Category Archives: Writing

My New Hip Is Settling In Nicely…

…and I’m starting to write again. Healing has occupied a lot of my energy over the last couple of weeks, just as contemplating major surgery sapped a lot of my mental energy for a few weeks leading up to it.

There’s a big wad of post-surgery slacker inertia to overcome, but I’m starting to break it up the last couple of nights with some decent prewriting.

I’ve been keeping track of the Saga Of The Hip Replacement over on Twitter. The tweet below leads to the thread I’ve been keeping. There are a few tweets above and many below the one I chose to link. I chose the one I chose because holy crap look at those 29 staples I still can’t believe it.

I’m healing up nicely, though. And lots of folks have tweeted good vibes at me as I’ve been healing, which is awesome and every one of you rocks.

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“What Was I Thinking,”

rail-tracks-seemed-3309912-pixabay-cc0-pubdom

is the thought that goes through my head when I look to the past, especially when it comes to my writing.

Maybe it’s a version of impostor syndrome. Maybe it’s performance anxiety, in which it’s easy to think the worst about one’s own work. Maybe it’s…

Well. It probably owes to many factors. But creatives are saddled with the cliche of uncertainty about the worth, goodness, and success of their own work, because the cliche is (as far as I can tell) overwhelmingly true. The main way I’ve seen out of it is to adopt a Kanye-level ego and self-absorption, and screw that, I’d rather be unsure.

But back to me (no ego here; I’m so modest!).

I chose the rail junction image because I’m a person who always sees alternate paths. I see the future as a hugely ramified maze of paths — which is of course where I draw stories from and why my stories tend to be clustered within a century or two of the present. I see the past the same way, and spend too much time wondering at what might have been or even regretting the paths I’ve chosen. And that regret is sometimes rightful — what if I’d never wasted so many years in alcohol dependency and self-hate? But that’s unproductive and I try to look at it, evaluate it, acknowledge any lessons that might be present, and quickly retire it. And I work with a couple of mental health professionals to help me be better at that, because I’ve historically kinda sucked at it.

So of course I also wonder what could have been if I’d talked to some professionals ten years ago, or twenty, or thirty-five. Hmm.

See what I mean?

The present is the same way. Endless potential paths. I have a nasty tendency to want to travel all of them, and getting stuck like the proverbial ass trapped between two equally attractive bales of hay.

And so, all of the above in mind, I want to continue to build on my past writing… but also, every few weeks, I get the urge to cut ties with my past writing (oh, it could have been better, boo-hoo, you get the picture) and dream up a catchy pseudonym because S.A. Barton isn’t flashy and also conflicts with the much-more-search-engine-present and popular Beverly Barton. And sometimes even the hideous zealot-ideologue revisionist fake-historian David Barton, who I wish I didn’t share a last name with.

Look, I know keeping the name I’ve kept for six years is the better choice. But for me, it’s difficult not to agonize a little over what might have been. What if I’d chosen a “better” nom de plume?

Heh.

(This post appeared on my Patreon page first, ten days before it appeared here. If you become a patron, you can see stuff early too!)

Submission And Rejection (For Writers)

This is a little bit especially for people in the early days of their sending-their-writing-to-total-strangers-and-asking-them-to-publish-it careers. Which is daunting. It was for me. It was every time I did it, and so far I’ve chalked up around 200 rejections for 4 acceptances, only two of which are still in print (in the sci-fi world, small mags can come and go fast).

Rejection sucks no matter where you find it, but it’s worth it. And it’s just part of the game. An editor gets hundreds of stories for every one they print. Rejection might mean you need to do more work on your story or your writing in general — but it also often means a story isn’t a good fit for the mag, the upcoming issue, or the editor just likes another story a smidge more. Just part of the game.

But anyway, I had this little exchange. Maybe you can take something away from it.

 

If you’re going to submit stories, and you might have more than one in circulation — and that’s likely if you’re steadily writing. It can take an editor a day or two to reject a story (Clarkesworld, in my experience, was always quick to reject me, and that’s not only because my stories didn’t do it for the editor, but because they have notoriously fast turnaround in general probably due to hard work and fast reading). Or it can take two weeks, or two months for some markets, sometimes even more. Take a peek at the bottom of the landing page of the Submission Grinder — they keep a running list of response times reported by writers. They also maintain a great list of markets to send stories to if you’re doing that.

It’s very easy to end up with multiple stories in play at once.

So you can use a tracker sheet like I do (below). Or keep a digital record on a spreadsheet. Or something else that suits you.

The advantage of the simple little one-story-per-sheet tracker is it’s very easy to see where a story has been so you don’t send it back to the same place twice (which is a no-no 99.9% of the time).

The weakness of this sheet is that you have to look over all the sheets for all the stories that you have out at a time to make sure you are not submitting a second story to the same market that hasn’t yet decided on the first story you sent them (also a no-no 99.9% of the time).

