6000 words long
Live From Second Life: The Written Word Writers' Circle
This is precisely what Second Life does best, in my opinion: brings together a virtual group to do the same sort of stuff you might do with a group in real life, only without the travel expenses, while using the tools of the virtual world viewing application to enhance the group experience. That doesn't mean I don't indulge in casino games or spend spare computing cycles with my avatar in camping chairs, mind you; I'm only human and I like free Linden Dollars as much as the next person. But it's the group activity potential that really gets me excited about virtual worlds in general and Second Life in particular.
My avatar, Kavella Maa, is sitting in the audience at a place called "The waterstage and writers' circle". (For those unfamiliar, that link will take you to a portal web page which prompts you for permission to launch the Second Life world viewer and teleport you there.) There are cushions on the wooden dockside risers that you can click on to make your avatar sit properly (which usually works as advertised but sometimes leaves you facing off to the left so you have to get up and try again).
On stage is a microphone where open mic participants stand to read their works.
When an author mounts the stage, everyone in the audience receives a notecard (a text file object that you can create, save, keep in your inventory, and copy to others' inventories) with the text of their material on it. The authors read their material aloud; little green icons that mean "sound emanating from this point" appear above their heads, denoting that the voice you hear is indeed coming from the person controlling that avatar. If you use your camera controls to zoom in on the author reading, their voice gets louder, mimicking the effect of moving closer to hear better in a face-to-face group. (You can also set your preferences to modulate volume based on your avatar's position rather than your camera's.)
Meanwhile, the audience can comment as freely as they like on Local Chat, or even greet new arrivals with great verbosity, without fear of interrupting; Local Chat is text-only.
Each Wednesday at 2 PM Pacific Time, this Writers' Circle meets, organized by Jilly Kid of the Writers Guild - that's a group you can join - and MC'd by Hastings Bournemouth. Jilly sends out notices reminding the group about the event--and assigning a fun theme which authors may choose to incorporate into their offerings. This week, the theme is "Teddy Bear Picnic Day". Attendees can click on a sign beside the stage to have a free teddy bear T-shirt dropped into their inventory. (I'm wearing mine, of course.) Among the works written specifically for the theme are "Life's No Picnic," a poem by Aribella Lafleur, who wonders how teddy bears can even have picnics, having tummies full of fluff as they do; and "The Homophobic Hunter and the Un-caring Bear," a poem with sly humor and a wonderful rhyme scheme by... oh, dang it! the author didn't include his avatar name in the notecard! Dude, by-lines are important! We're also hearing non-themed excerpts from longer works by Huckleberry Hax and Arkady Poliatevska (whose profile appears strangely devoid of URL today, or else I'd make that a link too.
This is, of course, an incomplete list of authors who read today. I'm not taking minutes here.
There are flaws, of course. A bit of lag here and there, some authors having mic trouble, the odd audience member promoting themselves to co-presenters by commenting over the voice channel at inappropriate times. Y'know. Flaws happen. But, on the whole, the event and venue make me happy. It's a virtual world app doing what it should, and it's doing it about writing. I get to hear the voices of people whole states or even oceans away from me while I sit comfortably in the Seven Cups Tea House in Denver and work on a short story rewrite*. And I'm thinking about what I might share next week, if I get my butt in gear in time.
*Short story rewrite: Took another look at "Lambing Season" before resubmitting it and was unhappy with the blah-ness of the first few paragraphs. Am reframing the entire story via a top-end rewrite. Am hoping I have not killed the poor thing.
Weird Tales Submissions Update
Oh, hey, it's past March 31 now! Weird Tales should be open to submissions again, right?
It's always a good idea to check the guidelines again instead of going, "Oh, hey, it's past March 31 now!" and blindly shooting off a submission.
Weird Tales’s traditional story submissions remain closed until Memorial Day — but we ARE opening up submissions for a new flash-narrative format: ONE-MINUTE WEIRD TALES!...Click the link above for an example video and more details. Do not despair if you lack mad video-making skillz--you only have to send in the "script," which is to say, just the story itself, with some indication of where the screen breaks should be. Again, click the link and get it from the horse's mouth.
These are sharp little micro-stories of 20 to 150 words, presented in a quick sequence of brief one-screen chunks — sort of a funky hybrid of a movie trailer, a Zen koan, and an Adult Swim between-show bumper.
I guess I have another writing assignment. A short one. (I like those.)
