The Day the Sidewalks Melted
566 words long
WorldCon 2009, Friday: Squee And More Squee
- 494 words (if poetry, lines) long
I'm in Montreal today, and will be until Tuesday morning. Montreal is where WorldCon is this year. It is full of lovely architecture, found art, great food, and cab drivers that speak only French. This weekend it is also full of science fiction, fantasy, and horror fans enjoying the heck out of each other's company.
Today I took some pictures. That's kinda news. I carry a camera with me but I'm sort of missing the shutterbug instinct, so the machine stays useless in the bookbag most of the time. It stayed there during this morning's "Stroll With The Stars" (a morning walk about town in company with several Industry Names, sort of a moving kaffeeklatsch without the sign-up sheet). That was silly. But I took it out for a couple of things today.
First, there's Leah Bobet doing her half-hour of autograph duty. Leah writes fiction, critiques manuscripts at this year's writing workshops, and edits the online speculative fiction magazine Ideomancer. Which is where I submitted "Sidewalks" at the end of June. Leah's response to this was not a rejection letter, but a rewrite request back on July 20th. This is a first for me, for a fiction submission. And it blows my mind. I always thought short fiction, especially short-short fiction, pretty much got accepted or rejected as is; how could a 500-word story be worth the time an editor takes going back and forth with the writer over revisions? Short fiction magazines are on tight budgets as it is! And yet here we are.
Rewriting "Sidewalks," as I've said here before, scares the crap out of me. Such a short story is like a tightrope walk; it balances on such a fragile line between the twin pitfalls of overwriting and underwriting. And I've already taken some falls on the overwriting side, making me really nervous when I'm asked to make something clearer or more explicit. When the response to my first rewrite came back asking for a second, I swear my mental reaction was "O Gods, what now? Don't make me do this! I'll break it for sure!" But then I printed out Leah's email, poured myself a shot of Glenmorangie and a bathtub of piping hot water, and contemplated the task in as relaxed a manner as my high-strung little self could manage.
I'm extremely glad for this process, and not just because it's not a rejection letter. Without the rewrite request, I might have been content with the story as it was. Sometimes it takes another reader to point out that the story isn't all it could be, and what it could be is worth striving for. Now, even if everything falls through and this process doesn't end in publication, I will still have a vastly improved story. That's pure gold.
I sent off the second rewrite shortly before WorldCon. I'd refrained from blogging about it while the process was still ongoing, up to now, but it's become too hard to resist. I mean, I've got pictures of Leah and me proudly displaying our knitting at WorldCon! (Leah is knitting her first pair of socks. They have a lovely ribbing that's a sort of barberpole lace. It's a pattern from Ravelry whose name I forget.) So not only am I all a-squee over having a fiction editor take this kind of interest in my story, but on top of that I got to geek out about knitting with said editor! How cool is that?
The third picture is Paul Cornell. Paul won a Hugo last year for a two-part Doctor Who episode that he wrote. It was based on a tie-in novel from several Doctors ago which he also wrote. And some readers may have noticed that a chapter in that novel bears a title ripped straight from a Kate Bush lyric. This sort of thing rarely turns out to be coincidence. Paul is a huge Kate Bush fan, and today I got to hear him give a presentation on her music as great fantasy writing. Do you know how seriously cool it is to hear someone whose work you admire totally geek out--in an educated, serious, literature-analysis way--about someone else whose work you admire? It's way cool. In fact, Paul has the coolest theory I have ever heard about the plot of The Ninth Wave (essentially Side 2 of Hounds of Love). (It involves alien abduction.)
This is what makes WorldCon the beautiful wonderful miraculous magical event that it is. Finding out who your heroes consider their heroes. Hearing them enthuse hard in full fan mode about their heroes. Also, finding out that you have more in common with those in the industry than just the industry itself. And I haven't even gotten into the other panels I attended today, or the great conversations at the Making Light party, or or or or or...
It's 3:30 AM. I should wrap this up and go to sleep. Good night!
