A Long-Awaited Announcement

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I’ve made a story sale!

Two actually.

If you follow me on social media, you may have already heard the news – a while back I made my first story sale to Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine.  My science fiction story “First Strike” will be appearing in Issue #60 – and I’m also the subject of a new author spotlight, so y’all can read a little essay about the history of this story.  It’s a special one for me, not just because it sold first, but because… well, you’ll just have to read the essay!

You’ll also be able to read my science fiction short story “The Long, Slow War” in Bastion Science Fiction Magazine this September.

The good news just keeps on rolling, as I’ve finished the latest version of Cliff with No Edge!  A small fleet of readers are looking it over as we speak, and I’ll be spending the month of September on the final tweak and polish.  The plan is to have it out and circulating among my carefully selected agents by October.

In the meantime, I’m trucking along and trying not to obsess.  There’s still Book Two to work on and some new short stories that need some fiddling.  So I’ll get back to it, and let you all get back to your (hopefully wonderful) weekends!

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Pace and Point of View

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Business first: So far no bites on King’s Mark. Whether it is the story, the writing, or just a bad fit with their current lists, I’ve crossed out most of my first round agents.

That doesn’t mean I’m giving up – far from it! I’ve researched and applied to another promising handful who I hope will like my work. There are tons of great agents out there and it would be foolish not to query widely. I believe in the story, and I just need one other person (who happens to have a very specific job) to agree with me.

Moving on… I made it through another chunk of Thieves this week! I’m at 12,000 words! Granted, some of the new material doesn’t progress the story from where I left off. It needs to fit in earlier.

Which brings me to my revelation of the week – I finally figured out what is bothering me about Thieves. It’s the pace. I wanted it to move quickly, and boy howdy does it. Too quickly.

Here’s my theory: I don’t like ‘wasting’ words on unimportant bits of the story. I only want to write interesting parts. So I figured out the first few big events in Thieves and set to work writing them, expecting I’d figure out where to go next along the way. Although that worked great for King’s Mark, this time – not so much. When I reached the end of the short stretch of the story I knew about, I couldn’t move forward. I was missing something.

The problem is that I’m limiting myself to one POV (point of view) for this book. I’m not used to that yet. I think jumping from important scene to important scene worked for King’s Mark because at the beginning I had three plots and four POVs. Because I was introducing new characters, situations, settings, and POVs all the way through Ch. 6, I could stick to the bare essentials without it going too fast (introductions are necessarily slower, so you can immerse the reader without jarring them). Each scene could build off of the knowledge introduced in the previous scene without exposition or summary or even as much character reflection as you usually get.

With one POV, I can’t delay a bit of information that I know will come out naturally through another character’s situation. I can’t jump from big moment to big moment – just like I couldn’t string all of Chay’s scenes together in a vacuum and expect them to work. I don’t need to be boring, but I need to intentionally stretch some things out. The reader is going to gain their footing much faster in this book, I can’t rely on tricks like the structure of the book to slow them down and prevent them from looking down the rabbit holes. In other words… I need to write better!

And I have determined that I’m still a discovery writer. I’ve been struggling to produce an outline for weeks with little progress. But I realized that what helped me get through King’s Mark will also help me get through Thieves – I only have 1 POV, but I still have 3 stories. Each character’s story in King’s Mark was relatively simple, it was together that they gained complexity. By thinking about them separately, I was able to focus on what was important during any given scene. It got more complicated near the end, but by then I had a good grasp of my characters and I could handle thinking about them interacting.

In Thieves, I have one main character, but she has a much more complicated story. This complexity has been daunting, but now I know I can break it up by realizing that she lives in 3 distinct worlds. The people she interacts with know different parts of her, and she acts differently and wants different things with each set. By separating this out, I can see her motives and keep her consistent. Things will start to fall apart, mix, and get messy again, but by then I will be more comfortable with the story.

Anyway, that is the plan! We’re going to give it a try, but I’m already feeling better about this story 🙂

New Year, New Goals

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As 2011 draws to a close, I have been spending some time thinking.  The last year has brought something new to my life, and I still haven’t quite come to terms with the fact that I am officially a novelist.  A multiple novelist, if you count my terrible NaNoWriMo novel.  I have always written, but I never believed I had the stamina, talent, or drive to complete an entire novel.  So I’m still slightly shell-shocked.

