FULL BLEED: THE HORIZON TURNS INWARD
I'm not even going to look and see when I last did one of these. I'm sure it would be an interesting exercise to try and figure out what has changed since then. I'll try to do it from memory.
I was probably saying that I was looking forward to a release of a book that I had written in October, some eight weeks from now. The title's even there if you scroll down some. So is the publisher's name. I wasn't shy about either. That information is now outdated. Hell, I'm not even sure the title is going to survive (as it was a compromise between me and the then-publisher.) I've thought of a more evocative one anyways. Titles are pretty easy unless they're impossible.
Other stuff has changed. Couple covid cases went through the family, including not geographically immediate but immediate by relation. Which has meant a number of trips across highway 50 (if you know, you know) and there will be many more in the future, I can tell. So I'm just buckling up for that right now. My youngest is leaving home for school, not even in the next state over or the one after that, but rather on the Atlantic coast.
I probably thought I could sell short stories back then as well. Folks, that's not happening. Though I did have one sit at [outlet name redacted] for triple the usual hold time only to get a cut/past rejection. Which is the gig. Just one that I don't feel up to playing any longer. Oh, not giving up writing, even writing short stories. Just the whole submitting thing is for the birds. I know, how am I going to get my name out there if I don't get short stories up in (any) outlets for editors to see and then offer me a coveted publishing slot? Yeah, you got me.
I've got a whole collection of short stories in the same setting (though you could choose to ignore that if you want -- I have a tough time telling what people actually want, so I write to please myself.) Hell, I've got a handful more now and should be developing others. So that's two collections of setting-sharing shorts. You've seen what those numbers look like, right? Whatever, it's whatever. I'm able to do what I can do. It's been educational, and maybe this time the education will stick. But probably not.
I'm debating whether I should include this next part as it's kinda career-suicidal. Maybe I'll think about it some, the education of late, while I talk about other stuff. Maybe I'll type it out and delete it. You'll never know unless you do.
So I was watching a roundtable of science fiction magazine (online and other) editors taking turns reading and discussing slush. You all are clear on what slush is, yeah? When a magazine doesn't ask for a story and they get it anyways. There's a lot of slush out there. Lots of folks think they can write (myself included), so it ends up like, oh, I don't know, an avalanche being funneled down into a very tight blind canyon, all those entries filling up. Seriously. There's more writers than ever, and given the internet, they know how to submit to these magazines and outlets, which probably leads to editors and slush readers being burned out on the regular. So maybe it's best to approach this with some kind of lightness. For the writer, it's their breathless prose. For the editor, it's Tuesday and there's a hundred other stories to look at and know in the first page whether you're going to bother finishing the rest of it or not.
I realize this process is not fair. Not remotely. More like asymmetrical warfare, really. Or a million zombies trying to climb over a hastily-constructed wall. Just a crushing onslaught that will never ever end, until the AIs are trained well enough to serve up the content that people think they want, tailored to any level of political or aesthetic or intellectual engagement. Think of it. Writing can be great again, just take all those writers egos out of it.
So I should be nicer to the editors involved when they read slush on the video airwaves and talk about what works and what doesn't. When the simple matter is a balance of "do I like this?" versus "does this say what I want it to say?" versus "is the voice engaging?" versus "how does this fit in the identity of the line slash outlet?" versus other considerations. We all know what they are. That's a mighty tough balancing act. Particularly when there's no time or energy to give any manner of feedback. Just a cut/paste statement from the library.
Unless of course there is time. Which I suppose happens. That authors get individualized feedback which helps to shape their development. Because the only thing one learns from a yes/no is whether or not this story at this instance in time works for them (but don't bother re-submitting it). Ah well. Better luck next time. What was off? Who knows? You sure don't as the writer or receiver of the note. But of course, to expect any manner of acknowledgement is utter madness. There's just too many of us, to steal from Jude the Obscure. Unless of course the editor goes and says on tape that you'll get feedback if the editor thinks your work is worthy of it.
Which was a hell of a thing to hear with my own two ears. Sure. The world isn't fair and it's lopsided and everything else. But just to come right out and say it? Yeah. It's weird. But probably my fault for even thinking it's weird.
