Journal


Hello again from Newbabyton, where *yawn* I got about 3.5 non-consecutive hours of sleep last night. It’s been that kind of week. G-Bug has started abandoning his eat/poop/eat/sleep routine for an eat/poop schedule, foregoing the sleep almost entirely during the day save for tiny little lap-naps which of course end when I attempt to put him down. Ah well! I keep reminding myself that this phase doesn’t last forever, so enjoy the snuggles and the excuse to sit around and do nothing. I’ll miss these hazy, sleep-deprived days when G-Bug starts crawling and it’s go, go, go all the time!

But I did manage to make strawberry merengue roses and chocolate-dipped strawberries for Valentine’s Day, and despite having no experience piping, they seem to have come out all right!

“Tower’s End” came out on Sunday at the Bronzeville Bee, which was lovely. I also started the LitReactor class I’m taking, “Writing the Weird” with JS Breukelaar on Tuesday. It’s early days yet, so not having too much trouble keeping up with it on my phone, but we’ll see how it goes once it picks up.

I did half-ok on reading a story a day, and wrote one bunch of 1k+ words midweek, though other than pulling out and rereading a printed draft of a story to edit, I didn’t get much else done. Maybe next week I’ll have more luck!

The Bronzeville Bee released my short fantasy story, “Tower’s End,” on their site and in their newsletter today! If you like tales of rescue, giant desert crustaceans, feats of courage, and the pitfalls of modern dating, check it out here! :D

Hello again from Newbabyton! This week’s been something of a wash, thanks to a snow day and a late start day, AND at least one day where G-bug decided naps were lame, so didn’t get anything done. But overall, I did manage to read a few stories and did write 500 words x3, so that’s something.

In addition, I learned I sold another story! That’s three in almost as many months. “Rhapsody in Flesh Minor,” my dark SF story about a painter in LEO confronted by a horrific alien seeking to absorb him, will appear in the anthology Negative Spaces from Dark Peninsula Press in May 2020. Very excited to sell this one! It’s an odd little tale (just barely 2k), but I’ve always really liked it.

Also managed to submit a couple of stories that had been sitting around for a few weeks, so that felt good, too. All this with a hacking cough that I believe is the long-tail end of a cold we’ve all been battling (some more successfully than others, directly proportional to the amount of nighttime sleep hours). I’d really love to spend some of G-Bug’s infancy not sick.

As for this next week, I’m going to try for 3×500 again, and try for reading a story/day. Once those two habits are re-established, we’ll really be cooking with gas again! :)

As we ease into 2020, I’ve dragged a Marley-sized chain of unfinished (and in some cases, barely started) books into the new year. Last year I hit forty-two books read, which was my goal (woo!), and this year I’m looking to do the same. I’m also hoping to read more classics and get back into audiobooks, and maaaaaybe reduce my “to-read” shelves by a few tomes. I’ve also collected a number of short story collections by authors whose short fiction particularly engages me (Lucius Shepherd, Thomas Ligotti, and Holly Black to name a few), and about a dozen of the Year’s Best SF/Fantasy and Dark Fantasy/Horror anthologies (plus a couple Clarkesworld anthologies), which I’ve painstakingly gone through and tagged every story under 5k or approximately 10 pages or less (stories at or under 5k is my current skill set obsession, so I’m reading as many as I can–Thanks, Thriftbooks!). But since I won’t be reading the anthologies as a whole, those stories will only count towards my “read 1 story/day” goal.

In the meantime, I have plenty of full-length books to read:

Notes:

The Marriage of Cadmus & Harmony – If I finish no other book this year, I need to finish this one! It’s not a fast read, but it is interesting–just kind of mentally chewy, sticking your thinking teeth together. I picked it up in 2017, and have been chipping away at it since. But I don’t want to just put it aside forever–I want to finish it!

Homo Deus – Started this one over the summer, then got sidetracked. I’ve read the intro (which is 50-60 pages) but need to just get into the book-proper. I suspect it’ll be a quick read once I get started.

Climate Change – Aaaaaand another one I’ve only scratched the surface on. I’m not sure how long it’ll stay up-to-date, so I really need to prioritize this one.

Verbalize – This is a writing-skill book, which is somewhat interesting, but it’s starting to drag. This could be an easy finish, if I move it to the head of the list. I think I was hoping it would vindicate my own process with characters, but it’s a bit different and maybe a bit too overly simplified for my use. We’ll see.

