31 December 2009

"Too Many Voices"

I like song lyrics. Sometimes, they get me thinking and then I like to dissect them like the Zapruder film. Just something I'm going to try in 2010 to give me something to talk about here. Should've thought of this years ago :). Call this a field test.

Many reasons that hold you back
That tell you no
Make you fall short of what you want to say
Too many voices in my head
Where's the boy who used to take chances
Used to say when I grow up to be a man someday
True to my heart in every way
Seems so simple
Why's it so hard
I'll never know

This isn't going to be a story of how I suddenly found myself or an epiphany about my purpose on earth which I'm dedicating myself to living out in 2010. It's not a manifesto or a mission statement. This is about struggle--I guess you could say The Struggle. And I mean that in a positive way.

Inspiration is all well and good. I certainly couldn't get by without it. And for the longest time, this song did inspire me. But it didn't really do anything for me until I pondered what Robert Lamm was talking about when he asked, Why is it so hard?

I dunno. Lamm asked that question for his own reasons. Me, all I need to know is that it is hard, and that's just the way it is. I look back at every success I've had in 2009, in the two main areas of my life--Writing and Everything else--and I've come to accept that inspiration and luck only ever got me so far.

The rest of it really was work. Nose-to-the-grindstone, ass-in-the-chair, bite-the-bullet fucking work!

I'm jealous of the folks who find joy in the process of writing, I really do. I read their thoughts on their blogs and I'm very happy for them. But their words never resonated with me. No, I'm definitely one of those writers who finds joy in having written. When a piece is done and submitted, I'm happy. (I say this knowing I have no control over whether it's published--if it is, it's gravy.) But I'll be damned if it's not like pulling teeth.

I've noticed that the writers I like the most, the ones whose stuff I like to read, make no bones about how hard the writing life is. They don't complain how The Evil Publishing Illuminati are keeping them from getting their work out. They don't blog excessively about the source of their writer's block--they bitch for two seconds, pull up their big boy/big girl pants and attack the writing life like Chow Yun-Fat in a John Woo Hong Kong action film. They just get to it!

The only way to success, I've found, really is through the struggle--The Struggle--and to be sure, that's hard to face. I have to re-teach myself that lesson over and over, and I don't expect it to be different in 2010. I can only resolve to make the lesson stick for longer and longer periods of time.

The alternative is too horrible to contemplate, namely a life of sitting around pondering Lamm's song lyric up there and never coming to a satisfactory answer.

So, what Struggle are you going to walk into, with glocks in both hands, in order to get to where you want to be in 2010?

30 December 2009

First Time for Everything

Call it a dry run for 2010, a new year for which I have a whole list of new things to try.

I entered Calista Taylor's Steampunk Romance Contest. I'd never even thought about writing a steampunk story before. And the only romance story I ever wrote was one I wrote without even knowing it. But Cali threw down the gauntlet and I picked it up.

My story along with six others have been posted as blind entries. Thus, I can't tell you which one's mine until the contest is over. The one with the most votes wins and Calista's taking them until January 18th at 8 am EST.

18 December 2009

Too Slow to Use "Shield."

Everybody, thank Calista (I can hear the Bundy family going, "Thanks, Calista.") for tagging me on her blog. I thank her, because I've been scrambling to figure out what my next topic is going to be.

1)What's the last thing you wrote? What's the first thing you wrote that you still have?

The last thing I wrote would be part of the current manuscript I'm working on. As for the first thing, it was a murder mystery/romance that I never completed. Maybe someday.

EDIT: Why didn't anyone tell me I copied/pasted Calista's answer verbatim?

Last thing I wrote was my attempted comeback into a certain lit humor magazine of an Irish persuasion. Submitted today. First thing I wrote that I still have is my first attempt at a "literary non-fiction" thing. I forgot WTH it was even about, and that's probably for the best.

2) Write poetry?
Yes, but it's not fit for human consumption.

3) Angsty poetry?
No more so than my fiction :).

