Friday, December 31, 2010

Resolution redux

Exactly one year ago today, I posted my writing resolutions for 2010. Let's see how I did.

1. Enter Writers of the Future every quarter. Success! In my entries for 2010, I got two honorable mentions, one rejection and one pending.

2. Get my stories critiqued but don't let the criticisms I receive make me rewrite the voice and individuality out of my work. Again, success. I'm much better now at sorting out what advice to take and what to ignore.

3. Submit. I put out 20 submissions this year, according to my log at writersplanner.com. That's not bad, but I can do better.

4. Write. I said yesterday that I had written 36,000 words in 2010, but that's actually the word count of the stories I finished and submitted. If I add in the abandoned projects, it comes out closer to 45,000 words, which is about 123 words a day . Again, I can do better. Much better.

Tomorrow: resolutions for 2011.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Stats for 2010

It’s that time again: End of Year stats.

Stories that sold in 2010:

Snake Oil, Six-Guns Straight From Hell (anthology), published October

Grounded, Sounds of the Night (magazine), publication pending

Man of the Stars, 10Flash (e-zine), publication pending

Bonus stories, sold in 2009 but published in 2010:

Cowboy Jake and the Moon Men, Science Fiction Trails (magazine), January

Ripples, Every Day Fiction (e-zine), March 27

Total submissions: 20

Words written: approx. 36,000

Stories completed: 7

Writers of the Future entries: 4 (two honorable mentions, one rejection, one pending)

The hardest part

I spent about half of December doing background work for my next story. I created the world and the characters and did a relatively detailed outline of the plot. All this is fun stuff to do. This is the part of the process where the world is fascinating, the characters are irresistibly intriguing and the plot is chock full of tension and symbolism and witty dialogue. Of course, all of that is in my mind. The story is 100 percent perfect - a shoe-in for a sale - when I'm in this stage of the process.

Then comes the hard part: I have to stop brainstorming and write the story itself. This is hard not on the mundane level of putting words on the page; I've already done most of the heavy-lifting with the brainstorming, and writing the story itself doesn't take much time or additional straining of the imagination muscles. It's hard psychologically. Because I know that once I start putting words onto the page, the story won't be perfect anymore. It will be only as good as my skills as a writer can make it. Granted, that gap - between what the story should be and what the story is - narrows (slowly) with each one I write, but it's still there. I find it difficult to write those first few paragraphs and kiss perfection goodbye.

But the deed is done. I'm probably 1,500 words or so in (I don't know the word count for sure because I'm writing longhand). Here's hoping I can keep this one closer to perfection than mediocrity.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Where to start with the New Who?

Over at tor.com, there's a blog post and subsequent discussion about where to start with Doctor Who, if you've never watched an episode. Their blogger suggests Human Nature/Family of Blood from season 3. Those are two of my favorite episodes, but I wouldn't suggest them as the place to start for a Doctor Who virgin. My enjoyment of that two-parter comes from watching the Doctor act in a very un-Doctor-like manner.

So where would I say a new viewer should start with the New Who? Three suggestions:

1) "Rose"
This is the first episode of the New Who, which makes it essentially the pilot episode. And what better place to start than at the beginning? The production values aren't at their best, and as much as I respect Christopher Eccleston as an actor, he's not my favorite Doctor. Still, a new viewer follows along with Rose and gets introduced to the Doctor's strange world as she does.

2) "The Eleventh Hour"
Want a starting-point that's more recent? The season 5 premiere, "The Eleventh Hour," has a new Doctor, a new companion and a new show-runner. The previous four seasons of characters and plot entanglements are wiped away into a clean slate. This was my first episode, and I had no problem understanding what was going on. Plus, Matt Smith rocks.

3) "Blink"
This David Tennant episode comes toward the end of season 3. It has two major points going for it as a First Episode. First, it's the best episode of the New Who. Weeping Angels: brilliant. Second, it's hardly about the Doctor at all. Taking center stage is Carey Mulligan as Sally Sparrow, an ordinary girl who must defeat the Angels and save the Doctor in the process. Creepy and captivating.

