Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Some Activity.

A couple of rejections popped into my inbox this week. I originally had high hopes for these stories with these particular markets, but as time went on I had a feeling they were going to be rejected. At least they were personal rejections which means they were close. Real close.

Oh well.

These ones didn't hurt at all. I'll give them the once over and send them back out on their merry way. It's been quite a while since I've had a rejection that hurts. And the last one that did still aches from time to time. The wound is scratched open - especially when I see the cover image online or on my shelf, and wonder why my story didn't fit. I still think it would have been a great match.

There are others out there in the wildwoods, and a few deadlines fast approaching. Hopefully I'll have good news next time I post.

Fingers crossed.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Vale: Neil Armstrong.

One day, when I was six years old, the entire school was herded into a large room where we sat and watched grainy images on a regular sized TV as Neil Armstrong stepped onto the lunar surface for the very first time. It's still one of the few memories I have from that particular school. It was cool and exciting to think that man had walked on the moon.

From all accounts, Neil was a nerdy engineer who was calm and logical. A quiet, private gentleman who wanted none of the hoopla that surrounded the event. (Apparently that was the main reason he was selected over Buzz Aldrin to be first.)

A couple of years ago I read a wonderful book about the twelve astronauts who'd been on the moon. Moondust, by Andrew Smith, looks at the men, and how their lives were affected by having walked on the moon. Lyrical and poetic and engaging, I still highly recommend the book.

Armstrong, reclusive and private, rarely gave interviews or spoke to the media. For this book, however, he consented and spoke with the author.

In a moment of unusual frankness, Neil Armstrong once recalled standing on the Moon and noticing he could blot out the Earth with his thumb. Did that make him feel really big, he was asked? 'No,' the great astronaut replied. 'It made me feel really, really small.'

We haven't been back to the moon since 1972. As Smith says:

'Of over 400 people who have now into space, only 27 have ever left Earth orbit and seen her from the perspective of Deep Space - all American and all between the Christmases of 1968 and 1972.'

And only twelve have walked on it. Perhaps it's time we went back. With current technology, and people on the surface, one can only imagine the possibilities.

As for Neil, he's now taken a bigger step into the unknown. Have a safe journey. Thank you for the inspiration and dreams.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Four For Four.

Where has this year gone? It's zooming past, and seems to be getting faster. We're almost through August, and there are only four months left in 2012.

And in those four months I have four stories coming out - one per month.

Four for four. You've got to love alliteration.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Bread And Butter.

Way back in the early 90s, while teaching English in Japan, I bought a couple of grammar books to help me along. I wasn't qualified to teach English (or anything else for that matter) and was unsure of a lot of the terminology.

One of the books I bought, Elements of Style (Strunk & White) continues to rear its head. Jack Dann in his workshop repeated "Strunk and White"  almost as often as "Show, don't tell." They were virtually mantras by the time we were done.

Since the 90s I have updated my edition of this book, and re-read it from time to time. I've also completed a couple of degrees in English and English Education, and ended up teaching conversation and grammar in Japan for around six years. I've also taught high school English for 8 years now.  I'm reasonably confident in my grammar, and I tend to write very clean copy.

I recently stumbled across a blog by a "writer" lamenting a lack of success and sales. Unfortunately his ramblings were almost undecipherable. Sentences were incomplete, punctuation was missing, words were misspelled. Whole sections of the post made absolutely no sense whatsoever.

Surprisingly, this writer claimed some publication credits. I didn't follow through on checking them out, and I'd never heard of any of the markets, so I'd question the status of said credits. Of course, I haven't read any of his stories either. Perhaps he's a brilliant ideas man, who has an amazing editor who pulls it all together.

I suspect not.

Strunk and White. Strunk and White. Strunk and White. Om Mani Padme Hum.

Grammar is a writer's bread and butter. It's the foundation, the basics. Typos and spelling mistakes can be forgiven, and that's what spellcheckers and beta-readers are for. But tense changes and no sentence structure? That's not on.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

A Week That Was.

I've written before about how the writing game is a bit like fishing. You throw in a few lines and see who takes the bait. If no-one does, you cast again and wait. A lot of waiting.

