Dear (Jackass) Writer, Offering Your Book For Sale Every Other Hour Is Quite Enough

Dear (Jackass) Writer,

Yes, I know you wrote a book. Your novel, the first of many (you are sure), is a thrilling/scary/original/erotic/captivating/special story that only you could have written. It is sure to include thrills, spills, and some sort of romance. Probably “paranormal”. Unless you are, dear writer, of the male persuasion, in which case your hero will only find romance as a side note while he is doing thrilling and heroic things, probably including the saving of a romantic/erotic character at some point. Good for you. The world needs more horror/fantasy/erotic/paranormal/romance novels. I have no problem with the fact that you wrote the book. I have slightly more problem with the fact that you appear to have published it yourself, but do not appear to actually have had your novel edited by anyone. Well, that’s a personal choice, and one you’re free to make. I would never judge a book by its cover, as they say, unless of course your cover was created in some sort of computer graphics program, one which manages to make your artwork look as if it was drawn by a not overly-talented 9th grader. In that case, I will judge your cover, since if you can’t be bothered to pay for a professional artwork (or, let us remember, an editor), why should I pay for your book?
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Recent Publications and Submissions

My writing life has turned around in the last few weeks, and for you, an update:

I’ve had two stories accepted for publication. “Annabelle Tree”, 2500 words, is now available as part of the Southern Fried Weirdness: Reconstruction charity anthology (all proceeds benefiting the American Red Cross for the victims of recent tornadoes). It’s the story of a young girl, and who’s most important to you when the storms come.

When she was twelve, Annabelle’s Momma was pregnant again.

She’d known something was wrong from the way her Momma had been crying for a few months, in between getting the flu a whole bunch of times, and Daddy took more shifts at the plant and in between sat down by the creek bed, not even pretending to fish. The cool water flowing over his submerged six-pack kept the bottles cold, and it was hard to hear Momma yelling from all the way up at the house. Annabelle didn’t mind her Daddy sharing her hideaway spot, nestled into the curve of her tree, and he didn’t mind her being there either, mostly since he didn’t notice. She read her books, borrowed from the middle school library, and he drank his beer, and the tree’s thick branches moved a little in the breeze.

“Your hair’s turning green,” Jerrod Miller had told her at recess, one day in October. “Is that for Halloween?”

“It is not,” she said back, and walked away from him. But she went straight to the girl’s bathroom, and ignoring the heavy sighs and pouty faces of the girls putting on their makeup at the far end of the row of mirrors, Annabelle pulled a strands of her normally light brown hair and held them up to the light. It wasn’t much, but Jerrod was right – mixed in with all the brown were bits of green.

“You’re a freak, you know that?” one of the girls said.

“Yes, I know,” Annabelle replied, and left.

Now available for the low price of $2.99 through Amazon and Smashwords (Says the editor: “This collection of poetry and short fiction features 46 pieces from 40 different contributing authors.”)

The other sale was to an upcoming anthology of flash fiction about monsters, and my story is the tale of a fish man, told jointly from the perspective of both the creature and the scientists cutting into him:

Though it has a mouth and front facing eyes, it does not appear to breathe air, and instead has several gills hidden under heavy scales on its neck which are easy to miss. Kudos to Johnson for noticing them, or the thing might have drowned before we got its head and neck into a bucket of water.

I was born there, where the river flows into the deep lake. I have traveled upriver to mate, have seen water muddied by great hippos and in places a river lowered by heat and summer sun. I have crawled along the nearly empty river bed, me, who was born in a place so deep no light can penetrate it! I have seen all manner of fish and monsters and men. Everything has a place in the world, everything fits into each other and makes sense, except the men.

They shipped it to us in a crate filled with salt water and ice. Like a lobster, it became sluggish in water, almost paralyzed. Could it have other crustaceous qualities? Regardless, keeping the lab near-freezing was a stroke of genius on Kitteredge’s part, since it means we can open the creature up without having to euthanize it first. The boys are anxious to see its innards while the creature’s blood and bile systems are still active.

– “On the Methods of Preserving and Dissecting Icthyo Sapiens”

I’ll post a link to where than can be bought once I’ve got it.

I also have several shorts in the process of being finished, revised, or submitted. This week’s writing project has been to finish up my submission for Machine of Death 2. I wrote it, liked it, thought it came in at the low end of their suggested word count but still within the guidelines. Then I ignored it for a few days, dealt with day job and other life issues, and came back to find that now I think it needs to be longer. I’ve been working on getting that finished so I can get it out to my beta reader for this project.

