I haven’t written much — here, but also in general — since the end of NaNoWriMo in November of last year. A couple of book reviews and the stories of how all three of my blogs got their names, but that’s about it.
I’d love to say it’s because I’ve been busy as a beaver writing and haven’t had time to compose a blog post.
I’d dearly love to say that. Unfortunately, if I do, I’ll be lying.
I could blame it on a lot of things. Blame is fun, as long as it’s not aimed at myself. Let’s try it, shall we?
I broke my good glasses1 last November, just six days into NaNoWriMo, and had to send them in for warranty replacement. So I’ve been struggling to see because my backup glasses aren’t adjusted for the distance between my eyes and where the laptop sits. However . . . I managed somehow to finish out NaNoWriMo with 50,000+ words using those glasses. And now, in late February, I finally have my glasses back, good as new. Actually, they are new. Warranty replacements.
Or I could claim that my right shoulder that I hurt in a fall last summer has been giving me fits, and that the long, drawn-out process of waiting on workers comp to do what’s right has increased my frustration level to the boiling point. And it would be true, but that wouldn’t take into account the fact that it hasn’t stopped me from doing anything else fun that I wanted to do.
So the Finger of Blame™ turns once more to point firmly back at me. Stupid Finger. :)
I did participate in Weekend Warrior over on CodexWriters, and this means I have five brand-new flash pieces to do something with (such as edit and submit). But I also did Weekend Warrior last year, and had five pieces of flash to do something with . . . and I did nothing with them. I have recently started editing those stories2 and sending them through my own little critique process, trying to get feedback on how I can improve them enough to send them out on submission. Because that’s the goal, here: submission. With the ultimate goal of publication.
I’m certainly not doing it for whatever money I might get; writing is not a profession to take up if you plan on making a ton of money, unless you’re Stephen King, Stephenie Meyer, Jim Butcher, or someone like that. No, this is about proving to myself that I can write well enough to make people want to read it. I have stories to tell, dammit, and I want to tell them in a way that people find compelling.
The problem is, what I’ve proven to myself is that even I don’t want to read my writing, sometimes. Allow me to explain.
On Weekend Warrior, the goal is to write a 750-word flash story between Friday at 9 pm and Sunday at midnight, using one or more of five prompts given on Friday night. Once all the stories are submitted, each participant reads all the submitted stories and rates them on a 1–10 scale. Various people use the scale differently, but since each individual uses their scale consistently, it works out even if everyone’s use is slightly different.
Across all nine of my submitted stories (I missed the deadline on week four, this year, but still wrote the story), my average scores have been in the mid-5 range. What a 5 means is that the story has potential, but doesn’t have enough of something to really get the readers involved. (This is based on several writers’ comments on the very topic of how they score others’ stories.)
In other words, my stories didn’t grab the majority. They didn’t keep their interest. They failed to make readers care or want to know the ending. Or the ending failed to satisfy. In essence, it means that my writing is OK, but not exceptional.
Granted, I do get some scores in the 7–9 range (I’ve never received a 10). But I also get scores in the 1–4 range. But in general, it’s firmly wavering between a five and a six.
I should also note that the winners of each round are generally in the high-6 to mid-7 range. I have never seen a story score an average of above a 7, although granted my experience is limited to the two years I have participated. But that extra point or two makes a big difference. The difference between “OK” and “exceptional.”
These are 750 word stories, maximum. And it’s difficult to introduce characters, setting, plot, conflict, an arc of character growth, world-building, and a satisfying resolution in only 750 words. But that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? Others can obviously do it, so it shouldn’t be beyond me.
These readers aren’t just average, run-of-the-mill readers, either: these are my writing peers. These are the same types of people (and frequently the same exact people) who will be making the ‘buy/not buy’ decision at a market where I have submitted.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I don’t take every negative comment to heart and immediately think, “I suck.” What I think is, “I can do better than this.” Followed immediately by, “But how?” And that’s been my stumbling block. Going from “This doesn’t work,” to “Why doesn’t it work?” to “How can I make it work?”
And how can I see this before I submit rather than after the critiques?
And it finally dawned on me that I also read all the same stories they did, these people who are my peers. Many of them are published authors3. A few are award-winning authors in my genres. But on the whole, the stories I scored high were the same ones most of the others did. So we agreed on the stories that did best. And that’s the key.
So, what can I learn from those stories? The ones that not only I, but others whose judgment I respect, judged to be better than the rest.
That’s what finally clicked. I can examine those stories that worked for me as both a reader and a writer, take them apart, analyze them, and try to work out why they work for me.4 What part or parts did or did not draw me in. There are some patterns, and the trick will be to identify when I am following one of those patterns and nip it, as Barney Fyfe famously quipped, in the bud.
