Keeping Score: October 11, 2019

Thank goodness for the Writers Coffeehouse.

Went this Sunday, after skipping for a few months. Jonathan Maberry again led a fantastic discussion, plus Q&A. He gave us a rundown on options vs production deals, persistence in the face of discouragement, and told us some new markets opening up that we might not have considered before.

And he also gave me great advice about my nervousness with the magazine that I hadn’t heard from since acceptance: Send them an email.

Yeah, it seems simple in hindsight. But what would I say? How would I ask the question on my mind?

He gave me a few examples of things to say, and insisted it was not too early (or too late!) to want to hear from them.

So I followed his advice. Sent the email, after rewriting it three different times, trying to avoid coming off too flippant or too formal or too needy.

And I got a response within an hour that cleared everything up.

I feel silly for not writing earlier. It was such a non-deal, and I felt so much better afterwards.

So much so, that I’ve already written 2,208 words this week, and I’ve still got the weekend 🙂

What about you? Has there been something you’ve been nervous about doing as part of your writing — whether sending it off for review, or reading it to a critique group, or emailing an agent — that turned out to be nowhere near as big a deal as you thought it’d be?

The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander

It’s difficult to think of myself as privileged.

Growing up, our family car was one donated to us by the local church, because we couldn’t afford one.

The only house we could afford was one at the very end of a dirt road so badly cut out of the weeds that the school bus wouldn’t go down it, so I had to walk a mile or so to where the dirt track met a farm road.

I always started the school year with sore feet, because we couldn’t buy new clothes for me, and last year’s sneakers, once so roomy, were now so tight that I couldn’t run in them, lest my arches feel like they were breaking.

But I was privileged, even though I didn’t know it at the time.

When I was 16, and walking home from work after midnight, the cops didn’t stop and frisk me. They didn’t arrest me for breaking curfew. They didn’t demand proof of the job that kept me out, proof I could not have provided right then, in the dark, on the street.

Instead, they drove me home.

When I was in college, smoking weed in a parked car, the police didn’t come up on me in the night, rip me from the vehicle, and put me away for possession and intention to distribute.

And as an adult now, if I change lanes without signaling, or do a California Roll through a stop sign, I don’t have to worry about the police doing anything more than giving me a ticket, if they even decide to pull me over.

If any of these things had happened to me, my life would have been derailed. My job working for the federal government could not have happened. I would not have been able to finish college. I would have been branded a criminal, and locked out of the upward mobility I’ve experienced.

I have been privileged, then, because I have been allowed to succeed.

But millions of Americans with a skin color different from mine are not allowed. And it’s something that was invisible to me, until very recently.

I didn’t know that the police have the power to stop and frisk anyone they even suspect of being engaged in illegal drug activity. That they can give the most implausible of reasons to search someone, or their car, or their luggage, without a warrant. And that given this immense power, they choose to use it not on the majority of criminals who are of European descent, but on African- and Hispanic-Americans.

It frightens me, to think of how lucky I was not to be caught up in the Drug War. And it worries me, to see the same excuses that have been used for thirty years to lock up millions of African-Americans now turned onto those trying to enter this country in search of a better life for their families: They’re branded criminals, stripped of rights because they supposedly came in “the wrong way,” told they’re “jumping the line” and have only themselves to blame for the hardships they face once they’re here.

It’s lies, all of it, and it breaks my heart that my own family, who in a different century would have been the subject of the same lies, swallows them whole.

If this conception of privilege surprises you, if you know that most criminals are dark-skinned but think poverty is to blame, or if you think justice in the United States is in any way color-blind, then I urge you to read this book.

The New Jim Crow is not a polemic. It is not a screed. It is a well-research, well-written account of how we’ve given the police enormous powers in the name of winning the Drug War, and they’ve turned them on the most vulnerable and most oppressed segment of our society. It’s essential reading, especially as we enter a new election cycle and debate what sort of government we want.

Keeping Score: October 4, 2019

I’d heard that the bubble of elation you feel when you first have something accepted for publication doesn’t last long.

I only half-believed it, of course. Surely I would be different, my expectations set better, my heart both more and less trusting.

