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.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Today, and what the wind throws back

Well, today is the last day of the summer semester, and it would appear that I haven't noticeably ruined anyone's life or steered anyone wrong to the point of them soaring off a cliff. I cound that a win. But, I've found that our impacts are hardly visible until much later, after we've make them. This quandry is actually the focus of a mountain notes I've been expanding, and pushing in the direction of yet another novel project. I've come to more fully understand a joke Chris Rock made in a recent stand-up in regards to the difference between a job and a career (along with people with jobs and those with careers).

And I realized the differnce between writing and preparing to write. I call them notes, and sometimes I call the process outlining, but really, it's just preparation. I've become confident that I can throw my creativity at virtually anything, and in my mind, whatever it is will sprout blossoms and produce colors. And while that's all well and good, for all the chaotic sentience that is an idea, it needs some structure to be receptive to others. At least, until we derive a mechanism that translates the noises and colors in our mind into the language of another's (working on a story about that, too). So, I plan. I think about what next steps I will take, and why, and how they will lead me to the ending I had in mind weeks or months back when I thought of the idea in the first place.

So that's today, and in honor of that I thought I'd switch up the background also this soap box of mine. I tell you, they are really making it a lot easier these days to make laziness look like effort. And also in the spirit of switching things up, I also have on my mental calendar not only some (more) things to do, but some things to re-do. Namely, the novella I had published some months back and the screenplay which I finished, and let a few people read it. Both seem like fertile enough places to work; now all I have to do is have a do a neater job planting and hope for a better harvest.

Tonight is a writer's group meeting, where I think in addition to the normal critiquing, we also have some business to discuss. And that's also something new for me. Making decisions normally comes down to the finer points of grammar and the bending versus breaking of a given rule or trend. Not concerns like how long to spend critiquing a piece, or how we decide who should go next and why, induction of new members, writing exercises, even hiatuses from meeting and/or critiquing. At a publisher I'm contracted with, there was even a vote concerning distribution, number of steps from one phase to the next, the pros the cons of each, and my vote thrown in the hat with all the others.

And this is all a bit different from what I'm used to. Then again, that's how we grow, right? Doing things we are unfamiliar with. Walking around in an unknown place at night with no flashlight. Hm. Describing it that way might be why I tend to not do much of it. But not today. Today, I'm in a mountain-clmbing mood.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Of taste and consistency

Lately, I've been catching up on things I should've done earlier. This mostly includes watching movies and television shows (it sounds like I work pretty hard when I say it like that, right?). A friend of mine chastised me for a statement I made about how much writing I do. I told her, seriously, that if I compounded up all the time I spent doing things that furthered or lead to writing, then I don't do much else aside from eat and sleep. Which is not to say that I live in an internment camp. I do it because I like doing it.

I got a copy of a signed contract back, and was invited to yet more online groups. The welcome was warm, and the emails of things rated from stuff I need to know to stuff I don't even understand is up to maybe 100 or so a day. I have discovered a really neat feature in my email client that lets me "mark as read" things I haven't actually tended to. Check back with me later for when that bites me in the ass. As a recent movie (which I enjoyed) insisted, this week I've taken time out to enjoy the little things. The top half of a box of honey bunches of oats was pretty thrilling. The pieces are big and sugar-coated and crunchy, not like the shrapnel in the bottom.

And proper to that, I also received a rejection letter on Monday from a story I have, after some deliberation, decided to "table." For any of you who read this, and wish to become published, it's very likely that you will hear about publishers insisting that you read the sort of things that they publish before submitting. The reasoning behind this will conflict with the notion that good writing gets published, which you likely won't hear ever except from me. Because there's good, and then there's better, as in a better fit. It's crowded out there, and people are trying to find their own light to shine in. And with places to go and buy reading material, it's the same way. This one publishes happy, this one publishes sad. That one you go to if you want to read about zombie robots (okay I'm joking about that one).

So I made a step. I didn't just take the letter and pin it to my wall. I did read the first line and sit it down for an hour. But then I went back and read the rest of it, the parts that they had included for my benefit, a whole page of typing someone, some day way back when had to do. And, being mature, I accepted what I did wrong, and even more than that what the story doesn't do as a whole. It isn't the first place that's rejected the piece. I've talked to people who like it, but as round as it is, I've been trying to push it into square holes. So, instead of buying a hammer, I'm going to sit it on the floor and create an end table. At least for a while. I hear people say things like going into their files and "dusting" something off. I suppose this will be my first such. That specific piece getting published is just another item on the to-do list.

In other news, I talked to a screen writer in the group, and I have a lead on some free software to recreate my screen play, which I have some fresh ideas for. The novel goes nicely, second-drafted my way to chapter 12 just yesterday. The plan is to get to 15 (appproximately half way to completion) before taking a break to work on a short story idea I had just the other night, and putting that into the rotation in the open slot I just created. So, I'm keeping busy I guess. Equally important, though, is taking time to enjoy the little things.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Like colorful explosions

Good things are producing good feelings, today and they have little to do with the extra day off work. As predicted (my prediction was accurate, so that's good, too), hitting chapters 5 and 6 of the novel were good for the momentum. I'm up to 7, with plans for 8 and looking back I think to myself with some pride about how I got this far. It's so much easier now, a breeze compared to the still-fresh memory of the teeth-grinding fiasco of the first handful. In addition to that, I have another short story in mind and it makes me laugh boisterously and say out loud, "Awesome, that's awesome!" I'm excited. 

In other news, I've read the previous short story about ten times and am really tired of looking at it. It could be that it's so much longer than most shorts I write. Or it could be something else, which watching the first episode of Lost provided insight into. A friend, a certifiable "Lostie" sat me down and watched me watch the episode. I was warned to pay attention, because the firs ten minutes are "intense." So I did. I sat and stared, blinking only when appropriate, with my critic's helmet on and my inner-editor turned way up. And that was to my enjoyment's detriment. After it was over, I was able to articulate what its good points were, and how it was very evident that (at least in the first ep) the creators had very high expectations. I was also able to say why, if left to my own devices, I wouldn't put any more time into it. 

And in some ways I think the reason I've read the story a million (read: a bunch) is the same as why Lost didn't quite work for me. The bar is too high. For me, there are subdivisions to the quintessential good story. A good story, naturally, is a subjective thing, but generally leaves a majority of folks impressed when walking away from it. And this can be caused by a few things, not least of which are good writing, and an interesting premise. With both, awards are possible. And I think that my story has an interesting premise. So, I think to myself, the only short coming is the writing, so I have to comb it, and comb it, and comb it... and when something sticks out, it's very pronounced. Sort of like my experience with Lost. 

But, I've grown as a person, I like to think. I recognize there being a chance that I might edit it until it's dust, or at least until I hate it. But more likely is that I will spend a slightly more than reasonable time with it, let a few people see it, get their thoughts and send it off, hoping for the best like a mother bird. Over-editing, and having an over active internal editor can be just as detrimental as not editing at all, and having what I've heard described as a "god complex." Like with a lot of things, there's a sweet spot to aim for. Hitting it is another thing. 

Happy Independence Day, peoples.