So what do you think? (All five of my readers out there ...) What's the best episode to use to introduce a viewer to Doctor Who?

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Stuff and fluff

I got a nice surprise this morning, when I saw that my hometown newspaper The Denver Post gave a positive review to "Six-Guns Straight From Hell." Here's what the review has to say: "There are too many good stories to single any out. Just try them all."

Also, I did some post-Christmas shopping with my family today. Everyone came home with something. My choice was a Blu-Ray movie for my brand spanking new Blu-Ray player. My DVD copy of Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" vanished a couple of years ago, so it is now replaced in better quality. Still on the to-buy list: an HDMI cord and a wireless router. The Blu-Ray player hooks directly into Netflix instant streaming with a wireless connection, so I'm going to make sure we have one. Of course, with instant streaming on the 32" television, I might not do anything else but watch old TV shows.

The default gift for me for Christmas seems to be books. Everyone in my family knows that if you can't think of anything else for Jennifer, get her a book and she'll be happy. This year I got three: "Pathfinder" by Orson Scott Card, the most recent "Writers of the Future" anthology and (courtesy of my children) a Doctor Who novelization. I still might see about buying a couple more I wanted but didn't get: Paolo Bacigalupi's "Pump Six and Other Stories" and James Van Pelt's "The Radio Magician and Other Stories." I'm all about the Colorado writers.

And last item: I watched the Doctor Who Christmas special last night, and it rocked. It was easily the most Christmasy Christmas special ever, and a clever twist on "A Christmas Carol." The only thing I might have changed would be to give Amy and Rory more screen time. I loved how the two of them came down from the starship's honeymoon suite dressed in the policewoman outfit and Roman garb. And in the preview for next season: River Song, the American West ("I wear a Stetson now. Stetsons are cool.") and an Ood. I'm psyched.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Happy holidays

Not much to say today. Just wishing everyone a merry Christmas, even though it looks quite un-Christmasy here in the Denver area. We've had about an inch of snow total this season and there's none on the ground now. It was a sunny day in the low 50s. I'm a fan of less snow rather than more, but when I have to water the grass in winter (as I will be doing tomorrow if we reach our forecasted high of almost 60 degrees), you know the situation is getting ridiculous.

Anyway, merry Christmas. I hope some of you out there got a white one.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

My top TV shows of 2010

You wouldn't know it by reading my blog, but I'm a huge television junkie. Lately I've been catching up on a lot of older stuff with online instant streaming, but I also follow a few current shows. Here are my picks for the top 5 shows of 2010:

5) Glee
My first thought after hearing about Glee for the first time: A show about a high school glee club from the creator of Nip/Tuck? Are you kidding? But, no, not a joke. I missed the first half of season one, tuning in for "Sectionals" as my first episode, and I haven't missed an episode since. The cast is fantastic (especially Jane Lynch and Chris Colfer) and the music numbers are well done. Granted, season 1 was better than season 2 thus far, but this is one I can watch with my 14-year-old son and we both enjoy it and talk about it afterward. That's a winner in my book.

4) Sherlock
This British show (from Doctor Who show-runner Steven Moffat) spanned only three episodes, which aired here in the states on PBS this past fall. Sherlock and Watson are set in modern-day London with all the modern technology (Watson has a blog, Sherlock texts the police chief during news conferences). The first episode "A Study in Pink" and the last "The Great Game" are absolutely stellar, and it all ends on a cliffhanger. It'd be shame if it ended there for good.

3) Chuck
No show on television has more fun winking at the speculative genre than Chuck. Now in its fourth season, the show-runners have pulled off some amazing casting coups. Scott Bakula as Chuck and Ellie's father, and Linda Hamilton as their mother. Timothy Dalton is the current Big Bad. There have also been appearances from several professional wrestlers, Summer Glau and the Old Spice Guy. This season's storyline has much in common with another certain spy show, which bothered me until a character acknowledged the similarities onscreen: "This is just like that one episode of 'Alias.' I love that show!" So did I, and I love this one, too.

