Epiphany du Jour

You know, I had kind of a strange thought while I was emailing a friend today on a completely non-writing-related topic. (And if you’re reading, Lj, sorry, but you know how people with blogs are.) We were talking about moving, and how some people we know move. A lot. And how psychotically disarranged it makes your inner life, and how some people seem to relish bemoaning the discomfort, and the inevitable little losses, etc. And then, I said something which showed just how much of a writer freak I have become:

I do think we get conditioned to move. Or to run. Or to turn the page to a blank sheet if we don’t like the story we’re writing on this page. The only problem with that fresh start/fresh sheet is that we never finish the story we’re on. In writing, that sucks – we miss writing our way out of potentially difficult passages to see how the complexity and beauty of the finished product hinges on those chapters we rewrote and tightened up umpteen times. We miss knowing that we can, when we must, face deleting entire sections of the work and reworking it again. And again. And again. In life… well, there’s no delete button, but I do wonder sometimes if some mental files don’t get lost, like our inevitably mislaid box of knives, if we never allow ourselves to get past a certain point where we are.

Wow, I scare me.

But then I thought, SERIOUSLY. This is true. How much have I grown as a writer, just in the last two months, from editing and re-editing the veriest piece of crap ever written that I used to call my novel? How good was it for me, back in undergrad days to lose entire papers, and be forced to replace said essays from memory, assignments that were always even better the second time around? While I wouldn’t advise this for anyone – our blood vessels can only take so much pressure before the inevitable Jake Morgendorffer style eruptions – it does go to show that tight spots can sometimes be good for you. Tremendously good.

Typical, huh? What doesn’t kill us makes us heck of good at ad libbing.

My two cents before the long weekend.

Writing, Randomly

Lots going on to post this week in the world of words. First, I’ve read a lot of reviews of the Curious George phenomena, and the brouhaha from animal rights and parent groups reminds me a bit of the discussions/arguments that came up over the Little Black Sambo and Uncle Remus tales we discussed at the Alma Mater. When these books were written, it was definitely a different world, both in terms of what people thought was okay to do with people and with animals. The discussion is good, but the outrage and theater picketing, completely incomprehensible to children, is somewhat pointless…

Meanwhile does anyone know if Michelle Tea’s latest is supposed to be a YA novel? The Chronicle review of Rose of No Man’s Land talks about a 14-year-old narrator, and gives it really positive reviews for a “singular voice in a coming-of-age novel.” Hmm.

All right. Back to the grind.

Ground Floor

Mini history lesson: Many years ago, science fiction was almost solely the purview of magazines. The decline and fall of the ‘penny dreadful’ left room in the pulp fiction field for more stories of The Amazing. When people began to believe that there was Someone Else Out There, alien encounter stories flooded the presses and the radio wires. The 1950’s spawned some of the best science fiction, published in the short stories of Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, in the fact vs. fiction episodes of Analog, and in the long running Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. All of the above was then reviewed in Locus Magazine. As science fiction became more mainstream, the magazines became the tool to introduce new writers into the publishing market. Classics like Stephen King’s Dark Tower, Daniel Keyes’s Flowers for Algernon, and Walter M. Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz had their debut in the pages of magazines, and the writers went on to further success.

Science fiction magazines have never entirely lost their readership, but as writing and publishing have become more commercialized, the link between the magazine and novel market has weakened. Formerly a refuge for new writers, with the decline in story magazines as a whole, now only the best and most well-known novelists can break in. Science fiction and fantasy novels, once inexpensive, are growing pricier as the genre morphs and grows into something more mainstream.

Enter Baen Books. One of the most cheerfully prolific science fiction and fantasy pulp fiction publishers around, they’ve decided that it’s time to resurrect an aging genre. In June of 2006, they are launching a new science fiction magazine called Jim Baen’s UNIVERSE and they’re asking for writers. Two story slots per issue are being reserved for newcomers. If you’re a science fiction fan and dabble in the genre, you simply cannot beat that.

They post their rates, and give you space to discuss your work, and edit work in progress. Check out their submission guidelines and welcome to the Universe. Hope you like it there. It sounds promising — if you visit or write for them, let us know how it goes!

Okay, okay…

Obviously I owe the Post Office a little love after badmouthing them over the rate hike… I mean, yeah, rate hikes are not so good for the writer, yeah, and the notorious slowness of the postal service when you’re waiting for a reply from a publishing company or agent has to be seen to be believed, and yeah, they’re closed too many days, and they have too long of lines, and there are just too many with belltowers and people with weapons, but here, at least, they’re staffed by nice people who do their best for me, so I need to stop the hating. So, here goes: are these stamps not the cutest things ever?

A sunny weekend at the beach…?

Looking for something other than the L.A. Conference this next summer?
The Writer magazine is pleased to begin what we hope will be a long partnership with the Santa Barbara Writers Conference as its sponsor. In 2006 the SBWC celebrates its 34th year of giving writers the opportunity to improve their craft, associate with highly credentialed professionals and mingle with other writers. From June 23-30, writers from all over the country will gather in Santa Barbara, California, where they can choose among 30 different instructional workshops on everything from fiction to non-fiction, to screenwriting, poetry, biography, autobiography and memoir, travel writing, children’s lit and young adult, humor, marketing and ways to get your creative juices flowing. The Writer will sponsor a panel of agents and editors to answer participants questions about publishing and writing. Every afternoon there will be special speakers and panels and each evening a major author will speak. One day will be dedicated to letting attendees pitch ideas to agents and editors from around the country. This summer SBWC launches its Master Classes for experienced writers and a Young Writers Program for 14- to 18-year-olds. Our special guest speakers include Ray Bradbury, Erica Jong, T.C. Boyle, Jewell Parker Rhodes, Pulitzer-winning playwright Nilo Cruz, Gayle Lynds, Catherine Ryan Hyde and more. Come join us!

