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Writing: An Interview, Editing and Writing

writing, colleen anderson,books, publishing, horror, dark fantasy

Creative Commons: Drew Coffman, Flickr.

It’s nearing the end of another year. I’m on holidays, which can mean many things. For me, I’m doing some catch up on editing for the Tesseracts anthology. Reality Skimming did an interview with me about the anthology so if you’d like to read more on what we might be looking for or why I’m doing the anthology, then you can read the interview here.

I’m also taking this time to work on the long languishing novel. I started it at least ten years ago. I wrote the first ten chapters, then it sat and I lost steam. I workshopped it at the Center for the Study of Science Fiction’s Kansas workshop a few years ago and rewrote some of the chapters and dropped others. Every year,  I seem to start on it again in January and then forget or get tied up with writing short stories.

And then, every time I go back to the novel I have to remember where I’m at and reread several chapters. Thankfully I did a revised outline and worked out the story arc for my three viewpoint characters. Also, watching Game of Thrones inspired me in several ways. My novel is a medieval fantasy as well, and takes place on a different world as does Game of Thrones. I have a battle, an invasion, an insurrection and the possible destruction of the religious system. So why can’t my novel be as good as Game of Thrones? (Mind you, I haven’t read the books; just seen the two seasons so far.) There’s no reason it can’t but it won’t write itself. And until I can be a full time writer, I’m not sure I can fit in all the conflicts that George R.R. Martin has. Wow, are there lots of conflicts.

So I’m not being distracted by other projects or three short stories that I’d like to finish. I’m only working on the novel and have done so every day so far, except yesterday. My great hope was to finish a chapter a day. But the creative process sometimes takes longer than that. I have to look over the outline from time to time, study the map of my world, since I have a lot movement for quite a few chapters, and figure out what exactly is happening to the characters. That’s slowed me down and I’m finishing a chapter about every two days.

world building, editing, writing, speculative fiction, medieval fantasy

World building is essential almost any fiction story, whether, taking place on Earth or an imagined world/time. Creative Commons: Jonathan Harris http://www.number27.org/worldbuilding.html

My goal is to get all the chapters done for one of the viewpoint characters. Baeduwan is the anti-hero who is causing a lot of the problems in the empire. I’m following his journey and working through his conflicts right to the end. I’m on Chapter 16 and have two  more chapters for him left. I should be able to do that in the next week. That, with the initial chapters that are already written will take me halfway through the novel. Then I will tackle Zeeku, the leader of the invading forces, who does not have as many chapters, but who will play a larger role in the following book. That will then leave Tanzanell, my beleaguered ruler who must tackle all of the problems arising in her crumbling kingdom. She is the major viewpoint character so she has more chapters than the other two.

Of course there is a great deal of world building, but much of it is done already. As I approach a new town or village the details get filled out as I write, and I add them to the other files I have. I have a glossary, character sheets, geography, climate, attributes of the races, and anything else I must keep track of through the writing. It’s very easy to forget what color your character’s eyes are, or whether you added  in salt marshes or a lake, if you don’t keep track.

I’m determined to finish the novel next year. I’ve stopped worrying that everything is there, that the grammar is  correct and that I have enough details. I’m trying to get it all down. Then once the first draft is done I can go back and clean it up. Since I’m writing through one character’s story arc at a time I’ll have to make sure everything meshes together once it’s all done. I’m sure I’ll have some tinkering to do.

So that’s what I’m up to in very rainy Vancouver. I’m not that tempted to go out. Editing and writing and here’s to seeing the full draft of Lyranda (working title only) sometime in the first half of 2013. May all your writing endeavors go well.

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Writing: The Process

I’m sure I’ve written about this before but right now I’m in the middle of the full-fledged process. I’m trying to get a story done for the World Horror Convention writing contest, as well as doing and online interview with the other Evolve authors on Bitten By Books. Go over there now if you have questions to ask or want to see a bit of how different authors view the process of writing or writing specifically about vampires: www.bittenbybooks.com I’ll also be at Orycon from Nov. 12-14 in Portland to talk about writing and to do a reading, maybe two. Right now I think I might read this virginal story I’m working on.

