Writing Update for October

Is it October already? The month’s more than half over too? Where did it go? Why wasn’t I informed???

Lonely writer

Phew! Anyway, lots going on in my writing life and in real life. I will do my best to summarize all this excitement below.


The Writing
If you follow my Twitter feed, you’ll know I’ve mused recently about “stepping back” a bit from the writing.

And I did. A small step. But that small step helped me figure out a few things, namely where things are headed. Sometimes, you need a little breather, to let things settle in your mind and let the subconscious do its very slow-rolling (but effective!) attack on a subject. So, I did. Then, this past weekend I picked up the pen (really, the PC) again. I went back, did some editing and added some more words.

Wish I could have added more, but I’m pleased with the results. So, there you have it.

Total Word Count: 538 words.


Submissions
So, no new submissions this month. Bad Writer!

These literary fiction magazines are tough to crack and as you probably know, they’re my main target for my story “The Number Thief” a piece of historical fiction. It’s a good piece, but not one that it’s easy to find a market for. It’s not speculative, so all the fantasy journals won’t take it. And its historical setting seems to be a turnoff/not a good fit for many literary magazines. That being said, it’s with a magazine now and I’m hoping to send it to others soon.

In other Rejection news, I HIGHLY recommend Rahul Kanakia’s recent post on his 1600th (you read that right!) rejection. That’s how you do it, Folks!

And now my Stats:

Total Submissions this Month: 0

Total Stories Out to Magazines (pending submissions): 3

Rejections: 0


Life
This real-life thing has been very hectic lately. What with work, vacation, more vacation, house guests, more work, etc., etc., it has been hard to squeeze in the writing.

But, there’s a change in the air and crisp days are beginning to descend. It’s my favorite time of year. And it’s a great time to get some Earl Grey tea, plug in the laptop, put on the headphones and get some fiction down. Let’s face it: it’s time.

See you next post!

,DJ

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Writing and Living

Hey, everybody. It’s been a busy, busy couple of weeks. There’s been a road trip to New England. There’s been work and life drama (more on that later, maybe). There’s another trip this weekend, this time to the beach. In the midst of all this, my writing has dropped off a bit, but that’s O.K. I’m going to get back to it very soon.

autumn-colours-in-new-england

Just wanted to let you know I’m still here and still writing. I’ll come back next time with another Writing Update. And then, after that, a recounting of my first New England road trip.

In the meantime, check out the “Foliage Report” from Yankee magazine and start planning your own road trip.

See you next time,

DJ

Writing Update for September: A Story Acceptance

The short writing update for this month starts with some exciting news!

Astounding Stories

Story Acceptance
The big news this month: My story Breakpoint will appear in Kyanite PressNovember issue. I’ve tried for awhile to get this story picked up and I’m glad it’s finally seeing the light of day.

It’s a science fiction story set in a future world that has recovered from a devastating conflict, but at a horrible price. It also has a thread about reclaimed memories–but that’s enough for now! For the rest…You’ll have check it out yourself.

So, please stop by Kyanite, pick up a copy and tell a friend. The issue should drop November 1.

Thanks!

The Writing
Had some vacation this month and lost a little time, but overall I’m still making progress. The word count is a little off, but that’s OK. I have had a lot of non-writing/life stuff that’s torn me away from it. You know the usual suspects: work, work and work.

Also, to be honest, I have been a bit low energy lately and I want to turn to the stuff I’m writing with lots of energy and fired up and ready to go. So, instead of forcing it and having stuff turn out a bit flat, I’d rather wait, re-energize and then hit it. So, that’s where I’m at. That being said, I made some progress this month:

Total Word Count: 1,169 words so far.

The Submissions
Submissions are pretty status quo. Why? I’m waiting to hear back on a speculative fiction story which is at a market that doesn’t accept simultaneous submissions. So, it will stay there until it’s rejected/accepted. No word yet.

Then, there’s the literary fiction story (The Number Thief). I was waiting for the Literary fiction-style mags to open up around Sept. 1 to send it along. Now it’s September and I have to find an afternoon where I can sit down and send it off to a couple of them. But I haven’t had a chance to do it yet! So, there you have it.

Total Submissions this Month: 0 [This may change, I will update you!]

Total Stories Out (includes same story out to different markets): 3

Acceptances: 1 …Huzzah!

Rejections: 0


Whew! That’s the short, sweet update. Great to see another story published. If you want to see more day-by-day updates on that story, make sure to follow me on Twitter: @DariusJonesWrit.

See you next time!