The Power Broker – Got this one for Christmas and it’s fascinating. The only challenge is that it’s hundreds of pages and soft-covered, which makes it a bit tricky to manage one-handed (my normal form now, with baby on-hand almost 100% of the time). This one I need to put in an easily accessible spot.

Murder by the Book – This is my easy read, but with nights being so disrupted (hahaha sleep? What’s that?! Hahaha hahahahahaaaaa *sob*), I haven’t been reading before bed much. But it’s nice to have a fun read on the list when I just can’t deal with heavier and/or nonfiction stuff.

Ozma of Oz – This is me & Bug’s current before-bed read. Man, I love Oz! I’ve had a ghastly chest cough the past couple days, so I haven’t been on reading-duty, but I’m hoping the cough will get better so we can get back to it.

Creativity For Life – Got this at Christmas, too, and am about half-way through so far. It’s definitely more focused on the psychological makeup of artists than other books on the creative process, but it is interesting, and I should be able to finish it soon–but I’ve misplaced it, so I need to find it. XD

A Feast of Sorrows – Halfway through this, and it’s got tons of great stories in it. I’m just getting to the longer stories, so I’ve slowed down a bit, but just need to chip away at it.

How To Write A Page Turner – Picked this up to work specifically on one of my writing weaknesses: pacing and tension. I’ve got two other books on tension/conflict/pacing, too, so I need to finish this one before I tap into those. I’ll probably do a proper review of this one and some of the other writing books, so I’ll get into it more then.

And that’s the current list! I’ve got a bunch of other books I want to read, of course, but I’m nearing the critical dozen-books limit (after which point books stall waaaay too long on the list). So my goal for February to finish at least one of these, and start clearing out the list.

Greetings from Newbabyton! We’re officially settling into the new norm here at Chez Slater. My mom left last Saturday after spending a couple of weeks helping us get back on our feet, so this was the first week we had to fend for ourselves. Although I’m definitely hitting the “cabin fever” phase of post-pregnancy and wanted to start reestablishing some of my usual creative routines, I also didn’t want to overwhelm myself by trying to do too much, too fast. So I set a goal to try writing 500 words on two occasions this past week, and to start reading a short story a day again. These are probably the two most fundamental habits that keep me on-task. And I did okay! While I didn’t read a short story EVERY day, I did read three, and I wrote 500 words on four occasions, one session–thanks to a particularly stable nap by the wee one–I managed over 1,500 words, which felt great. Still a bit rough as to the most strategic next moves, project-wise, but we’ll get there. Small steps.

Otherwise, this week I received a couple rejections, and confirmed that a contract for a sold short story did–in fact–make it to the editor (it did!). That’s this month’s biggest news (aside from, you know, NEW HUMAN LIFE IN OUR TINY HOME ZOMG HE’S SO FREAKING CUTE YOU GUYS AND HE DOESN’T VOMIT LIKE THE EXORCIST KID THE WAY MY FIRST DID AND HE MAY–MAY!–ACTUALLY NAP HOLY CRAP!): I sold two of my absolute favorite short stories! The first, “The Miracle of Jane,” a far-future near-extinction story, sold to Bards & Sages Quarterly, and “Tower’s End,” a somewhat allegorical fantasy tale about modern dating, to the lovely Bronzeville Bee (which, due to its new pay scale, also makes it my second official pro-sale! WOO!). “Jane” is coming out, I believe, in April, and “Tower” is coming in either February or March. I cannot express how freaking excited I am about the fact that both of these stories found good homes.

On the opposite spectrum, I’ve got a couple of stories that I really like that have almost run their full markets gauntlet, which means they may be retired soon. Ah well. Both the sales and retirements will bring my submittable stable of stories down to four, which means sooner or later I’ll have to polish up some new work and get them out and about.

Otherwise, it’s been a pretty uneventful week, comprised mostly of watching Castlevania on Netflix, and mainlining Endeavour. One of these days, I’m going to clean off my writing desk after almost a year of neglect and general pile-up, and may even document the before and after on this blog. We’ll see! I need to do a Poly-Reader post soon, too, if only to remind myself what’s in my current reading pile (last I checked, I had nine books on the docket).