That’s my writing news, and hopefully soon there’ll be more.

Writer Haiku – April 22, 2011

The more I write, the more I want to write. This is something about me that’s always been true, so when I’ve had a writing slump, the best way to pull myself out of it is to write something. Anything. Everyday, if I put words on paper, I will eventually work myself back into the writing projects I really care about. Today was a little slow at work, so I wrote haiku. I don’t mean perfectly traditional Japanese haiku, but the English-style 5/7/5 syllable structure we’re taught in middle school.

For you, some haiku:

day breaks through long night / light! but – my absent muse / breaks only my heart

#dayjob is slow but / the pencil produces no / words on blank paper

story plots fall from / my brain like leaves shed from trees / dead once they hit ground

writer friends tweet sales / new publications bring joy / I tweet only lolcats

duotrope tells me / last sale was six months ago / still, I am writing

Dear (Jackass), I don’t deserve to be a published writer, and neither do you.

Dear (Jackass),

Have you read this? If not, go ahead. I’ll wait.

If you’ve gotten to here you’ve either read the linked Q & A, or you don’t care to, and either way is fine with me. I think Sugar might have said a few things better than I would have, and a few more things MUCH better than I would have, but either way if you get to the end of this post you’ll have all the important bits of what I was trying to say.

I’ll say it again, so you know I’m serious: I don’t deserve to be a published writer, and neither do you.

We’ve all heard the voices us telling us that we deserve this – this publishing contract, this “opportunity”, this grant or fellowship or rich uncle to support us while we toil away on our masterpiece. Sometimes the voices come from the outside, like our families or our friends, but it usually comes from within. There is some part of our brains that sees the success of others and craves it, needs it, covets it like it’s the last Ring of Power in Mordor. There’s nothing wrong with being inspired by others and using it as motivation to push yourself further, but many people see it as something else – the unfairness of the Universe. Why, they ask, why does that person have what I don’t? Aren’t I brilliant/beautiful/talented/educated too? Don’t I deserve a chance to shine?

No, princess, you don’t.

If you’ve made it to an age where you can reasonably call yourself an adult, and you’re still holding on to the idea that you not magically succeeding is somehow unfair, your parents did not raise you right. Life is not fair. It isn’t meant to be. You can’t stomp your foot every time something doesn’t go your way and wait for the people around you to fix it for you. You can’t cry to the heavens and expect a brilliant novel to fall into your lap. You can’t gnash your teeth and rant about the unfairness of the Universe and expect success to knock on your door. This should be obvious to anyone with a bit of common sense, but in practice, there’s still that little voice, saying, “Sure, that might be how things work, but it isn’t fair.”

You know what’s not fair? Expecting something you don’t deserve, and being angry or sad or upset or jealous or anti-social simply because you didn’t get it.

You know why you’re not a multiply-published writer with a book deal, or an agent, or movie options or a jet? You haven’t done the work. You know why I don’t have those things either? I haven’t done the work. It takes a huge amount of writing and rewriting and submitting and being rejected and having your work read and torn apart by readers you’d suspect were part hyena if you weren’t already trying to figure out how to get them fed to a hyena, one piece at a time. If you haven’t finished your novel, you don’t deserve success. If you haven’t written a hundred short stories, go back and write more until you do. I guarantee you that your 100th story will be so much better than your first ten that you’ll wonder why you ever thought those were “finished”. It takes years of practice, either as part of writing classes or workshops or on your own, and you need to produce a truly epic number of words, only some of which will ever see the light of day, and most of which will be rejected as unfit for publishing. And those rejections? Those are fair. Those are what you deserve, until you learn to be a good enough writer to not only create something worth reading but to also know which markets might be interested in buying it.

But, what about my voice? you might ask. My pure, authentic voice, the stories I would tell, the worlds I would build, if only I had the chance … if only I didn’t have to work at a dayjob or take care of the kids or my aging parents or if only someone would support me so all I had to do is write …

Do you know how you get to be a full-time writer? You write. And write and write and write, and sell stories, and write more, and sell more stories, until you have so much paying work that your only choice is to quit your job or hire a nanny because otherwise you wouldn’t be able to write everything you’re contracted for. That voice of yours? Those special stories only you can tell? Yeah, everyone has those. Everyone has their own perspective, their own vision of the world, their own dreams and their own stories. The only difference between a writer and everyone else is that writers take the time to put their words down on paper. That’s it. It’s a tiny thing, and it’s a huge thing, and the act of writing words does not, by itself, make you better than anyone else.