No nibbles this week, although one of the fish I'd already landed gave a wriggle in the bucket. The contract arrived for a story I sold a few months ago. Signed and returned.  Does a writer ever get tired of making a sale, signing a contract or receiving copies of a book with their story inside?

I don't think I will.

My computer is finally dying.  The old beast has served me well these past 5 or 6 years, but is starting to fail. USBs keep dropping out and screens keep locking. Even though, it's surprisingly quiet for an old thing. But a new machine arrives today and so I've backed everything up ready for transferring to the new one. Ah, technology. I'm so 21st Century.

Speaking of 21st Century and technology, I'm really enjoying Instagram. I'm starting to build some followers, and regularly hit 35-50 likes on my photos. Feel free to follow me. I'm nihilon.

At home it's been a strange old week. I've been off work for a couple of days with a throat thing. Lots of rest, warmth, lemon drinks and Game of Thrones to watch. I also watched The Phantom Menace, which I hadn't seen since it was first released. It wasn't as terrible as I remembered it, although I can see why it was panned at the time. OK, so a lot of world-building and history-setting at the cost of narrative, but I must admit to having enjoyed large sections of it purely as escapism. At least, a lot more than I thought I would.

On a nostalgic note, I walked past a bakery yesterday and was hit with the smell of warm yeast. It took me back to when I was a primary school kid and we went on an excursion to Harrison's Bakery. I think it was on Canterbury Road in Vermont, and I loved every minute of it. They showed us how they made bread, and even let as shape one each. I hope they didn't sell those ones.

And that smell? It reminded me of the importance of including all the senses in writing, as they trigger recognition with readers.

And no, even though I was tempted I didn't rush in and buy any bread.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Vale: Harry Harrison.

Harry Harrison has passed after a long illness.

Shortly after I discovered science fiction, a friend introduced me to the Stainless Steel Rat series and I devoured every one of them. Later, I read Make Room, Make Room (which became Soylent Green), A Rebel In Time, and A Transatlantic Tunnel, Hurrah! amongst a host of others.

Another Grand Master of science fiction has gone.

RIP Harry. I wish I could have met you.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Hopes And Dreams And Goals And Aspirations.

In my 'other' life, I'm a High School English teacher. In addition to this I've recently qualified and taken on the role of Careers' Counsellor as well.

And so I've just spent the past few months counselling hundreds of teenagers regarding their future careers and course selections for next year.

Interesting, to say the least.

I love working with students about their hopes, dreams and ambitions. And I'm constantly amazed at some of the futures these students aspire to. Some, of course, are obvious. Some are complete surprises. And then there are those that I suspect are probably unattainable.

How do you gently suggest to a student that reaching their goal is impossible without crushing their spirit and aspirations? Simple. You don't.

You encourage them to reach that goal, while pointing out the practicalities and difficulties, and advise them to have back-up plans. As you do with every student. You never know, they might make it.

I've been heartened by the number of students who want to go into creative areas: photography, sculpture, painting film-making and, happily, writing. And of course these are some of the career paths where success can be quite limited. A back-up plan is vital.

A couple of these kids have been aware that I write and asked me about my experiences. It's been kind of humbling that a few have even read one of my stories.

Who knows? Among this group of teenagers with dreams and hopes and wishes and aspirations, there might be another Stephen King. I look forward to that.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Writer. Reader. Rider.

A few years ago, when I first started writing, I signed up for a Sean Williams' workshop. At the time I had no idea who he was. In fact, for some reason I thought he'd be an American.

I loved that weekend. I learned a great deal about the Spec Fic community, about writing and publishing opportunities, and came home enthused and energised. I also met a number of people - including a few with whom I've remained in regular contact.

The group read the submitted piece from a lady who sat on the opposite side of the room from me, and I really enjoyed it. It had a beautiful lyrical quality to the writing, a wonderful sense of measured pace and decadence in the created world that reminded me of one of Moorcock's Eternal Champion stories. I don't know if she ever finished that story - I'm still hoping to see the final product.

