The Fictorians

Archive for the ‘The Writing Life’ Category

When to Walk

23 October 2014 | No Comments » | fictorians

Guest Post by Josh Morrey.

walkI’ve been writing for almost ten years now. And I mean actively pursuing the coveted title of “published author”. Early on I was bitten by the Writers of the Future bug—my first submission earned an Honorable Mention—and I’ve submitted more than two dozen stories to the contest over the years. I am pleased to report that my efforts have garnered three Honorable Mentions and a Semi-Finalist, so it hasn’t been entirely in vain; but I have yet to actually win.

Granted, for the first several years I didn’t seek feedback on my work before submission, or even write a second draft. I would crank out a story each quarter, read through the draft once making grammar and structural corrections, and then ship it out to the contest. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I started actually making an effort to learn about the craft of writing fiction. I began attending cons, joined a writing group, became active on some online writing forums, and *gasp* even submitted stories to places other than Writers of the Future. And it’s been great. I’ve learned so much since I really got involved in the writing community.

One aspect of my new involvement that I really enjoyed for a long time was being active on the online forum for a short fiction podcast. On these forums, we would discuss the stories published each week on the podcast as well as writing in general. At one point, someone suggested creating a private writing forum where we could share our work with each other and receive feedback. This was a great opportunity for me, because several members of this forum were either professional editors or multi-published short story authors. It was a great way for me to learn from those more experienced in the professional field.

Over the next year or so, I submitted several stories to this group for critique, as well as critiquing many stories submitted by others. After a while I started to notice a pattern. To begin with, I found I didn’t connect with many of the stories I reviewed. Most of them were stuffed with metaphor and alternate meanings that I failed to pick up on. At the same time, not one of the stories I submitted was ever met with even a hint of approval. That’s not to say the critiques were harsh, most of the people on those forums I still consider friends. Nevertheless, my stories were never good enough.

Now, I’m the first to admit I’m still learning my craft. I’m still essentially unpublished. (I have one short story published in an online journal that has already gone out of production.) But, after more than a year of never pleasing any of these readers—even though my regular writing group really enjoyed many of them—I became very driven, almost obsessed, to write a story that would please the members of this forum.

Finally, I wrote the story that I wanted. The one I knew would wow them. It had depth; it had emotion. Members of my regular writing group hailed it as the best story I’d written yet. So, eager to finally get a thumbs up, I posted it in the forum.

Once again, it was met with apathy and criticism.

It crushed me. I mean it really took the wind out of my sails. I had worked so hard on this story, and had such high hopes for its reception, that another harsh criticism was more than I could take. I crashed hard. I spent the next several days in a depression, wracking my brain for how to finally please the members of this forum. Then I finally came to a realization. Though I very much enjoyed my time on these forums, and made many friends…these people were not my target audience.

I feel almost pretentious saying that, as if I’m crying, “You people just don’t understand what I’m trying to do here!” But the fact is, the members of this forum are much more literary in their writing than I am. And that’s ok. Some people enjoy literary writing. Me, I enjoy a good story told in a fun way. I’m not looking for deeper meaning, I’m looking for entertainment. And there are a lot of people out there looking for the same thing. Just look at Larry Corriea. Do you think he worries about allegory or literary depth? No, his biggest concern is how many monsters will die with the blimp explodes. And he sells a LOT of books. Some people just like that.

So, with this realization in mind, I made a very hard decision and I left the forum. I still keep in touch with a few of my closer friends from there, but for the most part I’ve moved on. See, my time there had shifted from productive to destructive. I wasn’t learning to improve my craft anymore; I was simply trying to please a very specific audience. And once you start writing for others, and not yourself, you’ve defeated the purpose. At least, I defeated my purpose; which is to write stories that I find fun and fascinating. Not to preach some deeper message or wrap my tale in metaphor and allegory.

Maybe I’ll never get published. Maybe my writing will always be too shallow and straightforward. Maybe no one will love my words outside of a few members of a small local writing group.

But as long as I have fun writing it, I don’t care.

JoshWriter, artist, gamer, husband, and father, Josh has been writing fiction for nearly ten years. He is a member of the Word Vomit Writers Group, which group blogs at The Writer’s Ramble. Josh has one story published in Issue 2 of Promptly and has earned three Honorable Mentions and a Semi-Finalist in the L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future contest. He is currently developing a space opera webcomic based on a short story he wrote for NaNoWriMo 2012. It will eventually be seen at www.lostintransitcomic.com. Josh lives in Utah with his amazing wife, two beautiful kids, and two tiny dogs.

