Composing a story, part 4 of ??

In Part 1, I described the first draft.

In Part 2, I described the revision process.

In Part 3, I described incorporating reader feedback and submission to Writers of the Future.

And now, in Part 4, I’ll give you some insight as to what happens next.

Last week, I received my rejection from Writers of the Future. And I say rejection, because I did not win any of the prizes this quarter. My story was awarded an Honorable Mention, and of course I’m happy with that. As I should be. I should not be content with it, though. I am still entering this contest because I still qualify for it, until the time when I have made enough qualifying sales to other markets. So, I keep going.

Now, I need to decide what to do with this story next. Obviously I’d like to get paid for it. There are two main options for that:

1) Self-publish on Amazon, as either a stand-alone story or part of a collection; or,

2) Submit to paying markets until one accepts and pays me for publication.

At this time I plan to pursue option (2), because I still want the connection and notoriety that comes with publication in F&SF, Clarkesworld, Asimov’s, etc. They don’t give Hugo awards to self-publishers, after all. You’ve got to be part of the in-crowd for something like that, so I go door-to-door in the in-crowd neighborhood, hawking my wares, patiently accepting their rejections, and moving on to the next.

The following are 15 markets that this story would qualify for, in terms of what kind of story they usually publish, length they accept, and whether or not they’re even open for submissions right now:

  • Clarkesworld
  • New Myths
  • Uncanny
  • Phantaxis
  • Beneath Ceaseless Skies
  • Abyss & Apex
  • Giganotosaurus
  • Fantasy & Science Fiction
  • Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show
  • Lightspeed
  • Apex
  • Strange Horizons
  • Leading Edge
  • T Gene Davis’ Speculative Blog
  • Outposts of Beyond

I’ve submitted to Clarkesworld. This is run by Neal Clarke, and he’s very quick on the turnaround. I should have an answer in 3 days or less. When the rejection from that comes in, I’ll go down the list. Or, if there’s an impending deadline for submissions, I’ll advance that listing in the hierarchy. If I didn’t realize it and market is closed when I get to it, I go to the next one. This happens often.

So, we’re in the thick of it now! Cross your fingers – there might be an acceptance in the works, sometime in the next couple of years. Yes, it sometimes really does take that long. I’ve got one story I’ve submitted 15 times since 2015, and it’s still getting rejections. But I like it, and I’d like more people to read it, so I keep submitting. I’ve heard anecdotes of authors selling stories on the 40th submission or later. I don’t know if I have that determination. Or is it foolishness? It’s up to me to eventually decide to pull a story from the rotation and just keep it to myself. Until then, we press on.

Writing Practice – 10/7/2018

Poem a Day Volume 2, p 383 (Dec 16)

Fly envious Time, till thou run out thy race,

Call on the lazy leaden-stepping hours,

Whose speed is but the heavy plummet’s pace;

Run thy own trail, travel thine own path.

Send to the heavens the shout of a many-breasted warrior strong with the ichor of battle. Let forth a barbaric yawp to shake the hills and rattle the cedars. Share not your victory with those who would have nothing to do with the battle but everything to do with sharing the spoils. For why should their reticence be rewarded, and your valor diminished? Why shall your light hide, as if a reflection upon the surface of the moon, instead of shining bring from the sun’s rays?

Strive, then, brothers in this long struggle, and let it be know that you shall no longer rest in humility as a result of the things you have fought for, sweated for, bled for. But these days shall see a resurgence of your manifest adulation. The righteous praise well-deserved flowing from all of the crowd’s lips to over and above and through you. For it is never enough for just one to shower adulation and praise (except that she be the one, yet that remains a different tale for a different time). It is not enough for a single voice, no matter how powerful or authoritative, to say “well done.”

Nay, it is only for the recognition of the crowd that the warrior strives. He seeks not his own glory, but does so to honor his fallen brothers, to eke out, to draw out from those who remained behind, their praise, their worship, their respect, their fear.

For, if they did not fear the powerful, if they did not respect them at least a little, and in practice a bit more than that, if they did not recognize the hidden, camouflaged power waiting within the army’s arms, if they did not acknowledge the real authority beneath the breastplate, if they did not offer a genuine kudos to their true betters, they know that in a few moments, with a turn of a whim or at the insolence of an unruly youth, they, too, might find themselves a new enemy of those who wield the true power. For true power comes not from robe or treaty or birthright. True power comes from a willingness to fight, to truly fight, not simply argue, to fight and take power, to risk one’s own life in the pursuit. That is power. That is authority. And that deserves respect.

