Saturday, December 26, 2009

2009 Wrap Up

At the end of the year, many publications and individuals enjoy making Top Ten lists to encompass everything they enjoyed this entire year. As I have a terrible memory (a sore liability were I in any other field other than the "make stuff up!" industry), I can't remember ten whole things I did this year, yet alone ten movies I saw or CDs I downloaded or games I played. So here are my Top One lists for 2009:

Top One Movie
1. Whip It!  - Everyone expects Ellen Page to be Juno for the rest of her life, which is unfortunate. Juno would never join a Roller Derby league, you guys. But you know who would? All of the fine ladies in this smile-ear-to-ear little gem sweater of a movie.

Top One Book
1. Dark Places  - Gillian Flynn is a relatively new voice in the suspense/thriller genre, one I welcome with open arms. She has some trouble with endings (bringing everything together too fast/too conveniently), but the journey she takes you on is always uniquely enthralling.

Top One Comic
1. Runaways - It didn't come out this year, but I discovered it for myself this year so it counts. I devoured this thing. Someone make the first arc into a movie, please. I will buy you donuts. Please?

Top One Music
1. Sainthood - Tegan and Sara. More synths, more pop, more delightful. Doesn't quite match the emotional landscape of The Con, but it still finds heavy rotation in my iTunes list.

Top One Video Game
1. Rock Band 2 - I know it isn't a new game, but it is still the best way to waste an afternoon. Tip: don't play after ten pm, for the sake of your neighbors.

That's it!  If I think of any more Top Ones, I'll edit this entry to reflect that. Perhaps movie reviews will return next year, but I make no promises. See you in 2010!

Monday, December 21, 2009

"Mary's Waltz" to be Published in January Issue of Collective Fallout

Sorry I have been away from the blog for longer than usual. I've been really busy with choir.

Remember when I ranted out some superfluous advice as an unpublished writer last entry? Well, those days are over, my friends. Now I can dish out disposable wisdom as A Writer Who Has Officially Been Published At Least One Time! I am having medallions made up with that very inscription. T-shirts available next week.

Here is a Long Tale About a the Journey of a Story from Concept to Publication

Well, first, here is a BRIEF SUMMARY OF EVENTS. Collective Fallout is a relatively new literary magazine focusing on publishing sci-fi/horror/fantasy- and queer-themed fiction (the content must fall under this umbrella, not necessarily the author). They publish two issues of their print journal every year, and the first issue of next year (January) will include a story of mine entitled "Mary's Waltz" (the story I have alluded to in previous entries). This is my first publication outside of my undergrad lit mag, and I am really excited about it! You can read an excerpt of my story here, and check out some of the other works as well!

If you're interested, here is how "Mary's Waltz" came to be (warning: if you don't want to be bored by disorganized thoughts on the writing process, go here instead):

Last year a friend of mine introduced me to PARSEC, an annual sci-fi/horror short story contest. What drew me to this contest was the fact that there was no entry fee, and even if you are not selected as a winner (I think there is a cash prize, but money should never factor into why you write or you will very quickly become a bitter, bitter person) you receive a brief written critique of your work with your rejection letter. A free critique without the awkward and intimidating immediacy of a workshop? Amazing. I couldn't pass that up. There is also a different theme or motif each year that must play an integral part in your story. In '09 this theme was Black Glass.

My friend told me about the contest about a week before the story was due. I banged out a very rough draft of what is now "Mary's Waltz" and what was then "The Girl, The Scorpion" in about three hours, proof-read it once, and sent it out the next day, knowing full well it was not going to win. But writing for a solid block of three hours felt exhilarating after not writing for so long; writing a new short story after spending over a year on my undergrad novel felt even better. (Short story writing and novel writing are completely different crafts, but I'm sure I'll dive into that in more detail at a later entry.)

With "The Girl, The Scorpion," I took an existing idea and tried to fit it into the theme, or the theme into it. My favorite band Over the Rhine has a song called "Mary's Waltz," about a blind girl who sneaks out of her house at night to dance. This image captured me. A couple of years ago, I was exploring various dorm buildings with a friend of mine on Antioch's campus, and we came upon a door with an incredible amount of locks on it. What purpose, these locks? People always ask where storytellers get their ideas, well here it is: What if? That is what we start with. For me it was, "What if there is something behind a door that desperately wants you to come in? What if this something is sinister? What if you struggle and toil and finally open the door and before you can celebrate......" Wait, what am I going to put behind the door? That was less of a concern than Who will I get to open the door? Why will this person be able to open it and what will it mean for them? Would it mean something else to someone else? So these were the questions that propelled me to begin, and then of course I plopped some lesbians in there because that's what I do, and I made Mary blind because of the song, and her blindness in the rough draft had absolutely no significance but I found it later. The door also had very little significance (one of the story's many problems, as pointed out in my generous one-paragraph critique), and there was no connection between it and either of my main characters. (P.S. This is why guidelines for short story submissions - as well as your creative writing teachers - will always implore you NOT to send a first draft. They are very wise.)

