Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Difference a Year Makes

Day two of the “novel experiment” and I’ve got four short chapters done, none of which are more than a thousand words. It feels very odd to write chapters that only span three or four double-spaced pages.

I feel kind of lazy, to be honest.

I’m liking it, though. I’m liking the story and where it’s going, liking the oddball chapter titles, liking the apartment building that serves as the current setting and liking the two characters that have appeared so far. I’m not sure where this is going to go or how long it’s going to be, but it’s something fun to do and I am learning a bit about myself along the way.

I’m not really all that happy unless I’m doing something like this. If I’ve gone a while without writing something, even if I have manuscripts out at different publishers, even if I’ve recently received acceptance notifications, I feel lazy and a bit unhappy. This is apparently what I’m supposed to do with my life. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be notable or even decent (aside from my own opinion and that of Eric’s) but unless I’m doing this I’m going to feel like crap.

No wonder most of my twenties were so miserable.

I still don’t feel like I’m on the top of the world, but I’m getting there. I’ve been published, I have stories out at different places and I’ve lost almost sixty pounds in a year… Yeah, I could be doing a lot worse. I haven’t reached any long-term goals yet, but I’m making a strong and steady pace and that really means a lot to me. A year ago I was a totally different person, jealous and angry and bitter and full of spite. And now, I’m just slightly disgruntled.

I can deal with that.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Adventures in Postmodernism

I’m writing a piece of shit “postmodern” novel, and I’m having a blast. It’s about a woman who had a frightening experience during an evening rain as a child and is now terrified of thunderstorms.

Calling it a piece of shit could be an overstatement, and it’s even possible that I’m being self-depreciating for no real reason. It’s a deviance from my normal writing style, at least as far as chapter length and attention span go, and the subject matter is a bit, I have no other way of saying it, “weird.”

But I like it, and I’m having a hell of a good time thinking things up for it, so it’s all good, right? When this is over and done with, even if nobody gives a damn about it but me I’ll still have written a bizarre experimental novel and tested my own abilities. That’s not wasted time.

Ever since I read Takahashi’s “Sayonara, Gangsters” I’ve been thinking about this. What would it look like, and read like, if I threw convention out the window and created a story with short chapters, bizarre characters and odd situations? Would it be good? Would it even be interesting?

I don’t have a whole lot else to do right now but experiment and find out where my strengths lie, so why the hell not, right? I spent most of my younger years obsessed with reading and writing horror, striving to pen the ultimate in vampire and ghost stories, only to realize once I got older and back into the game that perhaps the ultimates in those arenas have already been created. There isn’t a lot more to say about the standard “boogeyman” type characters. I’m sure that there are more ghosts and vampires and creepy crawlies to be written, and someday I may possibly conjure one, but for now I’m enjoying expanding my universe.

It feels good to write. It feels good to format and send out manuscripts, but being in the middle of the actual process of writing is what feels best to me. I’m glad to have something to work on again. “Pages” may need to take a backseat for a while, but that’s all right. Once a story catches my attention and forces me into action, I can either go with it and start writing immediately or I can put it off and run the risk of losing interest in it.

I’m going with this one.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Wait Begins

As of yesterday, all my previously unpublished fiction has been submitted to various publishers, both print and online. "At the Flea Market" is at The Three-Lobed Burning Eye and "The Orchard" has been submitted to The Harrow, an online horror magazine that uses a peer review submission style. Before this I was never aware that being nervous and serene could be accomplished simultaneously. On one hand, I’m confident in these stories (especially the newer ones) and feel they deserve a home somewhere. On the other, who knows how reliable my own opinion is, and waiting to hear if my work is a good fit for where its been sent always makes me a bit jittery.

Since getting back into novel reading I’ve noticed just how much other peoples’ work influences my own. I’ve been branching out into different genres and, inevitably, my own writing has followed, malleable and easy to reshape. I don’t identify with the horror genre so much anymore. In fact, I don’t really identify with anything at this point. After watching Gary Braunbeck read “We Now Pause For Station Identification” I decided to try my hand at a zombie story, something I’ve never done before. The result was “Wings,” a much shorter story that has little to do with Mr. Braunbeck’s work, but the inspiration remains the same.

