slush


The new SF short is going by the title of “Sarscon 8,” for now. I’d intended it to be a Lovecraft ode, but it’s turned out more of a Caitlín R. Kiernan ode, which is more my preference (and perhaps renders it unsuitable for the market I’d written it for). It’s been an unusual story for me – typically, I start a story with the relationships between characters, the emotion one (or more) feels in a certain environment/after an event, and the story unfolds from there. But “Sarscon 8” has been different. It started with the alien, the reactions to its behavior, the off-world life, and now that I’ve got it all written down and mostly fleshed out, I’m stuck on the main relationship. The soul, the core of the story, isn’t there. And it’s driving me mad, because I can’t force it to work. I can’t hammer something out to fill in the space because it’s not a hammering out kind of thing, the way you can toss in some worldbuilding and/or plot elements and clear them up later.

Without its core, I’m not certain it’s worth pushing out to my crit partners, because they’ll miss the heart of the story, too. It’s a bit of a bummer, to know the best thing to do is wait and let it come to me when it’s ready. On the other hand, could a new perspective help? Help me find the ending that’s not quite there, or the emotional core that I normally get from the beginning?

And then there’s consistency factor. I read a phenomenal story today in the Lightspeed slush that made me think yes yes yes yes for nearly 3/4ths of it, and then I thought what? What just happened? To be so very close, and then just drop the reader. It’s tricky, this emotional game played by the writer, the balance he or she creates for the reader in the unfolding of events. And that’s the reason why I love short stories so much – the reader expects an experience in the brief amount of words, and when they’re really taken for a ride, how exciting that is!

Which leads me to…30 days until Clarion!

We have a private blog for the Clarion class of 2011, where we’ve gotten to know a little more about each other as well as the instructors. Karen Joy Fowler, current president of the Clarion Foundation (and author of the unbelievable story “The Pelican Bar” in the tremendous anthology Eclipse 3, which every short story lover should own; it happens to be my favorite of the Eclipse anthos, too, by the way) has written several motivating and encouraging posts, including one with the following paragraph:

You have to find ways to protect the joy of writing, those things that first gave you pleasure and made you want to do it again. Anytime you feel yourself losing that, it’s worth taking a long hard look at what can be done. Because something must be done! I don’t mean that every day you love it. But the overall trend should be toward continuing to feel the things that made you want to be a writer in the first place.

And so I’ll brainstorm “Sarscon 8” a while longer.

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>A short yet hearty review of “The Light Stones,” which was exciting for me. I never found the story creepy much (whereas others of mine have had that effect on me), but I can see how worms invoke that sensation in others.

And, mushroom cannelinis and caulipots.

While I thoroughly enjoyed my leftovers today for lunch, I wasn’t as thrilled with the initial meal on Saturday. I believe the caulipots (cauliflower, tiny golden potatoes, veggie broth) just needed more salt, and the mushroom cannelinis perhaps fresh dill on top, and lots of it, rather than the dried dill that I used. Just more flavor, and that leafy green-ness that gives things a fresh, crisp taste.

Reading lately: Over the weekend, I made it about twenty-five pages through Amanda Downum’s The Bone Palace before I put it down, although I’m willing to say it’s me, not the book. As much as I love the idea of a third gender and necromancy and royal suspicions, I wasn’t interested enough, nor driven crazy by hooks like I hope for every time I pick up a new book. Maybe it’s too traditional for my current tastes? But today I did buy Kameron Hurley’s God’s War, which I’ve been looking forward to for awhile now. And I was still hooked five pages later. The writing lacks a certain lyrical eloquence, but more than makes up for it in color and grit and blood, and I’m perfectly willing to make that trade. Also, Holly Black’s White Cat, which is finally in paperback. I managed to resist Jo Walton’s Among Others, because it’s hardcover – we’ll see how long I can hold off on that one.

There’s more I want to dither on about, including the AMAZING Caitlyn R. Kiernan reprint I read yesterday, which John Joseph Adams may publish in Lightspeed. I really hope he does – the writing is simply stunning. Someday I will write like that, no matter how much blood and sweat it takes. Anyway, we’ve been seeing a lot of really good slush submissions lately, too, several of which he’s accepted, and I’m very eager to see published. Most of them have phenomenal worldbuilding, an exciting plot, and well-rounded characters that usually have some serious flaws, e.g., very human, and with the occasional AI thrown in. Keep ’em coming!