Requiem for a Notebook

My Writing Practice notebook is filled. This one is, at least. I will start a new one tonight when I sit down again. Yesterday I wrote to the end of the current one and, because I was curious, I decided to do a review. Here’s what I found:

There are 100 sheet / 200 pages in this notebook. A few of the pages are covered with other writings, so they don’t count. I filled 191 sheets with my scrawl. The first 4 sheets had 197, 190, 170, and 167 words on them. I’ll estimate all those 191 sheets have 175 words each, for a total of 33,425 words, which would be about 135 pages when printed. That’s a long novella. Not bad.

My longest streak was 13 days in a row, starting July 2 and going through July 14. The next longest was 11 days from 8/4 through 8/14. Hm, something about the 15th of the month that I don’t want to write?

I did a 5-day series early in July on “Describe sex…” The first few lines of each are as follows:

7-3-18 This is a strange one. Because most other phenomenon a will be described by their physical properties – the game of baseball will be about… ; sex, on the other hand is more likely to be described in emotional terms.

7-4-18 It’s a physical status and a physical act. Status – male or female. Act – penetration, intercourse interaction.

7-5-18 “Sex is natural, sex is fun. Sex is best when it’s one-on-one!” “Let’s talk about sex, baby, let’s talk about you and me. Let’s talk about all the good things, that may be.”

7-6-18 Sex is power. Sex is control. Sex is authority. Sex is “top” and “bottom”, sex is “giver” and “receiver”. Sex is “fucking” – an active verb, an authoritative act – and it is “getting fucked” – a receptive, passive, dominated, submissive state.

7-7-18 Sex is biting nipples. It is stroking shoulders and grabbing hair, but not by the ends, to pull and to hurt, but close, at the back of the head, right by the name of the neck, just to get a feeling of control

I had “lose control” experiences on 7/22, 7/29, 8/5, 8/16, and 8/18. These are times when I stop thinking, stop getting logical, and often my pen does not even make words any longer. It looks like this:

7/22, at the end when I’ve completely lost control

On 8/4 I ended with “I come in the whirlwind.” I liked that line so much that I started my writing practice on 8/5 with that same line.

On 8/20 I ran a pen dry. This is always a satisfying experience. My topic was “Write about background music – “. I started and as I noticed that the pen was close to exhaustion, I promised myself I would keep going until it gave out. 6.5 pages in, the ink finally finished and I quit.

On 8/22 my topic was “Write in incomplete sentences.” It looked like this:

This will be a challenging for ________.

I don’t often ________.

In the middle of my sentences I usually ________.

Somewhat _______, but there’s this cute girl at the ________ that wasn’t immediately rejecting me last time I ________.

On 9/9 I ran out of space. I had no more empty pages. But I wasn’t done writing for the day, so I turned the notebook 45 degrees and wrote over the last page a second time. If I try reaaaaaally hard, I could probably decipher what I wrote the first time and the second time. I don’t want to try that hard.

I wrote on 60 of 83 days available during this period. I had one long stretch at the beginning where I missed 7 days in a row (I must have been doing something else the 3rd week of June), but for all the rest I usually only missed a day before writing again. My next notebook I’ll aim for 60 days of 70 (skip one day a week, on average).

I’m pretty satisfied with this one. Now it goes on the shelf. Will it ever come back off? Not likely. But still, having that tangible reminder of what I’ve done is always valuable to me.

Writing Practice – 9/8/2018 – a Letter

Write a letter to someone you haven’t seen in a long time…

Dear ________,

I’m sorry that I haven’t written in, gosh, probably 25 years, almost. The last time was when we were back in high school. And I do apologize – I’ve forgotten your name. Somehow. But I haven’t forgotten that you lived in Ames, Iowa. I thought it was cute, back then, like I thought you were cute.

Do you remember, we met on separate Choir trips to the same place? Must have been Chicago – that’s the only trip my choir ever went on. I was Treasurer of the club that year, so I spent more time counting checks than I did counting eighth notes. But that was okay – I learned quickly and sang well, so I could afford to miss rehearsals.

I would ask you how you have been, but I realize that’s a very bland, very “standard” question. I want to ask what has made you happy? What made you cry? Have you ever seen a sunset, all by yourself, standing or sitting at the top of a mountain you just climbed? What makes you laugh?

