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Friday, April 23, 2010

What Happened to Short Stories?

     A volume of Ray Bradbury short stories stared up at me, begging me to pick it up and look at it, so I did. Over 100 stories in one volume. Now, I'm a bit of a sucker for ye olde tyme science fiction short stories, probably because I teach a class usingthem. I've got a volume of Asimov's stories, and love it. Bradbury is a natrual extension, but it got me thinking (which is always a bad sign) what happened to short stories?
     Now, I know they haven't disappeared completely, and in some respects they're making a resurgence. I see volumes of multi-author anthologies in the bookstore, which is great. Glad to see them, but that's not really what I'm talking about. What happened to the wealth of short stories that authors would produce? In the days of yore (ie the golden age of science fiction, mostly) pulp magazines churned out stories all the time. These were the tools of authors to get themselves published back then, but that doesn't seem to be the way it works, now. Now it's the novel that is king.
     I think, though, that these short stories were great not just for publication, but for the authors to hone their craft and to give them breadth. I'm not sure writers now appreciate the shorter form of the story. The sweeping epics and multi-part series have taken over writing, which is great. I love series; I love epic-length books. I also love short stories. There are times when only a short story will do.
     It's more than that, though. Short stories are a great way to practice story-telling, and to get out those stories that don't require epic length. I've written quite a few short stories in order to tell the tales I need to, and like to think that they blend into my novels, enhancing the mythology and world I've created. I have other short stories in the works, though, and hopes at becoming a prolific writer of the form (as well as novels, of course) and perhaps see my own name on the shelf on not just novels, but a volume of my own short stories.
     But I would like to know the feelings of others regarding short stories. Have they fallen into decline? Are they coming back? Are they a useful tool for other writers? What do agents and publishers think of them?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Answering if queries work

     I posted this as a comment over at Nathan Bransford's blog post about the query process. Since I was plenty long-winded, I thought I would re-post it on my own blog. Of course, I need to preface this with I've only just begun the query process myself. Sure, I've slaved endlessly over the thing, but I'm just barely in the submission phase, and I'm sure I'm going to get a huge number of rejections. I'm thinking about wallpapering with them. That said, what follows is what I put up on Nathan's blog. (And it's not really cheating, it's recycling. Going green with blogposts. It's a new trend, or it should be. I might start a thing with it.)
     The process is imperfect, certainly, but what are the alternatives? It's easy to say that the process prevents good writers from making it, but that's really not what the process is about. It's about getting rid of those who are not ready for publishing while giving those who are a chance to have their work examined.
     Yes, it's hard, and it's horrible, and I want to tear my hair out at the number of drafts I've written. But I'm fine with it. I'm fine with it because I teach college, and I've hung around online and these people should not be published, nor should they be taking time from agents with their lengthy material when others are more deserving.
     We all look at the query process with dread, but what would the world be like without it? I shudder to think of the fanfics, un-proofread forum-posted stories, and more that would be churned up because of the internet's ability to convince people that they both know how to write and deserve to be published.
     Furthermore, the system did not evolve arbitrarily. Nathan's unearthed 110 year-old query response is proof of that. I have no doubt that in the early days, the query process involved more than just a synopsis or 5 pages, but I know that it always involved some kind of letter very much like the modern day query.
     It's important to remember that authors who query are asking for a job. The query actually is more akin to a cover letter than any other type of writing. The manuscript itself is the job interview, but the resume and cover letter need to shine before even getting to that point. Like the query, the cover letter system evolved because it works, and it has been around for a long, long time. Just ask Leonardo Da Vinci.

Query Arts and Crafts

     I've been frequenting the blogs about this business, and hearing the bemoanings of various writers. I think it's time for me to put in my two cents on this one. There's no doubt that the publishing industry is odd. I don't even pretend to know the ins and outs about it. I am a complete and utter idiot when it comes to this industry.
     I have seen a lot of writers complain about not receiving feedback from agents aned editors. I have seen them complain that writing is an art, and that they should not be expected to write these bizarre query letters and synopses. I get the creative process. I understand the passion inherent in the writing. I understand how the process of writing a novel does not lend itself to writing a letter that captures the essence of the novel in only a few hundred words. I get it.
     Now grow up. Writing is a skill, a craft. It is the refinement to make a product, and not as lofty an art as people make it out to be. The art comes later. The writing is make something, to produce something, and it's never easy. Writing is not an all-encompassing entity. Learning how to write one thing does not make us proficient in every type of writing. We had to learn and hone to be able to write a novel. WE honed to learn how to write an essay. We honed to learn resumes and cover letters and business memos. We need to learn and hone our ability to write query letters and synopses. It's no different than anything else.
     So stop whining and get to writing. I have worked on my query letter for what seems to be forever. Just on this blog I have posts about query letters from half a year ago. Have I mastered the form? No. Writing is not one of those skills that are ever truly mastered. It's fluid, and a reflection of the crafter. Blacksmiths, shipwrights, and carpenters never truly master their craft, either. They keep pushing the boundaries, pushing the limits, and keep working at it. The best that can be said is that they become "good enough" to do the work. I think my novel writing has reached the good enough stage, though that's not up to me to say. I'll know that if I can get brass ring of book deals. I just know I feel more confident in my work, now.
     Likewise, I feel more confident with my ability to write (agonize) over query letters. I still don't know if I'm actually any good, but I have a feeling I'm almost there, and, you know what, I'm proud of my ability to learn this new form of writing. I'm proud that I can stick this feather in my cap to say I am familiar with this writing.
     So, fellow writers, there are a lot of resources on the web to help you with this form. Get your butt in the chair and start working instead of whining about it. Or maybe, whine all you want; it'll make less competition for me.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Strange Man in not-so-strange land

