“Typical”

In these divisive times, most people of whatever political bent do tend to agree on one thing—other people’s dreams aren’t that interesting. Proper dreams are full 3D VR experiences, complete with touch, smell, sound, color, emotion, the full range of human sensory experience. Telling the dream loses that, unless you’re a good enough writer/storyteller to shore up the gaps, and even then you’re down to something like “I flew from one mountaintop to another! It was amazing!” And the listener nods politely and changes the subject.

So I will tell you about a dream I had and immediately change the subject. Sort of. The dream, in its odd way, was the subject. It was a fairly prosaic dream which I will not embellish. Essentially, there was a writer’s group I was part of and we were looking for a place to meet. We eventually found a venue where dozens, if not hundreds of writers were already meeting, so we joined in. There was an invited Guest Speaker. I was listening to what he had to say, or trying to, because every other person in the room immediately broke up into small, intimate groups of five or six and started discussing their latest works. One woman was even narrating her most recent story via interpretive dance and method acting. No one was listening to the speaker except me, and I just thought, “Well, that was rude.”

Once awake again, I revised that comment to one word­­—“typical.”

What I was seeing in the dream was an overt example of writerly ego out of control. Never mind you. What about me? It’s sometimes called Writer’s Arrogance (WA) and it’s not always a bad thing. Sometimes it’s essential. Especially in the white heat of creation, where you must believe, to the bottom of your soul, that you’re making something worth another person’s time to read. Not to mention that it takes a great deal of self-confidence to face down the other writerly emotion, Crippling Doubt (CD). Which is likewise not always a bad thing, especially when it comes time to revise. There CD has to edge out WA so you can take a good hard jaundiced look at what you’ve written, and pinpoint the flaws so you can fix them. However, CD cannot be allowed to beat WA during the creation process, or nothing gets written. There’s a balance, or should be if this thing is going to work.

The dream was an example of WA run amuck. No one in the dream was capable of listening to anyone except themselves. I’ll give the Guest Speaker a pass because he had been brought there specifically to talk about his work. Only no one except the “I” of the dream was listening. Hmmm. According to several psychological theories, everyone in a dream is just a reflection of the dreamer. All those aspects of me, not listening? Then again, if the Speaker was just me talking, maybe I wouldn’t listen either.

There could be a lesson there, or not. I don’t pretend to know. Maybe I should listen more and talk less. Or at least not be so rude about it. It’s a thought.

 

Patterns

On my desk is a picture (artist’s rendering, duh) of Amaterasu, the Japanese goddess of the sun. I keep it there because it’s a cool picture, but also because, in very general appearance, it reminds me of the character Mei Li, who is the Chinese snake-devil (or snake-spirit, depending on the translation and your point of view) in the series of stories I’m working on now. So how did I get from a Japanese sun goddess to a Chinese snake-devil?

Good question, to which I do not have an answer. Different origins, different—though distantly related—cosmologies. Yet I can glance up from working and think, “Yep. That’s her.” Even though it isn’t. Yet the picture helps me connect to the character. I do not know how this works, but I think it has something to do with patterns.

I’ll take for example something not related at all, except it is. I don’t have a very good handle on time at the moment, so late every evening when I’m too ragged to write, I try to put in at least ten minutes or more guitar practice. Since I am a slow study where music is concerned, I have to spend a lot of that interval on basic things like switching chords cleanly and in time. Which is a lot easier when you grasp how different chord patterns are related, say when you realize that a G major chord and a Cadd9 are the same shape (hand held in the same position) the only difference being what strings the middle and index fingers are on.

It’s sort of like that. Amaterasu and Mei Li are not the same (obviously), but in one I see elements of the other. I have never to my knowledge based my understanding of a character’s appearance on a picture of someone else. This time I did. Because…patterns?

It’s as good an explanation as any.

Well, That Was Just Careless

After getting a couple new submissions under my belt I thought perhaps I should take another stab at organizing my story files a little better. I tended to let that slip a bit when I was concentrating mostly on novels, but since I want to do both, it doesn’t help to neglect one in favor of the other. Anyway, I was going over my submissions files, cross-referencing with my finished stories and noticed something odd.

I have lost a story. Completely. Gone. Poof.

I have no idea of how I managed this feat. I’m usually pretty careful about keeping copies and backups and such. I did have that one scare last year when I was certain I’d lost everything, but fortunately it didn’t turn out that way when I found, you guessed it, a current backup, so I was at least reasonably certain that the story I was missing could be found in my files.

Nope.