Darius

The Craft: The Benefits of Critiquing Others’ Work

Recently, I was able to critique my old friend, Daniel’s, book while it was in its second draft. So, pretty early on. It was more like being a Beta Reader than doing a critique. He just wanted overall impressions and thoughts, not any line-by-line edits or thoughts. So, I was light on the line edits and heavier on the thoughts about plot, characters, setting, etc. And I think he found it useful.

It was a great experience, just to catch up with his creativity. But it was also great for my writing.

ratatouille-Critic

Why exactly? Well, let me explain…No, there is too much. Let me sum up…Using bullets. Here are my top three reasons you aspiring writers out there should critique/Beta read others’ works in draft stage:


When you put criticism in words you start to understand what needs to be changed.
It can be hard to go from a strange feeling that something isn’t working, to realizing it isn’t working, to verbalizing why it isn’t working.

Let’s take an example…Let’s say there’s a character and she says something off, it might strike you as a bit strange. Pull you out of the narrative a bit. Then, she says something more and it’s more revelatory about herself or motivations, a bit too revelatory too early on. And then you think, “Wait, why is she saying all of this, revealing all of this in the first couple of chapters? Isn’t it too much?”And you realize it isn’t working.

So, your verbalization of this/actual feedback to the writer might be: “Hey! I think this character, Alice, reveals too much about what her motivation is too early. Maybe if you subsume that a bit and have her reveal it later, it will keep the mystery and suspense alive and drive the reader onto the next chapter…”

In fact, something like that was one of my suggestions for Daniel’s draft: a female character spilled the beans a bit too early.

You see flaws in others’ work that you don’t see, or won’t admit to, in your own.
In any early draft you’re going to spot some flaws or mistakes. These will range from minor (misspellings, grammatical) to large (plot holes, inconsistencies). Somehow, psychologically, we’re all also flawed (surprise!) and we more easily discover imperfections in others’ work. When it comes to our own work, we seem to more easily skip right over the bad parts or not see them. I think this is true even for well-intentioned people: we invest more in our own work.

That being said, I did, of course, find flaws in Daniel’s stuff: some minor, some larger, like I said. I carefully made notes for the major stuff and ignored most of the minor things. And then I shared that in a constructive manner (forward-looking and improvement-focused) with him. But as I was adding these notes, I was constantly wondering: “Boy, I must do a lot of this, too.” And I bet I do. I just need to dig up my stuff to see it.

So, I hope as I go through my early drafts in the future, I can depersonalize things a bit and think:

“Hey, am I telling here and not showing?”

“Is this character revealing something they normally wouldn’t?”

“Does this next plot point really makes sense?”

And then, make the appropriate change.

You realize all early drafts are about 70% crap, 20% good and 10% solid.
This is a big one. As you read a draft, any draft, you come to realize that about 70% or more of any early draft is crap. That’s what makes it a draft. This is true of any writer’s stuff. Any writer (Yes, Shakespeare, I’m looking at you!).

So, the takeaway here is not to get discouraged when you go back and read your first draft and realize it’s mostly crap. That’s completely natural. The trick is…to slowly turn down the “crap-ratio” down as you advance through your following drafts. Every writer thinks this and every writer struggles with it. Again, it’s easier to see when you remove the ego and critique someone else’s stuff.

The key: not listening to that inner negative voice, taking the draft for what it is and moving onto the polishing stage where you turn that crap into solid gold…


Alright, enough for today! Got to get back to work and life! I hope that helped and I hope you offer to critique/Beta Reader a fellow writer’s draft soon. So you can learn and hone your craft in the process!

Until next time. Keep reading, Keep writing.

Darius

Writing Update for August

Ok, everyone. The clouds are starting to part a bit, things are getting back to normal. Feeling good…Turns out August has been BUSY, really busy. I hear that other people are out there, taking vacation…Right now. But sadly not true for yours truly. As they say, “No rest for the wicked.” So, my vacation will have to wait for until mid-September…So…

Let’s take a peak at the writing I managed this month.

Writing Process

The Writing
Alright, warming up, getting limber and getting back at it.

A little slower this month, but, like I said, life and work have chewed up a lot of attention this month. So, this month I’ve managed 4,061 words. Not a lot too bad for me. I usually aim for about 4,000 a month with all the other commitments I have taken into account. And I will add whatever I do this weekend to the total, but that still leaves me a bit behind…But…

I think the words are good and the story I’m working on is solid and growing. I also stopped a little prematurely on latest writing day at a high point, so I could pick up the story easily where I left off. And, today at the gym on the literal treadmill (well, actually, the bike), I figured out the perfect ending to the chapter. It’s got emotional lift, character development, bittersweet-ness. Agh! Can’t wait to write it…Damn!

