Getting it Wrong

Anyone who has written for any length of time has a few of these. Stories with a notion and characters you like, with decent plot, decent or better execution (in your humble opinion), also with one teensy problem—no traction. In other words…

…They don’t sell.

It happens. Sometimes you don’t get anywhere because the market for that particular “type” of story didn’t exist at the time. Maybe the market existed when you wrote them but didn’t by the time you were ready to send them out. It happens. Markets are born and die all the time. Editorial tastes can be mercurial. And, as I’ve mentioned before, with patience and perseverance, you can wait it out. I think ten years is my current record on that.

Sometimes, though, the problem isn’t them. It’s you.

These days, of course, you can just forget patience and put the story out yourself by various means: ebook, Patreon reward, whatever. It’s nice to have options. I was thinking of that the other day when I revisited an old story I’d written in the same universe as All the Gates of Hell, one of my favorite books. I think I had some notion of turning the premise into a story series, but it didn’t happen, mostly because this piece failed on the launch pad. I still liked the idea and was considering doing a Kindle short read or something of the sort. So I revisited the story…

…and now I know why it didn’t sell.

A little perspective always helps, and I was too close to this story for too long. It had to sit out of sight and mind long enough for the scales to finally fall from my eyes. Now I could give it a good hard look.

I wasn’t totally wrong. The premise is good, the characters likewise. Most of the problems are structural. The beginning is too slow. There’s way too much backstory in the time allotted, and an infodump just doesn’t cut it. If anything, at 7600 words the piece is too short. It should have been longer, with suitable pacing to make all the bits well-blended and cohesive. No way I was putting it out anywhere in the shape it’s in. Perhaps it can be fixed, but it will require a complete rewrite and expansion and I have too much else on my plate right now with new work. So it’ll have to wait.

I hope it’s more patient than I am.

Muse and Writer Dialogues #15 In Which I am Desultory

Scene: Writer at his desk, staring at the screen. In other words, Monday.

Writer: Crap

Muse (reluctantly putting in an appearance): You again?

Writer: You’re my muse, so who else? And before you ask, yes, I’m having trouble.

Muse: I wasn’t going to ask. Laddie, you are trouble.

Writer: So you’re Scottish now?

Muse: Just an expression, a whim, you know—creative license. You should try it sometime.

Writer: Very funny. I need some inspiration.

Muse: You need a lot more than that. Besides, inspiration is overrated. Yes, you’ve managed the “butt in chair, blank screen” part of the work ethic, but so far you’ve left out the “putting one word after another” part.

Writer: This, I know. But what words?

Muse: If I knew that, I’d be the writer. Your problem is you’re desultory.

Writer: Maybe right now…

Muse: Luke warm? Half-hearted? You’re failing to understand the nuances of the word and all the synonyms in the world don’t do it justice. The full meaning is more along the lines of “without a purpose, a plan, or enthusiasm.”

Writer: Ouch…but accurate.

Muse: The truth often hurts. Why do you think so many people—not to mention politicians—try to hide it?

Writer: It’s not always the truth.

Muse: No, but it always is at the start. You begin weak and finish strong. You generate a purpose, a plan, and then enthusiasm, but not until the first several words are written. Most writers I know start off strong, inspired, and enthusiastic then get worn down. They’re desultory toward the end, not the beginning. You’re opposite. It’s a little weird, to tell the truth again.

Writer: Just how many other writers do you know?

Muse: Neither here nor there. And a lady never inspires and tells.

Writer: So you’re saying?

Muse (sighs): Put some words down, idiot. Doesn’t matter what they are, since you’ll change them once you figure out what you’re doing. The magic won’t happen until then. Inspiration, for what it’s worth, is a lot more important during the process than at the start.

Writer: I wouldn’t mind a little inspiration at the start.

Muse (sighs again, a little disgusted): Listen, twerp. You almost always know what you want to do from the beginning, in a general way, but not how. You hesitate because of uncertainty and fear that this time you won’t be able to pull it off, doesn’t matter how bloody many times you’ve been in the same place feeling the same thing. Once you get going, a fuller and more focused purpose, plan, and enthusiasm all fall into line. I would have thought at the very least you’d have picked up a clue about that by now.

Writer: You said it yourself—I’m a little slow out of the blocks.

Muse: Slow? By the starting gun you haven’t even gotten your shoelaces tied. Words. Now.

Writer: Okay. “It was a dark and stormy night.”

Muse: Don’t make me hurt you.

Writer: You said it didn’t matter what they were.

Muse: Well, I lied. Call it creative license.