2) Lost
A lot of people watched the last season of Lost with a checklist in hand of what mysteries they wanted to see resolved. I figure that anyone who did that missed out on what made the final 13 episodes such a triumph: the characters. For me, Lost has always been about the characters - flawed and complex - and how they interact with one another. Sure, I wanted to know what the Island was, and yes I was disappointed with the answer (there's a giant cork in a glowy pool?). However, I liked the plotline of the sideways world: It might not have answered every question on the checklist, but it gave the characters a final, satisfying resolution.

And Number 1 ...



Doctor Who!
I had never watched an episode of this long-running British show until this year. With a new show-runner and new cast, it seemed like a good time to jump in. About five minutes into the season opener, Matt Smith's Doctor uses a grappling hook to climb out of his damaged TARDIS, grins at little Amelia Pond and says "Do you have an apple?" and I was hooked. After the season ended, I watched the previous four reboot seasons online. David Tennant is my new television boyfriend. After I finished with Doctor Who, I moved onto Torchwood (because Captain Jack is almost as cool as the Doctor). I'm counting down the days until the Christmas special, which amazingly is airing stateside on Christmas Day.

Honorable mentions: Dollhouse, House, Burn Notice.

And there you have it. Jennifer's Top Shows of 2010.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Reading list for 2010

Coming to the end of 2010, I’ve made a list of the books I finished over the past year. Because I don’t keep track as I go along, I’m sure the list is not complete. I might end up adding titles as I remember them. But here’s a decent start (in alphabetical order):

Beginnings, Middles and Ends, Nancy Kress

Bellwether, Connie Willis

Blameless, Gail Carriger

Boneshaker, Cherie Priest

The Call of Earth, Orson Scott Card

Canticle, Ken Scholes

Changeless, Gail Carriger

Earthfall, Orson Scott Card

The Host, Stephenie Meyer

The Lost Symbol, Dan Brown

The Memory of Earth, Orson Scott Card

The Passage, Justin Cronin

Proof of Seduction, Courtney Milan

Right Ho, Jeeves, P.G. Wodehouse

Santa Olivia, Jacqueline Carey

Shades of Milk and Honey, Mary Robinette Kowal

The Ships of Earth, Orson Scott Card

Six-Guns Straight From Hell, eds. David Riley and Laura Givens

Tongues of Serpents, Naomi Novik

Trial By Desire, Courtney Milan

The Wind’s Twelve Quarters, Ursula K. Le Guin

The Year’s Best Science Fiction, 27th edition, ed. Gardner Dozois

And more short stories, novelettes and novellas than I can count online, in print magazines and in various anthologies.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Research mode

I sometimes get asked where my story ideas come from. Most of the time, I have no answer to that because ideas just pop into my head without any outside influence (at least that I'm aware of). The story I'm brainstorming now is the exception.

I decided awhile ago that I wanted my next tale to take place on a planet with astronomical conditions different from the ones here on Earth. I looked at rings a la Saturn, then at an extreme elliptical orbit. Both interesting ideas, but I've settled on something else: a planet whose orbit takes it through an asteroid belt twice every rotation around its star.

Now I'm in research mode. I'm not an astronomer, so I'm reading up on asteroids, our own solar system's asteroid belt, impact events and air bursts. I'm brainstorming on ways civilization would develop on a planet that, two weeks out of the year, is bombarded with space rocks. I haven't come close to developing plot or characters yet, but I'm hoping for an inspired idea to burst forth from the world-building.

In other news: "Six Guns Straight From Hell" has a positive review at examiner.com. Check it out.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Something to ponder

It's experiences like this one that make me (a) realize that my growing pile of rejection slips is nothing at all to gripe about and (b) wonder whether I would have the willpower to survive the ugliness of the publishing business.

Natalie Whipple on her Year of Suck

Sunday, December 5, 2010

My support group

Support groups. If you're a writer, these are invaluable. A support group is very different from a critique group. The latter gives you an honest assessment of your work, while the former tells you that you and your work are brilliant - no matter what.

My support group is small and mainly consists of my family. My dad, especially. My parents are the ones who hooked me on reading from a young age, and I will be eternally grateful to them for that. Now that I'm writing, I make sure every story ends up in their hands. When I make a sale, my dad is one of the first people to know and is always excited for me. He and my youngest sister came to the "Six Guns" book signing a few weeks ago, and boy was I happy to see their familiar faces.