Next week, I’m shooting to get back to reading a short story a day in earnest, and maybe try to fit in three times of writing 500 words/day. Here’s hoping!

The other day I was looking back over the past year to try to quantify whether it had been a good year, writing-wise. Usually at the start of each year, I make a laundry list of goals, but in 2019, I’d skipped that, instead focusing more on process. I made a conscious effort to finish and submit stories I’d had languishing on my desk for years, and spent the rest of my writing time trying to scrape together a third draft of the novel WIP.

But as I looked back over the year, I thought it might be good to have some kind of objective metrics by which to judge the year’s accomplishments (or, I figured, the lack thereof). Several items immediately popped out to me as worth tracking: 1) Total Number of Submission Attempts (the # of times I had anything out to markets); 2) New Submissions (# of stories submitted for the first time ever); 3) Number of Personal Rejections (rejection is inevitable, but personal rejections could indicate I’m hitting closer to the mark at some markets); 4) New Rough Drafts (# of new short stories written to a complete rough draft); 5) Total Word Count (how much I wrote in kept new words (vs. scrapped words); 6) Stories Sold (control of which is out of my hands, but it’d be nice to track year-to-year); and 7) Number of Books Read (as it’s always a goal to read as much as possible). I don’t know why it’s never occurred to me to track these things before, but went at it for 2019.

Turns out, 2019 has been the HANDS-DOWN most productive writing year I’ve ever had, better even than the year I’d considered my most successful to-date, despite not working much this summer, and being uncomfortably pregnant for much of the fall/early winter season, and battling a (thankfully short-lived) bout of first-trimester depression. The metrics don’t lie:

Submission Attempts: 39 (3x more than my previous best year)
New Submissions: 3
# of Personal Rejections: 8
New Rough Drafts: 3
Total Word Count: 114,000 (~365/day average)
Stories Sold: 1
# of Books Read: 42

It blows my mind, given that I’d been feeling especially unproductive this year, that I managed to up my game so much with just a few small tweaks to how I approach writing. And there’s SO MUCH ROOM for improvement! I mean, these numbers aren’t what I’d like them to be yet, they’re not at the level I’d consider a “professional” author to reach, but I can see easily how I could bump some of these numbers. I still have that novel draft to finish. I’d still like to submit more short stories. I’d like to read more. Figuring out how to best get novel drafts written to completion is a huge learning process. But at least with these metrics I know what I’m shooting for!

So in 2020, which is going to be a year chock-full of disruptions (like little Goldbug who was born just two weeks ago!), I have just one goal: Do just a little bit better than 2019. Even just a bit will yield great progress moving forward.

Over the past year, I feel as if I’ve lost my voice for blogging. Every time I sit down to post an update or dump some thoughts, I come to this grinding standstill; the page seems so blank, and then my thoughts go blank, and anything I had considered worth writing down flies out of my head or its relevance fades to smoke so quickly I can’t even remember why it seemed worth saying.

Some of this is pregnancy-brain, certainly–it comes on as a deep impatience that renders just about everything but a few hard-wired habits completely irrelevant and a waste of precious time. Earlier this year, in the first trimester and a few months prior, it was a touch of depression, too. But I think a lot of it is driven by a much deeper sense of my own disconnect from the writing industry, and my fear that I have nothing pertinent to say about writing.

I started working for Apex Magazine as a slusher (this blog was already established at that time, mostly as a true personal blog) in 2008, and for many years, until 2014 in fact, I worked with Apex Publications in one position or another. I gained so much knowledge about the inner workings of small presses and what it took to “make it” as a writer of short fiction by working with them. I learned that rejections really *aren’t* personal, and that close to half of received submissions often don’t follow even basic guidelines, so your precious story isn’t even competing with the vast majority of a magazine’s “monthly submissions”. (I’m not exaggerating when I say that I once fielded a submission from a book agent regarding a YA romantic-comedy–for a *magazine* that at that time explicitly published only Dark Sci-Fi, and even stated in its guidelines that it was not a market for YA. Many normal submissions just weren’t sci-fi enough, or dark enough, and at the time Apex didn’t take any dark fantasy or straight-up horror, though in later years they broadened their scope.)