Meanwhile, rather than wait to resubmit "Lambing Season" in late May, I'm thinking I might give it a shot at F&SF. If that's not meant to be, I'll know in way less than two months. The Slush God is hella quick that way.
If You're Submitting Fiction to Weird Tales...
...then you will probably find the following information helpful.
When I last checked the Submission Guidelines (around the end of December), the Weird Tales website directed authors to look for them at Ralan.com. (If you write fiction of the fantastic, you ought to have Ralan bookmarked.) These listed the editor as being Ann VanderMeer, and the address for e-submissions as weirdtales at gmail dot com. On my inquiring for further details as regards attachment format and the like, Ms. VanderMeer emailed me the following:
I prefer the first 3-4 paragraphs pasted into the body of the email and the entire document attached, either as a PC MS-Word document or an RTF file. Currently closed to submissions until March 31.This is why "Lambing Season" isn't in the slush at this time. (I'll be resubmitting it in April.)
Poking around today for links, I find that both Ralan and Weird Tales have updated their websites. Weird Tales once more hosts their own submission guidelines (although with the same lack of technical details as prompted me to email in late December), and both websites announce the temporary closure to submissions.
In Which The Author Is Inspired
To my fellow United States citizens and residents, and to my fellow citizens of the global community: Happy Inauguration Day! The U.S. has a new President as of yesterday, and his name is Barack Hussein Obama, and I can't stop grinning.
I will put my exuberance here, for the record. Should I have occasion to regret it, as supporters of the previous President eventually did, I'll own up to it. But right now I can't imagine being disappointed because I don't expect miracles--I expect a continuation of the hard work and competence I saw during his campaign.
What the heck does this have to with a writing blog? Just this: I pledge to work as hard, in my own life, in my own career aspirations, in my craft and art, as I see our new President working for his own ideals. I admit that sounds cheesy. But watching him during his candidacy, watching his constant activity since the election (really, since when have we seriously paid attention to the Office of the President-Elect?), and watching him get to work on Day 1 (I am actually tuning in to CNN to find out what's up to--I've never done that before, and I actually avoided coverage of the previous President because he made me angry and nauseated), is nothing short of an inspiration. And it makes me feel like a bum. And I don't want to feel like a bum.
We find our role models where we can. I pledge to work as hard as I can see my role models have and do--because that's what "role model" means. We model our behavior--hopefully--after the inspirational examples set before us. So. Add another name to my list of role models.
It's kind of like a New Year's Resolution, except made on Inauguration Day rather than New Year's Day. I think that's fairly appropriate.
In other news, "Lambing Season" is in the slush again; I wish it well. And on the freelance non-fiction side, I'm working on some articles for upload to Constant Content. I was mildly excited to learn that one of my existing CC articles was recently purchased, and to find that this customer, unlike some previous ones, honored the Usage License requirement of including my by-line. (Read it here.) Apparently CC has also lowered their payment threshold from $50 to $5, which effectively removes the disconnect between selling an article and getting paid. All of which makes seeding that particular cloud look more worthwhile. So I will.
In The Slush Again
In the tradition of Silly Names Authors Have For Their Works, this blog entry is brought to you by the Demonic Sweater story. It is "finished" (scare quotes in acknowledgment of the eternally tenuous nature of that label) and in the mail. Huzzah!
As I may have mentioned, it was horrendous with typos, copy-paste errors, irrelevant infodumps, and stage-blocking stupidity when it first saw other eyes than mine. Among the logical errors were a man getting out of a car twice but only getting back in once, a woman working with a rigid-heddle loom on the ground (owie back!), and a full-grown sheep getting grievously injured by nothing more than an average-sized woman falling on it. Also, one of my friends actually googled the fictional address I gave Maud's farmhouse, and Google told him it was outside Colorado Springs. Fine. Fine! You don't get a fictional address, K? How d'ya like them apples? You just get told "east of Brighton and north of Weld County Road 2," and you're going to accept it!
The version I sent to my writing teacher Monday was better, but still embarrassingly full of typos. I spent a good chunk of the write-in reserved for actual NaNoWriMo'ing churning through and creating the new draft, and I am not so smooth that I can hide a rush-job. Probably one of the most mortifying "brain typos" in there--y'know, where at the last minute your brain inserts the wrong word for the one you want based on sharing an initial letter or basic sound?--was having someone set up her portable loom on the "big woman table". (Should be "wooden," obviously.) The visual is evocative and lovely, but not particularly appropriate.
