Saturday, July 28, 2012

Story Unto Itself

The story of this last week is the short story.  
I've been working on them.  I've been submitting them.  I've been reading them.  A lot of them. 
I remember hearing once, years ago from some source I've forgotten, that writing a poem is like a flirtation.  Writing a short story is like having an affair.  Writing a novel is like getting married.  
I guess that fits with me.  I set aside my novel to have an affair with the short story I wanted to finish.  My novel, being the understanding sort, is patiently waiting for me to return.  The affair will be over soon, Spell of 13 Years (the name of my novel).  I don't have the same commitment to Hacking Gay Penguins (the short story's working title) that I do with you.  It's a writer thing.  I'm sure you'll understand and forgive me. 
I have a feeling she's going to be a bitch to rewrite when I get back to her.  
Anyway, I had a whirlwind time during my little affair.  I looked into the nature of consciousness and its origins, I wrote a short piece about coming to life from disparate parts.  I wrote a fairy tale outline about how the main character came to face a group of male penguins which had suddenly formed a group intelligence via computer intervention.  
All fun stuff.  
But more than writing this short story, this week I've been submitting them, too.  That is a big deal for me.  I am at my desk, every morning, by 5 AM at the latest during the week, working on one story after another.  I'm good at that.  I have mastered that part of the writing discipline.  
What I've gotten better at, also, is the rewrite process.  I discovered my process, an integration of several tricks and techniques I'd picked up over the years, while finishing "Shadow Angel," my story that was published in Asimov's Science Fiction in September, 2011.  It still needs tweaking, but it works because it makes the rewriting process more like writing.  I write out my changes rather than going over line by line, editing and rewriting.  It feels more creative.  
But what I have not been good at is the submitting part.  Robert Heinlein's rules of success at writing, as I remember them, are 1) Write; 2) Keep writing until you're finished; 3) Submit what you've finished; 4) Keep submitting what you've finished until its published; 5) Don't rewrite what you've finished EXCEPT by editorial order.  
My problem is that I often stop submitting after the first rejection.  In my first year of college, after attending a four year Catholic High School for boys, during which time I did not have one date, I asked a girl I met in my communication class out on a day on the very last day of the semester.  
She kicked her head back and laughed in my face.  
Getting a rejection letter for one of my stories feels something like that.  Actually, a lot like that.  I imagine the editor that wrote the letter as a cute, slender girl with blonde curly hair, kicking her head back and laughing as she stuffs her rejection letter in my prepaid stamped return envelope.  Yeah...  I have to pay to get this reaction.  
This week, though, I think I might have found the means to get over this.  Or at least do what I need to do despite feeling this way.  
43 Things is a social website that's been around since 2005.  I created my account in 2006.  The way the site works is, after creating your account, you list the forty-three things you most want to do with your life.  Buy a home.  Finish a novel.  Lose weight.  Whatever.  It then links you with other people with similar goals.  You cheer other people on.  They cheer you.  You write entries on your progress.  
I used it for a little bit but eventually stopped.  The only reason I remembered having the account was that the website would send me reminders about some of the goals I had on my list.  Emails that would read, "How is Learning to Read and Write Japanese Fluently going?"  
Last week, for no reason I can remember, I clicked on the link in the email to check out my account.  I looked over my list (click here to see it).  I poked around the account.  I changed some items that I had accomplished to "completed."  
It was while writing the entry to one of these completed items that I noticed something different from the last time I had visited the website.  I could now automatically post any entry I wrote to my blog.  
Huh?  Really?  I could feel myself getting intrigued.  I look for times and opportunities to write.  I've wanted to update my blog more consistently.  And there is no writer on the planet that doesn't want to talk, or write, about his writing.  
Under "Publish More Short Stories" I wrote an entry about my sale to Asimov.  As promised, it was there on my blog (just scroll down).  Having done that, I thought, "I need more entries."  So I checked my submission log and found a story that I'd been telling myself to submit again for some time now.  It took me a couple of days of research, but I found a good market to send it to.  Another entry, another blog posting.  I checked my submission log again and discovered one finished story hadn't been sent to one of my main listings.  Cool.  I could send it out and write another entry on 43 Things and create another blog listing.  
