Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Where in the World is Elly Zee?

See the last paragraph of this post. That's where I am. 11,000 words in and counting. I'm publicly announcing that a first draft will be done by end of August. Help keep me honest.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Wherefore YA Sci-Fi?

Fresh off the heels of finishing the short story referred to in the previous post, I realize I have no idea what is meant by the cliché “fresh off the heels” or “fresh on the heels.” (Is it an inadvertant combination of “fresh off the presses” and “hot on the heels”?) George Orwell would shame me for saying that.

Let me start again: For the first time since roughly 2009, I have a finished, polished short story that I am ready to put into circulation. I wrote a few between then and now, but they were specialized for contests or based on weird prompts. The story at hand is the first I’ve written in years that was straight from the imagination, for no other reason than I had an idea and I wanted to write it down. Felt pretty damn good, if I do say so myself, and Present Me shall now say “nyah nyah” to Past Me who so recently denounced writing short stories.

Now I face the daunting task of beginning to submit my short story for publication.* This is a circle of hell with which I am intimately familiar; I am both looking forward to and dreading re-entry. Surfing Duotrope today (a wonderful, free alternative to Writers Market), I began narrowing down a list of publications to which to submit my first round. I’ll save my whinging about hard copy submissions for another post, but the target of this particular diatribe is one certain publication that came up in my search results for a publication open to soft science fiction short stories of about 4,000 words. [Anonymous Online Magazine] described its needs thusly: 
"We are looking for hard science fiction, soft science fiction, and everything in between. Think Jules Verne, Isaac Asimov, George Orwell or Ray Bradbury with a YA focus." 
“With a YA focus”? Okay, so when I was a “YA,” my YA fiction was Asimov, Orwell, and Bradbury—a lot of Bradbury. (Always and forever, a lot of Bradbury. Fahrenheit 451 fits neatly into the category of read this, like, now.) It should be no surprise that I was a bookworm as a kid. But the books I remember being affected by the most were not novels; they were short story anthologies—more specifically, sci-fi and fantasy anthologies that I rescued from a box of my father’s old books from his college days. I read TheIllustrated Man and The Martian Chronicles until they fell apart.

I used to sneak a copy of copy of Playboy’s 1966 Book ofScience Fiction and Fantasy into my 7th grade classes with a different cover on it, because I was embarrassed it said “Playboy” and I didn’t want to explain. The stories weren’t dirty, they weren’t graphic. But they made me feel something unexplainable deep inside, like there was something darker, bigger, stranger than myself out there, that there would always be something to be explored, both at the outreaches of the universe and the inner reaches of my soul. I lost my dad’s old paperback somewhere down the road, so a few years back, I tracked down a used copy just to read all the stories again. They were as good as I remembered. “The Fly” by George Langelaan! “I Remember Babylon” by Arthur C. Clarke! “The Vacation” by Bradbury is still to my mind one of the most perfect short stories I’ve ever read.

I don’t remember “YA” being its own genre when I was coming up. As a young adult, I read a few YA books: some were great; some were not so great. But they weren’t the books that turned me into a lifelong reader or a writer. Sure, it was nice to see someone like me in a book, but the books that dug in their claws and never let go were the ones that gave me a salty glimpse of what it was like to be a grown up and still be frightened, whether of what you might find on another planet or of what you might find in yourself.

This may not make me very many friends, but I have to confess that I don’t “get” the whole YA thing. I understand it as a marketing handle, but it ends there. I do believe that there are stories worth telling about characters under the age of 18. But I think it is absolutely essential that fiction not pander. Just like when a mother buys her child a coat or pair of shoes that’s just a little too big so there’s “room to grow,” children and teens should read stories that leave them room to grow. The best fiction shows us ourselves, but also shows us an “other,” so that we may experience the world outside ourselves. (As an aside, Max and Menna by Shauna Kelley is a terrific example of a book marketed as YA that does not pander to its audience whatsoever, but treats them as mature equals.)

As writers, it is not our job to tell our readers who they are by writing something “focused” on who we decide they are. Rather, our job is first to tell the truth, and then to let our readers discover their place in the world through the stories we tell.

*I feel I should explain why I would seek a publisher for my short story when I rally so vehemently against legacy publishing. I have my opinions on this matter, and explain I will, but let’s save that for a future post.


Friday, May 11, 2012

On the Productivity Problem

I took today off work specifically so I could spent today writing. I did not write a single word until just now, when I wrote, “I took today off work.”

I had a very productive day, as far as my heart, my soul, my mind, my body. I read the writing of David Foster Wallace for the first time (a fact I am both proud and ashamed to admit). I read more chapters of Walden(which has been so life-changing for me, I will not diminish it here with commentary; just read it, like now). I took a walk, practiced Tai Chi, gave myself a Qi Gong tapping massage, and ate no meat. I cleaned the apartment and sufficiently snuggled all three cats. I listened to a Radiolab podcast that made me cry my way through a sandwich and realize a level of therapeutic purging I did not know I needed. I did many things today that enriched me as a writer, and yet I did no writing.