Anyway, two days later and several detailed reviews later, the story is in the mail. Guaranteed 99% more typo-free! (That last 1% is properly left up to the powers that be, in about the same spirit as apocryphal Quaker quilting mistakes.)
I won't bore you with another glowing description of how much like a real writer putting a submission in the mail makes me feel. I do that song and dance every time. But I'm also on fire a bit because the last three days have been spent finishing a story. Not fartin' away time on the internet. Actually working on actually finishing an actual story for actual submission. My Gods, it's like I have a job or something!
Time to get back on shift - NaNoWriMo is a-callin' and I've fallen behind again!
A Bit of Self-Examination Upon Finishing A Story
Saturday morning I finally finished a complete draft of this story and emailed it to my writing group. Well, not so much Saturday morning as Saturday afternoon. It was 12:30. It was laaaaaate. I had promised to distribute it Wednesday, October 15th. I'd thought, "Tuesday's my nothing-but-writing day! Tuesday I'll finish it for sure!"
Yyyyeah right. Since when have I managed to do anything more productive with a Tuesday than sleep until noon (unless I went to the rock-climbing gym with John for 8:30 or so, and went back to sleep when I got home), crawl out of bed to do maybe half-an-hour of work of some sort, then crawl back into bed all disproportionately pleased with myself and feeling due a break? Yeah. Tuesday the 14th went much like that, only, no half-hour of work. And then, y'know, Wednesday through Friday were Wednesday through Friday. Full of stuff and things.
For what it's work, very soon the rest of the week will look like Tuesday. October 31st will be my last day on the clock at my part-time job. I'm gonna be an honest-to-garsh full-time writer finally. I mean, being a full-time writer was my plan back when I quit my full-time corporate web design job back in April 2004, but soon after I did that, the director of the non-profit I volunteer for asked me if I could spare ten to twenty hours a week to come in and fix their web page and do other miscellaneous tasks. And here I am four and a half years later. You'd think I wouldn't have any trouble staying productive on my own terms when I only work Monday, Wednesday, and Friday--and volunteer Thursdays at a local farm--and continue volunteering some four hours a week for the non-profit that is now also my employer--but by the time I bike home from the office I'm feeling like I ought to be allowed some play-time. And by the time I finish playing, it's bedtime. Apparently my self-discipline and time management skills are a bit more, say, non-existent than I like to admit.
So, starting November 1st, I'm a free agent again. Which is good news for for me on the NaNoWriMo front; I will have more time to go to write-ins and to organize stuff. However, Nov. 1 comes too late to help me out with current projects, so I need to dig up some self-discipline from somewhere or other and get things done. (About that, more later.)
Anyway. I finished this story Saturday. It has this is common with its origins: there's still a magically manipulative sweater involved. However, it's no longer set in and around a New Age store in north-west Denver. Its antagonist is no longer an individually acting eccentric employee. Instead, it's set in a fictitious community it unincorporated Adams County, east of Brighton. The antagonist is the central figure and namesake of the not-quite-town, and the whole town is in on her schemes. Which is to say, the magic involved in the sweater happens to be part and parcel of the community's way of life. And the protagonist walks right in thinking nothing's out of the ordinary. Think Wicker Man, only without the outsider's investigative motive. Think, if I've done this right, Shadows Over Insmouth.
Only I probably haven't done it right yet, which is why I volunteered it for Wednesday's critique session. Aside from one email bounce due to the recipient's mailbox being full, email did what email should and now several people whom I see twice a month and respect quite a lot will be reading it. Cringe! Nervousness and fright! I mean, given the last-minute nature of this story's composition, it's rather rough. It's probably a bit rushed at the end, even though the end came about a lot more organically and easily than I feared it would back when laying down scenes felt like a fractally infinite task. It's probably got copy-paste errors you could blow up a fictional neighborhood with.
And then there's knowing that I haven't exactly been the most gentle contributor to my writing group. I have been prone to Thinking Myself Right when commenting, rather than humbly offering "if it were my story I would" suggestions and "this might be just me, but" observations. And, being the prickly and temper-prone creature that I am, I've been guilty of causing a bit of... well, social tension. Which is the nice way of saying I've been kind of a bitch lately. I'm not proud of it. And I'm not under any illusion that people are going to be any kinder to me than I've been to them--not that I think anyone would be deliberately unkind out of some impulse towards vigilante justice; just that my effect on the tone of this group's discussions has not been for the better. I have to live in the environment I've helped create. So. Having given others a hard time, I don't expect to be given a particularly easy time myself. So I'm living on a steady diet of stomach lining and belated good intentions at the moment.