Into the Slush: June 2009
- 403 words (if poetry, lines) long
This morning, whilst scribbling today's date in my Morning Pages notebook, I suddenly realized that June in fact only has 30 days in it and not, say, the 42 or so I must have assumed. Plenty of time to get a story ready for its first submission! Or, y'know, not.
But if it's under 500 words long, we're looking at possible, right? And if it's 400 words of a story that's been waiting two years to be submitted, when I originally meant it to go from creation to submission in the space of a week--well, it's about time, right?
Thus ends the editing paralysis surrounding "The Day the Sidewalks Melted".
I went back to the original draft, the one I sent around to friends on the day I first wrote it. Then I read my rewrite, the one John told me died on the page. And he was right. I thought it corrected for clunk? It was the clunk. Comparing the two drafts was like a concise lesson in how less is more: two or three sharp details can do a much better job of painting a picture than can twenty. And when the story is about an event that none of the characters (nor even, quite, the author--shh!) understand, but can only describe by its effects, then two or three sharp details about those effects is what the story needs.
Which isn't even getting into the concision required by the flash format (400 words; each one has to be right), or the different implications of different narrative frames (this is not a scholarly treatise! this is a break-up story).
So I sent it off and soon received Ideomancer's auto-response. I did not seek anyone's comments on the draft, because what I really don't need are another two years of paralysis. John will read it tonight. (I hope he likes it!)
And now I am no longer thinking, every single morning, "I really need to repair and submit 'Sidewalks'". Yay. On to the next thing!
Reading Deprivation, a.k.a. ARRRGH
- 1,900 words (if poetry, lines) long
I've been working my way through Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way lately. Today is Week Four, Day Two.
Why am I doing this? Mainly because it's been a long time since I could truthfully say, "I write every day." And that bothers me. At the very least, an honest effort to pursue Cameron's 12-week course will mean doing daily "morning pages" for at least 84 days straight. Morning pages may not be art, they may not be salable, they may not even be writing (Cameron says not; she says writers have the hardest time with her course because they do try to turn their morning pages into "writing"). But they are productive exercise. They're me thinking on the page, which is worthwhile; for having such a nonstop hamster-wheel of a mind, I have a tendency to avoid my own thoughts.
I'm trying to make a good faith effort on the weekly exercises, too. Stuff like "Describe your childhood room. Now describe your current room. Can you add anything to it from your childhood room?" and "Time travel: Imagine yourself at 80. What have you done since you were 50?" I often avoid these because they feel too twee, or because I'm sure I did them last time I went through the book (in, what, 2002?) and nothing's changed since (O RLY?). Or, worse, because I'm certain there's nothing there. I had a good childhood. My parents raised me to pursue my creative bliss. When I showed signs of wanting to be a painter, Mom bought me acrylics and canvas; when I started saying I was going to be a writer, Mom brought home a Fisher-Price typewriter. My teachers were all supportive and taught me how to submit fiction to paying markets. I've got a loving and well-paid husband who is happy to support my writing habit and likes me to read him my stories. Surely I have no "childhood enemies" stifling my craft, no super-ego foe planted by adult disapproval, no current environment devaluing my efforts. Surely?
Except that I haven't written or submitted much since coming home from Viable Paradise back in October 2006. Clearly something's going on. And Cameron's course feels like a method of self-discovery I can have faith in. So I go through it in the spirit of play and, occasionally, surprise myself with an insight. "That voice in my head that wants perfection all the time, that needs to have its expectations met. Why's it there at all?" "Why do I so often say to myself in my morning pages, 'Yesterday I was a good girl; I did X, Y, and Z like I ought.'? Do I feel guilty about something? About having fun, maybe?"
And of course there's positive affirmations. One thing the student is supposed to do is listen for the Censor's "blurts" in the morning pages and come up with "positive affirmations" that counter the blurts. So if the Censor says, "Why do you even bother starting? You know you've got no ideas worth pursuing," I can grab that blurt and devise an affirmation: "I am a prolific writer. I write new stories every day. There is no end to the flow of story ideas." Then I can write it down five times in a row. Does it help? Maybe. It's too soon to tell. But it doesn't hurt, and it gets me closer to the end of my three daily longhand pages. So why not?
