The Self-Torture Continues . . .

Attempt number two in seeing my short story published.

This time I will have to wait three whole months before I hear anything back.

Interestingly, that’ll be around my birthday. Will I end up with a surprise birthday present, or perhaps a reason to quit celebrating my birthday should I receive bad news?

I wish I could say more about this, but, really, what else is there?

Should I apologize for writing such a short entry, or congratulate myself for succeeding in not wasting your precious time?

Either way, I hope you have a fabulous weekend.

Word of advice, though. Go outside! Play! Turn off the TV and all other electronic devices! Avoid politics at all costs!

Your brain will thank you for keeping it sane.

You Are Not My Friend . . .

Jealousy. I wish you’d stop visiting unannounced. You saunter in, without even a knock on the door. You make yourself comfortable by sitting next to me on my couch, far too close. I can smell your rancid breath as you whisper your nasty thoughts into my ears.

The worst part is, I can’t place all the blame on you. I don’t kick you out the moment you walk through the door. I don’t move away when you sit next to me. I don’t cover your mouth, or cover my ears when you speak.

I listen, as much as I tell myself that I shouldn’t.

And your timing is always impeccable.

You only show up when I read about other people’s successes while I continue to flounder. No. It’s worse than that. I only dream of success, and don’t work enough to make it happen. Those people who succeed faster than me? They probably worked harder, and smarter than me. Therefore, do I really have the cause to complain? To moan and wallow in my frustration?

Or it could be God said, “It’s time” to them, when he’s asking me to wait a little longer. Do the reasons really matter? They shouldn’t, because God’s timing has never failed me, not once.

So I have decided, at least for this moment, to give jealousy the boot out the door. It’s not welcome in my home. I must instead use that energy to actually work toward my goals. How’s that for a novel idea?

As long as I continue to do that, success will come. Sure I may fail a few times along the way, but that comes with living life. We all fail more than we succeed. The singular difference between a failure and a success is the successful person never gives up no matter how many times he or she has failed to reach their goal.

I’m not so special that I deserve to never fail. Some will wait even longer than me.

And that’s life.

Allowing jealousy to whisper in my ear won’t change anything, except make me miserable and waste even more time.

Yay! I’m Rejected!

One more rejection letter to add to the growing pile:

Dear Andra,

Thank you for submitting “Ashella’s Heart” to Apex Magazine. We appreciate the chance to read it. Unfortunately, we don’t feel it’s a good fit for us and we’re going to have to pass on it at this time.

Thanks again. Best of luck with this.

Sincerely,

Lesley Conner
Managing Editor
Apex Magazine.

I’m a bit disappointed, but it is what it is. All it means is I need to find another magazine to submit to. I have one in mind, but I want to read a few more issues to make sure it’s a good fit (according to moi). Although this particular magazine says it takes both fantasy and science fiction, most of the stories included in the few issues I’ve read so far have been science fiction. I don’t want to waste time submitting to a magazine that’ll reject it out of hand because I didn’t get the genre right.

EDIT: Have you ever responded to a publisher/editor/agent and thought the moment after you sent it, “Oh crap! Did I spell their name right?”

I had that moment of panic after I responded thanking the editor for their time and consideration. Thankfully, I did spell it right *wipes sweat off brow, and takes a deep breath to slow down heartrate*.

Twenty-Two Days

That’s the average response time to short stories submitted to a magazine that publishes fantasy, science fiction and horror. I’ve read three issues so far, and think my short story that won 2nd place in last year’s Writers Digest competition would make a good fit.

We’ll see.

In approximately 22 days.

The worst part about the whole process of submitting articles and short stories is hitting that awful “submit” button (or dropping that proposal or query letter into the mailbox). Once I do, there’s no turning back. No more chances to edit out any mistakes, make any other changes to the plot, grammar, setting, characters . . . nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. It’s like sending a child away to school, or discovering it’s time he left the house to create a life of his own. My story is now out of my hands, out of my control. It’s my heart and my mind on display, and I can’t help but think, “Now I get to find out if the editors of this magazine thinks the story is good, or if it’s crap.”