Indirectly, perhaps, it involves the picture to the left. Those are barrow mounds in Ireland, at Knowth. However, to back up to the beginning of this process is the kernel of an idea I had. Perhaps it started with Nancy Kilpatrick saying she was doing a second anthology of vampire fiction. I wrote one page and couldn’t think of a plot. I had atmosphere, a character and…that was it. Well, sure there was a thin plot showing itself but it was a cliché vampire tale and I didn’t want to write that, nor would anyone want to buy it.  So I put it aside and pondered. And pondered.

And came up with nothing. Thinking this one page still had something I finally emailed a bunch of people and said, “Is anyone willing to read one page of fiction and tell me what you think the story should be.” About five people responded. One went for humor, which this story was not, two gave suggestions not really suitable even to the first page, and two others gave me enough suggestions that I could kickstart the thinking process again. Sometime we need a mental smack upside the head to knock us out of those cliché grooves.

Often my next step in the writing process is this: ruminate. Turn the ideas over, think about this or that factor, literally sleep on it and work out a whole bunch logistics in my head before even hitting the paper. Then I start to make points, bits of conflict, images that come together. I went to Ireland a few years back and I’ve never used anything Irish as a setting for a story. Once I started thinking that my story started to come together better and the characters inhabiting it made more sense. Then those thoughts lead to the ability of my character to change or not and the depth of the conflict.

Next, I start writing. And stopping. And writing. And going to clean. And writing. And napping. Sometimes the story pours out and sometimes it creeps shyly. I wrote six pages last night after taking a day to write one page. And now I’m stopped (procrastinating writing this) as I try to work out the next stage. My character has overcome one conflict, but is that it? No. A good story usually has internal and external conflict so I need to bring up her internal conflict and whether she succumbs, fights or changes will remain to be seen but I have to make sure there are enough stakes in the game for my character (whose name is changing as I write this) to either emerge triumphant or changed by her travails.

Some stories have taken me years to finish because I can never satisfactorily work out the plot and conflict to my satisfaction. Some stories leap fully grown from my head like Athena from Zeus’s brow. And some are a bit of both worlds; parts flowing out while others turn to concrete in my head.

And now that I’ve defined my problem, the internal conflict, I guess I need to decide if in fact the theme that I often write about in my stories will be the same here. Morality. “An Ember Amongst the Fallen” was a morality tale. “Exegesis of the Insecta Apocrypha” is maybe an immorality tale and this one, well, yeah her morals are question. I’ll see what the character decides.

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Writing Update: March/April

I’ve been busy working on a couple of stories…still…always. Rewriting a couple after some constructive rejections. And still researching my biblical Mary Magdalene story. I’m writing as I research but I have about seven books by my bed on the Dead Sea scrolls, Christ and Caeser, the Gnostic Gospels, the Gospel of Mary, etc. You’d think I was entering the church. I find it very fascinating stuff, the history of the Christian church and the bizarre and sometimes malicious and frequently controlling twists it took to control wealth and people. Amazing. Some day I might research and do a story and have to research Buddhism or read the Qur’an or stock up on Hindu gods. It’s all truly fascinating, and should the Mary story work, I have other ideas there.

I also managed to take the long weekend in Easter and progress on my novel. Not a lot but I was getting to a worldbuilding stage where I needed to figure out the size of the continents as well as how long it would take them to travel by horse and foot. I think I will still have to adjust those numbers downward. You can read the reviews by following the links.

Scarabae

In the meantime, the Evolve anthology is getting some very good reviews. Vampchix says, “Colleen Anderson’s AN EMBER AMONGST THE FALLEN is strong and disturbing, but an interesting take on the new vampire.” You can read the reviews by following the links.

http://vampchix.blogspot.com/2010/04/review-evolve-vampire-stories-of-new.html

http://www.parajunkee.com/2010/03/evolve-vampire-stories-of-new-undead.html

http://anovelapproachto.me/book-reviews-2/

http://www.innsmouthfreepress.com/?p=5607

http://whatbookisthat.blogspot.com/2010/03/bwb-review-evolve.html

And last but by no way least, I have sold a story to Harlequin’s erotic wedding anthology. I don’t know the title of the book yet and it will probably be another year till it comes out but the story is titled “Better Wed Than Dead.”

And Cutting Block Press’s Horror Library Vol. 4 has accepted my story “Exegesis of the Insecta Apocrypha.” They loved the story so much (and I love that they loved it) that at first I thought it was a rejection but they said, “It simply…defies definition and certainly skips genres. There was a good deal of debate, not as to if we should take it or not. But, more so, at to what our own personal definition of ‘horror’ is here at +The Horror Library+ and how that definition is totally challenged when facing an incredible story like yours.

