Saturday, December 24, 2011

Interplanetary Remix, Take 444.

But if you try sometimes you just might find
You just might find
You get what you need
(You Can't Always Get What You Want - Jagger/Richards)

We all need God above
We all need a little time
We all need money and love
But when we got all we need, it's never enough
(Rodeo Drive - Terry Scott Taylor)

Santa Claus is comin' and the kids are gettin' greedy
It's Christmas time
They know what's in the stores because they've seen it on the TV
It's Christmas time
(Christmastime - Larry Norman)

I need a new car. I need a new phone. I need a bigger house.

I'm an English teacher. And as such, I sometimes recognise we confuse the words need and want. How about those in the world who really need things. Like clean water, food, education, peace, freedom and so on.

A couple of years ago Arran and I came up with an idea. Rather than give each other Christmas cards and small presents (usually chocolate - which I really don't need more of) we have a communal card which we all sign for each other. And then we donate the money we've saved on cards and gifts to Oxfam. This year we raised closed to a thousand dollars, and 'purchased' 6 donkeys and 2 goats.

Personally, I know what I want, but what do I need? (And I won't list those things that I think I need - otherwise I'd sound trite and cliched.)

Since this is a writer's blog, I certainly want to publish more. And I do need my friends.

So, in no real order, writerly thanks to Arran and Peter (friends, colleagues and first-readers).

Thanks to David McDonald (new friend, comrade-in-arms, peer and crit-buddy).

Thanks to Gitte Christensen (comrade-in-arms, encourager and peer).

Thanks to Paul Haines (friend, mentor and music buddy).

Thanks to editors and publishers who have taken a chance with my work over the past 12 months (Keith Stevenson, Tehani Wessely & Jodi Cleghorn).

Thanks to writers, editors, fellow travellers and readers I was published alongside, people I met on forums, at cons, workshops, festivals, meetings, discussion groups and book launches. (Too many to mention)

Thanks to my family and my in-laws (encouragers, and ever-proud).

Thanks to my best friend, Fenna (encourager, motivator, dreamer, teacher and critic).

Mostly, thanks to my wife, Lindsey. (for absolutely everything).

Have a Merry Christmas. And I hope you get what you need.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Revisiting The Past.

I must admit to having been disappointed recently by some of the magazines I've read.

As a subscriber to both Analog and Asimov's, I'm fairly familiar with the types of writing they publish, although I must say I generally don't find Analog to be as science based as they try to make out. The past few issues of both magazines, however, have contained stories that I'm surprised they accepted. Not only were a couple of them twee and pointless, but several contained examples of the cliches, infodumps and poor writing that I would have presumed would have rendered them as rejects. I found a couple of the stories in the bumper double issues long, boring, and a real slog to finish.

It actually made me wonder why my last submission to Analog was a form reject.

On the other hand, it's been a joy to revisit old friends. I picked up a Christopher Priest novel, one I thought I hadn't read. As soon as I was a few pages in, it seemed strangely familiar, and I realised I must have read it many years ago.  But more than that, I fell in love with his writing all over again. And now I'm going to dig out some of his other novels that I haven't opened in twenty years or more and read them.

I also found a short story I've been looking for. I couldn't remember the title or the author, and I've scoured my book collection over the past few years without success. Turns out it was a book I must have overlooked, because it's another old favourite, Robert Sheckley. And then I read a JG Ballard novel. Another whose writing I love.

Next will be Bob Shaw, Michael G, Coney (another favourite) and Ian Watson.

It's great to keep up with the latest and greatest, but don't forget the masters.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Epilogue's Table Of Contents.

I'm thrilled to be part of Fablecroft's 'Epilogue' (working title: Apocalypse Hope). Edited by Tehani Wessely, this anthology collects stories set after an apocalypse, but each with an element of hope.

And check out this TOC:

“Time and tide” by Lyn Battersby
“Fireflies” by Steve Cameron
“Sleeping Beauty” by Thoraiya Dyer
“The Fletcher Test” by Dirk Flinthart
“Ghosts” by Stephanie Gunn
“Sleepers” by Kaia Landelius
“Solitary” by Dave Luckett
“Losses beyond the kill point” by Kathleen Martin
“Cold comfort” by David McDonald
“Mornington Ride” by Jason Nahrung
“The last good town” by Elizabeth Tan

Excited much?  Fablecroft is a publisher I've been hungry for, just to have Tehani choose to include my work.

Due June 2012.

How Will I Know?

Can I write?

This is a question that bugs me from time to time. And, after the rejection I mentioned last week, it's one that's been bugging me again.

Most people believe they can write. Most writers think they can write well. I often see writers who aren't selling discussing what they could have 'tweaked' in their story that would have lifted it to a sale. And there are those who never sell that think the world is against them, and that the slushreader just don't 'get' their writing. Sometimes these people count their rejections and proudly advertise the number as a measure of success.

OK, I haven't sold heaps of work yet, and like most people I'm probably blind to some of the flaws in my own writings, and I don't write anywhere near as much as I should, and why should I think that I can even write?

Some observations:

If a slushreader doesn't 'get' your work, what makes you think a reader will? Slushreaders are readers, and they see a far wider range of work than most casual readers. Yeah, OK, they make mistakes (and I KNOW they've recently made  mistakes a few times in rejecting MY work  - hehehe) but generally if your work is so good, it will sell elsewhere.

The tweaking thing. I've referred to this before. I call it the Feng Shui of writing. If I'd changed the character's name to Jeff, or chosen a better title (or hung a mirror over the sofa) then maybe it would have sold. I figure if the story is 'almost, but not quite', the editor will ask for a rewrite, or suggest changes and invite a re-sub. (And this actually happened to me a couple of weeks ago.)

