inasmuch as it concerns Selling My Soul:
"Psst! Wanna buy a story? Hot new manuscripts, exclusively yours to publish! First American, First Serial, E-rights and reprints! Get 'em while they're hot!"
assembly lines in no particular hurry
- 3,400 wds. long
- 3,329 wds. long
- 566 wds. long
With recent deadlines behind me and unstructured fiction time ahead, I'm working on "The Impact of Snowflakes." This is another story that has been through the critique mill several times; most recently it received the attentions of my current neighborhood group.
I'm developing a process for this. It's a gradual process, an unhurried process, a process involving itty-bitty bites at a time, a process above all involving very little pressure upon myself. Revision is not a task I approach gleefully. Any strategy I can use to Not Scare Myself Off is a good strategy.
Anyway, it's how "It's For You" got revised and ready to submit, so I'm doing it again. It goes like this:
First, the scribbled-upon hard copies get three-hole-punched and popped into a three-ring-binder. Yesterday I made this process More Fun by acquiring color tab dividers (to separate story from story) along with sticky tabs in fun quilt-print patterns (to separate copy from copy).
Next, the story finds a home in a new Scrivener project using the short story template. An RTF copy of the story gets pulled in under the "Critiques" folder.
Then, I annotate this critiqued draft by entering each critic's feedback as linked comments. Linked comments can be created in any color; I assign one color to each critic. If the critic left me any general comments, I'll type that into a new file that lives folder-wise inside the critiqued draft.
(Here is where I complain a little about Scrivener for Windows. The manual claims that Scrivener remembers which color you used last in a linked comment, such that it will automatically create the next linked comment in that color. LIES. Every single one comes up in default yellow. So it's Highlight text, hit Shift-F4, hope like heck I didn't hit CTRL-F4 instead, type in the comment, right-click on the comment, select "Purple"... and repeat.)
Lastly, I begin typing in the new draft. I use a horizontal split-screen layout so I can reference the critiqued copy and its comments below the split while I type in the new draft above. The new draft, of course, goes in the "Draft" folder, either as one file or many depending on whether I work the scenes out of order.
Right now, I'm in the annotation stage. I'm giving myself permission to go through a single critiqued copy per day. This means that the work goes very slowly. But it also means a certain amount of composting--that background-level "thinking about things" process--happens too. Each person's feedback gets a day and a night of subconscious chewing-over. Hopefully that means that by the time I begin working on the new draft, possible solutions to the problems raised in the workshop are beginning to bubble into consciousness.
And oh boy are there problems in this story. The main thing I'm wibbling about is the isolation of the main character. I mean, yes, you get somewhat isolated when you live alone and the Snowpocalypse is shutting down the world little by little, but there's phones and internet and TV and stuff, and emergency personnel with their vehicles with their flashing lights and sirens. This is not an intimate two-person story like "It's For You." This is a worldwide crisis story. Which means I have to populate the world in which it occurs.
When wibbling, it's so very helpful to focus in on small, bite-sized tasks. Nibble-sized tasks. Tomorrow, I don't have to worry about populating the whole world. All I have to do is annotate the critiqued draft with the feedback scribbled on the next copy in my binder. I cannot begin to tell you what a relief that is.
In other news, Lightspeed has already declined "Other Theories of Relativity" for their Women Destroy Science Fiction issue. Which means that story is free to go knock on another editor's door. And because it's always easier to knock on a stranger's door if you've got a buddy, I sent along "The Day the Sidewalks Melted," who's seeking a first reprint home, to keep it company.
The two stories are oddly similar. I'm trying to consider this a plus. It's not "oh, dear, not one but two stories about broken relationships and loss and disaster written in a sort of Second Person of Direct Address point of view, hasn't this author any other tricks?" No. It's "My, what a lovely diptych of microfiction this is." Yes. That's exactly what it is.
mother may i
- 3,329 wds. long
- 2,850 wds. long
If last week moved slowly, still it finished up where it needed to be. "Other Theories of Relativity" and "It's For You," both much transformed from the previous drafts, both went out into the wide world. And then, just for grins, so did "First Breath" in hopes of seeing it in reprint.
This is my second time sending it out as a reprint. The first time, I had the unmitigated chutzpah to suggest it might be appropriate for the VanderMeer's feminist spec fic anthology.
About which, I hasten to add, there is nothing wrong. An author needs unmitigated chutzpah to believe her writing worth others' reading at all. And this was a story that at least one editor had judged worthy to pay pro money for and press between hardback covers in a table of contents alongside some pretty awesome authors, so its quality wasn't in question.
