Archive for the ‘speculative fiction’ Category
Posted August 12, 2012on:
I don’t think I’ll stop smiling for a few days. I just received news that the anthology You Don’t Say: Stories in the Second Person by Ink Monkey Press is out and my story ‘Family Line’ is in it! The editor accepted the story a few months ago, but since I wasn’t sure when the anthology would appear, I kept my fabulous news mostly to myself. This is my first fiction publication and it ranks up there with other incredible life moments. To publish literally means ‘to make public’. To the aspiring writer, however, being published connotes acceptance and brings a sweet spot of satisfaction that someone else finds your work compelling.
Family Line’s history from beginning to end has been a testimony to the power of persistence, and the importance of asking for and receiving support. Here are a few things that happened along the way:
1) Last October, I noticed an announcement from our local library for writers of all ages to contribute to their first ever ‘Scary Shorts’ contest. Entries were 500 words or less. I knew nothing about writing ‘flash fiction’. I told other writers about the contest, but didn’t finish my story by the deadline. At the Scary Shorts event, I was happy watching my fellow writers read, but bummed that I didn’t finish my story on time while encouraging others to do so.
2) I saw a speculative fiction contest in March 2012 (by a contest that shall remain unnamed), and used that deadline as an opportunity to spiff up my story. The premise is that a fifteen year-old boy from the Bronx is off on a trip to visit his cousins in North Carolina who he considers backwards. They tell him about a book of spells that they claim an ancestor used to free the family from slavery. Of course, the boy is dubious and havoc ensues from there.
My original draft was 500 words and was told in the second person. I’d become obsessed with writing in the second person after reading Kevin Canty’s short stories.
This contest had a flash fiction category with a 500 word limit. Perfect! I took the story to my prompt writing group (with only a few days to spare to deadline) got feedback on it, but was still having trouble bringing all the elements together. Majorie Hudson, the teacher, stayed with me after class and offered insightful suggestions. She became the first ‘godmother’ for this story. I left, revised and submitted my story to the contest. Woo-hoo! I had a great feeling about the outcome.
3) My feeling evaporated when I received the following email from the contest administrator a few days later:
I am sorry to tell you that we inadvertently lost your entry, so that it was not included in the judging. This has never happened before (and we have taken steps to ensure that it does not happen again); part of the problem was that a different M. Berger also entered the contest, and we conflated your entries. Your story is very strong and well-written; it would certainly have been sent on to the final judge, which make this doubly unfortunate.
We will process a refund for you; again, I apologize for the error, and hope you will enter again next year.
What???? Crushed describes the state that I stayed in for a week after this notice. All that work, I thought, for nothing! I put the story aside worked on other things.
Thank goodness I’ve become obsessive in reviewing calls for stories for anthologies, contests, literary journals, etc. A few weeks after the contest debacle, I saw an anthology call for short second person stories. Perfect! Woo hoo! I sent my story off again with high hopes.
4) I received a note from Mandi Lynch, the editor that said, she and her staff liked the story very much, but felt that the story was too short and they weren’t including it in the anthology.
5) I sat there breathing very hard looking, at this email, for a long time. I believed in this story. I believed in its original premise, crisp dialogue and good characterization. So, I mustered up some courage and thought, I’m going to do something I’ve never done before—ask the editor for a second chance.
I wrote her a short and direct email:
Thanks for your email and interest in my story. Would you be willing to take another look at it, if I worked it up to about 1500 words or so? And, if so, when would you want to see it? I’m taking a bit of a gamble here, but thought I should ask. Thanks for your time!
6) I was able to email this editor because I’ve been taking good care of all those inner critics and writing gremlins. I could have lapsed into a fatal version of ‘This rejection proves that you know nothing about writing. No one is going to want this story. Give up, etc.”
Mandi, the editor, responded quickly and said yes she was willing to take a second look at it. She was in a time crunch, so I had a little over a week to get her something.
