I’m afraid I’ve been incredibly lax in keeping track of my reading so far, and it shows in how many books I’ve finished this year (grand total of eight). But I have been reading some, just slowly and somewhat painstakingly.

The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony – I’ve been neglecting this one lately, which is a damn shame, because I’m always so delighted whenever I pick it up! It’s just one of those delightfully chewy, thoughtful books that I don’t want to rush (but still need to make progress on!). I’ll probably try to read a few pages a night so I can process everything it brings to mind.

Going Clear – I just rather forgot I was reading this one, having gotten distracted by a few other cult and con-artist books. But it was fascinating, so I need to just put it somewhere visible so I remember to pick it up again.

Anna Karenin – (Karenin/Karenina–you know how it goes). I’ve really been enjoying this little romp into Moskow and St. Petersburg. It’s been too long since I read a classic, and I’m thrilled to be in the skillful hands of a master storyteller. It’s my bedtime reading right now, which is just the right mix of suspenseful and soothing society goings-on.

The Glass-Blowers – I’ve been meaning to read some more Daphne du Maurier ever since devouring Rebecca some many years ago, so I picked this one up via my favorite used-book dealer, Thriftbooks.com. Just thirty pages in or so, but already I’m excited to see where it goes. It feels a bit more romantically-styled than Rebecca was, but it’s charming, and I enjoy dipping into it. It’s a little close in general genre to Anna Karenin, so we’ll see how I juggle them. I rarely read two books of the same tone/genre, since I primarily poly-read to give myself options depending on mood and feel.

Verbalize – A writing craft book, which a fellow author recommended, and which so far I’m enjoying. The first two chapters were DYNAMITE, and I felt like I was on 100% the same page as the author, feeling that a lot of my own struggles with certain character-creation processes were being validated, and I still suspect it may be going more down that road with concrete exercises to try, but the current chapter I’m on has gone a bit vague, and I’m hoping it gets to the fundamentals of the process soon, otherwise it may feel like it’s falling into its own “magical hoo-doo” trap, which would be disappointing.

I’ve got a bunch of other new and used books I’ve picked up over the last few weeks, which will probably make it onto this list sooner or later, too. I’m hoping to make a shelf of “to read” books so I can easily reach for something different and new whenever I’m itching to start something new.

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I feel like a thousand bucks right now. I just polished up and submitted a story I COMPLETELY LOVE. Guys, this is rare. I don’t know if it’s a good thing that I love it or a bad thing that I love it, but it’s been polished to within an inch of its life (and right into that perfect short-story sweet-spot of under 5000 words–*sigh of delight*). I wrapped up the edit on it this morning, gave it the ol’ Read-Aloud for smoothness/continuity/sense-making, and after making a few tweaks, I wrote up an itinerary for it and GOT IT OUT.

I’m literally grinning from ear to ear. It may go nowhere. It’s pretty darn dark. But seriously, I love this story, and even if it doesn’t place anywhere, I’m damn proud of it. Now if it wanted to go somewhere, that’d be okay, too…just saying…

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Last week was a solidly good week, despite a school cancellation on Monday. Managed to finish the rewrite of Story #2, and even tackled an unexpected rewrite of Story #3, so feeling pretty good about things. #3 still needs some conceptual work–a couple of scenes don’t sit well together, and there’s something about the overarching theme that’s still a teeny bit off–but it’s closer to done now than it was before.

What am I working on this week?
This week, I’m hoping to a) not catch whatever ickiness Bug has come down with (we were due: it’s been almost a month since he was sick last), and b) assuming marginal functionality, start (and maybe complete) the edits on one or two of the stories I’m hoping to get out by the end of the month. Since March started a bit late due to health stuff in February, I may take an extra week at the beginning of April to finish edits, but I’m hoping I won’t have to. All three stories are in decent shape, so some focused polishing should get them close to ready.

What’s inspiring me this week?
Andy and I finally started watching Breaking Bad this week–I know! I know! Way late to the party on this one–and we’ve been enjoying it, though the end of the second season and beginning of the third have felt…a little scrambled. So we’re hoping it hasn’t jumped the shark already.