Not only that, but it is surprising to realize the level of passion I have discovered for writing.  I go on kicks sometimes, where I develop an incredible hunger for information and skills, obsess over them for a while, and then move on when I plateau.  Past kicks have included Greek mythology, freshwater aquaria, pottery, weaving, beading, origami, CAD, theater costuming/make-up, astronomy, grant writing, chinchilla care, sewing, and cooking.  I still maintain some skills and knowledge in these areas, but I no longer pursue them with the single-minded intensity that I did.

There are very few things on that list that lasted longer than a few months.  I know the list isn’t complete; the fact that I struggle to remember what consumed my life for weeks or months at a time is a testament to how quickly I move on once I am bored.  However, I got serious about writing in November 2010.  I am not bored, although I have read 25 books on the subject and have another 20 on my shelf waiting to be read.  I have completed one novel, and despite a few weeks when I thought the well had run dry, I have a new story that I am, if anything, more excited about.

I can say with certainty that it isn’t going away.  There are only 2 other things in my life that have had this level of staying power – playing the oboe and wildlife rehabilitation.  One is my career, and until this year, there was nothing that even came close to interesting me as much as wildlife.  In fact, I was a little frightened by the fact that I could not envision anything else I could spend my life doing.  That’s dangerous, because it is such a physical job, and such a financially precarious one as well.  One thing goes wrong, and I’m sunk.  I don’t worry about it too much, because I have some good evidence that I am where God wants me to be (that’s a whole other post), but I still recognize the danger. I don’t know if I can make money writing.  So far, I have not sold anything.  But I can see myself continuing to pursue storytelling for the rest of my life.  That means no matter what I end up doing career-wise, I will always be able to find joy.

I don’t usually make New Year’s resolutions.  I find that using an artificial point like “Jan 1” to motivate change just becomes an excuse to delay real change.  For example: I know I should reduce my caffeine and sugar intake by controlling my soda intake.  I don’t want to do that right now… I’ll wait until New Years!  That way I can have it now and prepare myself to give it up.  And then by Jan 7 (OK, sorry, I should be honest.  Jan 2) I’ve given it up, because I wasn’t committed to my resolution.  I don’t want to give up soda.

But I do see the value in goals, and also in sharing those goals.  Since this is a blog mainly following my development as a writer, here are my writing goals for 2012:

 

Attempt to sell King’s Mark.  There are several ways to go about doing this, but the first (and most likely to succeed) is to acquire an agent who knows the business better than I do.  Thus:

Goal 1: submit to agents until I have either run through my list of agents or I have convinced one to represent me.  I will limit my list to agents of good repute that I believe I want to work with, and not become so focused on obtaining one that I allow my standards to slip

 

Attempt to sell my completed short stories.

Goal 2: submit said stories to appropriate markets until I have either sold them or run out of places to send them.  I will focus on submitting first to markets that have a reputation for providing feedback for rejected stories first, regardless of pay, in an attempt to improve my craft.

 

Develop my skills and expand my available “product.”

Goal 3: Write and revise a second novel, namely “Thieves of Moirai”

Goal 4: Make it through my shelf of writing books, DO NOT buy any more until I’ve read the last one…

Goal 5: Complete the half-finished short stories on my hard-drive.

 

Avoid burning out

Goal 6: Read for pleasure, get outside, spend time with friends & family, etc.

Scaling Brick Walls

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Today marks the end of my weekend, and my progress was a little disappointing this week. I finished polishing chapter 12-13 and sent them off to my writing group, and I submitted “Singularity Fringe” to the third market on my list. However, I hit a snag with chapter 14, and didn’t manage to even make a start on chapter 15. Sigh.

The problem with chapter 14 is that it is part of a storyline in the book that is very challenging for me. It’s tough for a lot of reasons, I’m trying to do some stuff that I’ve never done before, but mostly it is the characters I’m working with. In the two other threads, I’ve got a street urchin struggling to keep his street family together and a boy raised in a river culture – no problem. In this thread, I’ve got a “heartless,” damaged mercenary and her naive sidekick. A little more of a problem. Don’t ask my why I can imagine myself in the urchin’s shoes more easily than the damaged mercenary (especially since she’s female…) but I can. Plot comes from character, so drawing a story out of characters that are challenging to write is extra hard.