Not submitting it is always easy, because in my dreams, my stories always find a place. They receive nothing but accolades.

But it’s not real, and reality can suck sometimes. I’m like most writers in that I often prefer my fantasies. In my fantasy worlds, I am in control. Submitting stories and articles for others to judge is purposefully relinquishing that control, and my opinions and biases are shown to either be spot on, or completely spot off.

It’s a terrifying thing to step out of my made-up world and take a chance that in reality, everything I created is nothing like I believed and hoped it was.

That said, in case my story is rejected by this magazine, it doesn’t make my story crap. It simply means they didn’t find it a good fit for them. There are other magazines out there, and in fact, I have another in mind (I went back and forth for a few days trying to decide which to try first. It boiled down to response time. The one I submitted to is a bit quicker). Like many others, neither magazine takes simultaneous submissions, so I have to submit it one at a time.

Time will tell.

I’ll keep you apprised.

Kill Language – Kill Freedom

I love watching my son grow up. What parent doesn’t, right? The best part for me is how he develops, especially when it comes to language. When he was still a toddler, I was astounded at how quickly he picked up concepts, and how they all tied to language. For instance, I showed him an apple, and said “This is an apple.” He understood right away what I meant. He also didn’t get confused when I taught him colors. I pointed to a red apple to show him “red,” and he easily grasped the difference between “red” and “apple.” I understood then that language is built into our brains and develops naturally as we grow up.

Language keeps us connected to each other, and helps us learn about the world. Without language, we couldn’t build anything (consider the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11:1-9). Imagine trying to build a house with others without the ability to communicate what needs to be done.

Even math and music are considered languages, and while some believe they can do without math, most everyone needs music.

Mess with language, and we mess with the free exchange of ideas. People no longer understand their world or each other, and we no longer grow as a species.

George Orwell understood this better than most, I think. He expressed his concerns in an essay titled “Politics and the English Language.”

He dug deeper into and expressed it more in his book, “1984,” most specifically with the language he labeled as “Newspeak.”

According to a website dedicated to Orwell:

“The whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought.”

To expand the idea (on the same webpage):

“Newspeak was the official language of Oceania and had been devised to meet the ideological needs of Ingsoc, or English Socialism. In the year 1984 there was not as yet anyone who used Newspeak as his sole means of communication, either in speech or writing. The leading articles in The Times were written in it, but could only be carried out by a specialist. It was expected that Newspeak would have finally superseded Oldspeak (or Standard English) by about the year 2050. Meanwhile it gained ground steadily, all Party members tending to use Newspeak words and grammatical constructions more and more in their everyday speech.”

I ran into this article earlier today:

College Writing Center Declares American Grammar A ‘Racist,’ ‘Unjust Language Structure’

Which in turn led me to University of Washington / Tacoma’s University Writing Program and their Writing Center:

Under “Our Beliefs” of their “Statement on Antiracist and Social Justice Work in the Writing Center” it states:

“The writing center works from several important beliefs that are crucial to helping writers write and succeed in a racist society. The racist conditions of our society are not simply a matter of bias or prejudice that some people hold. In fact, most racism, for instance, is not accomplished through intent. Racism is the normal condition of things. Racism is pervasive. It is in the systems, structures, rules, languages, expectations, and guidelines that make up our classes, school, and society. For example, linguistic and writing research has shown clearly for many decades that there is no inherent “standard” of English. Language is constantly changing. These two facts make it very difficult to justify placing people in hierarchies or restricting opportunities and privileges because of the way people communicate in particular versions of English.”

I’m sure you can see the correlation between Newspeak and what the writing center is espousing.

What led me on this journey (thanks to LK Hunsaker) is this article:

According to the article, some publishers are hiring so-called sensitivity readers “who, for a nominal fee, will scan the book for racist, sexist or otherwise offensive content. These readers give feedback based on self-ascribed areas of expertise such as ‘dealing with terminal illness,’ ‘racial dynamics in Muslim communities within families’ or ‘transgender issues.'”