I also just discovered the Formula One docu-series about F1 drivers and the sport on Netflix, which is right up my ally. I love shows that go deep into an elite sport and examine not only what it’s like to be in the thick of things, but also the dedication and sacrifices we don’t always see from the outside. It’s one of those “pinnacle of excellence” kind of studies, like Jiro Dreams of Sushi or Jockeys (which was also fabulous, and taught me a lot about the industry of horse racing that I did not know previously) or The Hollywood Complex.

I’m almost to the end of my portraiture class, and we’re rounding the bend on the painting portion of the class. I’ve still got so much left to do before this is what I would call “done” (yesterday was essentially just working on the dress and hair), but it’s starting to come together, anyway, which I’m pretty thrilled about!

What action do I need to take?/What am I struggling with? In all truth, things are going pretty well right now. The biggest factor for how this week goes, though, is Bug, and how he’s feeling. My schedule gets completely thrown if he’s home from school or if he can’t sleep well at night, so fingers crossed it’s just a quick cold!

I have been floating on Cloud Nine this week, though not–as one might expect–because of any impending sales contracts (wouldn’t that be nice!). Actually, I’ve been feeling fantastic because I’ve now officially got six stories out rotating the markets, and after years of whining and complaining about how I need, need, need to submit more, that makes me feel FANTASTIC. Even better? I’ve almost rounded the bend on THREE OTHER STORIES that could go out by the end of this month.

THREE.

IN ONE MONTH.

For any of you who have been following this blog for some time, you’ve got to see how crazy that number is. ABSOLUTELY BONKERS. The “three” I’m aiming to get out by the end of the month are actually even more special than the six already out–not because I don’t believe in those, because, looking back on them, I really like them now that the standard ZOMG I’M CRAP I CAN’T WRITE WHAT WAS I THINKING phase has passed–but they’re special because they’re NEW. The six currently out are stories I tripped over at some point in the past year or so, stories that are polished and presentable, but for some reason I lost faith in and set aside. Or stories I got a nice critique back on from some editor I reeeeeeally wanted to impress, and thought: well, I’ll just buff this up a bit before I get it out to the next—NEVER.

I’m starting to understand what I’ve heard any number of professional authors say over and over again: unless an edit recommended in a rejection is easy, OR, unless they’re offering to buy it with a few tweaks, don’t do it. Don’t fuss with it. Trust yourself and get it back out as quickly as possible. Because IT’S A TRAP. An Admiral Ackbar sized trap. Especially for those of us who don’t submit as often we ought to–because so much is riding on that one or two stories we DO get out–it’s a nasty, insidious trap. This story HAS to succeed, so we pick at it, tweak it, keep fussing with it.

Let me tell you a story. I wrote a tale I really liked. I wrote it in a flurry, I polished it up, and sent it out. It got a LOT of very, very positive rejections, all from places I would pee myself if I found out I got something accepted there. SERIOUSLY. Nice, nice pro-markets. SO CLOSE. Requests to submit more, that kind of thing. I kept submitting it. Not tweaking, just submitting. I took a writing class, and offered it up as one of my to-be-critiqued pieces. Again, nice, nice criticism, and a few suggestions for tweaks that made sense to me. I made the tweaks, figuring I’d send out the revised version once I got the latest rejection back. ONLY IT SOLD. Without the tweaks. Without the changes. I ended up placing it at a dream market, probably annoyed the hell out of the dear editor by requesting (several times) to insert some small tweaks which he didn’t even necessarily feel the story needed, and it got published. It was my first pro-sale, so by now, you’ve probably guessed it was “The Behemoth Beaches.”

The truth is, the story didn’t need the tweaks to sell. I feel better about it, knowing some of those tweaks got into the story before it went to print, but it didn’t sell on those merits. It sold on its own, as it was, because it was fine on its own. So this is a Public Service Announcement to say: keep those stories out there. Don’t do what I did and let things get hung up on being “just a little bit better” before getting it out to the next market. Some pro authors can handle that, and if you’re one of them, that’s totally awesome, and I’m impressed, because for me it’s a dangerous high-wire act that I too often fail to get past.

