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Archive for March, 2018

I was discussing modern art with someone the other day, and she mentioned that she felt the problem with modern art was that, “There are no standards.” In previous times, when there were recognized art academies, they “regulated” art by their favor or disapproval. While this equated to a definite conservative approach, it also maintained a level of quality (insofar as the members could agree on what that meant). They acted as gatekeepers. (Eventually, the academies fell out of favor, and the laissez-faire “whatever moves you” concept took over. Hence, we have “art installations” which stretch the concept of Art. There are far too many to number, but we all know of examples.*)

I, of course, immediately said: “Like self-publishing.” Because the same argument exists there: While traditional publishers had a chokehold on the industry (and you can argue about their taste, political leanings, economic policies, etc.), they did act as gatekeepers to ensure (in most cases) that a certain minimum level of quality was maintained. Now that gate has been torn open.

No one knows how this is going to play out; self-publishing as a popular phenomenon is only about 10 years old. But some trends are already evident, primarily the flood of new works, many of which would never have appeared anywhere under the old, gatekeeper-controlled system.

Like modern art, many embrace these new works. Others still distrust this open system, and with some support. It is more difficult to judge whether a new author is worth your time because no one has done the grunt work of weeding out the incompetent and unreadable. There are new gatekeepers in place, the rating and review systems available on Amazon and Goodreads, for example, but these depend on volunteer labor and are vulnerable to tampering. (Ask 20 of your friends to review your book favorably and suddenly you look like a star.)

So again we are left without standards. Anyone can now publish a book. And while if fiction is bad, you can toss a novel away and no one is harmed, if you get bad advice from a self-published non-fiction “expert,” you could be hurt.

There are arguments on both sides: free expression versus limited outlets. The ability to seek one’s entertainment widely rather than from a limited set of corporate-approved (but likely more professional) options. I like the self-publishing revolution; I’ve taken advantage of it. But that doesn’t mean that all self-published novels are good; it doesn’t even mean that my self-published novels are as good as they could be. What it does mean is that there are no longer any standards…and whether we ever again agree on what constitutes Art remains to be seen.

*Discussing the relative artistic merits of these efforts, or whether such merits even exist, would occupy far more time than I have to spend.

#SFWApro

 

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The premiere issue of Factor Four has bowed, several days before the anticipated April 1 date, which pleases me no end, because my story, “The Deadline,” is the first in the line-up. First story, first issue. Anyone who buys the magazine without previewing the free on-line sample (and who isn’t looking for someone in particular) will read me first.

So I’m the first of the first, before the First.

That’s gotta be a first.

Excuse me, I’ve got to get a drink of water. All this writing is making me firsty.

#SFWApro

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I am excited to announce not one, but two recent short story sales! The first, “Junior Partner,” went to StoryHack Action & Adventure. “Junior Partner” is a little tale about Blacklight, a superhero’s sidekick who can’t get any respect–until his partner goes down and the world is teetering on the brink. Blacklight’s going to have to reach inside himself to see if he has what makes a hero. But even with courage and determination, what can a mere sidekick do…?

“How to Murder a Corpse,” is the second in a series of stories involving a nameless mid-century private eye–who raises the dead on the side. He recently raised a pal killed in an accident so he could say good-bye, but zombies don’t last long, so why would somebody bother to kill him again? And why did he have a vampire’s bite on his neck and a bullet hole in his forehead? Find out in an upcoming episode of the Gallery of Curiosities podcast.

As if that weren’t enough, my flash story “The Deadline” is coming out in the debut issue of Factor Four Magazine on April 1. A long marriage can hide many secrets, but not many of them are quite this … cosmic.

And of course, if you like my short fiction, you can check out my novel series The Stolen Future and Nemesis, by reading their respective introductory volumes, The Invisible City, and The Choking Rain, for free.

I tell you, I am the gift that keeps on giving.

 

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I’ve recently devoted a couple of posts to advice that new authors get which may or may not be worth its weight in gold. After all, everyone agrees that there are no real “rules” in writing–except when there are. (Seriously, no. 3.) What I thought I’d like to do this go-round was offer some tips that I’ve come to value over time. These aren’t rules, so you don’t have to worry about following them. On the other hand, they might make your life easier.