(The 101st Post. Cool, huh?)

I’ve always said that the most fun thing about writing is that I can be me — or anyone else. When the writer is automatically expected to embody all sorts of impossible creatures, the question of ‘who gets to write who/what’ has no more power. We will have grown as a nation of readers when we can accept humans exploring humanity as an entire subject, instead of expecting each group to limit themselves to an incremental examination of their perceived ethnicity.

It’s good to know that the same concept exists in the realms of other writers such as the talented Sid Fleischman. This nifty quote is on his biography page.

Weekend Words

Now, how cool is this? The Redwood City’s Orion School Book Fair featured 11-year olds confidently showing off their portfolios of stories and drawings to adult writers who were glad to see them. The children gained a peek into the process that creates the books they. The writers and illustrators discuss what it takes to create one. The writers talked about how hard editing was, and how bad it felt to erase things they’d written. They talked about how to get ideas, and showed flow charts, etc. When I was in the first grade, we had Author’s Conventions, where we had a single writer from the community come and do that for us, and we all had tea and were awarded on the best story from our grade group, etc. The teacher who did that for us moved on, but I hope someday to get involved in something like this — quel fun!
An interesting side note: some of my writing group is privy to the strange conversations I have with Secret Agent Man about race and writing, and some of the strange and upsetting conversations I had at grad school about “representing” and how I wasn’t doing it, by creating characters belonging to the dominant culture. It seems that the difficulty isn’t new, Gene Andrew Jarrett, adjunct professor of English at the University of Maryland writes in the SF Chronicle Insight section:

Usually, readers assume that a book written by a black author is a story about black people. This definition is everywhere. It has determined the way authors think about and write African American literature, the way publishers classify and distribute it, the way bookstores receive and sell it, the way libraries catalog and shelve it, the way readers locate and retrieve it, the way teachers, the way scholars, and anthologists use it, and the way students learn from it.

The fact is, sometimes writers just want to write about the commonality of human experience, instead of about race. However, it just comes across as weird to some people, and a minority writer can find themselves defensive. It’s heartening to know that authors like Toni Morrison and others actually wrote “out of character” pieces in which it’s almost impossible to determine the race of the characters in the work. It certainly changes the conversation when the color of the speakers is not at issue… it tends to perhaps centralize the focus on the facts, whether emotional or literal, and create a new angle on literature. A very enlightened idea, that.


Okay, I know this isn’t regarding writing, per se, but Wikipedia as organic online encyclopedic phenomenon is so useful to my life for getting random (and possibly inaccurate, but I do triple check my sources) and unimportant errata to jumpstart my brain that I had to share this tidbit. NPR reports that Wikipedia has started having to block access to their site from computers from Capitol Hill… because it’s not enough that politicians lie to your face. Their aides like to change the encyclopedia to reflect their version of reality, too. Whoo.

Meanwhile, the Newbery was another surprise for some, including Secret Agent Man, because few people expected the winning novel, Criss Cross to succeed. The Newbery Medal is administered by the American Library Association, and in awarding the prize to Lynne Rae Perkins, award committee chair Barbara Barstow praised Criss Cross as “an orderly, innovative, and risk-taking book in which nothing happens and everything happens.” This sounds much like this year’s National Book Award for Young People’s winning novel, The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy, in which much of the book is spent in what I’ve heard described as a ‘Little Women type of quaint nostalgia,’ though Publishers Weekly was actually kind, using the word ‘charming’ quite a bit. Criss Cross is set in the 60’s…

I find myself wondering if judges these days have succumbed to nostalgia as well. We’re told at Conferences that editors aren’t looking for ‘quiet books;’ Gossip Girls and The A- List (not to mention the others like Rainbow Party, LBD, etc.) are being push marketed with the pastel Chick Lit covers, but the awards are going to stories from the past that are long on charm and short on chaos. What gives? Editors, the public and the awards people are never on the same page.

…And more contests

Stopped by the cheerfully hokey W.I.N. competition page, and for all of its fun factor in having a “But wait! There’s more!” factor in the contest description, I was annoyed that I couldn’t quite find the contest deadline… Until I clicked ‘register now,’ that is, and found out that everything must be postmarked by March 15th. It’s actually a semi-nifty thing; you can upload your same story repeatedly if you want to a.) change it, b.) submit another section c.) just are as neurotically obsessive as most of us writer types are and need to go over and over it typos and ‘no I didn’t mean thats.’

No, I haven’t actually submitted anything yet, but I might. This is for novel excerpts instead of short stories… and we all have one or two of those sitting around, don’t we? My writing girlz, especially some of us who placed for a short story in the last contest should check it out. Hint?
You can enter as many works in as many categories as you wish, in these categories:
* Young Adult: Novel excerpt to 1,000 words + one page synopsis.
* Midgrade: Novel excerpt to 1,000 words + one page synopsis.
* Chapter Book: Novel excerpt to 1,000 words + one page synopsis.
* Non-fiction: Book excerpt to 1,000 words + one page synopsis

Plus poetry, picture book, and illustration, too, of which some of us should take note.

Okay, I know I haven’t done it yet. That’s not the point. I’m picking on someone else today.