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Archive for October, 2007

Please stand by . . .

Your gracious host is still in Portland.  He will post his weekly progress report when he gets a chance.

We apologize for the inconvenience. 

Progress Report, in which I manage to be outrageous

It is said that one learns more from failures than successes.  I firmly believe this.  (And I think I should be just about the smartest person in the world by now.)

However, I think it is also true that there are some things one can only learn from success.  You need to “learn how to win.”  Case in point:  this year’s Halloween contest over on Codex.  My story, “Right Before Your Very Eyes,” took third place.

In four years of trying, this is the first time I’ve placed in the contest.  I’m quite tickled.  But readers of these progress reports will know that I had a hell of time writing the story.  At one point, I hated it so much that I considered abandoning it.  But I persevered, finished it, and entered it in the contest, with low expectations.

Lo and behold, it took third place, garnering much more praise than any of my previous entries.  Writers truly are the worst judges of their own work.

I got to thinking about how and why this happened.  Perhaps a bit of analysis of this success was in order.  What did I do right with this story?  Here are my thoughts:

  1. Structure.  The story had a pretty clear three-act structure.  Not all of them do, you know.  But this one did.  And I can’t help concluding that it made the story more readable.
  2. The Opening.  As you may recall from previous progress reports, I wrote 500 words of this one and stopped.  I realized that I despised it, to the point that I dreaded going back to it.  But then I figured out why I didn’t like the opening:  it bored me.  So I scrapped it and started again, at the point where I started getting interested in the story.  It’s still not ideal, this opening, but it was damn sight better than that first one, let me tell you.
  3. Shocker in Act Two.  When I started the piece, I wasn’t sure about the middle.  Then I got an idea I simultaneously loved and balked at.  It was outrageous.  It was horrifying.  It came out of nowhere.  But it seemed to fit, so I went with it.  I ended up with one of the most disturbing scenes I have ever written.  It literally nauseated me.  I was amazed at my own reaction.  I figured if it was having that kind of effect on me, I must have done something right.  It was not only shocking, but it also raised the stakes on my protagonist considerably higher.  My boy was in a very tight spot.  I’m convinced that if I hadn’t stumbled across this scene, the story would not have been anywhere near as successful.  The third act was simply a matter of following through what I had already established.

Perhaps the most important lesson I take from this little exercise:  don’t be afraid of the outrageous.  In fact, cultivate it.  Seek it out.  Too much of my work plays it safe, I think.  I wind up with well crafted stories that are utterly lifeless, and doomed to collect complimentary rejection slips.

In Petra news, I began the rewrite in earnest, but the new scene I’m working on is currently kicking my ass.  I can’t go full bore, as I did in the first draft.  Now I have to be careful I’m not contradicting anything that comes later in the story.  I’m also introducing some of the characters considerably earlier than in the first draft, so I have to dig out the physical descriptions of those characters.  Plus, I had to create an entirely new setting, in a part of this world I had not yet explored.

And my schedule lately has been shot to hell, to boot.  Last weekend, I spent more time away from home than at it.  And that includes sleep time.

This week’s schedule doesn’t look any better.  I’m leaving for Portland on Friday, and won’t be back until the following Thursday.  Fortunately, I have recently acquired a laptop (thanks to my dear friend

), so I am planning to put it to good use on this trip.  I will need to get creative and break some tendencies in order to maximize my time.  Wish me luck on that score.

Really looking forward to the Portland trip, by the way.  It’s actually a conference for my day job that brings me there, but I’ll also get a chance to wine and dine with

,

, and numerous other Northwest Notables.

No updates for Write Club.

Right.  Gotta get to bed.

Progress Report, in which I tell you what you already know

Spent most of this week reading the other entries in the Codex Halloween Contest.  I figured I really needed to get this done before burying myself in the Petra rewrite.  (Rationalizations?  Me?  Never!)

This is always an interesting experience for me.  Basically, my job is to pick what I consider to be the top three entries (and I’m not able to vote for my own story, not that I would).  It’s kind of a miniature slush pile, and I get to play editor for a few days.  I get to be the guy making the tough decisions.  And make no mistake–those calls can be really hard sometimes.  A few of the stories didn’t do anything for me, one or two really stood out, but the bulk of them fell somewhere in between.  It was quite difficult for me to pick a third place entry; they were all so tightly bunched.  Eventually, I just bit the bullet and went with my gut.  I imagine editors have to do this sort of thing a lot.  They only have so many slots, and far too many stories vying to fill them.  The difference between the pieces that make the cut and those that don’t can be ridiculously thin–so much so that the decision often appears arbitrary.

It’s a wacky business, folks.  But I’m not telling you any news, I’m sure.

I also took a crack at my pile of returned mss, again working to get them back into circulation.  I shall make an effort over the next few weeks to get continue whittling at it. 

In Petra news, I’ve figured out roughly how much I need to do each week to finish the rewrite by the end of the year.  I’ve also busied myself with some renaming.  Names of characters and places either work for me or they don’t, and a couple of the names I’ve chosen just don’t.  I figure two characters and one locale need rechristening–an often maddening exercise, but one that needs to be done. 

Other than that, I’m back at page one, once again.  We all know how that one goes, don’t we?

One update for Write Club:  Talebones bounced “What Really Happened That Night.”  Patrick scribbled a note on the rejection:  “We did something relatively similar a few issues ago.”  Scooped again.  Drat the luck.  Response time, 2 1/2 months.

Gotta bail.