Friday, March 30, 2012

Smeared black ink

Normally, when I have been away from the blog for a while, I come back with an apology. An expression of regret for my neglect, occasionally a promise it won't happen again, knowing even as I type that it always will.

I'm trying to break the habit of being apologetic, especially when I don't need to be. So here's where I've been, and what I've been up to.

Last week, I finished the draft of a novelette, and sent it to my agent. It was difficult to write, but I'm pleased with the finished story. I love both of my main characters, and they both break my heart a little. I loved the flying disembodied heads, although their dialogue was remarkably tricky.

I wrote it while listening to this song semi-obsessively. (Yes, I know that The National did the song first. Yes, I also like that version.) Birdy's new album and The Hunger Games soundtrack (especially "Abraham's Daughter") are my current musical loves.

Last weekend, I was in Orlando for ICFA. I wrote about it here. ICFA was the most fun, and most relaxing conference I have been to so far, and I already miss everyone. I plan on being back next year.

This week, I am trying to choreograph a dance for my collaboration with the wonderful dancers of Sharp and Fine. This is craziness, I know. I'm hoping it winds up being the good and useful sort of madness.

I am also on Spring Break, which means debauchery grading papers, and making large chunks of word count on my current work in progress. I know, the nonstop glamour. 

Monday, March 19, 2012


I am so very happy to announce that I have sold my tenth piece of short fiction, "Breaking the Frame," to John Joseph Adams at Lightspeed.

(He actually bought the story on Friday, and then email shenanigans ensued. In possibly related news, Eaten by Email is the name of my next band.)

This comes almost exactly three years after I made my first sale. It's still wonderfully happy-making. Even more happy-making is that this is the story (in changed and retitled form) that I workshopped with my writing group earlier this month (Thank you, The Injustice League!), and that I get to work again with an editor I deeply respect, for a magazine I love.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

I simply cannot do it alone

Before I started writing, I had this idea that writers pretty much wrote in solitude, from conception of the original idea through to publication. I knew there were editors, but I had some idea of an editor's job as being like a vastly simplified version of what a copy-editor does - some light proof-reading, and that was it. (This is wrong on both counts, by the way.) I thought that getting stuck meant the idea wasn't worth writing, and that asking for help was right out, or at least something that was only possible in a collaborative situation. Because, after all, if you needed to ask for help, you couldn't be a writer. I would laugh at how wrong I was, but it's just sort of sad.

I've been thinking a lot recently about the ways in which writing is not solitary, or, to choose perhaps a better word, not independent. Part of this is because one of the courses I'm teaching is a writing intensive course. It requires that the students participate in peer review, and that they revise a major assignment. It's the kind of class I would have hated and resented as an undergrad. I mean, I could write. I got A's on my essays, no problem. Most of the time, I didn't even need to try. Peer review sucked, because I knew damn well how to write, and I didn't need anyone's help. I know a number of my current students feel this way - that revision is for people who can't get A's the first time, that the writing center is for people who can't write.

I don't know where I got the idea that being a good writer meant being able to write by myself. I mean, I'm one of those people who always reads the dedication and acknowledgements. I'm not sure what I thought those people being thanked had done - provided moral support and sandwiches, maybe? But I'm very glad that I've been able to recognize this false idea for the insanity it is.

Twice now, I've sold things without asking for beta reads. Once, this was purely by accident - the person I was asking for a beta read sent me a contract as his opinion of the story. The other I revised myself, but I had known it was close when I finished the draft. But most of my sales have not been like this. In most instances, I ask multiple beta readers for help. Sometimes the help is small - a beat here and there that needs to be clarified. Sometimes, in the case of my most recent sale, they very kindly tell me that I am a silly person who stopped writing halfway through the story, and that they were sure it would be lovely when it was finished. (I had. Almost exactly, in terms of word count.) 

This weekend, I finished a novella. It was a scary project for me. It's probably not a story length I would have attempted had I not had an editor ask for it, since my short fiction tends to fall within the 1500-3000 word range. It was almost a disaster. I got about halfway (if all we're doing is counting words) into the piece, and realized it was rubbish. Rubbish that had some gorgeous writing, a couple of fine set pieces, but it wasn't a story, it was a hot mess. This is not false modesty. It was so bad I thought I would be better starting over with a completely new thing, and had started to make notes that would let me do that. Thankfully, one of my writer friends suggested I send it to another writer friend, to see if he could save it. 

It took him about three sentences to do so.

Sure, I had to toss a lot of what I had written, but not all of it. And I didn't have to start over from nothing.

The key to being a good writer isn't the ability to never have to ask for help. You don't need to be perfect in the first draft. At the end of the day, the reader won't know whether a piece has gone through one edit, or more than twenty (and yes, I've published pieces on both sides of that spectrum.) It is true, that you are the only one who can write your story. But nothing requires you to write it alone.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Sunday morning synchronicity

"Sinne is behovely, but alle shalle be wele, and alle shalle be wele, and alle maner of thinge shalle be wel."
        - Julian of Norwich, A Revelation of Love

"Sin is behovely, but
All shall be well, and
All manner of thing shall be well."
       - T. S. Eliot, "Little Gidding"

"Go," said Wednesday, his voice a reassuring growl. "All is well, and all is well, and all shall be well."
       - Neil Gaiman, American Gods

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Expectations and realities

I'm not quite sure what I expected would be the first thing that happened when I walked into the first meeting of my new writers' group yesterday, but it wasn't what actually did. 

"Oh, good, you're here! We have clothes for you to try on."

Yes, I inaugurated my membership in The Injustice League by twirling around Ellen and Delia's living room in a sundress and straw hat.

I got an email earlier this year from Cat asking if I wanted to be in a writers' group. I typed yes so loudly I'm pretty sure she didn't need the internet to tell her my answer. I have a great group of beta readers, but I'd  craved having a group of people that I could really talk with about writing, where we would be responsible to and supportive of each other, people to crack stories open with and see how they (the stories, not the people) work.

So I was really excited to meet, but I was also sort of scared. The line up of the rest of the group was pretty star-powered - it was like looking at a table of contents and recognizing everyone's name except mine. And while Cat has bought stories from me before, and Lev has read for me, there's a big difference between sending a polished version of something to an editor, and sending off a story whose seams are still showing (I originally typed that as "seems are still showing," and, believe me, those were, too) to a group of really smart and talented people and asking them to pick it apart.

And then the story I wrote, hard against the deadline, took a turn for the uncomfortably personal in the writing, and, well.

But the group was amazing. Everyone was kind and friendly and brilliant. Best of all, everyone was committed to the idea that we are there to help the others write their stories, in their ways, not to change them to what we want to read. I was given a gift, and it wasn't just the bag of clothes I took home on the LIRR.

And this morning, in the middle of the grocery store, the real, true ending of the story we workshopped yesterday burst across my brain. It's not what I expected, but it is exactly what is needed.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Those famous explorers, the Knights of the Round Table

"To coincide with Drake's venture, Dudley's friend and astrologer John Dee had published his General and Rare Memorials Pertaining to the Perfect Art of Navigation, in which he claimed that, during the Middle Ages, King Arthur's knights had discovered America."
                    -- from Trea Martyn's Queen Elizabeth in the Garden

I love it when actual history gives me perfect things for my book.