Because if one acceptance happened, couldn’t another? And another? And even if rejection came, wouldn’t that one acceptance be enough to keep me going?

Turns out the answer is no, no, and nope.

I’d had a story out to one magazine for a good while — close to three months — and as the time stretched out without getting a rejection notice, I began to hope. The acceptance of another story just made that hope bigger, and my dreams with it: What if all the stories I had out currently got accepted? What if I was able to join SFWA this year, all in a rush, with three stories that I’ve spent years working on all getting accepted in a short window of time?

But the rejection came yesterday, and my little bubble of hope popped with it.

Now I feel like half a success, half a failure. It doesn’t help that I’ve heard nothing from the magazine that’s accepted a story since that acceptance; no signed contract, no payment, nothing. So even that success feels ghostly, as if one strong wind could blow it away, and I’d be back where I started. Unpublished. Always-rejected.

I’m telling myself to be patient. That the only thing I can control is the writing, so I’d better damn well do that part.

And it does comfort me, a little, that I wrote 2,223 words this week. I’m back to making good progress on the novel, and I’ve got two stories to edit into shape before sending them out into the world.

Chances are they’ll probably be rejected, too. But I can’t control that. What I can do is write another story, then another, and keep writing. Keep improving. And keep submitting.

One story got through. I can keep writing until another one does, too.

Keeping Score: September 27, 2019

Wrote 2,559 words this week!

I’m trying to get back in the habit of writing daily, or nearly-daily, and it’s paying off. Even though I only wrote 1,400 words at the Tuesday write-in, I put in some time after work Monday and Thursday to push over the 2,500 mark.

Most of that work’s been on the short story I started last Friday, at the Writers Conference. It was supposed to be a flash piece, in and out quick, but it’s turned into a full 3,000-word story.

And it might get longer. I compressed a lot of time towards the end, fitting years of change into a few paragraphs. Those might have to be uncompressed in order to feel like a more natural ending. So it might grow another one- to two-thousand words.

But that’s a problem for later, after I’ve let the story sit for a week or two. Then I can be a bit more objective.

For now, it’s back to the novel. I’m in the middle third of the book, when characters start colliding against each other on their way to the blowout before the third act.

And I’m still getting ideas for things that might need to change. Not minor things, like how a character speaks. Major things, like entire plot points and character motivations.

I’m unsure whether they’re good ideas, though, so I’m just taking notes on them for now. Once this draft is done, I’ll have another look at them and pick and choose which changes to make.

Until then, it’s forward. Ever forward.

Southern California Writers Conference 2019 Wrap-Up

My brain is full, in the best way.

This weekend I went to my first writer’s conference, SCWC LA17, up in Irvine. I was nervous going in: I went alone, not knowing anyone, and not really knowing what it would be like.

But from the moment I checked-in at the registration desk, everyone made me feel welcome. Both of the people running the sci-fi/fantasy read-and-critique group were working registration, and their excitement at hearing that was my genre made me change my mind both about attending the banquet and trying to make one of the late-night critique groups.

In fact, their excitement and happiness was, if you’ll forgive the cliché, infectious. For the rest of the weekend, my usual shy self was gone, and I felt perfectly comfortable introducing myself to anyone I happened to sit next to and ask: “So what are you working on?”

It was an incredible feeling. My imposter syndrome — always whispering in my ears at other conferences and events — was quiet the whole weekend. We were all working on different books, in different genres, at different points in our careers. But we were all writers, all facing the same struggle with the written word.

I’d found my people.

I took…too many notes. Each workshop was full of great information, from the panel on writing convincing courtroom scenes — that reminds me, I need to find a way to attend a trial or two — to the talk on writing a strong opening, which ended up giving me insight into what I needed to do to finish a short story I’d started writing.

Yes, I started a new short story while at the conference. And finished a new flash fiction piece. And I came away with ideas for four, no five, new novels.

It was that inspiring.

So thank you, more than I can say, to the organizers and presenters and guest speakers at SCWC. You’ve put new wind in my sails, and given me new ways to up my writing game.

