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Write1Sub1 Week 5

January Juggernaut Logo

Four Stories in Four Weeks (Write1Sub1)

On to week 5.

Saturday: For Week 5  I continue my steampunk series, which began with “The Glow” in week 1. This has been subbed to Fae Publishing and I’m awaiting their reply. Consequently, I’m not ready to commit to a particular market for this week.

Sunday: Once again I’m behind on my schedule. Polishing and nudging today instead of plotting for this week’s story. Fortunately I already have the core events in mind since it’s a continuation of last month’s steampunk, “The Glow”. I hope that will help as I need to get back on schedule soon.

Monday: I spent too much time today going over my story from last week. I’m just not happy with it and don’t want to leave too much to do on Saturday when I polish and sub. I’ve got a rough plot in place for this week’s story and will start that tomorrow. Wrote my literary flash tonight (1450 words) so that’s a good thing. It came out okay.

Tuesday: I don’t really want to admit this, but admitting you have a problem is half the battle, right? I keep obsessing over the ending for the story I wrote for Clarkesworld. It just doesn’t work, yet I know there’s the potential for a strong one in there somewhere. I woke up twice last night thinking of alternate ways to go, then again today when I took a break from reading slush. I was taking a bath and reading Pride and Prejudice when it suddenly came to me. It was so obvious. Now I have to write that before it fades away. This, of course, has cut into my time for this week’s story.  My respect for what Ray Bradbury did grows with every passing week.

Wednesday:I have my first scene envisioned and much of the dialogue between my MC and the woman he meets, but I’m having my usual problem sitting seat on chair and applying fingers to keypad. I settled for catching up a bit on Triangulation work tonight.

Thursday: I worked most of the day, but mainly managed to revise the story from last week (sigh). The pressure continues to build. Will I get my steampunk story rolling in time? It’s not looking good.

Friday: Where does the week go? I did a little research on reinforced concrete today and talked over my plot with Sue. Happy to report that the second steampunk story is now rolling along. I’m through the opening scene and have most of the second scene dialogue written. Here’s hoping for a productive Saturday. Not only do I have to finish this draft, I have to polish last week’s mainstream story and get it sent off. Sunday is shot since the Steelers are playing in the Super Bowl. May the spirit of Ray be with me.

Saturday: I polished up last week’s story “A Perfect Pair” and sent it off to Per Contra. I wrote through three scenes in this week’s story, but it still needs a final scene I’m afraid. I won’t count this week a loss, since I did write a short story at Show Me Your Lits; it came in second in the polling for best of the week, which was gratifying. And I did sub my story for the week, so it’s not technically a failed week. But it’s not a success either until and unless I finish the steampunk story I started. I’ll make that a priority in the coming week, along with the new story.

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Write On!

Write Hard logoI was thrilled and a bit surprised to read that Milo James Fowler has been inspired by lil’ ol’ me. I mean, the man is an engine of creation, his star is in ascendancy, and his blog amazes even the most jaded blog reader. Me? I’m just a wanna be writer carving a tablet or two here in the New Castle. I guess what I’m saying is that I’m honored, Milo. Right back at you, amigo.

Thanks to Milo’s recent post, I’m here to give eight of my fellow writers a well-deserved shout-out. They certainly live up to the “Write Hard Spirit” as described in detail here. (Yes, I know the rules say six writers, but I’m breaking that one. Sue me).

I’ve known Geoff Landis for a while now and his work impressed me from the very first page I read as a member of the Cajun Sushi Hamsters workshop. The guy is an amazing intellect, but also manages to tap a vein of emotion in his work. As much as any living writer, he inspires me to try harder. Now, he’s into poetry as well.

Chris Barzak is another writer I admire tremendously. He has worked tirelessly to establish himself as one of our best insterstertial fantasists. His books (One for Sorrow and The Love We Share Without Knowing) amaze me and his stories have appeared in all the best markets. Recently, he’s helped to establish a literary journal, Jenny, at Youngstown State, where he teaches.

I haven’t met Cat Rambo, but she inspires me at a distance.  Why? Because last year we (Triangulation: End of the Rainbow) accepted a reprint from her. We sent a proof, as we do for all our accepted stories. This story had been published a couple of times before, yet she still made small changes to the prose and in every single case they improved the story’s flow.  That is what I believe craft is all about. That inspires me.

