The Attack of the Beta Readers

Ok, so I got some inital feedback on a short story, incorporated what I thought was the feedback, and then sent it out to the beeta readers again. Their response…

Jesus, NO! Just…just stop…put it all back.

OK, message recieved, but it did make me really think about the feedback that I got. I think that some of the initial feedback was still valid, but I had obviously not interpreted it in a great way. This leads me to think about how I interpret a significant amount of feedback I receive.

Good Crit Session

Good crit session with the Speculative Wordsmiths, my in-town writing group. We usually do two stories every meeting and today I gave them my most rewritten/reworked story ever, hoping for some new insight. This is my original Viable Paradise Thursday story, a ghost story, which stands at 8K, the world’s worst length for a short story. I am now convinced that I could make this a successful novelette OR a successful 5-6K short. I just have to decide which way to go.

It does need a better title, for sure.

 

Paradise Lost III – Unpacking the Workshop

I came back from the Paradise Lost Writer’s Retreat last week. It’s taken me a week to mentally unpack the takeaways from it, as it usually does. The event is part critique, part seminar, part networking and part social. It’s a great opportunity once a year to get away from my normal life, as wonderful as that is, and just focus on writing and my own future in this industry.

I had an insight while I was there. If I think of writing as a second job – and as non-poetic and non-creative as that sounds, it really is – then it’s just as important to spend time developing my skills, learning, changing and meeting new people as it is for my full time job. I sort of despaired when I first dipped my toe into the water because the thought of breaking into this group of people who all seemed to know each other seemed totally daunting. But a few years in now, I realize that, just like starting at a new company, you eventually meet new people, first the locals, then others in other offices as you travel about and increase your own presence. I know I have a long way to go, but I no longer despair at being able to break into the group, so to speak.

We had some amazing professionals in residence this year.

Mary Robinette Kowal, Campbell and Hugo Award winner, and author of The Glamourist Histories series from Tor

Stina Leicht, author of The Fey and the Fallen series from Nightshade Books and one of the coordinators of the very well-regarded Writers’ Workshop at ArmadilloCon

Lynn Thomas, editor of Apex Magazine, co-editor of Chicks Dig Comics and Chicks Dig Time Lords and main wrangler on the Hugo Award winning podcast, SF Squeecast

Jay Lake, as instructor emeritus and raconteur, provided color commentary for the weekend.

That’s a lot of experience and knowledge for 15 students to soak up, let me tell you. But we soaked it up. Oh yes, we did.

We had some great lectures on creating a unique voice, writing with humor, idea scaling, giving a great reading and working with editors. However, I was most taken with Mary’s session on how to schmooze and make small talk. I talk a lot for my day job, so I can’t say that I thought I’d get a lot out of this session. I did learn a few new things, but even more valuable was the way that Mary articulated the moments and motions of schmoozing and small talk. I would not have thought to break it down into things the way she described, but it was enlightening. Lots to think about and I’m not sure I’ll ever look across the room at two people chatting ever again without thinking about regressive movement with a closed silhouette.

In addition to meeting some pros and getting some great insight into the industry and writing craft, Paradise Lost is also about our own professional development as neo-pro writers and developing our own cohort. Sean Kelley, the organizer, talks about Paradise Lost as an experiment in community, a phrase which I keep coming back to. A community of our own, carved out of the overall writing world. And I feel like I’m a part of it.

Which is weird, honestly. I’m not sure I thought I’d ever make new close friends after college, but there’s something about sharing your writing with others that is an incredibly intimate act. I’ll have to write a separate post on that, after I think on it some more.

Now to work out some of the comments and edits to my short story provided by my gracious fellow attendees.

Story Scaling

What is the right shape for your story? Jay Lake has talked before about idea scaling – the appropriate shape and size for the story – along the following lines:

  • one key twist to an idea – flash
  • one fully fleshed out new idea, one POV – short story
  • one idea, fully fleshed out with a twist, possibly a second perspective – novelette or novella
  • one main idea, several threaded story lines, multiple perspectives – novel

It’s a discussion we had at last year’s Paradise Lost writers’ retreat. As I’m getting ready to go for this year, I’ve been looking over my notes. His point was that sometimes, what’s not working with your story is that you are trying to stretch or jam your story into the wrong size. Understanding what each size requires or allows, in terms of structure, can help unstick you.

This is something I really struggle with. For whatever reason, I’ve written 4 or 5 stories that finish at 8,000-9,000 words. For a practical length, this is the worst. Most short story markets are looking for something between 5K and 6K words (with a few going higher); but it’s really too short to be a novelette, which is usually 8K-15K words. I’ve been taking a look at them to try to figure out if I need to expand or pare down, and the answer may be different for each story. Regardless, this is not something that I have mastered yet, obviously.

