Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Ironic distance

Thursday critique with a Wednesday one following makes for a lightning quick turnaround. That is, given an assist from a particularly social weekend. I hung with three different friends on three consecutive days and now here it is Tuesday. I thank my stars that it was only the one piece to plow through, and that it was only 24 pages. The group has refocused on getting things sharp and them sending them out, so this piece was further along than normal. In a bit of shamelessness, I actually gave the writer to be critiqued my newest piece in hopes of extracting some more feedback for myself (I mean, he wasn't doing anything but waiting for his feedback, right?). One of my friends lumps this under a personality trait of mine called the "feedback monster." I can't say it's an incorrect assessment.

The previous story I wrote got decent reviews. At least, all issues pertained to the same topic: the hardest thing that the story in question had to do, which was describe highly technological things via a narrator with cave man intelligence. I guess that they understood it at all was some sort of improvement. After I explained there were a lot of "ohs" and one guy even re-read a few passages there and asked himself openly "how did I miss that?" And that could be something I could use to make myself feel better, but really it isn't. Editors get too many stories to read, so they've developed time-honored techniques to eliminate stories as quickly as possible. And since I can't mail myself along with my story, and explain to the readers as they frown at the text, at this point what I've written is a pretty easy elimination. So we'll be working on that.

Thus far, I've also gotten similar reception from my latest story, which relies on a similar convention to convey the message. I had a strange moment when I realized what I had done. It was less like a "whoops" and more like an "interesting." Similarly, yet another fellow writer friend was reading my stuff, and he picked out things that an academically trained reader would (because he is). "You have a thing for metals" he said to me immediately. My reaction of course was not to think about his statement, but to deny it. And since it's happened again (with the two latest stories, not with metal but the sophistication of the narrator versus the subject matter) I've chosen to pay closer attention. It hasn't lead to any sterling insight, but I'm still waiting just in case.

A different friend of mine asked me about my writing recently. He knows that I'm working on a fantasy novel, but all of my short work recently has been sci fi. He asked me why that was. I didn't have an answer at first, and even now I find myself with no interest at all in a fantasy short. I think, I told him, that the setting of sci fi is easier to manipulate in regards to investigating some idea or concept. "In the future, after most people die from disease X" or "In the future, at the cusp of the proliferation of quantum technology." It might be because I think of sci fi as looking forward and fantasy as looking backwards. But really that's not the case. Alternate history is not the same thing as fantasy. A guy in the group described fantasy as sci fi with no explanations for why things are the way they are. He cites Star Wars as space fantasy. I'm not saying he's right. I'm also not saying he's wrong. It might have to do with my belief that premises need explaining, and when people say "in the future" the assumption is we're starting from our collective past, whereas in a situation like LotR, well, Tolkien had several books just for exposition. So, it'd be hard to write a short fantasy story (in my mind).

It's also time to cut my hair. And while I mean that literally, I also mean I'm going to start practicing more at looking at myself and what I'm doing. Perhaps better work can be achieved that way in addition to simply practicing a lot. But I guess we'll see... me.

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