Wednesday, 9 September 2015

A candle flares, briefly illuminates my soul, and is lost to darkness again

Words written c35000
Stories completed 5
Rejections 79
Acceptances 1

One of the myriad frustrations of being a semi-professional (i.e. desperate to get paid, but hardly ever doing so) writer is rejection.

Not so much that you get rejected; experience teaches me to expect every email from a small press or magazine to be one, making the odd acceptance a joyous high, but that you hardly ever have any idea how near or far off target you were.  The form rejection rules.  How many careers ended before they begun because writers were blind to how close to print they came, I wonder - or, conversely, were needlessly sustained because they imagined their crayoned drivel had only just missed the mark?

My email revealed four rejections this morning, including one from CC Finlay, Editor at Fantasy & Science Fiction.  These followed on closely on one from ‘Lucy’ at Andromeda Spaceways.

What makes CC’s and Lucy’s notable amongst the 79 so far received this calendar year is that they had some feedback.

CC’s first, in full: Thank you for giving me a chance to read "Share the Love." I got to the end of the story and had no idea what it meant either... Overall the beginning started too slow and the narrative developed too slowly for me until it got to the weird, interesting stuff. I'm going to pass, but I wish you best of luck finding the right market for it. I appreciate your interest in F&SF and hope that you'll keep us in mind in the future.  

I’ve decided, at arm’s length, that I like CC.  He’s my kinda guy.  I think we could drink beer together.  No idea why I’ve come to that conclusion.  Never met him, no idea what CC stands for.  Could be thinking of CC Baxter, of course.

And now an extract of Lucy’s: The first ten pages move very slowly and indirectly. This is novel speed, not short story speed.

Hmmm.  Feedback that tallies is almost more unexpected than feedback at all.

Of course, my inclination is that I have judged the pace correctly, whilst acknowledging that there’s always some fat on the carcass that can go.  They've been written, rewritten, honed and polished.  But when two editors are on the same page...  Share the Love is essentially about a man dropping down, step by step, into the pits of despair until the succour offered by a religious cult that brings peace through linkage - mental, physical and spiritual - with a giant cockroach appears to be his best option.  You don’t strip away his job, relationship, reason for living in three pages.

Or do you?  Perhaps I’m missing the point of what short story editors want in a world where we now have a shorter attention span than goldfish.

Remember that Chandler quote, When in doubt have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand?  Raymond Chandler was writing about what to do when the plot flags; perhaps in 2015 it needs to be applied just after the by-line?

That said, it’s worth exploring the section of Chandler’s 1950 The Simple Art of Murder in which it appears:

This was inevitable because the demand was for constant action and if you stopped to think you were lost. When in doubt have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand. This could get to be pretty silly but somehow it didn’t seem to matter. A writer who is afraid to over-reach himself is as useless as a general who is afraid to be wrong

As I look back on my own stories it would be absurd if I did not wish they had been better. But if they had been much better they would not have been published (my emphasis)

Happy to take the feedback on the nose, respond to the market and make my drafts quicker and slicker, make them a firework - even if, in my eyes and, possibly Chandler's too, they may not be as good as the slow burn that I’m writing.

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