Monday, January 25, 2010

"Mary's Waltz" Now Available for Purchase!

These past couple of weeks have been unusually busy (what with the moving to a new apartment, visiting the ol' homestead, starting second semester of schoolin', adopting the sweetest pit bull in the world, and auditioning for Glee).

This is just a quick note to let you know that Volume 2, Issue 1 of Collective Fallout, featuring my story "Mary's Waltz", is now available for purchase! You can pick up a copy here for $9 + shipping (digital copies also available).

For those of you who are skeptical about spending money on something you may not fully enjoy, the good folks at Collective Fallout have thoughtfully provided excerpts of all the stories on their website (there is poetry too, but that is kind of difficult to excerpt -- "I have eaten the plums." READ THE FULL POEM NEXT ISSUE!). When my own copy arrives, I intend to post reviews of the individual pieces here as well.

In the meantime, below is the blurb I wrote for the coverletter for "Mary's Waltz", should you require further enticement:

"When Grace meets her new neighbor Mary, an enigmatic young blind girl, Grace is immediately drawn to her by a physical curiosity too new to name. But as the friendship blossoms, so does the nightmare, as Mary's secrets - and intentions - slowly creep out of her. MARY'S WALTZ is a speculative fiction piece that contains elements of horror and magical realism. It explores themes of sexual awakening, sacrifice, and love as destruction, while representing homosexuality as a non-issue."

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Weak Stories and How to Spot Them, Part 2

(Continued from previous post.)

9. The "far-out" uncle or grandmother who is really just a vessel for the author's own political bias/racism/sexism/religious fervor. I like to say that I am all of my characters and I am none of my characters, but with this pet-peeve we have a clearly overstepped boundary line that is usually quite glaring. I'm sure there are many examples, but the only one I can think of right now is from the book Wit's End which I recently read for class. The godmother is preoccupied with liberal-leaning politics that just scream, "This is what I, Karen Joy Fowler, really think about the American government!" And when said author came to speak to the class, she totes admitted this. Alls I am saying is, try to let your ideas come out in the story, not through some preachy character.

10. Skinny bitches. Praise different body types, people! Especially if your story is set within a culture whose ideals of attractiveness are different from your own. Pay attention. It's called Realism. (....maybe?)

11. Heroic males. It's just played out.

12. Books without chapters. Now, I know this is a small structural thing, but I really admire chapter breaks. The point of them is to break up what you're reading and give you a chance to breathe, in the same vein of a period or paragraph break. They can also serve to break up the time-line of your story, or switch perspectives. Longer stories can certainly work without chapter breaks, but for me, it's a detriment to ignore them.

13. Overuse of internal monologue. "At the circus, I couldn't stop looking at Brian. Was he looking at me when I wasn't looking at him? Did he want me to look at him? Should I go over and say hi? If I went over and said hi the worst thing he could do is ignore me, I suppose. Or, well, the worst thing he could do would be to spit in my face and call me a cow and pants me before taking a picture as I cry and then run away and elope with my mom. But I don't think that would happen. Would it?" Versus, "I ran into Brian at the circus and I couldn't stop looking at him. Finally, I decided to say hello."

14. Single paragraphs that span entire pages. Again, it's a breathing issue. I open a book to a page and it's covered in text, I get overwhelmed and turned off from any desire I had of reading it. White space on the page is psychological oxygen for the reader; don't choke it all out!

15. Demonstrative dialect. "Didja wa' 'im ta put ou' da ca' now, Missa Rod'rick?" Just distracting.

16. Lack of quotation marks to denote speech. Lack of paragraph breaks or dialogue tags could also be added here. I'm not saying there isn't a way to make this work, but I haven't seen it yet. I (and many others) grew up learning to read a certain way, and so rather than being a stylistic choice or a narrative choice or whathaveyou, doing away with quotation marks is just messing with the signifiers I've been conditioned to look for. It gets frustrating.

17. Assholes we're supposed to like. Especially if also the female lead who hates the douche eventually ends up with him. I'm looking at you, every romance novel ever (not to mention innumerable crime novels as well).

18. Rhetorical questions. This is pretty much in tandem with overuse of internal monologue. Jodi Picoult, this means you.

