Slow Going

I’ve gotten slow.

Normally it shouldn’t take more than two weeks for a novelette. Here I am at a solid week and I still haven’t finished a short story. It’s not because I don’t know how the story goes, I do. It’s not because I’m not working on it, I am. Not really sure about the because, actually, but I’ve got my suspicions.

To begin at the beginning, I’m a member of a flash fiction writer’s group. I’ve been in writer’s groups before. Back in Mississippi we had a very successful writer’s group that produced several published stories and even one Nebula nomination (not me, alas). I hesitated about joining the local group simply because it was flash fiction, which I’ve never been a fan of, but I was curious about the local scene, so I finally put my misgivings aside and very glad I did. It’s a talented bunch and flash has its own challenges. When I think of flash, I think of anything under about 1500 words. Nuh-uh. Here we have 500. Max. Some groups go even shorter.

Start with a challenge word. We write whatever we want, but it has to include the challenge word for the week. Three of those week’s words resulted in new Yamada stories. In 500 words. Still wrapping my head around that one myself. Naturally enough, for each of those I had to leave a lot out and imply a lot more…which meant I naturally wanted to expand them. The first one sold to BCS last spring. Working on the second one now and have plans for the third, but here’s the thing–I am writing very slowly. Yes, now we’re back to the subject of this digression. Which there wouldn’t be room for in flash, but there you go.

I think flash has me in the habit of drafting more carefully. Fine in a rewrite, but it tends to hamper things on a first draft. First draft should be more like careening down a hillside on a bike with no brakes. Even so, I usually end up with a 6-7 hundred word draft that has to be cut to 500. So when I do the same thing on a story that would normally run in the 3000+ word range, that doesn’t work as well. It slows you down.

Now that I’m aware of the problem, I can make a conscious effort to fix it. But of course first I had to become conscious that there was a problem. Which I should have realized when it took me six months to write a novella when I’ve finished full novels in three. Or an entire week to only get two thousand words of what I think will be a 3500 word story, once I’ve put in all the stuff I had to leave out the first time.

Wisdom is uncertain. Learning is optional, but better than not.

To Sum Up….

I used to hate writing synopsis. Now they merely annoy me. In another ten years or so, I might even learn to like them, if I live that long. It once helped me a bit to think of them as “writing a story about a story,” which is true but redundant. Now I think of them as retelling the story to make the story sound as good as you actually think it is.

Only you’ve got 3-4 hundred words, tops. Preferably less.

What I’m really talking about is ad copy. First the book is judged by it’s cover. I know, you can’t do that…but EVERYBODY DOES. So saying you can’t is kind of pointless. It reminds me of that scene from Shogun when a daimyo does something horrible and likely illegal and the hero asks, “Can he do that?” To which the answer, of course, is “He has done it.” So it’s reality. You can argue with reality, and lord knows I’ve done my share of it, but you don’t usually win.

Next it’s judged by the description. The ad copy. The synopsis. Great books have lousy copy. You see it all the time. Does it stop the book from selling? Not if word-of-mouth or other advantages override the fact that its description sucks. Does it help? Not even a little. Does it hurt? Quite a bit. I don’t have control over the ad copy of all my books. Some of it I think is terrible. Some’s not bad. As for the rest, I’m working on it.

All writing is hard, but some is harder than others.

 

Updates on Updates

"Night, in Dark Perfection" illo by YK

“Night, in Dark Perfection” illo by YK

First of all, I have a reprint from Clarkesworld #59, “Night, in Dark Perfection” in Science Fiction World, the Chinese SF Magazine. I’d give the link but it doesn’t seem to be working at the moment (Gov. interference or just a down server, your guess is as good as mine). I do have the illustration, by an artist who wishes to be known as YK. I’ve included a scan of the first page, though I don’t read Chinese, so I’ll take their word for it. 🙂

And yes, finally, the rough draft of the novella project is complete at just over 35k words. Tough to say how close to the final word count it’ll be. I usually end up adding more words than I cut out, and I cut out quite a few. This time, however, there are a few continuity issues I’ll have to address, so I really don’t know. The working title is “Little Fire and Fog,” but that’s likely going to change…as will significant portions of the text. Rough drafts are called that for a reason.

The novella has to sit and cool for a bit before I tackle the rewrite, which is fine since there’s a short story I want to tackle next, then probably back to the LoP series, barring the unexpected. I can’t leave Marta hanging fire forever.

Doh, a Deer

Speaking of ivory towers (as I was last week)—I don’t have one. So it was no surprise that last Friday I was out mowing our back terrace. As I did so I noticed something moving on the rather steep wooded hillside that is our backdrop. You likely won’t be able to see it from this angle, but she still has her spots. Rapidly losing them, of course, almost grown-up but not quite.

We looked at each other for a moment and she suddenly decided to run over to our neighbor’s hillside. Then she was peering at me through the hedge, and then she came back. I don’t know why. Curious about what I was doing, or maybe it was the scent of all that lovely mown grass. I was able to get a couple of decent shots off my phone from the bench where I was taking a break.

Actually, we see them a lot here. Rather unlike back in MS, where it was unusual to see a deer on your daily grind because they knew better. Then a section of the new Natchez Trace got completed around Jackson and that changed. Then you saw them all the time, because they quickly figured out they were in a state park and no one was going to shoot them there. It’s pretty much the same here, so far as in town. No hunting in the city limits, and it’s not season yet anyway. So the deer come and go as they please. I know they’ve turned into pests in some neighborhoods, and last year the heirloom  tomato plant I almost but not quite got tomatoes from was eaten by the deer…after the squirrels and chipmunks had already made off with the tomatoes.

Funny thing though, I don’t really mind. They were here first, after all. We just need to learn to get along.

The novella project is almost done. That is, the first of two scenes..sections, really, is done, with one to go, only now I realize there’s one more after that. Brief, but necessary. At this rate it’ll be just shy of proper novel length, but still the most substantial thing I’ve managed since The Emperor in Shadow.

I’ve been wanting to write more short stories, but I really need to finish the Laws of Power series first. We’ll see how that goes.

Nostalgia For What Never Was

I’ve heard, and been told, that there was a time when all a writer had to do was write the next book. Sure, an occasional book-signing or convention appearance was a good thing, but otherwise marketing was handled by the publisher and we didn’t worry our pretty little heads about it.

I don’t think that was ever true, or at least not the extent of legend, except perhaps in one category. That is, if you were exclusively a short story writer, then all that mattered was getting the next story as good as you could make it and getting it out. You hoped, certainly, that enough readers would like your work to create a level of demand, maybe even for a collection every ten to twenty years. Marketing, on any real level, was out of your sphere. My first fifteen years or so as a writer  I spent solely on shorter works and in that mindset, which served well enough at the time.

These days, writing is only part of what you do. And if you self-publish in addition to whatever else you’re doing, it may not even be the biggest part. Mainline publishers either don’t do any marketing at all outside pitches to the distribution channels, or do it perfunctorily at best, so whichever route you’re taking, marketing and promotion is pretty much your responsibility.

My problem is that I suck at it. I’m trying to learn, don’t get me wrong, but it’s an uphill climb. It doesn’t come naturally to me and no matter how much my head knows the necessity, my heart is elsewhere. I don’t want to look at spreadsheets and numbers, and writing ad copy is not like writing a book or story, and even though one serves the other they are definitely not the same thing. A separate skill that has to be learned, along with SEO and things like “keyword relevancy.”

That “ivory tower” idea is looking better and better, even though it’s pretty much a legend too.