Theodora Goss has inspired me since I read her first story at Strange Horizons. I don’t recall the title, but I do recall the vivid imagery she built through her prose. It was obvious even then that she was going places. Now, she’s in the process of arriving and I remain inspired by her blog entries. This one, in particular, whispered to that writer living deep inside my shuttered mind. We hope to let him out at some point, and see what he makes of the fresh air.

Recently, I’ve been voyeurizing Robert Sawyer on Facebook. Sue and I met him at Confluence years ago and were impressed by his humility and the unvarnished enthusiasm he showed not only for his work, but for the field in general. He was approachable and knowledgeable and incredibly hard working (just listening to a description of his work ethic made me tired). And guess where it got him? Only to the top of many readers’ lists of great SF writers. I want to grow up to be like Robert Sawyer. That’s how much he inspires me. I won’t speak for Sue, but there’s a possibility she wants to have his children (you did not hear that here).

Another writer I admire, both for his brilliant imaginings and his daunting work ethic is Ferrett Steinmetz. If you haven’t read his blog, The Watchtower of Destruction, you should. The world seen through his eyes is an amazing place. Mainly, he inspires me by finishing his workroom in the basement, one slice of wallboard at a time funded with proceeds from his short story sales, which are multiple and increasing. You’ll find his work everywhere, from Asimov’s to Three-Lobe Burning Eye.

For several years I’ve had the privilege of knowing Fran Van Cleave. She joined our little workshop in Bloomington Indiana having published three stories in Analog. I’m not really an Analog reader, yet I found her stories compelling. She managed to work emotional threads into the weave of idea-driven stories in clever and meaningful ways. I was impressed. Since then, she’s worked harder than any writer I know to perfect her craft. Currently she’s finishing her MFA at Seton Hill and completing two book manuscripts. I have no doubt we will see her name on bookshelves soon. In the meantime, I watch (from afar, alas) in awe as she works multiple jobs, raises a wonderful toddler (Hi, Athena!) and still manages to produce more words and more revisions and more sheer audacity of idea, than I can in my semi-retired state. Bravo, Fran. No one works at this harder than you do.

Finally, I cannot say enough about the one writer who has inspired me more than any other. Susan Urbanek Linville was there when I was ready to quit. She was there when I was too full of myself. And she’s still there when I wake up in the morning. Her nonfiction book, A School for my Village (a.k.a. The Price of Stones), is a testament to persistence and the writing craft. Her short stories almost always make me cry (ummm… make my eyes itch?). Is there any greater inspiration than love? I ask.

These are only a few of the people who inspire me to keep writing, keep trying. There are others, some of them already mentioned in Milo’s blog and Aaron’s blog. To these folks above, I dedicate whatever success I manage to carve out of the time remaining to me on this Earth. When I head out to Mars, it’s a whole ‘nother ball game.

Our society is not set up to nurture creativity, but to  mine , refine, and market it as it does other resources. It’s up to our smaller community of writers, artists, and dreamers, to band together and support each other in whatever ways we can. Write Hard is one such way. I hope the idea will spread far and wide.

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analyzing mirror self-recognition

Image by TheAlieness GiselaGiardino²³ via Flickr

Well, it’s that time of the year when we look back and forward in the same instant. No wonder we drink.

This year I focused on marketing my short fiction, learning new forms (twitter fiction, flash fiction) and learning to manage book length projects.

It was a good year in terms of sheer number of publications, a good year in terms of adapting to new forms, and a not quite so good year with book length projects.

The stats:

Short stories (including Flash)

Submissions = 158
Acceptances = 18

to paying markets = 9

New stories written = 37 give or take a couple

Twitter Fictions

Submissions = 24
Acceptances = 11

to paying markets = 3

Twitters written = 51

Novels

Completed = 1
Sold = 0

My goals for the upcoming year are:

1. Write and submit one story per week (Write1Sub1)

2. Publish at least 20 short stories, at least two professional markets.

3. Revise and submit fantasy novel

4. Put out the best possible Triangulation anthology.

Fireworks

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to friends and family and colleagues who read this blog. Let’s make 2011 something special, shall we?

