Lexifabricographer For when the right word just won’t do…

March 15, 2016

Sunday Monday Tuesday Reset

Filed under: news of the day,wordsmithery — Tags: , , , — lexifab @ 9:30 pm

I originally thought that I would run a weekly “keep myself honest” column over at PretentiousAuthor.com. In retrospect I think it would clutter the site up for no particular value for the readers.

It has some value for me, though, so I’m going to do it here instead. I’ll try to keep it short.

What I worked on: I revised the ending of ‘Silver the Moon in Ascension’ (aka ‘Magic robots vs Werewolves: Dawn of Justice’), I hand-wrote a few pages of my story about a monster hunting magistrate, I began researching my story idea for an ecopunk anthology, I wrote a drabble and I sent out my first pretentious-author newsletter to a whopping four subscribers!

I’ve been experimenting in the last few months with doing longhand first drafts. I used to do it, once upon a very long time ago, but I lost the habit somewhere. Early results seem to indicate that I write fast with longhand (not as fast as I type, but also with far fewer pauses for thought), that my writing sprints tend to last no more than about forty minutes at the most, and that I can generally crank out about 300 words (or two-ish pages of my notebook) in ten minutes or so. The prose tends to be a bit overwritten, but not much more than my regular prose. I expect the process of transcription will help me cut the text back to a lean flow. We’ll see.

What I’ve added to my work plan: More longhand drafting on the magistrate story, a knuckle-down redraft of Silver the Moon, writing a short-short submission for a CSFG horror flash fiction contest, more research for the ecopunk story, and outlining my serial fiction project that I plan to start soon.

For reference, the anthology I am aiming at is Ticonderoga’s Ecopunk – speculative tales of radical futures.  I’m inspired to have a go for a few reasons – one, because getting a story accepted into a Ticonderoga anthology has evolved from mere writing goal to authorial white whale; two, because I don’t write enough science fiction and I consider it a real gap in my repertoire; and three, because as I admitted on Leife Shallcross’ blog a few weeks ago, I am a lazy-arsed researcher, which borders on the disgraceful.

(So far the hard part has not been developing a workable SF concept. It’s finding the right story to attach to it).

Taking my shot at a scientifically-plausible short fiction piece is a real personal challenge. Honestly, it’s not a target I expect to hit, knowing the standard that the editors are expecting. But I won’t shore up my weaknesses by avoiding them.

 

 

January 3, 2015

Late exit to 2014

I’ve been away up the coast for a week, so I missed the usual barrage of blog posts summarising my 2014. Just because I’m late doesn’t mean I’m not going to do it though.

Just to note, this is mainly for my benefit, holding myself to account for my plans for the year, as articulated way back in January in this subtly-named post.

Checking the checklist:

1) Finish the current draft of the novel: Done. Man, it feels like such a long time ago that I even thought about my novel (well, not strictly true, since I thought about it today during the fourteen-hour drive back from northern NSW [1]). I finished up the full-rewrite draft of the novel (working title Ms Cole’s Arrangements) a couple of days into March, then immediately put it on the back burner. Two full drafts through, I still can’t work out whether it should be one novel, two novels, or a novel and two novellas; the shape of the story just defeats me every time I try to think about it. I’m quite sure there’s a decent yarn in there, but I honestly don’t know if I can hang it on a framework that will make it readable. I know I have to go back to it sooner or later, but I don’t mind admitting that I’m still intimidated by it. I met my word count goal, but I didn’t really knock over the target.

2) Write 10 publishable short stories: Partial credit. “Should be a doddle”, I said. Ho ho ho. I sort of achieved this goal and sort of not. I got 7 stories polished to the point where I was happy to start sending them out for submission (identified by truncated titles here): Feast, Dogs, Hat Trick, Season One, Teahouse, Lighthouse, Violin. Pleasingly, one of them – The Teahouse of Serendipitous Unions – sold to the professional market it was written for. However, a sale isn’t the benchmark here, completion is.

I also wrote complete drafts of School Hall and Incidental, both of which I have yet to finish revising (soon!), I wrote about 10,000 words all up on multiple versions of Serpentine Precipice and The Countess, though neither is yet complete. I wrote about fifteen incomplete flash fiction pieces i.e. ideas that I couldn’t work out how to turn into an actual story i.e. they don’t count here. And on the morning of the 31st of December I wrote the first half of a mildly comic crime story which I will finish later tonight or tomorrow morning.

So that’s seven that fit the criteria, two more that would have were I a more diligent editor, two major dead ends which might still lead somewhere later, and a start on the new year. Not a clean landing, but I tried a lot of different things and I’m happy with the overall results.

