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.

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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.

 

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.

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.

I.M.Poster – not just the name of a master thief…

Over at Genreality today, a really interesting post on the Impostor Syndrome and how it applies to writers. I think this is something that every writer I know does, in fact, struggle with, both before and after they’ve published. The difference is how much we let the voices get to us, which I tend to think is ultimately rooted in whether or not we’re afraid to talk about it to our non-writer friends at work.

Before we’ve “made it” (for all values of “made it” that = whatever the hell you think making it looks like), we’re always looking for some external validation of ourselves as writers. A non-pro sale. Acceptance into a respected workshop like Clarion or Viable Paradise. A writing contest win. There’s always a need to feel like you can point to something, other than that story you wrote that no one seems to quite like enough yet. Absent an external indicator, you’re always afraid when you start describing yourself as a writer and, especially, a writer of speculative fiction (in and of itself, a euphamism for science ficion, fantasty, horror, et al. that I’m convinced was created so people didn’t have to say the word “fantasy” when describing their writing to non-writer friends or their parents) that you come across like that guy at the Game Parlor who wants to tell you about “his totally amazing Mage/Firefly crossover campaign” (Yes, I can see that Inara is clearly a Cultist; Book? A techno shaman, of course. I’m sorry, I have to go now.)

All of which is to say that it’s sometimes hard to talk about and that makes it hard to believe in. I know that the first time I was going to take time off to go to a writer’s workshop, I waited until the last possible second before going in and talking to my boss about it.

Me: “So, I put in to take leave in October for a few days.”

Boss: “Sure, are you going out of town?”

Me: “Yes, I’m going up to Martha’s Vineyard.”

Boss: “Oh, how exciting! Do you have a house there?”

Me: “Um. No. I’m (mumble) attending a writing workshop.”

Boss: “Ooooo. Are you working on  novel? What kind?”

Me: “(pause) Yes, I’m working on a novel. It’s about (significant mumble) fairies.”

Boss: O.o

Yea, we’ve all been there.

I could speculate about how we feel like impostors after we’ve made it too, but I don’t have to. I’ve heard it or read it over and over again on writer’s blogs or in conferences. The feeling never goes away, but the bar you’re trying to live up to changes. What awards was I nominated for? Why wasn’t I asked to speak on that panel? Look at that person, they got published after me, but have passed me by.

We struggle to own it and see ourselves as outsiders see us – successful, people pursuing a dream that most people don’t have the courage to tackle. If you can’t see yourself that way, find your champion who will do it for you. Mine is my wife. She’s wonderful and caring and listens to my panic attacks, but usually ends with some version of “now stop being silly, and go back in there.”

I can do it and so can you.

Drafting Issues

Struggling to put together a coherent draft of a story by my workshop deadline of 3/20. I have potentially 4 different stories I could send, none of which is even ready to be workshopped. I’m really good at setting up a situation, scenario, setting, whatever you want to call it. The problem is trying to find and then drive a plot through the thing.

Maybe I should switch to literary fiction where plot is less needed. I’ve got atmosphere in spades.