Feeds:
Posts
Comments

I went to dinner with some other writers during the World Fantasy Convention over the weekend (nothing fancy, we walked next door for some pizza), we were talking about writing (surprise!), and I hit them with my standard rhetorical question: “Writing is hard, and we’re never satisfied, so why do we do it?” To which they dutifully answered, “Because we can’t not do it.”

Writing is hard, and it doesn’t pay well. The only way to make it pay well is to write novels (or screenplays, yikes!). There has long been a debate in the field, though, about how you come to write novels. Should you try to make a name for yourself with short stories first, or is that no help and you might as well simply start drafting a three-volume space opera?* It occurs to me that I have an answer. It may not be your answer, but it works for me.

I recommend starting with short stories–not because you will necessarily make a name for yourself that will launch your novel career (although it certainly might; win the Short Story Hugo and wait for the offers to come in), but because short stories are, word for word, harder to write than novels, and I believe that if you can do the hard work, the easier stuff is…easier.

In the seminal work, Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott advises you to focus your writing on the smallest detail possible, then work outward. In Zen and the Art of Archery (a fine book I cannot locate now on my newly-reorganized bookshelves), Eugen Herrigel spends years simply learning to draw his bow. If I were a writing teacher, I would ideally spend all my time teaching my students to write a sentence. “If you can write a sentence,” I would say, “you can write a paragraph. If you can write a paragraph, you can write a page, and if you can write a page, you can write a story.”

Or a chapter. Each chapter of a book is in some sense a story. But compared to short stories, novels are lazy. Yes, they take more effort in the absolute sense, but in a short story, you have to pack everything into a small space (usually less than 5000 words). In a novel, you can wander for days and still find your way back. I needn’t give any examples; we all know some.

So I would start with the form that requires the greatest discipline. It has the added advantage that you can write a half-dozen to a dozen short stories in the time it takes to write a novel. A dozen 5000-word stories would give you a pretty short novel, but it would also be six times as varied an exercise.

There are, of course, people who jump straight into novels and succeed that way. I can’t say that they don’t write as well as those who start out with shorter work, but I also can’t say that they didn’t spend the previous ten years writing short stories that never saw print. It’s possible. There are as many ways to become a writer as there are…

No, actually, that’s wrong. There’s only one way to become a writer.

You start by writing a sentence. Because you can’t do anything else.

_________________________________

*Whether you submit the first volume on its own while writing the second, or wait until all three are done, is a question in and of itself.

 

84012632_3424194717655647_591681832932605952_oNow that the contributors have been announced, I can say that my short story “Like a Cat” will appear in the Coppice & Brake anthology this spring. “Like a Cat” tells of a very bad man who is coming to understand the meaning of fear. Is it justice for his crimes–or is it simply revenge? You decide…

#SFWApro

Things Take Time

They say, “All things come to those who wait.” When you’re a writer, you do a lot of waiting, but only if you do a lot of submitting first. (And yes, there can be more than one kind involved, but get your minds out of the gutter.)

I just (and I mean just) sold a story called “Like a Cat” to an anthology that I can’t name yet because the editors want to make their own announcement of the TOC. That’s cool; it’s their book, they call the shots. In this case, the shot they called includes buying my story. Which a lot of others wouldn’t have done. And that’s the point of this little exercise in self-congratulation.

You see, there are a couple of lessons that writers can take from my experience: (1) This submission was a long shot. I didn’t think it was on target for the market, but I felt it hit maybe the second or third ring, so why not? It wasn’t going anywhere else, and they liked it, so everyone’s happy. And (2) “Like a Cat” had been rejected 42 times. (Two of those rejections precede my spreadsheet. I found them in my paper files.)

Obviously, I’m not saying that those 42 editors made a huge mistake; the story just wasn’t right for them. But even more than three dozen rejections doesn’t mean a story can’t sell. Some writers will trunk a story after a half-dozen rejections; some never trunk a story. They may rewrite, but they never toss out. Me, I don’t trunk a story I believe in.

The moral of my tale is: It doesn’t matter how well you write if you never submit your work, and it doesn’t matter how much you submit your work if you don’t believe in it enough to keep trying. And trying. Forty-two rejections before a sale? That’s not even a record.

#SFWApro

 

No Going Back Now

So I made this small mistake (not as grave as answering a question on Facebook, but what is?), and now I have started a new novel. I couldn’t help myself, honest! I had this line that needed to be written, so I wrote it, and it became a paragraph, and now the book has officially started but I still don’t know what’s going to happen.

Well, I sorta do. I’ve divided the book into four parts for my own purposes, and I have a good idea what part 2 is about, and part 3 is well in hand, but parts 1 and 4 are vague and fuzzy. Which makes it difficult to get a real running start.

I know I could just write parts 2 and 3 now, then fill in part 1 and push out part 4, but I’d rather not. You see, this was supposed to be the book that I outlined, the 100,000 words  that I would write in months, not years. Well, here I am 99 words in, and that plan has already flown out the window.

Okay, all is not lost. Now that this paragraph is, as we say, on the books, I can still proceed with my original plan. I can outline the book–or at least part 1. Since 2 and 3 are already filling in, in my head, I can wait on part 4, which by the time I’m ready for it should write itself.

Great, now I have an outline of my outline. I guess this is progress?

#SFWApro

It’s always seemed appropriate to me that you not review a year until it’s actually over–you never know what’s around the corner. (And it’s a good excuse for not getting in a “review” post quite on time.) So for posterity, here is my Writing Year in Review, 2019.

Submissions: 76.

Pieces currently on submission: 10 (to 11 markets).

Sales: 6.

Publications: 4.

Convention appearances: 1.