3) Submit 25 times: Done and then some. Between the couple of existing stories and the new material, I made a total of 45 submissions (and resubmissions) in 2014. Of those, *one* was accepted for publication. I learned yesterday afternoon that another one (written last year) has been shortlisted for a competition, so that one is in with a chance. Everything else is in the hands of the gods (defined here as “bored slush readers and overworked/underpaid magazine editors”). This business is a slow grind, people. I won’t be happy until I have at least 10 stories in circulation. Preferably more. In terms of diligence and application to the grind of reading and complying with submission guidelines and finding new ways to write the same damn cover letter over and over again, I did what I set out to do.

4) Non-specific target markets: To do. I wrote a few pieces this year with specific markets in mind. Teahouse hit the mark, but Lighthouse didn’t and the jury is still out on Violin. I mentioned on Facebook that the Australia-based Ticonderoga themed anthologies are becoming my white whale – I write to them, with some of my best work, and haven’t yet broken through. I haven’t even tried to get into Cosmos yet (because I haven’t written any science fiction this year, but also because I know what it takes to make it and I’m not there yet). In terms of international markets, I will probably still be trying to get into Beneath Ceaseless Skies and Clarkesworld, in particular, in five years time. I’m not going to stop trying though.

 

2014 could have been better in a lot of ways, but in terms of my writing I achieved close enough to everything I set out to. In retrospect I probably set the bar a little too low and then didn’t really push myself very hard. Over the course of the year I worked up outlines for several novels, any one of which I might reasonably have had a stab at writing. In all honesty I’m not confident of my ability to write to a novel length – my attempts to date have been unsatisfying, but in ways where I haven’t felt like I’ve learned something useful. I feel like I should take that ignorance as a challenge and learn-by-doing and then learn-by-doing-again. But I have yet to make the mental leap to convince myself that a failed attempt is not a waste of time or misapplied effort. Right now it seems like an awful lot of work to write a novel only to confirm that I don’t know how to write a novel

But then again I made the conscious decision at the start of the year to focus on short stories. And I’m proud of the work that I’ve done, which certainly includes some of the best stories I’ve ever written. Over the course of the year and across the various projects I’ve completed, I’ve had a distinct feeling of gradually but decisively leveling up my skill. Definitely not misapplied effort, even if individual stories never find the readership that I think (in my egotistical heart) they deserve.

I think that at least for the first couple of months of 2015 short stories are where I’ll continue to put my energy. I want to get a few more under my belt before I decide whether to change tack and try for a novel. But that’s a post for another day.

 

[1] Sorry Clam, there was absolutely no time for a surprise visit. One of these days though!

June 19, 2014

Anthology calls for later reference

Don’t mind this – it’s a list of upcoming anthologies that I may be interested in submitting to. Hey, you might be interested too, what do I know? And if you happen to be aware of any submission calls for upcoming anthologies that you think I might want to have a go at, let me know.

Blurring the Line by Cohesion Press  (horror) – http://cohesionpress.com/submissions/anthologies/ – Max 5000 words; 1 August to 31 October 2014

Hear Me Roar by Ticonderoga Publications (strong women) – http://ticonderogapublications.com/index.php/about-us/submissions/hear-me-roar-anthology – 2500-7500 words; 21 April to 5 November 2014.

The Never Never Land by CSFG Publications (Australian speculative) – http://www.csfg.org.au/2014/02/20/call-for-submissions-the-never-never-land/ – 1000-5000 words; 1 June to 31 August 2014.

The Lane of Unusual Traders by Tiny Owl Workshop (strange shops) – http://thelaneofunusualtraders.com/guidelines/ – Flash fiction up to 500 words, 1 June to 31 July 2014; Short stories up to 3000 words, 1 June to 31 August 2014.

Clam, if you can’t think of something great for that last one I will eat my own face off [1].

 

Update 1:

Midnight Echo 11 by Midnight Echo/AHWA (Sinister) – http://midnightechomagazine.com/submission-guidelines/ – 5000 words maximum; 1 July to 31 October 2014

 

[1] Bloodthirsty spectacle not guaranteed

May 14, 2014

Where are the short stories and stuff?

In the comments of the previous entry, Marco asked “Where are the short stories and stuff?”

I thank the Honourable Member for his question and for the opportunity to detail exactly what the Government of Lexifabricogristan is doing to support and enhance the worldwide glut of speculative short fiction of questionable cultural, dramatic and grammatical value.

Ahem. The short stories are churning along. I’ve been holding to my minimum wordcount of 400 new words of fiction per day for…hm, 18 days now. That doesn’t sound like much, I admit, but it’s decent chunk of wordcount that didn’t exist before, so I am more than happy with it. I’ve also been diving deep on critiquing novels and short stories and drafting outlines for various projects so that I always have something new on the boil.