I would tell you about my life, but there’s too much. Facts aren’t that interesting, really. I know you want the stories – I want to tell them. Like how I ended up on the floor in my underwear at 2 am, crying and praying and dripping snot down my cheeks onto my chest. Or how I put half a dozen holes in the walls. Or how I almost passed out when I fell, once, and that shook me up enough to make some more drastic changes. You want to know my successes and failures. You want to know what I’m proud of and what I regret.

You know what? I’m proud of the fact that I can park 2 cars in my 2-car garage. It may seem like something people don’t often brag about, but I’m really happy I can do that.

You know what I regret? Not keeping in touch with people. Not just you – Andy, Andrew, Nathan, my brother for a while. I want to be a better friend. I want to support my friends in their journeys. I want them to support me. I don’t want to blow away like an ash from a campfire, tossed up into the wind, tumbled along without intention, without purpose, without goals that, when I achieve them, will bring a measure of satisfaction for a job well done.

I want to be happy. And I want others to be happy, too There is enough in this world for us all to achieve what we want. Why hoard? Why restrict? Give. Even if it is not returned to you, that happiness, that love, that community, give anyway. Because it is the right thing to do. If it comes back, then give again. And if it does not, well, then, you will have done the right thing, and that is most important.

Please, do write back. Maybe then I will remember your name. 🙂

Sincerely,

SJ

Writing Advice

A friend (M) asked me for advice for said friend’s child (R) who has shown interest in and talent for writing. So here’s what I came up with. I offer this to you as either inspiration, a wet blanket on your enthusiasm, or however you want to take it.

***

So my thoughts for R. (or you, or the teacher, or whoever else wants to know about writing) are this (in general order, but do a lot of them all at the same time):

1) To write well, you need to read. A lot. And a lot of different things. R. should be reading at least a book a week, maybe 2 or 3. She doesn’t have that much going on that she can’t also be reading a lot. So find a few authors she likes and read a bunch by those. And then find some things that she starts and thinks, “I absolutely hate this”, then finish it and asks yourself, “why did I not like it?”

2) Write. A lot. Get a notebook. Write at least 10 minutes a day. Here are some topics to start writing about, if you can’t think of some:

I feel…

I smell…

I remember…

I want to go to…

I used to be…

One time, when I walked outside, I saw…

I wish…

Yesterday I dreamed…

When you fill a notebook, read it back through, once. Then put it on the shelf. Start another one. When you finish that one, read it through, then put it on the shelf. Keep going until you have 10 notebooks. Then keep going again. Sometimes, set a timer for an hour and don’t stop writing until it goes off. If you get stuck, keep moving with “Okay, now I’m stuck and I don’t know what to write. So I’ll just write what I hear. I hear…”

3) Did I mention reading a lot? Yeah, keep doing that.

4) If she’s going to be blogging, I recommend you (M) be the blog owner and she work with you to publish stuff. That way you’ll have access to comment moderation. I use WordPress, because it’s free (if you want, I think I pay something like $99 a year to have a domain that doesn’t include “.wordpress” in it). I’m sure there are a hundred blogging sites, you can find something that works for you.

5) At first, set a schedule for blogging. Like, “one post every Monday and then one every Thursday or Friday”. That way, one of the things  she wrote on Friday – Sunday can be selected for Monday, and one of the things from Monday – Thursday can be selected for Thursday or Friday. This will get her into a rhythm of writing, but it will also remove the pressure to create additional pieces just to post. Don’t worry if it isn’t great. Blogging isn’t meant to be perfect.

6) Read. A lot. Not just books. Have her read the New York Times from front to back one day. Go to the library and read an article from each of Cat Fancy, Guns & Ammo, Cosmopolitan, Ebony, and Science. Mix these up, read different titles each month. She won’t understand some, some you might have to chaperone or totally block, but just get her reading a variety of stuff, not just Nancy Drew or Wimpy Kid all the time.

7) Write more.

8) Read more.

9) Have her write a story. Make sure it has a beginning (something was like _____), a middle (then this problem arose_______), and an ending (and this is how the people solved the problem__________). Read it, give your honest feedback. Have her friends read it. have them give their honest feedback. Put it aside. Have her write 5 more stories. Read them, giving your honest feedback. Have her choose one of these to revise. Have her friends read the revised story. Have her revise it again. Put it aside.

10) Invite her to write letters to 10 authors. These could be people who have articles in the newspaper, or book authors, or magazine article authors. See if she gets any response.