Personally, I can live with that. You may not be so excited, in which case I’m sorry I wasn’t more help!

The notes section gives you a place to write “send more” if the editor says send more, or anything else you think is relevant. It also gives you a place to note the exclusivity period on the story if you’re accepted so you know when you can resubmit it to a reprint market or self-publish it (which, of course, is my personal game).

Here’s the tracker sheet I use. I wanted simple, so I made simple. I just copy-pasted it here — I don’t know if you can copy it and use it in this form. If not, drop me a comment and I can email you the .doc file.

Story:

Word Count:

Submitted To

Date

Accepted/Rejected

Date

Notes

Short Story Review: Elves of Antarctica by Paul McAuley

Review 2018 Elves of Antarctica Paul McAuley Drowned Worlds COVER IMAGE

This is the first time I’ve reviewed a short story here. I’m pretty sure, anyway. At the very least, it’s the first time I’ve done it with the intention of doing them as a regular feature of my blog-slash-authorpage. (Note: this first appeared on my Patreon page 8 days ago — become a patron and see blog posts a week-plus early, even if you pledge just ONE dollar.

So, before I begin, some notes.

I think I’ll always lead with a spoiler warning, just in case. Like this: there may be spoilers in here, because 99% of the time I just don’t care about spoilers.

And that’s true. I’m one of those weirdos who can have the ending and twists of a movie, book, or story revealed to me and fully enjoy the thing anyway. I’m kind of a fan of spoiling as a device in fiction, in fact. Stephen King loves to do that. He’ll tell you someone is going to die a hundred pages before they die, and the story of how they die is still delicious. More delicious, I think. The flavor is in the telling.

And I’m not going to give stars. Screw grades, especially when they’re nothing more than my opinion. I always feel awkward trying to give a numerical value to how much I like a thing. I’m also the person who says “well, I don’t really have a favorite, but I do like (names five things)” when asked what their favorite whatever is.

I don’t think less of you if you give stars to things, though. Or have favorites. You do you – and I’m not saying that in a sarcastic way.

Now, the actual review:

Elves of Antarctica by Paul McAuley, found in Drowned Worlds, editor Jonathan Strahan. It’s the kickoff story.

My experience: it was easy to read, but also easy to put down and finish tomorrow, which I did. Neither of those traits, speaking of “put down,” is a putdown. I didn’t find it highly impactful, but it was still worth my time.

Standout features: the worldbuilding was excellent and detailed, as was the backstory of the main character. The story is a fine tour through the state of ecological affairs in the next century, and I found it much in the tradition of Hugo Gernsback with his worldbuilding-heavy “look! It’s the future!” stories. McAuley, however, has not built Hugo’s cardboard cutout characters. While the other characters aren’t fleshed out any more than their cosmetic roles demand, protagonist Mike Torres is a deep and rich character – if the worldbuilding wasn’t so significant to current climate change events, I’d take it for an excuse to plumb the depths of his angst, hope, and his curious entanglement with the phenomenon of the elf stones scattered across the partially uniced landscape of coastal Antarctica (which are inscribed in “elvish,” though are we talking Tolkien’s elvish? How else would people recognize and read Elvish? Maybe I missed the mention of Tolkein – or maybe not. The estate is famously litigious. I was reading this part at three in the morning jotting notes sideways in bed, so who knows what I might have missed in a moment of fatigue.

The stones are mysterious, or not. It’s hard to be sure, and that’s a fine note of humanity in the story. They’re probably placed there by humans, but the “stoners” (distracting name for elf stone enthusiasts, by the way) are happy to muse about mystical origins anyhow. They’re kind of a stand-in for stories in that way – we all know Star Wars is fiction, but there’s a Jedi church anyway. Two of them. Maybe more.

I wasn’t terribly excited to discover that this was a “something happened” story. Don’t come for the wrapup or a hint of conclusion. It’s not there. Which is a thing in the short story world, and there’s still plenty to be had in the reading. I’m just one of those people who favors a more concludey conclusion, even a “let’s just hint at what happens next” ending.

The writing is pretty spare for the most part, definitely in the “just tell the story” tradition – except when it comes to describing the natural world. There, the descriptions become more literary (if maybe prone to cliché phrases like “snow-capped mountains”), a bit closer to poetry, definitely richer and more emotionally evocative. I appreciated it as a touch that created focus on the heart of the story without dragging the reader over and rubbing my nose in it.

Overall, I found it a good read and an excellent way to start an anthology as it takes the reader through a lot of potential developments that are likely to come with a changing climate.

END

 

Should I Review Short Stories?

There are a lot of book bloggers reviewing books. But it’s rare to see them review a short story collection, and a review of a single short story is practically a unicorn.

So maybe as a short story writer I ought to step into the vacuum and review some short stories?

On the con side, I have long shied from writing reviews. I have a past of avoiding conflict and writing a review, especially if I’m not impressed with the story, has the potential to create conflict.