Needless to say, we’d like to ACCEPT this story. It’s just…amazing and thought-provoking and quite sinisterly clever. It’s an absolute one-of-a-kind, and we’d love to include it in this year’s collection.”

It should be out sometime this summer and I’m looking forward to seeing who the other 26 authors are. More as I find out.

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Writing: The Task of the Antagonist

Sometimes I write here to keep myself writing and to work out my own thoughts about various items and events. And working out the process of writing is a…well, ongoing process. 🙂

The antagonist is almost always needed in a story, otherwise it’s a meandering view of someone’s life with nothing really happening. Life is full of conflicts; little ones like “what should I eat tonight” or big ones, like “should I move across the country” or “if I ignore this growth on my neck, it could kill me.” Those are possible conflicts and in the course of a story; the conflict is faced and either overcome or not. If conflicts are never encountered or if all it amounts too is what should I eat, then it may be a fairly boring story. However even a story with a character deciding on what to eat could be exciting or very funny, if done correctly. Canadian Stuart McLean is a master of taking the normal everyday things and making them hilarious. http://www.cbc.ca/vinylcafe/

Usually the protagonist is the main character in a story. It’s much rarer to have  an antagonist as the main character but there can be someone who seems the antagonist and changes through the course of events. However, a story that only has an antagonist will alienate the audience because people tend to empathize or relate to a character, even if that character does things or lives a live that is completely alien to what we know. With only an antagonist as the main character, we can jeopardize the story. Perfume was one book that I read where any character that I could have been sympathetic to was on scene so briefly that there was no connection.

Jean-Baptiste Grenouille was so despicable a character that I could care less if he lived or died. The only thing that truly propelled the story forward was the unique way in which Grenouille reacted and saw the world–through his sense of smell.

A protagonist without an antagonist is only half a story. The antagonist doesn’t have to be a person. It could be an animal, a corporation, the elements or even oneself. We come back to the three age-old conflicts: man/woman vs nature, man/woman vs man/woman, man/woman vs him/herself. These are the antagonists.

The antagonists job is to give the protagonist a run for their money or to challenge them. Batman and Robin always faced very obvious villains, such as the Riddler, the Joker or the Penguin. These were in every way cartoon villains because they lacked depth and dimension. The paper comic books took them to more depth, gave them backgrounds, and histories.

But a good antagonist has a story of her own. It is not just about the protagonist and what he needs or wants and what stands in his way. The antagonist should also want something and have a reason for wanting it and find that what stands in her way may be something else or the protagonist himself. Fleshed out characters add meat to a story.

An antagonist just can’t run around and do bad deeds if they don’t someone intersect with the protagonist’s story, even if it is to show a similar philosophy, background or event that moves them forward. That’s the task of the antagonist; to challenge the protagonist and pull out the best or worst traits in that person. The antagonist gives the protagonist’s story a reason for me. They are like the self and the shadow. Without one, the other pales and the reader loses interest. So always give your protagonist an antagonist, or even several.

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Writing: The Process of Rejection

Anyone who wants to be a writer should not even bother if they can’t handle rejection. Rejection is a big part of the picture and it’s your work, the very words you may have sweat blood and tears to create that gets rejected. Some people, especially first-time novelists treat their creation and more endearing that Dr. Frankenstein regarded his monster. It is their baby and any time you want to remove a piece or say it is flawed (in a critique) or reject it outright, then you are rejecting their child. Sometimes you’re pulling limbs off of their child and how could that be; it’s perfect and formed from the cerebral loins of your love?

But them’s the breaks. You win some and you lose some. If I had to give a recipe for writing and getting published it would be 30% writing, 50% perseverance and 20% resilience, to withstand the rejections. So it is, that you must withstand the rejection and is probably why many people don’t become successful writers. That and learning to write well of course.

Often when starting out a writer will get a form rejection letter or email from a slush reader. This means the story didn’t make it to the second tier, the main editor or the second round. Some publications run on committee and a piece has to get all yeas or nays to decide which way it goes. The slush reader can therefore reject a story that the editor might actually have liked. But it is not for the writer to circumvent the process and try to get to the editor past the readers.

