The Craft–Shot Selection

[This is part of a continuing series on the art of writing fiction.]

Well, it’s spring. And that means it’s time for some basketball and some musing on the art of writing fiction.

So work with me on this one. I used to play basketball seriously way-back-when. And one of the first things you learn is that you don’t shoot every time you get the ball. What you do is quickly assess the situation and either go for it or pass it on to the next guy. That’s called “shot selection.” NCAA/BASKETBALL

Guys that don’t have good shot selection tend to just throw up anything and usually take a lot of shot, but don’t make many (a low field goal percentage). A more effective strategy is to pass—when you know the defense is tight on you—to an open man in the hope they’ll get off a better shot.

So, what the hell does this have to do with writing?

Simple. I’ve noticed lately that I’m a bit too quick to throw up anything to see if it will make it in. That is, I’m far too willing to pick an idea that is half-way there and flesh it out into a full story, edit it and submit it. I don’t stop to think—“Hey, maybe I shouldn’t try to do this right now”—and pass on taking the shot.

OK. End of extended sports metaphor…

So…this means that henceforth, I’m going to focusing on developing (writing, editing, submitting) drafts of stories that move me, that I want to write. That I have to write. Rather than stories I think are clever, or have a neat idea or will find a home somewhere.

What prompted this was a book I found as I was browsing in a used bookstore last week called The Best and the Brightest by David Halberstam. There’s a discussion on the first page of the preface where Halberstam asks a more seasoned writer with a number of best sellers under his belt: “What makes a best seller?” The author considers the question for awhile and answers:

“A book that burns in your belly—something that has to be written before you can go onto anything else.”

That’s great, isn’t it? All those secrets that marketers and publishers and agents want to know boiled down to one cold, hard fact.

Well, that’s what I want to right. And I have a few short stories—maybe 3-4 that are burning in my belly right now. Nothing more, nothing less. I want to get those done and in the submission process. Then, take a quick look around me and assess what else there is that is burning in my belly—be it a novel or story or play—and write that and only that. I want to put the emotion and the desire first. Not second or third or somewhere further down the list. And I don’t want to worry about what will follow.

That’s the only way to do it. Always has been, always will be.

See you next time,

Darius

Works in Progress–Next Up

[Part of a continuing series on where my fiction writing is at.]
Lots of stuff going on in life and work. So, this post is going to be particularly telegraphic. Here we go.


How They Did It at Kazansky StationGood news here. Last time I posted, I was 2/3 of the way through my dreaded second draft of this story. Well, I finished that off. Even ran it through the third draft. And this weekend I plan to do a final draft and proofread it. Then, it’s off to publishers. Moscow street

I’m really pleased with where this ended up, especially when I consider how displeased I was with the first draft. I just thought it was done a bit hastily and was sloppy overall. The third draft is much tighter and—most importantly—says exactly what I wanted it to say in the way I wanted to say it. And that’s all any writer can hope for.

The Man with Storms in His Eyes—This story got rejected and I haven’t had a chance to turn it around and resubmit it. I will do that this weekend.

AFTA—This horror novella got one more rejection, but it’s still with another publisher awaiting a decision. I hope it works out.

Breakpoint—This story is still out there with a magazine awaiting an answer.


That’s it! A short and sweet post. Just enough to keep you updated while I get back to the writing.

See you next time,

DJ


PS. I just realized I haven’t blogged for a month! I totally forgot my last blog post. I guess things HAVE BEEN HECTIC. Jeez. No more of that.

So, sorry, readers. I apologize. I will do my absolute best to make sure that doesn’t happen again or warn you if it does. So, look for the next post 2 weeks from today.

See you then. 

Works in Progress–A Momentary Lapse of Confidence

[Part of a continuing series on where my fiction writing is at.]

Sorry, I didn’t post yesterday, but my day job intervened and the news of the passing of Leonard Nimoy (a little more on that below) helped demotivate me further. After a nice night out with some friends (and a few drinks), I’m feeling much better. So, here we go.  


