Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Usual Difficulties

A new project, a new set of problems, it seems.

While Eric is reading my (very) rough draft, I’ve been mulling over a new long-fiction concept. At first I was supposed to be writing a winter-themed short story for a friend’s upcoming podcast, but once I realized that this was something much too long for an audio format I resigned myself to having come up with yet another novel idea.

I’m still not all that great with novels.

While some people can apparently come up with a legion of characters, a main plot and a half dozen subplots with ease, I struggle to keep one story line coherent. I’m always afraid that I’m going to end up sounding ridiculous or implausible with my plots and dialogue. I’m beginning to come to the point where I don’t care about the end result and plow forward with a feverish determination, but I still have enough self-doubt that it’s holding me back.

I want to get started on this immediately. One of my biggest fears is the loss of interest in a project, and time and time again I’ve been on fire for an idea only to stop caring after a few short weeks. Now I immediately begin to panic when I don’t set upon a project at the first thought of it, worried that I’ll somehow lose the passion somewhere along the way. I’m fairly certain this line of thinking was responsible for my eighteen-day draft of Teahouse, especially the last two days of it. All I could do was type, screaming silently in my head, “Get it out! Finish it! Don’t stop until you see The End!” I was so worried that I’d quit caring, even that close to the end, that I had to push the story out despite the fact that I could have spent a bit more time working on the details.

Thanks to my “motivation issues,” I now have two hundred pages of plot with no trace of subplot, character details or emotion. Nice.

Here I am now, with another semi-formed story, feeling the urge to push my way through this yet terrified of screwing it up or leaving it half-finished. I suppose I could go back to something I really have left sitting unfinished, but all I can think about right now is this story.

On a related note, Eric is reading my draft of Teahouse now. I told him, jokingly, that he should change his away message to “Reading my girlfriend’s first novel. Don’t bother me.” I didn’t think he’d actually do it, but he did. Something that small and insignificant made me feel giddy.

Here’s hoping the book stands up to some criticism. I’m very nervous waiting for his reaction to it.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Rejection Done Right

Nothing hurts the ego more than being blown off or insulted, and a lot of writers are comprised of more sensitive stuff than others, so sending work out into the great wide world can be potentially painful for some. I know, I’ve been there. As a very young writer, in my late teens and early twenties, I found it very difficult to separate my professional self from my private self and see literary rejection for what it really is, someone letting you know that your work isn’t a good fit for their publication or just any of their upcoming issues.

Sometimes it really stung.

Getting back into the swing of things, I’ve noticed that rejection doesn’t faze me much, if at all, this time around. I’ve received a number of them in the last two years, from one-line “no thank you” type replies to well thought out critiques.

Don’t get me wrong, a “yes” regardless of how it’s phrased will always be more preferable than a polite “no,” but rejection is a part of the life and will never go away. Better to get used to it than it wear you down, no?

That said, I’ve received several decent rejection slips recently. It’s always a disappointment to find out you don’t fit in, but they were written well enough that I’d like to share them here.

The Abacot Journal recently responded to a submission of my short story, Cryptic Coloration.

Dear Jessica,
Thank you for your submission to The Abacot Journal’s fifth issue. While I loved the uplifting and unexpected ending to your story, unfortunately, it was not chosen from the wide range of fabulous stories we received. Good luck in your writing, have a wonderful new year, and please consider submitting to us again. 

Alexandra J. Ash
Editor, The Abacot Journal

The Harrow, a publication I’ve been featured in before, weighed in on my submission of My Neighbor’s Apartment not only with a gentle “no” but also some words of both critique and encouragement.

Dear Jessica,

Thanks for submitting 'My Neighbor's Apartment' to The Harrow. We're going
to pass.

While it's a well-written piece, and provides ample atmosphere, I
ultimately found that this is all the story does.

While it's certainly a point of interest that the protagonist's neighbor
has a vacant apartment beside their apartment, the mystery of such a thing
is not quite enough to engage the reader. There needs to be some sort of
conflict - internal or external - that is provided to draw the protagonist
to the place on the basis of her own decisions. The curiosity of our
narrator simply isn't enough... but perhaps there is a strong reason why
she is so curious. (And if that curiosity is born out of a rather banal
existence of reading spam email - the dullness of the character's
predicament needs to be highlighted strongly in the piece - a violent or
otherwise awful death as a result of her investigations, for example,
displaying that both fates are equally dreadful.)

Regardless, I think if you can provide such a thing here, the rest of the
story may write itself, and the piece will be stronger for it, overall.

Do try us again.

Michael R. Colangelo

I now have quite a bit to think over. Accusing me of only providing atmosphere isn’t anything new – I do it to myself all the time. In fact, this is one of my major weaknesses. I’d rather focus on character, setting and atmosphere instead of plot, and that provides for a very lopsided story. Apparently only Murakami Haruki has license to get away with those kinds of shenanigans.

One of the things I enjoy most with rejections are the encouragements for resubmission. Not only are they show at least some interest in you as a writer but they are also proving to the more sensitive types that “No, you don’t really suck as a human being. Your story just didn’t work, and it’s not universal, it’s just this one time. Keep showing us your stuff.” It’s hard to convince either yourself or other writers this very important fact. Usually it has to come from the publisher.

Unfortunately, I won’t be having any time left over to rewrite My Neighbor’s Apartment for quite some time. I’m still trying to proof
In the Teahouse before Christmas so I can have a copy of the rough draft printed at Staples for Eric. I had a few run off (at twenty bucks apiece!) to pass around for reading/editing purposes but it appears my initial proofing glossed over several glaring mistakes.

After that, I agreed to write a winter-themed short story for a friend’s upcoming podcast. So far the plan includes him reading the story and then the two of us recording some kind of dialogue discussing the piece and writing in general. I’m excited but the business of the season has prevented me from my usual brainstorming sessions. I’ve only got bits and pieces of ideas so far. And two very large holidays are looming in the horizon.

Busy, busy.