May 29, 2012


I booted another story out the door today, into the cold world of submissions. *sniff* They grow up so . . . slowly, actually.

Sure, some stories arrive like Athena, fully formed and holding a sword (at least in my imagination). These little blessings toddle precociously out of the nest, and sometimes even find new homes. But some live long spinster lives, waiting for a market matchup that seems never to come. Some live in their parents' basements well past middle age.

This latest one is one of the latter. It was born in my MFA program, under literary conditions. But it never quite fit in. It had a speculative element (or did it?) that turned out to be nothing, a big giant squid on the mantelpiece. So after a few sorties to literary markets I shelved "Day 40" (as it was then called).

Post-Clarion West, I dug the poor thing out and tried to reinvent it as a genre story. I gave it a dark new ending. I made the SF element real, but it still didn't start until halfway through the story, and my first readers said it felt like a literary story with an SF element grafted onto it. Which, of course, it was. Back on the shelf it went (now with the title "Hearts, Minds, and Plastic Bristles").

Then just this month, in a desperate attempt to avoid editing my novel, I tortured this story one more time. I cut it to the bone and gave it yet another new ending, one that feels right. In critique group, of course, all the struggle was laid bare--the uneasy history of this transmogrified work is still there, and it still rankles a bit. But not so much that it isn't time to let it fly again. Time will tell if this Frankenstein-esque revision will be a victory, or if villagers will hunt it down with pitchforks and flaming torches.

Oh, and my readers all hated the story's title. I'm not going to say what it's called now; I'm just keeping fingers crossed that it doesn't come home this time. Not chased by an angry mob, and not to do its laundry.

May 16, 2012

Warning: Summer Ahead

Summer is coming, and that means Clarion West Write-a-thon. I will, once again, be writing for dollars. Or maybe editing for dollars. Frankly, I'm not sure what I'll be doing, but I still want people to donate money to support Clarion West. Even though the write-a-thon doesn't officially begin until June 17th, you can already donate! If you end up being my highest donor, you can force me to write about your pet 'possum, hippogriff, or sentient tomato (or something you decide).

If, like me, you have more time than money, but you still want to support Clarion West, you can sign up to be a write-a-thoner. If we get 200 people participating, something awesome happens. I think it involves money.

So yeah, I'll probably be electronically panhandling a bit more as summer approaches and the write-a-thon gets underway. You've been warned. Boring status updates and exciting(?) excerpts will also probably follow.

<Announcer Voice> But wait, there's more!

This summer my Norwegian family is having a reunion, which means that for three weeks I'll be in Iceland and Norway. Whee! This introduces a measure of uncertainty to the summer. It means that: 1) you may have to read accounts of my travel and look at photos of fjords; 2) I may not be able to post at all, as Internet availability comes and goes; 3) the midnight sun might drive me over the edge; 4) my write-a-thon output might be lower than anticipated; and 5) my next story might be about Vikings.

This is where I'll be. (photo: Hurtigruten)

May 10, 2012

A day or so late and some amount short

Once again, the Internet's lamentation over a celebrity death has me feeling like I might really be an alien. Actually, it happened twice in the last week, but this post is not about that musician guy from that band. You know the one.

It's Maurice Sendak, beloved children's author and illustrator who I can't ever remember reading. Oh sure, I'm aware of Where the Wild Things Are; I was actually raised on this planet. But I don't remember reading it as a child. This isn't the first time this has happened. In fact, it's rare that I share any childhood literary experiences with the majority of Americans.

Sometimes, like now, this makes me feel out of place. But it also makes me wonder. I know that I was read to as a small child, and I developed early on into a voracious reader and re-reader, albeit primarily of garbage. But I have no idea what those first books were that must have hooked me. I can't remember reading Dr. Seuss (not as a kid, anyway). I remember Shel Silverstein's kids' poetry, but mostly from being a bit older, or from being scarred by certain poems about eating whales. I'm really glad that these folks had such an impact on everyone else's lives. But where was I?

I do remember reading the Bearenstain Bears, but all that remains of those memories is the vague sense that I was having moral lessens crammed into my young skull. The same goes, actually, for the one individual kids' book I can remember, "Could Be Worse!" by James Stevenson. I liked that one a lot, even though it was clearly just telling me not to whine and complain.

I must confess: the first books I clearly remember reading are The Baby Sitters Club novels. I read and re-read them for so long that my mother asked my second-grade teacher what she should do about it. My teacher wisely responded that there was no problem--I was, after all, reading thousands of pages of words, even if they were literary junk food. After that I moved on to Christopher Pike's YA horror novels, some of which I still consider good books. Those were a bridge to Anne Rice's vampires, which somehow led me to science fiction writers like Michael Crichton and David Brin.

Which, perhaps, is why I suspect myself of being an alien. In the context of my favorite fiction, it makes perfect sense. And you know what? It could be worse.

What books do you remember--or not remember--from childhood? Tell me about them in comments, and teach me to be human.

May 08, 2012

Adventures in Rejection

Subtitle: Don't make me get my flying monkeys

Rejection is a part of the life of a writer. A big part. I've heard that this gets better as one improves as a writer. This makes sense, right? The better the writing, the more likely it is to be accepted. Win.

But there's a horrible place in between the hell nos of beginning writing and the hell yeses of awesome writing, and I'm stuck in it. This is an especially frustrating place to inhabit, because what it means is that response times go way up--behind the scenes there is an editor who just can't make up his or her mind about my story. So it sits and sits. And I stew and stew, and notice that my story has been out longer than average for the market. And then the rejection comes. Blast!

Lazy damn monkeys

For example, I sent a story to a notoriously slow but awesome market who shall remain nameless sixteen months ago. Even for this molasses-like market this is a long time. Are my hopes up? You bet. Will I be disappointed? Probably.

For another example, last week I sent a story to an anthology with a close date at the end of June. I knew that that likely meant not hearing anything until August when all decisions would be sent. And then, to my surprise, the editor emailed me almost right away to say that he'd enjoyed the story, but no promises. That was sweet and all (who doesn't like to hear their work was enjoyed?) but hopes? up? Ugh.

I heard back on one of my overdue pieces last night. A crisp form letter. Not even the encouraging version hoping to read more of my work. Oh well, I tell myself. The person associated with the magazine (who shall of course remain nameless) recently wrote repugnant things about a political matter, allowing me to not be sad about not appearing in the magazine. Or so I tell myself.

Yet another market owing me a response is frightening me today, because its website seems to be malfunctioning. I hope it hasn't gone to the magazine rack in the sky, and that's why I haven't heard back.

All of which is to say that today it's hard for me to be a writer. But I combatted the long-wait blues by making six more submissions. Fly, my pretties!