However, I had some moments of crawling insecurity about it. One the one hand, the VanderMeers' anthology was to survey feminist speculative fiction from the 1970s onward; did I really think this little story could stand up in that kind of company?
Obviously, the proper answer to that question was, "Don't deny the editors a chance to decide for themselves. Send it in."
But on the other hand, there was the much more devastating insecurity having to do with not having published nor even finished another story since then. Did I think that having made this one sale, I was done? Was I just going to try to milk those 2,900 words or so for all I could get out of them and call it a career?
Well, no, of course not. But all those demons of the family Imposter Syndrome were jeering at me about it. Or shaking their heads sadly. Or just asking, in a tone of grave concern, whether I thought I had the right to try to reprint this story when I hadn't sold any new ones since.
So I sent it anyway. And it was not chosen for the anthology. And that was fine and good and about how these things generally go. (What was chosen? I do not know. A brief search has not turned up news on the anthology. I presume it's still in production.)
Flash forward to yesterday, when I sent it out again. Whole different story.
For one thing, far less pressure: The market I submitted it to is quite respected, but it's just another market. It isn't trying to be a piece of literary history. So that made things easier.
What made it even easier was knowing that it was one of seven pieces I had out in the slush. Seven! Two reprint submissions, one unpublished story on its eighth trip out, and four stories that were Brand Spanking New, Never Before Submitted, Never Before Seen By Editorial Eye, Setting Foot In Slush For the First Time! Seven. And by the end of the week I'll have sent two more reprint submissions out.
That's more stuff simultaneously in slush than I've had since, oh, 2006 or so. I think that's a dandy measure of the success of my new day-to-day work routine.
Now, it can't be overstated that my little fearing monsters' concerns that maybe I hadn't yet earned the right to try to reprint "First Breath" yet were--there's no way to say this gently--total bullshit. Well-intentioned bullshit, true, but bullshit none the less. You earn the right to reprint a story by having the rights of a previously published story of yours revert to you. Simple as that. There's no additional mechanism required and no further permission that you need.
But having what feels like a shit-ton of other writing out on editors' desks really helps.
Yes, this has been an "I feel like a writer!" blog post. Yes, I'm still doing those from time to time. Kinda pathetic, I know. Hey, we get our affirmation where we can, right? And the best kind of affirmation is the kind we can make on our own. Behold: I am a self-affirmation-making machine, my friends. A veritable one-woman factory cranking out the stuff.
Which will no doubt comfort me later on in the week when I'm trying to individually position grains of salt and pepper on the soup of the next short story in the revision queue.
not quite like athena
And then yesterday didn't happen. But look! Today, I finished a thing and I submitted that thing. I submitted it to Lightspeed. I am helping to Destroy Science Fiction!
*pats self on head*
The opening line I posted earlier? Didn't end up using it. It now lives in a file in the "Deleted Scenes" folder of the story's Scrivener project, along with a few other false starts and removed verbiage. This is because the story went in a different direction than it did during that first draft, which makes it an entirely different story. Which means the story that the first draft was pointing toward could yet happen. You never know.
Writerly observation of the week: Write it down, no matter how little or incomplete.
Unpacking that: Sometime this week, probably during a drive to or from Longmont (tomorrow night will be my first night all week not doing anything derby-related), I got an insight for the story. In the stalled-out draft, the Caroline-type character has just said a thing to the Louise-type character, and her voice sounded very calm and clear despite the situation. In my head, the Louise-type character makes an observation about her sister's voice, how it reminded her of other times her sister had whispered audacious ideas in her ear and led her into trouble. That's it. That's all. Just a small observation that added a small amount to what little I knew about their history.
I spent far too much time turning that over and over in my head. "OK, but so what? What does that mean? How am I going to use that?"
Today I said, "All right already," and took that tiny insight and added it to the draft. And that's when the draft changed direction and raced headlong toward its brand new goal.
I keep rediscovering this: Stories cannot be completed inside my head. They will not erupt from my skull fully formed and with gray eyes flashing. No, sadly, there comes a point where they simply hit a brick wall in there. And yet, magically, once I give in and just write down what I've got so far, that physical act of writing it down (and also the visual act of reading it) sparks the next idea that I'd been straining for in vain thus far. It's like a small plant that's gottne root-bound in its seedling cup; it needs to be transplanted into the wider world. Only once I put it on the page does it finally bloom.
