Monday, November 13, 2006

I hate Bradbury.
I read his Zen and the Art of Writing.
A short story a week he says.
But he's a genius.
I just picked up Farenheit 451 and just read the first page.
He's a genius. The dove's fluttering book pages, or however he put it.
Of course he can turn out a short story a week.
That's like telling a beginning math student how well Einstein did when he really got cooking.
I love Bradbury's work.
I hate Bradbury's bravado.
He makes his genius seem so easy.
It's not.
It's genius.
If you ever have six months in Kansas to write a book, I recommend actually finishing the book. I didn't quite make it and now swim upstream every day against city life. By the time I get home at 5, I'm not really at my peak to be courting the muse. But then I think of Stephen King, and how I read in his book "On Writing" that he wrote most of Carrie on a piece of board in his lap in his laundry room, kids and wife and a shitty teaching job. If he can do it, so can I.

Monday, October 16, 2006

I'm That Good

I'm submitting a short story to a couple of science fiction magazines when I realize that I'm not quite ready. Or rather, the pieces aren't quite ready. I have this illusion that's it's done because I've reached "the end," because I've spellchecked and formatted, becasue I've written the cover letter. But then, glancing it over, I realize there's an adjective that's quite right, and I have question about "dove"vs. "dived." "Diven?" No definitely not 'diven.' But it just proves to me that I'm not that good.

When I say that, it's because I have this illusion that I'm going to write a story once. Just as you'll read it in a magazine is just going to be how I wrote it. Boom, perfect. From my fingertips to the pages right in front of your eyes. I'm that good. But I'm not. Few writers are. And the ones who are that good are only so occassionally. I remember reading about James Clavell's "The Children's Story," about which he said he barely wrote it more than once. Somehow the story was dicatated to him from the ether. This isn't an uncommon experience among artists, but rarely does it happen for more than a single work, and sometimes for just part of it. So why do we think that we're that good?

When we read today, which we do a lot, the text is finished. We read an article, a book, or even a soup label, and we don't see the process it's gone through to be finished. It's the same for films. You see the finished product, and immediately it's easier to point out the faults than see the huge amount of effort that's gone into getting the film to the screen.

I get anxious to see my work in print, but it doesn't serve that purpose to send it off before it's ready. In fact, it's counterproductive. Writing takes time. Submitting takes time too. Not only does the story or article have to be ready, but the materials to present it have to be polished too. That means a cover letter that shines, packaging that's unflawed, labels that are perfect. If they don't like the story, that's an opinion, but if it's mechanics or sloppy presentation, it's m own fault. If the story could have been better, but I simply wasn't willing to wait, well that's sloppy work too. So I may not be that good the first time out, but I will be. And when I finally am, then I'll submit the work, confident that it's as good as I can make it.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Six Degrees

A friend recommended a new magazine for a place to submit work. I have a short story that's too brutal and gay to be considered by most of the suspense magazines on the stands. So I wrote to them when they opened their doors for submission on Oct. 1st. I was really suprised when I heard back almost immediately. I thought for sure it was one of those automatic replies. But it was actually the magazine. I'd pitched two ideas that I've had trouble placing anywhere else, and they actually asked to see both. So what started as a longshot recommendation from a friend turned into a fast-track to submitting to this magazine.

I learned to follow up on leads and to try new places. I haven't heard back from them yet, but it was an avenue I'd never have found out about if it hadn't been for a friend.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

I Got Rejected!

Yes, I'm ecstatic I got rejected. Number one because it's a response. Remember the old saying 'even bad attention is still attention'? Well it's true. Some magazines and publishing houses don't let you know that you've been rejected. Your hopes for publication with those venues just sort of dies a slow, natural death. Once their time limit has expired a few times, well then you can go throw yourself back on the spike. But today I got a rejection for two query letters I'd sent in to Great Mystery and Suspense.

The second reason I'm glad is because it means my system is working. I'm sending out submissions and have gotten back a response. The editor was intrigued by my queries, but my word count was too far off. (remember to double check writer's guidelines.) Even though I keep my database, I had still made an error. So she invited me to cut enough to qualify, or to submit new material. That's a great rejection.

The third reason I'm glad is becasue the contact with the editor is done, and I made a good to medium first impression. She could have been a hardliner who assumed my page-count-error was due to amateur disregard for the rules, or she could simply not have had time to answer rejections. But now I have at least one editor with whom I've broken the ice.