We chatted later - her name was Gitte Christensen - and over the years we've bumped into each other at conventions and the like, and stayed in touch.

Gitte is a quiet achiever. She's dedicated and focused, and a terrific writer to boot, and yet there are other writers with lesser bibliographies that I hear mentioned more frequently. Gitte has the credentials and continues to publish quality fiction. She's seen publication in Aurealis, Andromeda Spaceways, The Tangled Bank and Dark Tales of Lost Civilizations amongst a host of anthologies and other magazines. She's been a semi-finalist in Writers of The Future, and had a story included in the inaugural  The Year's Best Australian Fantasy and Horror collection from Ticonderoga. She was interviewed for Snapshot 2012, and maintains a fantastic blog. She has received terrific reviews for her work - for example, here, and here.

She's a writer I respect and admire. And beyond that, Gitte's just a friendly, humble writer. Keep an eye out for her and get to know her work.

Don't be one of those who asks "Gitte who?" 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012


Adj. 1. aspiring - desiring or striving for recognition or advancement.

I once told someone I was an aspiring writer. That person told me I was either writing or not. If I was, then I was a writer. Nothing aspiring about it.

Adj. 1. emerging - coming into view, existence, or notice: developing.

Another time I  told someone I was emerging. That person told me they didn't like that term. I was either a writer or I wasn't.

After those conversations I stopped using those descriptors and referred to myself simply as a writer. I understood what they were saying, but by the dictionary definitions as given above I am both aspiring and emerging. I am developing as a writer, and coming to notice.  I'm certainly striving for recognition and advancement.

I see myself on a low rung on a very high ladder. Do I need an adjective? Early? Beginning? Emerging? Aspiring? 

It doesn't matter. First and foremost, I am a writer.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Gentle Truth.

I recently read a blogpost in which an author had received a form rejection for a submitted story.

The author then stated that he could see why the story had been rejected - it was because he had opened the piece with dialogue rather than description.

While this may be the case, I believe it is extremely unlikely the story was rejected outright simply for this one particular reason. If that was the only problem with the story, wouldn't he have received either a personal rejection or a rewrite request?

Too many writers won't accept their writing is not perfect. Too much time is spent by writers patting each other on the back and telling each other that simply because a piece was rejected, there's nothing wrong with it. Time and time again I see and hear newer writers stating that "it's only one editor's taste" or "it was the wrong market for that piece." And yes, taste and matching markets do come into it. But once the same story has been kicked back a number of times, surely you have to question it. Yes, I know Robert J. Sawyer had a story kicked back 17 times before it was accepted, and it went on to win an Aurora award. J.K Rowling's first book was rejected a dozen times before it was picked up and became a phenomenon. But these are exceptions - and rare ones at that.

Guess what. Some people can't write. Some people will never improve. Most writers can't see the faults in their own work. Some stories are crap. Some stories need rewriting. And some stories should be permanently trunked.

I'm all for encouraging writers. By all means, keep subbing the piece to different markets. But when it's come back a few times, at least wonder why.

Encouragement needs to be balanced by gentle truth.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

It's All White Noise To Me.

It's no secret that I have made a conscious decision not to self-publish. And I've also made it very clear that others may do as they choose. There is no one path for writers, no single road that leads to success. I know this is something I've posted about before, but this subject reared its head again in a discussion earlier this week.

I'm not against self-publishing per se. But I do think it's far too easy nowadays.

From time to time, writers ask me to read their self-published work. Even to pay for it. Then they tell me they made their story available because it had been rejected everywhere.

Hmmm, so you want me to pay for a multi-rejected story. A story that is probably flawed and lacking. Let's see, for a couple of dollars more I can buy a pro-mag that has up to ten stories by pro-writers that have been selected and polished by a pro-editor.

That's not to say there isn't some great self-published work out there. There are some very capable writers who self-publish older work, or upload stories as a promotional tool. And even unknown writers who release the occasional gem, but these are exceptions and rarities.

But there's loads of sub-standard work out there, too much white noise. I choose not to add to it until I have reached a self-imposed standard.

And I already have far too many books to read without downloading more from amid the static.