Monday, September 27, 2010

Too scared to be afraid

Catching up with a friend, I told her I had learned a wealth of things since we last spoke. And I guess I sounded really serious; she asked me what sorts of things I could've learned in only a few weeks. Before I go any further, the list is actually shorter than you might think. The items' weights were only real to me. It occurred to me that I don't mention the fairly constant stream of rejections I get from various places I submit to, not because I'm ashamed but because it's more or less the only sort of non-bill mail that I get. Every other month I tell myself I'm going to start mailing myself correspondence, mostly blank sheets of paper with smiley faces in the corners. I spoke with a writer friend, the same one who was nice enough to bug me about going to dragon con, and he and I have decided to lean on each other some in regards to redoubling our efforts on the writer's path.

But it didn't stop me from thinking about why I keep getting rejected. The kicker of course is the inconsistency of  feedback. And something could be said for those close to me just telling me what I want to hear, but I don't think that's it. Something could also be said for my work falling between the cracks at numerous places for various reasons. But the epiphany I had on the subject I found in someone else's writing. Translated from the Spanish (that's how they put it, I'm not being erudite), the story's title was No Problem. It was a quirky little piece about a man living an enjoyable, but pedestrian life who comes across a mysterious hat box that changes just about nothing. The contents affect people in startling yet mundane ways, and ultimately the reader never even finds out what was even in the box. The author played with a few different well-finessed techniques, and I came away liking it. But I also came away realizing that it would go into the trash bin at the kinds of places I submit to. I was reading it for work, a co-worker of mine was putting together a lesson plan for an advanced literature group and we were reading various pieces and discussing their merits and what possible questions the works would bring about. On the other hand, the small pamphlet of a sci-fi publication (one of those places that keeps rejecting me) sits unread in the back seat of my car.

And no, before you ask, it actually wasn't that obvious. Not until right then. I was brought up in a literary fiction tradition, not a genre fiction one. I like fantasy and sci-fi and historical and detective novels, but that's never been a huge part of my consumed reading. But I guess I need to change that. Another friend, who apparently knew all this but never said it, who even took the trouble of lending me Roger Zelazny's Lord of Light to make the point without saying it, finally told me that I was a "different kind of writer," somewhat for these reasons. And my first reaction to that notion was disregard. Disdain, even. My goal to submitting to contests recently has been to place, to get an honorable mention, because winning seems like too lofty a goal. I'd like to get there eventually, but it might be easier to say that for now I'm just trying to fit in, that I've been trying to fit in the entire time, and that could be part of my consternation.

But no matter what occurs, it seems like I can still take a step forward. I still want to write, so I will. I'm still interested enough in things to be curious about them, so I recklessly ponder. One thing I've wanted to do for a while now is collaborate with some other people on something a little less serious, and I started that today. Preceding it were some breakthroughs in the upcoming novel as well as short story.

I guess the obvious question isn't what have I learned, but what will I change as a result. And I suspect you might already know the answer to that. I do, or rather, it seems like I always have.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Quoting others can create the illusion of wisdom

I'm returning from a brief hiatus during which my computer was at times broken, at times just in pieces. A friend helped out, and I learned some things about how computer hardware works. This of course doesn't mean that I'd be able to perform maintenance myself; as a point of fact, I'm simultaneously confident that I learned some things yet have no idea what those things actually are. Something very similar happened when I read this essay by a scholar self-professed to be disdainful of creative writing programs. Being confused, naturally I forwarded it to my mentor, who is not a "technician incapable of abstract thought" which is what he refers to stereotypical doctors of literature, but a creative writer, like myself (I think?). Not that I learned much of anything from hearing his own subjective view. Or maybe I learned that no one is objective in the matter, which I realized is what I was looking for. The same friend who worked on my computer waxed philosophical, saying "the more we become [ensconced] in a particular tradition, the more we come to its defense."