  1. You don’t have to write every day. Stephen King says you do, and he probably knows more than me, but, really, you don’t have to. It would be great if you could, and you should want to, but it simply isn’t practical. We have spouses, kids, work, hobbies, friends, lives… Unless and until you’re writing full-time to support yourself, don’t feel bad if you take a day off. Or the week-end. Burn-out is a real thing. Which brings us to…
  2. If the story isn’t coming to you, walk away from it. Writer’s block is real. Staring at the screen for an hour in mounting angst isn’t going to make the words flow. (Unless that’s your process. I’ve even seen it work a few times.) But while writing should be work, it should not be combat. It’s okay to get up, take a walk, play with the dog…exercise is a great way to free your mind. But don’t feel you’re goldbricking if you take time off to charge your batteries. (See no. 1.)
  3. Do whatever you want with your first draft, because no one will ever see it. (This comes courtesy of Anne Lamott, who wrote the greatest writing book I’ve ever read, Bird by Bird. I know this isn’t a list of rules, but trust me, buy this book.) You don’t show anyone your first draft, because (a) it’s going to suck, and (b) knowing no one will see it gives you the freedom to put down any old garbage, in the interest of getting the story written. You can always edit it away, and who’s going to know? How many drafts did Tolkien take to write Lord of the Rings? Beats me, what difference does it make? You only get to read the final version.
  4. Trust your instincts. If you feel a passage isn’t working while you write it, your reader isn’t going to like it, either. Feel free to trash it. I once had to delete and re-write the first 20,000 words of a novel. It hurt, but I went on to finish the book, which wouldn’t have happened otherwise.
  5. Don’t expect perfection. You won’t get it. Eventually, you reach the point of diminishing returns. Let someone read your third draft. Submit the story to some markets. See what happens. And get started on a new story. One of the best ways to deal with rejection is to know you already have something even better working.
  6. Don’t get discouraged. You will, of course. It’s inevitable. It can take years (decades!) to sell even a single story. Even when you’ve done that, there’s always another step to climb, another plateau to reach, another market to crack. Take a breath, look behind you, and see how far you’ve come. (Or try re-reading some of your earliest stories, if you dare.)
  7. Defy rejections with persistence. Send that story out again. And again. And again. I’ve sold stories to top-paying venues that had been rejected two dozen times. I sold one story that had been rejected 44 times. “Never give up. Never surrender.”

The classic image of a writer is a loner crouched over his desk in a freezing garret. It may be classic, but it’s not true. You’re not alone. We’re all in this together; we understand what it’s like. And take one last tip from me: It never gets any easier.

But it’s worth it.

ETA: There are no original ideas, and somebody is almost always writing the same story (or blog post) as you, possibly better. Case in point.

#SFWApro

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Last time, class, we considered the question of the classic advice, “Write what you want to read.” We concluded that it was good advice, so long as one is prepared to accept that one may be the only person in the world who wants to read it. (Or one of a relatively small handful.) This leads us to wonder, however, what other timeless bits of advice have only limited benefits? And how are they limited?

Let’s begin by acknowledging that no one writer’s career path is the same. (Honestly, if we acknowledge that, we can dispense with the rest of this post, but that would be kind of pointless. So let’s simply accept it as an underlying theme.) Just as no writer is going to reach success by the same route as any other, no one set of “rules” is going to apply to every writer. But as one who has been haunting the edges of this business since submissions were made on paper, through the mail, I’ve seen a great many truisms float by my eyes, and I’ve come up with some opinions:

Write what you know. This is good advice. Indispensable, actually. As classic as “Write what you like to read,” but more philosophically obtuse. The question always comes up: “What do I know about spaceships/dragons/zombies?” The answer is that this is not what the advisor is talking about. Fiction of every kind is about people. Write what you know about Life. Then dress it up with zombies.

All authors need a web presence. Well, yes and no. You should have some kind of web page, because readers like to know about their favorite authors, at least listing a basic biography and bibliography. But you don’t need a blog, unless you want one. In fact, if you’re not into the Internet at all, don’t create a page. A neglected web site is worse that none. Same goes for other on-line experiences.

Don’t pay to be published. This is absolutely true. You don’t pay a publisher, and you don’t pay an agent. Ever.

Don’t quit. If you persist long enough, you will be published. Again, yes and no. The only guarantee is that if you do quit, you won’t ever make it. But there’s no guarantee that persistence will always win–although it is an odds-on favorite.

You can break the rules when you’re successful. Well, yes, sometimes, but you may need to break the rules to be successful.* The question is not whether people will let you break the rules, but whether you can break them well enough that people allow it. You may do that first time out; you may never do it. If the story demands it, do it, and let the chips fall where they may.

Self-publishing is the only way to go. You keep all the control, and you reap much more money. This is highly questionable.  No one really knows how self-publishing works. There are a thousand ways to succeed, and a million ways to fail. People who say that self-publishing is the One True Path are as bad as those who swear it is the wide road to Hell. It may be for you, and it may not.

Writers should refrain from taking political stances on social media. Gauge your audience. Are your views such that they will disagree with you? Strenuously? Then you should probably keep your thoughts to yourself–at least by that name. On the other hand, if you think it will help, go for it. Activists like to write; why shouldn’t writers…activate? Just be prepared to take what comes.

Show, don’t tell. We finish with another classic, one of the few real “rules.” Pretend you are the reader, experiencing the story through your protagonist’s eyes. Instead of writing that, “He came upon a village,” tell us what he saw: “A collection of one-story huts, built of ill-fitted timbers plugged with dried mud that would have washed away in the first rain, were such a thing ever seen in this parched land.”

Writing is a lot like life: The only good rules are those which are so infuriatingly vague that you can spend decades trying to figure out what they mean. Try not to think of it as “vagueness” so much as “wiggle room.” Write a story you’d like to read, and make it entertaining. Just don’t get so caught up in following someone else’s rules that you don’t define your own. (Except no. 3. Always follow no. 3.)

*Please don’t ask me to define success. You have to define it for yourself.

#SFWApro

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