>I’ve realized something very important, but only since I’ve been with Lightspeed. (Don’t ask me why it didn’t click in my slush reading with Fantasy…because it didn’t…) Since I’ve made this mistake umpteen times myself – actually, I could count them up for you, based my nifty little submission spreadsheet, but since it’s embarrassing, I’ll just get to the point – how many times I’ve submitted stories without reading the magazine first. Even one issue will help, but seriously, if you’re going to submit anything, save both yourself and the slush readers the effort by reading, ideally, multiple issues, before you do so.

I’ve been trying to repair this error the last few months by reading every single story published in every SFWA magazine I can. Usually I make it to about 5 out of 8 (the bigger names) or so, and sometimes end up skimming those about which I have started to have serious doubts regarding quality. But I’ve been thinking about this lately, and then decided to write this out simply because of the number of stories this morning which in no way bear any similarities to what the first few issues of Lightspeed have put out. Just now, I read a story from a SFWA-credited writer (multiple books with big SF publisher) that consisted of about 6 pages of dialogue between a woman and her best friend. No significant SF elements. If the author had read Lightspeed at all, he/she would have (hopefully) realized it’s not the right fit. Plus, rarely do we take anything under 2k. There’s been one exception, a reprint coming up in the next few months, but that one is stronger than my morning coffee – and anyway, flashes (and anything under 2k) need that in order to be competitive against heavier hitters.

Then there’s always the problem of when reading the magazine isn’t enough. Let’s say, stupidity gets in the way. And I’m quite stupid, quite often. I got a rejection from WEIRD TALES on Sunday for a story that’s very dear to me. It’s a good story, I believe – not something I’m just close to, but it has honest value. And I’ve been subscribing to that magazine for a few years now, which granted, doesn’t mean as many issues as I’d like because it comes out what, 4x a year? 6? Anyway, I adore it. But while what I write may have some merit, it’s not WEIRD. It never has been. (And sadly, it may never be.) And throwing in a few weird-ish elements doesn’t make it WEIRD. Yet I made the mistake of adding one more story to Ann VanderMeer’s slush pile for her to wade through – in a moment of stupidity. And even now, talking with a close writing friend about where to send it next, I suggested another magazine – stupidly – and my friend said try it, but it doesn’t fit.

We all need peers (preferably of the writing with common sense variety) to save us from poor submission choices. From our stupidity.

So I took my own advice, and purchased copies of Black Static (for Braeberry Street?) and Cicada (for Children Dumping Soup?) over lunch. Here’s hoping it will get me a little closer.

>Back when I was putting up chapters of Stone Lake on OWW, I had reader after reader bring up Ilse’s motivations, or rather, lack thereof. I knew it, too, but thought I’d fixed it. Not even close. At this point, the structure is so terribly off that it’s embarrassing. It’s still a great story, with great characters, but a fellow Fragment is pulling it apart and showing me how Ilse and Conn and Stone come across, which is entirely different than my original intentions. No wonder it didn’t work. Hindsight, like always.

Which is why you’ve got to get people (who have some sort of positive influence on your writing) to read your shit for you, or its not going to sell. That’s what I’m reminded of in the Lightspeed slush every day.

As if that weren’t enough, European Gio and I are changing around Rotullo’s life, in our first story together that we wrote last year – almost exactly a year ago. We’ve come to the conclusion that even with 10k words, it’s possible to have too much going on, too many personal goals that must be followed through, and no matter how good of a job you might do on having those goals met, the number of experiences must be proportional, as well as the actual word length, the climax, and a bazillion other things. So, we’re going to back to the original roots of the story, and keeping in mind our original submission site. We’ll see how it works.

***

John and I have been working our way through Nip/Tuck from the beginning. I only started watching the end of Season 2 with Malia, so I’d missed quite a bit – turns out there was some actual quality writing there, aside from the unbelievable amount of trashy drama that fills in the more narrow of plot points. It’s a reality show on speed. Everything happens these men. Anyway, Netflix was doing updates last night, so we found the movie Jumper on the television, which was one of the most baffling watches. Baffling, because I don’t understand how it even got made.

I had no problem with his jumping, with his robbing banks, etc. But to pass off the Paladin/Jumper war as something ancient, predestined, etc, was just silly – you can’t throw that in and expect us to believe it. The problem is that I don’t know how they could fix it. It could be done, well, although I’m not sure how or why.

