilliantly. Yet I’m not surprised by my writing fail. Whenever I’m drafting I’m working hard to create the best story I ever have (my goal with each new project). I believe that you have to go into the first draft with a little hubris. A hubris born from an original idea so awesome that it inspired me to undertake the whole mad project in the first place. Hubris is also fuel for the engine that powers me through the thousands of words it takes to get the mangled corpse of the brilliant idea down on the page.

Another other thing that informs my first drafts is a piece of advice that I remember from last year’s Armadillocon. Unfortunately, I can’t remember who said it. It was during the opening session, when all the authors, editors, and various experts were arrayed across half the room, firing all their words of advice at us acolytes like so much buckshot. The advice was:
Don’t be afraid to fail.
A lot of things have to happen if you want to continue to get better. You have to show up and do the work and you have to learn the craft, but you can’t just keep coloring inside the lines. Failing is all about putting yourself out there. Trying something crazy, untenable, something nobody’s ever tried before, because if you always stay safe inside your zone of competency, you’ll never really breakthrough. I believe that to create something great, something transcendent, you have to keep making that leap. Or as Robert Browning put it:
"Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for?"
And that leap guarantees failure. That’s why failure is my friend. I really believe that you can’t find out what doesn’t work – until it doesn’t work. You can’t skip failing, just like you couldn’t skip falling down when you were learning to walk.

As for as the critique: I don’t bring a piece of writing to the group until I feel like it’s at a point were people can at least see what I’m trying to achieve. But by the middle draft, it’s been just me and the story for so long and I’m so deep into it that I can’t judge it any more. I really can’t tell if it’s great or terrible. And honestly, I’m usually a little bored with it too. Hearing everyone discuss what they saw – and didn’t see – in the story, can both reset my compass, and get me fired up about it all over again.

The group was able to tell me where they were confused and why, and what they were (and mostly weren’t) getting out of it emotionally. This is invaluable. They tossed around a lot of ideas that really got my brain cooking. Instead of coming home depressed that this piece of writing wasn’t working, I was excited and stayed up way too late restructuring, reoutlining, and sketching in the scenes that will make this into a different, but definitely better, story.

Thursday, May 9, 2013


The only way to the other side is through.
The good news is that “The Horses” and “Beata Beatrix” have been accepted for publication. Two stories in one week! I'll post the publication details and links to where you can read them as soon as I have them. The bad news is that I’m eating through my backlog of stories that are making the rounds in active submission. I used to have a dozen stories out there, now I’m down to four. Yikes!

I’ve got three short stories and two novelettes in my to-be-revised queue. Revisions have been going slowly as I’ve been trying to split my time between drafting new material and revising a few pages here and there. I've decided that this is not working for me.

Honestly, the first draft isn’t my favorite part of the process. Sometimes things flow and words fly from my brain, my fingers dance across the keyboard, and I charge through scene after scene. More often I feel like I’m crawling through a dark tunnel looking for the guiding light at the other end. In the beginning my characters are embryonic and barely human. They talk to each other in wooden dialogue and move through a vague, barely sketched out world. I stake out the core emotions that I want the story to elicit, but they are mere shadows. The whole thing has to grow and mature - to become what it is meant to be.

It’s through multiple revisions that the story matures and begins to breathe. Jason Sanford makes some good points about how obsessing over daily word counts can take the focus away from the important work of revision. After reading his post, I’ve decided that I’m going to give equal weight to “pages revised” as I do to “new words written” when I consider my productivity.

The Atlantic’s collection of quotes from famous authors about revision is inspiring not only for the insight each one offers, but because, taken together, it becomes obvious that every single author has a different process to produce finished work. Gaiman writes to the end of a story then puts it away before revising. Parker composes and revises in her head perfecting each sentence before moving on to the next. Dahl revises as he plows through his first draft.

As does one of my favorite writers, Michael Swanwick. He explains his process this way:

I write a page or five and then go back to the beginning and write forward until I stall out again.  Then I go back to word one and start typing again.  At some point, the first page is letter-perfect and so I start from the second.  By the time I reach the end, the story is rock solid.  And all those hundreds of pages written over and over again have been consigned to recycling.

I’ll be spending the next couple weeks getting my backlog revised, critiqued, and out the door.

Perhaps for my next story, I’ll try the Swanwick way.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Writing From Visual Prompts

What's the story behind this picture?
Caroline Gordon reads in bed. 
Human beings are highly visual, me especially. I was an art major first, before switching to English. I love both visual and verbal expression, and I love especially the intersection between the two. It's that impossibility, that exploration of the liminal space between any non-verbal experience and verbal expression, that is so exciting. An image is its own thing and there is something elemental about it, inarticulate, something that can never be translated, something that the image will always keep for itself. I think that is what is so powerful about images, I always feel like I'm looking at a secret. When I write from a visual prompt, I may make a guess at the secret, but the story I generate will reveal a different secret, one that tracks back to the image via my own imagination.

The web is full of visual prompts. Just type "Visual Writing Prompts" into a Google image search and you'll come up with plenty. Peruse Tumblr, Pinterest and Instagram for ideas. Create your own Tumblr or Pinterest account to store your favorites. Create your own visual library with Instagram. You can collect images as prompts or to go with a story you're developing.

There's a collection of abandoned places posted on Buzzfeed.
Not an alien ship landing but the House of the Bulgarian Communist Party
Or the Children From Around the World photographed with their Toys on Bored Panda.
Arafa & Aisha - Bububu, Zanzibar by Gabriele Galimberti

I could go on, but you get the idea.

When you look at images, look beyond the narrative on the surface for the details that you don't see at first. How does the image make you feel? Does it make you think of something that doesn't seem to have anything to do with the content of the image? Follow those rabbit holes straight to Wonderland.

If you're looking for something offline, consider The Last Pictures. It's a book created from this project to shoot some art into space. It's a fascinating collection of images. And they're already in orbit. The creators call it an art installation but it seems more like a message in a bottle or a time capsule. Whatever you call it, the pictures are fascinating both individually and as a collection for what they say about how we curate our own experience as human beings on earth. According to the photographer:
"What I want out of art is things that help us see who we are now. And the best I can hope for is that this project will give us a way that we can actually look at ourselves."     ~Trevor Paglen

That's the best I can hope for when I write too!