Depending on how the system is set up, either the editor divvies up the submissions to the slush readers or the readers get them first. There are actually two ways to get past the slush pile…eventually. One is to write exceedingly well, get your stuff noticed and bought. The other is to meet the editor at a convention or other event, chat with them (without being pushy) and see if they will let you/invite you to submit to them. In those cases, you should mention in your cover letter where you met them and something about the conversation.

It won’t guarantee a sale but it might get you a personal rejection. There are also some editors who read everything that comes to them and therefore they will always do the rejections. Ellen Datlow was one and there are others. And sometimes an editor will ask for a rewrite but then reject the piece if the rewrite doesn’t do what they’re looking for. As a reader for Chizine in poetry, we’ve asked some writers to rework their poems and we never hear from them again. Being accepted by Chizine is a rare thing since there are four issues a year and about four poems per issue. I’m surprised that someone would take it so lackadaisically and pass up the opportunity for publication.

The other end of submitting work is the waiting. Most markets list their guidelines and say it takes 3-4 months to reply or 6-8 weeks or something  with an end date. A writer who starts sending query letters before that date just annoys the readers. After that date, it is fair for a writer to query and ask if the piece is still being considered. Sometimes when I do this, I get an immediate rejection, which makes me wonder if it triggers some guilt button with the readers and they just toss it out of their sight.

This happened last night with a college publication that was more than a month overdue so I send a short, are you still considering this. I received within hours, a rejection that said sorry for holding this so long but we’re going to pass. So did they read it, or did they just toss it out of their way? I don’t know and may never know. Queries do sometime prod the editors to take a look.

If a query gets no answer, then it is up to the writer to decide if they want to wait forever or submit their writing elsewhere. I don’t even bother to withdraw a story because if I can’t even get a polite response, then I’m not wasting any more time. I usually send the piece out again, making a note that I never received a response.

Any publication that has taken more than three months past their projected return date without so much as a notice will have to expect that they’ll lose good stories and poems. An editor should never get mad or upset at a writer who has moved on elsewhere because the market didn’t meet its written requirements and expectations. Just as writers should respect the guidelines of each market (even if they’re ungainly and tedious) so should an editor respect the needs of writers and that they can’t leave their story with a market indefinitely.

I have two stories (soon to be three) with markets that haven’t responded in over a year, after several queries. In these cases I’ve submitted elsewhere. Should I hear from them (as opposed to hearing they’ve gone out of business) then I’ll be surprised. Some of these markets used to be reliable but because of the economy or something in the lives of the editors, they have stopped responding. The worst length of time I had for a rejection was seven years: really at that point the editor should have admitted defeat and started afresh.

The fastest I’ve had a rejection was within six hours. Sometimes those are the worst. You don’t even have a chance to build up hopes of a sale. But then maybe they’re the best because you haven’t built up expectations. Still, I’d love to believe that all of my stories are hard choices, held till the eleventh hour, and then accepted, rejected with reluctance. We can all dream, can’t we?

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Writing & The Process

I recently had what can only be classified as a brain fart. I’ve been working on several stories. Sometimes this involves a simple idea, or maybe a what-if. Sometimes it involves an image. In this case I have one to do with elephants and monkeys and a primate researcher. The other has to do with a physicist and cats (no not Schrodinger).  The first came as a combo of someone I know and of reading about a third type of elephant, after African and Asian.

So, okay, I started thinking about the elements of the story, what is the conflict and what each character brings to it. I always believe a story is better if it has an internal and an external conflict. The protagonist must battle something (the elements, a person, a culture, a creature) as well as something within themselves. They may win both conflicts. They might win only one, and they might lose both, as often happens in horror stories.

As I started to write my monkey/elephant story, I kept stopping and ruminating. This isn’t uncommon for me. Some stories fly through my fingers, unwinding in one long skein of imagery and action. Others are like an old car that putts along, then coughs and stops, then starts again. These stories take way more thinking time than writing time and I have too many that sit half finished because I ran into a conflict/resolution issue.

I recently had to write an erotic story for an anthology. Stuck for an idea, I asked my Facebook friends. It’s interesting to see that most people will interpret a request for an idea differently. I elaborated and said I needed  a story idea, meaning something that has a conflict and a resolution. What I often received was atmosphere and setting. A setting is not a story; it is merely background. So, if you say, what if you had a world where people floated upside down and ate by way of umbilical cords that they attached to plants? Okay, but what happens that brings out a story, that makes this world integral to the plot?

