Confidence, Imposter Syndrome, Rejection

Today, I don’t think I’m a good writer; I know I am. I’ve worked on my craft for many moons now. My strengths range from tight prose to realistic characters to strong voice. And I know it. I developed my skills through short fiction, and have moved on to writing strong novels. And I know it. My ability to create professional-level short stories has taken off. And I know it.

I did go through a period–a years-long period–of imposter syndrome. I swear it! I despaired that my short fiction would be anything but formulaic. While completing my first polished novel, which I am now submitting, I fretted that it would never be finished, let alone any good. Perhaps, without all the elbow grease and concentration and time investment, that imposter syndrome phase would have remained relevant. Yet I put in the work, developed my craft, and became a good writer. I know I did. So why in the hell am I still getting rejected all the time?

During the holiday season, I had three short story acceptances and a request for the first fifty pages of my novel, all in the span of a seven-day period. One week, one glorious week, that told me that 2017 was going to be my year. My breakout year, wherein all that hard work would be vindicated, and I would join the ranks of professional writers. My novel would sell, I’d have another one in the pipe, and would be working on a third. I’d churn out sort stories and flip them to e-zines and anthologies at least once a month.

Well, fast forward to June, and I’ve had exactly zero short story sales, few nibbles, and zero full requests on my book. Needless to say, the rest of my novel wasn’t even requested, let alone bought. I’m being told my 55,000 word fantasy novel is not only too short, but too hard to sell based on content. What gives?

Success in this industry can be slow, no matter how talented a writer you are. Stephen King has some poignant tales to tell on the topic, as well as on imposter syndrome. Time and again, I’ve been advised to be patient and to keep at it. No worries there, as I doubt it’s possible for me to give up. I came into this ready for rejection and, though it’s getting rough right now, I’m still plugging away. Sure, I’m getting incredibly tired of reading those incredibly kind and complimentary rejection emails–but at least I’m getting those. I remember a time when a kind rejection would have been a thrilling occasion. So there’s progress, however slow.

The point is, just because you reach a high level of confidence as a writer doesn’t mean you’re automatically going to succeed. Defeating imposter syndrome is an exciting achievement for a writer, but it doesn’t equal sales. You’ll continue to be rejected, even if and when you become successful. The battle against reverting to imposter syndrome and allowing yourself to become dejected is constant. The struggle is real. If you know you’re a good writer, just keep banging out words. Maybe you’ll get there. Maybe you’ll never achieve success, whatever your metric for success may be. Either way, you have stories to tell, so tell them.

Siobhan Caughey Interview

An interview of mine with Siobhan Caughey went live on the blog Bibliophile Ramblings today. You can find the interview at the blog here:

Bibliophile Ramblings Siobhan Caughey Interview

Homogeneity and Realism

This post is inspired by something @MaryRobinette tweeted last week, and a takeaway I had from the Nebula Conference. On a panel there about what’s popular now in genre fiction, the mashup Queer Space Opera got thrown around a lot. It’s trending in the spec fic community, and that’s pretty cool. Several days later, I read Mary’s tweet, and it really hit home. She said: “It’s not about adding diversity for the sake of diversity, it’s about subtracting homogeneity for the sake of realism.”

Is it okay to make a character queer simply because it doesn’t change the story and it might help you sell the piece? I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, per se. You aren’t harming anyone, but you’re certainly not advocating for diversity or acting as much of an ally in doing so. It’s a bit of harmless pandering, trying to use hot button topics and key words to market your fiction.

Instead, why not try to do what Mary suggests, and use diversity as a tool to build realistic worlds? Would an alien planet really be ruled by just one government, or populated by one culture? What are the gender dynamics of the evil empire in your epic fantasy tome? How does racial bias figure into the race for survival in a haunting story? When populist regimes clash with equality movements in your dystopian future, in what directions could the conflict move?

Too often we find ourselves building homogenous countries, organizations, or even worlds, in our genre fiction. True, we might do so to pit one against the other, or delve into some kind of social commentary, but we’re often missing out on a key implement in our writing toolbox: the ability to use reality to aid our fiction.

Mr. Leiber’s Collection

I’m pleased to announce that my horror story, Mr. Leiber’s Collection, has just gone live on Crimson Streets. I think the art work is particularly striking.
 
You can find the story here:
 
 

Dining Out on Words

 

When dining out, a good meal isn’t all a writer can find on the menu. Such an outing can offer up a few hundred words for a main course, or a good chunk of an outline on the side, perhaps even some editing for desert. Even better, these tidbits come without calories. More and more, I’m finding that writing out rather than in my home office (my recliner) provides a welcome creative spark.

This isn’t a revelation. Writers have been working in coffee shops for untold millennia (I’m assured the Egyptians served a good latte), bars, and any other place with a comfy chair and good Wi-Fi (which the ancient Egyptians invented, of course). Often this is because the home is not a good work environment. Whether it’s because the house is occupied by rambunctious children and/or an unaccommodating spouse, has no comfortable place to write, or whatnot, many people have to get out to get work done. Some view the home as a place of rest and not work. Others simply feel too comfortable at home to write. Whatever the reason, there’s nothing new about writers writing outside the home. And, occasionally, a writer will have a snack or a meal while out and about and writing.

So why am I bothering to write about an already commonplace occurrence? Because I’ve come to enjoy the benefits of Shut Up & Write!. This organization brings writers together at local meetings across the country so they can get work done. The structure is simple: once a week you come together, chat for a short amount of time, then enjoy a complete hour of uninterrupted writing.