So, that’s coming this weekend, Y’all!

Total Word Count: 4,061

The Submissions
Also did some more submitting this month. And waiting for Sept. 1 to come so I can start flogging my literary story more vigorously. Did get two submissions out there this month, but heard nothing back from editors, negative or positive. I also have one story still out there which I submitted last month…

…So, just waiting, waiting, waiting.

Total Submissions this Month: 2

Acceptances: 0

Rejections: 0

Total Stories Out: 3

The Pre-Writing
So why is it I get my best ideas when I should be doing something else? Why is it that all these ideas assault me on the street? At the gym? At lunch? During meetings? In the bathroom? When I’m minding my own business?

Ideas

Well, thank God for: Post-It Notes, the Notes App on my phone, pen and paper and good, old-fashioned short-term memory. I have captured 2-3 solid story ideas this month. And I have this weird feeling it’s because I am deeply engaged in writing something that commands all my attention.

Oh well, that’s the way it goes. The good thing is I have captured and fleshed out a couple of cool ideas that I can’t wait to get to some day…And that’s a great thing!


There we go! My writing update for August.

Not that much to it. Still writing, still thinking, still submitting. So, I’ll take it. Let me know what you’re up to in the Comments.

See you next time,

Darius


[Original post was updated to reflect true word count for August of 4,061 words. I also deleted the words “a lot.”]

Here’s To You, the Writer

Boy, I was going to write about something totally different today, until I sat down to write this…Oh well, that’s the way it goes and that’s what I feel. So, here it is…Hope you’re ready for this one!

Writer Gif

It’s tough being a writer. Sometimes, it’s really tough. You face days, week, months (a lifetime?) of creating in silence only to reveal your work in the hope that someone–anyone–out there likes it. That it connects. But during the process you have no idea whether you are will connect or not. It’s not like music or acting, where you can FEEL whether you’re bombing immediately. You just have to move forward, in faith, believing you’re not bombing. That can be tough.

You face being ignored, being rejected, (being laughed at!), being underpaid or not even paid at all! And for what? What? So you can leave a few scraps of papers with your etching on it for later generations.

I’m sorry if I paint too bleak a picture. But here’s the thing…Despite…Despite all these things, there are those of us who do it. Who persist. Despite the rejection, the fear, the trepidation, the low pay…And, most importantly, I want you to know that despite all these things, it’s still worth it. I still believe it’s what I’m here to do.

And maybe, just maybe you feel the same. So, Writer, here’s to you. Despite the long hours, the anxiety, the hard work, the rejection, the low pay. You have found it worth persisting. (After all, you’re here, reading this blog…Aren’t you?). You live, in part, for those great writing days where you really nail it, for that perfect scrap of dialogue, that well-crafted metaphor, the one gesture from your protagonist that says it all without them uttering a single word.

And if someone likes it. Laughs or sighs or weeps when they read it, all the better. And if someone wants to pay you a million dollars to make it into a movie, that’s great too. But it’s the quality of writing and the act itself where the real triumph lies. Not in the awards or money or recognition. All those external things are dust already…The writing…The writing is what remains down a thousand years.

Don’t lose that, that joy, and you’ll keep it up alright. Just like me.

Best of luck, Writer, and I hope I become your reader some day.

Keep it up,

Darius

 

Writing Update for July

Guys, I’m going to mix it up just a bit…And reserve the last of the month for a post on where my writing is at. I haven’t done this in awhile, so bear with me as I dust off the cobwebs here and break it all down for you.

Writing Cafe BA

The Writing
I have struggled with how to quantify what I accomplish here. The simple answer is: “You can’t.” No matter how much you add up the word counts, it doesn’t really tell you anything about the quality of the work. But here’s the second turn: that isn’t really your business. You’re the writer. Your job is to create. It’s up to editors, writers and critics to do the judgement, the weighing. So, pour yourself a stiff drink and try your best not to worry too much about it.

All that being said (and even that was too much), here’s my word count for July: 7,597 + 1 day for purely plotting/pre-writing. That’s pretty good for one month for me. And remember, this is all on the weekend away from my day job. So, pretty proud of that! The secret sauce here was a stay-cation (vacation where you stay home) which I used to write. I know that’s crazy! I know! I know!

The good news is that those 7,000-some words came through well. I knew where the story was headed (generally) and just let it go. And it worked.

Total Word Count: 7,597.

The Submissions
So, here’s the big lesson learned this month: If you happen to write stuff without speculative elements and you have to submit to “literary fiction” magazines, wait until September to do it!