I was still grateful to my friends. After all, they’re not writers and it’s not their jobs really to give me my plots. And mostly they didn’t. They gave me ideas though; images, events, settings. From those I was able to pull out a plot that did involve some of the imagery offered. That’s also why some of my stories sit unfinished, because I had a cool idea about a world or maybe even a situation, but no idea what to do with it.

This brings me back to the brain fart. Many stories take months to write because of working out the idea. Some people can write them out in point form. I tend to often imagine the story unfoldng, write a bit, then unfold a bit more because characters and events change when I write them down. In this case my brain hit a wall. I forgot how to write. Suddenly I didn’t know how to write a story any more. How do you order the words? How do you progress a story? What is the structure of a story? It’s like I had forgotten how to talk. So finally I asked a writing friend, confessing my bewildering amnesia. What makes up a story? She said simply, “Beginning, middle and end.”

Okay, that is the most basic aspect, plus conflict or plot. But, I said, how do you get there? And I realized as I asked these questions that it wasn’t that I didn’t have a plot. I do. It wasn’t that I didn’t have conflict and resolution. I do. In fact, I pretty much have the skeleton of the story, the bones upon which I must lay the words. I realized what had stalled me somehow was that I couldn’t figure out which scenes were needed to progress the story forward. Which scenes are integral to making the story work, showing the character’s inner conflict, showing the world in which she lives? When I finally realized that, I felt I could move forward again. I had remembered how to write.

That doesn’t mean the story is done…yet. I’m still working out the scenes, still doing checks and balances to figure out the right emphasis, and will the story convey the emotion I want. If I do it well, I’ll sell it. If not, it will wander the lanes of the markets for a while or a long time. Of course I could also have done it right but may not be a big enough name to sell the story. That happens a lot (and more in these tough times) to many writers. But if it doesn’t sell in two to three submissions to markets, I’ll start to look at it again and again and again.

I remember Connie Willis once saying she’d rewritten a story forty-seven times (or some such number). There are others that say, move on to a new story. But I can identify with Connie. There are stories I have rewritten so often that I don’t actually know how many times. But I also have new stories to write and they’re like buds waiting to open. Right now I can count at least five stories in different stages of thought (and two of those partially written). Then I want to write a steampunk story but have no idea at all yet.

And hopefully I’ll remember how to write; the basics at least and have a beginning, middle and end to each of my stories.

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Writing: What Constitutes Fantasy

Discussion has recently come up on my writer’s list about fantasy stories. One of the members asked a range of questions, not because she needed advice but because I believe she’s had discussions with other writers on what constitutes fantasy. Most of the members had close to the same answers here so I’m listing her questions and how I view each of them.

1.     Should a writer write down to an audience, or just use their own conversational voice?

 I took this to mean, should a writer condescend to, take on an instructional tone in explaining to an audience that may not know as much. Or should the writer use the author’s voice. However, I believe she meant, use your regular writing voice, thought that wasn’t clear. I have elaborated on my original answers.

I’d think neither. You’re writing using characters so your characters should help reveal the world. A character has a personality and a unique voice and depending on the point of view, that will affect what voice is used. You could have a condescending narrator; in that case yes he/she would talk or write down to the audience.

To explain the particular setting/technology/society of a world requires deft revelation, some of which may be through a particular character. Albeit, some exposition is required in a novel, but it shouldn’t be talking/writing down so much as making sure your regular reader understands the functioning aspects of the world as needed to understand the story. Example: I recently edited a book for someone who had all sorts of words/slang about airforce planes but on a level most of us (unless we were pilots) wouldn’t understand. He needed a bit more info in context so that the reader could understand what was going on.

 Unless you (the author/narrator) are an integral part of your novel, the authorial voice should not be there. When author’s drop into their stories it’s disconcerting and pulls the reader out of the world. Terry Pratchett from time to time uses an authorial or omniscient narrator (as you suspected, dear reader). It takes skill to use it in a way that enhances a story as opposed to detracting from in and ruining the atmosphere.  

2.     Should a fantasy novel assume lack of science and technology?

No. Even a world of magic has some technology or science. Whether it interacts with the story is another matter. Cups, weapons, dyes, plows, walls, etc., are all a science when they’re discovered/invented. Pre-industrial societies had science and or technology. Stories that involve alchemists (as an example) often mix science with magical properties. Books have been written where magic and science blend equally.