7) Then I panicked! I had to take a good story from 500 words and expand it into 1500 words and ideally something she would consider publishing. In a fever I began work on it and realized that because of the deadline I was going to have to do something else that I hadn’t done before…ask for help from different places. I asked my monthly writing group to look at a draft of the story. I felt uncomfortable asking for help on a story out of our regular cycle. But, I did it. I also posted my story on my online writing community with SARK (Write it Now with SARK), also a big risk given that I didn’t have a shared face to face writing history with them.
8) Support flooded in from all corners! Writers from the monthly group gave amazing feedback. They even appreciated being asked! Several folks from the WINS group also gave thoughtful feedback and encouragement. People were rooting for me to revise and submit this story.
Finally, I took the story to my evening writing class with Melissa Delbridge. I read it to the class, got feedback, but still struggled with the ending. After class, Melissa suggested we look at the story together. I protested as I didn’t want to take up more of her time. She said not to worry and then we sat there and she read my story out loud—line by line—and together we examined the areas that weren’t working. Can I tell you what it means when a writing teacher takes the time (after teaching a two hour class no less!) to sit with you and give you her undivided attention? All I could do was say thank you profusely and sail away into the night. Melissa was the second ‘godmother’ to ‘Family Line’.
9) I revised my heart out and made Mandi’s deadline. The next day I received an email from her. She loved the revision and I was in the anthology!
10) Lessons: Never give up on an idea that you believe in. Remember editors are people, too. They can be open to looking at revised work. Be willing to revise until the work sings. Ask for support, even when it make you uncomfortable. Ask for support from people that you haven’t asked from before. Receive all support graciously. Believe you are worthy of it. Celebrate your success with your creative tribe. Repeat!
Thanks to my creative tribe: Tim, Melissa, Marjorie, The First Thursday Writers’ Group, “The “Girls Monthly Writing Group, DJ, Cathy and Michele and others on WINS
You Don’t Say: Stories in the Second Person is available from Amazon
Posted July 22, 2012on:
Although for the past ten years I’ve lived less than an hour away from the well-known Rhine Center, in Durham, last week was the first time that I had a chance to attend one of their programs. The Rhine Center has a long history in research on parapsychology and human consciousness and is composed of a research center and an education center. The Rhine Education Center “provides professional education in parapsychology and public events at the Rhine explore psychic abilities, experiences, techniques, and the culture of ESP throughout the world” (Rhine Center website). On Friday, July 13, they were featuring a science fiction writer that I didn’t know—Arlan Andrews and his talk ‘Science Fiction and the Future of the Paranormal’ caught my eye. The novel I am writing examines the effects of uncontrolled ‘psi’ outbreaks, so I thought Andrews’s talk created a good reason to make the trip.
Dr. Andrews is an engineer, science fiction writer, and author of hundreds of articles, stories and columns on the paranormal, science fiction, futurism, ancient civilizations, future technology and politics.
His began by discussing how he got interested in science fiction, and his experiences investigating paranormal activity with his wife (a noted psychic). His talk was chock-full of intriguing concepts, great stories and photos of him, Ray Bradbury and other science fiction writers at conferences during the 1980s and 1990s. But, what I found the most fascinating was how he founded SIGMA, a think tank of professional science fiction, fantasy and game writers who provide pro bono futurist talks to the U.S. government (and paid consulting for corporations). He developed this think tank after working as a Fellow in the White House Science Office in 1992-1993. Given science fiction’s enormous role in shaping and imagining technology and the future, he wanted to bring the expertise of the science fiction community to inform challenging public policy issues. He started SIGMA, in 1993, with a modest group of nine PhDs (he stressed that in the beginning, he had to have people with doctorates to get over the ‘giggle factor’ by Washington officials), and has grown it to 40 plus members.
What? A group of distinguished science fiction writers (many of whom are scientists and engineers) giving talks to U.S. government officials and world leaders on how to stretch their thinking to solve global dilemmas and imagine a better future? Sign me up!! How do I join? How do I get invited? Well, I’ve probably got a bit more publishing to do before I get invited (and hmm maybe a doctorate in a science field wouldn’t hurt either)…but hey, I’ll put getting invited to SIGMA on my bucket list!