These statements are of special concern:

“Sensitivity readers have emerged in a climate – fueled in part by social media – in which writers are under increased scrutiny for their portrayals of people from marginalized groups, especially when the author is not a part of that group.”

And:

“It feels like I’m supplying the seeds and the gems and the jewels from our culture, and it creates cultural thievery,” Clayton [a sensitivity reader] said. “Why am I going to give you all of those little things that make my culture so interesting so you can go and use it and you don’t understand it?”

Also known as “cultural appropriation.”

As an aside, for me personally, I don’t care who writes about my culture, as long as they do so accurately. Not every person in a particular culture wants to write about their culture, so why limit themselves, and in the end possibly dooming their culture’s future to oblivion because no one dared, or was allowed to, write about it?

As another aside, the article included this:

“Despite the efforts of groups like We Need Diverse Books, ‘it’s more likely that a publishing house will publish a book about an African-American girl by a white woman versus one written by a black woman like me,’ Clayton says.”

I’m calling bullshit on that. During my own search of agents, I had to cross out quite a few because they are actively seeking so-called marginalized writers such as Ms. Clayton. For which I am not a member.

Most agents care only about the story and the quality of writing. They don’t give a rat’s ass about the writer’s race, gender, etc.

Even those seeking minorities still need a salable story, so although a person’s minority status may get them to the front of the line, he/she still has to deliver. Seems to me, Ms. Clayton is holding herself back, and using her race and gender as an excuse not to try, let alone succeed. Too harsh? Offensive even? Good.

Now back to the original subject.

All of this is political correctness not only run amok, but an attempt to control thought. When you control how language is used – eliminating certain words, or changing the definition of words in order to change peoples’ perception – you can control how a person thinks. When you control how someone thinks, that person loses their freedom to think otherwise. They can no longer think critically, because, in a sense, their words are chosen for them. The number of words – and ideas – they can use are curtailed if not outright eliminated.

If I offend you, or if you offend me, all the better. To quote (where it originated I don’t know): “The solution to offensive free speech is more free speech, not less.”

Writers especially need to protect all words and language – our tools of trade. We can’t allow any type of censorship, because once it grabs hold, we may lose everything.

Truth is most often found in offensive speech, because it forces us to think and respond. Human beings are experts at lying to ourselves, and lying to each other. By attempting to control words and speech, the truth gets lost and liars rule at the expense of everyone else.

Don’t Follow Me

I started watching a Netflix series called “Black Mirrors.” It’s a “sci-fi anthology series [that] explores a twisted high-tech near-future where humanity’s greatest innovations and darkest instincts collide.”

The first episode is about a young woman whose social media rating is at a 4.2, but before she can really get what she wants, she needs to raise it to a 4.5. I won’t give much of the details, but let’s just say it all backfires on her.

It serves, I think, as a warning to us all. How often to we post something and eagerly await every single like and comment. Even here, we are given ratings on our writing.

In and of itself, it isn’t a bad thing, especially here. Ratings help us to improve our writing. The problem comes when we take those same ratings and apply it to how we perceive ourselves as individuals. How much do we determine our self-worth based on how high (or low) our ratings go?

During the last writers conference I attended, I sat in on an agent panel, and one agent said, “If I am to look at two writers, and one has thousands of followers on Facebook or Twitter versus another writer who has only a few hundred, I will most likely sign the first writer.”

From the agent’s perspective, it’s not a horrible thing. As writers, our success or failures in readership will always boil down to the numbers. It may seem unfair, but that is the very definition of fair. Numbers don’t discriminate. They are what they are; how we feel about them is never part of the equation.

That said, I don’t want to succeed that way, at least considering the numbers first before anything else. I follow people on Twitter and Facebook because I care about what they have to say. I want people to follow me for the same reason. In fact, I have no idea how many friends I have on Facebook. I only know how many I have on Twitter, because it shows me every time I login. If it didn’t show me, I wouldn’t even care to look.