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Ditty

Image via Wikipedia

The Light Ray has become a reality over at Write1Sub1. If you’re intimidated by a story a week, check out the story a month option. Simon describes it well in his blog entry.

I spent the weekend writing a refreshing little ditty for Liberty Hall and reading Triangulation: Last Contact submission stories that had already been first-read by other editors. We’re already up to 37 submissions and I’ve rejected 10. Another four or five are being read by full staff. Hopefully we’ll have one or two accepts by next week.

So far I’ve been very impressed by the level of the prose. I don’t think a single story has been badly written. About half of the submissions have been reprints. We’re being very selective with reprints this year, since that has been a criticism of past issues. I’m sure we’ll end up taking a few, most likely from fairly “name” authors, and only if they’re really good.

What about the others, you ask? It’s been interesting. Last year we saw a great many stories that began with a startling hook before devolving into less interesting backstory. This year I’ve seen one, maybe two of those. No, a larger issue so far this year is the lack of genre indicators early in the story.  As a science fiction, fantasy and (a little) horror antho, we’re very sensitive to this issue. Our readers want well written genre stories, with definable story arc and are generally less patient with stories that depend primarily on glistening prose and emotional spaces. We want ambitious idea and competent or better character and prose.

Ideal examples from last year’s collection would include Tinatsu Wallace’s “A Womb of My Own” and Jaime Lee Moyer’s “Commander Perry’s Mystic Wonders Show”. Both stories utilize strong literary technique in service of their equally strong ideas; Science Fiction in Wallace’s case and modern fantasy for Moyer.

Don’t get me wrong. We loved every single story we published. Each editor, I imagine has a favorite or two (my blog, my faves above), but we all liked them or they didn’t get in. In my next post, I’ll run through each story and highlight exactly what we liked.

Medieval illustration of a Christian scribe wr...

Image via Wikipedia

In personal news, today I finished up chapter 4 of the fantasy novel. I’m working through a character motivation issue for chapter 5, but hope to write again tomorrow. I polished and submitted three flash fictions to literary markets. Finally, I received a page proof for my Daily Science Fiction story, which will appear on December 21. I hope you will read it, and post your compliments/complaints (I value both) to their Facebook Page.

My latest twitter fiction appeared at trapeze magazine over the weekend and I had one appear at Seedpod last week.

Well, off to bed for now. Wishing you a good night.

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Howard Phillips Lovecraft

Image via Wikipedia

I felt busy today, but didn’t really get much done in the way of writing.

1. Strange Horizons rejected my flash “A Clockwork Clef” after 72 days. It stung a bit as this is probably the best flash I’ve written to date. I bucked up and sent it out again.

2. Eschatology Journal accepted my flash “A Clockwork Clef” after 1 hour. This is a market that takes Lovecraft-inspired stuff as well as the apocalyptic. My flash is the latter, inspired (obviously enough) by the opening of A Clockwork Orange. The story was written from a Prosetry prompt provided by Moon Milk Review a few months back.

3. Discussed general world concepts for my “Golden Heart of the World” serial I plan to write as part of the Write1Sub1 Challenge in 2011. I’m pretty hyped about it at this point, and need to do some background reading before the new year.

4. Posted my Triangulation slush reactions to the Slushy blog entry. Hopefully the authors will get some good out of this. It does me some good to comment in detail on stories we receive, but I imagine the extent of my comments will decline as we get busier. We’re up to 10 submissions already. Five of them are reprints. We plan on taking very few reprints this year. We may hold on to a few until we get a sense of what the crop of original fiction will look like, but I’m not planning on quick accepts for reprints.

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U.S. Patents granted, 1800–2004.

Image via Wikipedia

This year I’ll be first-reading about 25% of submissions and reporting the process here in the blog. Please remember that these comments reflect my reactions as an editor for the anthology. The Slush-o-meter (patent pending) attempts a wider interpretation, in that it seeks to understand what the story is attempting to do to my mind and gauge how well it succeeds in that worthy ambition. Please note the preponderance of terms such as “attempts” and “seeks” in the above, as the Slush-o-meter (patent pending) is no more a perfect device than yours truly. I mean well.