 

Sitting at the Adult Table

For the last few years, I have slowly been entering the so-called writing life. I’ve done pretty well for the amount of time I’m able to devote to it. I’ve attended some great workshops, some really good cons, made loads of new friends, joined a writing group or two and even had my first short story published in a professional magazine. Thanks, Lightspeed. I feel like I’m the kid sitting at the adult table now.

But like the kid at the adult table, I want to be there at the same time that I question whether I belong there or not. I suppose that tells you what kind of kid I was, your childhood mileage may have varied.

I still have other goals that I feel will put me at the adult table for real and hopefully, for keeps. I want to earn another two pro short story credits and become a SFWA member. I want to finish the first draft of my novel, get an agent, sell a novel. I want to see my book in the store, with my name on the cover and everything.

But first, I want to feel confident enough in what I have to say that I don’t erase every blog post or comment with an internal “God, I’ve already read a dozen people who have already said that exact thing.” I struggle with feeling like everything I think or feel or want to write is derivative or just another “Yea, me too!” which drives me crazy.

I talked about it with my wife, and of course, as always, she gets to the heart of the matter. “Do you think that every time you read a blog post about something you’ve read about before? Do you stop reading, thinking that person is just jumping on the bandwagon?”

Well, no. Not usually. But sometimes. I have to take some time to unpack my thoughts about this, but I’m going to try to be better about not censoring myself. Letting my thoughts get out there. If nothing else, it will be writing practice, I suppose.

Currently Reading: Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells, edited by Ellen Datlow.

Obsessing Over: How to be a Heartbreaker, by Marina and the Diamonds. Although, I kind of like the Glee version better.

Looking Forward to: Paradise Lost 3, upcoming in San Antonio.

LOOK Challenge

My friend, John Marani, asked me to be a part of this challenge. You’re supposed to post a paragraph around your favorite instances of the word “look” in your work in progress. I’ll post my three favorite ones below. Be sure to visit John on his blog, Metaphysical Meanderings, where he talks about his experience teaching Tarot, astrology and witchcraft.

Here we go.

1. From “Paper Dream”, a short story that began at the Viable Paradise writing workshop –

She looked up at me, confused. “Beckett, you jumped off the Golden Gate. What the hell else could have happened?”

2. From Oberon’s Heir, my long-in-progress novel –

She felt the last shreds of glamour fray apart as she reached a bathroom. The woman coming out took one look at her and screeched, immediately pushing at the crowd to get away. Miranda ignored her. Nearly blind, she half-fell into the grimy room, and fumbled the door locked behind her.

3. From “The Witch on the Bus Goes Curse, Curse, Curse”, a short story I am about half-way through –

I mean there was just something about the shape of her mouth that said “I can hurt you if I choose.” A certain satisfactory contempt. She did not look like a Halloween witch, but the minute she got on board, I knew. She sat right across from me in a cloud of sulfur and gingerbread.

 

Pros and Cons of a Teen Wonder Woman

The CW a few months ago announced it is reworking the Wonder Woman story a la Smallville. As I anxiously await the debut of Arrow, can I hope they don’t screw it up?

I have hopes though, that they might not. Wonder Woman’s story, about trying to fit into man’s world when you are, ultimately, a demi-god, is ripe for telling and I think could really work today. Here are a couple things I’d like to see.

1. Minimal whining. I know everyone at the decision-making levels in Hollywood right now grew up watching Nora Ephron movies, but could we break with the past and not make the super-competent female protagonist completely insecure when it comes to her personal life? At least not at first. Diana grew up in a world full of powerful women. I could see her being fascinated or even repulsed by men, and then with the gradual understanding of how men and women interact, I could see her beginning to wonder if her own reactions are correct. THEN, and only then, might she begin to be a little insecure. And it should SHOCK THE HELL OUT OF HER. Wonder Woman is not an insecure creation, and her new found doubts about herself should really throw her.

2. Avoid the obvious virginity/entering the world parallels. And please don’t make her afraid of sex. Though some teen girls are, a lot of them aren’t. Seriously, an island full of female warriors? They are going to have sex with one another. It IS going to happen. It’s the CW, so I know the titillation factor will be high, and I’m resigned to that, but can we at least present it as normal for their society?

3. Keep the Greek Mythology connection. This is integral and I’m not sure why they would, but I can see someone saying “No actress will be able to say the word ‘Polyphemus’ with a straight face. Kill it.” Please don’t make her the hunted child of a government experiment gone wrong. We’ve already been there. Plus, every kid I know is nuts for Greek Mythology. Just ask Rick Riorden. And they have some ridiculously kick-ass villains.

