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.