But, there is hope. If you do the work, if you write until your voice is finely honed and your story is both original and universal, and if you let it be read and critiqued and you take that advice into your heart and make the changes your manuscript so desperately needs, then you might someday be a great writer. It’s still no guarantee that you’ll be a published one, or a rich one, or a widely acknowledged one, but you’ll be wonderful.

If you get to that point and you still wonder why you’re not getting the rewards you “deserve”, if editors and publishers won’t return your calls and you can’t get an agent to read your work, maybe it’s not your writing. Maybe it’s just you.

We All Have Our Own Languages, or, Why I Need Editors

I talk about being a writer here because that’s how I primarily see myself. I write fiction and non-fiction, creating stories on spec for open markets and writing essays and articles by request for a couple of different places, so that makes sense. But I also work as an editor, both for Dagan Books and for (more recently) another publisher. I’ve edited newspaper articles, academic essays, short fiction pieces, novels, book-length anthologies, poetry … As much experience as I have, when it comes to my own work I try very hard not to be my own editor.

Most writers will tell you that having someone else read your work is an absolutely necessity, a thing which must happen before you submit it to a market. This is because a new pair of eyes will often catch things that you missed. A common problem for writers is that we know what we meant to say, so we don’t always notice if it isn’t what we did say. Leaving a word out of a sentence? I do that. Using the wrong word, dropping off a letter (I did that tonight, using “to” instead of “too”) or starting one word but ending it with the end of the next word. Well, that one might just be me.

This is the obvious use of an editor – read and fix. This isn’t the main reason that I need one. Continue reading

Philcon 2010

It’s been about a week and a half since Philcon, so I’m very nearly overdue for my post-con write-up. Philcon is a local science fiction and fantasy con, here in NJ, and is the first con I’ve attended on the East Coast. Cherry Hill, where the con was held this year, is about a 40 minute drive from my apartment; including a short side trip to pick up a friend, it took me 10 hours to get there. This involved a windy mountain road, a sweet rental car, losing cell service at precisely the wrong time, and an unfortunate dinner in Scranton.

Don Pizarro (my friend, con-buddy, and a contributor to Cthulhurotica) and I got to the hotel too late on Friday night to see much of anything, so we check in and went straight to bed. Breakfast the next morning was coffee and a bacon/egg/bagel at a Panera, and then back to the con hotel to pick up badges and schedules. On the upside Don and I had pre-registered, so we got to skip the line and our badges were already printed out; on the down side the young kid working the table didn’t mention the odd layout of the con schedule, which caused us to get lost later in the day*. Don and I split up (we actually ended up in very few of the same panels together) and I dropped in on “The Shift Back to the Small Presses” which meant to talk about small press publishing but ended up being a conversation between Wildside Press publisher John Gregory Betancourt and the rest of the panel/audience. We talked a lot of PoD technology and the evolution of ebooks, and the panel did change my mind about how we were going to distribute Dagan Books titles. Betancourt acts like a man who’s pretty sure that he knows more than everyone else in the room, without being too cocky about it, and perhaps he does … but I would have liked to hear more from other presses. Part of the problem is that the rest of the folks on the panel were writers and editors and self-publishers, and Betancourt was the only actual publisher**. Neil Clarke sat in front of me and had some good comments; he’s another publisher I’d like to chat with more at another time.

Thus the day began and ended with the most useful panel I was going to attend all weekend.

The rest of the day was spent attending panels, running errands, and getting lost in Camden for an hour and a half because my gps kept missing one important turn. This ended up being a blessing in disguise because I accidently found a wine shop that carries Absente absinthe. (This comes in to play again later on Saturday evening.) Meanwhile Don was meeting Peter S. Beagle, the GoH, and getting stuff signed by Beagle and going to a Beagle reading … and apparently never noticed my quick trip out to find a working atm became a three-hour tour. I did finally get back to the hotel, and started making plans. Simon Carter, a writer friend of ours, was going to come to the con that evening to meet up with Don, and I had to read my zombie erotica story “Mitch’s Girl” at 6 pm as part of the Garden State Horror Writers reading. We settled on dinner beforehand, and Don came along to the reading so I’d at least know one person there – I’ve been a member of the GSHW group for about 6 months now, and I hadn’t actually met any of the other writers.