 

Context is for Wimps

Today’s blog post is a snippet from the current WIP. It will be perfectly clear and yet totally meaningless. When I’m far enough along I’ll think about doing weekly  full chapters at least part of the way through, but I’m not there yet.

 

Bonetapper scowled. “How will we get through the mountains?”

In truth, Marta had been giving that question some thought. There were two main routes commonly used. The Snake Pass was currently blocked, and even if it wasn’t that would take them further east to Conmyre, a long way from Shalas. Not to mention the pilgrim road crossed Wylandian territory for some miles. While travelers were protected by treaty, it wasn’t a physical threat Marta was worried about. Three Rivers Pass led to Borasur-Morushe, much closer to Shalas, and that was the path Sela and Prince Dolan had taken. As much as she would have liked to see them again, after the events in the Blackpits they had all agreed this was unwise, at least for a while. It might be possible to traverse Borasur-Morushe unnoticed, but more likely not. Plus she would have to cross Duke Okandis’ territory to reach Shalas, and he was a man with a grudge. Having met the man she had his measure, but—as with her friends Sela and Dolan—he was a complication. And Marta had her fill of complications for the time being.

Not that she would have hesitated to take either of those routes, even the blocked pass, if she could feel the pull of the Sixth Law in either direction. That was her next goal and priority, but at the moment she felt nothing.

Bonetapper, noting her silence, spoke again. “May I make a suggestion?”

“If you wish.”

“What about that magician fellow in the Blackpits? He’s used to moving freely about and might know the best way to get back to Shalas.”

“Tymon? We’ll see him again. I’m not sure if that’s for good or ill, but it will happen. But not yet. Besides, while he does travel freely, we cannot use his methods. No, there’s only one way.”

Marta reached into her pouch and took out the map she’d copied from an old scroll in Kuldun. “We’re going to take the Penitent’s Road. That way we can reach Shalas without having to cross Borasur-Morushe at all.”

Bonetapper cocked his head, which was as close as the raven could manage to a frown. “I thought the Penitent’s Road was a myth.”

“It is. Doesn’t mean it’s not real.”

 

Brief Commercial Announcement

Right now I need to be working on my last piece of flash fiction for the year (and about a dozen other things), but I’m leaving a quick note just so no one can say I didn’t tell anybody: I’m doing a countdown deal on the ebook  of Ghost Trouble: The Casefiles of Eli Mothersbaugh. The price will be  $.99 for another two days, then up to $1.99 before it returns to its regular price. Anyone interested in a paranormal detective with as many human troubles as the ghostly sort, here’s a cheap way to try it.

I now return you to your regular non-self-promotional  silence until next time.

We Don’t Want That, With “Story Time”

Today’s topic is fashion in fiction. And I don’t mean what the authors and editors are wearing this year. I mean trends in topics, settings, and whatever. We don’t always think of fiction in those terms, but there’s always a “hot new thing.” Sometimes it really is new. Most of the time it’s a new approach to an old subject, but trendy for a time..

For example, when I was first getting ink on my fingers (in those days, literally), Sword and Sorcery was huge. As in that was most of what was being published as fantasy. I have since seen Cyberpunk, Mannerpunk,  Elfpunk and (briefly) Crackerpunk. (To be fair, that last was simply because a few of us Southern authors were coming online around the same time and rather tongue-in-cheek co-opted the term). For a while “punk” stuck on the end was all that was needed to make a movement rather than a blip. Then came the New Weird, which was a lot like the old Weird, only newer.

And then…well, you get the idea. They come and go with amazing regularity.

Most of the above was just marketing, though each had its own core of what was really happening in fiction at the time. There’s always something else.

And then there’s the subcategory: The Cliché.

These are the stories that no one wants because, well, they’ve become cliché: The Deal With the Devil. The Magic Shop. The Adam & Eve. Not that such stories can’t be well done, they’re just harder to do and not much point.

Or maybe there is. Because, in the case of the first two, I think they’re fun. And there are some stories I write simply because I can, and I enjoy writing them now and again with the full understanding that they are nearly impossible to market. Witness the DWTD collection above. In honor of that tradition, I present a brand new Story Time. This is from the Flash Fiction group I belong to, and the word we had to write a story around was “comeuppance.” A difficult word in the sense that it only means one thing and shades of meaning don’t apply. Unless of course you turn it into a pun in a magic shop story.

I therefore present, squeezed into a 500 word limit,  “The ComeUp Pence.”

There was a more obviously political way I could have taken it, but after last week I resisted. You can thank me later.