Saturday, March 30, 2013

We All Say The Same Things

A few years ago I was discussing the appeal of emo music with someone. I had been thinking about the quality of isolation so many emo/neo-punk lyricists draw on to write their songs and how that feeling of being "the only one who feels this way" is common to just about everyone. I had also been thinking about the irony of that juxtaposition.

Well, I didn't think "That's ironic." I thought "How fucking stupid are we?" Everyone feeling like they're the only person who ever had a lousy day/week/year/decade. Each of us feeling like we're the only one who ever struggles to make ends meet or love the people who love us or pursue the things we're good at (but maybe don't make any money doing). And in reality the things that hurt us or make us happy or give us hope are all the same.

(Not identical. It's not like each of you will get the same thrill from reading Gormenghast as I do. But we all have something that makes us ache and brings us to tears and laughter.)

Yesterday while writing up my Alternative Booker Award post, I threw out the comment that it's no surprise I write the way I do when you see the books I love. And I immediately thought "Duh. Like every writer doesn't say that." I felt stupid. And more than a little like a hack. Of course, the things I read will influence how and what I write. That's the most obvious and uninsightful observation I could make about myself.

In fact, I was so embarrassed by even thinking that, I almost deleted that line.

But I didn't. Because the more I thought about it, the more it wasn't a stupid thing. An obvious thing, yes. But a truthful one all the same. Because as writers, especially the ones who are narcissistic enough to talk about their writing process, we do say the same things. Not identical things. (I mean, aside from "Butt in Chair" and "You have permission to write a steaming turd of a first draft" and all the other writerly mantras that my generation of writers lives and breathes.)

We all say the same things about loving our craft. About finding inspiration. About working through the hard things. About celebrating the small things. About making time for what's important and letting go of what is not.

And those things that we say resonate. Not because we're so smart or even so very good with words. (Though, you know, we kind of hope to be since we're trying to do this writing thing professionally.) And not even because we are writers talking to fellow writers.

The things we say resonate because we are humans talking to other humans. About finding inspiration. About working through the hard things. About celebrating the small things. About making time for what's important and letting go of what is not.

So when I say something obvious about knowing my writing motives by knowing my influences, it's okay. Because you understand. And you would say the same thing. 

Friday, March 29, 2013

Alternative Booker Award

J.M. Blackman tagged me for The Alternative Booker Award. In which I share my five favorite books and then pass the torch to five others.

(And yeah. Narrowing it down was a bitch chore. Ask me for this list next week and I might tell you something completely different.)

In no particular order (because really, who has a single most favorite book?):

Children of Men by P.D. James - I picked this one up thinking I probably should read it before seeing the movie. The book was so incredible, I still haven't watched the movie (despite having owned it for several years now). I'm especially fond of the way the ending leaves me full of doubt whether the protagonist will actually make anything better now that he's in charge.

The Trial Begins by Abram Tertz/Andrei Sinyavsky - I have no memory of how I stumbled across this really short novel (published by a university press in the same volume as an essay - On Socialist Realism), but it blew my mind. Not only because I am still a history buff, but because it's such a surreal story about morals and politics and individuals caught in the midst of a government who fears its own citizens more than its enemies.

Akira by Katsuhiro Otomo - Technically it's six novels, but whatever. You couldn't fit all those pages into one book if you tried. And it's stunning. With heavy SF themes, brilliant artwork, and a constant critique of power and it's influence on the individual and society (and the individual in society). Any time I pick up any of the six volumes I instantly remember why I love this story so much.

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury - When I was about fourteen I sat up all night finishing this book. The writing is lyrical, the characters both ordinary and larger than life, and it has Bradbury's own worldview so deeply embedded in the story. I love this one enough to have more than one copy of it.

Norstrilia by Cordwainer Smith - I read this even before I read Bradbury. My dad had a collection of Cordwainer Smith books and I was immediately hooked. Animals with reprogrammed DNA that look human? Computers that can tell the future? Humans who live forever? It was all there in glorious detail. And Norstrilia was the biggest and best piece of that world.

(Looking at this list explains a lot about why I write what I do. It still surprises me.)

Now, to tag five other lucky folks.

1. Luke Kurtis
2. Caleb Monroe
3. Brenda Stokes-Barron
4. Alex Shvartsman
5. J. Deery Wray

Monday, March 18, 2013

Withdrawing a Story

In my short writing career, I have withdrawn a story from consideration a grand total of twice. Both times were instances of discovering a divergence of opinion on issues of race/sexuality with the editorial staff. And I haven't submitted anything to either of those markets since.

I mention this, not because I'm such a crusader for equality, but because every now and again I see someone asking about making a simultaneous submission on the sly. In other words, they have multiple markets they wish to submit a particular story to, both of which request "No Sim Subs", and one of which has a deadline/really slow response time. Usually the question is "Can't I just withdraw the story from one market if it were picked up by the other one?"

The short answer is: Yes.

Naturally, there is nothing to prevent you from sending your story to every market at once. There is nothing to prevent you from withdrawing a story from a market at any time for any reason - whether it be that you subbed to more than one market and had an acceptance or you decided it needed more revisions or because you realized the editor was anti-banana and you're pro-banana and you don't want him/her publishing your story anyway.

But there are a couple of things you should keep in mind when considering withdrawing a story. (Or considering putting yourself in a position where you might have to withdraw a story.)

Firstly, once a story is withdrawn it cannot be resubmitted to the same market at a later date. Withdrawing a story is like giving yourself a rejection notice.

Secondly, while it may seem like an editor won't know why you decided to withdraw a story there are a limited number of possibilities.
1: You submitted something that wasn't ready.
2. You submitted something to more than one market despite being asked not to.
3: You found a market that pays more/has more exposure/whatever and you want to try them first.
4. You have decided you don't want to work with the editor.

None of those possibilities is likely to make the editor/slush-crew think very highly of you. Some won't care enough to remember it the next time you might submit something (this is assuming that either #4 doesn't apply or you've changed your mind about the anti-banana stance of the editor-in-chief). Some will.

So, my rule of thumb is: Don't withdraw a story unless you have no intention of working with a market/editor ever again.

My second rule of thumb is: Don't put yourself in a position to NEED to withdraw a story.
This means, No Sim Subs (unless a market says it's okay) and Always Be Certain a Story is Ready To Sell.