How They Did It at Kazansky StationThis first draft of this story is done, but reading it over in hard copy, I didn’t like it much. It was very, very rough. So, I sighed and fumed a bit. I thought it was no good and that lately none of my writing has been good. And that it’s been Trains Kazanskyawhile since I’ve had a story accepted, which is true.

But I also knew I had been in that place before. That place where none of your writing seems any good and you get discouraged. So, I calmed myself down. I sat my butt down in the chair and put away the hard copy with all the red pen marks on it.

And then, I ATTACKED the manuscript onscreen. I started by deleting the entire first chapter, condensing its essential points and putting them into dialogue in what had been the second chapter. That got the story rolling right from the get-go with dialog, which I like more and more as a way to start a story. Then, I started doing the hard work of editing, what the sculptor Polykleitos called those moments when “the clay is under the fingernail.” For a writer it’s about polishing dialog, adding a detail in, cutting a phrase out. Revealing a little, bit by bit, but never too much. You can’t give it all away until the end and even then…Why reveal it all? I really hate doing 2nd drafts for this reason. For me, it’s the hardest work and the toughest part of being a writer.

So where did the story end up?

I’m 2/3 done with draft two. And I’m really pleased with. What I’ve written so far really captures the details, the tone and feel of Moscow’s most Eastern, most Asiatic railroad station. Its Gateway to the East. This weekend, I’m going to hit it again. And I will let you guys know where it ends up.

The Man with Storms in His Eyes—This story is with a new magazine and I’m waiting to hear back.  

AFTA—This horror novella is still with editors and I’m waiting to hear back. I will check in with them shortly.

Breakpoint—This SciFi story is with a magazine, waiting to be reviewed and rejected/accepted.


And  a little on Leonard Nimoy. What can I say? As a kid of the 80s, I first caught Nimoy in reruns of Star Trek: The Original Series. But coming from that time, I also distinctly remember his great voiceover work for the series “In Search Of.” That series did such a great job of mashing together myth, scientific inquiry and the paranormal. It was great stuff for a kid just beginning to learn about and explore his world. Nimoy’s voice added that perfect touch that dialed up the creepiness and weird to make the series pitch perfect. Here’s one of the episodes which actually has live action clips of Nimoy, not just his voice over.

Nimoy on Bigfoot.

Others elsewhere have much more moving tributes to the actor. I’ll only add that I was sad to hear of his passing and that for me, he was like an uncle from the Land of Pop Culture. Someone who was always there and who you wish you had a little more time with. I’ll miss him.

Alright, time to get brunch, then head back home and key up some classic episodes of Star Trek TOS and see the young Nimoy do his thing. Until next time…

Live long and prosper,

DJ

Works in Progress—A New First Draft

[Part of a continuing series on where my fiction is at.]

A quick overview of my works in progress and a little about what I’m reading these days.


Moscow-Kazansky-Train-Station

HTDIKSBam! The big news for this post is that I knocked off a first draft of this story. It’s set in Moscow in the 90s, in the real world with no fantastical or magical elements. Strange, I know. I will send this off to my Beta readers ASAP and do the title reveal soon here on the blog.

The Man with Storms in His Eyes—I’ve collected some Beta reader feedback on this one. I’ve also printed out the 2nd draft and attacked it with my handy red pen. Deleting things here, adding things there, changing the phrasing where it got clunky. All that editing stuff I really don’t like to do.

I plan to take the edited text to the café soon and start laying in these 3rd draft changes. Then, it’s time to save it up and do a final proofreading. After that I will start searching for  markets that like longer horror short stories with a bit of satire woven throughout. If you have any suggestions, let me know in the Comments section below.

AFTA—This horror novella is still with editors and I’m waiting to hear back.

Breakpoint—This SciFi story just got a rejection. So, I got right back on the horse and I sent it off to a new magazine. It’s been there for almost a week now…The waiting game begins anew. 