This is usually difficult for me, especially if the writing is something I enjoy. When I’m in critique mode, I do it without much effort, unless the story is very gripping, in which case I occasionally forget to critique. But that very fact often becomes part of my critique: “I got so caught up in this section that I forgot I was reading it for critique and just enjoyed it.”
I know for a fact that writers like that kind of comment. :)
I can’t think of a single time anyone has ever told me that. So it’s time to raise the stakes.
And I realize, writing this, that . . . I say this at the beginning of every year. It loses its meaning because I’m always saying, “This year, I’m going to do better! I’m going to write! I’m going to submit!”
And then, along about February, the doldrums hit and I lose impetus. Something falters. I lose confidence. Or I fail to get any good critiques. Or I find other things more important than writing. Like YouTube or podcasts or what few hours of TV I allow myself to watch.5
And I’d like to say “this year, it’s going to be different!” After all, I waited until the last part of February to break my silence. To do that ‘resolutions’ thing that people tend to put so much stock in at the start of a new year.
I’d like to say it. And I hope I will look back and say, “This year was different! I got published!”
But for now, I’m going to concentrate on what is important.
More on that next time.
I did something amusing. I wrote this over the course of several days, and the tone has changed drastically. And it’s so typical of me. I remembered my scores as being worse than they were on Weekend Warrior for both years. In researching for this entry, I went back and examined all my votes and discovered that I actually scored way higher than I remembered. Three of the stories were in the high-4 range, but all of the other seven were firmly in the 5 range. I remembered them being overwhelmingly below 5. So I edited this to have a little more positive tone and outlook. Any maudlin tone that remains is purely unintentional. I actually feel pretty good about the stories I’ve written. I just need to translate that, as stated, into forward momentum.
- I bought a pair of SuperFocus glasses in spring last year, and while I was cleaning them one morning in November, the inner lens popped and oil went everywhere. Luckily, the warranty covers them for full replacement for one year.
- Of the ten stories I wrote, I really like the ideas in seven of them. Two of the others are unsalvageable (one was accidental fanfic and the other was so clichéd, it actually hurts), and the last one is too long to tell effectively in a flash piece.
- To get into Codex, you either have to be published or have completed a juried workshop, which I did in 2012 at Viable Paradise. So some of these peers are literal peers — they have published nothing, but are working to get better. Others are peers only in that we both type on keyboards in the hopes that someone will read the output and enjoy it.
- By the same token, I can take apart the ones that were consistently scored low by others and myself and figure out what didn’t work.
- I know that TV is the bane of many writers’ lives. I actually don’t have cable or local digital TV. I have NetFlix and Hulu Plus and a ton of DVDs. My housemate and I are working through Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel and Doctor Who right now. And Jonathan Creek when we find time.
I wrote this story for The Write Tribe contest incorporating the following seven words in random order (they’ll be in bold): postcard, coin, tidy, wild, help, calendar, responsibility.
It is a bit of a departure for me because it is not genre fiction: it is “mainstream” fiction. Maybe I should have made him a cyborg. . . Anyway, it’s the story that came to mind. It is 493 words, well short of the stated 700 word limit. Which is also a departure for me. :)
Greg stood at the end of the short driveway, gazing at the mobile home in the early morning light. A wan, yellow glow in one window told him that someone was awake. Probably getting ready for work.
He checked the postcard again. Maybe he had the wrong address? No. This was definitely it. The address was drawn on the card in meticulous, cursive letters, as though the writer were an expert in calligraphy.
The place, by contrast, was a mess. Grass grew two feet tall in places. A wild profusion of weeds choked what few flowers and shrubs there were. The mailbox canted at a jaunty angle, its post half-consumed by termites and borer bees. He eyed the decrepit-looking Volkswagon van parked in front of him. It was probably twice as old as he was.
He pulled a coin out of his pocket. A quarter. He gripped it between his thumb and index finger so tightly, he imagined he could feel George Washington’s sharp nose digging into the pad of his thumb. It didn’t help still the quaver in his hand.
One little toss of a coin. Then it wouldn’t be on him. Heads or tails. Stay or go. Fate would decide. Very tidy, he thought. Leave the decision to random chance. Shirk yet another responsibility.
A trickle of sweat beaded at the nape of his neck and crawled down his back, agonizingly slow. He shifted his weight to his other foot. What was there to gain, here? He should just go. He had no business coming here. What had he even been thinking? Yes. He would go. He turned to walk away, and then stopped.