After reading several novels and short stories by Haruki Murakami, I was eager to try my hand at something a bit more surreal, less horrific but still fairly odd. “Cryptic Coloration” was the result. Even back in my high school days I was influenced by what I read. If I dug up the short stories I penned back then I’d no doubt see a glaring Anne Rice influence, backed up by pulpy genre paperbacks and the now-defunct Dell Abyss line of novels. I loved them so much. I hope I still have them boxed up in the attic with the rest of my old books.

It’s funny how much your environment ends up influencing you.

Now that I have nothing at the moment to shop around, I need to get back to writing. I have spurts of inspiration, ideas, motivation, whatever you want to call it really, but for the most part I have no idea what I want to do. The days where I sit down and tell myself “Alright, you’re going to write a thousand or more words on X subject,” and it works out are lucky, not the norm. I might have completed seven new stories since this past fall, but there are just as many incomplete ones, waiting for me to return to them. Some I may never go back to, and some amount to little more than plain writing exercises.

I remember the promise I made to myself last fall, the little “Author’s Statement” I signed and stuck to my wall stating I’d produce at least one work of original fiction

Author’s Statement

I, Jessica Brown, do state my intent to write one piece of original new fiction per month minimum from October 2007 forward. These pieces need not be perfect, nor do they have to have a specific word count, but I must be writing constantly. This is in addition to reading.

In order to be a competent writer I must be well practiced and well read. No more procrastination.

October 7, 2007

So far, I haven’t defied it. I’m still writing at least one piece of fiction a month. But now that doesn’t seem like enough. I wrote “At the Flea Market,” “Canned Aisle” and “A Poor Self-Image” all within a week, with “Cryptic Coloration” following shortly. That’s the kind of momentum I like best, that bam bam bam of words onto paper, paper in order, a short story becoming complete. And then, admiring your work and moving on to the next neat idea that’s taken up residence in your head. That’s how I like to do things. Any time spent not writing is time where my ability to write could begin to atrophy. At least, that’s how it feels to me sometimes. If I don’t keep writing, I could wake up tomorrow unable to write at all.

So how do I keep this balance? How do I continue to feed my hunger for novels and short story collections and still find the time to write?

For now, I think I’m going to get back to working on Pages. I have no idea where I’m going with this or how long it’s going to be, but that’s part of the fun in it I suppose. Since finishing NaNo, I don’t really worry about a story’s length or keep to a strict plot outline. It’ll go where it wants to go, and if where it wants to go is rancid and worthless we’ll just try again. I haven’t had that happen yet, though. The stories never travel in that direction of their own volition. They always end up ruined when I try to force a group of characters through a plot I think is too cool to pass up.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

My Biggest Obstacle Appears to Be Me

First off, much appreciation to both Eric, my boyfriend and Rob, a buddy of mine, for helping me get this machine operational again. I’d have given up blogging if they hadn’t bailed me out. Hopefully everything’s in order now and the Macbook won’t be acting up again. If it does… I really don’t even want to think about it. I’m sick of having to trudge up to the Apple Store for help, and now that my warranty has lapsed there’s no help to be had there without a steep cost attached. I’m going to be avoiding that place for as long as I can.

How much objectivity is there in the opinion of loved ones? I’m sure there are parents out there at ballet recitals somewhere who, despite having witnessed their daughter’s inability to differentiate between her left and her right, still believe she could make prima ballerina. The rest of the audience knows it’s just not so, but to the parents of the confused dancer, no obstacle is too high to get around. How much of the encouragement and support of my own family and loved ones is love and enthusiasm for me alone and how much of it is for my writing? I know I’ll get in trouble with Eric when he sees this but I feel this way sometimes.

I suppose the easiest way to test this theory is to share it with others, but I’m apparently too much of a chickenshit to do something like that, at least when there’s no grade or college credit involved. I’ve no problem sending out manuscripts, but sharing my work with fellow writers isn’t something I can easily do. I can sit and shoot the breeze all I want at 100 Words meetings but to actually produce a writing sample, now that’s a whole new thing completely. I’m not sure why this is, exactly.