A Writer Reads: Pedro Páramo.
Also, just finished up reading Juan Rulfo’s Pedro Páramo. It is a novella set in rural Mexico in the 1950’s—I’m guessing the same time it was written. The jacket blurb said it was one of the precursors to magical realism. I’m no expert on that, but it was definitely an interesting read. I’m still turning around the images, the effects, the words that Rulfo used in my head. I think it merits a longer post at some point in the future. I will try to post that here when I have a little time.


On Finding your Editors
And one last thing, Tim W. Burke, horror writer and author of The Flesh Sutra, has a great post over on his blog about “finding your editors.”

You will find an editor who will respond to what you write and give you advice. Keep sending to that editor. If that editor buys what you write, keep sending to that editor. Do not bother to send to others just to see if you can “get in”.

I thought that was a great insight and I’m going follow his advice and not worry about getting in to all the big speculative fiction magazines. Instead, I’m going to focus on sending to those magazines that publish what I like to read. I’m also going to consider re-submitting to those magazines like Fiction Vortex, that have already accepted my stuff.

OK, Gotta run. Until next time,

Darius

Works in Progress—Horror Short Title Reveal

Following the new regime on the old blog here of posting every two weeks (see “Write More, Blog  Less), I’m back. The good news is that I’ve been really productive in the last couple of weeks and my fiction writing has moved forward on all fronts. This is exactly what I was hoping for in cutting back a bit on the blog.

So, here’s a quick scan of where I’m at with various writing projects.


TMWSE—This  straight-up horror short is off to my Beta readers. What does that mean? First, it’s time to party (which I will be doing about 2 hours from now). Second, it’s a complete second draft. I usually wait for my Beta readers to weigh in, and then wrap  up the 3rd draft and I’m ready to start submitting.party-with-writers

…Oh yeah, the title. The title, Man. This one is called “The Man with Storms in his Eyes.” I hope that title will stick. I enjoyed writing this piece and felt I really started nailing it about half way through. But we’ll have to see what the readers think.

HTDIKS—Just started writing this piece. It will be a short story set in the real world, thus veering dangerously toward literary fiction territory. But don’t worry, I won’t let it get too pedantic. I will let you know what happens.

AFTA—This horror novella is still with a couple of editors and I’m waiting to hear a response. No word yet.

Breakpoint—Status quo here. Still waiting to hear back from the magazine I sent it along to. I will query them shortly if that doesn’t change.


All for now. This post was short and sweet, I know. But I’ve got to get back to life and the writing. For more details on the works above, see my Works in Progress page.

See you next time,

Darius

Writing Resolutions for 2015

I’m not a big fan of resolutions, though you wouldn’t know it from this blog. Last year I wrote a post on my writing resolutions. I met some and didn’t meet others, you can be the judge. N year

Anyway, this year I want to keep things simple. And I want to make sure they’re achievable no matter what others do—in other words, do these resolutions pass the Epictetus (as I’ve discussed, Epictetus is the Man) test? Are they achievable no matter what others, or the world, throws at me? Are they something I have control over? I think most of them pass the test, or come darn close. So, here are my resolutions for this year.


1. Write More, Blog Less.
This one is sort of a bummer, but it’s necessary. This blog is a bit of a heavy lift. What with the day job, family, fiction writing, sleep, etc. There’s little time left for other stuff. Unfortunately, this blog is one of them. And every minute I spend blogging is a minute taken away from writing fiction. I’ve mentioned this before, but now is the time to do something about it. So…

…Starting this year, instead of trying to write a new post every week, I’m going to write a new post every two weeks. These may only be brief “Works in Progress” posts, but they will go up. On the off week, or as a special post, I may blog about more substantive things: books I’ve read, the state of publishing, The Craft of writing fiction, Rare B Sides, whatever strikes me. I think, in the end, it can make the blog better by having me write only when I want to. And it will definitely give me more time to write fiction—which is what this blog is supposed to be about anyway.

2. Limit the Analysis and Let It Flow.
I wrote about this recently. The limit of reason in helping to write fiction, to explain the creative process is limited. This has crept up and up in my consciousness this past year. There’s lots in the creative process that’s must stay beneath the surface. Like a deep-sea fish, it can’t survive if you bring it up from the depths—it just melts away into nothing like some Lovecraftian beast. 