     This weekend past I attended the Desert Dreams Conference in Scottsdale. I am a conference newbie no more! Well, I really am. One time does not make me a regular, after all. At least I am initiated to things, now. I ran into a friend in a writing group there, Brian, who promptly set up his own blog after hearing Janet Reid's workshop on social networking, and he has his thoughts on the conference over yonder.
     I could say I felt the same way as Brian, but I never expected to be able to blend in. I knew I couldn't. I'm 6'8". I don't blend in much of anywhere. I also knew going into it that the conference was primarily for romance writers, far more of which belong to the fairer sex than my own. I estimate that there were perhaps 15 men there, but that didn't bother me. Everyone was friendly, and even a little apologetic that the guys were alienated, somewhat. I have to say that the conference is a class act, and I won't hesitate to go again. The only thing for me is that since I don't write romance, some of the workshops held nothign for me, but there were enough others that I got a good mix of information, and happily brought some of the workshop CDs home for later re-digestion.
     I have to say that for anyone aspiring to be a writer, go to a conference. End of story. The experience of the event alone is well worth the money, as dear as that is to the poor, struggling artist. Hobnobbing with others of our ilk (I just had to use it. It's a word that needs to be taken out of t dictionary, dusted off, and put to use more often. Adopt a word today.) Is better than genuine coin of the realm. Perspectives on writing, making contacts in the industry, and just being a part of something greater is excellent. Yes, I know we writers are a reclusive, introspective, introvertive bunch, but we do need to associate with people outside of our computer lit writing sanctuaries from time to time.
     Now I need to find another conference to go to. I'm hoping for one with a more mystery or fantasy theme to it, so I can plumb the depths of their knowledge.
     I thought on my experience, and I thought I might offer some tips to conference goers. Keep in mind these are what worked for me, so experiences will vary. I have something of a quirky sense of humor. Okay, that's a lie. I definitely have a quirky sense of humor. Far on the other side of quirk from the normal side. I like it. I have fun with things. I'm the kind of guy that thoroughly enjoys puns. I like to make things funny when I can. To that end, I have two pieces of advice.
     First, the name badge. If the conference doesn't allow for a customized message, make a secondary name badge where you can put something descriptive down about yourself. Mine for this conference was "Writer masquerading as college teacher". Why was it good? It showed my sense of humor, and it drew attention. The name badge started conversations for me as people were curious and had to read what was there. From that a good conversation would unfold.
     Second, the business card. I made up rinky-dink, black and white, Avery business cards fed through my computer, and made from a MS Word template. It was cheap. The cards felt cheap. That didn't matter to me. I put the info I needed on there: contact info, the name of my book, and a quick line about the book. Along with that I had a neat little black and white picture of a fedora, which was just kind of, well, me. That's not the clever part (though a lot of people commented they liked the hat). The clever part was actually on the back. I had read up (yes, even teachers do their homework on occasion) and found that part of the practice of trading of business cards was writing down a short description of the giver of the card. I decided to add my own description to the back of the card. Just a quick line of "Friendly, really tall man with a sinister goatee." up at the top. I left a place for notes, clearly designated by the moniker "notes:" below the line of description. This little trick got me a lot of laughs, and made me, dare I say it? (dare, dare.) memorable in a good way. The name badge and line on the back of my simple, minimalist card made me memorable to people there. Iin comparison, I got a lot of fancy cards, bookmarks, and postcards overflowing with information, and no place to write anything about the people who gave it to me. I saw quite a few of those end up in the trash or on the table of unwanted things. I'm not saying my idea is better (not overtly, anyway), but it worked for me.

Monday, April 12, 2010

March Wrap-up 2010

March's charts.

February Wrap Up 2010

Here is February.

