Sunday, July 29, 2012

Aiming For Gold?

The Olympics are underway. I loved the opening ceremony. It was spectacular. And as a bonus it promoted literacy and reading, which is never a bad thing.

The soundtrack was wonderful. Paul McCartney with Hey Jude as a closer was kitschy, but it was kind of successful in the context. I must admit to being completely underwhelmed by Dizzy Rascal and The Arctic Monkeys. As performers, I thought they were average - and as part of the production, they disrupted the flow of the show. It's not a concert, after all.  Mike Oldfield's presence, on the other hand, worked well as part of the soundtrack.

Every four years I enjoy watching the athletes striving to do their best, but I have mixed feelings about the games - especially when words like courageous, sacrifice and hero are pulled out. How can a swim be courageous - unless it's under enemy fire? Hero? I'll agree they are role models, but to me a hero is more than someone who performs well. And sacrifice? Sure, they sacrificed aspects of their life to get there - but it was a sacrifice they made to benefit themselves. We all prioritise parts of our life. And then there's the regular dialogue about how we don't financially support our athletes enough, or look after them well enough once they retire from sports.

The problem I have is that these athletes are simply doing their 'hobby'. An artist who doesn't earn an income, but spends all their time painting (training?) and thereby ends up in debt is seen as irresponsible. They don't expect to be supported by the state. I guess artists don't end up in regular contests.

Olympians are athletes who excel. I guess the problem is they don't produce a 'product'. Artists generally only succeed if they sell their work. There are athletes, in football or basketball, who can earn vast quantities of money because people regularly buy tickets to watch them in action. But not many people regularly pay to go and watch shotputters.

These athletes always talk of how they are "doing it for their country." I'm sure it's an honour to represent their country, but ultimately they are "doing it" for themselves. No child takes up sprinting solely because they want their country to be successful.

As a writer, I'd love to see more government funding and support given to the Arts. Many writers, musicians, artists and actors have to work full time jobs in order to support themselves. Most of them would love to be able to dedicate themselves to their art full time, training if you will.

Heck, if you give me a tracksuit and a stipend, I'll even say I'm writing for my country.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Interesting Times.

This week has been mixed.

Deck The Halls has been released by eMergent, and it looks great. My contributor copy arrived this morning. It includes my story, Softly Sing The Stars, as well as Through Wind And Weather by my fellow traveller, David McDonald.

I withdrew a story from a market after it had been sitting there for well over four months without a response to my queries. Sigh. Four months is ridiculous when Duotrope is showing responses from the same market after only two weeks.

I had a personal rejection from a market that continues to elude me. The comments were encouraging though. Still, a rejection is a rejection is a rejection.

I'm over it now and feel better. It took about two minutes.

And the other stories are still out in the wildwoods awaiting their fates.

I wish I had midi-chlorians when I say stuff like: Get on with it, editors. You know you want these!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

A Competition.

Like it or not, getting published is a competition.

Rejections from a market simply mean the stories that were selected over yours were better, or fit the requirements more closely.

Of course there are standards of writing, and standards of storytelling. And from what I've been told, a large percentage of submitted works are rejected simply on the basis of not being of an acceptable standard.

Sometimes writers ask what's wrong with particular stories, why they weren't bought. It's not a school test with a pass or fail mark - or a benchmark or rubric with anything over a designated level is taken. It simply has to be a better story than the others.

And so it's a competition.

I aim to be the best, or at least be better than most of the others. (And no, before anyone asks, this post wasn't written from a sense of despair or in response to a rejection. I am waiting on a couple of responses any day now, though.)

Write, submit, wait, write some more.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Eat Me Cake.

Do you remember that scene in Alice in Wonderland where Alice eats the cake and puts her hand on top of her head to measure her growth? Naturally, she ends up exclaiming she hasn't grown at all.

Sometimes I feel like that. I feel like I haven't improved in my writing, or that I'm no closer to pro-sale level than I was before. That's when my wife points out exactly how much I've achieved in the past couple of years.

OK, so I've made a few sales. But how close am I to the big ones? Does that personal rejection I received from a pro-market mean I will soon be selling there? And if I do, will it be regularly? (or at least more than once?) Am I like Topanga Canyon, or simply living in hope?