If you mean the logic/science behind how magic works in a particular world, then yes it still has to make sense and work in the story. But science does not negate magic necessarily.

3.     Should a fantasy novel assume a pseudo-medieval milieu?

No. It can, as is evidenced by numerous novels, but some are of far earlier societies. Some are integrated in later worlds and some are just plain ole alien. I read Brandon Sanderson’s novel, Mistborn, which had a plantationesque era and established magic. There was science as well. I really liked it for being of a different milieu.

Often there is the accepted trope that in a world that is not industrialized, magics develop in different ways within people. But a world could have magical creatures, i.e., not found normally on planet Earth and still not be medieval. Many medieval fantasies fall into parallel world tropes, where it is the middle ages but some element of magic is real. Many take an Earth like world and values but create fictitious places. Everything from the myths of the ancients up to the modern urban fantasies, like Charles de Lint’s (his name came up often in this discussion) are fantasy but not medieval. And really, a fantasy story has a better chance of selling if it is different rather than the same as every other book on the shelf.

4.     Should a fantasy novel necessarily encompass magic?

Again, it doesn’t matter really. Yes or no, depending on your world. A world can just be “other” or different from the world and the past we know, yet have nothing magical about it. It will still fall into the fantasy category. The lines between science fiction and fantasy can be blurry. Anne McCaffrey’s famous dragonriders of Pernseries started out as a medieval fantasy where people in feudal style societies rode dragons that killed the invading threads. She argued that it was science fiction because it was a different world, where originally the humans came from someplace else.

Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover books were similar in that they started out in a medieval style world, where some people had special powers. But as she wrote more and more books, there was interaction with people from other planets and spaceports. Fantasy or science fiction? Yes.

5.     Should magic in a fantasy novel be hard or just part of the norm like breathing?

Depends on if everyone does it, or if it’s a gifted few. Are they born with it or like us, do they go through a crawling stage before walking and then flying? Many books have magical talents begin with puberty. In others, the person must study and earn the talent. It could be a world that has an inherent magic in the way it works such as creatures that change shape. It all depends on what is integral to the plot and how that affects the outcomes and solutions the protagonist must find.

Overall, I’d say almost all of these are not hard and fast. It depends on how the world is set up, what tale you’re trying to tell and how integral magic is to that story line. But questions like these are always goods to ask because as writers, it keeps us thinking and examining what we do. And sometimes it pushes us outside our comfort zones and we move beyond the box.

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Writing: The Process

The writing process is a different beast for every writer. There are those that have a set time every day and write within that time. How I envy them. Me, I abhor schedules at the best of time, which is also my bane. This blog is about as regular as I get. It’s one aspect of the “write every day” rule. The writing process can also be different for every story.

Some stories nearly write themselves in a few days. Some are long struggles. Often the ones I think are going to be easiest (such as writing a fairy tale) turn out to be the worst for getting the idea flowing. Some stories take forever for different reasons. “A Kind Hand,” which I finished last year and is fantasy, took me about eight years to write. I would work on it in fits and starts and stop again. It slowly progressed with a lot of agonizing along the way. And every time I went to work on it, I had to read it again and then try to match the voice I had started in. I also quite like the way I was writing it and didn’t want to ruin it.

In this case I knew the ending because it’s based off of a particular tale about the Germanic hearth goddess Berchta. But in between the ending and the beginning I needed a flow of events that raised the tension. Like many fairy tales, the original tale was fairly bare bones and short, jumping to the one climax. I needed to put flesh on those bones. I got closer and closer to finishing and finally last year worked out the full story. I think I sent it out once but in the meantime also had a friend read it. His comments included that there needed to be more tension so I made the character a bit scarier, upped the ante at the end and sent it to Shroud, and it sold.

My longest running story ever, from start to finish is “Awaking Pandora,” which I’m working on right now. It’s science fiction, which I don’t write as often. I started it about fifteen plus years ago, while visiting a friend in New York. I was struck by all the barges and the prison barge around Manhattan. So I started the story and began writing and writing and realized, if I wasn’t careful, it was going to become a novel. But I didn’t want a novel. I knew it was still going to be a long story.