4) Favorite genre of writing?
Slipstream. (Whatever that means) :)

5) Most annoying character you've ever created?
A minor character in my very first published piece of fiction. An obsequious toad who, if memory serves, got his in the end.

6) Best plot you've ever created?
That first story was probably my best plotted.

7) Coolest plot twist you've ever created?
That would be the end to this story.

8) How often do you get writer's block?
Generally, I agree with comics writer Brian K. Vaughn, who wrote, "'Writer's block' is just another word for video games. If you want to be a writer, get writing, you lazy bastards." Except in one circumstance.

In almost every instance where I just cannot, for the life of me, get words out, it's usually because there some unattended piece of business has latched on to what David Allen calls my "Psychic RAM." If I can somehow process that thing, then any further "writer's block" on my part is simply time-wasting.

9) Write fan fiction?
First and only piece when I was 12.

10) Do you type or write by hand?
Whatever gets the words out fast enough at any given moment. I have my netbook and/or legal pad and/or index cards around me at all times. All times. Weddings, funerals, whatever. All times.

11) Do you save everything you write?

12) Do you ever go back to an idea after you've abandoned it?
As long as I can hone in on whatever resonated with that idea in the first place.

13) What's your favorite thing you've ever written?
My one, and so far only, piece that was ever accepted by McSweeney's Internet Tendency.

14) What's everyone else's favorite story you've written?
I still get more juice out of that McSweeney's piece than anything else, and that was almost five years ago, now.

15) Ever written romance or angsty teen drama?
I didn't think I did, until an editor decided that one of my stories was "Fantasy/Romance." Hey, ain't nu'in wrong with that, I say :).

16) What's your favorite setting for your characters?
Down the block, a few years ago, or twenty minutes into the future.

17) How many writing projects are you working on right now?
I've taken on some fun small side-projects this month, sort of as a break from the shell game of submitting/resubmitting my backlog of stories.

18) Have you ever won an award for your writing?
I placed in a flash fiction competition, but didn't win.

19) What are your five favorite words?
"We would like to publish..."

20) What character have you created that is most like yourself?
Probably the guy from "Tough Love," except he's slightly more of a tool than I am.

21) Where do you get your ideas for your characters?
Usually, a person in my mind, a total stranger, does something stupid and then wants to tell me about it. I write it down for my amusement.

22) Do you ever write based on your dreams?
Not directly, though as I think about my dreams and put them into words in my head, occassionally I'll come up with a phrase and say, "Ooh, I'm gonna use that."

23) Do you favor happy endings?
My stories are like life... sometimes you get the happy ending, sometimes you don't. And whatever happens, happens ;).

24) Are you concerned with spelling and grammar as you write?
Hukt on foniks werkt fer me!

25) Does music help you write?
Yes. And don't ask me to describe which kinds help me when--that's a whole separate blog.

26) Quote something you've written. Whatever pops in your head.
"Maybe if I stay really, really still, the clowns won't find me when they come out of the mirror."

I'm not usually a tagger, but that doesn't mean you can't play along in the comments or linkback to your own blog!

14 December 2009

Soul Power

All white soul singers insist they grew up listening to Sam Cooke.
-Diablo Cody
Depending on who you ask, my favorite male vocalist is one of the unsung legends of blue-eyed soul, Bill Champlin. If you doubt his soul credentials, you should know that he's not really doing covers of the tunes "Turn Your Love Around" and "After the Love Is Gone" in the following videos. He co-wrote them and won Grammys for his trouble...

There's no getting around it--this genre's all about White boys singing in a style that wasn't originally meant for them. Now, I don't want to get into a long musicology lesson about cultural appropriation, blah blah yadda yadda. But Champlin, Bobby Caldwell, Hall & Oates (Screw you, I like Hall & Oates. If you can't hear the brilliance in their Abandoned Luncheonette album, I feel sorry for you!)--they've got respect.

And that gives me hope.

From the info I've gleaned about them after listening to their music over the years, these guys just played and sang what they wanted to play. And for as much praise as they've received, they've taken some crap too. It kind of resembles the crap my subconscious feeds me about my writing. "You ain't got no business." Or, "You're not writing what the market demands." Or, "Yeah, quit trying to be a wannabe [insert one of my 20 favorite writers here]."