Sometimes that kind of conflict has gotten over the top and bizarre.

But people have probably been hunted down over tweets and I don’t pull a lot of punches as @Tao23.

I haven’t written a ton of reviews. But on the other hand I’ve picked apart plenty of stories, in constructive ways and adversarial, as a reader, as a gabber with fellow sci-fi fans, and as a student while working on my English MA.

And, on the pro side, I do have the qualifications of writing and reading a crapton of short stories.

What do y’all think? If there a place for this kind of thing?

Let’s Make A Mess…

… because that’s how rough drafts work!

I’m playing with a story that I started a year or two ago and then put aside because it was lacking something and I couldn’t figure out what.

Every couple of weeks or so I flip through my notebooks (I have a couple of dozen) and see what catches my eye.

This time, I saw what I could do with this story. I think it will pan out — it feels right.

If it does, I think “Stuck Jenny’s” will be a natural for my next collection, Doldrums. Feels like it will be 5-10 thousand words on self-driving RVs, generation gaps, and class divides.

I’m looking forward to writing it.

Bennies Of Self-Publishing: I Get To Play By My Own Rules

I get to make up words…

…and invent my own punctuation rules…

…And write the titles the way I want them.

It’s fun!

Urban Nature, Write?

We live in the middle of either a medium-large metro of close to two million people or seven mid-sized cities jammed shoulder to shoulder around the area where the James River empties into the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. It depends who you ask.

We’ve long been a family to enjoy a walk. Being temporarily carless at the moment, we’re walking more.

And walking, you’re more likely to find little oases of refreshing nature like those above.

They remind me of my childhood in rural Wisconsin, and reminiscence is good for writers. Right now I’m working on a novella, Carrying Salt To Heaven, and the current extended scene I’m working on involves a character from a bleak land being introduced to a huge, lush nature preserve.

Some of the sensory impressions of this little oasis, and my childrens’ reactions to them, and the childhood memories they awaken, are finding their way into the novella.

Get out and find stuff, however that works for you. Your art and life will be enriched for it.

[This post appeared a week before it posted here, on my Patreon page. Come say hello and see some public posts that haven’t appeared here!]

Thread: Mental Health, Money Stress, And It’s Hard Out Here For A Writer

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Three out of five of us in summer. Now that it’s winter, we’re fondly remembering being too hot. Oh, paradise! (Also, I grew hair since then. I’ll have to show y’all one of these days.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, there’s today’s peek into my psyche. Maybe there are some clues there into why I often write about alienation and deprivation and internal turmoil. I don’t know, it’s so subtle…  O.O

2067: First Major Metro Goes Off National Electric Grid

I’ve taken up tweeting from the future, example above, in addition to my usual political-writing-SciFi-whatevs antics @Tao23.

It keeps me thinking to turn out those tweets on a semi-regular basis. And the tweets can make a great nucleus for future SciFi News Network posts here, AKA my futurist “predictions.” Older posts are formatted to look kind of like actual articles from the future. I’m seeing more posts like this, where I let the Tweetmorrow tweet stand for the future story and then get to speculate and explain like I’m doing now. This is fun.

Predictions in quotes because who knows what monkeywrenches the future could throw into the works? Our pet Trumphole could yet start a nuclear war and derail everything…

Donald J. Trump on Twitter https   t.co P4vAanXvgm.png

Nothing like trying to provoke a nuclear war in a lame attempt to prove how macho you are, s–t for brains.

…but gee, we’d save his personal pet illusion of his machismo so win-win post-apocalyptic Mad Max hellhole, right?

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50 years seems like a reasonable horizon for a major metro going off-grid and relying on locally generated renewables. Solar, wind, biogas, hydroelectric, geothermal, tidal, and more — there are a lot of options for a city to generate its own local power, and for residences and businesses to take themselves off even the local grid. Batteries like Tesla’s PowerPack (and the residential version, PowerWall) make 24/7 power availability practical even with variables like solar, and small local cooperative grids can increase that support — imagine a neighborhood grid with all the batteries and different forms of power generation contributing. Or a college campus grid. Lots of possibilities.

In the lead story of my Closer Than You Think collection, One More For The Road, the protagonist drives into an isolated, long-off-grid town on its own local grid, with nearly every home and business sending up one or more combo wind turbine and solar collector on a long mast, evoking a field of glittering flowers in her imagination. The masts are even retractable to avoid damage in strong winds and storms. They stand tall and slender in light breezes, short and stout in heavy blows, and fold themselves into protective housings during storms, dormant while the town runs on battery power.

Not too bad a vision, eh? Certainly, there will be advantages and disadvantages, ups and downs. A spell of very strange weather might leave residents rationing their power and sending out battery trucks to pick up spare power from the neighbors. But that seems not so much more trouble than the current system that leaves us in the dark if something damages the wires, transformers, or power stations, and releases more and more carbon dioxide into the air to further warp the already wobbly climate.