There are things I can explain about the writing process, but the most important things will always remain beyond explanation and, perhaps, beyond comprehension. You simply live the story. As a reader, we’ve all experienced this: being swept up in a narrative and forgetting your subway stop, losing track of time and missing an appointment. It’s only when you’ve been disrupted that you come back to yourself. A strange sort of hypnosis. It’s the same with WRITING fiction. When the prose is really coming, the writer gets swept up, too. You just float along with the characters, like you’re witnessing it, instead of creating it. It’s an odd sensation, very intimate, but it’s one of the best things about writing I’ve ever experienced.

So, this year, I’m going to dial back the analysis. I’m still going to try to learn, but I’m also going to let it go and just let the prose flow. That’s the way it ought to be.

3. Go to 3 “Writing” Cons.
Cons—want to go to more of those as long as they have a strong writing track. After going to RavenCon in 2014, this year I want to go to 3 Cons:

  1. RavenCon. Richmond, Virginia. April.
  2. BaltiCon. Baltimore, Maryland. May.
  3. DragonCon. Atlanta, Georgia. September.

I hope see you there. Drop me a line if you’re going to any of these—I’d love to meet up. Who knows? I might even buy you a beer.

4. Learn More about Speechwriting and Sinology.
It’s no secret: I write in my day job, too. I’ve been assigned to new projects in the next year. One involves writing speeches and the other involves China. I don’t know much about either.

So, I’m going to use it as an opportunity to learn a little more about each. Maybe pick up a book about Demosthenes and read that book about Chinese history I have on my shelf.

5. Translate a Poem.
I’m been thinking, again, about Russia and Russian stuff. It may just be that it’s come up more in the news lately. I’m not sure. I used to live there and speak some of the language. Anyway, as something new and a sort of exercise, I’d like to translate a Russian poem (it’s number 419 on the link) for you. It’s by Georgy Ivanov and is about a favorite topic of mine: Persian carpets.

Отвлеченной сложностью персидского ковра,
Суетливой роскошью павлиньего хвоста
В небе расцветают и темнеют вечера.
О, совсем бессмысленно и все же неспроста.


Голубая яблоня над кружевом моста
Под прозрачно призрачной верленовской луной
Миллионнолетняя земная красота,
Вечная бессмыслица -- она опять со мной.

В общем, это правильно, и я еще дышу.
Подвернулась музыка: ее и запишу.
Синей паутиною (хвоста или моста),
Линией павлиньей. И все же неспроста.

That should be a fun exercise for the coming year. I’ll post it here when it’s done.


Alright, all for now. I’ll post a hard copy of this to my wall and try my best to keep to it. Until next time…

Keep Reading and Keep Writing,

Darius

A Look Back at my Year in Writing–2014

Wrapping things up here on 2014. So, I wanted to look back at my year in writing and talk a little about what I accomplished and maybe a bit about what I didn’t. Next week, we’ll look forward to 2015. But this post is about the year that was. Here are the highlights one-by-one.


1. I saw my name in print for the first time.  Never_Look_Back
If I had to single out one highlight of my writing year, it would be seeing my novelette, The Ghul of Yazd published in Strangelet Journal. It was so great to see this story get accepted and finally see my name in print on, you know, an actual page of paper. And I almost fell off my chair when the editor asked me to put footnotes back into the story, thus preserving my original vision for the story.

It was doubly nice to hand a copy of the magazine to my parents as a Christmas gift this past week.

I also enjoyed the protagonist, Yusuf, in this story so much I wouldn’t mind visiting him again sometime by writing another story with him in it. I miss him.

2. I got a response to a query letter for the first time.
I finished writing my comedy-horror novella (AFTA) and got an editor interested enough to respond to my query letter. It’s too early to see if it gets picked up, but, hey, it was still fun to have another “First” even if the editor ultimately decides to pass on the manuscript.