Some authors have followed me on Twitter. As soon as I decide to follow them, I get a standard private message stating, “Thanks for the follow. Please see my books and/or other products I have for sale.” Out of fifteen or twenty of those, guess how many books I’ve purchased? One. And only because the way that author asked it was so funny and unique, I had to check it out (I’m glad I did. The novella he advertised for was actually quite good). I know then that they’re not interested in my posts. They’re out to get a sale, to uptick their own numbers. As a potential reader, I feel more than a little used.

Writing and gaining readership aren’t solely about the numbers for me. They never were, and I hope they never will be. As other – especially Christian – authors have said and stressed, writing should be my ministry. For me, it shouldn’t matter if my words influence and comfort a mere 100 people instead of 100,000. Nor should any number of ratings or likes on social media determine how I view myself, or even in how others may view me (“Psh, she only got seven likes for that post. Must be crap. I ain’t reading that!”)

Now this last part may sound like a sales pitch in disguise, but it isn’t. I don’t want you to follow me — unless you really care about my words. Also know that if I follow you, it’s not to try to sell you something, or increase my numbers and/or ratings. I do so because I want to know what you have to say. It’s as simple as that.

Meeting Expectations

Sometimes I wish I could go back in time.

Not necessarily to avoid a certain pain, or to prevent a terrible mistake, however. Those I don’t want to go back for, because those pains and those mistakes molded me into the person I am today. And I like me.

I want to go back to the times when I wrote solely for myself. Then, the only person I risked disappointing was me. I didn’t feel the need to censor myself, and I didn’t have to worry about what others would think, or fear that they would hate me for being me.

Part of me hates the idea of publishing, because I feel I now have to write less for me, and more for others. And how am I supposed to know — while I’m writing — whether or not I meet their expectations? How will I know beforehand if those words I spilled out onto the page have angered, insulted or otherwise broke some rule of writing that will, in the end, push them away?

And yet, it was that “writing for me,” that attracted readers in the first place. I’ve always written better when I write without fear of consequence, when I wrote naked (figuratively speaking).

As a reader, I prefer honesty above all else. Even if I may disagree with what a writer says, if what they say is written with honesty and passion, I’ll never hate them for it. I may get angry, or frustrated, but that can also be a good thing. I like to be challenged, to see things from a different perspective.

I can’t be alone in that.

I don’t want to disregard my readers. Never that, but at the same time, I can’t allow my fear of what readers will think simply because I’m being honest. If I do, all that’s left is to lie.

I can’t do that either.

I’m reading “Writing 21st Century Fiction,” by Donald Maass, and the basic premise is for writers to quit holding back. What readers are looking for these days is no-holds-barred stories. Stories that make a person cringe, cry, infuriate, and want to sleep with the lights on, as well as laugh and go “Awwww.”

Because I want to write for a particular market, I’m trying to write stories that will meet their expectations. But what if my biases — and expectations — of that market are wrong, and they want to see the kind of writing I’m longing to write, but afraid to?

I go back to Jesus and his stories. He told stories that convicted and angered as well as inspired and comforted. He didn’t hold back, and if I am to live how he lived (which is what he asks of all of us), I can’t afford to. Not if I want my stories to make a real difference.

Ups And Downs

Often when I experience a series of good things, I soon find myself standing in the equivalent of a dark valley. Or at least a shadowed one.

Since it happens so often, you’d think I’d expect it, or be used to it. Try neither, but I’ve at least convinced myself to endure it – hopefully with a smidgen of grace.

The highs came from placing 2nd in the Writer’s Digest contest and the agent asking for the first three chapters of my novels during the conference.

The low I’m in now is partially due to coming down with a cold (yay), and giving one of my manuscripts to a fellow writer. She likes the story, and her edits so far are quite accurate and will only make me a better writer – which is why I asked for her critique in the first place. I’m far too close to my writing, it’s sometimes near impossible to look at it objectively. That’s why critiques are so important.