You are going . . . up to that door to knock like an adult.
He clenched his jaw. Put the quarter back in his pocket. Took several deep breaths.
He’d had today circled on his calendar for months. His true twenty-first birthday, which he’d found out from the sweat-stained postcard clutched in his hand. They — whoever answered the door — were his birth family. He’d been looking for them for months. He wouldn’t let a few weeds and some tall grass destroy his chance to learn his origins.
He squared his shoulders and purposefully strode up to the door, and, before he could talk himself out of it, knocked.
There was a long silence. Then, the knob turned and the door crept open. He found himself looking down into the kindly eyes of a grey-haired woman in a wheelchair. She wheeled herself forward, half in and half out of the threshold. In the growing sunlight, her eyes were bright green.
Like his own.
“Gregory?” she asked, her voice cracking. “Is that . . . Is it really you?”
All his anxiety fled, leaving him weak in its wake. He sank to his knees in front of the wheelchair and grabbed the woman’s hands in his own, crumpling the postcard.
“Yes,” he said, smiling. “It’s me. I’ve come home.”
It involved four dice rolls, and since I don’t carry around my gaming dice all the time (anymore), I used the “dice roller” app on my phone.
What? Of course I have a dice roller app on my phone. Now where was I?
Then I rolled a 6 and a 9. My story must feature A Locked Door and also A Tremendous Reward. Well. Those two go together quite well, do they not? So my challenge is to make it not quite so obvious. In other words, the locked door isn’t a way to get to the reward, at least not directly. That’s too . . . cliché.
So, let’s see what I can come up with. Watch this space. Well, not this space. But this blog. For a new post. Later this week. Containing a 1000-word(ish) story. Hopefully more polished than this blog entry. With sentences. With actual subjects. And verbs.
The Quillians’ writing challenge for May was as follows:
Write a death scene for a superhero. Make sure we know his/her superpower and how it was overcome.
You can use up to 400 words.
I literally did not have a single idea until about an hour before the meeting, when the scene popped into my head, fully formed. I apologize for the . . . heavy-handed “message.” But it’s what I came up with. :)
A figure approached out of the ruined mess, its heavy boots crunching on the dry, ashy remnants. The animals clustered around their erstwhile protector, trying in their own, simple way to return his many favors.
“No,” the Green Avenger croaked. “Let him approach. He’s won.” The animals backed off, reluctantly. Some still snarled under their breath.
The other figure kept walking until it stood over the prone superhero. It bent low, the gas mask covering its face unemotional and yet chilling at the same time.
“Reveal yourself, villain!” the dying hero gasped, then spasmed as coughs shook his ravaged body.
“Interesting,” said the machine-modulated voice of Fossil Fuel. “You were far easier to defeat than I thought possible.”
“Show yourself!” coughed the fallen, green-clad hero.
“If you insist.”
The dark figure straightened and removed the gas mask and the cowl, unfurling auburn tresses that cascaded halfway down her back.
The figure on the ground gasped. “But…Wendy?”
The beautiful woman smiled. “Hi honey. I’m home.”
“But . . . how? Why?”
“‘Why’ is easy. We need power, you naïve idiot. And the only way to get it is more coal, oil, and natural gas.”
She bent low over him and cradled the back of his head with one rubber-clad hand. “The ‘how,’ my dear, sweet husband, is the power of apathy.” She smiled sweetly, but it caused a spear of ice to go through his heart.
“People simply stopped caring. You were just too stupid to notice. And without them . . . your power failed.”
“But—” he coughed, and red flecks of blood stained her black suit.
“Shhh,” she whispered, and put a finger to his lips.
She gazed into his eyes as he breathed his last.
She gently lay his head down and stood. “All right!” she shouted. “Let’s get the equipment in here and start drilling!”
She looked at her husband’s body. “And get a clean-up crew to get rid of these . . . vermin.”
It won first place amongst those voting. Thanks, guys! I keep wanting to tweak it . . .
I mentioned the other day that I submitted three of my very short flash pieces that have appeared here on my blog over the last year or so to a podcast called Toasted Cake.
I got a response back from Tina Connolly (podcastrix).
(and, thanks for the kind words on Toasted Cake :)
So as far as first rejections go, I’m not displeased. It’s a very good one, actually, encouraging me to submit again in the future.
Plus . . . now that that’s over with, I’m not dreading that first rejection anymore. :)
I still want to get into Viable Paradise, though, Universe, if you’re listening.
It’s been about a month since I last updated my blog. I’ve had a busy social life and a sick cat and frankly haven’t written much. I also helped out a fellow writer by critiquing her entire finished novel over the last couple of weeks.
