In the Future, Tense

May 27, 2010

Finishing — Part 2: The Fear of Failure

One of the great contradictions of professional writing is that it attracts control freaks, and then removes almost all control from them.  You’ve got very little control over what will sell, or if, or how.  Once it does sell you’ve got very little say in anything related to production, publicity or package.

The one thing we do have control over is the story itself, and that’s the important part, right?  So it’s okay to obsess over it.  In fact, it’s vital to obsess over it.  Every word must be carefully chosen and placed, and it must be rewritten and rewritten until it is perfect, no matter how long it takes.  Right?

Ummm…right.  Up to a point.  At some point you just have to declare it done.  It’ll never be perfect.  Perfection doesn’t exist, especially not for the author because you know where all the seams are and the location of each and every buried body.  The more you rewrite the more seams and buried bodies there are going to be.  You just have to dig deep and say it’s good enough, and let it go.

The inability to stop rewriting is one of the manifestations of the great writing fear; fear of failure.

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May 17, 2010

Be a Hoarder

Dear CL:

Whatever happened to that Deep Water Whale romance you sent me awhile ago?  I was having lunch today with T. Editor, and he’s actively looking for whale-themed romance

Yr. Agent.

Okay, this is not the actual email my agent sent.  But it is close, and I got it just a week ago.  My response:

Erm…nothing happened to it.  Do you need a fresh copy of the proposal?

She said yes, I went back to my files and it turned out I had not just a proposal, but a completed mss.  Wow.  When had I written that?  Thinking back, I remembered I’d written it at the request of an editor who subsequently rejected it.  V. upsetting.  But I didn’t throw out the offending mss.  I put it in a file, and I kept it.  Because I knew the odds were decent that something like the above would be coming in eventually.

This was something else I learned early on.  Never EVER throw anything out.  Keep the scraps, keep the snippets, and above all, if you’ve finished a project, keep it.  Even if it never sold.  Especially if it never sold.

Back in the day when I was strictly a denizen of the short story zone, I wrote a deal-with-the-devil story set in the old west.  I have an unhealthy fascination with deals-with-the-devil, and I’d just read a good book on old west gamblers and nature took its course.*

It was only after I started sending it around that I found out fantasy editors did not share my fascination.  It must have gone to 20 publications, and gathered an equal number of rejections.  So, with many a gentle tear, my masterpiece went into the drawer (yes, this was back in the days when the submission process was still mostly paper.  Thank G*D those days are done), and it stayed there for two solid years.  Until…I got word a new magazine, REALMS OF FANTASY was opening, and actively buying.  My story came out of the drawer and went into the envelope.   This time, it sold, for a decent rate per word too.

Since then, I’ve saved just about everything.  Even if a market doesn’t appear for the work in its current form, I do flip through the archives from time to time and see what still strikes my imagination.  Ideas and storylines are malleable things and can be reworked.  I (G*d willing!) improve at my craft, and can make improvements, or a good ending to an idea that wasn’t quite there a year, or two, or five ago.   Or, a new market has appeared suddenly (see above), and I have something I was toying around with that might now have a shot.

A metaphoric attic full of mss. and ideas is one of the greatest resources a writer has.  It means you don’t constantly have to start from scratch, and when a new chance comes, you can be one of the first in line to take advantage of it.  So keep them, all of them.  You never know when they’ll come in handy.

*If you want to read the story, “The Redemption of Silky Bill” you can for free under my Sarah Zettel page Book View Cafe.

May 15, 2010

Sequels

Filed under: Uncategorized,writing,writing life — carolynanderson09 @ 12:59 pm
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Sequels can be a risky business, both writing them and reading them.  A book one absolutely adored can be spoiled, or at least seriously damaged by a weak sequel.

