Thursday, June 26, 2014

Withdrawing an Accepted Story or We’ll Always Have Paris

I’ve withdrawn an accepted story – crazy, right?

I continue to walk the path of traditional publication, because it suits me. There are so many exciting genre and literary publications out there to submit to. More than I could ever write stories for. I like working with editors, and even slush readers. The term “gatekeepers” isn’t a dirty word to me. Sure they may have their preferences, but these people put their eyeballs on more stories in a month than I read in a year.

The majority of editors I deal with are doing what they do for the love of a great story (the same reasons that I’m writing). Even in my slender experience working with editors over galleys, I’ve learned new skills and techniques that I can apply to the next story.

But there are pitfalls, too. Editors, like the rest of us, are human. They have day jobs and families and a million other commitments. Early in 2013 I sold a story to a certain market, I signed the contract and then waited for galleys, publication, and eventual payment. This is usually a slow boat, and I know that, but after a year passed with no word of a planned publication date for the anthology my story was to appear in, I began to get a little frustrated.

This is the reason contracts are so useful. The contract I signed was a basic one and included a reversion clause (most do, but after this experience, I’ll be making sure all my contracts have one). A reversion clause basically states that if the publisher fails to publish said story in a specific amount of time (usually 12-18 months), all the rights revert back to the writer.

I was torn. I know writers who have had great experiences with this publication and the editor seems like a stand-up guy. There’s a temptation to just give it a little more time. Part of me wanted to just be nice and let things lie, but I also felt like I was abandoned on the wrong end of a broken promise. Besides, in the turbulent world of small publications, eZines and podcasts, “someday soon” often never comes. Finally, after the twelve months plus an extra month grace period, I decided to take my story back.

Even though I’m beginning the submission process again with this one, I feel better. So much so that I’ve decided to make this a personal policy with all my stories (hopefully won’t come up that much!).
It doesn’t take much to see that the problems of my little stories don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.
But I believe that – just as I hold myself accountable to treat editors, publishers, and slush readers professionally – I’m going to hold the editors who buy my works to the terms of their own contracts. Since payment is almost always “upon publication,” all a writer has between when a story is bought and when it is published is a promise – So it’s a good idea to make sure that promise is in the form of a contract.

Making a sale is always exhilarating, and when things don’t work out you can remember what Bogart said to Bacall at the end of Casablanca, “We’ll always have Paris.”

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Summertime Quote-a-Rama

School is out and we're managing houseguests and gearing up for some summer travel. My writing schedule has been reduced to noodling in my journal over the past few days. I went through my old journals/commonplace books and found some quotes for inspiration. Here are a few in no particular order. Enjoy!

“How the first draft lists will show you how the story will blow.” ~ Carol Bly in The Passionate Accurate Story

“Mastery is not something that strikes in an instant, like a thunderbolt, but a gathering power that moves steadily through time, like weather.” ~ John Gardner in The Art of Fiction

“I am an obsessive rewriter, doing one draft and then another and another, usually five. In a way, I have nothing to say, but a great deal to add.” ~ Gore Vidal

 “Perfection is not very communicative” ~ Yo-Yo Ma

“Readers may savor nuance, unless it illuminates and deepens a clear-cut pattern they’ve been following, it’s nothing more than fancy window dressing in a vacant house.” ~ Lisa Cron in Wired for Story

“We write to taste live twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” ~ Anais Nin

“Many writers practice “pain avoidance,” don’t.” ~ Carol Bly in The Passionate Accurate Story

“No two persons ever read the same book.” ~ Edmund Wilson

“Instead of thinking each draft has to be “it,” just try to make your story a little bit better than it was in the previous draft.” ~ LisaCron in Wired for Story

“All good fiction has moment-by-moment fascination. It has authority and at least a touch of strangeness. It draws us in.” ~ John Gardner in The Art of Fiction

“You can't really succeed with a novel anyway; they're too big. It's like city planning. You can't plan a perfect city because there's too much going on that you can't take into account. You can, however, write a perfect sentence now and then.” ~ Gore Vidal

“Let go of the edge of the pool.” ~ me

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Read Slow Write Fast

King goes on to clarify that you shouldn’t be reading just because it’s good for your writing – like drinking prune juice is because it’s good for your digestion. You, of course, should be reading because you LOVE it. A writer may not, in fact, start out as a passionate reader, but if you’re serious about the craft, you will become one.

But I don’t just read for the love of it. Any book – from pulp to high literature – can be my university as a writer. The good stuff provides multiple examples of techniques that work, and the bad stuff shows me what clich├ęs and pitfalls to avoid. I read as much and as broadly as I can, including books outside my comfort zone (both stylistically and socio-politically). I tilt toward the literary, but I’ve found no reason to look down my nose at beach reads. Those books sell like hotcakes for a reason – they’re fun and fast paced. The authors know a thing or two about suspense and character and how to pull a reader through a story.

But there is still the limited hours-in-a-day conundrum. I am always wishing I could read more. My solution? I just tell myself: if you can’t go far, go deep.

Every few books, I make a point of reading one slowly and deeply. I’ve already blogged about how I’m a slow reader. In this case, it’s a feature not a bug.

Going deep is all about understanding the techniques used in a piece of writing. As I read, I’m looking under the hood of the story or arguement. I keep notes in my journal as I go. How is the author creating the tone of the book? Is it their vocabulary? The sentence structure? Is it in the dialogue? How does he or she help me connect emotionally with the characters? Understand their motivations? If something about the book isn’t working for me, I try to articulate why. If there are elements or techniques that don’t float my personal boat, I not only think about why – but about why those techniques might work for other readers.

This kind of deconstruction might not be everyone’s cup of tea. You might find that simply reading a book over (and over) illuminates how the author accomplished what he or she did with a particular book. The important thing is to strive to understand and internalize the techniques brought to bear on a particular work. With each piece of writing you examine, you’re accruing an innate understanding of the many techniques that go into a powerful piece of writing.

When it is time to write – to put that deep reading into practice – WRITE FAST! Writing fast feels a little out of control. All I can say is get comfortable with that feeling. Like any student you will stumble, fall and fail. But eventually, through careful reading and lots of writing, you’ll find that the tools in the writer’s toolbox are becoming integrated into your writer’s hind brain, and that’s where the magic happens! When the techniques of the craft are in place, the story can just flow out through your fingers.

Keep reading as much as you can, so that you encounter every writing technique over and over, so that you can recognize them across different styles and genres. This summer, you may find you’re enjoying your next beach read differently as you notice how the author manipulates pacing, reveals character or sets up a trail of clues.