Friday, December 31, 2010
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
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)
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
So where would I say a new viewer should start with the New Who? Three suggestions:
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.
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
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
Anyway, merry Christmas. I hope some of you out there got a white one.
Sunday, December 19, 2010
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.
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.
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.
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 ...
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
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
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
Natalie Whipple on her Year of Suck
Sunday, December 5, 2010
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.
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
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
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
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
Saturday, September 25, 2010
Friday, September 17, 2010
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
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
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
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
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 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
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
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
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
Thursday, March 4, 2010
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
More details to come as I get them.
Monday, February 15, 2010
"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
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.
Saturday, January 16, 2010
Friday, January 15, 2010
Flash Fiction Chronicles
Monday, January 11, 2010
Sunday, January 10, 2010
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
“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.