11) Keep writing. Keep blog posting. Keep revising. Keep writing stories. Once she’s written 20 stories (each with a beginning, middle, and end), have her submit one to a magazine. Have her be honest about herself, her credentials, and be realistic. Expect rejection. Aim for 100 rejections. Once a story is rejected, find another place to submit and send it in. It might take 5 years to write enough stories to get 100 rejections, and some stories may have 20 rejections while others only have 1 or 2. That just means you’re honing your craft all the time.

12) Keep reading. Keep writing. Write for yourself (R), not for anyone else. If you like it, that’s important. If you like it and you’re authentic (which means it’s real, not just “what you think your audience wants”), that’s enough. Nobody else may ever like it. That’s fine, if you’re writing for yourself. Because ultimately only you need to be satisfied with it. And, strangely enough, if you are satisfied with it, eventually you will find an outlet for it.

13) Sometime you’ll want to, in your writing practice, start with “I write because…” You should attack this topic a couple of times a year. I still do, because I still don’t have a definitive answer for why I write. Mostly it’s because I love the feel of creation. I love to be surprised at what my mind comes up with when my pen is scratching across the paper. Some of it is the desire to impact people. Very little of my writing that I really enjoy is because I’m going to get paid for it or because it’s going to make me famous. Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, Neil Gaiman, they write because they can’t not write, not for any other reason. They would still be writing if they weren’t making the same money from it. The money is a bonus because the things they wrote are authentic for them, and, as above, since it’s authentic, it resonates with others too.

14) Read. Read the classics. Frankenstein. Dracula. The Swiss Family Robinson. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. Read the classics of tomorrow:  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. The Hobbitt. 1984. The Prophet (Gibran). When you finish reading something like this, take one or more of your writing practice sessions to critique these stories. What worked for you? What was confusing? What was unexpected? What was too bland? How would you have made it better?

15) Create your own rules. These are suggestions. Read them. Read Strunk & White. Read Anne Lamott. Read Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. Read the AP Manual. Create your own writing rules. Follow them. Break them. Make new ones. Follow those. Break those. Make new ones again.

16) Be yourself. Write the stories you want to read. Write the essays you want to read. Write the poems you want to read. Write the plays you want to see performed. Write the songs you want to hear. If you can do that, you’ve won.

— SJ

Writing Practice – 7/17/2018

From Telling Stories, page 225

“It is a northern country. They have cold weather, they have cold hearts.”

But their words are warm. They speak of love, they speak of tenderness. So to outsiders, they sound welcoming. They sound safe.

It is a lie.

They have learned how to deceive. That is the way of the north. It is not a community endeavor. It is survival of one, and one only, in any way possible, and so the tendencies to restrict vulnerability with truthfulness, no, not truthfulness, the tendencies to restrict vulnerability with falsehood has become ingrained into the psyche.

Do not let another know what you truly feel. For it is not necessary, really, for you to tell, for if you are a resident, it is known by all the others that your heart is as cold, as callous, as heartless as all the others in this place. How could it be otherwise?

The outsiders, they do not understand this phenomenon. They come to view, to observe this community where everyone smiles, always, billed in the over-there advertisements as “the Land of Perpetual Happiness”, but the reality is far less joyous. They come, they believe, they depart, and the attractions, the people in the zoos of their storefronts and town plazas and sidewalks and in their homes, the people are on display, they are objects of manipulation, they are exploited, and this, too, drives the true warmth out of their hearts.

They cannot understand the southerners either. To know is to understand, and since they refuse to know they have not the opportunity for understanding. Were they to somehow find a portion of their stone-cold pits transfigured, they may have the first step toward that place fo common knowledge. But, since that would take a miracle, it shall be a long time coming, and for now, these two groups will maintain their separate and unequal status, neither satisfied with the condition, neither truly comprehending their level of dissatisfaction and, consequently, the limitations which such an arrangement places on them.

It is easy, casual even, for an outside observer such as ourselves to make such judgments. We can see objectively into the situation, weigh pros and cons without malice, and pass the verdict on without emotion and conflict.

But for them? For them it is impossible. They are in it. They are buried neck-deep in the situation, and for that they will ultimately suffer. The only redeeming quality in this suffering is that, because it is constant, they know not what it truly is. In this their ignorance is bliss. A terrible bliss, but, nonetheless…

Composing a Story – Part 3 of ?

Part 1

Part 2

After my own first and second drafts, I sent my story to my writing peers for commentary. I also sent it to a loyal reader (Thanks, E!) who volunteered to comment. I received valuable feedback from them and incorporated it.

