Archive for August, 2014

Whew! What do you call a ten-day whirl of delayed flights, storms, malfunctioning Jetways, broken luggage, 11 hours of non-functioning in-flight video, and 45 minutes on an LA tarmac in August without air conditioning? Answer: My trip to Loncon 3. And I mean that precisely: That was the trip out. (Not to mention the 90-minute tube journey through London at rush hour with two suitcases, but we knew about that.)

It is a tribute to the Loncon crew that even with all that, the trip was worthwhile. It helped that we lucked into a hotel next to the convention center; some people were commuting 30 minutes every day. We only commuted ten minutes a day, and that was because we were on the “unfashionable side” of the ExCel, as Lady Bracknell would say, and it was a long walk to the convention space proper.

And still it was worth the trip. European cons offer one great advantage that American cons just cannot seem to match: Europeans. I lost count of how many languages we heard. And European cons don’t run on the wimpy 10 – 5 schedule we have here. They ran seven tracks of programming from 9 am to 11:30 pm. (I shudder to think who you had to offend to get an 11:30 pm reading. Maybe those were reserved for horror authors.)

I did have a problem with the program–not that there weren’t panels I wanted to see, because we’ve been to so many cons that new and interesting panels are few and far between, but because I was shut out of fully sixty percent of those I did want because the rooms were too small. I realize Loncon may not have been expecting 7000 attendees, but really, if your venue’s rooms aren’t big enough, get a new venue. Otherwise you might as well call yourself Comic-Con.

Fortunately, the real reason I went was to meet people. I’m a member of Codex, the internet community for newer pros, and we have an annual Worldcon breakfast which is the only chance many of us ever get to meet the others, let alone those of us who live in Europe and don’t get to smaller domestic cons. The breakfast was a great success, and I managed to put faces to a lot of names, exchange some business cards, grouse a little about magazine response times. There were other meet and greets, and I believe I made some worthwhile contacts.

After four days mostly spent walking or sitting at the convention center coffee house, the con was over. The concom was exhausted. Most of the guests went home. Us? We were only half-way through our London adventure, and the “interesting times,” in the Confucian sense, were only beginning…

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“Time heals all wounds.” I don’t know about that, some wounds are pretty deep, but it’s amazing the wounds time can heal in your fiction.

The standard wisdom is that once you draft a story, and re-draft, and edit, and…you get the picture, and you do this however many times are right for you,* you put your story aside for a while, preferably long enough that you can no longer recite it in your sleep and will be able to look at it with a fresh eye. (I call this the “cooling-off period,” like when you leave a pie on the window sill for a cartoon bear to steal.) Then you do some more editing and it’s finally ready to send to your beta readers, if you’re lucky enough to have some.

Well, guess what? That “cooling off” period is never enough.

I just finished revising a story which had been through a number of initial edits and which I considered good enough for submission. It went to 18 different magazines, receiving personal rejections and being short-listed more than once, but never bought. (And yes, I know it’s bad form to talk about how many rejections it’s gotten; that’s why I’m not saying which story it is. Honestly, I hadn’t realized how many times it’s been rejected until now.)

So at last I asked a new beta reader to look at it, and the number of things that now appear blindingly obvious, things that I should have taken out, things that I have now added in, is ridiculous. There is so much more to the story now…

And this isn’t the first time this has happened. It happens with every story, even the ones you sell, which is why it might not be a good idea to re-visit your successes. It happened most vividly with one sale that was handed over to an editor after acceptance, not just a copy-editor, but an editor. When she and I were done the story was so much better I couldn’t understand how I sold it in the first place.

So a “cooling-off” period is never enough, because if you wait long enough that you have improved, and gain sufficient objectivity, to refine your story to its peak, the scientific advances you’re writing about will have taken place and you’ll be creating historical fiction. You need help. You need another set of eyes—and not just any eyes. You need someone who (a) understands the field you’re writing in, and (b) loves you enough to be honest. A well-meaning but soft critique is worse than useless. Get used to it. You need a thick skin to do this.

But don’t worry. Time (and sales) heals all wounds.

*There is no one way to write. As long as you are actually writing, your way is the right way.

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