I had all my victims (er…magazines) lined up. I studied their acceptance rates, what sorts of submissions they look for and their typical response times. I also realized that they accept simultaneous submissions, so I was readying my Blitzkrieg of submissions and slowly, horribly, I came to realize most Lit Magazines are not open for submissions during the summer. Bargh!!! But I did find one publication that was open and sent my story along to them.

I also kept circulating my speculative story (“Pacha-Mama”) which always gets close, but never gets published. Oh well! It’s a great story,  I believe in it and will keep sending it out.

Now that I put this down on a page, I see I could be a lot more active here. Still, there are some stats on the board:

Total Submissions: 2

Acceptances: 0

Rejections: 1


There we go! My handy writing update for July. We’ll return to our regular programming in the next post…And then I’ll do a look at my writing in August.

See you guys next time.

DJ

Writing and All That

Wow! What a busy, crazy, good week!

Scribe_1I won’t get into a detailed breakdown here. I think I will save that for next time, but just know I’ve been writing, editing, submitting stories and working and living my butt off.

I think one of the most important things in life is to always be growing, be learning. And I feel I lost that thread for a while, but now I’m getting it back…In spades.

So, a few things I’ve recently learned:

  1. If you ever find yourself in a situation where you’re FORCED to submit your stories to literary magazines…Don’t do it in the summer. Most of them seem to be shut in the summer and don’t open until Sept. 1…at least. So, lesson learned.
  2. If you’re writing, keep writing. Don’t stop. Every page, every paragraph, every sentence you will slowly become a better writer. I’m not saying you will be published, or famous or rich. But if you practice and work hard, you will get better. Every day, every hour, every minute you put pen to page, you’ll improve, bit by bit.
  3. Critique others writers’ stuff. There’s nothing that can help motivate and teach you about how to be a better writer more than critiquing others’ stuff. And it doesn’t cost you a thing, just a little time.
  4. Make sure your work life (what you to do pay the bills), doesn’t intrude too much on your creative life, but don’t let it drift either. Keep the work you have to do to pay the bills interesting. And make sure you keep learning and growing there too. It’s part of life and it needs to grow and change to keep your interest. And you know what? If it’s interesting and a bit challenging, it could make a good story somewhere later down the road.
  5. Be good to yourself, take time for yourself. You’ll feel it if you’re getting burned out, trust me. And if you do, you need to take a step back. Take a vacation, take a hike. Hang out with some friends. Work and writing are important, but don’t forget to make some time for yourself too.

Not too much on my writing in this post, I know! But life/work/writing has been hectic! Next time, I’ll be back with a fuller, better update on all my writing activities.

Until then. Keep reading, keep writing.

,Darius


Oh! And one tiny bit of additional good news: This blog has now passed 200 followers. That’s right! 201 people out there have decided to tune into my writing thoughts and musings on a regular basis.

I’m humbled and very pleased with the attention the blog has gotten. A big thanks to all of you! I will definitely be keeping this up.

Helping an Old Friend Move

BookmanWay, way, way back in the day, I was a free-lance ad writer/fiction writer living in Southern California. And any day of the week, I could go down to Acres of Books, a Long Beach institution, and browse the shelves. I particularly remember the huge, cavernous back room of that used bookstore that would (or probably should have!) been closed by the Fire Dept. It was also rumored that Ray Bradbury would occasionally stop in to browse too, but I never saw him there. Apparently, they kept about 1 million titles in stock at any given moment! And had no air conditioning! What a magical place!!!

Acres of Books was, lamentably, closed down permanently in 2008. {NOTE TO SELF: If I ever get super-rich, I’m going to buy that building and re-open that store!} But it lives on in YouTube videos and the hearts of its old patrons (myself included). But there was, and is, another used bookstore I would go to, not too far down the road: Bookman.

I have also spent time patrolling Bookman, searching for lost classics and just whiling away a solid afternoon browsing their huge collection. Located a few miles away in Orange, Bookman (surprise! surprise!) is now having trouble surviving. In fact, they’re being forced to move (higher rent maybe?) to a new location nearby.

But here’s the good news: They have set up a GoFundMe page to help with the move. This writer has already donated to the move so that we can keep “one of the last true ‘brick and mortar’ used book stores in Orange County” going. 223 people have already joined me, but they are less than half way to meeting their goal. So, PLEASE, PLEASE, consider making a small donation (even $5 will do!) to this worthy cause. And if you have social media accounts, please amplify and spread the word!

This writer will give you a heart-felt “thank you” for your donation and next time I’m at Bookman (fingers crossed), whiling away another afternoon among the books, I’ll know you all are one of the reasons it’s still here.