I needn’t have worried. Dinner in the hotel cafe was mainly a collected of shared appetizers but there was a corned beef sandwich in there I remember being fond of. The reading was well attended for th size of the room we had (small) and the GSHW folks turned out to be warm and chatty. There were 6 readers in all, in a variety of genres (I think mine was really the only “horror”, and my story isn’t actually scary as much as it is erotic; we also had fantasy, steampunk, YA with a talking cat, paranormal romance and lit fic). I got to meet Danielle Ackley-McPhail, who edits a couple of books for Dark Quest (where I still read slush for Neal Levin), Hildy Silverman, who edits Space and Time, and of course Neal, in addition to Gary Frank, Ed Greaves, Jon Gibbs and some other folks from the group. We chatted after the reading, and into Danielle’s launch party for the Bad Ass Fairies anthology series website. The party featured more baked goods than I’ve seen crammed into one room in a long time, as well as a couple of interestingly-dressed folks hanging out before the masquerade. (Don, who has a lovely handmade Dr. Who scarf, couldn’t help comparing it to another man’s Dr. Who-ish scarf, and may even have taken photographic evidence to support his argument that his scarf was better.)

At this point, Don insisted that we attend at least one more panel for the evening, since we were actually at a convention with the stated purpose of doing such a thing. The GSHW folks were sort of insistent that we meet them in the bar for drinks instead. I wavered, then went with Don, and planned to meet up at the bar after the panel let out.

That panel turned out to be “Sexy Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories” which we felt we kind of had to go to, since we both had zombie erotica stories in Rigor Amortis, and we’d been working on Cthulhurotica. This was our first panel we attended together, and we discovered that a) I will talk in a panel discussion if someone asks for input, and b) Don won’t. The three ladies on the panel, after an awkward pause were we discovered that none of them really knew what the panel was supposed to be about, launched in a rousing discussion of Things Not To Call A Vagina. There was a list***.

Once done, we headed out to the bar, by exiting through the room’s doorway and walking into the hallway, like you do. There we found Hildy, who was scheduled to be on a panel on “The Hard Boiled Detective Tradition in Fantasy”, and fairly certain that no one would show up. Never being the sort to leave a damsel in distress, Don and I went to her panel, where it turned out one important person did – in fact – not show up: the other presenter on the panel. The moderator, a charming gentleman, bravely dove in to help out, but his area of expertise was the classic detective in film, and he knew very little about the trope in the spec fic/UF/fantasy genres. Luckily, some more group discussion was had, and I got to introduce new people to Seanan McGuire’s Toby Daye series. Yay!

And then, finally, the bar. The GSHW guys, it turns out, had been sitting out front the whole couple of hours I was in panels, and had started to suspect we weren’t going to show up. We explained, they forgave, and we wandered in for drinks and to await the arrival of Simon, who was leaving a party at that point and heading over to drink more with us. We got Simon, introductions were made, and the group got exactly one drink order in before the bar closed on us. At 10:30 pm. Is that right? I ask you. We’re writers! But luckily, the evening was saved because I’d stopped by that wine shop earlier in the day … After Simon made me split a free beer with him (Dogfishhead) and I downed my Old Fashioned, Gary Frank went home for the night and the rest of us headed up to the room to break open the absinthe.

It was a thing of beauty. Smooth, flavorful, and subtly strong, it fueled the slow descent into madness that is a bunch of drunk guys trying to play Munchkin Cthulhu for the first time. Simon, that charmer, won with a smile, and it was only afterward we discovered he’d been cheating the whole time – though to his credit, he hadn’t realized it himself. Things eventually wrapped up sometime after two, and we all headed to our beds.

Sunday morning was breakfast (full buffett in the hotel restaurant), contemplating panels, not being able to find anything we cared about, packing, and finally heading back to my house for lunch and family time (were again we played Munchkin Cthulhu, and again we realized Don’s not that familiar with the rules). A lot more driving ensued before I got Don back home to upstate NY, and got myself back home.

Overall the con itself was a disappointment but the people made up for it exponentially. Don P turns out to be a great guy as well as a great writer, Simon is as clever, and as Scottish, as you’d expect from his Twitter feed, and the folks from the GSHW were fun and full of helpful writing/publishing tidbits. We bought books, we chatted up writers, we wandered the dealer’s hall, and I managed to only volunteer to help with another project once the whole weekend. Maybe twice.**** I met so many new people that I could have skipped every panel offered and still the con would have been worth the price of admission.

Footnotes:

* The rooms were numbered in a way that only mattered to the Programming department, and had nothing to do with the room numbers, which were on a seperate piece of paper. Guess which one we didn’t get at the registration table?
** If you’re considering “publisher” to be someone who publishes books by people other than himself.
*** The V, the Triangle, and the Core, if you’re wondering.
**** This is an improvement, for me.