Also, here's another writerly observation: Drop one name from a classic novel, and it's a literary allusion. Drop two names, and you risk your story looking like fan-fiction. This is not ideal if you're trying to sell the piece to a professional market.
Anyway. Here's hoping tomorrow's rewrite project goes as well as today's did.
but then they make you do it all over again
- 243 wds. long
Today was a raging success. Behold:
Finished, had critiqued, revised, and submitted my 243-word entry to String-of-10. My friend and colleague Julie was also entering the contest, and suggested we exchange critiques. We spent some time on the phone tonight helping each other revise, and then we also navigated Flash Fiction Chronicles's Submittable interface together. "What do you suppose they want in that text field?" "I don't know, but my best guess is..." "Oh, OK, that sounds plausible."
We're a team!
Also researched, finished, proofed and submitted my first Demand Media Studios article since November. I have this stupid mental block about working for DMS. Logically, I know that I should be milking the heck out of this gig. I somehow got approved to write articles for LIVESTRONG despite my absolute lack of any fitness or nutrition background at the time--which is weird, considering I have a friend who makes his living as, among other things, a fitness coach, but his application got rejected. WTF, DMS?!--so now I get to write minimally researched 500-word articles for $30 each. This is easy money. I should take better advantage of it.
But somehow my soul sort of rolls over and dies when it contemplates working on an article. Even a softball topic (for me) like "The Crossover Technique on Roller Skates" puts me in a mindless procrastination trance for a week.
Well, the dang thing was due today, so finally around 8:00 p.m. I knuckled into it. I'd already pulled up some useful Derbylife articles and a fantastic tutorial video from Naomi Grigg (a.k.a. The Neutrino, rostered with the Rat City Rollergirls team "Sockit Wrenches") the week before, so really I just had to do exactly what I did last time I led Phase 1 training: Explain the crossover.
I submitted the article towards the end of the 10:00 hour. 11:30, I was perplexed that it wasn't showing on my Work Desk under "recently submitted." This turned out to be because it had already been accepted. That's got to be the shortest amount of time an article of mine ever spent on an editor's desk at DMS. (The editor left very nice comments for me, too.)
Today also featured "finally got around to it" accomplishments enabled in part by McGuckin Hardware. The tube of E6000 epoxy restored the handle to the lovely little Japanese teapot that Avedan gave me some years back. The tip of a bamboo skewer dipped into a tube of gold acrylic paint added just the lightest touch of color to the job, kintsugi style. (Very, very light. These are not actually the right materials for kintsugi, and I didn't want to risk diluting the epoxy too much.) The Elmer's Glue-All finally got me to complete a long-planned project of whimsy and childhood nostalgia: converting an old miniature dry-erase board into a black felt storyboard. I also replaced the roll of gold duct tape that needs to live in my skate bag.
Lastly, I finally processed about a half-inch of the Pile Of Papers That Need Dealing With. Those things that required more than filing--bills to pay and stuff like that--got put in my brand-new wall-mounted inbox for dealing with on the morrow. My brand-new wall-mounted inbox is, very simply, a bit of folded and taped cardboard that I impaled on some of the nails coming through the naked wall in the office.
I'm just resourceful like that.
Thus, today was awesome. And now today is over. Tomorrow looms. It seems dreadfully unfair not to get a little time off between making today awesome and being expected to make tomorrow awesome. I shall have to file a bug report about that.
i think it's a story
- 1,300 wds. long
It got finished. It got submitted. I'm not entirely sure I'm happy with what I ended up with, but that's life with what's essentially a very polished first draft. It's 1300 words with a beginning, middle, and an end, which means at the very least it is a story.
I feel very bad-ass when I spend a sustained number of hours bringing a story draft to completion. I also feel exhaustion. Endurance was never my strong suit, but I'm working on it.
In logging my submission on my personal database, I had occasion to notice I hadn't logged my previous rejection from The First Line ("Anything For a Laugh," which has recently been critiqued by my neighborhood group). In correcting this lapse, I had occasion to reread the previous rejection letter. It was a form rejection, very brief, but appended just beneath the signature was an even briefer personal note: "Fun story, Nicole. Just missed. Try us again."
I think I failed to notice it before. I don't recall feeling this encouraged at the time. It made me grin, reading it today.