I came to chapter 14 and realized it wasn’t working, so I had to spend a lot more time on it than usual. This is a pivotal chapter so it’s got to be right. I know what I want to do, I have a plan, and I think that the extra effort will be well worth it in the end. It would be a boring story if I only wrote stuff that came easily, and I wouldn’t learn as much. But I will be leaning heavily on my writing group’s comments to figure out what I managed to pull off and what I didn’t. Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure I’m missing the mark more often than not on these chapters. Ah well, there’s always the next rewrite!

So the next market that I sent “Singularity Fringe” to was “Strange Horizons.” And I have to say, they have the most entertaining submissions guidelines I have read yet. Most publication submission guidelines say the same thing, but without the sarcasm or bluntness. I very much appreciate people saying clearly what they want, so I loved it.

One thing they did, which I find extremely helpful, is to include a list of over-used or highly cliched story plots. It is true you should be well-read in a genre before trying to write it, so you can appreciate and avoid what has come before, but other submission guidelines I’ve looked at simply say “be familiar with the genre” or “we’re interested in innovative plots.” It’s nice to see things set out so clearly.

I laughed several times while reading this list, mainly because I remember trying to write some of this stuff when I was 10. But to be fair, until the very end of the list, I was honestly frightened that my current projects were on that list somewhere. Thank goodness they weren’t, but this speaks to the strange “writer’s dichotomy.” I don’t know how this works exactly, but absolutely everything I write is simultaneously the greatest thing ever written AND the worst drivel on the face of the planet. And it’s not just me that feels like this.

I’m pretty well read in all forms of speculative fiction (probably the least familiar with steampunk, ’cause I don’t usually like it much, but I’ve still got lots of it under my belt) so I pretty much know where “Singularity Fringe” belongs. I know that while it has similarities to other cyberpunk (that’s why it is cyberpunk), it also has plenty of differences. It’s my cyberpunk story, not someone else’s.

Originality is one of these brick walls writers try to scale, until they realize there is an unlocked door right there. Put your carabineers and rope away, and walk through the darn door. Seriously. Silly writers.

There is a theory out there that says that every story written, or that will be written, follows one of 7 basic plots. Only 7!!! Is there nothing new under the sun? (I have it on good authority that there isn’t) And how many stories are there out there? How do we possibly avoid doing something someone else has already done?

The answer is you kind of don’t. You write the story you want to write, create strong characters and believable plots, and since you are an individual, it will be different. It helps a lot to know your genre and be aware of what is influencing you. If you’ve read enough sci-fi, you won’t want to write stuff that is overdone, because you’ll be bored of it too. It helps to give your stories lots of thought and care, so you aren’t rushing past cool things you can explore that would let your individuality shine. It also helps to be aware of but not depend on some sort of formula for your story. This is why I think people get into trouble when they start worrying too much about the “market” and what is selling right now. If you are writing it because you think it will sell and not because it is what you want to say, you’re more likely to fall into a stinky, muddy pit of predictability and boringness. Doesn’t sound fun, does it? No, it sounds yucky, so I’ll stay out of there!

Anyway, let’s wrap it up here. I’ve got to get back to trying to think like a suppressed, sociopathic, passive-aggressive mercenary with abandonment issues. Wish me luck!

Submitting

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Despite a serious fight with my computer, I got a lot done this weekend! My critique group reviewed chapters 10-11, I finished my pre-revision edit for chapter 12, and I’ve done content editing for chapter 13 & 1/2 of chapter 14. I still have lots of daylight left, so I’m hoping to finish pre-revision for chapter 13 tonight.

I also received my second rejection this week for “Singularity Fringe,” my cyberpunk short story. I have my next market picked out, but since internet has been a scarce resource recently, I have not actually submitted the story yet.

Submitting is an odd process. Send something out, try to forget about it, receive rejection letter (or e-mail), repeat. Repeat. Repeat. I’ve submitted occasionally in the past, but never seriously. So I’m trying to get the process down for when I’m ready with King’s Mark (hopefully in the fall). I can’t imagine what it will be like submitting something that I’ve poured so much into; I suppose it will be like what I’m doing with “Singularity Fringe,” only multiplied by infinity.