But another thing I did work on was submissions.
I finally bit the bullet and submitted a manuscript to Viable Paradise. In their own words,
Viable Paradise encourages an informal and supportive workshop atmosphere. During the week, instructors and students interact in one-on-one conferences, group critiques, and lectures. The emphasis at first is on critiquing the students’ submitted manuscripts; later, the emphasis shifts to new material produced during the week. Even when not actively engaged in teaching or critiquing, instructors often share meals and general conversation with the students.
The Viable Paradise experience is more than the workshop itself; it also includes the autumnal beauty of coastal New England and the unique island setting of Martha’s Vineyard. Taken all together, they create a learning environment that’s perfect for helping you reach your writing and publishing goals.
I’ve wanted to go to VP pretty much since the first day I heard about it—Egad! Six years ago!—when podcaster and writer extraordinaire Mur Lafferty went in 2006 (VPX) and talked about the experience.
Of course, I’d also like to go to Clarion/Clarion West. But I have a full-time job and only 23 PTO days per year, and Clarion takes six weeks, or 30 PTO days. (Which actually isn’t all that bad, considering. They’d only have to let me do a leave of absence for seven work days . . .)
The shortage of time off still didn’t stop me from attempting to apply. I mean, once I got in, I could worry about getting time off, right? But I misread the submission guidelines. I worked for hours editing a story to get it as perfect as I could get it. And then with just about twenty minutes to spare, I was getting ready to email everything in and . . . realized they had asked for two short stories, each between 2500 and 6000 words. I had just the one, and it was 6900 words.
Here’s a tip: Read the submission guidelines thoroughly, boys and girls. <grumbleblather>
Not that Viable Paradise was a distant second choice, mind you. It could even be argued that my subconscious sabotaged Clarion on purpose. Dastardly subconscious.
I sent in my submission on April 16th. The deadline is June 15th. They will make a decision as soon as possible after that date and let everyone know one way or the other. Only 24 students will be accepted. They will, of course, have to read and evaluate all the submissions they get at the last minute, so I wouldn’t expect to hear one way or the other before the 20th of June, certainly.
So now, I wait. Patiently? Well . . . :)
In other news, I have recently started listening to a newish podcast called Toasted Cake by Tina Connolly. Tina is an accomplished author (and Clarion West 2006 graduate) and voice artist who frequently voices stories for the three Escape Artists podcasts, EscapePod, PseudoPod, and PodCastle, as well as Drabblecast and Three-Lobed Burning Eye.
She decided to podcast a flash story per week for 2012. She hit up her writer friends for the first dozen or so, then opened up for submission from interested listeners during April. I sent her three of my extremely short flash pieces to see if they strike her fancy. She likes ’em dark and kind of twisted, which these three are. I sent the anti-Valentine’s Day poem, “Pot O’ Gold,” and “Nothing Lasts Forever,” all of which I have put on this blog in the last year. I should get a “Pass” or “Hold” email before too long. Submission deadline is April 30, and I sent it in a couple of days ago.
So that’s basically what I’ve been up to. Which doesn’t amount to much on the page, but I’m hoping one or the other or both of those pan out.
What I have done, writing-wise, is come up with a veritable mother-load of ideas for the second novel in the Urban Fantasy series I’ve come up with (which I’m tentatively calling The PCIU Case Files). You know, the second novel. I haven’t finished the first one, but my brain is supplying me all kinds of good stuff for the second one.
Your challenge is to come up with titles for ten songs that will be a perfect fit for this album.
I’ve been meaning to post my entry for several days, but I’ve been busy. Life, etc. You know.
Anyway, tonight (3/26/2012) was the deadline, and we voted, and although I didn’t even consider mine up to par with the others, much to my surprise, it won. Here’s what I came up with.
I wish the other five folks would post theirs because they were all so good. This was probably the hardest time I had selecting my top two picks of any of the challenges to date. Congratulations are due to Kate McCridhe and Paolo Alfa, who came in second and third, respectively.
We all went with “Concept Albums” where the songs all tied together on some theme. It’s funny, too, that I don’t think any of us overlapped at all, although I tried to overlap with one other person, but could never make the title work. She did, and it blew me away. “Lullaby for a Sonogram.” Mine was going to be something like “Trojan Defeated.” Hers clearly rocks; mine just as clearly does not. I’m glad I went with “Hod’s Missile (Toe)” instead.
Now, because I’m anal retentive (Should that be hyphenated?), I’ve put a link on each title to explain what it is in reference to, in case you don’t know. Probably very unnecessary, but . . . it’s what I do. The Icarus one is supposed to refer to the hang-glider in the image, and the Quixote one is supposed to refer to the windmills. Now you know more than you probably wanted to.