Until Next Time,

Darius


PS… This article on Ray Bradbury’s last visit to Acres of Books is a real heart-breaker. In fact, I couldn’t read it to the end. But I’m posting here in the hope that you do.

Key quote:

“I can get a complete education in this bookstore. I wouldn’t have to go to a school. All the books that I need, I’d pull off the shelf, one after another, I’d open them up and there I would be. I come to this book store for the revelations of myself and I will find me in this bookstore.”

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How to Write Better Historical Fiction—In Four Easy Steps

Right now, I’m writing a piece which blends historical fiction and fantasy fiction in a historical setting. I’m hoping you might find some of the advice below useful, whether you’re hoping to write literary-fiction or genre-fiction in a historical setting.

Crusade Number 4

Today, I’ll give you four easy steps I used to make my historical settings richer, deeper and more true-to-life. It’s those little details that you use in world-building which can make a big difference and can really wrap your readers up in the world you’ve created.

(SIDE NOTE: Oddly enough, your humble blogger here, has a college degree in…History! Cue: Gasps by my followers. So, I like to think the following is (semi)-expert advice.)

Here are my Four Steps to Writing Better Historical Fiction…


1. Pick a Date and Place
This is the easy part. Or should be. Once you have a character in mind. You need to set about finding a time for them to live in. Now, this all kind of coalesces at the same time usually, I get that. But once you have someone in mind you have to start really focusing in on specific dates and places.

For example, in my latest story, “The Number Thief,” I chose my character Yusuf and I knew he lived in 13th century Muslim Spain. Then, I focused on the date 1236 and specifically Cordoba. Bam! I had a date and a place.

2. Gather and Read Secondary Sources
Secondary sources are books looking back at a time period. That is, history not written during the time period itself. They are great for giving you an overview, the total landscape of the time. They’re an essential first step to getting your bearings and starting to understand what actually happened. But they shouldn’t be your final step.

So, getting back to my example of Spain in 1236…Some of the good examples of secondary sources for the period are:

In each one of these books a modern scholar looks back and gives their take on a certain time and place. But one of the big drawbacks is that they’re including their own interpretation and point of view, which leads us to…

3. Gather and Read Primary Sources
Now that you have the lay of the land, it’s time to dive into what the people of the time actually thought and experienced. You need to read primary sources, those things written at that time by the actual players in history.

And this is where, I find, you get the real insights. Historians really do a good job of bringing things together and explaining larger trends, but you need the actual players in these historical dramas to explain their inner motivations and desires. And to us, as writers, that’s what is really important! That’s what gives these characters the breath of life—the yearnings and fears which animate and drive them.

What really makes someone want to go on a Crusade? Or join a jihad in opposition to a Crusade? Or embark on a risky commercial venture trading goods across a dangerous piratical-infested sea? Or give everything up to join a convent or become a wandering mystic? Well, thankfully, we have written records from people who did just that.

So again, Spain in 1236…Here are some of the primary sources I’ve used to get me into the mentality of that time:

  • The Song of the Cid by anonymous (Great for getting the mentality of a Spanish crusader and freebooter of the Reconquista!)
  • The Ring of the Dove by ibn Hazm (Great insights into the luxurious court life of Muslim Spain)
  • The Proofs of Prophecy by Abu Hatim al-Razi (A debate between two Muslim philosophers of the time is priceless for what I’m writing! I could almost cut-and-paste the dialogue here—but did not!).

There you go! Your primary sources should give you great insights into your time period from the people who lived it.

4. Capture Your Notes
As you’re going, you should be marking up passages, highlighting things and making mental  notes. (I do!). But then, you have to collect all these notes together and drop them into your piece somehow.

Essentially, there are two ways to do this. First, you can create a separate physical notebook or a Word document. Or you can do what I do, which is simply pepper some of these details into your working outline, as appropriate. And then recall and remember useful bits as you write. The bottom line is that you  have to become a student of that time period. If you’re reading all the right materials, certain important points will stick out and seem to  raise their hands (“Pick me! Pick me!”) at just the right point in your narrative.  Then, you just have to put them in.

For example, through my readings, I learned that the Republic of Pisa had a governing council. This council had the power to vote and approve certain measures. As I looked for a way to wrap up “The Number Thief,” I knew having the last scene where they passed judgment would be perfect. So, I wrote the last scene to incorporate them. It turned out great!

I have also found creating a simple chronology of the time period helps you to not get lost. You can also combine fictional elements into this chronology, if that helps.


That’s it for today! Four easy steps to help you improve your stories which use an historical setting. I know this one is a bit esoteric, but I hope someone out there finds it useful!

That’s all for now. Until next time…

Keep reading, keep writing,

Darius