That’s probably not what you were really asking. You were *probably* asking why I haven’t been putting any fiction up here on the blog lately. The answer is that I’m being selfish and greedy (or career-minded, if you prefer the apirational/positive spin). I am working with as much dedication as I can muster towards having a published body of work, so I haven’t posted any new fiction on the website since January last year. Most fiction markets pay for first publication rights, which means that a work of fiction cannot have been published anywhere prior to acceptance. That includes even blogs like this one, with its nigh-subterranean reader numbers.

Anything I finish to an adequate level of polish, I have been submitting to professional and semi-professional short fiction markets – mainly online publications and print anthologies. Typically what happens then is that they sit in slush piles for weeks or months on end, until a commissioning editor reads it and either rejects it (likely) or decides they like it enough to pay me, pending edits (unlikely but possible and highly desired). As soon as a story is rejected – and I should note that rejections from professional short story editors can happen *very* quickly, my personal best being a four-hour wait from ‘hit send’ to ‘no thanks’ – I repackage it with a new cover letter and send it straight back out again to the next market.

Sometimes, though not every time, the rejection will come back with some feedback about why it was not accepted. I always take a look at the feedback, see if I agree with any advice on how to strengthen the story, and then either apply some edits or not. Sometimes the feedback amounts to “this story is not a good fit for our publication”, which is what it is. So far I’ve been lucky enough not to get feedback to the effect that “this is a bunch of unmitigated dog faeces that if published would bankrupt us and ruin lives”, so that’s nice. Either way, unless I feel I’ve run out of places that I could send it, the story goes back out into the wild again to earn its keep. I have yet to hit the limit of potential markets for any particular story; I submitted one story thirteen times before it was accepted somewhere. True story – I was pretty close to giving up on it, in which case I would have posted it here for everyone to read. Sorry about that, I guess.

So what’s my publication hit count? I still have one (1) published story: ‘Imported Goods – Aisle Nine’ in Next. That came out over a year ago. Whee, doesn’t time fly?

I’ve got four stories out in circulation at the moment – one has been accepted pending a space in a publication schedule (that’s the thirteenth-time-lucky one), and the other three are in submission queues (aka ‘slushpiles’). At least one of those is in a second round of reading, which means that at least one person at the publishing entity liked it enough not to reject it outright.

I’ve got two more stories in preparation. One is a first draft awaiting revision, the other is a half-draft. I’ve set myself a goal of finishing at least ten stories this year to what I consider a submittable standard, of which I have so far completed one. Miles to go there.

Apart from Step 1 – Completing the things I start, I have some other goals. The first is that I want to be published in a notable Australian speculative fiction market. Apart from the CSfG anthology (it opens for submissions in a few weeks, but I haven’t come up with an idea yet), there are various spec fic journals (Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, Aurealis, SQ Magazine) as well as regular anthologies from publishers like Ticonderoga and Fablecroft. I’m loving what Brisbane-based Tiny Owl Workshop are doing at the moment – I’d love to work with them. There are many others.

My second goal is that I want to break into overseas markets that publish stuff I like to read, like Clarkesworld and Beneath Ceaseless Skies (to name just a couple). That’s a little more ambitious, but I’m confident that it’s within reach or almost so.

Either of those goals could happen literally any time now. When it does, and when I’m allowed to say anything because of contracts or whatever, you can bet your favourite phalanges I will trumpet it here and on Twitter and over a beer if you happen to pass within my gravitational vicinity. Damn, but I am looking forward to my next celebratory Beer of Publication.

In the meantime, I wait patiently, I keep writing and I turn out new stories.

January 16, 2014

Goals for 2014

Filed under: news of the day,wordsmithery — Tags: , , , — lexifab @ 4:38 pm

The Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild (CSfG) gathered last night for its first 2014 meeting. After we finished discussing the upcoming business of the year [1], we got on to the discussing of setting our writing goals for the year.

Honestly, I wasn’t going to do it. I had every intention skipping the whole New Year’s resolution thing. Instead of making a collection of half-baked promises that I am in the habit of failing to deliver on, surely it would be better to just knuckle down and produce whatever I could.

Then yesterday I read this essay on what is happening to someone who procrastinates a lot. Someone like me. I have to say I found the essay so eerily descriptive of my state of mind (especially the stuff about the dark playground and self-reinforcing cycles of shame) that I almost couldn’t finish reading it. Which was nuts of me, but there you are.

I highly recommend that essay, whether or not you’re a procrastinator. Someone who is will find it full of useful observations on what you’re doing to yourself and what you can do about it. People who are not procrastinators will learn that it’s completely understandable but utterly useless to offer the advice “Just sit down and do it”.

Anyway, when I accepted that part of the strategy for fixing the procrastination problem is to set tangible goals broken down by simple, specific steps, I realised that I kind of need the goals to keep me honest.