The other major member of my support group is my husband. Now, he doesn't read anything I write. He has no interest whatsoever in fantasy or science fiction (or fiction in general), which makes his support all the more amazing. He is understanding when I take my laptop to the bedroom (often the only quiet room in the house) and shut the door to do some writing. He keeps the kids out of my hair. And most importantly, he listens to my ranting impatience over waiting for some magazine or another to respond to a submission and sympathizes when a rejection hits particularly hard. Through all that, he never tells me I'm being obsessive (which I often am).

I've been doing the writing thing seriously for 2 1/2 years now. I would not have made it this far without my supporters. If you're a writer, find those people who cheer you on no matter what and thank them. I do.

More good news

I'm happy to share the news of another sale. "Man of the Stars" will be in the January issue of 10Flash. I've enjoyed reading the fun mix of stories at 10Flash since its first issue went up about a year and a half ago, and it's exciting that I now get to be part of it.

The good news comes on the heels of not-so-good news. Two days ago, I received a rejection for the third quarter of Writers of the Future. That makes my tally there at four honorable mentions, three rejections and one pending. I'll be submitting my entry for Q1 in the next couple of days.

Interestingly, my tally is much better for stories that I write for markets that are not Writers of the Future. Of my three such stories this year, all three have sold on their first submission (one after a substantial rewrite). So, my plan is to continue writing two stories each quarter, one for WotF and one not.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sale to Sounds of the Night

Some happy news I received on Thanksgiving Day: My science fiction romance story "Grounded" will appear in the February issue of the magazine Sounds of the Night. I had originally submitted this story to a different magazine by the same publisher, but the story fit quite nicely in this other market. I'm quite excited. This is my third sale this year and fourth overall.

In other news, I'm in the process of fine-tuning my Writers of the Future entry for Quarter 1. I wrote the first draft of this story the old-fashion way: with pen and paper. That's about 5,000 words filling up the pages of a spiral notebook, complete with whole paragraphs crossed out and rewritten, and notes in the margins. Doing it that way was an experiment. I tend to fiddle when I write, polishing and reworking what's already on the page instead of writing more. In longhand, I took away my opportunities to do that. And, lo! I finished the first draft in a week. This is a technique I will definitely be trying again.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Writing process

I've recently noticed a pattern emerging in how I do my writing. I spend a day or two mulling over the next scene in my work in progress, whatever that happens to be, before I write a word. I get it all set in my mind - not only the overall arc of the scene but also the details, dialogue, descriptions, pacing and so on. I have most of the section "written," down to the specific phrasing I plan to use, before I type a word. The next step is to spend a couple of uninterrupted hours doing the actual writing (usually anywhere from two to six pages), and I spend another day or so refining the scene.

That's not exactly the most efficient process. My word count is about 1,000 to 1,500 words every three to four days. Most serious writers kick out that many words in one day. I suspect most serious writers don't have to deal with the time-sucks of a full-time job and three children, but those are just excuses. If I plan to someday become a successful writer (as in, get professionally published), I need to do better.

In other news, I went to MileHiCon for the first time this past weekend. I had a great time, attended some good panels and met several of my fellow writers in the "Six Guns" anthology.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Photos from the signing

Photos, courtesy of my husband. Here's the sign right outside the door to the Broadway Book Mall:



Here's the book itself, with Laura Givens' wonderful artwork:



And here's me signing the book:

Book signing

The book signing for "Six Guns Straight From Hell" was this afternoon at the Broadway Book Mall, and it went quite well. The setting is nice. I've never been to this bookstore before, which is actually 10 retailers sharing the space; it's very nice and I wish I'd had more time to browse the stacks. Probably between 20 and 30 people showed up, many of them writers themselves. It was great to meet some of my fellow writers in the anthology and listen to their readings. I managed to get through my reading of "Snake Oil" without stumbling too many times, and I wrote my name correctly in everyone's book. So, success!