I know my writing isn’t complete trash, because I’ve seen complete trash and there’s no way to even compare the two. I at the very least put the time and effort into a manuscript to make sure it’s clear of grammatical and spelling errors and there are no glaring contradictions in plot or stilted, cliché dialogue. That sets me above most of the stuff being passed around message boards or personal homepages, at least for the people who take things only half seriously. I’m not really proud of this because that’s the way it’s supposed to be, so really by setting that standard I’m only assuring I meet the most base requirements of fiction writing.

When I write them, and even when I read them, the short stories I come up with seem entertaining to me. When I read sample short stories for magazines I’d like to contribute to, sometimes I think mine are better. Usually, though, I’m fairly confident they’re on an even par. So, with that being said, what do these stories have that mine so far haven’t? Am I lacking in something? Am I unlucky? Have I just not found the right fit yet? I’ve received a handful of rejection slips since I started submitting again this past Fall, and most of them have included either a gentle “not the best fit for us, good luck elsewhere,” or a short bit of constructive criticism. I appreciate them both, quite a bit, especially the ones where the rejection comes with an invitation to submit something else. Those make my day almost as much as acceptance slips. Almost.

If I take the advice of both my loved ones and my rejection slip folder, I’d have to say I’m being a bit unnecessarily gloomy about the state of my own writing. That makes me feel a bit better. I spend a lot of time in bookstores, especially on weekends, and I can’t help wandering the rows staring at the published books wondering, “Why not me?” I know the chances of being published are somewhat remote and the chances of making a profit off repeated publishings even more so, but if some of these people are making a living off of it there’s no way it’s not an achievable goal for me. No way in Hell. I just need to knuckle down and write more. It’s the only way to fly.

I’ve got six manuscripts out at various publishers right now, all of them short stories. “A Poor Self-Image” has been sent to Fail Better, “Canned Aisle” to Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, “Commute” to The Abacot Journal, “Cryptic Coloration” to Zahir, “In My Office” is still at East of the Web and “Wings” has been submitted to The Nocturnal Lyric. Out of those six, hopefully at least one will be accepted. I’m particularly fond of “Cryptic Coloration,” though I really am pleased at how they’ve all turned out. I’m still looking for the right places to submit two of my other stories, “At the Flea Market” and “The Orchard.”

“The Woman Without” is currently over at Horrotica, as well.

Monday, March 3, 2008

No, I Didn't Vanish

I just had a hard drive failure followed by a sinus infection followed by a bricked laptop battery, that's all. I haven't given up on writing, blogging or anything else. It's just very hard to find a way to post when Blogger is blocked from work and your home computer has been rendered nonfunctional.

Back to business, I suppose. Since I last posted I've taken up the Fifty Book Challenge, and I'm currently on book thirteen of the year. Not too shabby. I've actually got about five different books going at once, bouncing back and forth between lighter novels and thicker ones, so it feels like I've read a lot more than just those thirteen books. I'm still on a Japanese lit kick, trying to burn through all the translated works in my stack. It's going to take a while to get through them all, especially when I keep buying more and picking more up at the library. I need to return Sayonara, Gangsters and Life in the Cul-De-Sac to the Carnegie Library by Sunday. Chop, chop.

I sent out four manuscript submissions today. I always feel a mixture of confidence and unease when I mail them out. I see other peoples' works in small press magazines and I honestly feel my own work matches up, but shortly afterwards my confidence inevitably begins to falter. Am I too gimmicky? Too unrealistic? Am I only 'good' to myself and Eric? Sometimes I just don't know. Logically I know that it's mostly a game of finding the right manuscript for the right publisher, but sometimes I feel like an amateur. I suppose, in a way, I AM an amateur. 

I have another meeting of the 100 Words Club to go to on Saturday. It's a group that evolved from the Pittsburgh NaNo board. There's some really interesting people there. The concept is that you should devote time to at least 100 words of either new fiction or editing a day. Easy enough, right? Well, I hate to admit it, but I don't write every day. I try to, but I spend most of my time reading other, more successful, authors' works, hoping to better myself in the process. The days I do get down to writing, however, I tend to get my wordcount up into the thousands. I'll just have to keep pushing myself to stick to a regular schedule. It's the only way I'm ever going to build up a collection of works.