I think I'm improving. People I trust tell me I am. I can look back at my earlier pieces and see the flaws more obviously. And I try not to make those same mistakes again.

Sometimes I read stories in magazines and anthologies, and have trouble seeing why they were accepted in the first place. Then I wonder why my pieces were rejected from those same markets. Surely my piece was better than the ones they published.

Oh well, my day will come. We write, we submit, we write more.

(Gitte Christensen wrote a response to my Topanga Canyon post. This post started out as a comment to her.)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Deck The Halls Is Launched.

Deck the Halls, the Christmas themed anthology from eMergent Publishing is now available for purchase as an e-book and print publication. (Australia only) International orders will be taken from November. Meanwhile, stories from the collection are now live online!

You can read a new story every hour as they are posted on the Literary Mix Tapes blog.

Each story will be up for 24 hours. Follow the links for more details, and the schedule is below (Mine will be available from 7 a.m. tomorrow).

Times are Australian Eastern Standard.

Tuesday 17th July
9am Touched Rowena Specht-Whyte
10am Drench the School Benjamin Solah
11am Coming Home Rebecca L Dobbie
12pm While You Were Out Sam Adamson
1pm Twenty Five Rebecca Emin
2pm A Jolly Pair Christopher Chartrand
3pm Gays and Commies Graham Storrs
4pm A Better Fit Jen Brubacher
5pm Salvation Nicole Murphy
6pm A Troll For Christmas Jo Hart
7pm Modraniht Kate Sherrod
8pm ‘Til Death Do Us Part Emma Kerry
9pm High Holidays Dale Challener Roe
10pm The Headless Shadow Jonathan Crossfield
11pm Not A Whisper Lily Mulholland

Wednesday 18th July
12am Through The Frosted Window Laura Meyer
1am Lords of the Dance Janette Dalgliesh
2am Midsummer’s Eve S.G. Larner
3am Yuletide Treasure Rob Diaz II
4am Broken Angel Jodi Cleghorn
5am Unfolding Alison Wells
6am Hail The New Trevor Belshaw
7am Softly Sing The Stars Steve Cameron
8am Through Wind and Weather David McDonald

Vale: Jon Lord.

We have lost Jon Lord.

When I was a teenager, a friend and I would occasionally go on weekend fishing trips. On one such trip, up at Eildon, we met this other guy who was also fishing. The three of us sat around the fire at night and listened to music.

This is the first time I recall really hearing Deep Purple. He played us Made in Japan, and I loved it. I traded a Kiss album for the Deep Purple double live album a few days later. I still think it was a great deal for me.

Over the years I've seen the band around seven times. I was lucky enough to see the Mark 2 lineup in their 1984 Perfect Strangers tour. In 1999, I was in the tenth row at Rod Laver Arena. Every time Jon Lord hit the low notes on his Hammond organ and the leslie speakers started spinning, you could feel it right through your stomach.


Don Airey is a fine and fitting replacement.But Jon Lord's Hammond organ sound was so integral to Deep Purple that they were never quite the same after he retired.

And now he has lost his battle with pancreatic cancer.

Tonight I will raise a glass to his memory and listen to some of his finest moments.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Workshop Shopping.

I recently completed the Jack Dann workshop, held at Writers Victoria. It consisted of five sessions, roughly a month apart. And while I found it very useful and valuable, it wasn't exactly what I'd thought it was going to be.

I guess I really wanted a masterclass.

There was an extremely diverse range of experiences among the participants - from a few who had never written a sentence before to a couple of us with a history of publications. As such, much of the critiquing was aimed at the beginners.

I read of writers in the U.S. that attend workshops held by Orson Scott Card, or Kris Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith, Mike Resnick, or other writing luminaries. You often need to audition, to submit a piece of writing to attend these workshops before the participants are selected.

I rarely see any SF workshops like that advertised here.

Earlier this year, I looked at an online course advertised by Tracy Hickman. It looked good, the price seemed reasonable but the time was wrong. I'd just signed up for the Jack Dann thing and was finishing up a university course. I decided I would wait until the second half of the year before applying.

I checked it out recently - credit card in hand, and was rather surprised to see that the course had been restructured to involve live online sessions and the price had increased dramatically. More than doubled, in fact.

