Surfing for Survival

FoxMaybe not literally, but as far as visibility and career are concerned. I’ve been thinking about the question of career survival because it finally occurred to me that I’ve been shifting gears a bit lately when it comes to my own writing, in that I’m doing more novels these days, and fewer short stories. Now, for many cases that’s just considered par for the course, and was once considered the only course—you started off writing short stories, with the intention of getting good enough to sell them to the major magazines, of which there were several. If you were planning any sort of career, then part of the plan was to build up your name recognition through short fiction and then use that visibility to transition to novels. Short stories were never considered to be an end in themselves in that scenario. Sure there were probably as many exceptions as not, and writers who started with novels from day one and were either barely or sometimes not at all aware that the magazines even existed. I wasn’t one of those. I discovered the magazines at about the same time that I started to write in the first place, and I began with short stories, and the first novel I ever wrote I thought was going to be another short story, until an editor took pity on me and informed me that what I had submitted was not a short story, but the opening chapter to a novel, and so it later proved. Regardless, the short story was my go-to form. Continue reading

“Having Nothing to Say, He Says it at Length”

Hailstone1Writing short stories—good ones—is a skill and an art and a craft. Writing a novel is all those things too, plus a marathon. Just as the novel is paced differently, so is the mindset of the person writing the thing. At least that’s what I’m contemplating at the moment, so far as how it pertains to blogging. There are a lot of—in my humble opinion—interesting things happening, but 1) they’re internal 2) they make almost no sense out of context and 3) I can’t talk about them anyway. The reason I can’ talk about them is illustrated by the advice a famous pulp author once allegedly gave to Ray Bradbury when Bradbury was letting his youthful enthusiasm get the better of him and he’d talk out his stories before he even wrote them. That advice being: “Ray, shut up.”

A bit dutch-uncle blunt, but very good advice for a writer. If you want to talk about a story or novel, talk about it on the page by writing the darn thing. Because we are storytellers, and telling the story aloud really does take the edge off your desire to get the thing written down. And unless you are a professional verbal storyteller who gets paid for keeping a crowd entertained, the story doesn’t exist until you write it down for your own crowd, who are, if you’re lucky, your readers. Which means a healthy dose of STFU is indicated.

Problem is, though this is good advice for someone trying to get a novel finished before year’s end, STFU is the exact opposite of what one has to do to keep up a regular blog. So I will talk about something I can talk about, referencing that humoungous hailstone seen above. Those who follow this blog may remember the massive hailstorm we suffered back in March. Well, with one thing and another I just got around to filing a claim for the damage to my truck, and Sunday the claims adjustor got a look at it.

That frickin’ hailstorm totaled my truck. That is, it was an old truck, and now the cost to repair it exceeds the value of the vehicle=totaled. I’m going to miss that truck. I called it T-Chan, and old fans of Ranma ½ may get the reference. It hauled a lot of loads over the years: paving stones, lumber for Carol’s meditation pyramid, the flooring of at least half the house, our new couch. But then I thought, if I don’t have a truck, I won’t have to haul all this $&^t any more. So we went out last night and bought a hybrid.

Was that interesting? I’m guessing no. But remember, the good stuff I can’t talk about. Yet.

So Who Wants to Know?

The topic came up elsewhere and got me thinking of the infamous Author Bio-Blurb. You see it in books, sure, but those of us who write short stories as well, or even primarily, have to deal with it too and a lot more often. I know. It’s really a sort of “high-class worry” to people who haven’t sold at all or barely. “Writing author blurbs is hard? My heart frickin’ bleeds for your anguish.” I’ll grant you, the first few are kinda fun. Then you’re selling maybe five or six stories or more every year, year after year, and it’s become a chore. 

“Again, my heart frickin’ bleeds—“ Continue reading

What’s the Worst That Could Happen?

When you’re trying to get into the head of a character, there are some easy questions to ask that might help. Questions such as: “What do they want?” “Why?” “What’s preventing them from getting it?” “What will happen if they do get it?”

Good, basic, and often useful, but to my mind the question that yields the most bang for your pluck is simply “What are they afraid of?” I admit that this is standard operating procedure if you’re talking about suspense/horror, but that’s too limiting. Even a comedy works best when fear is in the mix, and I submit that no writer really understands their characters if they don’t know what gives them the night sweats. Continue reading