May 22, 2013
Writing is important; just as important is exposing your work to light. The act of writing is an end in itself: it releases the natural creativity we all have. I always say that I never know how I feel about something until I’ve written about it. Writing organises your thought. But it need not be the end of the process.
Submit your work to markets to find like minds. Too man writers (especially, given our unequal societies, female writers) live in terror of having their work assessed by editors and publishers. If you have a tendency to keep revising over and over and over, you may be avoiding that important step.
Screw your courage to the sticking place and submit your work. Yes, you’ll get rejections. They won’t kill you, trust me. How many things can you succeed at the first time you do it? Nothing worth doing. Toughen your skin and pay attention to any feedback you get.
There seem to be largely two groups of would-be writers: those with an inflated sense of their ability and those with no confidence in their ability. I’m not really bothered about the first kind (they’ll take care of themselves); if you’re the second kind, you need to get in the habit of submitting, getting rejections, and resubmitting after revisions or better market research.
I just finished making the final selection of stories for Fox Spirit Books‘ Noir Carnival anthology. I had a number of stories rejected because they were not at all noir, though they may have featured a carnival of some kind. Editors have rules for a reason, so remember:
Read submissions guidelines. This should be part of your research for markets in the first place! Know what the editor’s actually looking for and the nature of the publication. If you’re submitting a traditional horror story to a market that prides themselves on being ‘edgy’ you’re likely to get a rejection. Find the market that welcomes your work.
Follow submission guidelines, including format, word count, and file type. They are there for all kinds of reasons; failure to follow them may lead to immediate rejection by an editor whose patience has been tried.
Get back to work writing new things. Don’t sit waiting for a reply. Get on to the next thing. Always be writing! Good editors will do their best to work through submissions in a timely manner, but there are often circumstances that interfere. Many editors have to juggle other responsibilities just as writers do. If the wait has been longer than the stated likely time period, follow up with a polite email asking for an update.
“This manuscript of yours that has just come back from another editor is a precious package. Don’t consider it rejected. Consider that you’ve addressed it ‘to the editor who can appreciate my work’ and it has simply come back stamped ‘Not at this address’. Just keep looking for the right address.”
― Barbara Kingsolver
May 20, 2013
May 15, 2013
While idling in London, as you do, I decided to catch the much ballyhooed “David Bowie is” exhibit at the V&A. I knew a few people who’d gone and perhaps more importantly, I knew a few people who wouldn’t have the opportunity to go, so I wanted to share the wealth, so to speak. I headed over to the museum before opening, dawdling with the magpies in Hyde Park a while, snapping random photos and still managed to be early — but not early enough. I guess I ought to have realised it was still a hot ticket. Woof!
Two queues later (I took photos of my progress and shared them on Twitter, thanks to the free wifi), I had the ticket in my hot little hands. I duly promised not to sketch, but it amused me to think of him (or his people) demanding that no one be allowed to sketch anything in the show — heaven forfend that someone steal inspiration from it! Because that’s what proved most fascinating to me: how Bowie got ideas.
This is the thing: you need to feed your head if you want to create. Often people fill their heads with direct models: sketching the masters, devouring the volumes written by those you would like to emulate. But what I quickly saw was that Bowie is one of those people who just feed their heads with everything.
You never know what might prove useful. Bowie studied music and art and theatre and fashion — even mime and dance with Lindsay Kemp (as did Kate Bush). So when he wanted to look like an alien, he chose fashions by Yamamoto, and when he wanted an ethereal decadent Dresden cabaret vibe he took a page from Klaus Nomi. His stage shows are not just visual spectacles, but true performances with a narrative arc — and that’s what takes the best of them beyond simple visual dazzle to co-creation with his audience.
That’s what gives it a life of its own.
I enjoyed seeing the memorabilia and programs and such, but I was a lot more fascinated with the bits that revealed his process. Most artists are fascinated to see how others do what they do; there’s not one way, but I think we always hope that we’ll find that one magical key we didn’t know about that will unlock treasures previously hidden in our heads.
So while most of the audience settled in the room full of screens of performances, I sat for a long while in the room where the books, artists, fashions and music hung that inspired Bowie: everyone from Marlene Dietrich to JG Ballard. I loved how the headsets provided a location specific soundtrack, drifting from music to spoken word to sound depending upon where you stood. It was more like what’s in my head anyway.