But where was the Black Glass? The Black Glass was the door handle, but it was also the scorpions. Man, the scorpions was the best idea I never had. It comes from the nonfiction memoir Don't Tell Mom I Work on the Rigs by Paul Carter. For recreation during one of his oil rig tours in some jungle, Carter watches the natives construct a cage small enough for this scorpion so that it will lose a fight to the death with a mouse. (Also interesting note about scorpions, if you put them in a pan and set a fire under it, they will puncture themselves with their own stingers to avoid burning to death.) So this insane image of mouse besting scorpion stayed with me and all I had to do was wait for the best place in a story to use it. (Incidentally, it was also the one thing about my first revision of this story that my workshop class considered too unbelievable.)

So where do storytellers get their ideas? They ask themselves What If, and then they steal other people's life experiences. Done and done.

Anyway, I of course got my rejection letter which included a helpful critique that influenced some of the changes I made in my first revision of the piece. I turned this revision over to my workshop group at SF State and fourteen separate minds helped me fine-tune the thing. I revised one more time and then I sent it out. Really, it is a fluke. I was indexing places to send stories to use at a later date (thinking to revise "Mary's Waltz" at least one more time) when I found Collective Fallout and realized their deadline was in like a week. So I thought, what the hell? And here we are. (For the record, I still think the story could benefit from a stronger ending [the one thing that has been retooled the most], but there tends to be a fine line between tinkering just enough and tinkering too damn much. Gotta move on.)

Gosh, I really love the writing process; how much a single story transforms from your mind to the page to the reader's mind. Fascinating.

So what have we learned, kids?

A) Writers steal all of their ideas
B) Real life is stranger than fiction
C) You should send your shit out cuz someone else will want to read it

Please do not literally send out your feces. But if it simply can't be helped, here is the address of my high school bully:

Billy Henderson
1236 Westfield Drive
Springfield, IN 56340

The left image is the photo of him I used to project the image on the right, which is probably what he looks like now.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Unsolicited Advice from an Unpublished Lady

Tip #1:

Do not write about vampires. (Or werewolves.) This theme is dead; it may be popular among the kiddies right now, and you may want a piece of that over-baked pie, but seriously, honey, if you ain't got nothing new to add to the goth make-up of your alluringly pale protagonists, just put down the keyboard and back away slowly.

This isn't (only) my personal bias talking. Recently I have been researching horror and speculative fiction literary magazines (through the wonderful resource of duotrope, thank you for asking), and nine out of ten sites make mention of vampires somewhere in their submission guidelines, in the form of DO. NOT. WANT. But they say it much more literarily.

Seriously, people, there are so many other, fresher, less trampled metaphors to be plumbed out there. Mmmm plums. For instance, my story is about a blind girl who sees through the eyes of spiders due to some unspecified magical thingy, who then steals the tongue of another girl in order to stop seeing with said spider eyes (by way of magic, again). It's a metaphor for abusive relationships!

It's true that your idea does not have to be an original one (we're running out of those...maybe?), but the spin you put on it, the style with which you write it, the voice in which you tell it, the characters you move through it - those things have to be unique in order to get noticed. My philosophy is, write what you want to read. I haven't seen many stories about sense-swapping teenage lesbians and magical doors to magictown in mainstream fiction (I haven't seen many teenage lesbians in mainstream fiction, period), so I decided to write my own. (You wake up in the middle of the night with a craving for creepy blind girls, what else are you gonna do but write it yourself. ...What? We all have needs.)


1. Joss Whedon. Look, my unhealthy obsession with Buffy the Vampire Slayer not withstanding....oh, who am I kidding, that particular obsession influences everything. Joss Whedon tinkered with vampire mythology and managed to make it broodingly enticing (yes, a little cheeseball too, but like a fine brie, no empty calories). He can do whatever he wants.

2. Fan-fiction. You can write whatever the crap you want on fan fiction boards. Someone will invariably like it, and then ask you to read their slash, and you'll be all "what is sla--ohdeargodwhyareEdwardandAngelDOINGTHAT!!?!" But it's cool. (Angel is the top in this scenerio, obvs.)