Again, it comes down to perseverance. Perseverance doesn't always silence those voices. But it gives you something to do as you strive to shut those voices the hell up. Now, that's some soul power right there.

12 December 2009

Performance Anxiety

I admit it, I don't read enough blogs and I the ones I do read, I don't read closely enough. I don't read them at all if they don't have an RSS feed that I can plug into Google Reader--even then, I skim and speed read. Most of the time, the entries I do read are ones that get my attention through the people I follow on Twitter.

Hell, I tweet so much, how often do I even write in this one? I'm making an effort, though. For awhile, I let this blog degenerate into a tweet archive. I've been making an effort, though. I put an end to the LoudTweeting. But I did fail at a couple of points along the way. I didn't start my 2009 Rod Serling Conference posts and I'm still catching up on my thoughts on last month's Astronomicon 11.

So, what reawakened the blogging desire? The feeling of "Oh shit, people are actually coming here to read this!" thanks in no small part to some of my favorite tweeps who've started following this thing and have actually plugged it on their blogs.

Follow--and actually read--these folks. They're writers at every stage, writing every sort of thing, listed roughly in the order I met them (if my faulty memory serves)...
I know that I've missed a good number of people! Some, but not all, of these folks are Followers on that there sidebar on the right. For more, check out my twitter list of the usual suspects.

If nothing else, reading these folks will keep you occupied while I figure out what the hell else I'm going to talk about, on something resembling a regular basis.

07 December 2009


I have--rather, I had--I dilemma. This post isn't about the dilemma itself, but rather my joy over how I found my solution.

If you've been following my Twitter lately, you'll know that I'm making an effort to resubmit my rather shameful backlog of returned stories in order to keep them in circulation. It's quite the shell game, making sure you're resending stories to Plan B, Plan C, Plan Q markets while making sure it fits their varied guidelines and submissions periods.

Now, I believe in the conventional wisdom--sub to top markets first, then work your way down. I don't always follow it, but I believe in it. Me, I consider all of the following when I decide where to submit a story:
  • Pay Rates--just like the conventional wisdom says.
  • "Street Cred"--I wasn't paid for my one piece on McSweeney's, yet it's been worth its weight in gold, as I found when I mentioned it to other pro writers at a recent conference
  • Story Fit--only 2-3 stories I've ever written might have almost, possibly, if you squint your eyes, be appropriate for Analog)
  • Timing of their submissions period.
I don't like having to make Story Fit and Timing my primary criteria. I get there sometimes when I feel I have to choose between (getting rejected by) a top-paying pro-zine or high "street cred" market that isn't taking subs until next month, or a market that might not pay quite as high in either area but that's taking subs now. That's where I am with one particular piece. I won't go into details. Suffice it to say that I'd been asking myself the question of "How small of a market is too small?"

Then, checking my backlog (another backlog--gee, there isn't a pattern, is there?) of unread Google Reader items, I found that John Scalzi, Cat Valente, and Sarah Monette all have different takes on my quandary, all posted over the last few days.

I rush to point out--none of these positions are wrong! They gave me a lot to consider, and now I've decided that the story in question isn't going to do me any good whatever sitting in my trunk.

06 December 2009

Sci-Fi Poetry

I know I've been slack on my Astronomicon 11 posts, especially since the con was a month ago, now. But since we're done with one holiday and I've pushed a bunch of rejected short stories back out to various markets, here's the next entry, as I promised last time.

I attended the panel on "Sci-Fi Poetry" (Moderated by Gerald Schwartz, with Herb Kauderer and John Roche) having no idea what to expect. My only exposure to genre poetry came in some of the pieces in The Best of Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet and the occasional piece I might catch in one of the "Big Three" print genre mags or some of the online mags I submit stories to (but only if I'd heard of the author previously).