Sometimes commentary can be good. Sometimes not. I once submitted a story to an online critique group and got about 500 words of “you need a comma here, you need a comma there, you need a comma over in that other place”. Dude, that was a style. It was intended to be run-on, because my character didn’t really think in logical structure that we’re all used to. So that critique didn’t do me any good. Had he said, once, “I don’t understand it without commas,” and then also gone on to give me 200 words explaining that he didn’t get why the character chose to eat his own shoe, I would have gotten at least something out of it. As it was, repeating over and over his insistence on proper grammar achieved nothing.

For this story, though, I was fortunate that my reviewers provided valuable feedback. Such as, “I can’t tell if this story is intended to be omniscient or close third-person.” This kind of thing I appreciate and can use when revising. And “as a reader, I would have liked a little more connection between Marcus’s decision at the end and the two major problems:”. These comments allow me, as an author, to understand where my readers are confused, or bored, or annoyed, or simply tired of reading about something. These are the places where I need to decide, as an author, if I want to make a change or leave it as it is.

Because I, as the author, may want you to be bored in a scene. I may need you to feel the impatience my characters feel, as they wait for the coming storm. I may be leading you towards greater tension later, and a more emotionally satisfying resolution of that tension, because you’re feeling uninspired now and I’m going to use that to escalate the experience for the reader as the story progresses.

One of my more successful story edits based on feedback was to add a whole scene at the start, and when I did it clearly became a better experience. But sometimes, I’m just going to read all those comments and say, “Hell, I like it as it is!” and move on. I’ve done it both ways.

Back to the point at hand. This story had a style that, I thought, kept the reader distant from the main character Marcus. And while that worked to make him somewhat unlikable, it also slowed the pace of the story. Here’s the opening paragraph. I’ve highlighted where words will change:

Had he been able to pay attention, he would have noticed the semi-darkness descending upon him. For as much as the sky overhead might be attempting to transform into an overbearing, oppressive presence, the fluorescent lights along the city sidewalks pushed back against the intrusion, and would have aided his attempt to fight back.

And here it is, re-written.

Had he been paying attention, he would have noticed the semi-darkness descending upon him. For as much as the sky might be transforming into an overbearing, oppressive presence, the fluorescent lights along the city sidewalks pushed back against the intrusion, and could have aided his resistance.

These may be small changes. But they make the scene more active: “been able to pay attention” is simply “been paying attention”, and actually gives Marcus more authority in the moment. We know a sky is “overhead”, this word is redundant. The sky wasn’t “attempting” anything, it actually was transforming, and so making it more active brings more immediacy to the scene. The final phrase is clunky, too. Why use 5 words, “attempt to fight back”, when one, “resistance”, does the same thing?

A second example, from later in the story

He looked up to see her standing tall above him. She held her scythe in one hand, and an extra robe in the other. “Up,” she said.

She thrust the robe at him. “This will help.”

“What does it do?”

She ignored the question and strode out the door. Marcus slipped the robe over his head, and while the stench she exuded was hers alone, this too had an odor. Like rotten fruit and rotten milk, it made him want to gag.

Re-written:

She stood tall above him. Scythe in one hand, an extra robe in the other. “Up,” she said, thrusting the robe at him. “This will help.”

“What does it do?”

She ignored the question and strode out the door. Marcus slipped the robe over his head, and while the stench she exuded was hers alone, this too had an odor of rotting fruit and milk. He gagged.

And that’s how a lot of this editing went this round. Making action stronger. Making dialogue more tightly bound to the action it complements. Ensuring Marcus has action, like gagging, rather than a lot of desires, like wanting to gag.

Version 2 was 10,200 words. I liked the plot and the characters. The action was not active enough, though, and overall it was bloated and wordy. Critiques helped that.

Version 3, as a result, was 9,700 words. Kept all the same plot points and characters and backstory and eliminated a lot of the fluff. The good thing about that is, too, it’s now under a 10,000 word limit that some markets have. So there may be more opportunities to publish this than before.

I finished all the re-writes and edits about 8:30 pm on a Saturday night and formatted it according to the Writers of the Future guidelines. Submitted before the midnight deadline, and now I wait.

But not passively. While waiting for the result (expectation: no award), I’ll also build a list of next markets for submission. I hope to get at least 15, so that when a rejection comes in I can turn it around quickly and have it back out. And if I get all 15 of those rejections, it’s probably time to re-consider the story.