One reason I’m thinking about this because I just read such a sequel.  A few years ago now, I was given a YA book called INGO by Helen Dunmore, about a girl on the Cornish coast who discovers her family connection with the local mermaid population.  It was a good book, well-written and compelling.  But I was slow off the mark looking for the sequel, THE TIDE KNOT, and it sort of came and went without me.  But I finally found it at my local indie bookstore (yet another reason to shop indies), brought it home and tucked in.

Sigh.  Unfortunately, the author had so many ideas she wanted to pursue: coming of age, split families, environmental change, balance, trust, to name a few, that she didn’t properly follow up on any of them.  The plot was committed in a scattershot fashion and the resolution felt….unresolved.  It didn’t tie back to what the heroine had learned or needed to achieve to do that coming of age thing.

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May 12, 2010

Questioning Authority

Is there something about writing; the business, the craft, the life you’ve always wanted to know but has so far remained beyond the reach of your Google-fu?

Ask here.  Keep it clean.  I’ll do my best to answer.  If we get enough questions, we can make a regular feature out of it.

April 8, 2010

The Starting Point

Filed under: CL Anderson,science fiction,writing,writing life — carolynanderson09 @ 4:43 pm
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I have reached a conclusion.

All stories start in the middle.

This is because characters imitate live people in the mind of the author.  There is always a long string of events stretching back before the point of the story’s opening.  You could start with the Big Bang, and the author would picture that infinitely small point quivering with energy and anticipation and work backward through the void before time to understand, to their own satisfaction, how we actually get to God saying “New universe in 3…2…1…”

This was brought home to me yet again while working on the Current Project, and, frankly, getting a whole lot of nowhere.  Usually, this means I don’t know enough about what came before.  This time, I thought I had it worked out, all nice, and for me, relatively neat.  Convinced of this fact (it’s amazing how you can delude yourself about a story, something that is essentially an illusion), I totally missed the big, glaring question I hadn’t asked, and hadn’t tracked back to its source.

My heroine should be dead.  When the story opens, she really shouldn’t be there, and she knows it.  But she is there.

Why?

Time to backtrack.

October 22, 2009

New York, New York

Filed under: CL Anderson,Uncategorized — carolynanderson09 @ 3:39 pm
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Or: The Research Trip, pt. 1

The first day went very smoothly.  I got up at about the usual weekday time, had breakfast, bid farewell to my men, and headed to the airport.  Checked in without problem, got to the gate without problem, and had a smooth flight and the flight got in on time. These days, this may be considered a minor miracle.

Picked up bag, got into taxi queue, got taxi and told him I was going to Forest Hills where I was staying with my friend Susan.  Taxi driver drew a blank, so I drew out the iPhone and gave him directions.  We made it with only one extra jaunt around the block.

NOTE:  When I bought the iPhone and started messing around with the maps feature, my DH and I looked at each other and said, “You know where this would be fantastic?  New York City.”  We were right, but more about that later.

Susan lives in style, with original art on the walls and real china and silver on the table.  We’d considered meeting at the Ritz for tea (after all, I was in the city to check out the food scene, might as well start at the top), but between the vagaries of airline travel, taxies and the lousy weather we decided the heck with it.  Instead, she made tea; finger sandwiches (3 varieties, with the crusts cut off), and cookies from the Kosher bakery.  So we sat and nibbled, and talked and drank and talked, and when we were done with that we moved onto procuitto-melon salad, homemade brisket (what I’d call pot roast), roast vegetables and an amazing torte from that same bakery.

I had to be rolled away from the table.

And so to bed, to wake up at 6:15 in the morning in time to catch the train to Greenwich Village.

More Later.  Gotta go write for the money now.

October 17, 2009

If I can make it there…

Filed under: CL Anderson — carolynanderson09 @ 5:49 pm
Tags: ,

NYC1If you’re seeing this on or about Oct. 18, I’m not here, I’m in New York City.