I knew I wasn’t imagining writing that story. I wrote the bulk of it during a meeting of my old writer’s group. It wasn’t anything earth-shattering or such; it was just a fun story that I hadn’t done anything with as far as subs go, since I couldn’t think of the right market for it. I’m still not sure there is one, only now I’ll have to rewrite the thing–literally. I can do it. I remember enough of the plot and tone so that I’m at least reasonably confident I can recreate it. Still, more work for something that should already be done.

In penance, I’m putting up a new Story Time. I was about due anyway. This one is “A Pinch of Salt” from MYTHIC #2, edited by Mike Allen.

Spring Ritual

This morning I spent a couple hours at a nearby auto shop doing the spring ritual—swapping out the winter tires for the summer tires. So now my wheels are studless and the winter tires are bedding down in the garage until next November. I look around at all the snow remaining and wonder if this was a good idea, but the rules are “no studded snow tires after March,” so we do what we have to. Come winter, though, you can bet I’ll have the snow tires back on. I’m a southern boy. I KNOW I do not yet grasp how to drive on ice, so I need all the help I can get.

Last night I finished the rewrite of the second story in the new series and sent it out. No idea yet what the third will be, but it’s out there. I’ll find it. It would be good for the series if I can place them all with the same publisher, but time will tell. There’s a limit to how many stories by the same author any given market can absorb in a year, and if I get on a tear I could easily overwhelm it. I remind myself there are other projects that need attention. None of which will mean a darn if these are the stories that want to be written now; I’ve learned to just go with it when that happens, even if, professionally, it may not be the wisest course.

Regardless, now that the first is written and sold and the second is complete, I feel confident enough in its reality to say this much about it: Set in China (or rather, what will one day be China) during the early Warring States period, about 500 BCE. I’d been thinking about these characters for a while, but never got a good handle on how to tell their story until now. I’m a little excited. Once the first has been scheduled I’ll say more, and more to the point, where to find it.

I’m Late…Again

I’m late again. Yesterday was filled with getting taxes finished and dealing with a long-overdue ophthalmology appointment. (Odd fact—I have better close-up vision in my left eye than even bifocals could give me. The right…not so much). But apparently I’m not going blind anytime soon, which is a good thing.

I need my eyes to do things, like look over old blog posts to remind myself of subjects I’ve already covered…and covered…and probably covered again. That’s the problem with interests and pet peeves and such. You tend to repeat yourself. Boring, for you and everyone else. Plus it’s easy to see how badly certain subjects will age. I just spent a few minutes on a report of my hunt for a new agent several years ago. Back then I was convinced I needed one, even though I’d been through three very reputable agents who hadn’t been able to do a thing for me. I only started selling novels when I forgot about the agents and just did it myself. So that was a lesson hard learned, but all water under the bridge.

One subject that apparently has not aged is the subject of a writer’s “odds.” It came up again just a few days ago when a well-respected editor blogged about it and I read that and thought “Wow. Déjà vu.” Does it still need to be said? Apparently, so once more from the writer’s side which, oddly enough, is pretty much the same as the editor’s side. This applies to novels as well as short fiction, but my more immediate examples are from the short story side. It goes something like this: new writers trying to break into one of the major short story markets (and the specific ones vary, depending on the time and the writer’s interests) look at the submission/acceptance ratios and get all discouraged. A publication might get anywhere from 500-1000 submissions a month, from which they accept maybe three. So your odds of being one of the three are either 1 in 167 or 1 in 333, depending on how many subs the market got that month, right?

Wrong.

Those odds would only be accurate if everyone submitting a story had an equal shot at one of those three slots, and the fact is they don’t. Most stories are rejected out of hand for a multitude of reasons: wrong length, wrong genre, general incompetence, misspellings—or worse, being autocorrected to the wrong word. Sloppy work. Their odds are never higher than zero.  Maybe about fifty stories a month get serious consideration, and those are the real odds you have to beat, about 1 in 17.Even those odds don’t matter if your story is just what the editor is looking for, in which case the odds are 1 in 1.  Provided, of course, you can get your story past the first hurdle. Right length, right market, at least competent writing professionally prepared according to manuscript guidelines. Do your homework, polish and hone your craft, and the odds get a lot better.

There now. I trust there will be no reason to repeat this ever again? Yeah, that’s what I thought.

Speaking of things that shouldn’t need to be said, I just glanced at my bookshelves and realized I’ve never read either Planet of Exile or City of Illusion, both by Ursula Le Guin, one of my all-time favorite writers. I have to correct this soonest.

I’m rambling and there’s a rough draft to rewrite and painting to do. Time to stop.