Do note that if you're the sort to scoff at exercises and "tricks to get you to write" that, y'know, real writers don't need, don't bother telling me about it. I don't particularly care.
In any case, I'm seeing real, tangible results in my "productive" (read: salable) writing. I'm rewriting and submitting again. Tomorrow evening, "The Impact Of Snowflakes" gets critiqued by my semimonthly writing group in Denver. And a few days ago I took the time to read through every version I have of "The Day The Sidewalks Melted" and began making mental notes toward a revision. I hope to submit both to commercial markets Very Soon. Also, I've been uploading to Constant-Content articles in my "Awaken to Dreams" series--and someone came along and bought the right to publish five of them on their website today. Which is another $50 in my pocket. Which is nice!
Only here's the snag. Week 4 in The Artist's Way is the infamous Reading Deprivation week. No reading. At all. No drowning out your creativity with the soporific effect of other people's words.
Sounds... easy enough. Well, it sounds painful. Reading at night is how I get to sleep. Reading blogs is how I stay in touch with communities I cherish; it's also my primary means of getting news of the world. But it sounds doable, right?
Except... I'm planning a series of pro-vaccination articles to make available for sale at Constant-Content. But if I can't read, I can't research.
Except... I was going to rewrite "Sidewalks," but I can't if I can't have the text-to-date open in front of me.
Except... there's also email! Instant messenger! Physical mail, including utility bills! Volunteer reading for AINC! And so forth! And so on!
So, I compromise. Today I wrote a rough draft of the pro-flu-shot article ("Ten Excuses People Give For Avoiding The Influenza Vaccine"), and it's full of red "[look this up later]" notes. I'll keep writing rough drafts all week, and next week I'll do the research and finish them. And the fiction rewrites can wait; I'll write new fiction this week and do the rewrites next week. And as for the reading that's necessary for daily communication... well, I'm not going to neglect my friends and loved ones by not reading their communications. And I'm not going to stint on the work I've committed to. But I'm learning that there's a lot more reading than I realized that can simply wait.
Truly this is the age of information. Written information. One can't get away from it entirely. But I guess one can take long walks, listen to music, knit more, and meditate.
And play more Puzzle Pirates! Right? Right?
(Seriously. Playing more YPP shortly. I've been a very good girl today. I deserve some fun time.)
Slow, Steady, an' Social
- 4,202 words (if poetry, lines) long
- 5,248 words (if poetry, lines) long
So this week has been a nibbly sort of week. Each day I've been sort of nibbling away at the March 15th project, and then running off to do something social and fun (cf. Melanie and Steve Rasnick Tem's book launch for The Man In The Ceiling, the rock climbing gym's free Intro To Lead Belay class, dinner with friends, etc). Where I'm at now, I'm looking at about 2100 words a day from here on out. However, tomorrow's Thursday, and Thursday is a nothing but writing day. "I know," you say; "Promises, promises!" OK, well, I have some housecleaning to do. But other than that, nothing but writing.
Meanwhile, as regards fiction rewrites, I'm starting to experience some percolation. Nothing written down yet, nothing to report in detail, but... I got me some plans. They're at that bubbly stage. I expect to see the bubbles begin to splatter all over the page before the week is out.
So, y'know. Stuff. It's going on.
See, this is the problem...
So I showed the story to one more person. She liked it, too, but mentioned two things that could be changed. So I thought, "OK, quick revision and send it off!"
Which I did today (having been felled to uselessness by the heat yesterday).
Only, aside from those two things, I kept running into *klunk* and *ick* and *oh give me a break.* So I did a lot of revising on the sentence by sentence level. And I read it to myself and thought, "Hot damn. That's great!"
Then I gave to my husband for a final read through.
He wasn't happy with the changes. That's an understatement; what he actually said was, "It died."
So we went back and forth as to what killed it and how to revive it. The big things I agreed with: too much detail nails down the ineffable and makes it sound like a police report. The little things, though... "Doesn't this sentence just sound better?" "Well, no." "Why not?!" "Not sure. It just doesn't work."