I don’t have to go back to my 2018 Review to know that some of these numbers are down. This is the inevitable outcome of the fact that, since I am pretty much no longer working on short fiction, the pieces I have on hand have either sold or exhausted their markets. I only finished two pieces this year: one short, and one novel. I made serious inroads on a second novel, but it is currently in abeyance, then I started planning a third one, and now I am in the very early stages of a completely different novel which I hope to write over the next several months.

On the other hand, three of my publications this year were novels. I now have seven: six from Digital Fiction Publishing and one self-published. The beauty of novels is that they continue to sell long after publication, so at least there is a small income stream while you’re working on new material. And since I have three more novels on submission at the moment, perhaps there will be more news on that front.

I was also a panelist at the World Fantasy Convention this year, which is not so grand as it sounds, but it was fun and I don’t think I embarrassed myself so much that they would not ask me back. I’d like to do more of that.

All in all, it’s not been a bad year, and if that kid who dreamt so long and so hard of being a science fiction author could see me now, he’d think I had Made It. Looking back at how hopeless it all looked then, I’d have to say…

Maybe I haven’t Made It, but the view from here is pretty nice.

#SFWApro

I idly answered a question on Facebook the other day (I know, my first mistake) when someone asked: “What’s the worst science fiction movie you’ve ever seen?” Well, my initial reaction was of course the immortal “The Creeping Terror,” because it is by any measure the worst SF movie ever made, but that seemed too easy. My answer? “The Force Awakens,” because while “TCT” is technically worse in every possible way, it is on some level extremely amusing. “The Force Awakens,” on the other hand, was so disgusting a travesty that I (who had been a Star Wars fan since 1976), swore off the franchise forever.*

But I’m not here about that. The point is, somebody immediately came back at me saying,  “That’s not a valid answer. ‘The Force Awakens’ wasn’t science fiction, it was space opera.”

Someone else jumped in with the obvious rejoinder so that I didn’t have to, but the underlying problem remains: Even allowing for the fact that space opera is SF (and how much more SF can you get?), who cares? Is it a fact of life in the 21st century that someone has to argue about everything? Is there no nuance left? (And again, if you are going to argue with a total stranger regarding his personal opinions, shouldn’t you save your energy for a subject a little more important? If you want to argue with my opinions on climate change or the Electoral College–or even whether “The Force Awakens” was an affront to the viewing public–sure, but “space opera is/is not SF” is just silly.)

It’s unfortunate that a world which is already using social media as an excuse to be asocial is working so hard to make that very medium unsocial. A lot of folks are abandoning social media altogether because it’s just not worth the trouble dealing with trolls who only want to argue.

But I have an idea. Let’s all of us get together at a local hangout, and have some good-natured, old-fashioned disagreements over a couple of beers. We can compare sports teams. We’ll laugh at each other’s silly notions, part the best of friends…

… and the trolls won’t know what they’re missing.

*Yes, the movie came out in 1977, but I read the book first.

#SFWApro

 

 

As the year draws to a close and the days grow shorter, what with the holiday specials and the mid-season interregnums, there isn’t a whole lot to watch on the tube right now. It seems that many of us are finding ourselves, willy-nilly, watching Christmas movies from Lifetime and Hallmark. Those of us here at Graffiti on the Walls of Time (GWT) are not immune; we are, after all, only meta-human. It has occurred to us, however, that if the current crop of Christmas movies available does not meet our high standards, perhaps the answer is to come up with a few of our own. A word of caution, our idea of holiday entertainment may be a little… darker than you’re used to.

I’ll be in Your Home for Christmas–a career woman returns to her home town to discover that she’s brought her stalker with her. Is love be far away–or closer than she thinks?

It’s a Wonderful Life Sentence–a career woman returns to her home town to discover that the man with whom she’s been corresponding is a convicted serial killer. Can love survive a 500-year stretch in the joint?

They Only Come Out on the Night Before Christmas–a career woman returns to her home town to discover that the boy she left after high school is a vampire. Can a night of passion lead to eternal bliss?

But at GWT we also enjoy an occasional action flick, and even some comedy…

Snowman the Barbarian–a career woman returns to her home town to find it under siege from orcs. But when the chief of the Nazgul hissed that “S’ no man who can kill me,” he wasn’t counting on Frosty…

Miracle on 34th Street and Seventh Avenue–a career woman returning to her home town actually catches a cab in time to take her to JFK…but since when are cab drivers so fat and jolly?

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians–Martians who decide that their children need Christmas kidnap Santa and take him to Mars. Unfortunately, we didn’t make that one up.

#SFWApro

Something New

I have an idea for a new novel. I don’t know if it’s going to become anything real; so many things start out promising and don’t mature. (Hmm, if you change that to “so many start out promising…,” it sounds way more profound than I thought it would.) Anyway, I have an idea that appeals to me.

It is not any of the ideas that I had as recently as a few days ago. It means a complete departure from any direction I thought my career was headed. I think that’s called “Life.”

My novels start out very slowly. I thought of this yesterday and so far I have a vague plot direction (not an outline, don’t make me laugh!), a half-dozen character names (some with profiles), and a brief dissertation on the value of unionized assassins that I expect will become useful somewhere along the line. Perhaps this last will give you some clue what the book will be about; if it does, please let me know, because I have only the foggiest notion.

I know what kind of novel I want it to be, at least well enough to know that I need to avoid one book of that same type that I was planning to read soon. Writing in a similar genre is one thing, but I don’t want to copy someone else’s ideas.

Since this is (obviously) going to be my ticket to fame and fortune, I thought it appropriate to memorialize the opening steps here. If–I mean when–this project gets its legs under it, I’m sure I’ll talk about it more.

There is an entire universe coalescing in my head. (Feel free to insert metaphor combining “the Big Bang” and “blowing my mind” here.) I just hope it doesn’t take 14 billion years to grow into something.

#SFWApro