Next weekend is MileHiCon, at which there will be more "Six Guns" signings and readings. Plus, a whole bunch of writers, including Katherine Kurtz, Daniel Abraham and Paolo Bacigalupi, whose credentials are far, far better than mine.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Steampunk zombies released into the wild

This is amazing: Two weeks after receiving word of my acceptance into "Six Guns Straight From Hell," the anthology is available for purchase on Amazon.

Buy it here.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Check it out!

Information (and cover art!) for the anthology Six Guns Straight From Hell, which bills itself as "New tales of terror from the weird weird West" and features a zombie/steampunk romp from yours truly. Release date set for mid-October.

More here.

Friday, September 17, 2010

"Snake Oil" sale!

Update on my last post: After spending a day rewriting "Snake Oil," I sent it off on resubmission and commenced with the nail-biting. Thankfully for my nails, I did not have to wait long. I had an acceptance by the next morning (well, actually within an hour of sending off my submission, but I didn't see it until morning).

This is quite exciting for me. Not only is it my third sale, but it's also my first to an anthology. There will be a presentation and signing for "Six Guns Straight From Hell" on Oct. 17 at the Broadway Book Mall here in Denver, which I plan to attend.

Now, back to revising my Writers of the Future entry. Two weeks to the deadline.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Tick-tock

This is a new and interesting (and exciting and stressful) experience for me:

I wrote a story. I had one ending in mind from the beginning but then couldn't figure out how to pull it off and so dropped Ending No. 1 in favor of Ending No. 2. I polished the story and sent it off on submission.

Jump forward 12 hours. The editor (or first reader, not sure) e-mailed to say she is frustrated because she likes the story but not the ending and wouldn't this work better? And behold! Her suggested ending is Ending No. 1. It's uncanny!

Cue the theme from "Mission: Impossible." I have 48 hours (which is the deadline for this market) to rewrite the story with Ending No. 1 and resubmit. For some, this might be panic time, but I thrive on deadlines. I'm a journalist, for God's sake. I can rewrite this story in two days. The question is whether I write a good story that wows the editor into buying it.

The clock is ticking.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Derailed

It dawned on me today why I've been having so much trouble with my current WIP, an Old West horror with a touch of steampunk. The reason turns out to be simple: The story is on the wrong track. In reading over what I've already done, the story is nicely suspenseful up until a certain point -- and then it's not.

So, now I have to rework the story from the point where it went off track. That means a little more than a 1,000 words are going into the trash can. And the submission deadline for the market I'm writing this one for: Sept. 15. Good thing I have a week of vacation coming up in which I can finish it.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Week 1

For the first time in six years, I am getting back into running. Why now? Because the kids are in school -- all three of them at the same time for a few precious hours each week. That means I have quiet, uninterrupted time to work on two things: Getting my body back into shape, and doing more writing.

So, Week 1:
-- I went for runs on Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday for a total of about five miles. Not a huge tally, but I'm easing into things.
-- I didn't write as much as I wanted to. I'm about 5,500 words into the current WIP, which has a submission deadline of Sept. 15. Gotta get cracking and finish up this story in the next two days, so I have time for a quick round of critique and revise.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

A case study in storytelling

Last night, I finished watching the BBC miniseries "Casanova," which was also broadcast by Masterpiece Theatre four years ago and is handily available on DVD at my local library. I'll be honest: I picked it up because I've run through every David Tennant episode of "Doctor Who" and was interested in hunting down some of his other work. But my sudden fondness for British television is not what this post is about. It's about themes in storytelling.

At first glance, the storytelling in "Casanova" struck me as somewhat uneven. First off, there are two stories going on at once: the exploits of young Casanova, and the shame and regret of old Casanova. The tones of the two stories are quite different, as are the performances of Tennant and Peter O'Toole.

With a deeper look, though, the story comes together into a beautiful whole. And it's because, at its heart, this "Casanova" is not about bawdy, raunchy fun. (Although it certainly has its share of that.)