There wasn't too, too much in the way of discussion. Just readings. The pieces read were very competently written verse, at least in my uneducated "I know what I like when I hear it" point of view, covering a variety of topics. I was surprised --and I say this again in the context of my ignorance of the area of genre poetry--that until the very end of the presentation, I hadn't heard any prose poetry.

Perhaps I had that one preconception about genre poetry. I don't know why, exactly. I think it has something to do with a particular piece by Charles Simic, which starts, "He held the Beast" from Part I of his collection The World Doesn't End (reprinted in The New York Times--second piece from the bottom).

He held the Beast of the Apocalypse by its tail, the stupid kid! Oh beards on fire, our doom appeared sealed. The buildings were tottering; the computer screens were as dark as our grandmother's cupboards. We were too frightened to plead. Another century gone to hell - and for what? Just because some people don't know how to bring their children up!
Simic and others might not say so, but I thought this could've easily fit into the rest of the work read in this session.

As it happens, the one prose poem I did hear--my favorite of all the pieces read--was from John Roche. Here it is, posted with permission.
"Reading Comix"
by John Roche

Those long rainy afternoons spent huddled on bed or chair with pile of DC comic books: The Flash or Superman or Batman or Green Lantern Clear heroes for an altar boy who believed Vietnam was a just war and didn’t talk to bad girls, or any girls other than his cousins, for that matter. Later, with onset of puberty, the Marvel anti-heroes: Fantastic Four, The Hulk, Spider Man. Rare ones from my collector friend: Dr. Strange, Strange Tales, The Silver Surfer. Always the sense of forbiddenness, the frown of parents who didn’t quite approve of comic books, at least anything other than Nancy or Archie. Even Bugs Bunny too subversive. And connection to the darker side, the fat dorky guy with disheveled hair and pattern baldness sitting under impossible ziggarats of books reading a paperback and looking pissed when you disturbed him with your pitiful pile of comix then totaling the sum in his head never using a cash register except to make change. Then the older cousin of your collector friend, the cousin with ID to buy you all cigarettes and maybe the occasional six-pack and he had some cool comics but there was something not quite right about him you couldn’t place it except you didn’t want to be alone in the room with him and his pimply face, anymore than to be alone in the sacristy with Father McSheffield. Then, around age 16, came potsmoking, came the comix: Mr. Natural the Furry Freak Bros. Felix the Cat. Visual equivalents to The Fugs and Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention. Girls with impossible breasts sucking off skinny cartoonist alter egos or upside down against walls, their giant asses primed for virtual penetration by fat bikers and smooth-talking gurus alike. Trucking on trucking on trucking on page after page after page joint after joint after joint masturbation after masturbation after masturbation laugh after laugh after guilty laugh while the hi-fi played The Doors and The Who and the Airplane such were the joys of reading at that age. But still the appeal of virtual worlds, the Bat Cave, the laboratory of Lex Luthor, the Sanctum Sanctorum of Dr. Strange, or his Himalayan lamasary, the Silver Surfer’s lost home of Zenn-la, the place you visited after your friend gave you that tab of windowpane to see through seven dimensions seven generations seven suns and daughters seven rings of Saturn seven hours and counting seven heads are better than one and after that you didn’t read many comics for a good long while because you lived in the world of Dr. Who and didn’t even need a phone booth to dial home to your extraterrestrial parents just had a tough time walking on the x’s never on the o’s lest you fall into the vast void opening up under your feet and that would be almost as bad as getting shipped off to Vietnam like your cousins and not even Sergeant Fury could save you then nor the Sky Pilots neither so you walk carefully on the lattice scaffolding between the sidewalk cracks for years, it seems, until Don Juan the Brujo and David Carradine the Kung Fu master come to teach you the proper way for a warrior to walk, magic string from the belly pulling you forward past unseen terrors, calmly past all the hunched up horrors of the next fifty years, unafraid through the transitive nightfall of diamonds.
Some of the references pre-date me by (precious) few years. Yet I and most everyone in attendance agreed that every bit of the poem resonated. To me, it was an archetypal resonance. If sci-fi/comic-book fandom has anything resembling a "race memory," this piece listed most of them.