One Horn To Rule Them All: A Single Spark

22 October 2014 | No Comments » | mary

unikarkadan2 (Image of “Azazel” by Stephanie Bajema.)

I remember sitting in the 2010 edition of Superstars Writing Seminars when Kevin J. Anderson gave his now-infamous professionalism example: “If you agree to write for a purple unicorn anthology, be a professional and write the best damn purple unicorn story you can, no matter how dumb you think the concept is.”

Surveys agree: most people think purple unicorns are pretty ridiculous.

But I’m a Firebringer Trilogy fan (as I wrote about back in May) and a My Little Pony fan since 1983. Purple unicorns are serious business to me. I knew I could write a purple unicorn story straight-up: no irony, no metaphor, no punchline. The challenge, to me, would be to show a reader what purple unicorns look like through my eyes.

And when the Purple Unicorn Anthology , One Horn To Rule Them All, became a reality, I had my chance. This would be a collection of short stories, the sales of which would fund scholarships for deserving future Superstars, showcasing our storytelling talents.

I played a game during my preteen and early teen years, when I went down to my grandparents’ basement with Fashion Star Fillies and Barbies. The toys were avatars – symbols of a sort – for a fantasy epic I conjured in my mind. I imagined the colourful talking unicorns from the Firebringer Trilogy, the exotic desert setting from The Black Stallion Returns, the warrior women from The Secret of the Unicorn Queen and spun these concepts into a universe all my own, a game I called simply Unicorn Warriors.

If I could write what Unicorn Warriors looked like to a fourteen year old girl, I knew I’d have my purple unicorn story.

On the other hand, I had to fit those teenage emotions and concepts through the experience I’d accumulated since. One thing that experience told me was that “writing an adventure” the way I sat down to a game of Unicorn Warriors wasn’t going to be enough. I had to show a character growing and changing, not just dash off the short story equivalent of a half hour cartoon, and though I knew the world of the Unicorn Warriors inside out, a new reader would be coming to it without any background knowledge. I was going to have to be explicit about the setting and the themes; I was going to have to craft a definitive beginning and ending; I was going to have to make my characters feel like real people.

I don’t have any memory of creating origin stories for any of the Unicorn Warriors. I think a lot of my original character concepts were partly borrowed wholesale from popular fiction (a little bit of She-Ra, a little bit of Xena) and partly thinly veiled versions of myself and my friends. I didn’t need to introduce these characters because I already “knew who they were,” so most of their time was spent seeking out treasures, fighting monsters and outwitting evil kings. By writing my Purple Unicorn story as an origin for one of the Unicorn Warriors, I could introduce readers to the world through the character’s eyes. I could also show the character’s growth as she makes the decision to join the Warriors. And I made the character the same age I was when I started to play this game.

I also had to decide what aspects of my original game to leave in and what to cut out. In an early draft of A Single Spark, there’s a teryx–a fabulous bird–circling overhead, watching the main character struggle. The teryx is a friend and ally of the Unicorn Warriors’ leader, and in my games, the teryx allowed the Warriors to learn about things that happened when they weren’t present, as long as the bird was watching. When I started writing, of course I wrote in the teryx. But on my third version of the draft, I realized that the teryx didn’t serve any function in the current story. It was just there because it had always been there in the games. And I was writing long. The teryx was cut. Maturity and experience taught me that “because it’s awesome!” isn’t, in itself, enough to keep something unnecessary in a story.

Another benefit of the decades between the Purple Unicorn anthology and the original Unicorn Warriors was an understanding of research. I did some actual research on Persian culture and the desert environment instead of relying on stereotypes and other works of fiction. I gave my Warriors and their unicorns new names, with considered meaning behind them, including that of my protagonist, Sharareh, whose name means A Single Spark, which is also the title and major theme of my story. And instead of using generic unicorns, I found real-world unicorn mythology that would make my unicorns as culturally distinct as their riders.

Because if you dismiss a karkadann as ridiculous fluff, you do so at your own peril.