But…if you’re starting to pile up stories in your drawer, or on your “to edit again” list, after some personalized rejections–letting them sit for months (or years) without running the market gamut–I have this to say: STOP IT.

Look, these stories may not sell. They may end up retired, anyway. But they deserve a shot at getting out there. Because sitting on the sidelines doesn’t get them out, and more likely than not, you’ll eventually lose interest in fixing these ancient stories, especially if you’ve basically run them through a large chunk of markets and the only ones left are the token pay places–good places, mind, but do you want to bust your tail fighting with a story’s ending that you like just fine, but one editor a couple markets back said was maybe too abrupt, all for a payout of $20? When you could be writing something new that can go to ALL the markets again and maybe earn you closer to $200-$400?

It’s not all about the money, but the amount of time you’re spending on any project is a career choice. Futzing with one story over and over again, widdling down its options in the market as you go, means you’re spending a lot of creative energy on something that–as Martin Eden(1) would say–is “work performed.” Let it go. Move on to the next thing and keep those criticisms in mind for that work. Try again. The old work can’t be the dead horse you keep revising. Let it run it’s time, and then let it go. Or set it aside in case a market comes up it might fit in, that pays enough, to justify taking a full running swing at revising it. Otherwise, let it be.

That’s what I’m learning, and it’s what I’m hoping will claw me out of a fairly considerable creative rut. I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes, but for right now, I’m just chuffed as hell that I’ve got work out again. THAT feels good!

(1) Also, if you’re a writer and you haven’t read Martin Eden by Jack London: do so. Right now. It is an amazing examination of the writer’s life and process and so much of it painfully still rings true today.

I missed the Sunday Circle again this week (why on earth is Sunday such a tricky day to post, I wonder?), but I figured a little status update was in order, since I have not been lazy! (Unexpected, I know!) I still need to do an updated Poly-Reader Notes sometime soon, since I have been trying to pick up my reading, and you wouldn’t know it by looking on here, but I do have some overarching goals for 2019. But those are for another post.

Although a couple days behind schedule, I did manage to finish the outline for Draft 3 of my dark fantasy novel, The Mistress of Frosthaven (working title). I’m looking forward to starting the actual drafting process in April. This month, it’s all about short fiction. I finally went through all of my unfinished work from the past couple of years, made some nifty folders (Ready to Edit/Rest 3 Months/Rest 6 Months/Rest 9 Months/Rest 12 Months/Retired), and sorted them. Turns out I also need a “Submitted” folder, so I’ll steal an extra manila folder from my folks next time I’m there.

Most of the stories (probably close to half a dozen) are in the “Ready to Edit” folder, as most of them have rested long enough that I’m ready to tackle getting them out into the world. A few of them are in the “Rest 3 Months” folder, as I haven’t yet spent a lot of time figuring out how to fix them up yet, or I know I just don’t have the time to get them worked out in the short term, but there’s vastly fewer of those than in the “Yeah, I can fix this,” pile. So that’s encouraging!

I’ve also managed to get every available and well-edited story back out into the markets, so I currently have five stories hunting for homes. I’ve had a few back with rejections, but they’re all back out again, so gold star for me!

Getting unedited work rewritten, edited, and submitted is a huge goal for me this year. This month, I’m focusing on getting two out. I have a couple I think are pretty close to being ready, and that have already had some good feedback on, so I don’t need to get many Beta Reader thoughts on them. A little focused TLC and I think these can be making the rounds by the end of the month.

Other than that, we’ve been enjoying the snow and I managed to twinge my neck sleeping last night, so I’ve been taking it easy with a hot pack on it today. It’s feeling a bit better, so I’m hoping it’s short lived!

Currently Submitted:

“Grieving Trees & Prophecies”
“Rhapsody in Flesh Minor”
“The First Ghost of Old Shore”
“Moments of Clarity”
“The Mirrorwalker”

Today, I sent out four short story submissions. That means I currently have five stories out cycling the markets, and that is more than I’ve had out in years! These aren’t new stories, and some are older than others. These are my orphaned stories, the ones I started submitting and then somewhere along the way, lost faith in, and neglected to continue submitting. Some of them have long itineraries left to go through before being officially “retired.” Some only have one market left they’re suitable for. But I feel so good having gone through my list, located those who still need to get out (and those that have, in fact, run the gamut even if I thought they hadn’t yet), and got them out. That’s not even including reprints I could submit, because I’ve got a couple of those, too.