This is a story about a man who runs from the consequences of his actions for years and years -- be it an angry husband or a jail break or fleeing France before the revolution that Casanova is sure he had a hand in causing. But no one can run forever, and when Casanova finally comes face to face with his legacy and with himself, he cannot handle it and becomes a broken man. Tennant and O'Toole are, in effect, playing different characters, divided by that moment of revelation. But O'Toole's Casanova, in the end, rediscovers what made him great in the first place - his amazing capacity for love - and it heals him.

Despite, the wildly divergent tones and performances, the themes of love vs. sex and of facing consequences are consistent throughout. For me, watching the miniseries was an interesting study of the glue that holds a story together. Of course, the bawdy, raunchy stuff was fun, too.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The best story ever

About two years ago at the WorldCon in Denver, I watched a panel in which one of the writers (I don't remember who) was asked which of his stories/novels was his favorite. His answer: the one he was working on now.

The audience laughed. I don't think he was joking.

For me, as a reader, the answer is disappointing. I have my favorite writers and my favorite work by those writers, and I want my favorite and their favorite to be the same. It doesn't matter whether the standout story was written last year or 10 years ago. The words on the page are timeless, eternal.

As a writer, I have a different viewpoint. If someone were to ask me that same question today, I would say: My favorite story, the one I get the most excited about, is the one I'm writing now. It is the best thing I have ever written, the story I'm most proud of. And if you had asked me the same thing two stories ago, or three, my answer would be the same. I guess, in a way, I have to believe that. If I don't, why invest all the time and effort and passion into putting the story on the page?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

A nice surprise, and taking stock

I dug into the 2010 edition of "The Year's Best Science Fiction" anthology last night and came across a story I had critiqued almost two years ago. The writer, Ian Creasey, submitted the story "Erosion" to the Critters online critique group; because he had been kind enough to critique two of my submissions, I wanted to return the favor. I found quickly, though, that Mr. Creasey's skill level was so far above mine that there wasn't much helpful I could say. Mostly, I said the story was wonderful and left it at that. I often wondered who bought the story (because, I figured, sale was inevitable). Now I know.

Coming across that story again made me remember some advice Mr. Creasey gave to me in a critique for the first story I ever wrote. The story was quite horrible, which he was kind enough not to say to me. I kept the critique (dated 9/18/2008), and here was what he wrote at the end of it:

"My advice would be to NOT submit any of your early stories for publication, not until at least two or three years have passed. As you practise writing, you will improve considerably, and you will look back on your early efforts and see how they can be rewritten to be much stronger. But you can only submit a story to any given market once. If you submit an early version to a particular market, and you later improve the story, you can't submit it again to that market."

Good advice. I read it and remembered it. I also didn't follow it. I didn't have the patience to wait that long.

So here I am, almost two years later, taking stock. First off, I'm still writing, which is the most important thing, and I think every story I write is better than the one before it. I'm also submitting what I write. So far, I have made two sales, to Science Fiction Trails and Every Day Fiction, for a total income that would buy a pizza but not much more. I have entered the Writers of the Future contest for six straight quarters, resulting in three honorable mentions, two rejections and a pending reply.

If what Mr. Creasey suggested turns out to be true for me -- that it takes two to three years of practice to become a decent enough writer that some editor might want to buy my story -- then I hope I'm getting close. I feel like I am. I think that if I were asked now to critique that story I first saw two years ago, I might have something helpful to say.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

How to write a fight

I'm at the point in my WIP in which the good guy and the bad guy are about to face off, one on one, in a fight to the death. Swords, skill, agility, brute strength and brains. The good guy is injured, and the bad guy is the better fighter. The odds look grim. It's a scene perfectly formed in my imagination, but here's the problem: excepting fan fiction, I have never written about a sword fight. A blow-by-blow description would become monotonous. So, how do I write this?

As I often do in cases when I'm unsure how to tackle a scene, I start with a trip to my personal library. I scanned the titles and pulled the books with a memorable fight scene: David Eddings, Joy Chant, Katherine Kurtz and Anne McCaffrey. I got down to studying. How did the writer approach the scene? How was it written? What do I like and dislike? What made the fight memorable?