Sounds simple, and sounds like much ado about nothing, right? Well I (and Benedick) disagree. Oftentimes writers stall out not through block, but because they don’t dedicate time to write. Surely a person can find a measly hour a week to write, though, right? Well, when you have a busy schedule and add on the potential problems with writing at home, it’s easy for the week to slip by without managing a single word. Shut Up & Write! gives writers the opportunity to slip away from their daily grind and grant themselves a bit of writing time. What’s more, you’re not confined to just one hour a week. If there are multiple meetings in multiple locations around your area, you’re free to attend any and all of them. If you find your schedule simply won’t allow you to get away to a meeting in a given week, that’s no problem. Attendance is voluntary, after all.

For me, Shut Up & Write! isn’t what’s keeping me writing. I’m off on an injury disability, and so get loads of time (in my easy chair) to write to my heart’s content. Except sometimes it feels like a slog. It’s nice and quiet–too quiet; it’s nice and comfy–too comfy; it’s right in front of my TV–a simple distraction. My one hour a week at Shut Up & Write! is on a Thursday, a time of the week when I’m starting to flag. The meeting gives me a vital period of reinvigoration, which gets the old imagination churning again.

You might be wondering what Shut Up & Write! has to do with dining out. It just so happens that my group meets at a lovely Iraqi restaurant with a menu chock full of delectable items. Most groups meet in places with food options. While there, you can stick with water, you can come early and get a full meal plus desert, or you can do any and everything in between. The choice is yours. At Shut Up & Write! food may or may not be on the menu for you, but writing certainly is.

Halloween Nosh to be published in the Grivante Press anthology: MASHED: The Culinary Delights of Twisted Erotic Horror.

You can pre-order this delightful anthology at the following link:

Pre-order for MASHED

 

Through a Poisoned Stream I Flow Published

I am pleased to announce my story, “Through a Poisoned Stream I Flow,” has been published today at Perihelion Science Fiction.

The Grinning Cat Published

I am pleased to announce that my horror story, “The Grinning Cat”, has been published in Verto Publishing’s Gothic Tales of Terror.

Setting the Table: The Perfect Feminist Beginning to Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, one of the best genre television series of all time, was an undeniable feminist vehicle. It boasted a bunch of strong and interesting female characters, even aside from its namesake, tackled adult feminine themes, and proved to the industry that a genre series can be led by a heroine. Sure, past genre shows had strong leading ladies at the helm, but they were so few and far between as to be negligible. And Whedon opened Buffy the Vampire Slayer with a succinct scene which represented what was to come.

When I began re-watching this series yesterday, I was struck by how simply and perfectly Joss Whedon set the table for this show’s feminist thrust in the opening scene. It’s nighttime, with crickets chirping, a dog barking in the background, and creepy music playing. We get a foreboding external shot of Sunnydale High School in the darkness. You know, standard horror fare. There’s more creepy music as the camera pans around the shadowy school interior, and WHAM! A window in the science lab is busted in. A young man and his date sneak inside.

Now, this is your prototypical horror couple. He’s brash, and she’s sweet. She asks if he’s sure it’s a good idea, and his cocky response is that it’s a great idea. Here Whedon has masterfully set the stereotypes in one short exchange–the bad boy and the good girl.

He tries to lure her to the top of the gym for some hanky panky, but she’s hesitant and doesn’t want to go up there. He assumes she’s too anxious, ready to do it then and there. She’s afraid of getting into trouble–oh, he promises they’ll get into trouble–and he goes in for the kiss.

There’s a noise in the bowels of the school which makes her really nervous. He promises her it’s nothing, then makes a creepy joke that maybe it’s something. The audience is immersed in horror vibes here. This is going to be a show about a vampire slayer, after all. What’s coming? A young couple preparing to engage in sexual promiscuity is a horror taboo. Surely they’re about to become a vampire snack.

Yet the girl’s unsure; she needs more reassurance. The boy tells her there’s nobody there. She asks if he’s sure, and he is. Okay, good, on with the nookie nookie, the audience figures. Right? Wrong. This girl, Darla, is the vampire, and since they’re alone, she slips on her vampire face and chows down on the poor boy, an unnamed character, the first victim of the series.

That’s right, Joss Whedon takes some tried and true horror tropes, stands them on their head, and opens the series off with a woman taking charge and getting stuff done. Granted, it’s a vampire, and she’s sucking a human dry, but hey, nobody’s perfect.

By using horror conventions to lull the audience into a comfort zone of what to expect, Whedon is able to pull a fast one. He sets the table for the audience to expect the unexpected, that this will not only be a new and different type of show, but a feminist show at that. He doesn’t wait to get into it, doesn’t allow it to trickle out to the audience slowly throughout the season. Whedon comes right out and shows the audience that this is how it’s going to be. Deal with it.

Well done, Joss. Well done.

Of Editing and Writing

Sitting down behind your computer, or at your table with a notepad and pencil, you’re ready to bang out a new yarn, as Robert E. Howard would put it. There’s nothing more exciting than taking a fresh idea, wrangling it into words, and forming a new story. The act of creation, bringing words to life, can be an intoxicating high.

And then there’s editing.

Don’t get me wrong. I often love the editing process. Setting aside a story for a time so I can get a fresh look at it, or having colleagues critique the story, often spurs me to new ideas, to either fix problems or to tweak good parts to make them great. Editing in itself isn’t at all a negative for me.

My editing problem has arisen from the fact that I have a significant body of writing, and some stories need editing. And I’m in the middle of a second draft of my first novel. Trying to get the novel draft finished is exhausting editing work. I can’t really justify editing short stories while the novel needs done. If I take any more short stories in to critique groups, I’ll invariably have to go back and do more editing.

Meanwhile, with so much editing work on my plate, when do I get the opportunity to write new words? To feel the excitement of starting (and finishing) that fresh new story? Ah, the pains of being a writer!