Last, I'm glad because six months ago, I started this process, knowing it would take a long time. Within a week of sending my second query letter, I've gotten a response from one of the magazines. Well that's not true. I also got a rejection from Men's Health. But it was a standard pre-printed 'good luck placing your article' sort and not really doing much more than putting a check in a box. When what I really want is a check in the mail box. And so it goes. But today's a great day. I'm ecstatic to be rejected.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

So You Wanna Get Published

If you've ever wanted to get published, but don't know how (or if you're a sadist, and you enjoy watchinig artsy types flounder around in a world that doesn't care what "their process" is) then you'll enjoy reading a Graeme Stone's Quest for Publishing.

As you might have guessed, I'm Graeme Stone, and this is my publishing quest. It actually started back in April, 2006 when my boyfriend and I decided that in order to get ahead, we had to take a step back. I happen to have a farm house in the middle of rural Kansas (as opposed to the farm house in the middle of the city), and we managed to take off six months for an artist's retreat. We have worked while out here in the hinterlands, but it's been a struggle. Still, without the distractions of city life back in LA, we have basically accomplished what we set out to do. He's finished a bunch of paintings and I've finished some writing. While I have not finished the novel I came to write, I'm well into a 2nd draft. I've also completed three shorts stories. Most importantly, I've gotten organized. While this might not sound like the kind of Walt Whitman-esque thing to do on retreate, it's exactly what I needed. That's also why this blog isn't called "Graeme Stone's Writing Quest." More and more I realize that nobody can teach me to write. But I can learn to publish; I can learn the business of writing. And so can you.

It's not what I wanted to do anymore than writing is. I have to write. I have to. I've gotten into fights with my sister over my failures to secure retirement, over my lack of health insurance. I stare down whopping student loans and wonder if I'll die joyfully in debt to the kind of government that allows students to take out loans. And all of this becaue I have to write. If I didn't, I'd have held down two or three very long-term jobs, come home to a little evening's relaxation, lived for weekends, and repeated the cycle ad nauseum. I just can't do it. It's not me, and I literally suffer the consequences. But I also write. I love to write and it fulfulls part of me that no job ever will. But what if writing could be my job? Well that requires getting published and paid for it. and that requires knowing the business of writing. Right now, I'm just like you. Unpublished, working a day job to pay the bills, writing when I can, and dreaming of a day when there is steady work from my writing. But I'm hoping, very soon, to begin to peel away from the thousands of unrealized dreamers out there, and to get published.

I used to think that publishing was a one-time thing. I would magically send in a story or a novel, and suddenly I'd be on the sides of busses and being interviewed in glossy magazines. A movie deal would happen and I'd be a household name. Because that's how it happens, isn't it? No, it doesn't. Even the "overnight" success takes about ten years. At a writer's conference this summer I heard references to a panel entitled: "The Ten-Year Overnight Success Story." I can't teach you to write. But I'm learning that part of getting published is not standing in your own way. The rest of it is staying on top of your submissions, staying in touch with the marketplace, and being organized enough to fuel your own success. This blog is a great example. At this moment, I have not one reader. I have my own professional website. I have a page at MySpace, and I also have several blogs. I have no traffic. But I plan to change that, no matter how slowly it has to happen. Because it's the business of writing.

In the same vein, I also have begun to submit work. First I had to produce the work. Some work is already ten years old, while others I've written in the last few months. Before I became aware of the market, each piece had the same history; I finished it, and then it sat on my hard drive, or in a printed file in a filing cabinet. If they were houseplants or pets, they would have died of neglect. If they were kids, I'd be in prison. As it stands, I'm dusting them of, finding markets, and submitting them. And that's just part of my day. The other part is continuing to write. But I'm finding a rhythm that keeps both parts going. The creating keeps a flow going to the business of writing. And the business keeps tugging at the writing, asking questions, tugging, making suggestions for new angles and new approaches.

My goals for the following year are to publish at least three pieces of short fiction in preparation for submitting a novel. I may end up submitting the novel first, but I've already learned that you stack the deck in your favor by building up credits, even small ones. I've also learned that to get major publishing houses to look at you, it takes an agent. But that doesn't mean I'm only going to submit the novel to agents. I'll also look at medium and small publishers to see if I can't get myself in the door. As much as I need an agent to submit to the majors, I also realize how impressed an agent will be if I can tell them that I managed to get published on my own. Even at a smaller publisher. There is no stamp of approval better than someone besides you liking your work enought to publish it. You can toot your own horn as loud as you want, but it's never quite as loud as the statement that you've gotten published.

I intend to write weekly about my quest to get published. Really my goal is to become independent of my day job. So while there will be a first story and then a first novel, this is not a one-time does it thing. I will continue to climb until I've reached a point where I can truly say I can show you how to publish.