Shall we begin?

Story 1 (12/1/2010 SF 7500 words)

I like that this begins by dropping me into the middle of an action. It efficiently introduces a character in context and incorporates sound and sight and internal thought. The prose is unadorned and admirably clear.  I am, however, disoriented by a lack of a greater context, in particular I have no idea how this character came to be here or where here actually is. Or why it should matter.  Certainly I’m not expecting a character motivation in the first sentence of a 7500 word story (I wouldn’t mind that, but it’s not expected), but I am expecting somewhere concrete to put my feet before I start exploring. This opening disorients me enough that I’m not identifying with character and I’m certainly not getting a sense of the stakes involved.  And, so, while I like this prose very much and the character seems nice enough, I’m already skimming by page 2. Not because I think this is unsuitable for the anthology, but because I’m looking for the point at which it engages me fully. I already know that we will not take the story with this opening, but we might request a rewrite if it develops and ends well.

For a little over two pages, I’m simply watching a character extrude herself from a tight place. It’s perfectly clear what she does and how, but not why or what it means. In other words, I’m not getting a sense of story yet. On page 3, we get the first concrete connection between this situation and the story title. My interest perks at this point. Some interesting (and unobtrusive) character development holds me.  We get some backstory. I like that it’s not info-dumpy, but delivered as internal thought in response to the character’s situation. I do not like how simple the back story turns out to be. Basically, the character got here almost by coincidence. This does nothing to allay my concern that the story is not “important” enough to carry 7500 words. I’m getting little in the way of escalation yet.

Page 4 brings some escalation of the situation. Good physical description of action. I’m still not getting a sense that this really matters (beyond the character’s immediate welfare). We get an effective description of aliens.  So much is done well, yet the story is reading flat. I am a little annoyed by the repetition of a certain character trait involving numbers. That gets old quickly (at least for me).  Ditto the exploding head concern. I actually like that a kid would fixate on such an accessible catastrophe, but I’m wishing we could escalate the overall emotional stake, and this occasional repetition reminds me we’re not.

Ah, page 8. We get an abrupt confrontation and I feel engaged.  The next scene is charming. However, there’s really no escalation of emotional arc, rather an exchange of information. It never quite becomes info-dumpy, but is close to talking heads at one point. I feel as if the scene is provided to give me information rather than to escalate story.

Protagonist joins the aliens and uses her talents to save them from a threat. This is all fine and delivered cleanly, but it’s a fairly superficial story event that barely changes the protagonist’s perspective. That is, the story isn’t really important in the end. It’s a transition in the character’s life. Which is why it reads like a chapter from a longer work rather than a short story. For this reason, I don’t think a rewrite will be in order. Certainly, I’ll encourage the writer to submit again, as the writing is exceptionally clean. There’s a nice balance of introspection and action and the prose never drags. Unfortunately the story never quite grabs me either.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 If this were a novel chapter the rating would be more like a 8 or 9, but as a short story that seeks to engage me, it only partially succeeds.

Story 2 (12/1/2010 Horror 1900 words):

Story begins with dialogue. This can be an effective technique to drop us into the middle of a situation. It works well enough here, identifying the protagonist and a secondary character efficiently. The dialogue snippet also hints at motivation, which is good.  The following lines, however, read very flat. The conversation feels chit-chatty. “Hi, how are you?” “Oh, I’m fine. You?” “Not so bad.” It’ s not really that extreme, but I’m no longer feeling intrigued by the opening line. It also does not help that we’re not engaging with the character’s perspective, but are seeing this from a camera POV. One character walks in, sits at a table, the other brings a plate of food. They say words. There’s no sense of a protagonist reacting to his surroundings or of his emotional state. How would I fix this? I would tell it from inside the protagonist rather than outside. I would have him think something relevant in that first paragraph and have him react internally to the other character’s response. Rather than establishing his schedule through dialogue, I would establish his priorities through internal thought, in response to dialogue. The purpose of this opening should be to get us to identify with this character, to see this world through his eyes and emotional state. Right now the entire opening scene does not advance the story any further than the first sentence did. That’s a problem.