So I have tried them again, and intend to try them more often. Writing to prompts is fun! The next prompt, with a due date of May 1, is "Please, Sylvia, give me a moment to think." (Why am I flashing on the Doctor Who 2005 riff on The Weakest Link?)
Tomorrow: Working weekend continues, as I get my 250-or-fewer words in order for the String-of-Ten contest.
back in the slush with you
Dear universe: My complaints about not having submitted anything last week were not, I repeat, not meant as a request that a manuscript I had out in slush get rejected so that I could submit it again. Sheesh! Work with me here, OK?
So "Blackbird" will not be in C.C. Finlay's guest-edited issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Like all non-acceptance outcomes, this is sad. I sigh a wistful sigh. (Wait for it... *sigh* ...OK.)
However! The rejection letter was personal (like almost all rejection letters for this particular issue of F&SF, do not expect this with other issues of F&SF), and described the story in glowing terms. Which means an editor of renown has had the opportunity to link my name to a pleasant prose-reading experience. This is a thing, isn't it? This is definitely a thing. Always look on the bright side.
The problem with this story is, the protagonist is a writer. The plot involves writing. That's kind of not a good thing for commercial viability. The plot also involves a demon, and quite possibly the End Of The World (again), but these elements simply don't outweigh the writing element, it would seem. I've had two rejection letters now that say, basically, "Writers will dig it, but non-writers will not, and among our readership non-writers outnumber the writers like woah." The other rejection letters didn't say that, but since they also didn't say much beyond some form of "did not suit our needs at this time," I can't be sure they weren't thinking it.
Damn it, I am not going to rewrite this story to be about a sculptor who can't let the clay dry or the demon gets out. Besides, that trick wouldn't fool anyone. "Isn't this just writing in disguise?" Yes. That's exactly what it would be.
I have begun to feel foolish for continuing to shop this story around.
After that first rejection that mentioned the problem of writers writing about writing, I got in a conversation with other writers. One of 'em said to me, "So sell it to a literary journal. They love that kind of thing." I lamented, "But literary journals will insist that the demon is merely metaphorical!" And yet, and yet... they had a point.
Today, while logging the rejection at The Submission Grinder (currently in BETA)*, I remembered that conversation. And so, after clicking the handy and benevolent "Find a new home for this story," which kindly and effortlessly produces a market search form pre-filled with your story's details, I tweaked the menus to look for literary/mainstream markets.
Scanning the results, I noticed Glimmer Train.
Glimmer Train? But don't they change reading fees?
Yes. Except for three non-contiguous month-long fee-free submission periods per year. One of which happens to be January.
Well, hell. I dug up my old password to their online submission system (which, it turns out, I last utilized to submit them a story ten years ago), logged in, and shipped "Blackbird" right back out.
Never let a manuscript sleep over, so they say. Well, I didn't. And there you go.
*Sort of a Duotrope replacement for those who don't want to pay for a subscription to Duotrope, and who think Duotrope could have been more useful than it was when it was free. Designed by a web programmer who's a writer, and who's willing and eager to bring writers' dreams of a Duotrope that's more useful than Duotrope to life.(back)
getting ready, taking aim
I've put "It's For You" aside for the moment and have turned to another story in the infinite queue of Stories Requiring Rewrites. It's not that I'm trying to avoid ever actually finishing something (although I know it does look that way). It's that I suddenly realized that I only have about three more weeks to attempt to destroy science fiction, and "It's For You" is not science fiction.
So I thought to myself, "Didn't I recently write a short-short that juxtaposes space travel and relativity with the slow erosion on relationships by time and divergent life trajectories?" OK, no, that's not quite true. The thought was more like, "Hey, what about that flash piece that had to use three of a given list of words, 'redshift' and 'twin' being two of them?"
Which led to me pulling up the my 2012 Weekend Warrior submissions and worksheets. Weekend Warrior is an annual flash fiction contest they hold over in the Codex forums (link goes to public front page; forums are member-only). For the first five weekends in the year, give or take a holiday delay, there's a handful of prompts posted on Friday and a deadline on Sunday by which you submit a 750-word (maximum) story based on one of those prompts. Stories are posted anonymously, everyone comments on each other's stories anonymously and rates them on a scale of 1 to 10, and based on these ratings winners are declared at the end of the five weeks.
