First Story of 2018 Submitted

WRITING
This year I decided to change tack when submitting stories. Instead of writing stories and then looking for a market, I study a particular market and write a story for them. My first deadline was Monday. I wrote the story (“Funeral Champagne”) the first part of January, edited it over the weekend, and sent it out in time to meet their deadline for the next issue.

Today I start conjuring up a new story for a new market with a deadline at the end of February.

I’ve edited two of ninety sections in the novel. Not as far as I wanted to be, but at least I finally got started on it. I’m setting that deadline for the end of March. By ninety days into the year I should be able to finish editing ninety sections, right? It will need multiple revisions, so this will be going on all year.

READING
I finished reading Stone Sky by N. K. Jemisin and enjoyed it immensely. I’m typically not drawn to multi-volume fantasy series. It’s not that I don’t enjoy them. I feel anxious about spending so much time reading one long work instead of multiple shorter works. Before I start the second volume I’m going to read Three Body Problem by Liu Cixin (another multi-volume work!).

I liked Stone Sky because it wasn’t a typical orc, dwarf, thinly veiled European mythos fantasy. Instead it has a Jack Vance Dying Earth far future weirdness vibe I dig.

WATCHING
I watched Mother! recently and thought it was terrific. Less enthusiastic about the new season of Black Mirror, or the one episode of Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams I watched. Of course, I’ll probably watch all the episodes in each series.

I’m secretly excited for the rest of the Supergirl season. I haven’t watched it at all this season, but I deeply loved the Legion of Superheroes when I was a kid, so I’m looking forward to seeing them live and in action.

I added a text widget in a column on the blog which tracks my movie/tv watching.

GROWING
The cold snap we had killed all my peppers, basil, and tomatoes (though the carrots, beets, and green cauliflower came through OK), so I’m going to re-seed next weekend. It’s supposed to get down to below freezing tomorrow. In Florida. I know it’s cold everywhere, but it’s not supposed to be that cold here. I can’t grow peppers when it’s freezing outside! And, I don’t know if the banana trees will make it through this winter.

CONCLUDING
Still getting into the rhythm of the new year. The 3-day weekend felt almost like a continuation of my winter break/vacation, but there’s nothing but work for the foreseeable future. At least until May/June. I feel like I’m starting slow, but I’ve managed to be somewhat productive and found time to hang out with friends, so maybe it’s not a bad start at all.

Writing Update and Crafting Story Ideas

At the end of 2017 I organized all the sections of my novel, put them in order, then printed out the whole novel. Then I typed up and printed out all the accompanying notes. I did a run-through on my initial editing process to make sure it would work, then I put the whole thing away.

Then came JB’s birthday (which we celebrate around here rather than Christmas), then the New Year, then Key West. So, now it’s back to work and time to start editing the novel.

Large binder is 400 pages of novel; small binder is 100+ pages of notes

One goal this year is to not get down on myself if i don’t get some writing/editing done every day. Instead, I’m scheduling four hours every Saturday for writing work. I’d like to make it 10 hours a week somehow, but I want to be thoughtful about where those hours come from.

In the sidebar of the blog I have a space to track the first round of edits. Right now it sits at 0/90. We’ll see where it is after the MLK weekend.

My goals for short story writing this year are to select markets and write stories targeted to those markets. My first deadline is January 15. The story I’ve started is stalled. I’m not exactly sure where to go with it. Over the next few days I want to read more stories published by this market to get a better sense of what sort of flavor they prefer.

And, since I’m currently conjuring up a story, I thought I’d take a minute to discuss my own creative process for stories.

I tend to work by a method of accretion or lamination.

Some of you might remember a story I posted last year titled “An Unhaunted House.” The premise is that there is a small town where every house is haunted, and the single unhaunted house is a hard sell. A real estate agent decides she can sell it, but she decides that instead of selling an unhaunted house she will kill someone in the house and then have the easy task of selling a haunted house. Her plans backfire somewhat. She ends up accidentally dying and becomes the ghost that haunts the house.

The initial story idea – ‘an unhaunted house in a town of haunted houses’ went into a notebook. I keep notes like that in google docs and in a tangible notebook I carry with me. Each idea is like detritus in space, floating in isolation. But, sometimes, another piece of space junk runs up against it and sticks. In this case it was the name Country Rose (the real estate agent’s name). Unrelated to the story I jotted down the name Country Rose as a child’s name given by a mom and dad without much foresight. It’s a pretty name, and a sweet concept, but problematic when it comes to diminutives (what do you call her for short?).

What keeping notes like this does is allow the alchemical mystery of the creative process to do its work. I had a sense of what a woman with this name would be like, and she struck me as the perfect person to cast in the role of real estate agent in “Unhaunted House.”