The second scene brings us into the protagonist, which is good. The writing deteriorate s a bit, however. Too many “as” and a telling of emotion (he raised his eyebrows in disbelief). These are elements that pull us out of the character and remind us that we’re reading a story rather than experiencing a situation from within the character. Having seen this problem so often, my emotional attachment to the character fades quickly. Some stories can overcome such technique flaws (good story can overcome a lot), but these sorts of flaws can drag a less than stellar story idea down fairly quickly.  The pacing is a little quick through here, but we do get a complication and that’s good.

The prose is adequate, but tends to lapse into passivity, which makes it read flat. As one example, consider a sentence such as “The fluttering  sensation was no longer occurring.” Rather than using sensation to connect us to character, this sentence settles for telling us about the sensation in passive terms. “The fluttering in Joy’s stomach stopped abruptly. ‘Thank heaven,” she gasped.” This second version may not be great writing, but it does invite us into the character rather than pushing us out.

The remainder of the story reads in this same flat cadence. There’s definitely an escalation of situation and emotion, but the actual revelation isn’t all that fresh. I’ve read something similar in Necrotic Flesh recently. The device does work and is certainly creepy, but the story itself doesn’t compel me. We publish very little outright horror in the first place, so this becomes a definite no.

If I were to advise this author, I would recommend working on writing scenes from inside the character. A nice place to start is Writing The Perfect Scene by Randy Ingermanson. In particular, I like his take on the micro elements of scene (Dwight Swain’s concept of Motivation-Reaction Units).

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 This is a decent small press horror idea and there’s a definable story arc, but the delivery lacks the visceral emotional reaction such horror should convey.

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Short Story

Open for business

last contact

Today, we opened to submissions for Triangulation: Last Contact. While I’m excited to be co-editing the anthology this year, it does remind me of just how much work I have ahead of me, particularly with my commitment to Write1Sub1. It’s mainly going to be a matter of being efficient, which has not been my strong suit of late. That will change because it has to.

A Slush drink

Oooh Slushy

We’ve switched to a new submission system this year (the good folks at submishmash), and I’ll be changing the way I do the SlushyAward. Last year I would read in batches and blog once a week on the experience. I would award a Slushy to the “best” of the week’s slush stories based on my admittedly subjective analysis. Since I plan on reading at a steady pace this year, I’ll blog in smaller batches (as small as one). Instead of a Slushy Award, I’m going to try out the Slush-o-meter, which will rank a story on a scale of 1 to 10, with higher rankings indicating a story that has come close to achieving what I believe it set out to achieve. This doesn’t necessarily indicate that it’s appropriate for the anthology, but I’m hoping it may provide authors with some indication of how their story comes across that divide between minds. Hopefully I’ll be able to include some helpful advice to indicate what worked and didn’t work for me, at least in broad strokes. As before, I will identify story by genre and word count so as to maintain privacy while still making it possible for an author to identify their story discussion, should they wish to do so.

We’ll see how it goes. I figure critiquing slush is a good exercise for me as a writer, and I know how valuable feedback can be to a writer. I’ve been told I give good crit.

Now to update my writing/reading progress for the day.

1. Read stories at Show Me Your Lits.

2. Added 1430 words to the fantasy novel (finally!).  Ironically, what seems to be holding me back the most is my attempt to scavenge prose from the prior version. I’m probably better off just typing onto a blank page, which is ironic since that used to stop me cold. This flash fiction stuff has been a boon in that regard.

3. Submitted a short story and micro fiction to SLAB, a literary journal put out by a local university.

4. Submitted a three line story to SoftCopy. I hope you’ll head over there and Like it if you’re so inclined (i.e. if you do like it, for example – posted as Steve Ramey).

5. Sent a compromise opening for my “Dog Days” story to be published at State of Imagination. Editor was happy with it. (Editors are cool people, right?)

July 12, 2006, Alan DeNiro & Theodora Goss at ...

Theodora Goss, image by gavingrant via Flickr

Finally, a shout out to Theodora Goss. A few precise words about writing. A wonderful perspective and another reason to join us at Write1Sub1 if you’re serious about becoming a writer.

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