This was a good year for me as a writer. For a non-writer it might be hard to understand the glacially-slow pace at which I seem to proceed, and how I can receive so many rejections and still feel like I’m making progress when, a small percentage of the time, something I throw out into the void sticks with a reader, even if that only manifests as a higher-level rejection.
Not to say that I was optimistic month after month. Many times I felt crazy and/or self indulgent for pursuing this secondary career. Most of the time, truthfully.
Still, in 2017 I took a few more steps on the road towards true professionalism. While I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished, I’ve progressed thanks to the help and support of many readers and writers. We can’t do this alone and it is ridiculous to pretend we can, or that the stories we write are “ours” – they are always partnerships.
My husband (my literal partner) is usually my first reader and always “gets it.” We read the same books, watch the same TV shows, share common tastes, so it isn’t a big surprise that he can read and enjoy any story I write. That said, we have similar blind spots and he can mentally fill in things I’ve forgotten to put on the page. I gain courage from his praise but take it with a grain of salt as well.
My walk to work
My San Francisco critique group has been a solid foundation for me for years now. We meet every week, which is a big deal! Much commitment from everyone. I’ve been the host for the past year or so, and now that I’ve gotten the new job I’m embarrassed to admit I’m not always the first one to arrive–at my own house. What I appreciate about our group is that while we spend some time saying, “You are an awesome writer and I loved this paragraph,” no one seems to mind us getting right to the problematic bits. I figure it’s like going to the dentist. You don’t want him to spend an hour telling you how 90% of your teeth are pretty, just fix the screwed up one please! We’ve all proven to each other we are serious writers and pages without marks are good pages.
I attended a two-week speculative fiction writing workshop this summer at the Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction at the University of Kansas. IT WAS GREAT. I wrote about my time in Lawrence, then edited, re-edited, saved, went back to previous versions…argh. It’s hard to summarize intense experiences.
I’ll post the play by play sometime, but what I took away from this was a newfound respect for myself and other sci fi writers, as well as good nuts and bolts craft information. The “Repeat Offenders” workshop is for those of us who’ve attended the workshop previously, and because of this everyone in attendance knew the drill and had more to offer, critique-wise.
Chris McKitterick leads the workshop and he is a treasure chest of craft info. Pat Cadigan, the week one guest author, is amazing. I’m not being objective because I like her so much–and she held up one of my stories as an example of how to world-build in 25 words or less (one of the highlights of my writer year). All the attendees were smart and kind and devoted to this crazy path we’ve all chosen. Plus there were lightning storms, fireflies, movie nights and so much other fun stuff.
I also worked as a submissions reader for Shoreline of Infinity. They published my story, “See You Later” (my first professional pub!) and are up to issue 10 – in print no less! 99% of what we get is not ready for publication, but reading bad stories has been a good experience. Being able to articulate why is sometimes hard work, sometimes not so hard. THIS IS NOT SCIENCE FICTION – I scream after slogging through 15 pages of a present day character doing present day things.
I’ve learned so much and put in many hours…but I have to take a break. The Job is taking so much of my brain and eyeball time. I thought I could read submissions during lunch but I don’t always take lunch and the subs began to pile up, leading me to become a bad partner in the evenings as I holed up in the attic reading instead of socializing. Plus, it was cutting into my writing time. With sadness and relief I realized I couldn’t do it all. I’m reading the last batch of stories now and that’s it…at least until I’m not working full time.
Finally, I produced a podcast for SFinSF, science fiction in San Francisco. Once a month, authors read and discuss their work at The American Bookbinder’s Museum. I’ve met so many amazing authors thanks to this event: Kim Stanley Robinson, Daryl Gregory, Annalee Newitz, Robin Sloane, Rudy Rucker, Peter S. Beagle, Pat Murphy…(and more. You can listen to the podcasts here on SomaFM). It’s the same combo of work/love as the rest of this writing stuff. Being part of a community means working as well as playing.
Thanks to reading submissions to Shoreline, work-shopping, writing, revising, critiquing…I’m finally starting to understand how a short story is supposed to function. How the engine of it works. I’ve gotten it right by accident in the past, now I hope to get it right on purpose and I did manage that a few times this year!
“Resolution,” sold in 2016, was published in January in Perihelion.
My short story, “See You Later,” was adapted and produced as a play/audio drama at the Edinburgh Book Festival by Shoreline of Infinity–with live actors. I loved that they presented this as a fait accompli, oh hey we are doing this, here is the script. I’m so happy they picked my story. I’d have loved to go see it performed, but I’m really trying to not LOSE money in my writing career, so no last minute flights to Scotland. : )
My short story, “At First Sight,” was accepted by The Overcast to be made into a podcast. I’m in good company there. Tina Connolly, Cat Rambo, and one of my friends from the workshop this summer, J.N. Powell. The producer and reader, J.S. Arquin, has such a great voice. I’m scheduled for April.
“First Contact,” a story I love that kept getting rejected, has been accepted by New Reader magazine, a fledgling online publication. I hope this happens. New pubs are iffy. Doesn’t this first line give you a shiver? Maybe it’s just me but I feel like I got it right.
By the way – I’ve been paid for all my stories. Not a lot, but I’ve set the bar at semi-pro rates. Non-writers might be surprised to learn that not all publications pay, and some actually charge authors to submit. I’d like to join SFWA (they require a certain number of paid pubs) and not all my venues qualify, but I do get paid! : D
“The Affair” was shortlisted at Freeze Frame Fiction in October, and though it was ultimately rejected they sent me reader comments, and invited me to submit a rewrite when they are next open. The comments were all over the place (more so than the readers at Shoreline) and I struggled to get to the heart of reader’s complaints–but I appreciated the glimpse behind the curtain. At some point it is a question of taste. We forgive flaws when we are enjoying ourselves, so if I’m failing to give the reader a good time that might be my fault, or it might be my story is a bad fit for that reader. When someone dings my 600-word story because none of the three characters is gay…I throw up my hands.
Not quite writing news but related–I did an illustration for a short story I read and liked for Shoreline and was paid for that as well. : )
So: 2017. 40 rejections. 2 acceptances. One story made into a play without me doing anything. Hundreds of hours spent writing, critiquing, workshopping, recording other authors.
My advice to other writers? Keep writing and build partnerships. Get your work read by a critique group. Attend a workshop if you can. Read submissions for a magazine. Get involved in the sci fi community.
My challenge for 2018 is to keep it up. I’m not sure how to do what I did last year now that I’m working full time. I feel very lucky to have a good job, to live in a great city with a partner that supports my goals, amazing friends, and access to so many resources, but our creative spirit is a strange and delicate part of ourselves. We can’t “logic” it in to being.
This picture has nothing to do with writing but much to do with
looking both ways when you cross the street. !!!!
I’ve not written much since I started my job, but I’m trying not to be hard on myself. I will figure this out. I love my job. It is very sci fi. I work for a software security firm with amazing, smart people who are doing good, ethical work, and it’s pretty close to the ideal job I’d design for myself–though my fictional job might have a lab with robots and 3D printers and laser cutters. I’m three months in and my head is still spinning, in a good way.
I hope 2018 is a creative and successful year for all of us!