Writing Through a Lull

Time for a report on my writing projects.

It turns out that things can not move forward swiftly all the time, especially when publishers, magazines and editors get involved. That’s why I haven’t published anything since The Library of Lost Books in July. But although the editors haven’t green lighted anything yet, I’ve kept writing and wanted to share where my projects are at.

  • I am still waiting to hear back on a SciFi short story. I sent it to a magazine that’s undergoing some management changes, so it’s been held up for some time. This has been frustrating, but it’s a good story and a really good mag, so I’m willing to be patient and see what happens.
  • I have a fantasy short (7,500 words) story pretty much done and ready to submit.
  • I have finished draft one of a historical fiction novella (18,000  words). It’s not speculative history (i.e., the Nazis developed the atomic bomb and won WWII), but a fictionalized retelling of a familiar story. I’m excited about this one, as it’s my first foray into historical fiction.

To sum up, although there’s a lull on the publishing side, the writing side is moving forward. Which is just the way one of my heroes, Epictetus, would have liked it. 

I hope to write more about Epictetus, but the central idea of all his work was that excellence (arête, see Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Plutarch’s Lives, etc. for the ancient Greek concept) comes not through outwards signs and awards, but through doing our best. The universe’s role is to play itself out, to continue to function according to the laws of Logos (what we might call Reason) and Fate (what we might call Chance). The individual’s role is to play his part bravely and well, no matter what the universe throws his way. To be the best soldier, the best wrestler, the best doctor, the best trumpet player, the best friend, the best father that one can be (with the caveat that each person and creature does the best with the body and abilities they were endowed with by nature). As Epictetus put it (Discourses, Book II, Chapter 5):

Therefore Socrates well understood playing at ball… And what was the ball he had to play with? Life, chains, exile, a draught of poison, separation from a wife, and leaving his children orphans. These were what he had to play with; and yet he did play, and threw the ball with address. Thus we should be careful as to the play, but indifferent as to the ball.

Epic

So, the ball may not be dropping my way,  but I’m going to keep playing the game. The short story will be off to magazines soon. And the novella should follow fairly soon thereafter—whether a publisher picks it up or I have to publish it on Kindle myself.

As always. Keep playing, keep pushing. Keep reading, keep writing. Until next time.

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A Sampling of Lovecraftian Phrases

Just finished reading The Colour Out of Space by Lovecraft. I had never read Lovecraft until a couple of years ago when I read The Call of Cthulhu and The Dunwich Horror. Neither one really grabbed me. But I can’t say the same of The Colour.

It’s what might be called a mash up of horror and science fiction, as much Lovecraftian lore is, but I found this one much more gripping and well-paced. It features an alien being at once more intelligent and less conscious, less self-aware, than man. This ancient “stony messenger from the stars” comes to earth via a meteorite. 

As a writer, I’m a dreadfully slow reader. I should have read the story by Halloween and already posted something. But no, I have to analyze, underline, read and reread. I have to go into the whole damn thing as a fricking writer, not a reader. So it takes awhile.

But in my analysis of his style (yes, I do this sort of thing), one thing stood out: word choice. The Colour Out of Space is full of great phrases that show you what is happening with visceral immediacy. Here’s just a small sampling of phrases:

  • blasted heath
  • faint miasmal odour
  • sinister stars
  • ragged pit
  • superstitious rustics
  • loathsome changes [love this one!]
  • studied malevolence
  • detestably sticky noise
  • unclean species of suction
  • fitful moonbeams
  • demoniac tint
  • tense godless calm
  • luminous amorphousness
  • deep skyey voids

And here are some verbs that really show you the action:

  • scraped
  • whispered
  • shivered
  • gouged
  • hissed
  • spattered
  • “creeping and creeping and waiting”

Lovecraft’s finding just the right word is all the more impressive because he did it before the electronic thesauri we have today. Which like spell checkers, probably just makes writers unduly lazy. 

What’s my plan to avoid this technologically-induced trap? I’m going to tack those words to my wall in my writing lab (next to the Kalashnikov quote) just as a reminder. A reminder to work the (electronic and wetware) thesauri to death as I go through my second, third and fourth drafts. A reminder to get the most out of a verb, adverb or phrase so that it paints a picture for the reader. You know, the old adage: “Show, don’t tell.”

And really with the electronic thesaurus in Word, what excuse does any writer have to not use just the right word? Think of poor Lovecraft rifling through his analog thesauri or scratching his head trying to think of just the right verb. It’s harder work, but in the end, it makes a quality product.

That’s about all for now. Be sure to check out this great Lovecraft website. It has his stories in electronic format, photos, a bio and much more. It also has the  most fantastic name for Usenet group I’ve ever heard: “The Shadow over Usenet.” I know I’ll be there more, because I just became his newest fan.

Lovecraft (left) in 1921 with Sonia.

Until next time, keep reading, keep writing.

Vote for The Library of Lost Books in the Goodreads Choice Awards

Voting has started for the 2012 Goodreads Choice Awards.  Please stop in and vote for The Library of Lost Books in the FICTION category. The book cover is not there, but you can cast a write-in vote by typing in the title of the book. Make sure to vote in the fiction category so that all votes end up in the same place.

And yes, after writing the book, much thought and looking at the book covers in the fantasy category, I decided that The Library of Lost Books is better off in the FICTION category. Again, just look at the book covers. And then look at my cover again:

lolb_final_kindle_rev

If you’ve read just a little of Library, you’ll understand.

The Goodreads Choice Awards is the chance for you, the reader, to decide which books win. So every vote means a lot to me. Thanks everybody and see you next time.