Thus concludes that jumble of words and punctuation marks. I'm visiting my hometown next week, and school starts up again (finally!) the week after that, so my return to this blog may be even more sporadic than it already has been. But when I do return, we'll delve into what I think make strong novels, and maybe I'll list a few of my favorite novels so you know how many grains of salt to use when measuring my judgments.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Weak Stories and How to Spot Them, Part 1

Recently, I picked up a copy of No Plot? No Problem!, a rather neat little bundle of encouragement directed toward those brave souls who take on the National Novel Writing Month challenge of writing a 50,000 word novel in each November. (Otherwise known as NaNoWriMo.) I didn't participate this past year because I was concentrating on short stories rather than longer works, plus building my Freeze Ray. The book is great for pumping you up to dive headfirst into a ridiculously long draft of something you may never look at again, but it feels pretty wonderful to churn out so much work in such a short time. If you find you are slow when drafting work (i.e. does it take you a year to write twenty-five pages? congratulations, you are me!) then NaNoWriMo is a great exercise for you to try.

The book comes with a few quick exercises to help you suss out this whole writing thing. One exercise I enjoyed was to list all of the things you think make good stories and all of the things you think make bad ones. Of course, I'd like to try to be a smidgen more objective by using the terms "weak" and "strong" instead of "good" and "bad," no matter how fruitless it may be to try to keep personal opinions objective. So here is my list:

18 Things that Make Weak Stories

1. Too much "romance". (I don't know why that word is wrapped in quotations in my notebook.) Look, I know love makes the world go 'round and all that, but throwing in a worn out love story subplot can really sap attention away from your main point and just drag the whole thing down into a sugar-sweet mess of "I am going to save this world...but only cuz you're in it and I got a thing for you something awful, baby." There are a million reasons people do the things they do, and boiling it all down to "love" is oversimplifying it.

2. Boring characters. to avoid boring characters? I would say give them unique quirks, but I do believe that is noted somewhere later on this list as being a no-no. I suppose Cliched Characters could substitute here. I want to read about raw, gritty, emotionally fragile, unpredictably damaged people, not archetypes.

3. Cliched or unrealistic dialogue. Especially when someone is obviously trying to write hip language. Remember Dawson's Creek? Kevin Williamson may have intended to write kids who are intelligent and not talk down to his audience, but he sacrificed authenticity for these aims. Let's see if I can think of someone who really knows how to write dialogue...let's think....hmmm...who could it be...could it be .... Satan? I mean, uh, Joss Whedon, oh yes, that guy again. Also Tine Fey did a good job with Mean Girls. I point out movies and television as examples because it's all about how you hear the dialogue, and thinking in this way allows me to better avoid the pitfalls of cliche. Word.

4. Too many characters. It's awesome you have all these wonderful people with whom you want to populate the landscape of your story, but be careful how many you throw at me and how fast. I want to remember more than their names, and I want each of them to have a meaningful presence in the story.

5. Unimaginative names. Some of the worst character names in contemporary genre fiction: Sookie Stackhouse; Bella Swan; any hard-boiled detectives named Jack, John, or Jake. This doesn't mean you should go out and name your character Dickie Moorcock, but come on, get creative! I must admit, though, that I do overstep my bounds with this one on occasion; I have a character named Placenta Vagina Female Smith. He's a real great guy.

6. Dense setting description. This can be a tough balancing act, but all I really need is a sense of temporal and spatial place and we're good to go. Unless the setting has some bearing on the psychological make-up or behavior of a character, or is written in a particularly beautiful way, it just does not need to go on longer than a few paragraphs (and sometimes that can be too much).

7. Lack of figurative language. I find this most annoying in young adult novels. They spell everything out for you. I understand reading comprehension grows in stages, but come on - let the teens work a few things out for themselves. YA is not the only fiction that does this (and not all YA does this), mind you. But there's something called subtlety that is sorely lacking in many of today's most popular titles.

8. Forcibly quirky characters. When you have to stick the nosy neighbor lady with twelve cats and a penchant for wandering outside in her knickers in there, for cheap laughs or to buff up your word count, it's's just time to reconsider. Now if she knows the secret formula for the viral infection that's spreading rampant through the city and the only way to protect this knowledge from the evil Martians is by harboring said twelve cats and performing odd knickers-only rituals by moonlight, then okay, leave it in. But don't do it just to do it.

Check back later in the week (or next week) for Part 2