Um. Hi, y'all! I love y'all bunches! I promise to be good! (Please don't kill me.)
However frank and even merciless Wednesday's critique turns out to be, I think I'm going to need it. My head is an echo chamber, and when I last turned in a story (cf. "Turnips"), I was careless. The manuscript still had the blank template page header, for goodness's sake! It said "LeBoeuf / TITLE" in every upper-left-hand corner. And I mean, literally, "TITLE". Dammit. When Ellen Datlow lamented that so many manuscript submissions she had received revealed a lack of concern for manuscript submission format, she may well have been talking about me (if, that is, Nick Mamatas actually did think my story worth passing on to her, which I doubt). Beyond that, the story had stupidity in it, structural stupidity as well as line-by-line dumbness. Which is not to diminish the awesome assistance of my friend from VPX who did read it and gave me some great feedback on it, and then took the time to read the rewrite and confirm whether I'd fixed what he'd pointed out before as broken. Without his time and effort, the story would have sucked harder. It would have sucked great big granite boulders until the feldspar was striated. However, there's still a great deal of work to do. I printed out that story a couple weeks ago and began marking it up, and by the time I got to page five I understood that revisions wouldn't be a matter of a quick hour's gloss. Oh no. They'd begun to look like a good couple of afternoons' worth of work.
Which I would have taken care of by now. Really! Except, well, this story. Which I am sure will also get marked up thickly before the week is out. Or at least before the end of the month. Maybe. I hope. In any case, this story I have no illusions that is ready for prime time.
Is It THE END Yet?
- 3,868 wds. long
I hate that I didn't begin putting this story down on paper (electronically) until so late. I hate that I couldn't seem to get started on it for so long. The time spent composting seems to have helped, because the story has gone in an entirely different direction than I originally thought and this is certainly a change for the better. See? Better title already! But the late start means a late finish, because unlike some stories I've written, this one feels ... quantum?
No. The other word.
Every scene is not one scene closer to the end, because it reveals something else that has to happen before I reach the end. Look closer at one detail and many more details are revealed. It's turtles all the damn way down. Or sheep, really. It's sheep all the way down.
It feels like I'm building a goddamned house. Isn't it time to put the roof on yet? No! No it is not! And what's more, you forgot the insulation in this wall and the plumbing over here so you're going to have to tear down the drywall again. Dammit!
The result will be a better story. I have faith in this. But meanwhile the process of writing it seems endless. And I'm tired.
Hey, you! You little wide-eyed naive so-n-so who was all like "But writing's never really work, is it? Not if you really love it?" Remember? And I was all like, "Uh, yes, yes it is, actually," and she was all like, "I'm sorry you feel that way, maybe writing isn't really your calling"? Prepare for mental psychic slap-across-the-face number 417! You are my anti-muse and I hope your ears are burning!
I bet you pasted a little "lol" at the end of your post, too. Dingbat.
Huh. Actually Writing. How About That? I'm Gonna Burble Now.
- 3,133 wds. long
Several actual solid hours of fiction production this morning. About time. I was supposed to have a story emailed to my writing group, like, two days ago; as of now it's still just a collection of very rough scenes. And its critique is of necessity being put off for some time--the group only meets twice a month, after all. But I sat down and I wrote those scenes, dammit. From about 7:30 AM until 9:15 AM or so. At Joe's Espresso, which is the bestest place within walking distance to write at, in the morning.
Whaddaya know? I feel like a writer! Again! I like this feeling. Gee, think I should maybe do this more often?
I've recently babbled a bit about the odd habit-forming nature of guilt. I got that today. Late afternoon, playing Puzzle Pirates (like you do), I found myself suffering from a constant niggling feeling that "I should be doing something productive. There's something I should be doing that I'm putting off. I'm being bad, playing like this, when I should be working." And while that is quite true about, say, cleaning the kitchen or doing the household financials, it's not quite true about writing. I wrote, dammit. From about 7:30 AM etc. etc. etc.
It occurred to me that maybe it's not just that day after day of guilty procrastination forms a habit out of feeling guilty. It might also be that--could it be that?--I like writing. On a deep, fundamental, unconscious level. That "I should be writing" feeling? That's the aforesaid Deep Fundamental Unconscious pushing me towards an activity it finds delightful.
I like that possibility a lot better than the "Superego Weilding The Whip" hypothesis.