With this story the problem was that I really didn’t have a finally resolution. I had a conflict, conflicts in fact, but I didn’t know how to solve them. So it sat as I ruminated. I’d pull it out once in a while, read the whole thing, rewrote a bit what I’d started and then let it sit. I discussed it with a friend or two, trying to find an ending. Then, a year ago, there was an anthology looking for novelettes, stories between 10-20,000 words in this case. I tried to finish it but just couldn’t get there. I did finally finish the first draft last year.

Now, again there are two anthology markets that this story could fit into but I’m running out of time on the first. I’ve spent the last month writing and rewriting, taking the comments of two friends. The story was running at 9800 words and is down to 8600 but one market has a limit of 6,000. I’ve looked at it so often, changing word, changing sentences, deleting some, moving some up, some down, expanding and changing.

I’ve changed, more refined, the ending twice and it’s not quite there. I passed it by a third friend last night who said she just couldn’t chop some out as it would take rewriting to remove some aspects and make it shorter (partly because I’ve already removed extraneous words and removing more means redoing the flow). Again, I think this is a good story and I like my characters though I already cut the extraneous ones as too many for a shortish story. I have this weekend to make the thing work as I have to mail it latest by Monday.

It’s a long process, agonizing over a word, a line, a paragraph, a character. Then the conflict; is it enough, does it need to be earlier? This story has been easy for getting description and mood in, and characterization was fairly effortless, but plot. Yikes. Well, I’m back to the writing board and the true test is whether I’ll sell it or not. One last shot at getting the plot right and trying to cut out another 2,000 words and away it will go.

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Writing Update March

I’m way behind this year on submissions. Normally I do a blitz in January. But this year I was working on a large editing project for a client. I just seemed to busy to hunker down. Right now I’m trying to get a story rewritten for one anthology and write a new story for another anthology, as well as work on my novel. And I’ve been trying to get my taxes done. So I don’t think I’ve submitted anything new yet this year.

I’ve received some rejections for stories sent out from last fall, but yesterday saw some reward. I arrived home to find a letter from Barton College saying my poem “Finding Dionysus” was awarded second prize and will be published in Crucible. As well, there was an email from Shroud magazine saying they had accepted my story “A Kind Hand” for publication in issue #6.

Yesterday I said that perseverance is a large part of writing and becoming published. I’ve also talked about revisionist poems. Although “Finding Dionysus” is from Persephone’s point of view it’s not as revisionist as some of my others but is part of a series I’ve done on Greek gods. The poem was written about six years ago but as is often the case with submissions, an editor’s preference can be for a particular type or style of writing. As well, magazines may have themes or just published a piece with a similar theme. I was once told by one magazine that they had just published a torso story and they couldn’t take another or they would be seen as a fetish magazine.

“A Kind Hand” is a tale of perseverance in the writing. I started the story probably ten years ago, wrote a bit and let it sit. I liked the idea but for a while wasn’t sure where to go with it. I was basing it off of a Germanic folktale about Berchta (a hearth goddess) so I had the plot but I wanted to give it a more human aspect. Some stories flow out easily and all at once. Others come out in fits and spurts and seem to be a jumble. “A Kind Hand” was somewhere in between and when I wrote on it, it came out fairly smoothly. However, taking so many years to write the story meant that I had to keep rereading it to figure out where I was going. Also, one’s style can change from story to story and year to year. I had to try and continue in the style in which I had started, which I really liked.

Once it was done I sent it out but also sent it to a friend to read. He made some good comments so I brought out the threat aspect a bit more and once it was rejected, sent the story out again. I think I had only submitted this one a few times before Shroud.

Looking at start to finish on the poem was probably seven years. The story was ten or more years in the process. I have ideas like this, that I start because I had an image in my mind, but perhaps no plot, or no ending. They sit and sometimes I do finish them. There are those stories that I complete but am not satisfied with so I maybe send them out once and then they wait for a rewrite so that I can figure out how to make them better. Rarely does a story or poem flow out quickly, all in one piece, with minimal rewriting. And rarely does it go from creation to publication quickly. My quickest was probably “The Fishwife,” which flowed out in no more than three days, needed a minimal rewrite and sold to the first or second place I sent it. Still, with the time taken for submitting and the selection process of the magazine, it was about a year.

This doesn’t even include the time from acceptance to publication. The tardiest rejection I ever received was seven years. Some pieces that have been accepted may be  a year (or more) from acceptance to actually being published.