Those infuriating voices, however, those ones we’re all familiar with that try to convince us how awful we are, and that we should give up writing. They won’t leave me alone.

A few weeks ago someone asked how others fight off the uncertainties of being a writer. This is how I responded:

Realize those thoughts do not come from God. And since they don’t come from God, who do they come from?

I have those thoughts myself, all the time, and it usually happens right before a breakthrough. Time to put on the armor of God, my friend, because only with Jesus can you fight the enemy. You’re in my prayers.

I don’t always take the above advice. Sometimes I prefer to wallow in self-pity.

Speaking of self-pity . . .

But first off, a warning and apology to my gentlemen readers: I will mention a certain female function you might want to skip over.

It seemed every time we went camping or on a long trip this year, it happened during that time. Attending the writer’s conference was not an exception.

In fact, I was pissed at God that he would allow it. Why? Because it happened two weeks later than normal, to the point I wondered if I was either pregnant or officially entering menopause. Almost the entire four days, I came close to cursing God for cursing me. Especially during a time when I needed to focus on the conference. Instead, I worried about whether or not I would end up having to take an emergency bathroom break.

I mentioned the conference to fellow writers during a get-together we have once a month last weekend. We talked about how not knowing anyone else there, we end up standing on the fringes. One of the ladies in the group mentioned how since every writer likes to talk about themselves, it’s important to ask other writers about who they are and what they write instead of talking about ourselves all the time.

I realized then how much my attitude affected the way I treated other writers. I stood on the fringes along with other writers who didn’t know anyone. Since I felt gross, sad and frustrated, I didn’t want to talk about myself or my writing. I instead approached others standing by themselves and asked them questions. Unless someone asked, I avoided talking about myself.

Turns out, I ended up talking to mostly first-time attendees who I’m sure felt out of sorts – much like I do every time I attend a conference, first time attendee or not.

If I didn’t have my – issues – I kind of doubt I would have been as interested and accommodating as I was. Until I talked about it last weekend with the writers group, I didn’t consider that perhaps God intended my attitude to be subdued to help other attendees – especially first-timers – and not necessarily myself. If that’s the case, I kinda like how God chose me to do that. If nothing else, I’m not cursing him anymore, because something positive came from it.

The Dreaded “What Ifs”

During the awards gala last night, a certain realization hit me.

What if . . .

The agent I pitched to not only wants to see my first three chapters, but asks for the full manuscript, and terror of all terrors, agrees to represent me.

You’d think I’d be excited. After all, isn’t this one step closer to what I’ve been pursuing since I wrote my first novel back in 2001?

The problem with dreaming is it never take into consideration the work involved to not only make the dream come true, but what happens after.

In this case, while I wrote (and wrote. And wrote) the only expectations I had to meet were my own. Once an agent decides to represent me, I not only have to meet her expectations, but the expectations of whichever publisher decides to buy my manuscript, and my readers.

What if . . .

I fail to meet those expectations? And it’s not only the quality of the story, but the quality of the writing, and everything I can (and need) to do to promote my book.

What if . . .

I have no more books in me left to write, or I can’t write them in a timely manner?

And those are the big what ifs. There are many minor ones too, such as what if I don’t get along with my editors, and/or my agent and I have irreconcilable differences.

Do I really want to take those chances? Am I unwilling to take the chance that any or all of those things happen?

How important is fulfilling my dream?

Is it even about me?

Or is it about my stories, and not me at all?

Truth is, I don’t have a choice. When I set my “fleece before the Lord” about pursuing publication in 2010, he told me under no uncertain terms that I should. This is what he wants from me (and for me). To fear moving forward means I don’t trust him enough to know that he’s got this. I’m not saying that all of the above won’t happen. It all still could. All that means is I would have to work harder, trust more, and at worst, start over. That’s not going to kill me, and it won’t kill my dream — at least not if I don’t let it.