It sounds backwards, don't you think?  I am aspiring to be a professional writer, one that supports himself with the money earned from his published work, and what spurs me to do the necessary step of submitting my work is finding a forum to write about submitting my work.  
I guess it comes down to, "whatever works."  You can see my goal-specific entries as you scrolled down.  They are printed in the smaller white lettering.  
I've also been reading short stories.  
I've been reading the short stories and novel chapters of my colleagues in my Anticipation Workshop, the online writing group I'm a member of.  It's called "Anticipation" because it was formed at the 2009 WorldCon in Montreal by the same name.  After taking on a new position at work, my free time took a nose dive.  I kept writing, but my time for reading the work of my fellow writers seemed to evaporate.  
My time is still strapped, but I came to the decision, after seeing my folder filled with seven or eight stories I hadn't read, that I needed to do what I had promised to do, and make the time if it couldn't be found.  I'm still behind, but I'm catching up.  
And I've read all the short stories nominated for a Hugo award this year!  That's a big deal.  It's like seeing all the movies nominated in a particular category and being able to say, definitively, which one you think deserves the Oscar.  Here is my take on the Short Story field: 
Movement by Nancy Fulda
A young girl with a condition called "temporal autism" is taken by her parents to a specialist for a cure for her condition, causing her to contemplate whether she wants the cure or not.
As much of a prose-poem than a story.  Beautiful imagery.  Well written.  Very lyrical.
The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees by E. Lily Yu
A story about bee hive that has been subjugated by a wasps and how revolution evolves amongst the bees.  
Written like a Chinese fable.  Terrific world creation.  And the ending is alluring.  It reaches into a dark future like a spark of light.  Very memorable.
The Homecoming by Mike Resnick
A father, taking care of his wife with Alzheimer's, confronts his estranged son who left the family to be biologically altered to live on another planet.  
Mike Resnick is one of my favorite authors, especially his short stories.  This was one of two stories that took me back to a moment in my own life, when I met my grandmother for the first time in years after her Alzheimer's had taken hold.  Very real and moving.
The Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu
A Chinese-American boy rejects his immigrant mother, who can barely speak English, despite the magical power she possesses of making origami animals that come to life.  As a grown man he discovers a message written by his mother on one of the animals after she dies.  
This is the other story that reminded me of a moment in my own life, the time when I was five or six years old and my mom was speaking Spanish to me as a child and I kept responding to her in English.  
It was a very vivid story, where childhood imagination seemed to become real.  I could see the creatures the mother created, how they looked, moved and sounded.  I could also feel the boy discovering his differences from others.  
The Shadow War of the Night Dragons by John Scalzi
A tale of the city of Skalandarharia, where a fable about the "Night Dragons," used to keep the populace in line, turns out to be all too true.  
John Scalzi is another favorite writer of mine.  Old Man's War and its sequels, The Ghost Brigades and The Last Colony are amongst my favorites in recent years (I haven't read the fourth book, Zoe's Tale, yet, but I have a copy).
The best words to describe this story are "Clever" and "Amusing."  It is very much a tongue-in-cheek story that is inspired as much by Douglas Adams or Monty Python as it is any sword and sorcery epic written by Howard, Lieber or more recently, Martin.  A very fun read.  
My vote for the Best Short Story of 2011 pretty much comes down to a process of elimination.  While reading Scalzi's Shadow War and Fulda's Movement I was very aware of the skill of the author, Scalzi for his cleverness and Fulda for her poetry.  The Cartographer Wasps by Yu was a very interesting concept that was well pulled off.  
The Homecoming by Resnick and The Paper Menagerie by Liu, however, struck emotional cords in me.  It certainly helps that both stories touched on subjects that I've experienced in my life, such as dealing with a grandmother stifled by Alzheimer's and feeling the gap between oneself and a parent from a different culture.  Since art is subjective, I don't think this is an unfair advantage for the stories to have.  The authors certainly didn't write them with me in mind.  
As I write this, I am leaning toward Resnick's The Homecoming.  When I started writing this blog entry though, I was thinking Liu's The Paper Menagerie was going to be my choice.  I'll probably not decide until I go on line before the weekend is done and submit my ballot.  
But that would be a different story.  


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