To support Superstars Writing Seminars scholarships, meet the Unicorn Warriors, and enjoy a great anthology of speculative fiction, you can get your own copy of One Horn To Rule Them All in print and e-book formats right here:

Kobo

Amazon – Paperback

Amazon – Kindle

Barnes & Noble

Juggling Personal and Professional Lives – Never Drop the Ball

20 October 2014 | No Comments » | Nathan Barra

A year has passed since I wrote my post on how we spend our time being a value statement, but I still find that my time is my most precious resource. By the necessity of my choices, I have become very skilled a juggling large workloads. Between extraordinarily long professional workweeks, maintaining my personal relationships, and the every day effluvia of keeping food on my table and a roof over my head, I somehow find the time to regularly blog and write fiction. It is a juggling act that I suspect that many aspiring writers will empathize with.

However, some of those balls, those commitments, have come disturbingly close to hitting the ground recently. I was able to recover, but as I grow older, the number and weight of my obligations grows ever larger. I fear that one day I will accidentally and irrecoverably sacrifice something important to me to feed my ambitions.

I have been pondering this possibility a great deal recently, as both my personal and professional lives gain momentum. For me, personal and professional progress is both exhilarating and terrifying. You see, once you start getting what you want, you have something to lose. As we chase accomplishment, we often put on blinders to what else is important in our lives. As an example, I was fortunate enough to be invited to dinner with an extremely successful author in her field at a convention I recently attended. During the meal, one of the diners asked the author what her greatest professional regret was. I can still remember the broken sound of her voice as she told our group that she was afraid that her daughter would never forgive her for the years she spent locked in her office.

Despite the trepidation that such examples inspire, I am unwilling to give up my writing and my dreams of professional authorship. After all, in biological terms, the fear response serves to both identify potential hazards and prepare us to face them. If I want to accomplish my personal and professional goals, I must use my fear, not be ruled by it. My unease reminds me that I have things that I value outside of my accomplishments, and in so doing, allows me to keep my other priorities in focus. I must choose what I sacrifice, not let circumstances decide for me. As an example, for the past couple of years, I have rarely played video games or watched television. By cutting out these activities, I have made more room in my schedule for writing. I have talked to many authors who have done the same thing. Compared to the rest of my life, that particular sacrifice was well worth the cost.

Throughout my life, I have found that accomplishment is almost always paired with sacrifice. It is up to me live deliberately and choose how I spend my time wisely so that I may both achieve my goals and retain what is important to me. To live is to risk pain. To fear is to be aware of that risk and to manage it appropriately.

Of Lightning and Umbrellas

20 October 2014 | No Comments » | Quincy Allen

Imagine that fool on the hill dreamed up by the Beatles. Now, imagine him sitting up there in the rain, with storm clouds rolling over, thunder pressing down, and the ominous flash of lightning a strobe in the black tumult above.

He’s tired and alone, the rest of the world pointing fingers laughing at what they believe are hopeless dreams. Now imagine him atop that hill, in the rain and lightning, surrounded by a forest of steel-shafted umbrellas stuck in the ground and as many as he can hold clutched tightly in each hand.

He plants another umbrella and stares at the sky. And another. And another… hoping that lightning will strike.

 

That is what it’s like to be a writer, to be that hopeful soul chasing his or her dream regardless of the scorn, the derision, the laughter… and the torrent of rain that comes in the form of rejection after rejection.

And those umbrellas?

Each one is a tale—a short story or novel crafted in solitude—raised from the limitless depths of imagination in hopes that more than our loved ones will find some sort of connection within the words. It’s the very definition of madness. Truly. Doing the same thing over and over in hopes that there will eventually be a different result.

It was Lord Byron who wrote, “If I Don’t Write to Empty My Mind I Go Mad.” He understood. Most writers understand. Those who aren’t possessed with the compulsion to pour out our words couldn’t possibly comprehend what it’s like to have an army of characters, a galaxy of worlds, all crammed together inside one’s skull. And yet, the ones who can’t write are often the ones who, every once in a while, crave the creative fruits of those who can. And those of us who can, love it.

Perhaps part of it is ego. Every writer wants his or her writing to be savored and then craved, to have an audience that hangs on the next word, the next story, desperate for more. Writers hunger for such adulation, and will endure all manner of trial and travail to find it. But there is more to it than just ego. We write even when we’re certain no one will ever read a story. We write because that’s what is inside us. And in some respects, the accolades from being read, particularly oft-read, are a happy circumstance, an accidental result of our efforts.

I suppose there’s a contradiction there… that man on the hill with all his umbrellas… he would place them in the thunderstorm regardless of whether he got struck by lightning or not. And he would do it again the next day… and the next.

We are writers.

We understand.

 

Q

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