3. I attended my first Con.
This was a resolution of mine last year and I stuck to it. This April, I attended my first Con (convention), RavenCon, and it was great. I learned a lot about writing, but I also learned a great deal about the publishing business and what editors look for—thanks to my fellow fiction-writer attendees and a handful of editors from Tor. If you’re a speculative fiction writer and you haven’t done this yet—get thee to a Con! You won’t regret it.

And, FYI, I will attend RavenCon again this year, so hope to see you there.

4. I finished a novella and two short stories.
It’s tough to fit writing into the daily grind, you know? But somehow I was able to finish a novella  (completely) and two short stories (almost).  A short synopsis of all three is now on my “Works in Progress” page. That’s not bad output, considering I have a full-time job that isn’t writing fiction.

(Truth be told, I still have to wrap that 2nd short story, but I should have that done in short order.)

5. I kept the blog  going.
It was no easy task, but I managed to write something for this blog at least every 2 weeks. Toward the end of the year, I was able to post something every week.

6. I said I would write short stories and I stuck to it.
As I said in my writing resolutions last year, I wanted to write “short or long,”that is, to write short stories or novels. Well, I did. I’ve written two short stories so far and I’m planning more to come in 2015. Who knows? I might even work on a novel next year.

7. Reading was the weak link.
Talk about not having time. After the day job, writing fiction and keeping up the blog, there isn’t a lot of time left. I resolved to read all sorts of things this past year, but it didn’t happen. That’s the way it is. I’m not going to loose any sleep over it, especially since I kept the fiction writing rolling

8. I kept submitting stories.
I’m proud of this last one. This is tough. You write your heart out, you take care of a piece. You write a solid first draft. Do the major polishing lift in 2nd draft. You polish some more in the third and/or fourth draft. Then, you proof it. And maybe somewhere in between, you workshop the piece. Finally, you research markets to find a place it might fit.

And then, in a sense, comes the hardest part of all: sending it to some unknown editor to see if they like it. Man, that’s never easy. But I’ve gotten to the point where I just go automatic. I say to myself, “this is a good piece” and I bring up my Gmail and press “Send.” It’s never easy, but after about 25 rejections, it’s becoming much more fluid. It’s a small but very significant milestone and I feel this year I’ve come to accept submission as a natural, integral part of the writing process. It wasn’t easy. 


Alright, see you next time when I’ll break down what I want to do in 2015 in writing. That should be a fun one.

,DJ

Works in Progress—A Bite on the Line

An update on my works in progress.


AFTA—An editor wrote back in response to a query letter I sent, saying he would like to see the full manuscript of this comedy-horror novella. That’s the first time I’ve Fishinghad a positive response to a query letter. Ever. That’s good because there is a lot of advice out there on how to write a good query letter and I’m not sure I had exactly rang the bell with this one. The fact that at least one editor’s interest was piqued is a good sign.

Now all I have to do is wait. I’ll let you know what happens.

TMWSE—Last time I updated you guys, I had finished a first draft of this horror story. I was sick last week, so I just did some prewriting on my writing Sunday, instead of finishing off the 2nd draft. I didn’t want to do serious work without being at my best. The good news is that I’m about 2/3 done with the 2nd draft, counting my work over the previous week as well.

The upshot? I should have this done soon—taking into account a little break for the Holidays—and then it’s off to my four Beta readers. I’ll give them a chance to get back to me and then head into the 3rd (usually final) draft. I will do a reveal of the title of this short story when I send it off to the Beta readers.

Breakpoint—Status quo here: three rejections so far and it’s still with the same magazine. No word from them yet. It’s getting a bit above the average response time for this particular magazine according to Duotrope. I’m hoping the magazine’s staff is just taking the Holidays off and will dive back into the slush pile come the new year. They have a 90-day limit before sending a query and I’m nowhere near that. So, time to wait and see…


Stay tuned. In the coming weeks I will have a look back at my 2014 in writing and a look forward to what I’d like to do in 2015.

See you next time,

Darius

The Craft: The Ends of Analysis

[This is part of a continuing series on the art of writing fiction.]