Feed your head indiscriminately: be playful with what you find there.
I found it amusing that the “David Bowie is” theme continued into the shop, including the pencils with “David Bowie is existing in other people’s words” and the eraser that declared “David Bowie is correcting mistakes” and I couldn’t resist the badge that says, “David Bowie is making us all voyeurs.” Of course around the corner from the exhibit was the best ploy of all:
May 13, 2013
May 8, 2013
I’m happy to announce the results of the 2013 Postcard Fiction Contest, images of the winning entries above. My grateful thanks to everyone who sent in a postcard. I’ll just copy the stories here. Second runner up with “The Right Time” on a WTC postcard is John Williams-Searle:
The Right Time
When the elevator stopped between floors, the stockbroker looked up, annoyed and then startled.
“What are you doing here? You’re dead.”
A man in chef whites shrugged.
“Guilty as charged. It was mid-September and I was late for work. I hated that place. Crushing debt. My wife insisted we look at vacation homes. My kids were brats. I just stepped out.”
I knew it! How many people did that? My wife and I argue about it. She says I’m an idiot.”
“Wives do that. The life insurance helped mine forget. She recovered in the Hamptons and I make omlets.”
“I went to your memorial service. She seemed distraught.”
There was a slight lurch as the elevator started moving.
“Well, now you know. What are you going to do?”
“Hope I’m in the right place at the right time.”
First runner up, AKA Miss Congeniality, comes from Seumas, who sent his entry on a lovely picture of the Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi:
Singing in the Rain
Nothing keeps the sleet from seeping down yer neck. Forgot my umbrella and not even a shop doorway to huddle against waiting for the bluudy bus. The busker laddie’s got a wee brolly rigged up, sticking out from a crack in the wall, fifteen feet away from the stop. He strums his guitar and sings. Danny Boy. Even through the wet, ye can hear the haunting, crackly timbre in his voice. My Da’s favourite song. Long gone now, poor bastard. God, I can hear him sing it, too. My cheeks are soaked, and it’s not the rain. I drop a few coins in the case. Here comes the bus. Bugger it. I can get the next one. Love you, Da…
And now for the drumroll –
WINNER and champion who will receive the $25 prize — all in pennies! Only joking — or am I? On a Frida Kahlo postcard and shamelessly playing to the judges with a gratuitous Fall reference, it’s mbilokur:
The skull in her hands stares at her, eye sockets like big empty shot glasses. “It is your death,” says the Brujo. “See? It even has your name written on it.”
“But I asked for a different…treatment…”
“Heh. The skull is a giant pill. Pharmaceutical joke. Either way, you must devour your death, or your death will devour you.”
“But the treat– I ordered the Mandrake Anthrax, not the…”
“Feh! That’s how you ended up here in the first place!”
A tongue flicked across the sugary teeth, or maybe it was a worm.
“Please, just one more taste…”
She feels the skull’s jaw opening as her surroundings fade to black…”
Congratulations to everyone who entered — it was a delight to read your entries and to receive such lovely postcards from different places. Thank you all for entering and why not send a little postcard story to your friends more often?
May 6, 2013
Do you write with music?
Frank Duffy asked me to be a part of a project over at the Horrifically Horrifying Horror blog looking at how (or if) writers use music for writing. I get to appear with a bunch of heavy hitters including Lisa Tuttle, Dennis Etchison, Christopher Fowler, Steve Rasnic Tem, Howard Linskey and the lovely Mr B.
Yes, you will not be surprised to hear I write about The Fall — but about a lot more, too!
There’s a wide variety of responses. Ian Ayris talks about needing complete silence — until he was stuck on a final, pivotal scene for his novel and then music helped him over the sudden block. Tim Grimwood recalls how his dark imagination was unlocked by a modern interpretation of Macbeth that included Black Sabbath as a soundtrack. It seems Stephen Bacon shares my love of story songs.
A lot of folks speak of their love for soundtracks: they are good stuff. Often it’s easier to write to something without lyrics. The music buoys you over the words in your head, while singing might actually distract you from them.
Do you use music while you write? Why not drop by and add your voice to the conversation:
May 3, 2013
Talk amongst yourselves.
I shall return anon.