So, long story short, my writing goals for the year are:

1: finish the current draft of my novel manuscript by the end of February. If I keep to my 400+ words a day writing streak, that should mean I will produce at least 14,000 more words by the 28th of February, which *should* be about what I need to wrap up the draft.

2: write 10 short stories to publishable quality, one a month for the remaining months of the year. In theory that one should be a doddle, in that it usually doesn’t take me that long to write a story once I start. The risk will come in stories that blow out beyond what I am picturing as my standard length of 4000 – 6000 words. I am giving myself leeway to redefine this goal if it turns out that everything I want to write this year is really a novella rather than a short. I won’t know until I start though.

3: submit short stories at least 25 times. At the normal rate of submission/consideration/rejection-or-acceptance, this is about the right rate. By the end of the year I should have a good stockpile of stories, such that even if a few of them are accepted (which I hope they will, obviously), I should have enough coming in and going out again to meet this target.

4: I also have some additional non-specific goals about getting my work into various I-consider-them-prestigious Australian genre short story markets, like a Ticonderoga anthology or Cosmos Magazine. Small steps though.

So there it is. I’ll be pretty happy if I meet these goals, and very happy to exceed them. I anticipate the rest of my life getting in the way of my going far beyond expectations, especially if I have a radical career change soon. But writing is something that can keep me grounded and sane, so it gets a high priority.

Did you crack and set yourself goals?

 

[1] Which didn’t take long, but by the way included the informal notification that the editorial team for the next CSfG anthology has been finalised. If you happen to be someone who might want to make a short story keep your eyes open for the announcement of the theme and the call for submissions. [2]

[2] Also: Conflux, our local speculative fiction convention, will take place over the October long weekend this year. Which is a bit of a problem for me, seeing as that’s the time of year of my wedding anniversary. Since I was at a convention around that time last year, the anniversary had probably better win in 2014…

June 20, 2013

Writing Watch – Short story markets

Okay, before I start, I *am* still working on my novel. But I’m at the horrible late-middle stage where nothing is working properly and I can’t see a clear path (yet) to the ending. It’s doing my head in and all I can think as I work on it is: This story is not coming out how I imagined it in my head. Nothing I’m doing is working. I’ve wasted two years on this steaming heap of garbage and it’s still not readable. I hate writing!

Yes, it gets that bad at times. My brain is a stupid, self-defeating thing. It’s slightly heartening to know that other, more successful writers have similar problems – read this excellent depressing essay by the rather-good Libba Bray about her current work in progress – but that doesn’t help me out of my quagmire.

So I am regrouping and trying some new writing tactics. One of these is to work on a short story at the same time, so that rather than allow myself to stall because I am frustrated with the novel, I can switch modes quickly and still feel like I’m making some progress. Later (in the same writing session or the next) I can come back to the novel with fresh eyes and a calmer attitude. maybe. I dunno. It’s an experiment.

Anyhow, I’m taking the opportunity to list a few short story opportunities for Australian writers that are open at the moment. There are many more, of course, these are just some that have an appeal to me at the moment. Since I appear to have an invisible readership – HELLO IMAGINARY FRIENDS LEAVE A COMMENT – I figure they might also be of broader interest. If not, well at least I have the links handy.

Gold Coast Anthology – Canberra editor Elizabeth Fitzgerald and honourary Canberran Helen Stubbs are editing an anthology of short stories about the Gold Coast, available to authors who live at or have ever visited the Gold Coast. They have a large collection of photographs both modern and historical from the region. Every submission must be based on (at least) one of the photos. Any genre, up to 5000 words, submissions close 31 August.

Kisses by Clockwork – Ticonderoga Publications, who are one of the premier Australian spec fiction small publishers (in admittedly not that large a field) are doing a collection of romantic steampunk stories. Ticonderoga’s anthologies are rather intriguing – last year’s One Thousand and One Nights-styled Dreaming of Djinn is on my to-read pile – and of quite a high standard. Specific genre, 2000 to 7500 words, submissions by 15 October.

This is the one I’m working on now, writing the story while at the same time attempting to overcome my limited familiarity with the genre by poring through, I kid you not, The Mammoth Book of SteamPunk (which is proving itself to be quite an entertaining anthology in its own right).

Finally, Dimension6 will be an in-house journal of novella-length science fiction from Australian publisher Couer de Lion. Publisher Keith Stevenson is pretty open about D6 being a promotional tool for CDL’s other products, but I’ve read Anywhere but Earth and most of the stories from X6 – a novellanthology and on the basis of those I’d be happy to recommend their works. They aren’t reading submissions until January 2014 so there’s plenty of time to get something to them. Unusually D6 will have a minimum word length – 4500 words – because as Keith says “we believe a real story needs at least that much space to thrive”. And why not?

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