Two stuck out in my mind as approaches I liked:

Case one: The brainier of the combatants, the POV character, is constantly trying to assess strengths and weaknesses, and reassess his assumptions as the fight goes on. The other combatant is more about power and strength, and his strategy is essentially to pummel his opponent. So, the fight is used as an opportunity to tell more about the characters.

Case two: The writer tells about the first couple of blows, then spends the next few sentences describing the scene around the fight. It's a dual of swords and magic, so there are changes to weather and religious followers running in panic. The writer is trusting readers to use their imagination to fill in the gaps of the fight.

In both cases, the actual blows are secondary -- except, of course, for the one that ends the fight.

I'm going to mull over these examples for a few hours, reread, consider how the approaches might apply to my story and will probably end up using a combination of ideas and techniques.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

"Ripples" podcast

Now, this is really cool. One of the voice actors for Every Day Fiction made a podcast of my story "Ripples," which will be posted at the site Monday. No one has podcasted any of my stories before, and I'm excited to hear this one.

In other news, I'm hard at work on my next Writers of the Future entry. This story will be my longest yet. I have already written 6,000 words -- which is the average finished length of most of my stories -- and I'm only halfway done. My writing goal is a modest one: At least one page a day. At that rate, I should have the first draft done by the middle of May, which will give me six weeks for critiques and revising before the end-of-the-quarter deadline.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Now up at Flash Fiction Chronicles

I have a post up today at Flash Fiction Chronicles about the benefit writers can derive from a rejection. Sounds like a contradition? Go read and see what I mean.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Writers of the Future

I found out in an unusual way today that I had broken my two-quarter streak of rejections in the Writers of the Future contest. As my newspaper's wire editor for tonight, I'm in charge of keeping watch on all nation and world news. So I was scanning the entertainment wires and came across the WoTF press release of the first list of honorable mentions for the quarter, and there was my name! Oh, happy day!

So, my updated WoTF track record is: three honorable mentions and two rejections.

I have yet to break into the semi-finalist or finalist level, but I feel that each story I write is better than the one before it. The one I am sending off for this quarter's WoTF contest is, I think, my best yet. As always, I will put it in the mail with high hopes.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Sale!

I found out today that Every Day Fiction will be publishing "Ripples," my alternate history flash fiction, next month. This is very exciting for me because (a) it's my second sale ever, which means the first was not a fluke, and (b) I visit Every Day Fiction several times a week and am excited that my story will be among the offerings there in March. Also, this is the first time I have made a sale at the first market to which I submitted the story.

More details to come as I get them.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Flash Fiction Chronicles

My second post is up today at Flash Fiction Chronicles. Here's a taste:

"It has happened to many of us at one time or another: The words are flowing, the story is unfolding on the page and then … the words just stop.

"You stare at the screen (or notebook, if you work in longhand) and realize that you don’t know how to write the next sentence. Or the one after that. So you take a break, get a glass of water, run some errands, maybe even sleep on it.

Then you come back to the story. Still nothing. You're blocked."

Make sure you check it out, and the other fantastic posts there.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The hardest part

Writing has its share of challenges. The first hurdle, of course, is finishing a story. Once that is done, I brace myself for the deluge of comments, criticisms and suggestions that come with the critiquing process. And later on, rejections aren't a blast. None of these, however, compare with the hardest stage of all: waiting.

Short-story writing is not for the impatient. In my limited experience, it takes a magazine about 60 days on average to respond to a submission. I spend those days rereading the story and seeing things I should have changed or tweaked, checking on response times at Duotrope, and imagining both the joy of acceptance and disappointment of rejection. It gets worse the longer I wait.

While I go quietly nuts, my story spends the majority of its time in the slush pile, unread.

The cure to all this waiting is quite simple: Get to work on the next story. So, with a modicum of patience, that is what I am doing. I have one in need of small revisions before it's ready to send out and another for which I'm writing the first draft. When those are done, I will add them to the slush piles and move on to something else.