SIGMA has spoken to the U.S. government, over the years, on national security issues, evolutionary technologies and futurism. He showed us pictures from some of these meetings on ‘science fictional thinking’ in which they stress the importance of imaginative and associative thinking, and turning problems upside down in order to generate innovative ideas. My creativity coach’s heart pumped three times harder as I learned about SIGMA (and was surprised that I’d never heard of them before). The talent of the SIGMA group is extraordinary and includes many writers you know: Elizabeth Moon, Nancy Cress, Greg Bear, Dr. Yoji Kondo, Michael Swanwick, S.M. Sterling, and Dr. Larry Niven to name a few.
Earlier this year, as invited guests, SIGMA presented a panel on “Disruptive Technologies” at the Global Competitiveness Forum (GCF) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. This panel generated great buzz. The conversation inspired computer engineer Yasser Bahjatt to create a TEDx talk about how Arab science fiction could dream a better future and he’s created an open platform to support artistic expression and a new culture of science fiction writing. Check out the inspiring video and his vision.
Arlan Andrews didn’t look tired after giving a rousing two-hour talk. I’m glad that I went (thanks to my partner, Tim for finding out about this event and buying tickets!) and learned so much. I’m sure that my future will include more visits to the Rhine Center. I talked with Dr. Andrews about a possible interview exploring his ideas about creativity. I’m expecting that will be a blast, too!
Last month’s ‘Love Your Creative Self’ series was a wonderful success. I had so much fun bringing together writers and artists to discuss how to nurture our creative lives. Later this spring, I’ll return to many of the themes raised in the series.
March is Women’s History Month and my intention is to honor it by discussing women writers whose work and lives have inspired me and others. I’m beginning with one of my favorite authors—Octavia Butler. Butler was one of the most talented and celebrated speculative fiction writers of the 20th century. She overcame the odds against her gender, race and class background to become a successful author.
Annually I reread Butler’s insightful short essay ‘Positive Obsession’ that chronicles how she became a writer. The word obsession can have a negative connotation. It can mean that we have an unhealthy fascination with an object or situation. In this essay, however, she uses the term ‘positive obsession’ to indicate an approach that helped her realize her dreams:
“Obsession can be a useful tool if it’s positive obsession. Using it is like aiming carefully in archery.
I took archery in high school because it wasn’t a team sport. I liked other team sports, but in archery you did well or badly according to your own efforts. No one else to blame. I wanted to see what I could do. I learned to aim high. Aim above the target. Aim just there! Relax. Let it go. If you aimed right, you hit the bull’s-eye. I saw positive obsession as a way of aiming yourself, your life, at your chosen target. Decide what you want. Aim high. Go for it.
I wanted to sell a story. Before I knew how to type, I wanted to sell a story.” (from ‘Positive Obsession’ in Blood child and other stories)
She kept her focus on a publication goal through getting ripped off by an agent (who charged a “reading fee”), through getting up at 2am and writing before she went to work, through numerous rejections and even a creative writing teacher who asked her ‘Can’t you write anything normal?’ She sold her first story at age 23 and then nothing for another five years. Then she sold Kindred, her first novel.
Understanding what compels us to do creative work is useful self-awareness. Try answering the following:
What is your positive obsession? Is it finishing a longer piece? Selling it? Winning a writing award? Studying with a famous teacher? Writing in several different genres?
What creative work do you most want to share with the world?
How do you support your positive obsession (Butler talks about the importance of taking writing classes and joining writing groups)?
Record your answers and keep them close to where you create. Use them as fuel to keep you going when you encounter obstacles in pursuing your goals.
(Photo credit: image obtained from http://weavingloveuntanglingconfusion.blogspot.com/2011/06/madly-in-love-obsession-compulsion-and.html)