That wasn’t really what bothered me – it was everything else. (Except for Hayden Christenson’s acting – he was rather decent. He made hardly any any sullen faces, nor did he moan and groan about his fate and the unfair Jedi. It was refreshing.) Rachel Bilson’s acting, on the other hand, was static and ridiculous (which surprised me, because she was the most adorable thing ever on The O.C.). I’m the first one to suspend believe, but really, who drinks a beer while they’re on their shift at Houlihan’s? That’s what I thought. Although that speaks to the director more than her, but she did her part, with the sappy hellos, instead of the ‘I thought you were dead’ necessities.

There are plenty of other things. No girl is going to go out with a guy who says he’s her friend from junior high, it’s 8 years later, and he’s supposed to be dead. Next, she’s not going to just up and fly with him to Rome. And then, they’re not going to just go have sex in the hotel room.

Maybe the real question is why we kept watching it. But honestly, it was such a great idea that I was surprised it was done so poorly. The romance was just chucked into the story – that’s when it all started going downhill – and the ‘my mother is a Paladin’ was even more tossed in.

Tonight, I think we’ll just stick to playing more Halo: Reach.

>I finally made a loaf of bread last night, the first in two weeks, although I failed to take a picture of it. Herb bread in the bread machine, but I made it my own by replacing a half cup of bread flour with buckwheat flour, dumping obscene amounts of dried herbs in, and even more obscene amounts of parmesan cheese. The loaf browned a little too much – probably because of the buckwheat flour. I’ll have to remember that for next time.

Missed my April 1 deadline on my new little short Deadbells, although it was for a good cause – lots of reading & suggestions on Gio’s Sushi. Plus, I haven’t been in the right frame of mind to work on it anyway – I haven’t had enough space, of any kind – mental, emotional, physical, etc., to tap into whatever it is the story’s about (because I’m not honestly sure, yet. It could go so many different ways). Then on Tuesday, I realized perhaps I should consider that working on Deadbells could rejuvenate me, rather than me needing to be fully, or partially, energized before I open the file. I tried that yesterday, and it worked. Thrilling. Some pieces of it actually came together. We’ll see what happens today.

I’ve had a lot on my mind regarding slush reading, mainly because I was so disappointed in The New Space Opera 2, which I had to force myself to finish. The writing was just outstanding – brilliant, even, in every story. But so dull, with the exception of a few gems – which is normal when it comes to anthologies. Yet this one made me doubt my own tastes (am I really not a SF reader?), doubt my ability to judge a good short (how can I reject/recommend slush submissions if I obviously don’t appreciate these?) and wonder at my own ability (or lack thereof) to write a short story that will speak to readers, which of course is the point of why I write. To speak to someone. To show them something they may not have seen before, or take them some place they’ve never been.

It was quite a step back for me. And then this morning, I realized that all I can really do is reject or approve quality. The editors make the final decisions on what’s right for the magazines, but I can still see quality. Like I wrote above, The New Space Opera 2 is full of brilliant stories – although few of them resonated for me. Perhaps they resonated for the editors, or maybe it’s just not an antho for me.

I did receive X6 from Australia the other day, the novella anthology. I’m very excited to read it.

Two more weeks to the day, before the crazy madness of tax season is over. I’m hoping that my love for cooking & baking will return, then. It seems to have taken a sabbatical – I’ve tried to find it, but it keeps eluding me.

>I’m noticing a trend in slush reading regarding memory. Perhaps it’s on my mind because John and I have talked about it so much in the last few months – he has several WIP’s where it’s a significant plot point in varying ways, and I’m playing around with the idea of it in my own new short (which isn’t seeing quite the amount of time it wants to as of late, not only because of work busyness, but because I haven’t got the worldbuilding sorted out to something concrete enough. I can’t make up my mind which direction to take it in).

Just in the last few days I’ve hit ‘reject’ on at least five memory-based stories, and I’m guessing there will be so many more to come, both good and bad and mostly mediocre. The idea of memory loss, gain, wiping one’s memory, and throwing both science and the government in to boot isn’t new – anyone can probably name five different occurrences of which it’s been the predominant subject; off the top of my head, the Ghost in the Shell series, The Matrix movies, several different Buffy episodes, the Wheel of Time books (Rand remembers things as the man he’s reincarnated from), and the movie Memento.