And wait.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

What I'm reading

In the interest of sharing quality, free fiction: Go read Daniel Abraham's novelette "The Cambist and Lord Iron: A Fairy Tale of Economics." I loved it: It's well-written, has engaging characters and kept me turning the pages (so to speak) to find out what happens next.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Flash Fiction Chronicles

A few weeks ago, I discovered a wonderful blog, attached to Every Day Fiction, about writing by writers. The opinions are diverse and the contributors an insightful bunch. So when the blog opened for new submissions this month, I jumped at the chance. My first post as a contributor is up today, but don't stop there. Browse the blog and see what there is to see.

Flash Fiction Chronicles

Monday, January 11, 2010

Science Fiction Trails now available

Issue No. 5 of Science Fiction Trails, which includes my story "Cowboy Jake and the Moon Men," is now available for purchase. There's a photo of the cover art on the website, too, and it's quite nice. If you're a fan (or think you could be a fan) of science fiction westerns, then what are you waiting for? Go buy, now!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Thoughts on what I read today

What I read today:
Pol Pot's Beautiful Daughter (fantasy) by Geoff Ryman
Distant Replay by Mike Resnick

Sometimes, after I finish with an actual, published short story in an actual, prestigious magazine, I wonder about my own attempts at writing. The stories I read today have very different styles but are both masterful. If this is the standard, I wonder if I might have as much luck trying to claw my way through a brick wall with my fingernails as I do of getting a story into, say, Asimov's or Fantasy and Science Fiction.

And yet, I keep writing. It's compulsive. I imagine stories, and I have to put them down on paper, if for no other reason, to keep them from taking up residence in my brain for all time. However, if anyone else is ever to read my stories, I need to improve my skill in how I put those stories onto paper. I suppose, if I continue to write, improvement will come all by itself.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

My very own room

When in college, I was required for a humanities course to read Virginia Woolf's "A Room of One's Own," her collection of essays about women and writing. At the time, my goal was simply to finish the book before the test, and so years later, I haven't retained much of what she wrote. The one thing that has stuck with me is her thesis:

“A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”

Her room, I think, is not so much an actual room as it is a metaphor for privacy. The money part of that equation is somewhat outdated as many women I know nowadays are financially independent. That probably was not so common in 1929, when this book was published.

Stephen King gives similar advice in “On Writing,” although it's not just for the ladies and he is more literal on the room part. He says to be a writer, you must have a room, and the room must have a door, and you must have the determination to shut the door.

That all sounded fine, but I didn’t take it seriously. I work in a newsroom, where at any given time, five conversations are going on near my desk, in addition to reporters on the phone, the police scanner, a football game on the television and the never-ending clicks of fingers on keyboards. Peace and quiet is for sissies, I thought.

That changed 18 months ago, when I decided to write fiction in earnest.

To start with, I needed a computer, and the only one at my house was in the family room. The kids mostly used it for playing games and surfing the Internet, so the first difficulty I encountered was getting any time on it at all. And when I did, I had to deal with the myriad distractions that come with writing in the same room with three kids, my husband, the dog and the television. I love my family very much and enjoy spending time with them, but family time and writing time mix about as well as oil and water. I kept trying to make it work, though. I persevered for months amid the family room circus. Then the computer crashed. Permanently.

So I started writing at the office, instead. At times when there were no articles to edit and my colleagues were checking e-mail or posting on Facebook, I was pounding away at my latest short story. The approach was only marginally doable; it narrowed my writing time to five minutes here, 10 minutes there. It was like setting a faucet to drip and trying to fill a glass.

Then, at Christmas came a godsend: I received a generous amount of money, and there was no question in my mind what to spend it on. I researched the options for a few days and bought my first laptop.

Now every night after I get home from work, I take my laptop to my bedroom and close the door. I shut out the television shows and movies, video games, music, the dog who thinks he’s attention-starved, family members who want to talk about their day, the toddler who wants to “help” me hit the keys, the rumbling dishwasher and the tumbling clothes dryer. I shut it all out, and I write. I turn on the metaphorical faucet full blast and watch the words spill out on the screen. It’s beautiful.

In 1929, Virginia Woolf said a writer needs a room of her own.

Eighty-one years later, here is my room: It’s a screen 14” wide, backed up by 3 GB of memory and a decent word-processing program. Along with my imagination, a thick skin and a whole lot of determination, it’s all this woman needs to be a writer.