These aren’t new stories, but I’m so glad they’re getting their shot out there. With some of these stories, I remember getting to a point where I just hated the thought of them. Looking back now, though, from a year or two’s distance, I’m surprised I was so upset. They’re solid stories, and some of them I really, truly love. They got fogged out in my memory, from weeks of revisions and rejections from favored markets–I couldn’t see them properly anymore. But instead of just keeping on, like I’ve heard advised any number of times by professional authors, I got hung up on them, and put them in a drawer to forget about.

Today, I got almost all of my orphaned stories out. I am likely inviting a big backlash of rejections in a few days or weeks which will bum me out, but unlike before, I will not stop there. I will send these stories to their next markets, or–if it’s one of the few who have already jumped all the hoops–I’ll set them aside as lovingly retired, until an anthology call comes up that they might be just right for with a few tweaks. But they’re good stories, and I do hope some of them find the perfect home.

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about what’s become of all those stories I wrote over the past few years, the ones I finished a rough draft of and then set aside “to cool,” but then never returned to edit. They haven’t vanished, that’s one thing. I’ve lost a few of them in the labyrinth of several computers and inefficient backups. I’ve misremembered quite a few, thinking they were further along or finished when they weren’t, and some that were finished when I was sure I hadn’t gotten that far. But for the most part, I was surprised by how familiar these stories seem to me. Some even more familiar than the stories I’ve sold.

And I started to realize why: without getting them out the door, I still think about them a lot. Sold stories or stories that have made their rounds? I don’t think about them much. Now and then, I feel a little thrill remembering one, thinking, “Oh yeah, I love that story!”

But the abandoned stories come back all the time. I don’t work on them; I fester on them. Their core ideas pop back up again and again, they haunt my brainstorming sessions, and hypnotize me with possible solutions to problems I’d considered unsolvable. Still, I avoid them, trying to think up newer, shinier things.

Abandoned stories loiter. They occupy a shockingly large chunk of my mind, even when they’re out of sight and seem out of mind. But they’re there, hiding in the shadows, in the indented coils of my brain, whispering about themselves. Hey, you know what was a cool idea? Me, they whisper. You know what you’re itching to work on? Me again. 

For years, I ignored those whispers, because I was terrified I’d get sucked into a whirlpool of edits that would never end. I’d had stories like that in the past, stories I couldn’t get to work, that I beat my head against for months (or years) trying to fix without success. I got burned by those failures, so now when I face a short work I’m not sure how to fix, I get paralyzed, assume it’s worthless garbage, and toss it aside “until it comes to me.” It seems all too easy to start fixing and get sucked in, lift my head in six months and think: Shit. Where’d the time go?

But I also know, looking back, that there have been times when I’ve gotten a ton of work out, and even sold some of them. When I couldn’t come up with new work because my brain wasn’t in a “doing new things” mode (a.k.a. pregnancy brain–it’s a thing, folks), I found editing the perfect balm. It’s writing and yet not so overwhelming as starting from scratch. I got SO MUCH OUT during that period, because I focused solely on that. I didn’t worry about things being perfect (I do have that issue at times), and I didn’t worry about originality. I just focused on doing my best and getting anything I could honestly call “good enough” out. It led to my first pro-sale.

That’s not to say that everything I’ve ever composed needs to be submitted. I have had more than a few dead stories: poor, sad things I’ve written under an imposed deadline or as an exercise that just haven’t hit. Those stories just die quietly, and I let them go. They don’t haunt me.

But I’m starting to realize that the difficult stories, the awkward stories, the oddly finished stories: they’re not dead. The abandoned stories in the drawer beneath my desk aren’t really gone, even if I wish they were. They’re still alive. They’re still occupying mental space, waiting for their turn in the light.

Abandoned stories don’t let you forget about them. They just fill up more and more subconscious shelving space, until it’s impossible to ignore them any longer.