Sharpen Your Trigger

I am currently in Nashville, TN attending the ACFW Writers Conference. It is over half over, but my brain has tried to absorb so much information, it feels like tapioca pudding. That’s a good thing, because I’m learning a lot. I’ve discovered I don’t suck as a writer – at least not completely. In the two classes I took so far, I do more things right than I do wrong.

I still have to go through at least one manuscript (the first few chapters anyway, but more on that later) to make several modifications, but luckily not too many. I could have those done tonight – if I’m motivated enough, that is. It’s a bit iffy considering my tapioca brain.

Because I didn’t want to chance missing an entire day of the conference due to delayed or cancelled fights, I decided to arrive a day earlier than most. Just in case everything went well, I signed up for an early bird session with Donald Maass, the literary agent and author of “Writing the Breakout Novel.”

This seminar was titled “Writing in the 21st Century”, which is also based on his newest book of the same title.

Did you know that literary fiction paperback novels remain on best seller lists for nearly ten times or more longer than any other genres, including hard cover and non-fiction? Donald was a bit surprised by that, and read the top books to look for what those books had that others didn’t.

Literary fiction does have a bit of a misconception surrounding it, namely that they’re slow and detail versus plot oriented, when in truth, that’s not always the case. What literary fiction strives for is to make every paragraph, every page make an emotional connection to the reader. It’s intent is to draw the reader in, to immerse him or her into the author’s world.

Me writing science fiction and fantasy, that’s also what I long to achieve. As I’ve said before, I’m not detail/description oriented. I prefer action, and my greatest strength is dialog. When it comes to detail, I groan and moan, and have to almost tie myself to the computer to force me to put it in.

What Donald revealed, however, is it’s not the detail and description that’s important. Description is by definition objective, and even cold. It is another form of telling. The trick is turning that detail and description into an experience. We don’t just see the sunset. There’s an emotional reaction to that sunset, that mountain scape where three people died in an avalanche, and that dark room that your parents always told you to stay out of.

Donald may have converted me into writing more literary fiction. Is there such a thing as literary science fiction and literary fantasy? At the very least, because of everything Donald shared (and I shared with you not even a half a page of the eight pages of notes I took), my readers will have a better, more fulfilling experience.

Today I attended a workshop called “How To Think Like Your Editor.”

During the first part, the presenter, Erin Healy, told us to read our first chapter, not as an editor, but as a reader. She told us to write down our emotional reactions as we read. I was intrigued by the prologue, but when I started on the first chapter, I felt a bit of boredom and frustration. I knew instantly why. I had added a few chunks of description for the sake of description. It was like reading a school book on architecture. While some of the description is necessary, I have to write in such a way to make it an experience.

When we enter a building we’ve never been in before, sure we notice the sights, but what else do we notice? We take in the smells, the feel of the air, and even its mood – often created by our own expectations of what that room should feel like. Sometimes the room meets our expectations, sometimes it doesn’t. The writer’s job is to show that experience.

Here’s the rub.

I met with a literary agent, and I showed her my one-sheets. She asked for my pitch and I said, “I too easily get tongue-tied, so can I read it to you instead?”

She told me to go ahead. She liked it, and when I mentioned the other two I brought with me, she was open to hearing my other two. She seemed impressed at my “world building,” and the fact I had three complete manuscripts. She asked me to send the first three chapters of all three.

Two are ready. The third (the one with the icky, boring detail), needs a bit of tweaking. Thankfully not a lot, so I bet I could tackle it tonight, let it sit until I get home, go through the first three chapters again, and send them off. While she’s perusing them, I’ll go through the rest and hopefully elevate my writing, and make it more literary.

I’m sure you’re dying to know why I chose “Sharpen Your Trigger,” as my title. It doesn’t make sense, since it’s an obvious mix of metaphors. It’s one Donald Maass used during his talk (which he noticed right away), and I liked it so much, I had to use it.