I’ve talked a lot on this blog about the craft of writing fiction. About my five top rules for writing from “Get Black on White” and “NO CRITIC” to “Stick to What Works.” I’ve talked about “Grip,” about making your characters endure often painful conflict andDemotivational Death Star metamorphosis and about writing what you love. But there’s a limit to what you can figure out about writing. What you can, alas, put into words. Some things in writing, you just have to let be, without explanation. I’ve felt this especially keenly lately. I feel I’ve learned a tremendous amount about writing fiction this year, especially about writing short stories. But I feel most of it is incommunicable. These things are hard to characterize, but they’re things like:

  • Knowing you’re coming up against a word limit and writing to it. You just sense the story needs ending and you condense action to hit that limit.
  • Writing a section of dialogue and just KNOWING it’s not right for that character or situation. And then deleting it.
  • Getting a feeling that a story is getting off track. And then stopping. And putting it on the shelf for awhile or deleting the chapter(s) and starting over.
  • Smiling when you know that a certain character’s turn-of-phrase or unspoken action is just spot on.

There are a million other things like that in writing. Times when I just feel like the right approach could be something different, something intuitive that I’ve missed, that just needs to be included. This usually happens when I’m caught up in a story, just floating down the surface of it, like some great river.  I’m dodging all the rocks and whirlpools and just gunning down the chute to the end of the run. In such situations you can’t—or don’t—think. At moments like that the kayaker is completely immersed in the moment and making decisions naturally without the filter of rational thought breaking in.

It’s the same thing with writing. When the day’s going well, I’m making the decisions without thinking as I go. It’s only when my concentration is broken through—usually by a loud noise or some particularly clunky writing—that I fall out of the trance and start THINKING again. And thinking like that can ruin an entire day of great writing. So where am I going with this? What am I trying to say? That I learned a lot this year and I’m not sharing any of it? No. I would if I could. But this is beyond teaching and beyond knowing. It’s the pruning back of a jarring, clunky metaphor, it’s reining in some dialogue that got too long winded, it’s throwing the right detail in (even just the turn of a hand or a sigh) at the right moment, or ending a scene at just the right moment. Those things which, in the end, are the essence of Craft.

So, what to do, fellow writers? Despair? Fret? Give up? No. No. Never. Rather, persist. Pick up the pen again and take it to the blank page once more. For if I can not communicate what it is that will one day make you a master craftsman, I can assure you this: if you persist and if you have some God-given talent, you will win the contest. Experience alone must be your teacher. It may not be 5,000 words that gets you there. Or 50,000 or 100,000 or more. But if you keep going, persist, and write day-after-day, the Craft will come to you. You, too, will float along the river, gliding by, making decisions on the fly as everyone watches from the banks. And you will learn when the time is right for a character to be silent rather than speak, to act resolutely but too late, to have someone say it all with a half-seen, insignificant gesture.

All these things will come, but they require two things: talent and hard work. I wish I could say there was another path, but there never has been and never will be. That said, I hope I see you there, a little further down the road. I’ll be there, plodding along.

Good luck! And happy writing,

Darius

Works in Progress—Getting It Done

An update on my works in progress.


TMWSE—Well, finally knocked this one off. It was about 5,000 words two weeks ago. Now, it’s 7,500 words and the first draft is done. This makes it a perfect length for submittal to magazine markets. But I think it could be trimmed down a bit. You know, hit the gym and shed some pounds so that it’s fighting fit. So, this weekend, I’m going to edit this one and get it on its way to a The Endfinished 2nd draft.

I’m especially happy with the richness of the protagonist in this piece. He’s my favorite protagonist since Yusuf in The Ghul of Yazd and has some characteristics in common with him—most clearly his stubbornness and intellect. But otherwise, he’s quite different.

And, as always, it’s a big thrill to get to to the end of a new manuscript and type the words:

###

THE END

Breakpoint—Three rejections for this short story so far and it’s still with the same magazine. No word from them yet.

AFTA—This manuscript (a comedy-horror novella) is still with several publishing houses and I’m waiting to hear back from them.


That’s all for now. I’m off to relax for a bit and then hit the writing/editing on Sunday.

,Darius