I'll pass, for the moment. And I'm not disparaging Mr. Hickman. I'm sure his course is excellent. It's just that it's more than I'd planned to spend at that time.

Clarion in Australia is on indefinite hiatus and, even if it re-commenced, taking the six weeks required to attend would be far too costly. (And I think my wife would not be happy.)

If anyone knows of any great online workshops run by people who know their stuff and at a reasonable price, I'd love to hear about it.

I've found the biggest improvements I've made in my writing were immediately after the Jack Dann course, and the Paul Haines mentorship.

And I'm all for improving my writing.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Halfway Through.

I had big plans for this week. Suffice to say life gets in the way, and I haven't done half as much as I'd hoped to.

Still, it has been good so far. I've had my snapshot linked by Deakin University's MyCourseMyCareer page, I've done some writing, done some organising - even done some gardening. I've seen some friends make some great story sales (admittedly with a certain amount of envy in a couple of cases) and sympathised with others who missed out on sure things.

I sold a story about a week ago, to Eric J. Guignard's anthology, After Death. Now this is a sale I really wanted, and the story sold very quickly. I'm happy.

But as for the rest of you editors out there currently sitting on my stories, buy the darned things already.


Saturday, July 7, 2012

Targeted Reading.

Every writer knows that in order to write well, you need to read also. My reading is wide - everything from non-fiction to a range of fiction genres.

But have you considered targeted reading?

My skills continually develop but when I'm writing a piece I sometimes feel as though it's not quite working as I would like it to. Maybe the setting isn't quite right, or I'm just not getting the mood I want. About a year ago, I started targeted reading in those instances. I grab out a short story or novel I recall having a feeling similar to mine, and read that section. The stories are usually nothing alike, and more often than not even the setting isn't exactly as I recalled it. But what I do see is how certain things are done by better and more experienced authors, and I can analyse why the writing created that feeling in my mind. From that I learn.

Of course I don't do this for every story I'm writing, just those ones where I feel stuck. I don't have time to read stuff in the middle of a writing session. After all, the computer is distracting enough.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

A Tale Of Caution.

Apparently Dean Wesley Smith, amongst others, tells the story of a writer who was submitting to a whole lot of magazines over the period of a few years. Smith refers to this man as Topanga Canyon, as that was where the writer lived. The writer was submitting good work and was regularly receiving personal rejections. The editors, in fact, all knew his name and were watching to see who would be the first to buy his work. Even agents knew his name. He was really close.

And then for no apparent reason in 1991 he stopped submitting and was never heard from again.

Until now.

This story was mentioned briefly on a forum I visit, and one of my fellow frequenters, Preston Dennett, read the story and thought it sounded like it could have been about him. He used to live in Topanga Canyon, he was subbing around that time, and he gave up because he didn't think he was getting anywhere and his non-fiction writing was starting to take off. So he shot off a quick email to Dean Wesley Smith, and sure enough, Preston was Topanga Canyon.

Part of him is elated that he was known by editors and agents, and oh so close. The other part of him is devastated. I know I'd be wondering what might have been.

I don't know how those personal rejections were worded, but maybe a few extra words - something that could have helped him realise just how close he was - might have made all the difference. He's started writing fiction again, and this time he's planning on success.

Don't give up. And if an editor asks to see more of your work, believe it.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

At The End Of The Week.

The last few weeks have been hectic.

Exam marking, writing reports, finishing university assignments, making sure the semester comes to a clean end. But that's all done now, and I'm free to get some writing done. For the next couple of weeks at least.

I finished the Jack Dann workshop yesterday. I tweaked the story they critiqued last time and re-subbed it. It had a generally favourable reception, and some more excellent comments and advice. The five month program has been excellent.  I'd like to thank Jack and my fellow attendees.

I also wrote a story that I am very, very pleased with. It poured out of me easily in a single three hour session and needed little work afterwards. I commenced a second story, but have now put it on the back burner. It was for an anthology that closes this weekend. Unfortunately I was going to run out of time, and - more importantly - I realised the aspects I'd tried to incorporate (in order to match the anthology's theme) were not central to the story and so would probably not be suitable anyway.

And so, the results of this week.

One new story written.
One other new story half-completed.
One story re-written and subbed to the workshop.
Two other stories re-written.
Three submissions.

A successful week.  Now we wait!