In other news, I pushed myself to work on the sci-fi short story, whose deadline is the 30th, despite not having my computer. I even stayed late at work. I secured a couple readers to look over it for me before I send it off, which is beginning to look like one of those down-to-the-wire submissions. I wasn't able to summon my usual productivity but I conjured some, so I was happy about that, managing to get halfway through the first draft. Making the transition from the meaty outline I contrived and actually putting literal details to paper helped me make some discoveries about the characters and the setting and the story. Sadly, I came away slightly worried that the effort is going to be too... busy. Detail is something I used to get criticism about, that I had too much, useless amounts of the stuff. I'm not really afraid that I've fallen back on that specific old habit, but as I've followed the story's path, there are passages here and there that seem unnecessary. It could also be that I wanted the story to be about one thing, and it's taking longer than usual to get to that point, so it makes me wonder why it takes so long, and the importance of all those details that precede it. But, "when it comes down to it," and "at the end of the day," it's my story and I have the final say about how it reads before I send it out. There's never been a mold for such things, but for some reason I find myself less able to just do the work.

And with the approaching end of September comes the beginning of October, and the final three months of the year. I haven't completely forgotten about my resolutions made at the year's beginning (only one of which I've failed to keep up with... I think). Whether to apply for graduate school comes to mind, applications due at the beginning of the year, which means it would be better to get them mailed at the end of this year. Which means that I have an even shorter clock to pay for, register to take, and perform the GRE. And I had also planned on not only being done with my sci-fi novel, but having already sent it out. And it's not inconceivable. I think I'm experiencing one of those stints of time that older people feel, where they turn around and squint after their vanishing years, a little wistfully confused. It still feels a bit to me like August.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Dusty knees red palms and lasers

I talked with a new acquaintance recently about my quest for new experiences. Or rather, my acceptance that new experiences will work to my advantage as an author and my half-hearted attempts at seeking them out. As it turned out, the topic of conversation came right around the time that one of my email accounts was hacked. Or perhaps phished, I'm not sure which. I'd heard about the phenomenon before, and seen the towers of rage people became over the occurrence. But I was a bit senseless about the whole affair. I was sad, and deflated that it had happened to me, and felt pretty low about being misrepresented. I even went so far as to be curious as to why someone would spend their time burrowing into other people's lives. I do have that experience though, piled on top of all the others, so I guess it can't all be bad.

I also was finally rejected by a quarterly contest I've had the habit of entering repeatedly over the past year. It took longer than usual, and just to make sure I even asked the submissions director about that being some sort of indication at progress. She didn't confirm or deny, but did give me a tip mentioned to her by one of the main people that reads the stories. And apparently, on many occasions, the person couldn't decipher if the story was fantasy or science fiction. Which boggled my mind. Inwardly, my response was "does it matter?" and I even replied truthfully that I worked harder at making good stories and less at shaping them so they fit better into categories. I guess that made me a little sad, too. But, I don't have the luxury at this point in my career to write what I think is good, knowing that it will be accepted and then classified later. First it has to classify and thereby appeal to the judges of whatever peg hole I sent it through. So to that end, the next submission (yes I will probably be trying yet again) will be "harder." I thought science fiction just had facets of the imagined or yet to be; apparently there is a requirement for more... lasers?

A friend from the writer's group went out of his way to offer to give me a ride to the convention, which he seemed pretty excited about. I'm not sure if it was the fanfare or the costuming or the writer's panels I'd heard so much about, but ultimately I turned him down as is my way. I had been feeling a little down since last week, but I resolved to take the extra time to be more productive. And so the novel is finally drafted. I went through about six chapters in four days and used one of them to read the items through after a good night's sleep. I was happy, even impressed, with what I had accomplished. I still plan on having that celebratory dinner as well, and I've begun brainstorming on the next story. Some edits of a previous one given to me by the group need to be applied, and the grossly ignored screen play needs some attention, too. And at some point in the upcoming months, I will begin the monstrous undertaking of the sci fi novel. The initial chapters I'll be sending to the big publishers, the print book folks. I guess this time I'll be starting at what some folks think of as the top. And I guess it implies that I'm fully prepared to be thrown off the mountain, as if there were no question about my already planning how to get back up.