I have a new project that involves vampires and food in The Big Apple.  This means I have to do research, right?  Of course it does.  And because it’s about New York and restraunts, well I have to check out the restraunt scene, right?  Of course.  So I have to spend 2 days sampling the various offerings in, oh, say the West Village, right?  Right

I’ll be doing my best to blog and tweet from the road and there will be a full report after I get back.

May 6, 2009

Starting Over

Filed under: Uncategorized — carolynanderson09 @ 4:44 pm
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img_0023Contrary to popular belief, the waiting is not the hardest part.

The best way to deal with the Long Wait for an answer from a publisher is to start a new project.  That way you have something not only to keep your mind off how long you’ve been waiting, but hopefully you’ve got something new underway if that answer is “no.”

Unfortunately, for me anyway, starting over is the hardest part.

It’s not getting the idea that’s the problem.  I have plenty of ideas to spare.  It’s that I’ve gone from apoint where I’m intimately familiar with the story; I know the characters like they’re friends and I’m positive about what each one of them will say and do in any given scene.  There are at least portions of the story I can look at and say, “Dang! That’s good!”

But then that’s gone out into the ether, or, more rarely these days, the mail box, and I am faced with a blank screen and a head full of ideas that I know will somehow not survive the translation into muscle movement and then pixels.

It is the weirdest, most frustrating feeling in the universe to try to put an idea on the screen or the page, and to look at what you’ve written and say “But that’s not what I MEANT!”  But you’ve got no idea how to say what you do mean.

I’m going through this right now.  I’m starting up a new project, a slower-than-light, steampunk space opera.  Should be fun.  We’ve got an ancient martian menace, mysterious telepathic Europans and an Earth that has fallen to “the Billion Enemies.”  I believe it will be a series. The working title for the first book is THE CLOCKWORK CUCKOO.  So far, so good.

But the writing itself is painful.  I know nothing about any of these people, not even their names in most cases.  I get two sentences down and I have to stop again to make a note or go look something up.    I’m more easily distracted too, simply because this is the time of Sitting and Staring which can very easily turn into Staring at the laundry, which turns into doing the laundry, which turns into needing to get out of the house, which turns into anything but writing.

Funny how blogging tends to work like that too.  Heigh-ho.  Better get back to the beginning.

April 30, 2009

Meta-Writing

Filed under: CL Anderson — carolynanderson09 @ 2:50 pm
Tags:

img_00281 That is, writing about writing.  It’s my plan to do these semi-regularly.  If you’ve got a question about writing and the writing life that you want to ask, please do, and I’ll do my best to answer it here.

Until then, I thought we’d start with the most famous question authors deal with.

Where Do You Get Your Ideas From?

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April 25, 2009

Interview with…

img_0014As part of this blog emphasis on the reading and writing life, I’m going to be including interview with people from all aspects of the publishing industry.  This will include writers, obviously, but also editors, agents, artists, musicians, and people in what I call the meta-industry, that is people who publish about publishing.

So, for our first interview today, we’ve got David Pomerico, editorial assistant at Bantam Books, and the editor for my forth-coming SF novel BITTER ANGELS.

Originally from Long Island, David graduated from Binghamton University with degrees in English and History.  Although he earned a Masters degree in Teaching from Washington University in St. Louis to get a Masters in Teaching, although I’ve yet to teach.  After a few years “knocking around” retail, both in Lancaster, PA and back on Long Island, he returned to school at NYU where he earned a second Masters, this time in the Humanities.  David says, “Somewhere between retail and NYU, I got an internship at Bantam Dell, got chosen for the Associates Program at Random House, and finally got hired as an Editorial Assistant for Spectra.”

CLA: Why did you decide to become an editor, as opposed to say, a writer?

DP:     Have you ever tried writing?  It’s really, really hard.  Like, I’m assuming, most editors, I do write when I can, but between time and talent restraints, I just don’t see it in the cards for me right now.  That said, I do want to be part of the process—I want to be physically part of making books people are going to love—and editing is a wonderful chance to do that.  Also, it beats my old job, which was running a Sports Authority warehouse.

