The Biter Bit

Snow-Jan-2014There was a time when I considered myself primarily a short story writer. I mean, other than the occasional review, that was mostly what I did and what I was, above all else and proud of it. This despite the fact that I had written over ten novels at the time, which of course I did not consider a contradiction. A story was a story, and some were longer than others. That was all there was to it, so far as I was concerned. However, I did have clear ideas about what was and was not a short story, none of which would fit into any academic definition. I knew one when I read one, contrariwise I knew when one wasn’t and tended to get a little miffed when I read a story in a magazine or collection, said story not living up to my own personal definition. “That’s not a short story, it’s an excerpt from a novel!” was my rallying cry.

So how did I know this? I didn’t, really. It was just something that seemed obvious to me. Someone clipped out a section of a novel, maybe smoothed the edges over a bit, emphasized the self-contained elements and downplayed those which implied matters outside itself in a cynical ploy to pick up a quick check and possibly some free advertising for the eventual book. Sometimes I’d give them a break because I knew the writer was primarily a novelist and probably couldn’t write a proper short story with a gun to their head. Ahem. As I said, it used to annoy me a little. I mean, if you’re in a short story market, write an actual short story, not this patchwork pretender!

Yeah, about that… Continue reading

Grist For the Mill

snow-eastwindowWell, I had planned to start this post in the morning, but the winter storm Orson hitting the northeast sort of delayed everything. I hear it was and is much worse further east of us, but here in central New York State it snowed all day yesterday and all last night, and part of the morning, so this morning was given over to removing about a foot of snow from our walkway, steps, and driveway. I’m starting to get the hang of it, I think, but shoveling snow is a new skillset for me. Straight-handled shovel for pushing, bent-handle for lifting and carrying reduces the amount of bending necessary. I have a little electric snowblower that works surprisingly well, but even it can’t handle a foot of snow at a time unless you shovel a part for it first so you can split off the snow in manageable slices for the blower.

Yes, I know this is old hat for a lot of you, but consider—I’m a southerner, born and raised. We only saw snow very occasionally. In my entire childhood I can remember three good snows. Three. I never owned a snow shovel. I didn’t know anyone who did. Now I own two, and a snowblower. In Mississippi, 3-4 inches of snow would have shut down the entire state, with runs on the grocery shelves because the snowpocalypse had arrived. I know the state owned a snowplow, because I saw it. Once. Never saw it being used. A little sand on the bridges was about the most anyone could think to do. Here, naturally, 3-4 inches is barely worth mentioning. A foot or more, otoh, has to be dealt with.

It’s still a new experience for me, and that’s a good thing. Writers need new experiences, almost as much as they need to sit their butts in the chair and get writing. It was once said that a writer is a person who can watch a cat stalking a mouse and then write a scene capturing what it would be like to be stalked by a tiger. I dunno about that, but in the story I’m working on now there’s a scene where our heroes(?) are trudging through snow, freezing their butts off  to get a job done.

I don’t think I’ll have too much trouble with that scene.

P.S. In the picture above, that white fog? Yeah. That’s falling snow.

Remembering Good Things

Front_cover3Now that the second file cabinet is a file cabinet and not just a pile of particle board, it was time to transfer the last of my paper files from the box they were living and traveling in to their new home. Which naturally involved going through them all during the transfer process. I’d already done one huge purge before we moved, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t make more space. After all, most files are electronic these days, even if paper is still best suited for some things, aside from the recycle bin. Sure enough, several times I ran across folders full of errata that had me scratching my head. “Why, in the name of all that’s holy, did I save that?”

Yet there were many more instances where the question didn’t even come up. Like back in the day when Parke Godwin sent me an example of a novel pitch he used when selling one of the wonderful Arthurian novels he did. As I’ve said before, what little I know about writing novel synopsis and pitching, I learned from him. Or copies of (rare) fan letters, including one for my first collection, The Ogre’s Wife from one of my favorite artists. It was a boost, at a time I really needed one. As with my good fortune in marrying First Reader, and the help and encouragement—and Dutch Uncle severity, when needed—I got from Pete Godwin, you can’t always depend on those things along the way. So when it happens, count yourself lucky, and don’t forget. Pass it on when you can, but above all, be aware.

We like to talk about writing as a solitary profession, and mostly it is. So often it’s just you, putting your butt in the chair and facing down the blank page/screen. Yet now and then along the way, alongside the confused/bad reviews and rejections, odds are you’re going to get a hand up. Sure, be proud of what you’ve accomplished, since you did almost all of it yourself. Just remember the “almost” part and don’t forget to be grateful.

Some Assembly Required

filing-cabinet2That mess of veneered particle board you’re looking at is about to become a rather dashing two-drawer filing cabinet. I know this because I’ve already put one together, so I have faith that this one will turn into its twin, and I’ll finally…finally! Be able to put my old story files and contracts in order.

I said I have faith because I’ve done this before, but little certainty because it was a couple of months ago. I was…interrupted, shall we say, by events beyond my control. I barely remember how I got the first one together and the instructions, to put it mildly, are rather lacking. No matter, now that I can lift my left arm again, I have confidence that I’ll puzzle this one out as well, and finally have the storage I need. Yet I have no doubt it won’t be easy, but that’s not important. I’m used to it. Hard? Sure. Except….

Writing a story is harder. You don’t have any directions, unless you’re one of those lucky sorts who can plot out an entire trilogy before you’ve written a word of it. I am not one of those people. I don’t even have ideas that any rational person would recognize as such. Usually it’s just a notion, but more often a character. I set them loose and follow them. If I’ve chosen well, they go to interesting places and do interesting things, and meet interesting characters, and my job is mostly chronicler. If I do that right, they’ll usually let me in on what they’re really up to, because a story–one worth its salt, that is–has two main components: what happens, and what it’s about. They are almost never the same thing.

Unlike the filing cabinet and its instructions, which say what they are and they are no more than that, just get the parts together in the right order, and you’re done. Writing really does not work that way. Sometimes I find myself praying for a good set of instructions, but then I usually remember that is not the point. Some days that’s harder than others, but if wanted easy I’d put together another filing cabinet.

Business As Usual — For Some Things

WRITING 02There’s something about a deadline that focuses the mind wonderfully. Even a self-imposed deadline, like this one. I am determined, whenever possible, to have these blog posts done and ready to post every Monday. Why Monday? Because it’s better to start at the beginning, which is what Monday is for most people on a weekly schedule. There’s some logic to it.

Business as usual, right? Like before I started this post, I processed a rejection and got the story back under submission. Everyone gets rejected at some time or another, or even regularly. If you want to write for publication and can’t deal with that, find another avocation. You can’t even dodge it by self-publishing, since then readers have a direct chance to reject what you’re doing.  It’s always going to hurt, even after you’ve done it for years and years and develop the thick skin necessary to keep going. I could even say “get used to it” but that would be hypocritical, since I never have. I accept it, since the irony is this is all you can do with rejection. Just move on to the next possibility, and keep working so there always is another possibility.

Speaking of which, time to figure out what the next novel is going to be. I think I know. I hope I’m right. Back to business….