I’m having a productivity problem. More specifically, I have a finishing problem. I feel like Sozi; I am Sozi. I have a million ideas, each one a seed, and I want to see that tree so badly that I plant them all in the ground, give them some water, see that first shoot of green, and marvel—but in moments I’ve found another seed.

I have this fancy notebook and this fancy pen, and I only write in the fancy notebook with the fancy pen, and I only write in the notebook fiction or fiction-related ideas. (Other creative types may recognize this affected ritual in which we find comfort.) It’s my ideas journal, sometimes drunken rambling diary, sometimes observation record, sometimes organizer and planner. But it’s all in the name of some present or future fiction. I flipped back through its pages today and realized I started it almost exactly a year ago, give or take 11 days. It’s filled just over halfway with seeds, saplings, and one full-grown tree. Notes for at least four novels are in there, and about the same number of short story sprouts.

I have to admit that I have three active novels in various states of undress, and I feel like I am doing everything in the world not to work on them. I have one novel that is, at this point, 95% done. But I want to work on it less than I want to do almost anything else in the world, including cleaning the litter boxes of aforementioned three cats. I really love everything about it, except I hate that I wrote it instead of something more “important.” I almost can’t work on it because it makes me feel this crippling self-doubt that I may never be the writer I want to be, and if I finish and publish this book I am somehow carving that in stone.

I have a second novel that is fully drafted as a novella, and merely needs to be extended in accordance with the fully detailed outline contained in my fancy notebook. Much of the work is done. But the story itself is extremely depressing and I find I cannot work on it without feeling that the sadness of the material will seep into the edges of my life and I may lose what sense of peace and happiness I’ve worked so hard to attain. I also worry that if I publish such a story I will be bringing sadness into a reader’s life, instead of hope and enlightenment. Again, I feel like it would make me dishonest in my most basic intentions as a writer.

The third novel in progress is the least far along. I have a full outline and a few fragments, but there are more than likely years of work left on it. Yet this is the one I can’t stop thinking about. I dream about it. Everything I read or watch on television or talk about over a beer seems directly relevant to the story I want to tell with this book. In my head it’s already done, and I am sometimes surprised when I notice only about 10 pages are written down. But every time I feel the urge to work on it, I mentally chastise myself for not working to finish the others that are so close, that I am procrastinating from my other work with this work out of some fucked up fear of success/fear of failure syndrome. . . . And so it becomes a cycle, and I work on nothing. 

Just last week I was telling a friend how I thought I was done with the short story form and at heart I am really a novelist and I ought to really just focus on novels. And instead of novelling, I just finished the first short story I’ve written in years. I also wrote a screenplay, for crying out loud. I don’t write screenplays. I’ve taken procrastination to a weird new extreme wherein it is actually making me productive at things I don’t think I want to do.

Perhaps I finally turned to the short story and the short screenplay because they were pieces I could finish. I kind of want to write another short story; I already have the idea. It’s in the fancy notebook. But, like something near the horizon, I sniff the pressure and doubt on the wind. If I write two short stories, I really ought to write eight more so that I can publish a full collection. And if it’s going to be a collection, there ought to be some thematic thread. Sure, these first two go together, but what if I can’t come up with any more that match? Why bother writing the second if I can’t write the third, fourth, fifth . . . ?

So you see the spiral. I believe it’s a product directly related to my acute awareness of the passing of time, and of my own mortality. It took me 15 years to put out my first book. I don’t have very many chunks of time that long left. I don’t actually think it will take me 15 years to finish my next book, but at this rate, who knows? Maybe it is the fear of success/fear of failure. Maybe it’s the sophomore slump to the wildly mediocre success of my freshman try.

I want to say I don’t know the solution. I want to whine some more, bitch and moan, and google “motivation for writers.” I want to blame. But I do know the solution. You can see it, a few paragraphs above. The story that I dream about? The story I wake up thinking about? That’s the story I need to write. I shouldn’t care that I only have 10 pages done. I can only write one word at a time. I just need to do that, every chance I get, until I’m done.

A friend recently asked me for some motivation advice. I wrote back something that may or may not have actually been helpful, but I am positive it reeked from the overconfidence of someone who never ever suffers writer's block--which, as you can see, is patently false. The advice I ultimately ended with was "Write now. Right now." I should take my own advice. And that’s why this post will end so suddenly.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


TWMD has been iBooked! Search iTunes or the store in the iBook app to find your copy.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

iBook Update

The War Master's Daughter has officially shipped to Apple! It should be available as an iBook about one week from now. I will keep you posted right here.

If you can't wait for the iBook, don't forget that today is the last day to get the eBook from Smashwords for 67% off! Use coupon code SK65L.