So I have not submitted this story anywhere yet. I've sent copies out for second opinions. And I'm going to sleep on it.
Thing about my husband is, he may not be able to articulate exactly why something doesn't work, but he can definitely tell me when something doesn't work. If a piece sings, or fails to sing, he hears that. So I trust his diagnosis. I just can't get over how the old draft clunks here and there and apparently sings for everyone but me.
And that's the problem. Sometimes feedback leaves me feeling like there's absolutely nothing I can do. Like I can't trust my own judgment. Like I suck at revising, so why try? Which is not to blame anyone giving me feedback, of course. Absolutely not. Anyone who's willing to give me feedback, I treasure that. If only I could figure out how to use that feedback rather than get paralyzed by it.
Like I said: Sleep. Tomorrow for working miracles. Miracles are over for tonight.
Today, I Am A Writer. (Tomorrow, We Will See.)
- 418 words (if poetry, lines) long
Rewriting has felt impossible lately. I've got a rough draft queue a mile long and I can't seem to get myself to finish anything. I've been whining about this to everyone who knows me. Today, I'm gonna crow a bit instead.
Here's the theory I've been working from: The Revision Block comes from fear--from being intimidated by the task of Making Something Publishable Out Of This Piece of Crap Rough Draft. (Hush. To the intimidated writer, every non-final draft is a piece of crap.) To get over the Revision Block, I've got to find something I can manage to revise, finish, and submit. So, back away from the thing with all the avoidance juju and try revising something that feels less important, less intimidating. Something with stakes that aren't so high.
So I've been meaning to work on "A Handshake Deal," as it's the newest rough draft with a beginning, middle, and end. But guess what? "Been meaning to" is a huge source of avoidance juju! Just like every email that's sitting in my Inbox marked unread since, oh, last June (sorry y'all), any manuscript mentally marked "to be revised" will acquire the ability to intimidate.
So today I decided to retreat a bit further and write a brand-new story from a brand-new idea, an idea so brand-new that I wouldn't have a clue what it was until I started typing. Then I'd revise it, immediately, before it could accumulate the first hint of avoidance juju.
I used to do something similar every morning in college. The exercise I set myself was to write something which filled exactly one page in WordPerfect and had a beginning, middle, and an end. Then I'd revise it just enough to meet the arbitrary length requirement. Most of these vignettes came to about 700 words long. They took about a half-hour to finish (for these standards of "finish"). At the end of the year I'd print them all out and bind them into a chapbook. I'm really proud of those chapbooks.
And I'm rather proud of today's work, too: A 400-word spec-fic piece about how an apocalyptic occurrence impacts a tiny circle of humanity. The idea sprang out of that most banal of complaints, "It's hot." (Have you seen the forecast for Boulder? The NOAA used the lava-colored sky icon for this coming Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday. That never bodes well.)
Both beta readers who've thus far read the story say they like it a lot. Of course, they're A) my husband, and B) one of my best friends, so it's possible there may be some bias going on. But they're both people who A) write occasionally themselves, and B) I can trust to be truthful. So that's enough positive feedback to make my poor little easily-intimidated ego sit up with pride. Tomorrow I'll read the story aloud to some writer friends I haven't seen in awhile. (They don't know this yet.) After that, I'll give it a final revision. I'll probably change the title ("The Day The Sidewalks Melted" has a hint of "gotta" in it, but I fear it's a cheap "gotta" as it adds nothing new; it merely pre-echoes the first sentence of the story). Then I'll email it to a paying market Sunday morning.
On Monday, the process starts over.
Lather, rinse, repeat enough--reassure myself with enough proof that I can finish things, and do so reliably--and I might actually be able to sit down with one of the stories in the revision queue. Cross your fingers for me.
Meanwhile: Let it be known to all and sundry that John and I will be attending Denvention3, aka WorldCon 2008. It'll be in Denver. What better opportunity for me to (*gulp*) attend a scarily huge convention for the first time?
Also, am flying again. Yay! Give me a few weeks and I'll be a legal pilot in command once more.
And that's the news.