The story I'm thinking of was what I submitted during week 1. Fellow Codexians may or may not remember it under the title "Other Theories of Relativity." I copied it and all the comments it received to a new Scrivener project--and immediately despaired because it's a piece of aimless, nebulous, meandering woo. It's poetic, and some commenters declared it beautiful, but it's a piece that doesn't quite know what it wants to be. My job will be to tease that out and make something stronger out of that original attempt. (And also not make it look derivative of the movie Gravity, damn it, which it predates by more than a year but that alone will not be sufficient to save me.)
Meanwhile, my yWriter project containing that story also contains my contest submissions for weeks 2 through 5, and also the noodling I did on the prompts I ultimately did not use. ("It's For You" actually sprang from an unused Week 1 prompt, come to think of it.) If I'm diligent enough about the short story portion of my daily work routine, this little treasure trove could keep me feeding slush piles for the rest of the year. Or at least through Midsummer.
micromanaging the soup
- 700 wds. long
"Right Door" is on its way to a new slush pile, one that's reprint friendly. Which makes two submissions this week, hurrah! The other was "Blackbird."
Neither of these are strangers to the field. And while it feels good to keep 'em out in the slush ("'til Hell won't have it," as Jim D. Macdonald is wont to say), I miss the thrill of sending a story out for the very first time.
I am inching closer to being able to do just that with "It's For You," but when I say "inching" I do mean it.
You know, I love the freedom of National Novel Writing Month. I love my daily 25 minutes of freewriting, too. I love writing rough draft. I get to transmit thought to page at the rate of 90wpm without worrying about perfection or even competence. It needn't be good so long as it's story.
Revision is a whole 'nother matter. I look at the previous version, I begin to type the new version, and immediately my brain freezes up under a blinking red banner that says THIS HAD BETTER BE RIGHT.
And it doesn't help that, after compiling the recent batch of critiques, I realize that this piece wants a lot more than discrete fixes to discrete bits. I wouldn't say it needs an overhaul, but the fixes it does need are sort of all-encompassing. The flavor needs adjusting. The ingredients need to be better integrate. It's like making soup, OK, but I can't just twist the grinder over the pot and then stir. I have to place each grain of ground pepper individually.
And that is all.
Woolen Printness Imminent
So I have a Thing to announce. Remember that story that was going to come out in that magazine sometime, maybe, hopefully? Right. So, we're closer to actually seeing it in print. I got to review the PDF proof of [NaMeL3ss] Digest Issue #3 (née "Spring 2013") back in mid-December.
A PDF proof exists, y'all. I saw it with my own eyes. Can a print issue be far behind?
That's all I got today. Today started early and it involved a lot of driving. Also roller derby practice. I'm beat. I've being doing the little bits of everything, but they are very little bits.
See y'all tomorrow.
One More Duck
Today I finally secured resort accommodations for Sirens 2012 . I purchased early registration while attending World Fantasy last year, then said to myself, "I have oodles of time before I need to do anything else!" That statement ceased to be true some time ago. The Skamania Lodge (in the majestic Columbia River Gorge, in Stevenson, Washington) showed no availability via their online reservations. I called the 1-800 number in hopes of receiving better news. A charming and pleasantly chatty reservations operator found me the very last room available and slotted me in.
Meantime, we also talked about French last names ("LeBoeuf" may have to be spelled a lot for people outside New Orleans, but it could be far, far worse), urban fantasy (she recommended Laura K. Hamilton; I recommended Carrie Vaughn's Kitty and the Midnight Hour), and various inspirations for writing fiction. As phone calls to hotel reservations go, it really was an unusually pleasant example of its type.
Now I just need to get my train tickets to Portland. I'm pretty sure I'm going by train. It's a straight connection from the California Zephyr to the Coastal Starlight. I've never been on the Coastal Starlight before. It's got wifi! The entire journey takes two overnights, not materially worse than Denver to New Orleans, though the Denver-to-Sacramento leg is 31 hours compared to Denver to Chicago's 18. But, you know, meh. More time with me and my laptop and/or knitting and/or sock-darning or jeans-patching. And less time trusting my belongings or my person to commercial airlines and airline!TSA, which trusting I'm slightly allergic to. (Amtrak!TSA exists, as far as I can tell, exclusively on video loops on infinite play in the Chicago terminals. I'm OK with that.) I can only rejoice in my spouse-given freedom from the 9-to-5 world that allows me to extend a weekend excursion by 48 hours on either side. Thank you, John! Now, to get this "writing" thing up to the "possibly making a living off it" speed...
Speaking of which, got my doubly-signed copy of the contract for the publication of "Lambing Season" back in the mail this week. Hooray!