January Wrap-up 2010

Here is the chart for January, sadly very late, and lacking much in the way of actual numbers.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Wrongs Darker than Death or Night: God is Evil

     Yeah, so I swiped it from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. It isn't even one of my favorite episodes, but the title is appropriate. This marks the debut of a feature here, in which I will elaborate on some trope, cliche, or trend that pops up in fiction, TV, movies, Pez Dispensers, etc, and why I won't be doing them. First up: God is Evil.
     Now, this has been prompted by a recent episode of Supernatural where (spoiler) it is revealed that God is tired and does not care. Now, this is not the first time I've seen this particular idea. Piers Anthony did a very good job (excessive, in fact) in exploring this idea with And Eternity. Anne Rice had something similar with Memnoch The Devil Some could even say that Nietzsche had the original idea, though anyone with an English degree (or minor) and has suffered through Paradise Lost would say that it was Milton first (though Milton didn't intend it [That's my story and I'm sticking to it. A debate on P. Lost is for another time]).
     Regardless of where it comes from, though, I'm sick of it. I really am tired of this idea. Why can no one who does some kind of supernatural/real world fantasy ever say that God is good? When did it become taboo for God to be a good guy? Why must mankind forever struggle not just against evil, but good? Is this a case of Douglas Adams where we need to prove God doesn't exist in order to progress? Is it to show the ability of mankind to carry on in the face of overwhelming odds? Is it just because God and religion are ill-favored right now? I don't know, really. I wish I did. There's even video games such as Bayonetta where the Wiccan vamp (make a note, not vampire, vamp) kicks angel butt with guns strapped to her shoes (that's another post altogether, as I can't help wondering why those guns do not jam with debris). On the flip-side we have vampires and other supernatural entities portrayed as good, cursed, underdogs deserving of sympathy. They are the underdogs, and we like the underdogs. But, why can't the forces of good be the underdog instead of the forces of evil? (Yes, I am aware that there are several good examples of vampires and others legitimately struggling with their "curse", but even that has become a cliche. In fact, it's so cliche that it's becoming the norm, and such entities behaving as originally conceived is considered aberrant.) The answer, they can, and I, for one, and a few others, am going to hold the line. In one of my earlier posts I tackle the subject of vampires, and I intend to hold the line on them, as well. I believe I've done good work in re-establishing the vampire as something truly powerful, and taken that a step further with "The Longest Night". I have plans to put forward some more of the "good guys" as well.
     Why am I so irked? I think because of the hypocrisy, by and large. Take Supernatural. Two men who use scripture, holy water, and religious ritual to banish evil, yet the two protagonists do not believe in God or angels?! This would be one of my moments for an inappropriate texting abbreviation so in vogue, yet I resist (Hint: it has three letters, and ends with a gerund). It really isn't that hard to connect the dots, people? Holy water, and religious symbols work against evil, therefore religion may not be a crock. Hmmmmmm.
     I suppose this has been bugging me for a while, which is one reason I made Matt into someone pretty pious (No pious Aeneas jokes, please). That and I was taking a cue from Bram that this stuff works. Medieval literature, myth, and folklore are all loaded with religion and its effect on the supernatural, especially demons, so why wouldn't it be put into use by someone who believes in the supernatural?
     Now, that's not to say I don't recognize the other side of things. In fact, I'm working on a story with a group of people (all set in the same "world" as Matt) have a different take on things, which should prove rather humorous when the twain shall meet.
     Hmmm, wandered a bit afield, and ranted far too long on this subject. Well, needless to say, at least in my works, God is good, and I'm not going to have Him switching sides. Keep on the look out for more Wrongs as this will become a regular feature (as much as I'm capable of regular posts).

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Punctuation . . . interruptus

     Hopefully this post will signal a return of sorts to more regular (for me) posting on the blog. I will postpone a posting of the monthly counts (abysmal as they have been to due to teaching) and jump to something I find far more interesting.
     I have been thickening my skin over at the Query Shark in preparation for, well, query submissions. Anyone, and I do mean anyone contemplating agent queries would do well to read the blog in its entirety as I have been doing over the last few weeks.
     Now, I could continue to write about several of the posts found there, but one, in particular spoke to the writer, teacher, and techno nut that I am. This post gave me one of those warm tingly feelings all over. The kind of tingly feelings that is a combination of holding a cute, adorable little bunny while realizing that there are kindred spirits in the world, and knowing that the aforementioned little bunny will become the infamous rabbit from Monty Python and the Holy Grail to destroy its enemies.
     Why am I this intense in regards to ellipses? The reasons are shrouded in shadows and mystery to only be uncovered by one who undertakes a sacred quest (meaning I don't really remember). However, I am, and if that makes me a punctuation nut, so be it. I am sick to death of the rampant abuse of this little mark all too often by my students where they ......... put in any .......................... number of periods ...... because they ........ think..................... incorrectly.......................... that more periods means a .............................. longer ................................................. pause (I really want to hurt myself just for that reenactment), and that the slightest pause should be marked by an ellipsis.
     More and more I see it in emails all the time by people (even my colleagues!) who use the periods not to indicate any type of pause, but a, wait for it, line break!
     Allow me a few moments to vent frustration via my NERF gun at the monitor.
     Right, back to it. Yes, this sheer laziness (the Enter key just as easy to reach as the period) drives me insane. So, thanks and praise be to the Shark for the simple, eloquent words, which I hope to borrow:
"And I'm done reading here.
For starters, improper use of the punctuation mark ellipses (...) drives me BONKERS. I've received query letters that are essentially one run on sentence due to improper ellipses."
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