The Ghost in the Shell series has had the greatest influence on both John and I, perhaps because it’s so advanced in every way possible; the science, the technology, the hypotheticals of a scenario, etc. Anything is possible. There tends to be a bit of talking in it, but the writers are phenomenal at backing up every point – not once have we caught anything that doesn’t make sense, and occasionally, we’ve even had to pause it and watch the scene again, just to grasp what’s happening. Memory has been key in both of the seasons, going so far as the entire city’s memories being wiped of a certain event, and even what they’re presently seeing in front of them. Of course the people all have to be connected to something in order to do that, and since this is the future, everyone usually is linked up to what they refer to the net.

What I’m seeing in these slush submissions are writers trying to tackle these ambitious concepts of Bill wiping Ted’s memory for whatever reason – because he can, because he’s trying to prove a point, Ted wronged him some other way, a power trip, you name it. But once the whodunit is revealed, there’s no real point. There’s no reason for the reader to care. No one is delving into the real issue that gives power to memory as a theme – what it does to a person to have no memory. Perhaps that’s because none of us (for the most part) know what that’s like. If we’re shown that by the author, then maybe we can connect. But hysterics on the part of the main character isn’t enough to connect for a reader, isn’t enough for us to care.

Ghost in the Shell is successful for several reasons. First of all, the people didn’t know their minds had been hacked. They didn’t realize their memories were incorrect. Episode after episode, layer after layer was unfolded until the idea of memory was even brought to the table, which is why I call all these mediocre shorts ambitious yet unsuccessful. They’re trying to tap into the possibly next biggest thing in near future SF, but it’s so big that it needs to be narrowed down a heck of a lot more before it can work. On top of the eventual revelation of memory as an issue, we had character involvement and development in GitS – we already cared about what happened to these people, and when it was revealed that significant tampering was done with what makes them them, that’s when the real drama unfolded.

I almost want to shy away from memory altogether in this new short rather than run the risk of adding one more story to the mediocre pile, but we’ll see – a story does what it wants to. And if it wants to have some memory issues, maybe I can approach it from a different angle. Perhaps the key lies in Tallis’s character, and not in what happens to her – although that’s usually the approach I take.

>It’s all about the details, when it comes to quality.

I’m going to make buttermilk bread when I get home tonight (because it’s a weekend and therefore okay to wait until 9 pm to have dinner); the buttermilk needs to be the right temperature, and not lowfat or you can honestly taste the difference. Crystallized ginger will help activate the yeast. You have to have the salt, the kneading time, and the rising time. Obvious details, but they affect the bread.

Many people in the speculative fiction community have been talking about the movie Avatar in the last month. It’s caused an uproar, a diversity of opinion because of its busting through records despite the weakness of its script, and so many writers – regardless of their own abilities – have slammed it for that reason (and some have rightfully championed its cause). I do admit to a bit of difficulty in getting past the script myself; I wasn’t as moved by the visual beauty as I’d expected to be. It could be a matter of personal taste – I admit to a strong reaction upon watching Terminator:Salvation because my interests right now lie in apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic worlds, rather than in ‘new’ worlds. I can also admit the script is equally as awful, if not worse, but I didn’t observe that until the second time I’d seen it.

But it’s the details that have caused this uproar – the fantastic visual details, or, depending on your opinion, the lack of detail in the script, which includes cliche lines like ‘you have a strong heart.’ (John and I have counted now, this makes 3 movies in the last year that have used this line: Terminator: Salvation, naturally, the atrocious Ninja Assassin, and now Avatar.)

Just like the details of the YA novel Twilight, which hit cult success and brought more readers to the world of speculative fiction than potentially any other book besides Lord of the Rings. I read Twilight on its first printing, before anyone dreamed up the Team Jacob or Team Edward t-shirts, and I loved it for what Meyer did with the main character (I won’t get into my opinion on the sequels, nor on the movies). Those details resonated with thousands of people, some of whom may be eventual readers of mine one day.

It’s the details of the fantastic slush story this morning – the best one I’ve read yet since I joined the new team – that left me staring at the computer screen; the details of the way the main character/assassin assembled his sniper, the way he picked his victims. I was horrifically spell-bound.

It’s the details that could make “Braeberry Street” work. It’s creeping up in word count, and I’m finding myself getting into not-okay patterns, sneaking in these details in a fashion that will lull instead of delight a reader – monotonous repetition of rhythm, too much detail without corresponding action – ways that would cause me to regretfully hit ‘reject’ should I have read this in a slush submission pile. The details will make or break this story, and I have to find a balance.

John and I have been married five months today. The circumstances haven’t been what either of us quite envisioned when we got engaged, but the details, the little things here and there, have made our young marriage exactly what I’ve wanted.

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