4. I’d like them to choose a woman who looks like she could actually kick someone’s ass. Someone…oh, I don’t know, a little…Amazonian, perhaps? I’ve met a reasonable number of college swimmers and water polo players and even a few field hockey players and fencers. I have no trouble believing that there are women out there who could kick my ass. But Hollywood can’t have that and have her be  a size zero. That was one of my issues with the failed David E. Kelly Wonder Woman pilot. I just didn’t believe it.

5. Embrace the superhero thing. I know that those comic book costumes, created originally for the four-color printing method, don’t always look great on screen, but people who will be watching this show will be doing so because they like superheroes. They want to see Cheetah and Chronos and Circe with her weird, purple hair. (Although, you can get rid of those horrible, striped pants for Chronos.) They also want to see her superhero friends. I know that there are franchise and rights issues with the big boys, but can’t we get a little second-tier hero action? Elongated Man or Zatanna, anyone?

I know, I know, the comic book geek is always disappointed, but does it always have to be that way?  Let’s see if it even gets picked up. It may just be one of those comic book properties that is, ultimately, unadaptable. In the meantime, I will be waiting for Clack Canary’s canary cry on Arrow. It better not suck.

 

 

Authors are Real People Too. Go figure…

I’ve had this belief that authors must be somehow… more something. Not sure what. See, they have what I want. A writing career, publishing credits, fans, convention appearances, etc. I’m working toward those things, but I guess even with all that work, I thought that there must be something special about them. Some indefinable thing that all authors had in common. And I’d get it, as soon as I figured it out.

But I don’t think that anymore. Having now met a few authors, I have come to the stunning conclusion that they are, in fact, real people too. I’ve paid more attention to this whole world in the past few years, as I’ve been working on my own writing career. I read their blogs, listen to them interact with each other in person or in podcasts, see them as I’ve attended a few conventions, and am trying to look at them as professional peers, albeit colleagues higher up on the career ladder than I am currently.

And it’s this change of viewpoint that has let me realize that they’re just normal (I use the word loosely) people.  They may have a more enhanced work ethic and ability to force themselves to just sit down and DO IT, but aside from that, they’re just like the people I know at the office (my real one). Some of them I really like, a lot are nice enough, but I have nothing in common with, and there are others that I tolerate.

Same world.

I feel like this is a huge insight. I’m going to have to think about how this changes things for me.

Status Update: Projects

This is an attempt to keep myself honest and on some kind of schedule. It doesn’t generally work, but here goes.

In Progress

1. “Red Tape”. Done and in submission.

2. “Sic Transit Axis Mundi”. Have reworked it and is awaiting final edit from Stephanie then into submission again.

3. “Paper Dream”, formerly “Beckett for American Baroque”. Same as above.

4. “The Witch on the Bus Goes Curse, Curse, Curse”. About half done.

5. “A Frequent Affair”. Stalled out because I’m not sure how it ends. Also trying to decide if it an SFnal story or should I rework it as lit fic.

6. “Dancing to the Tune of Solids”, formerly “A Race through Dark Places”, formerly “Paola”. Still too mired in its previous history as a sidebar piece of fiction associated with a previous roleplaying campaign.

7. Story currently known as “Mind Your Manners” which is not the right title, AKA my Baba Yaga story. Am incorporating comments from last round of beta readers.

8. “Insha’Allah, I will Live Forever”. Maybe a third done.

9. “No Reportable Intelligence”. Maybe a quarter done.

10. And of course, Oberon’s Heir, my work in progress novel. Currently at 69K. Keeping all the stories interwoven together is really throwing me. Also, I keep losing track of where certain scenes are in relation to others.

Not Started

1. Untitled second Corolis story about the dead goldfish

2. Untitled Roxane story

3. Untitled alt-American history with Ben Franklin story/novella

4. Sleeper story. I think this is a novella, if not an actual novel.

5. Murder on the Fourth of July. Novel. Just in notes form

6. “The Left-Hand Windsor Knot of Darkness”. I have no idea what this is, but I love this title.

7. “The All Seeing Jade”, unless its title is “Lucky Fuck”

8. Untitled religious subatomic particle thing

Published! “The Seven Samovars” at Lightspeed Magazine

I’m officially published! My short story, “The Seven Samovars” appears in Lightspeed Magazine‘s September 2012 issue, along with my author spotlight. This is both my first sale and my first pro sale. SFWA membership, here  I come.

I’m thrilled to be included in a Table of Contents with so many other amazing writers – Elizabeth Bear, Sarah Monette, Harry Harrison, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Adam-Troy Castro, Brook Bolander, Scott Edelman and Holly Black.

To anyone who might find their way here from Lightspeed, welcome. I’m a dad with two kids who does a lot of boring work for the federal government, so writing is my sanity check. I’m a 2010 graduate of the Viable Paradise writer’s workshop. I’m working on several other short stories and a novel.