Keeping Score: September 20, 2019

Only 750 words written this week.

But they’re good words, because I got ’em rewriting the scene from last week.

The first draft of that scene turned out to be closer to what I needed than I thought. I was worried I’d have to throw the whole thing away and start over, but just changing the timing of some of the events, and adding in a hazard here and there, was enough to up the tension.

Now instead of being a step-by-step account of someone looking around in the aftermath of a disaster, it’s a POV character dodging debris as they try to figure out just what kind of disaster they find themselves a part of.

Have you ever had an editing task turn out to be easier than you thought? Where a small change to a scene makes a huge difference in how it reads?

Keeping Score: September 13, 2019

Have you ever written a scene, and almost as soon as it’s done, you realize you have to rewrite it?

That happened to me this week, while getting my 1,133 words in.

The scene I plotted out last week started well, but about a third of the way through I started hitting writer’s block. Like I was bored with the scene already, and wanted to move on.

I pushed myself to finish the draft out, just to have the scene done. So I could say I accomplished something that night.

But as soon as I woke up the next morning, I knew I needed to start over from scratch.

If writing the scene was boring for me, it’s going to be boring to read, too. And I could see exactly where I went wrong: I had the scene start after most of the danger was over, and the scene was the character piecing together what had happened after the fact.

Better to start with the character in danger, and worried for their safety. So they have to scramble to keep themselves alive, and figure out what’s going on.

It’ll have higher tension, be easier to write, and be a lot more fun to read.

I don’t want to rewrite the scene. But I’ll need to, if I’m going to keep some narrative momentum going.

What about you? Do problems with your scenes ever manifest as writer’s block?

Keeping Score: September 6, 2019

Only 156 words written this week.

I skipped out on the weekly Write In, and it shows. While I did get a few extra scenes plotted out, and connected some dangling plot threads while I was at it, I only started one scene.

I’m trying not to be too hard on myself. The pups have been sick, the heat wave means that even with the a/c going I still feel lethargic in the afternoon, and there’s been some ripples in our finances.

But I can’t help but think I should have gone to the Write In anyway, and that if I did, I’d have made more progress this week.

So I’m definitely going next week. And maybe I need to start writing more on a daily basis, even if it’s just a hundred words, rather than cramming everything into one night?

Keeping Score: August 30, 2019

1,679 words written this week, all on the novel. That means two more scenes done — well, drafts of the new scenes done — and I’m two steps closer to being finished with this draft.

I missed last week’s entry, because I was at a work-related conference, but I did write that week, somewhere north of 1,400 words, again all in a single night at the Write In.

I’m tempted to add a second Write In night, just to see if I can do it. If I can write as much the second night as the first, I’ll basically double my output in a few hours. I’d get through this draft a lot faster.

And since just yesterday I noticed I had a reminder to send out this draft to beta readers by October 31, I’m thinking I can use the extra speed.

What do you do, when you need to write a little faster? Do you add extra writing sessions, or lengthen the ones you have? Or maybe you drop everything else for a while, and sprint towards the finish?

Keeping Score: August 16, 2019

Only 450 words this week.

Instead of working on the novel, I’ve spent my time revising a flash fiction story, the one I wrote at WonderCon back in March.

The first two markets I submitted it to rejected it. I was about to submit it to a third, when I re-read it and saw some things that just…weren’t right.

So I printed it out and took it with me to this week’s Write In. I thought I’d be done with it in the first sprint, but I ended up working on it all night, trimming words here and there, rephrasing dialog, and dropping entire paragraphs.

I think the resulting story is shorter and stronger. The one thing I’m unsure of is it introduces a bit of jargon, a word that the two main characters (who are non-human) use to refer to humanity. I think it fits the world they’re in perfectly, and ties into the story’s ending, but then again, maybe it’s too subtle? Or jarring?

It’s hard to judge. I’ll probably send it out for one more read-through by some friends before submitting it again.

What do you do, when writing other worlds that might have different vocabulary from our own? Do you explain them bit by bit? Minimize it as much as possible? Or embrace the jargon, and count on the story to carry the reader along?