Note: The image above was created by Sherry D. Ramsey and I’m using it without any sort of permission at all.The Quillians was to write 250 to 350 words inspired by a song. We had to postpone the ‘judging’ meeting twice because the first time, only two people had entered, and the second time, our Fearless Leader–Luta in-game–didn’t show up. Speculation about where she was ran rather rampant. I suggested that the only thing that could keep her from us was that she had been kidnapped by pirates. Or perhaps clowns.
Or pirate clowns.
One thing led to another, and the challenge for August was to write a 350 word story explaining just where Luta was. :)
As usual, I was given a word count, and I met said word count exactly. So here is my entry in the “Where’s Luta?” challenge.
Oh, I should mention something: Luta is Canadian. From Nova Scotia, specifically. That will make the story make more sense.
“Oh, for the love of God, Steve. If you’re afraid to call her, just hand me the phone and I’ll do it! Canada could be on the brink of ruin, and you’d worry about one woman being irritated with you.”
Not just one woman, he thought.
His wife stood, hands on hips, glaring at him through narrowed eyes, her foot tapping soundlessly on the carpet. He supposed she was right. It wasn’t every day that an agent so deep undercover was activated, but this one was special. He picked up the phone.
Luta folded laundry with one hand while checking her daughter’s math homework with the other. “No, honey, you need to carry the two,” she said as she checked the clock again. Only a half hour to go.
The phone rang, interrupting her thoughts. Oh, for the love of…it’s nearly 10 on a Monday. What now?
She laid down the sheet she had been folding, and, dodging dogs and trailing a daughter with an open notebook and a pencil, she marched upstairs and into her office. The phone blared twice more. If I answer it, it’s going to be something bad, and I have a Quillians meeting on Second Life. I can’t let them down!
It rang twice more before she picked it up. With a heavy sigh, she said, “Hello?”
“Um…” came a harried, tentative voice, then a fumbling sound. She thought she heard someone say, “Really? This is the activation phrase?”
“Hel-lo?” she said, emphasizing each syllable.
“Yes, um…’Yo ho ho and a big red nose.'”
Luta’s face, which had been a mask of irritation and impatience, instantly relaxed into one of supreme calm, her eyes narrowed. “Prime Minister. This had better be damned good. Last time—”
“I-I know, Luta, but…it’s that situation in Moose Jaw.”
She closed her eyes. Crap. I thought I took care of that last time. “Tell me.”
I knew from the moment I came up with the idea that the last word of the story had to be [REDACTED]. :)
Anyway, I presume this will be judged toward the end of August, or possibly the first Monday in September. Wait. What is that in Canadian?
<ducking>The Quillians had our weekly meeting and read everyone’s submissions for the July challenge. We each selected two favorites.
I came in first, with Ge3x and Mira tying for second. The hilarious thing about it is, of the five entries, all of them were dark. With all of music to choose from, all five of us picked “downer” songs.
I can reveal now that the title of my piece was “Nothing Lasts Forever” and it was inspired by “Dust in the Wind” by Kansas. It’s my favorite song of all time.
I didn’t even know most of the songs by the others, so there was no hope of winning the extra prize money. Ah, well. I had guesses. Oddly enough, all my guesses were kind of cheerful. I guess I’m warped that way.
What I’m learning from these monthly challenges is that I kind of like the flash form. Less than 1000 words—our challenges run way less than 1000, usually from 250 to 350—makes you really think about what you want to say, and eliminate needless words and extraneous ideas.
At my Tuesday night writers group (The Forum Writers), we have new writers join us all the time. Some stay, some come and go. But whenever we have a newbie, we make them introduce themselves, tell us what they write, and what they want out of our group. Then we all introduce ourselves in turn, explaining what we write. I usually say some variation of this:
What can I say? It usually elicits at least a smile. :)
That last part about the pituitary problem, though…I may have to change that. The more I try this extremely short form, the more I like the sense of freedom it gives me. Write 350 words and tell a whole story…then move to the next one. Be done with something instead of incessantly writing it or thinking about it night and day (and night) for months.
Maybe it’s an escapist thing. <shrug> Whatever. I just know that I an enjoying the instant gratification.
As an aside…am I the only person who always adds the “AAH-aaaaaahhh!” in my head every time I hear or see the word “flash” (AAH-aaaaaahhh!)? Surely not. Surely not.
Either way, there was no judging this week, either. So . . . I guess the July challenge is now officially the August challenge. :)