Once this character and this story idea came together I had a stronger sense of what kind of story I wanted to tell, which is common for my process. If I can get a concept and character together a large chunk of the story reveals itself. A large chunk, but not all.

Once I had the concept and character of that story I ran through a lot of “what if” scenarios until I got to the point where I could write a beginning, middle, and end.

Sometimes it takes months to laminate one element on top of another.

In my ideas notebook I recently jotted down the name Croaker, as a character. I had some ideas about who this might be, but it didn’t go anywhere. Then I overheard JB talking about a gift her niece got for Christmas, which is some sort of 3D printing device. “Croaker should 3D print drugs,” I thought. When that idea came a few others followed — he works for a private prison that lets him get away with his shady drug creation work. I asked a few questions about what kind of prison that would be like and realized that his story could be the subplot missing from a draft of a novel I wrote four years ago. (I looked up Croaker when I had the idea as a name and saw that prison physicians are sometimes called croakers.)

The collection of ideas is the seed and soil of the story. Once two or more ideas/characters are pushed together I start the inquisition. Why are they here? What does that world look like? What do they want? What’s stopping them from getting it? Who or what opposes them? Do they have an adversary? Can I make this go in unexpected directions?

Even if a story gets as far as the inquisition stage it often doesn’t get beyond that.

And that’s where I am on the story I want to write by this weekend. I have a scene. And that’s it. I don’t have the next idea to laminate on top. I’ve tested out a variety of ideas to push the scene forward, but nothing’s stuck. Saturday I’ll pore through my cache of notes and see if I can find something that clicks into place and brings the story more into focus.

Ideas come from everywhere. What’s important is getting in the habit of collecting them. This is one reason I like to read book reviews of academic titles. Yesterday on Twitter I pointed to an essay (Wily Ecologies) on the lack of humor in US fiction about environmental catastrophe. Not an easy topic to joke about, perhaps, but the author was pointing out that there is a significant lack of satire in this realm as well. The worst excesses of humanity often attract satirists, but this doesn’t seem to be the case for tales of environmental collapse. I jotted in my notebook – satire about environmental collapse. Then I wondered briefly if VanderMeer’s Borne might be considered a satire. Or, how would it be different if it had been written as a comedy? That’s not enough for a story, but the seed has been planted.

Bustling Folly

To start off the new year I’ve re-designed the blog and renamed it. This year’s blog title is Bustling Folly.

“Bustling folly is the character of our species: people hastily set off on the path of the good, but do not persevere steadfastly upon it; indeed, in order to avoid being bound to a single goal, even if only for the sake of variety they reverse the plan of progress, build in order to demolish, and impose upon themselves the hopeless effort of rolling the stone of Sisyphus uphill in order to let it roll back down again.” — Immanuel Kant

This year there will be no 21st century politics or hot take on the outrage du jour. Instead of venting my anger I’m going to focus on the stuff that engages me. And what engages me are books, stories, and ideas. Especially weird books, stories, and ideas.

Because of my day job I spend more time than the average person reading book reviews and skimming scholarly papers. I’m going to start funneling some of that into this blog.

Because of my hobby I spend a lot of time reading weird fiction, science fiction, and fantasy. I also want to funnel a lot of that into this blog.

With any luck it will be weird and fun and maybe inspire an idea or two. At the very least it might provide a moment’s reprieve from the inside-out, upside-down lunacy of our current situation.

Here’s to a new year of bustling folly and mind-bending weirdness!

“I think hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries, the realists of a larger reality.”Ursula Le Guin

2018 Resolutions

Fresh beginnings. I love them. I am that weirdo that loves Mondays, because with a new beginning everything seems possible.

I don’t love January 1 and Mondays because I’m optimistic, or because I think everything is going to be OK. I don’t. I like them because they are cues, opportunities to re-focus my attention and energy.

And it’s because of the opportunity to re-focus, to re-plan that I love resolutions.

Typically I try to avoid self-improvement resolutions. Last year I resolved to get in tune with the moon. A few years ago I resolved to eat more pie. This year, though, I’m tilting toward the betterment of self.

This year I’m resolving to be more social. Online and off.

I am an introvert in the sense that I find being around people to be tiring. I like people just fine. I’m comfortable in front of a crowd. I can speak extemporaneously to any size group without fear. I like parties, and hanging out with friends.

But, I have a weird sense of hypervigilism when I’m with a group of people. This sort of extreme attention can be exhausting.

Over the years it’s become apparent that that sort of isolation isn’t healthy. So, I’m working against my instincts this year and plan to spend more time hanging out.

Other resolutions are simply to do more of what I enjoyed in 2017. Write more, read more, blog more, submit more stories, and move around more. Where will I find the time? Less passively browsing the internet and fewer TV hours.

I hope your 2018 is getting off to a great start despite the blast of cold that’s chilling us all, even down here in Florida. Here’s to 2018 and more of the good stuff!