And last, as fantasy editor of Aberrant Dreams, I have released all stories but one back to the authors. The magazine is going through some structural changes and it was becoming far too long in holding stories. I hate giving up good stories but it wasn’t fair to hang on indefinitely. I have two letters to send out, releasing one more and letting one author choose if he wants his accepted story to sit in the to be published pile or if he’d like to withdraw it. Then we wait for the restructure.

Time is not linear in the world of writing and submitting, nor on the publishing end of a magazine. Patience and perseverance really help.

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Musings on the Muse

94stranger has replied with the following on my original post “The Muse”

hi Coleen,
I didn’t respond at once because I was – and am – thinking about it. It’s all making me feel slightly uncomfortable: because it’s well known, for example, that a scientist can worry about a problem to the nth degree and then get the solution in a dream: in fact the Naskapi Indians of Labrador, if my memory serves me correctly, used to use dreams systematically as direction-finders for hunting.
There’s no doubt that some poems, or sections of poems, ‘write themselves’ – in fact, I’ve written things which didn’t have any clear meaning for me and which, years later, I discovered what they had meant – yet my unconscious – or however you want to express this – knew what was going on all along.
I recently had a similar experience with the following poem: the first two lines came on their own; the next two almost at once, and the rest was a struggle to do something with what had arrived from ‘out there’. I don’t know what the references in those first lines are – but maybe one day I will.
http://94stranger.wordpress.com/2008/03/22/poem-camelot/

I don’t know if this conversation of ours is going to go on: are you O.K. with me re-publishing it on my blog? In my experience, this is a subject which greatly interests the writing fraternity. Over to you!

I’m not sure why you feel uncomfortable. Is it that you think that muse-driven works are misappropriation or that inspiration may not come from the muse, or something else? If the first, I believe that if the muse visits, one is a fool not to use what’s given. If the second, well…a rose by any other name.

The muse may just be detaching the logical linear brain and letting randomness enter. Dreams are sometimes a processing of the day’s events and thoughts. Though for me I find my dreams are rarely mundane and take in other worlds, literally. But is that the muse or just my imagination, or both? When I’m working on a story and stuck I will often take a nap, going to sleep thinking of the story to see if I can jog the plot or conflict to its conclusion. Sometimes it works; often I struggle.

The muse could be completely outside of oneself too. I do believe in divine energy (god, gods, sprites, insert preferred term); that which is greater than me but can sometimes be used in some small portion. The muse, generic, as opposed to the muse specific (Calliope, Terpsichore, etc.) can just be that divine energy funneled into someone and tempered by their own life, events and personality to be shaped into a particular form of art.

Except for that rare exception of “The Fishwife,” where it sprung, like Athena, mostly full formed from my head, I think there is a blend of conscious and subconscious, linear and nonlinear that comes to play with art and inspiration. The use of archetypes is so universal that our cosmic consciousness, as Jung presented, does in fact flow through our processes sometimes at the same rate. I could even be picking up other peoples’ evolution of ideas.

As for your poem, I didn’t paste all of it here as I haven’t asked first to do so but I can tell you what I thought upon reading, besides that I like it very much and the images are crystal clear. You said you weren’t sure what the references were to these lines:

I shall ride high to meet

the lords of barley;

I shall ride by and parley

with the lords of wheat

One thought was of John Barleycorn, from a 16th century ballad. It has various versions, including Robbie Burns’. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Barleycorn

But beyond that, in centuries past there were grain goddesses such as Demeter and Ceres, but there were grain gods too. Lugh brought Lughnasa or Lammas to the Celtic lands and even earlier were the Sumerian and Babylonian tales of Inanna and Dumuzi, or Tammuz and how she sacrifices him to Erishkigal when he doesn’t honor her on her return from the underworld. Coincidentally the sacrifice of Dumuzi corresponds to the grain harvest, as does Lammas. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tammuz_%28deity%29

To me your poem hearkens obviously to Arthurian but older elements of the grain god, and the sacrifice. By “lords” instead of lord, I see that as the wheat fields but the raising of an army, a contention of sorts between the mighty who too will be cut down and sown again. I see the narrator as someone there to appreciate, partake of the natural world before the mighty bring war or strife or blood to that realm. That’s a pretty simplified version as there is a lot of depth in this poem.

I think it’s very strong and visceral. Now, was the muse the calling of your ancestors, your spiritual roots, your imagination, experiences and self-searching; a grain god/Arthurian archetype working through you, or all of the above?

 

 

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