I learned a lot about what made some stories stand out among others, and what–at least generally speaking–made a story seem “professional” enough to push up to an editor-in-chief. I was lucky, too, because in the very beginning, all the editors would weigh in on pushed-up stories, including Editor-in-Chief Jason Sizemore, so I got to see first-hand their reasoning behind each acceptance or rejection. It was a wonderful, honing education, and my own writing benefitted from it immensely. Repeatedly seeing what worked and what didn’t helped me to look at my own work more objectively. I still recommend spending a little time as a slusher for anyone starting out in this field. You will not regret it. It’s easier to confront the issues in your own work when you see it time and again by proxy in the work of others, and it pushed me to improve, because I could see the difference between the caliber of stories that got accepted compared to even the ones I was submitting at the time.

I learned the importance and skill of culling words, how to polish a rough draft, what pitfalls and cliches to avoid, what stories were forever being retold or reworked and therefore required more skill to pull off successfully. I learned professionalism from the angry submitters who would scream in ALL CAPS at me via email because I’d had to reject their story. I learned how to be patient regarding submissions times, but also when to politely query. I made some amazing contacts within the field whom I probably would never have met otherwise.

I grew up as a writer under Apex’s wing, but now, on the other side, I’m also realizing how much I used my association with it as a crutch for my own career. Working within Apex’s umbrella gave me a great sense of accomplishment and sophistication that I hadn’t yet matched in my own work. My pro-status was only in connection to the market, and when I stepped back in 2014 (and perhaps earlier, as I’d been out of the slush game for a while by then), I suddenly realized how much more work I needed to do to move towards my own career goals. And times change. My insider knowledge gave me something to talk about that I knew could help others just starting out, but over time, even that info has become gradually outdated. Most of it is still good in a general sense (read guidelines, submit a lot, read the markets you’re targeting from time to time, etc.), but it’s info that can be found anywhere. I don’t think I realized how much I leaned on giving relevant advice to newcomers to keep me motivated to blog. Without it, I drift, unsure what’s worth saying.

In truth, I’m not as far along in this career as I’d have liked. I’m in my mid-thirties, I sold my first story at nineteen. In all those years, I know there were a *lot* of life changes–I got married, moved four times (twice from one coast to the other), I worked several jobs, I had my first kiddo, I’m expecting my second sometime between Christmas and just after New Year’s, and my little family has survived the four-year torment of my husband’s passage through medical residency, which I think shocked us all by how painful that process was on everyone. But this is all just the stuff called “Life”. Everybody’s got stuff like this, and looking back, I deeply feel the lost time. All while I espoused how one needs to submit a lot, write a lot, I wasn’t submitting. All while I praised the need to edit and read a ton of short fiction, I was leaving drafts to languish on my desk and barely making time to read at all. Toxic perfectionism kept me eking out words on a semi-regular basis, but piles of rough drafts aren’t worth that much when they stay on your desk. I’d lost the thread of play in my pursuit of perfect productivity. I didn’t finish things–or, more accurately, I considered them finished when I got them to a completed first draft. Perfectionism kept me from submitting, which in turn made every submission I did get out matter *that much more*, and therefore justified taking even more time to tweak and edit over and over.

In the past two years, I’ve recognized a lot of the things that were hanging me up, keeping me from sending things out. I’ve confronted some of those things, and made good progress in places. I’ve earned personalized rejections more frequently. I’ve come up with a system to protect myself from that perfectionism that paralyzed me and kept things wasting away on my desk for years. I’ve submitted more fiction this year than any year since Bug was born. I’ve made it a priority to write 500 words a day, every day but Saturday, and I recently introduced a habit of reading one short story a day. I even found out a couple days ago that I’d sold a story I love to a market I’ve been eager to crack! But I still have a lot of refining to do to move towards what I’d consider a professional level of productivity. I’m trying to take the long-view, supplemented by small habits to move me in the right direction, so that hopefully, in a few years, I’ll be closer to the writer I want to be.

In the meantime, I’ll be thinking about what I need this blog space to be. I really enjoy the Poly-Reader Notes posts, which keep me on track reading-wise. It could be fun to track progress on various projects, too, and to air thoughts on process and craft insights that help me, in case they can help anybody else. And maybe this blog simply needs to become what it was originally, a log of days, of the time and commitment put in, proof of the struggles and triumphs. And, as always, a place for grand goals and schemes and a record of their realistic outcomes. Because, let’s be honest, I’m still essentially Wile E. Coyote with a crate full of Acme-powered dreams.

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