I suppose I could spend a little time here talking about my own relationship with editing and being edited, but it's real brief. All the edits I've gotten have been copy level or clarity level or word choice (yes, I did mean to say "words" not "worlds" in my first unsolicited sale, but I let them make it "worlds" because it's not worth fighting about.) Now, does my work need structural editing? Well I guess that depends on who you ask. Generally I keep things running pretty well plot wise, with some allowed digressions and eddies and letting stuff sometimes develop and never explained or left off for later. (Digression - I'm watching the current Sandman series and really taking umbrage at the meta plot-level fixes that are trying to make it feel like a much more unified, Really Big Story, instead of a loose plot with a series of small stories running through it and parallel to it and sometimes sideways from it. You can do that really well and easily in comics, but people get bent out of shape at this in prose, at least plot-lovers do.)
But I also outline decently robustly so that I don't run into chapters being in the wrong place or introducing characters who don't fit and have to be cut or turn into something else and have to be cut. I hate cutting stuff that's been written. Sure, you can save it, but it feels like wasted time to me. Outlining is your friend. Or at least it's my friend. But I try to leave some room to breathe, so it doesn't feel like every single thing is a perfectly-aligned heat-seeking plot missile to deliver everything like a laser guided payload. Sure, there's stuff that you could cut if you wanted to, but I'll fight you over it. Feral writer. Says so on the sign outside. That tooth-gnawed and rusted sign.
So, sure, I'd love to get edited. Well, not love to, but probably could benefit from it. Just that even when I've written for big places, I only get the surface-level sort of polish edits. And, frankly, ain't nobody that's that good out there, right? Sure, I've been doing this to very little success or effect for a very long time. Built up a skillset. But not like that. But then what editor has time to do a tear-down and rebuild on something they aren't buying? And even then, do they have that time or do they have an issue to get out next week? I don't begrudge this. Nobody has the resources they need. Nobody can pay what they want. Nobody can build up a bench. All they can do is cull those who are Clearly Not Ready and then try to assemble a roster of folks who are. An unenviable position.
Which really isn't helped by reading slush (that honestly I hope was consented to) on a broadcast and then offering advice of really dubious merit ("Your first page must be great.") I suppose that's helpful to someone. Oh, and telling writers to front-load the genre trappings. That one ripped the top of my head off and stirred my brain with some rusty egg whisks, I'll tell you that. Frankly, the last thing [genre] needs is [genre] to be reinforced as its primary aim. It needs good stories. It needs intriguing voices. It needs things to be picked at and questioned as much as reinforced. But this is me acting like I care about [genre] as a construct when I'm pretty on the record about that. I'm not, which is probably why I have difficulty selling my little stories in [genre] outlets. Oh well.
I'm still working on some. Can't be helped.
I will say, though, that maybe the whole letting everyone look behind the curtain (on all sides of the process) is a thing with lots of downstream consequences that are in fact, not detrimental per se, but have all manner of ways to subtly and not-so-subtly change the processes themselves. I'd suggest that writers should be quiet, which is rich, as getting me to shut up is the tough part (but there are things that I can not and will not touch upon in the process, but might be convinced to share with you for the price of a drink at a show -- totally worth it, by the by, life-changing stuff.) But for as much as it harms writers, this spotlight showing up on all other stages of the process is likely worse.
Just watch any of the testimony from the Penguin/Random House and Simon & Schuster merger case. Because the stuff in that should be enough to burn the place down. But this is a whole 'nuther blog entry that I've not written and likely am not going to. Suffice to say that calling it a fiction does a disservice to fiction.
So what else is going on? I'm looking at some travel in the future, including a long-delayed trip abroad with my wife that has been on the books for years but, you know, everything got in the way. Coincidentally, that trip is keeping me from doing any other conventions between now and sometime in October, really. Thought about doing World Fantasy this year, since I was supposed to have a book coming out around the same time, but, well, things change.
I've been poking at some writing on and off, mostly struggling with getting in this mindset again, mostly because all the careful plans that I thought were set were as durable as a cloud of cotton candy tossed into a blast furnace. Took a beating over that. Which is as much my fault as anything. Rejection slash failure dysphoria seems to be a default stance, which is not constructive I realize, but it's my own.
Sitting here with a novel and a book's worth of collected shorts that need homes. And I thought this stuff was locked down. Something something plans and laughter.