News & Reviews: August 6, 2019

News

HUGE NEWS this week: I sold my first short story!

And to a professional, SFWA-qualifying market, no less!

More details as they shake out, but I’m over-the-moon pumped. The story’s one I’ve been working on for three years (!), revising, polishing, and submitting.

Many thanks to my friends that suffered through reading all those drafts, and offered me the feedback I needed to make the story shine!

Reviews

Finished off two books this week: Persian Fire and Paper Girls, Vol 1.

Persian Fire, by Tom Holland

One of the best examples of narrative history I’ve ever read. Holland is simply a great writer, so that despite some repetition and over-reliance on certain turns of phrase, I sped through its 350+ pages.

And it illuminated aspects of ancient Persia and Greece that I didn’t appreciate before. Like how Sparta trumpeted equality for everyone except for those living in the cities they conquered (who were turned into slaves, one and all). Or how democratic Athens regularly held an ostracism, so they could kick out a citizen who was getting too powerful (or causing too much resentment among other citizens). Or that the King of Persia considered all his subjects his slaves, and yet left them to worship their own gods, and mostly govern themselves, so long as they paid tribute.

I wish it’d gone more into a subject it teases in the Preface: How would Greece have fared if Xerxes had conquered it? Given that the Persian Kings were considering letting the Ionians (subjects of the empire) govern themselves democratically, how much of Western history would have been different?

Holland does go into detail about the Persian empire (origins, revolutions, etc), which is a great corrective to the usual Greek-sided way of telling this story. But he leaves one of his most tantalizing questions unexplored, which is a tragedy.

Paper Girls, Vol 1, by Brian K Vaughn, Cliff Chiang, Matt Wilson, and Jared K Fletcher

Picked this one up partially because of Vaughn’s work on Saga, and partially because of the clean, comprehensible art style.

And now I have yet another Image Comic (like Monstress, and Saga, and Wicked + Divine, and…) that I’ll pick up every chance I get.

Without spoiling anything, I’ll just say that it’s set in 1988, it follows four pre-teens on their paper route one early morning, and that things rapidly get…weird. Like, time-travel and possible aliens and dinosaurs weird.

It’s fantastically well-done. Its creative team is firing on all cylinders: the story is strong, the drawing clear and easy-to-follow, the colors manage to invoke both the 80s (to me, anyway) and the various locations (early morning outside, dark basement, etc) and the lettering conveys everything from a radio’s static to a drunken warble.

Which reminds me, I need to go pick up Vol 2 ๐Ÿ™‚

Keeping Score: June 22, 2018

Made the new word-count goal for a second week, thank the gods: 2,478 words.

Again, most of those are short-story edits. I basically didn’t touch the current novel this week, which has turned out to be a good thing. I’ve had time to think through some of the problem areas, plot threads that weren’t quite matching up. When I do go back to working on that draft, I’ll have some revisions to make that’ll strengthen the story before I finish.

In the meantime, I’ve submitted one of the stories I revised last week. I’ve also got two more stories ready to submit after this week’s work, for a total of five.

Here’s hoping they all find good homes.

Back to Basics

Realized a few weeks back that I wasn’t making the progress on the short stories that I wanted to. And I wasn’t making any progress on editing the second novel.

And NaNoWriMo is coming.

At first, I made the usual excuses to myself — I’ve lost my morning hour to write, I can catch up on the weekends — but I knew the real reason: fear.

Fear that I wasn’t going fast enough. Fear that I wasn’t writing stories that were good enough. Fear that without an hour to write in, I wouldn’t be able to get anything done.

So I’ve gone back to an old habit: write every day. I have a reminder in my phone, a little task that I can only check off when I’ve done some writing that day.

How much doesn’t matter. 100 words, 250 words, 400 words, don’t care. So long as I write something.

And it’s working. I finished the first draft of one short story early this week, and I’ll have a draft of a second story finished this weekend. When those two are done, I can start planning the NaNoWriMo novel.

So I keep telling myself: Step by step, day by day. One word at a time.

 

Rejected

Got multiple rejections this week.

One was from an agent I’d queried about representing my novel. That was the fastest rejection I think I’ve ever gotten. I emailed in the query, and 24 hours later I had a rejection in my inbox.