You see, I wrote the story on a whim. I decided to experiment and “Singularity Fringe” is what came out of that. Not only is it in first person (not my preferred viewpoint), it is essentially a dystopian action story (not my usual milieu). I wanted to see how much characterization I could do for a team of people without ever “telling” the reader about them – only “showing.” I’m a discovery writer, so I plotted the entire thing with an actual outline, complete with character development, plot, and world reveals. I like clear, transparent prose, so I kept that. Otherwise, it is completely different from what I usually write. I workshopped it, and after input from my group, I think it is pretty good. But it is very different.

Like all my work, it is still a fruit of my creativity, and thus important to me. But trying to get “Singularity Fringe” published is still part of the experiment. I’m told you should never sit on a story, always submit it. So I am.

What I’m getting to is that although I’ve been prepared for rejection, and I’m not particularly fussed about being rejected by a couple markets (especially for this story), I still had that uncertain moment when I saw the second rejection. I opened up the story and began to read it, looking for what is wrong with it. I love listening to short story podcasts (a list of my favorites will follow this post), and this weekend I found myself deconstructing the story I’m supposed to be enjoying, trying to find that magic that I could add to my own story.

This is foolishness. I wrote a story, workshopped it, and polished it. I can criticize it until the cows come home, but all I will be doing is destroying the integrity of the piece and my peace of mind. Unless an editor reads it and has the time to share what their professional eye sees or doesn’t see in my story, I probably won’t figure it out. Maybe someday, when distance and practice makes me a better writer and better judge of my work, I might see what is wrong with it. Or maybe there is nothing wrong with it, but the editor just didn’t like it. Or there were some extremely fantastic stories and names it was competing with (very likely).

The point is, if I could figure out what is missing, I would have fixed it before sending it out. I’m not afraid of rewriting things. I take every piece of criticism seriously, even if I end up disagreeing with it. I want to send out the best stuff I can. So at this point, resubmitting is the only thing I can do. There is no new information on the table (and no recourse to get new information). I’ve got as solid a story as I can create. Time to move on. Keep submitting, maybe I’ll get lucky and strike an editor the right way. In the meantime, I’ve got work to do!

**Favorite speculative fiction podcasts: The Drabblecast, Escape Pod, Lightspeed Magazine, & Clarksworld

Waiting

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I hate waiting. There is very little I dislike more than waiting. So why is it such a big, important part of my life right now?

Today is the five-week anniversary of “the day I turned in my short story submission.” That means, today is the day of the posted average response time. I have waited patiently for five weeks. Isn’t that long enough?

Turns out, no. Maybe it is good – my story wasn’t thrown out immediately. Maybe it is bad, and my story hasn’t even been read yet. If 5 weeks is the average response time, by definition I could have another 5 weeks to go. How awful!

Work is a waiting game right now as well. Baby season is right around the corner. My coworkers and I spent all winter getting ready for “the season” to start, and now, we’re so close I can almost taste it! In a week and a half, we start “summer” hours. Our seasonal employees start work, and we bring back our third shift of summer volunteers.

We’re waiting for the first sign of the season – baby squirrels. And they are late! We already have cottontail rabbit babies, but they don’t really count. I’m waiting for squirrels. Because when the first squirrel babies come in, I’ll know spring is here.

It won’t be long before the best part of my job starts. Our center will be buried in dozens of baby squirrels, and before you know it, opossums and raccoons and deer and baby birds and seals and and and… And my long, long days will again be filled with activity. I’ll come home and pass out from the exhaustion. Instead of winter computer work, research, and cleaning, I’ll be feeding babies, helping volunteers, and running around like a complete nutcase. I can’t wait!

But I have to wait. It is a part of everyone’s life and everyone’s job. I need to make peace with it, because a great deal of the writer’s life that involves waiting. Wait to get feedback, wait to get rejected or accepted, wait to start a new story until the current one is complete – and that is only the start! I’ve heard stories about the hundreds of things you must wait for after you have a contract.

Maybe tomorrow will be the day the squirrels come. Maybe the next day I’ll get my rejection. In the meantime… I’ll be waiting.