Maybe I should aim that impulse at "A Surfeit of Turnips," which, after all my bold words last month, is still hogging the couch, sneezing at the TV, and tossing used Kleenex on the floor. (This has something to do with my not having blogged here since then.) Maybe tomorrow. It's not like it needs that much work before being sent out again. Like, half an hour. That's all I need. I need to do it! Pronto! Stet! And ASAP!
Anyway, about the new fiction: It's the demonic sweater one. Only, this past weekend I finally figured out what's up with that sweater. It's not, strictly, demonic. It's possessive. It's all very bad destructive magic, but it's not in the service of beings from Hell or The Outer Dark. It's just because Mrs. Shemf needs someone to watch the sheep, OK? Is that so very wrong? (Yes. Yes, it is.)
In other news, and just to strengthen my position has having done my writing for the day, dammit, there was writing in the 7:00 AM to 7:30 AM half-hour, too. But instead of fiction production, it was random stream-of-consciousness being hand-scribbled for the space of three notebook pages, as recommended by Julia Cameron in her workbook The Artist's Way. I used to do her "morning pages" exercise, along with or alternately with timed "writing practice" vignettes a la Natalie Goldberg, daily. Religiously. And literally religiously, from time to time, as an offering to the Muse Calliope and other figures in my ecclectic Pagan pantheon. And somewhere along the way I got out of the habit. Then, yesterday, I read this most excellent blog post by Kit Whitfield...
However, the fact remains: I really can't handle a pen. When I turned eighteen I spent a year studying cooking and had to take a lot of lecture notes, which changed my handwriting from joined-up to printed under the pressure of needing legible notes, and now I have a fairly disjointed scrawl. The pen slips and slides all over the page, disobliging me in every direction; I just don't understand how some people manage to control it. In Middlemarch, George Eliot remarks that 'the end of Mr Brooke's pen was a thinking organ'; the end of my pen is making continual escape attempts.Followed by several screenfuls of thoughtful meditation on the differences between the writing voices of pen and computer. All of which is really, really worth the reading.
Does this have an effect on my writing? I've been wondering about that. I write three 'morning pages' every day, as recommended by Julia Cameron and Natalie Goldberg, and those are done by hand; it's an extremely useful exercise, and while it generally produces ramblings about how I need to get the door fixed, with occasional bursts of insight into how to solve plot problems or personal revelations, the fact that it's done by hand is helpful. There's something informal about writing by hand that loosens you up.
In the past I used to write difficult scenes by hand, feeling that this would give them more emotional tone. Since taking to writing morning pages, I do that less; I feel that the three pages of handwriting loosen me up enough....
I was tickled to find my own experienced echoed by Real Published Authors, as I always am. In this case, it's both of these "loosening up" effects of pen on paper that I recognize. The "morning pages" excercise skims the scum off the top my brain--all the mundane, broody, day-planning, or just dumb words I have to get through before I can start writing actual stories. (Handwritten pages to rid the brain of such things is also nice last thing at night; it makes it easier for me to sleep and more likely that I'll dream interesting dreams rather than the one where I'm feeding the cats and can't find the Nupro supplements or whatever.) And when I'm having a hard time getting a story started--when I can't seem to find the "wedge" I need to open the cracks and let myself in--the pen and notebook sometimes help me find that way in.
In any case, I started with that this morning. And boy did my hand hurt after three pages! Not for nothing did Natalie Goldberg say of her years of writing practice that they had made her hand strong. I don't have Writing Down The Bones close at hand at the moment (I'm at the Boulder IHOP; my books are at home), but I believe in it she says she can put her fist straight through an aluminum school locker door: "My fourth grade students believe me when I tell them this, because they know it's true. My fifth grade students are more skeptical. I have to show them." That bit stuck with me hard enough that I borrowed it for the climax of a story--which you haven't read unless you're that one college teacher I submitted it to for my exam grade back in 1995--whose main character in fact had to write, as a biological necessity, copious amounts every month, and who ends up stopping a punch with her writing hand and breaking a few finger-bones in the process. Um. The other guy's bones. Not hers.
Anyway, yes. Hand hurts! (No bones broken, though.) And my handwriting--ye Gods, it sucks! But it was surprisingly easier to move into fiction-production mode after doing those three pages, and a lot easier to keep at the fiction for two solid hours, than I've found writing to be in a very long time. I recommend 'em, morning pages.
(I also recommend the rest of Kit Whitfield's blog. Deep literary insight some days, hilarious conversations with her cat on other days. What's not to like?)