Second one was for a short story I’ve been shopping around. The editor included feedback on what they liked and what they feel the story needs to improve, though, so I’m taking that as a good sign.

Meanwhile, I’m trying to fight off a cold, edit my third short story from this summer, andย start editing my second novel. Oh, and now I need to find a new market to send that newly-rejected short story to.

Sometimes I wish I could take a week off the day job just to catch up on everything. Sometimes I feel like I’d need a month.

Patience

Sent the novel out to my first pick agent this weekend. I know it’ll most likely be rejected — it’s my first real stab at a query letter — but I’ve got to start somewhere.

Also got back another rejection of one of the stories I’ve been circulating. I didn’t waste any time worrying about it, though. I picked another market, and sent it right back out.

While waiting for rejections, I’m rewriting one of the stories I wrote last month. The feedback I got on it was positive, but in fixing the problems the reviewers pointed out, I discovered a different story sitting under the one I was writing.

Same characters, same themes, but a different plot.

I have a feeling this version will turn out much better than the first two, but the only way to find out is to write it ๐Ÿ™‚

Scorecard: Third Week

Third and final week. How’d I do?

  • Edit one chapter a day: Check. Whew.
  • Write a new short story: Check! Last week’s story is up on litreactor for feedback. Newest story will be going up as soon as I have the points.
  • Critique two stories: Check and check.
  • Find a new potential agent for querying: Dropped.
  • Polish and submit a new story each month: Still on track. Got some good feedback on “Wednesday” from the fine folks at litreactor. I’ll revise it this weekend, and should have it ready for submitting by the end of the month.

Scorecard: First Week

Last week I set some goals to keep me on track for a productive summer.

So, how am I doing?

  • Edit one chapter a day: Check. I’m working through the novel backwards this time, to keep it fresh for my editing eyes.
  • Write a new short story each week: Not complete, but new story (working title: Wednesday) is halfway done, and I’ll wrap it up this weekend.
  • Critique two stories each week: Check. By the time the new story’s done, I should have enough points to post it to the litreactor workshop for feedback.
  • Find a new agent to query each week: Nope. Need to set aside some time next week to do this.
  • Polish and submit a new story each month: Check. I’ve currently got three short stories making the submission rounds, one of which I submitted for the first time this month.

Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link

Exasperating. With the exception of The Faery Handbag, none of the supposed stories in this collection actually contain a story at all. Some of them contain multiple stories, nested and incomplete, but most are just character and setting with a complete lack of anything happening. Ever. For page after page.

Possibly the worst short story collection I’ve ever read.

Three things it taught me about writing:

  • Story is supreme. Choose your words well, but make telling a good story your first priority.
  • Deliver on your promises to the reader. If you promise zombies, give them some damn zombies.
  • If your story can be summed up in a single sentence, maybe it doesn’t need to be an entire novel.

On the Eyeball Floor and Other Stories by Tina Connolly

A strong collection of stories. Connolly moves from near-future sci-fi to alternate world fantasy to present-day witches, populating each story with strong, unique characters.

Will definitely be picking up her novel, Seriously Wicked, which takes place in the same world as one my favorite stories from this collection.

Three things it taught me about writing:

  • The thinner the story, the shorter the work should be. Don’t make the reader wade through lots of background or context just to get to the heart of events.
  • Writing in the present-day relieves you of a lot of world-building duties, lets you focus on creating great characters.
  • Even stories told via journal entries (or texts, or emails) can have a proper buildup to a climax.

The Man Who Knew Too Much by G K Chesterton

A series of confusing, racist, Anti-Semitic stories. None of the characters are admirable. The mysteries are mostly atmosphere followed by “as you know” mansplaining. The only memorable characters are the ones he gives over to racist caricature.

Taught me several things not to do:

  • Don’t lean on description over plot. A thin mystery is a boring mystery, no matter how you dress it up in thick descriptions.
  • Don’t hold your characters in contempt. If you don’t like writing about them, why would anyone want to read about them?
  • Don’t assume that insisting two characters are friends is enough for the audience. If they’re friends, readers should be able to tell without being told. If no one can tell, then, maybe they’re not friends after all?