Most people think they can write. I know this is true - as many people who never write tell me they plan to, and will one day soon, and then they'll sell lots and they'll be able to quit work and...  Any of you who do write knows how many times people tell you this. And you also know how not easy it is, what a slog it can be and how long the sub and sale process can take for so little financial reward. As a teacher and a writer, I read an awful lot of stuff from people who believe it's brilliant. Usually it's not. Some work never sells simply because it's crap. Be aware that your work maybe isn't of the standard you think it is.

Counting rejections. I keep track of my rejections, and I do count them. But they're certainly not in the hundreds. And I know of people who brag that they received X amount of rejections this year - as that was their target. OK, so that works for them. My goal wasn't to have a certain number of rejections, but to make three sales or more this year. (And I achieved that). Next year it's to make five or more. Anyone can receive a certain number of rejections, just submit your work to every market out there and start counting. In and of itself, it's not a measure of success or even progression. It's only a measure of submission and rejection.

Only three sales? Yes, but three sales I'm proud of, and to markets I'm thrilled to be in. I could have sold more if I'd been less fussy with my submissions, but early in my writing 'career' I decided against 'token' or 'for the love' markets, and aimed squarely at semi-pro. I worked out where my writing abilities lay and subbed to those markets with the intention of moving up. Quality over quantity. And while I know it works for some people, this is the very reason I don't do NaNoWriMo. (Plus November is when I get tied up with school stuff, reports and other deadlines) It's also the reason I choose not to self-publish the stuff that didn't sell.

So, why should I think I can write?

Some answers.

I have experience and training. I'm an English teacher in a High School. I teach writing, language analysis, contextual work and literature. I have an Arts degree in English and Drama, and an Education degree in teaching the same two subjects. I've also been a voracious reader since I was a child. I can recognise good writing, good dialogue and plot, and know why it's good. I also understand when it's not working.

I've been told I can write. Not just by my mum and friends, (and never listen exclusively to them!) but (over the past few years) by my critiquers, which has included literature teachers, other writers at my own level, and even professional writers. I've had a few editors and writers (people whose names you would recognise) tell me which aspects of my work they've liked. OK, so they didn't always take the story, but they spent time telling me why. (Might I point out I never asked - they offered comments in these cases.)

I'm developing. I can see where I'm improving. I listen to criticisms of my work and learn from them. I read LOTS of short fiction and learn from that too. I can see where older stories didn't work, and have either trunked or rewritten those. I know what my shortcomings are and am actively working to improving those areas.

I'm getting sales. Not lots, but some. And at the markets I was aiming for. I haven't yet sold to Analog or Asimov's, or even Ticonderoga. But those publishers are firmly in my sights and I have strategic plans to reach those goals. As they say in advertising, Watch this space.

So what does this mean for others?

Probably not a lot. You want to write? Then write. And submit, and prepare to receive rejections. Then don't give up. Take the time to think about why you are writing and what your goals are. With my senior students, I give them the following four points to consider in regards to their studies.
  • What is your goal?
  • What do you have to do to achieve that?
  • What are you prepared to do (or sacrifice) in order to get there?
  • Now do it.
Any monkey can get published. Write something, start a blogpage with a snappy title and post it. TaaDaa! Published.

Not that there's anything wrong with that if that's what you want. Or with any other publication and format. Just make sure it's something you want. Me? I want to be published in magazines and anthologies from publishers that I respect, and hunger for them to accept my work. But also be realistic about it. Are you really going to send everything you write to the big three? It will most certainly bring the rejection tally up. As mentioned above, I aim my work at the level I believe it is. If I'm not selling regularly at Semi-Pro, why would Pro markets buy it?

But I'm still developing and improving. And I do have a piece at a pro market that I have hopes for. And as I also said before, keep watching this space.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

A Mixed Bag.

After a week of waiting followed by a week of good news, this week's news has been mixed. Some good, some not so good.

I reported last week that one of my stories had been sold - which was great, and I'm still very excited about that. It was a market I'd long hoped to crack (more news when I can) and a story that I had high hopes for.

The following day, however, a different story at another market I've long hoped to crack (with a story that I was almost certain they would take) was rejected. And with it my self confidence plummeted for a day or so. It's funny how it affects you like that. Don't worry. It's already subbed out elsewhere, and I know it's a good story that will find a good home.

So I was surprised when yet another market that I've long hoped to crack (Yeah, I have a list of about 5 semi-pro markets I'm aiming to 'infiltrate') placed a hold on a story that I thought had absolutely no chance there.

Now all they have to do is love it enough to buy it.

By the middle of the week things had definitely taken a downward turn, when I read that Paul Haines, my mentor and friend, had announced that he had reached the end of his writing career. Paul's cancer seems to have stepped up its attack on his body. And like so many others, I send my love and positive vibes to Paul, Jules and Isla and wish him well.

By the weekend a feeling of dread overtook me, as I realised I had to finish writing my students' reports by Monday. Slightly ahead of marking, it's the one thing I hate about teaching. But everything in life is a compromise, and if I want to teach, then I have to assess and report. Sigh.

But yesterday my wife and I put up our Christmas tree, and spent a few hours making pickled onions. And last night, as I sat in the darkened living room watching a DVD with my wife and two dogs, glancing over occasionally at the twinkling lights in the corner, smelling strangely of onions and pine, I realised how little I have to unhappy about.

And despite the rejections from markets that I considered a 'sure thing', my writing and publishing is moving up.