CLA: What is the biggest challenge facing SF publishing today?

DP:     The biggest problem facing SF today is the biggest problem facing the industry as a whole: the economy.  A few years ago, great, experimental sci-fi by unknown authors was still being acquired by the major publishing houses.  Now, we’re a bit more constrained about the chances we can take, which means that, while traditional fantasy, paranormal and urban fantasy, and space operas are still doing fairly well, the more avant-garde proposals—the New Weird, the really hard sf, the more speculative fiction—are having a harder time reaching the marketplace.  That said, sci-fi is a very resilient genre, and the experimental fiction isn’t going to just stop because of a slower marketplace.  We’re just being a bit more choosey.

CLA: How do you see the ebook revolution affecting traditional publishing?

DP:     Right now, I don’t see it affecting traditional publishing as anything more than an addition to the traditional model.  For the most part, the production of e-books is almost exactly the same as the hard copy editions.  I believe this is because we want to make sure e-books are really a viable money-making venture.  As the Kindle, Sony Reader, and the iPhone improve their technology (and their user-bases), the more your going to see e-books having a stronger presence as far as the market goes.  In turn, while not abandoning the traditional publishing model (there are way too many bibliophiles out there, as my apartment can attest), I think you’ll see smaller initial “print runs,” because a large enough percentage of readers will be buying their books in electronic form.  I think the big thing publishers are waiting for are the numbers—once there’s a statistical set large enough to start making actual changes in the business models, you’ll start seeing not only more e-books and readers, but also more features in those e-books, such as hyper-links, video, games, and other interactions.  And then we’ll be talking about a new medium, which is pretty cool.

CLA: What do you see for the future of the science fiction genre?

DP:     The big thing I’m waiting to see take off is steampunk.  We’re right there—right on the cusp of that becoming a powerful genre in its own right.  Once that one book comes out—that one canonical work that blows open the marketplace (and, I won’t kid myself: a movie could pretty much do the same thing)—then I think that’s going to be the next avenue authors explore with a gusto.

The great thing about sci-fi, though, is it’s already about the future, so as long as there are imaginative people looking forward and pushing the envelope, sci-fi is going to continue to develop.

Another thing I’ve been thinking about recently is how tied into the present sci-fi is: much of what was coming from writers in the 50s and 60s was based on a Cold War mentality (and a world where space flight was still a dream); the 80s saw the Cold War heightened and Conservativism start to blossom, and sci-fi reacted in kind.  I think sci-fi has consistently been the literary watchdog of society, and as long as there are wars and politicians and scientific discovery and social upheaval—in other words, as long as there’s society, there’s going to be something new in sci-fi.

CLA: What’s the one piece of advice you would give to new writers?

DP:     Don’t try so hard.  So often I’ll see proposals where I’ll think to myself: “This is a great idea, but the execution just isn’t there.”  I think a lot of that comes from wanting to write a book, as opposed to telling a story.  Yes, the technical skills should be there, but first and foremost, you’re a story-teller.  I don’t care if you’re writing sci-fi, romance, history, or a cookbook—tell the story.

Related to that: read.  Read everything you can.  Read great writers, but also read writers your friends say are terrible.  Read them and ask yourself “why is this bad?”  There’s a reason you love the books you love—identify them and emulate them.  Play with them, until they work for your own particular voice.

Finally (sorry, realize you asked for one, but couldn’t resist):  Proofread.  When you’re done writing, but the piece in a drawer for at least a week.  A month, even.  Go back to it and read it again.  Don’t be disgusted when you realize that commas don’t go there.  Then, find a proofreader.  This person should not be a friend or family (I don’t care how objective you mother is, she’s your mom, and she’s going to say she likes your writing, and even if she does give constructive criticism, it won’t be complete).  Remember, even great writers go through drafts.  Even great books were edited.  If you keep writing, and catch a break, your book could be edited, too.

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